Worry Workout

exercise.godly

There’s a lot to worry about working out.

Do any of these questions reveal your inner thoughts?

Why did I skip my work out? Why can’t I get disciplined and work out regularly? How will I measure up to others exercising who have well-toned bodies? How often will I have to work out before I get trimmer? Why bother?

We bother because research proves it’s helpful. Certain benefits can be linked to exercising. Those benefits motivate us to get to the gym. Sometimes.

 Wishful Thinking

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if working out could eliminate worry? The more we’d run, the more peaceful we’d feel. All worries would disappear. That would certainly motivate me to get to the gym!

Moms raising kids with mental illness (MI) are given good reasons to worry.

We find ourselves on the worry treadmill. Fears elevate our heartbeat. Anxieties cause us to sweat.

Why isn’t he smiling? What happened before he got home? What is he doing in his room? Why is he isolating? Has he taken his medication? Has he eaten today? Why hasn’t he showered? Why isn’t he talking? …

 Wonder about Worrying

Does worrying help?

That question is asked in the recently-released movie, “Bridge of Spies.” The plot surrounds actual events that occurred during the Cold War in the ‘60s. Tom Hanks plays the part of an insurance lawyer named James Donovan. Donovan is appointed to defend a Russian spy named Rudolf Abel. Several times during his conversations with Abel, Donovan observes, “You don’t look worried.” Abel’s reply each time is the same: “Would it help?”

The spy didn’t appear to be asking a rhetorical question. The pointed look on his face hinted at a more instructive question. It seemed like he wanted Donovan to consider if worrying would even help.

That’s our challenge. Consider if worrying helps. The passage in Matthew 6:25-34 tells us it doesn’t.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:27, 34).

That whole passage assures us that God will take care of our needs.

 Wonderful Workouts

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, compared physical exercise to godly living. He pointed out, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Timothy 4:8).

A spiritual workout has eternal value. But, what is a spiritual workout?

It involves toning up our spiritual muscles by daily praying, reading the Bible, following God’s guidelines, and telling others about Him. Simply put, we step on the spiritual treadmill and…Read. Pray. Show. Share … Read. Pray. Show. Share … Read. Pray. Show. Share … Read. Pray. Show. Share …

Our spiritual workout also involves rest. We rest our hope on the One who is still on the throne. The “music” running from our biblical earbuds remind us, “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).

So we don’t need to rest our hope on medications or therapist for our kids. Like the psalmist, we can say, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5).

Facing Change

peace.be.wth.U

At fourteen, I’d already figured out what I hated most about life.

“I hate change,” I declared.

“Get used to it. Life is full of change,” my mother advised.

Her reply didn’t change my opinion. It was set in stone. If I had anything to do with it, change wouldn’t rule my life. That was that!

Then I grew up. Life happened. Changes smashed my declaration that had been etched in stone.

Not So Bad

I discovered some changes aren’t so bad. Some are even wonderful. Like graduations, new jobs, weddings, and births. But even those changes are bitter-sweet. Each involves more responsibility. Some involve moving away from friends or family.

Unspeakable

Grownups know change is sometimes just hard. Or even devastating. Like when our close friends, Trish and Dave, lost their two-year-old son, Ryan, to drowning. That kind of change triggered unimaginable grief.

As if that loss wasn’t horrible enough, both sets of grandparents were reliving their own nightmares. Trish’s parents and Dave’s parents had lost a child in death as young parents. So, they had already experienced the searing pain that comes with outliving a child.

“You’ve had to face this, Dad. What advice do you have for me?” Dave asked his father right after Ryan died.

“You talk about your faith, Dave. Now you’re going to live it,” Dave’s father gently replied. He knew the only way to survive such a loss was with God’s help.

Decades later, Dave died from cancer. How did Trish deal with being a widow at fifty-eight? With God’s help.

Unexpected

When you were first married, did you envision a care-free Norman Rockwell family with happy and successful children? Maybe you were more realistic in your expectations. Perhaps you were mentally prepared for difficulties. But you never expected your child to have mental illness (MI). Neither did I.

Before I had children, I taught multi-handicapped children. So, my biggest hope was that my children would be “normal” – free of any disabilities.

When our sons were toddlers, my husband and I enjoyed thinking about what professions they’d enter. Both excelled in math, so we kinda thought that maybe they’d gravitate to fields that involved numbers. Like business or accounting.

MI is the kind of change that demolishes dreams. Or does it? Just because our children won’t live a life we anticipated for them, that doesn’t mean they won’t live a meaningful life.

The challenge for us is to adjust to God’s plans for our child’s future. To even embrace the path they take. How can we do that?

Handling Change

Long ago, I attended a workshop for educators that dealt with grief. The speaker said something that helped me understand what I was going through.

“Many things trigger grief. Not only does the loss of life trigger grief, but other things force us to grieve. Like having a child with special needs. That represents the loss of a dream.”

The loss of a dream.

Those words echoed in my mind. I reflected on her statement and realized that I WAS going through the grief process. In a way that gave me hope. That meant I was heading to the final stage: acceptance. With God’s help, I’d eventually get the place where I’d be able to accept change.

What’s Needed Most

As we journey towards acceptance, we need peace. Christ knew that’s what his disciples needed. Jesus appeared to His disciples after He arose from death. The men were grieving and fearful.  John 20:19 tells us that their Lord came to comfort them.

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”

He’s still in the business of comforting His children and offering peace.

Unchanging

If I could go back to my fourteen-year-old self, I’d offer some words of comfort. When teenage Vicki would declare, “I hate change,” I’d reply, “Change will always happen, but God will never change. You can depend on His unchanging love and faithfulness. He’ll always comfort you, remove fear, restore hope, and give you peace.”

Sadness, Depression, and Other Emotions

Music.2.Lord

Some good news came from the medical community recently. New recommendations have been made regarding screening adults for depression. Why is this good news for moms raising kids with mental illness (MI)? Because the news is elevating awareness about the prevalence of depression. Those whose lives are impacted by a loved one with depression need not feel so alone. Several reporters highlighted the need to remove the stigma surrounding MI.

The time has come to raise awareness:

USA TODAY published an article January 26th about the new guidelines for depression screening in adults. Liz Szabo shared those guidelines in her article, “Task Force: Doctors should screen all adults for depression.”

In that article, Szabo included this quote from one of the task force members.

“‘We’re hoping that our screening guidelines are an impetus to increase awareness that depression is common, it’s painful, it’s costly and it’s treatable,’ said Karina Davidson, a member of the task force and a psychologist in the department of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.”

The new guidelines also addressed depression in pregnant mothers. That has prompted discussions about the difference between baby blues and clinical depression that can follow the birth of a child. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about emotions.

Regulating Emotions:

When I taught second graders, I planned several class reinforcement activities. Often the entire class deserved to be rewarded. Instead of handing out stickers, I preferred to involve my students in fun mini-lessons. One of those was an art/music activity.

“Use your crayons to draw on your paper a design that matches the music being played,” I’d instruct.

I’d start by playing a slow, classical song. The students would move their hands slowly across their papers. Even their bodies would sway gently to the music.

Then, I’d switch to a fast, lively tune. That would trigger an instant shift in mood. Suddenly, I’d have 25 bouncing beans for students—all with heads like bobble heads. They’d make short, jerking strokes on their papers.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to shift our child’s mood so easily?

A Biblical Example of Emotional Relief:

There’s one person in the Bible who could ease a king’s torment.

1 Samuel 16:14-16 sets the stage:

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, ‘See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.’

God used David to sooth Saul’s torment.

“Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).

The Power of Music:

Can music be that powerful? It absolutely can be used to minister to a depressed child. I’m not advocating that it be the only strategy used to help a child who is depressed. A multi-disciplinary approach to treatment is necessary, where a team of specialists treat the mind and body. Skilled therapists or counselors can provide encouragement and teach coping strategies. In addition, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to treat the neurophysiological cause for the depression.

We know it’s also important to address the spiritual well-being of our children. God is in the business of meeting those needs. He answers our prayers and faithfully fulfills His promises. In addition, the Bible gives us another tool to comfort our emotionally fragile children.

His Word is full of references to music. Click here for a list of some of those verses: Music Verses

You look at your child’s despondent face, void of expression, and wonder if playing worship songs will help restore joy. You hope it can provide relief like David’s music did for Saul. I believe it can calm turbulent emotions.

Let me share another anecdote that illustrates the power of music. Years ago, I was the Bible instructor and Assistant Director for an overnight Christian camp for handicapped children. Each summer children with a variety of special needs attended our camp for one week. Campers were assigned to groups according to their age and disabilities. One group consisted of young elementary age boys who had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To say they were a handful to manage would be an understatement! Their schedule included a mid-day nap or resting period. Not only did those active kids need it, but so did their counselors.

Their senior counselor came to me one day seeking help. His bleary eyes reminded me of how mine looked when I’d pull an all-nighter studying at college.

“The boys won’t sleep or even rest during nap period. PLEASE, you gotta help,” he begged.

“I’ll stop by their cottage during nap period,” I promised.

Later that day, I headed toward their cottage. Before I could see the cottage, I could hear music playing loudly. The closer I got to the cottage, the more I realized the sound was coming from their room. The blasting music had a fast drumbeat. It was the kind of music you’d play at a wedding to get the guests up on their feet to dance. Surely not the kind of music you’d play to help hyperactive children drift off to sleep!

I entered the cottage and unplugged the boom box. I left with the boom box under my arm, calmly assuring the counselor, “You shouldn’t have any more problems.” And he didn’t.

That story shows how music can drastically improve the behavior of children with special needs. If it can be such a powerful behavior-management tool, surely it can calm emotions. Especially worship songs that tell of God’s love and faithfulness. Like Matt Reddman’s song ‘Your Grace Finds Me.’  Allow his lyrics minister to you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmFJkGEv3Lw

 

 

Finding Peace during Cold, Dark Times

0.2.13.14

When does the season match emotions? When the sun isn’t shining and the temperature hits below freezing. That’s when some people get seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Cold and grey winter days can lead to depression.

What does SAD have to do with moms raising kids with mental illness (MI)? We can relate to the strong urge to hibernate during the winter seasons of life. Times when it seems like the journey will never end. When our discouragement meter plummets lower than subfreezing temperatures. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape by crawling into bed for days? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to curl up in a warm blanket and dream of the carefree days before MI hit?

The reality is that moms raising kids with MI can’t take a week off. Thankfully, the reality is also that God can surprise us with His peace during the darkest days.

Recently I wrote a devotional for Rest Ministries—an online Christian ministry for people with chronic illness or pain. The message, ‘Winter Surprises’ may encourage you during the long winter months on the calendar or in your life. I created a YouTube video (using photos I took) to accompany the devotional. It’s my prayer that you’ll find refreshment while watching that video (about six minutes long). Here’s the link:   https://youtu.be/bownpnIV7hE

 

In Knots

IMG_8601

Williamsburg, Virginia

“Grandpa has a sore belly,” our daughter-in-law explained. Our granddaughter wouldn’t have understood pain from a gallbladder attack. But she surely could sympathize with belly pain.  So could lots of us.

The booming gluten-free industry is proof my husband’s not alone in digestive misery. People suffer from Celiac Disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Then there’s the ‘itis conditions’: colitis, diverticulitis, gastritis, pancreatitis, and more. A simple google search of ‘digestive illnesses’ yields a long list of miserable conditions. All of which can make your stomach feel like it’s been through a meat grinder.

Mom’s raising kids with mental illness (MI) know another type of stomach pain. The kind that results from worry and stress. Concern can cripple our digestive systems. Rendering us sick with belly pain. Leaving our stomach in knots.

What can ease that kind of twisted torment? Think about what parents to do ease the belly pain of a toddler. We softly stroke their tummy. Our heavenly Father can unknot our stomach when worry twists it like a strand of Christmas lights. Not only will His loving hand soothe our pain, but He’ll replace it with His perfect peace.

If MI has left you in knots, join me in using Psalm 90:15-16 as your prayer:

“Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory” (NLT)

Stop and reflect on the phrase, “gladness in proportion to our former misery.” We serve a God who promised to, “turn their mourning into gladness,” and to, “give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

He will restore your joy. Because He loves you that much.

 

Better than a Resolution

center.4.life

Things shift our focus.

The death of a loved one causes us to look back and reflect.

January 1st signals the time to look ahead.

An airplane window beckons us to look down.

My husband always lets me have the window seat when we fly. On one flight, I stared out the window of the plane and spotted something symbolic. An entire housing development surrounded a baseball diamond.  As if to say that the lives of all the residents centered abound baseball. That got me to thinking.

I’ll bet some people’s lives DO revolve around baseball. What does my life revolve around? What’s at the heart of my life?

Like most Christians, I immediately thought of the Lord. My family came in second.

My mind continued to wander.

What do I think about most? What occupies my thoughts? What uses up most of my mental energy? What do I pray most about? What has impacted me the most? What has broken my heart more than anything?

Funny how a mind can wander. Especially when there’s lots of time to think.

It didn’t take me long to answer those questions. My son who has mental illness (MI) has captured much of my energy: mental, emotional, and spiritual. I’m sure that’s the same with you, if you also have a child with MI.

As I think of the year ahead, selecting a New Year’s resolution hasn’t crossed my mind. The date on a calendar won’t change my life-long resolve to be the best mother I can be for Chris (and my other son, his family, and my husband).

People make resolutions, then break them. Moms raising kids with MI can’t afford to break their resolve.

We resolve to continue supporting our vulnerable children. Take them to therapists. Help them adjust to treatments.  Advocate for them. Comfort them. Protect them. And pray for them.

What lasts longer than any resolution? A mom’s love. Especially a mom’s devotion to her child who has MI. The more our kids hurt, the more determined we are to help them.

Shakable VS Unbreakable

The mind is involved in listing resolutions. Good intentions drive resolutions. Thoughtful decisions formulate resolutions. Cracks in commitment occur when temptations arise. New priorities cause us to abandon resolutions.

Something much more powerful shapes a mother’s response to her child with MI. Love drives her actions. Motherly instincts solidify her determination to protect and comfort her child. Her love is unbreakable.

So, rather than begin a new year with resolutions, we start each day with our unshakable determination to:

  • Worry less, and trust God more
  • Succumb to anxiety less, and rest in His peace more
  • Watch TV and check out social media less, and seek His Word more
  • Strive to design our own plans (for our child’s life) less, and yield to God’s plans more
  • Talk less and listen more (to our child and to God)
  • Lecture less, and encourage more

Will we succeed every day? Absolutely not! But God’s faithfulness will never fail. At the end of 2016, we will be sure of one thing:  God kept all His promises.

 

Strange

IMG_9202

In the midst of the Christmas gift-giving, my mother noticed something odd. With a frisky tone of voice, she pointed out, “Howie’s listening to a glass … we’ve lost him.”

All eyes shifted to see my husband, who in fact was holding a glass to his ear.

Howie explained, “My ears are hot and the cold glass—”

“No need to explain,” interrupted my mom, playfully. With a frolicsome smile, she spun her hand at the wrist as if wiping his explanation away.

Her implied message, said in jest: we love and accept you no matter what you do.

Here’s the thing about strange behaviors: some are easy to accept. Others: not so much.

Strange, Funny, and Humorous:

Some strange actions tickle our imagination and make us laugh. Like unusual things captured on YouTube videos.

Babies are always a favorite subject in YouTube videos. Like the ones in these “Funny Baby Videos”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FvTVWjLiHM

Add music and narration to funny animals and you’ve got a hilarious funny animal video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOr8ryJUOyQ

Strange, and Not So Funny:

Mom’s raising kids with mental illness (MI) often witness strange behaviors in their own homes. Seeing our children act in unusual ways is far from funny. It’s concerning and heart-breaking. The strange happenings seem so foreign to “normal” life. We convince ourselves we’re the only ones enduring such an abnormal existence.

If people could peek into our home, they couldn’t possibly understand such bizarre behaviors. No one would believe what’s going on in our home.

The fact is there are countless other moms who WOULD understand. Because they’ve also faced what we’ve faced. There is nothing we’ve experienced that hasn’t been experienced by other moms throughout all time. And since others have experienced and are experiencing what we’re going through, we’re not alone. Others understand.

Solomon guarantees that, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We can be sure of Solomon’s insight because, “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30).

So Peter cautions us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Strange and Accepted:

Think about your child who has MI. Is there anything he would do that would make you stop loving him? Are there any behaviors that would seem so extreme that you’d lose your compassion for him? No. Your love is unconditional.

The rest of the world may think our kids are a bit odd and seek an explanation. But, like my mother, we simply say in our hearts: “No need to explain.” And love them no matter what.


 

NOTE: This message is not to imply that life with a child who has MI is full of strange behaviors. Unexpected behaviors may occur, but they’re not constant. Life is simply complicated. A lot like everyone else’s life: full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Happy times and hard times.