Archive | September 2012

Unbelievable

     OR        

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:11, 27)

I can’t believe this is happening. As we followed the ambulance to the hospital, disbelief consumed me. I knew Chris needed psychiatric care. But my emotions didn’t have time to catch up with the events following his breakdown.

I still couldn’t make sense of the drastic change in his demeanor. Mental illness (MI) robbed Chris of his joy and sucked any hint of life out of his eyes. It was as if an enemy planted land mines inside Chris. We had to tread carefully lest we cause one of them to explode. Yet, still there were unexpected eruptions of violence and unprovoked spewing of profanities. We were just learning how to walk on egg shells around him.

Seeing Chris in the psychiatric ward of a hospital seemed surreal. My husband, Howie, and I visited him every minute we could. Any parent wants to ease a child’s pain. But limited visitation hours prevented us from comforting Chris as often as we/he needed.

When Howie and I were apart from Chris, we rarely spoke. Just like the Psalmist who said, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4). No words could express our sadness.

I’ll never forget one Sunday morning during that time of Chris’s inpatient care. Howie and I rode to church in complete silence. Like many churchgoers, we entered the sanctuary with fake smiles. Wearing expressions that hid our true emotions. No one could detect the heavy hearts within.

Most people wear masks only on Halloween. Those of us who have children with MI wear masks all year long…covering up true feelings. Hiding realities too painful to share. Too shocking to risk misunderstanding and judgment.

When MI rears its ugly head, how would you describe life in your home? Words like surreal, explosive, sad, dark, dysfunctional, unpredictable, and broken may not convey what goes on.

How would you explain your emotions? Words like stunned, discouraged, distraught, insecure, apprehensive, resigned, and helpless might fall short of adequately describing what you feel.

Your circumstances may seem unbelievable. But God’s love for you can be believed.

The Psalmist in chapter 77 pointed the way to God’s comfort. By remembering God’s works and reflecting on His power. That alone gives peace amid sorrow.

Focus on God’s grace, power, and comfort. You’ll be amazed by His love for you.

May you be blessed by this reminder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECxUupqLNQA

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A Reason to Smile

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Psalm 3:3

Does putting on a happy face work? It depends on the goal. It might succeed in fooling others. But, we can’t fool ourselves by pretending to be cheerful. We can attempt to hide sorrow and pain. But, a fake smile can’t change the fact that there is turmoil either in our heart or in our home (or both).

This past weekend I had a reason to smile.  Our son, Chris, participated in his church’s celebration of the arts.  The fact that he’s actively involved with his church makes me happy. When his performance went well, I smiled. The reason for my sheer delight came when I introduced myself to one of Chris’s friends.

“Hi, I’m Chris’s mother.”

“Hello, Mrs. Chandler. I’m so glad Chris is my friend.”

It warmed my heart to hear that comment.

People who have mental illness (MI) are often excluded, misunderstood, ostracized, or ignored. What a joy to know someone sincerely values their friendship with Chris!

Any mom is happiest when everything is going well for her kids. If her kids are cheerful, so is she. Our children can be the greatest source of joy.  Or sorrow.

A mother of a child who has MI yearns for that child to be content and peaceful. To have a reason to smile.

We grow weary of putting on a superficial smile. Painting it on like lipstick to conceal opposing feelings. To hide the shame. To pretend everything is normal and fine in our lives.

But God cares about what’s behind that façade. In His Word we read that, “Even in laughter the heart may sorrow…” (Proverbs 14:13).  Our Father knows when we’re putting on a good front. He sees past the false expression, to the hidden sorrow. He knows the solution requires more than a Kodak-moment smile.

No wonder the word smile appears infrequently in the Bible. It’s much easier to find words like: delight, joy, grateful, and cheerful. Those deeper emotions swell up inside until they spill over to our face.  They give us a real reason to smile.

God can fill our hearts with such joy that it bubbles up from our soul and onto our face. We see depression causing our child to curl up, with head hung low. And find hope in the Lifter of heads. The One who can restore joy to our children and to us.

How has God given you a reason to smile?

Clearer Thinking, Calmer Emotions

“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”  Psalm 31:24  (NKJV)

Do you wish your child could have clearer thinking and calmer emotions? Is that your wish, your prayer, or an impossible dream?

It’s easier for me to reflect on the care-free days of the past. My thoughts often drift back to before Chris entered elementary school. Those memories draw me back to simpler times. I welcome those daydreams. They help me relive times when Chris seemed happier.

Back then, observations from complete strangers sounded like, “He’s such a happy little boy.”

It’s true. Chris smiled all the time, up until he turned five.

That’s when struggles at school sucked that smile right off his face. Difficulties caused in part by his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But those struggles don’t come close to the challenges of mental illness (MI).

Nowadays, it’s rare to see a relaxed smile on his face.

How I yearn to ease his pain. Remove any torment.

That’s why I love to hear occasional comments from him which give me a glimpse of happier emotions. Recently Chris shared, “I’m more content than I’ve ever been. It’s nice to have freedom from responsibilities.”

What mother of a child who has MI hasn’t wished she could put a band aide on her child’s turbulent emotions? Kiss away memories of rejection. Vacuum the fog from her child’s mind.

But we can’t change thoughts and feelings. There is One who can. Why do we have trouble trusting God to do that mighty work?

We trust teachers to care for our kids and police officers to protect us. Unwavering faith in machines is demonstrated every day. People enter an elevator without fearing it will crash to the basement. They trust it will gently deliver them to the selected floor. Meals are prepared with confidence that ovens will cook instead of explode and burn. Most of us find security in locks and alarm systems.

We even trust forces of nature we can’t see. Sliding boards are monuments to our belief in gravity. Sails are installed on boats as proof of our trust in the wind.

Why can’t we trust God who has all power and perfect love? The Creator of the universe, the One who conquered death, can surely work mightily in the hearts and minds of people.

When I’m resigned to “fact” that my son will always suffer with MI, I’m denying the power of God. Living in the past because realities of today are too hard to face is no way to live. Resignation and denial can be overcome by hope. Hope in a living and loving Father.

Ice Cream Sundae Prayers

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God…And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16)

Little children know how to ask specifically for what they want. “Daddy, may I please have an ice cream sundae with two scoops of chocolate ice cream, lotsa rainbow jimmies, chocolate syrup, nuts, whipped cream, and two cherries?”

Their detailed lists help us know exactly how to bless them.

But requests we make to our heavenly Father are brief. “Please, God, help my child feel better.”

No details. Nothing specific.

Why do we hold back from asking exactly what we want? Perhaps we’re too busy. Maybe we fear He won’t provide what we need. Or that we’re undeserving.  So we whisper simply, “God please spare my child any stress.”

Our son, Chris, experienced his first psychotic episode while attending a public school. I dared to come before the Creator of the universe and lay a list of requests at His throne.

I cried out, “Oh merciful Father, move mightily in the hearts and minds of the educators in Chris’s life. Create in them a compassionate attitude toward Chris. Guide them to respond lovingly to our son. Provide a way for Chris to get relief and help if he feels overwhelmed during the school day.”

God’s answer: The principal presented Chris with a gold pass. A get-out-of-class-without-any-questions-asked pass. It could be shown to any teacher at any time. Teachers were instructed to allow Chris to leave class. Support personnel were designated on each floor to be available to Chris (guidance counselors, principal, and nurse).

During that year, Chris participated in a foreign exchange program. In return for us hosting a German student the previous year, Chris flew to Germany. He lived with a German family for a month. Instead of simply asking God to take care of Chris, I asked, “Please Father, help Chris take his medicine. Provide clarity of thought. Help him feel Your presence.”

Once again, God faithfully responded.

The next year, Chris wanted to live away from home. He chose to attend a university known as a party school. The specific prayer this time sounded like this: “Oh God, please provide just the right roommate for Chris. One that doesn’t drink. One that will be a perfect match for Chris.”

God’s answer: Chris had a Christian roommate. A quiet young man who took his studies seriously.

We want to bless our children when they ask us for things. Surely God wants to do the same. The difference? His love is perfect. His power is limitless. His faithfulness is dependable.

Cry, Abba and run into God’s loving arms. Boldly beg for His intervention.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

What if…

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”  (Romans 15:13).

Chris survived his first psychotic episode that hit during his junior year in high school. With the help of excellent home bound instructors, he even finished the year on time. God was faithful.

The night before his senior year, lots of what ifs filled my head.

What if marching band proves to be too stressful for Chris? What if other students say something to him about his hospitalization? What if teachers are too demanding? What if he can’t make it to the nurse’s office to get his medicine? What if his friend isn’t in any of his classes? What if no one sits next to him at lunch? What if…

‘What if’ is usually followed by someone’s greatest fear, their worst case scenario. But suppose ‘what if’ was followed by someone’s greatest hope, their best case scenario.

Calm assurances would replace doubts and fear. There would be no limit to what could follow ‘what if.’

Here’s how it would sound:

What if God filled Chris with His perfect peace? What if the Lord arranged for Chris’s friend to be in several of his classes? What if several people sat with Chris at lunch every day? What if Chris remained content and clear thinking in spite of a stressful band director or demanding classes? What if I felt God’s presence during Chris’s school days?

What if I created new habits that led to transformed thinking?

What if I woke up and cast all my care on God, instead of worrying about what my day will be like? What if I eagerly anticipated how God will help me instead of feeling unsupported?

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Proof of His provision surrounded them. God’s care could be seen in the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.

Can you imagine a bird pacing around with her head down murmuring, “What if I don’t find any food? What if I can’t make my nest in time?”

Jesus assures us we’re more valuable to Him than any bird. There is no limit to the joy and peace we can have as we trust Him. The Holy Spirit will fill us to overflowing with hope.

What ifs can torment or comfort depending on our focus.

Oh heavenly Father, increase our faith!