Archive | July 2013

How to Discipline


“Stop bumping into walls!” Would it be okay for a mom to say that to her child who is blind? Absolutely not. She’d understand it’s not intentional.

“How many times do I have to tell you to stop falling down?” Would a mother of a child who has cerebral palsy ever discipline her child that way? Never. She’d show compassion rather than give criticism.

It’s easy to know how to handle those situations. Disciplining children without special needs is fairly clear as well. Maybe not easy, but we have an idea how to respond.

A toddler’s constant talking can feel like torture at times. There’s a limit to how many words a mom can hear in one day. The young mother’s mind screams, “Leave me alone! Shut up! Please, for just one hour, stop talking. I’m begging you…I can’t stand it any longer.”

She replies with all the gentleness she can muster. “Mommy needs to concentrate on making dinner right now. Why don’t you go play with your toys for a while?”

Disciplining a child with mental illness (MI) isn’t so clear.

When a child is emotionally fragile and mentally unstable, how do you handle behaviors which would otherwise be unacceptable? Responding the wrong way could be dangerous. Or, an inappropriate reaction could plunge the child into deeper depression.

When Chris first started to unravel, he talked incessantly. Little did we know, his mind was racing. He continued talking even after our repeated instructions to stop. Finally Howie and I loudly demanded, “Stop talking!” Chris’s MI prevented him to comply. We couldn’t understand his disobedience. Until he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

In the throes of a psychotic episode, Chris barked obscenities at us and punched holes in walls. He often broke things. Reasoning with a delusional mind wasn’t possible. Shouting at him would have provoked worse violence. Punishing him would have enflamed the situation.

We needed to respond calmly. Often ignoring the anger and destruction. That was the only way to defuse the situation. Preventing incidents proved better than reacting.

Does the Bible help us know how to discipline our MI children? Christ is our example.

Christ individualized His responses to those who need correction. He …

  • Used a statement (telling Peter to put down the sword he cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, telling the adulteress’s accusers that whomever is without sin should cast the first stone, telling the adulteress to go and sin no more)
  • Coupled an action with a statement (when He turned over the tables of the moneychangers)
  • Extended mercy (asking God to forgive those who were crucifying Him)
  • Gave a command (rebuking the demons in the man to come out in Mark 1:23-26)
  • Asked a question (when he responded to the Sadducees and Pharisees)

So, how do we discipline a child with MI? We follow Christ’s example. Considering the situation and the heart of our child. Seeking God’s guidance.

When Chris was a child with MI, it helped me to contemplate three things (in addition to talking it over with Howie):

  1. What must it be like for Chris to have MI? Are his actions deliberate? To what extent can he control his behavior?
  2. What would God have me do regarding a specific situation? If I lean on Chris too hard, would it be worth sending him over the edge? Is it time to extend mercy?
  3. Is Chris posing a risk of harm to himself or others? If so, what actions should I take? Is this a time to trust God for protection?

This was and is my daily prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Guide my thoughts, words, actions, and emotions. Help me know how to prevent unwanted behaviors and to respond to them. Give me Your wisdom to know how, when, of if I should react. Protect our family from any physical or emotional harm. Fill Chris with Your perfect peace and restore clarity of thought. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let this song minister to you as it reminds you of God’s love.

Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)







Can there be humor after hurt? Can laughter flow from a person with a broken heart? Or does trauma extinguish a sense of humor? Trauma like the movie massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

A year ago, we watched the horror on TV. Our hearts broke for the innocent victims. We knew those who lost loved ones would endure the worst possible grief—the loss of life snatched away through a senseless act of violence. The survivors would forever have gruesome images seared in their memories. Could they ever laugh again?

It’s still hard to imagine the horror those movie goers experienced. Have twelve months healed their hurt?

Inspirational stories are being told about how the victims are moving on with their lives. Most are recovering. But many still have to deal with physical injuries. And endure emotional scars. One girl said she’d never eat popcorn again.

Television aired reports of how friends, families, and survivors marked the anniversary of the carnage. I joined Americans as they reflected back.

Last year as I watched the news of the shooting in Colorado I struggled with flashbacks. It brought back memories of Chris threatening to kill me if I gave him medicine.

Hearts broke for the innocent victims. Mine included.  I also felt for the shooter’s mom. I could identify with her—the mother of a son with serious mental illness (MI).

I subjected myself to hours of watching the disturbing news in hopes of hearing a compassionate word for the mother. But any references to the parents were spoken in judgmental tones.

“What kind of parents could raise such a monster?”

The daily dose of the news began to wear on me.

Vicki, you’ve got to stop watching the news.

Attending my Christian writer’s critique group would give me a break. Keep my mind off the nightmare that awakened my nightmare.

The shooting was on the minds and hearts of all the ladies in the group. As they described the events, emotions swirled in me. I suppressed them like holding back vomit. My flashbacks were sabotaging the serenity I sought.

Their comments switched to descriptions of the shooter.

“Such a depraved mind.”

“What a monster!”

“Evil. Pure evil.”

Suddenly, I burst into tears.

“I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time dealing with this. It’s brought back memories. I’m having flashbacks. It could have been my son. I know what it’s like to have a son with serious MI. There are MILLIONS of other moms raising children with MI. Who feel helpless and hopeless. They need to know they’re not alone. To know the hope, peace, and protection God can provide.”

In one voice the ladies came to my emotional rescue. Their compassion soothed me. They compelled me to write about it.

“You need to write an article for” (an online Christian newspaper). I sure didn’t embrace that idea.

Who would willingly open old wounds?  Freely reflect on their worst painful memories? Soon realized I had a story to share. One of hope.

Writing the article proved to be a labor of love. The project involved reliving my own dark trial. Memories I tried to suppress.

A week later, I presented an article to’s editor at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference.

“In order to publish this article, Vicki, we’ll need a press release from your son.”

On the way home from the conference, I prayed.

Dear Father, if You’ve called me to share Your story of faithfulness and love to millions of other moms raising kids with MI, have Chris agree to sign a press release. Help him to be in a happy and agreeable mood when I get home.

When I arrived home, I found Chris in a good mood. I explained the article and the need for him to sign a press release.

“Sure, Mom. I’ll sign it.”

“First you better read the article, Chris.”

I dreaded asking him to read it. Any mom would do anything to spare her child undue sorrow. I didn’t want Chris to relive the experience, but he had to know what I wrote.

Chris read the article and still agreed.

“We might need it notarized, Chris.”

“Okay. I can go with you tonight. They might still be open. I’ll go change”

I went to my computer to print out the press release I’d drafted. Chris stood quietly at the door. In a casual tone of voice he said, “Mom, I didn’t threaten to kill you.”

I matched his casual tone and replied, “Yeah, Chris. You did.”

In a more serious tone Chris said, “I don’t remember saying that.”

In a more serious tone I replied, “Well Chris, you did.”

In a very pointed and direct manner Chris said, “I would NEVER do that.”

I knew the very thought of him threatening my life was too painful for Chris to bear. He couldn’t imagine doing such a thing because it was so unlike him—so unlike the sweet young man he was before MI struck. I believed he didn’t remember it. Mercifully, his MI hid such a horrible memory.

Now I needed him to understand that he threatened me. He had to know I wasn’t writing lies in the article. So, I had to tell him the details.

“Every time I tried to give you your medicine, you told me you’d kill me. You thought the medicine caused your mental instability. You held a screw driver inches from my face and threaten me.”

Looking at the floor Chris answered in a soft and sad tone. “I’m sorry, Mom.” Then he walked away.

Chris has to know I understood it was his MI.I knew he was ill. I forgave him.

I tried to call out and console him, but choked back tears. From his room he yelled, this time in a playful tone. “Okay, Mom…cry later. We gotta go.”

What an amazing man! Just after learning such horrible news about his behavior during a psychotic episode, he still kept his sense of humor.

Hurt and humor. An unlikely pair.  When things are terribly sad and tears no longer help, sometimes humor refreshes a weary soul. Guess that’s why in Proverbs 17:22 we read, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Can’t summon a sense of humor? Borrow a smile from kids…Their voices in worship just might put a bounce back in your step.





Traumatic Stress

stressed woman 2jpg

Moms have a way of holding it together until a crisis is over. Then what happens? Read about what happened to me.


After Chris recovered from his first psychotic episode, he returned to school. First, he went for only a few hours. Then, he attended for most of the day. Finally, he managed staying the entire day.

Although things were back to normal, I felt unusually tired, cried easily, and overreacted to situations. My fragile emotions caught me by surprise when I least expected it. Like the time Rob called to ask for ride home from school.

“Mom, could you come and pick me up? Band rehearsal is over.”

“Sure, I’ll be there in a ten minutes.”

When I arrived at the high school, there was no sign of Rob. As I waited in the car, I observed a mob of teenagers at the end of the large parking lot. Just then, I noticed the principal and vice principal walking towards them. Soon after, the huge crowd dispersed. The administrator returned to the school building.

Something must be going down. Maybe a fight.

The arrival of two police cars interrupted my predictions.

Looks like I’m right. Those kids were up to no good. Where’s Rob? He needed a ride home. He said band practice had finished.

A horrible thought crossed my mind.

Was Rob a target of some sort of violence? Did those kids see him waiting for me and beat him up? With the way our lives have been going, I wouldn’t be surprised. Oh, Lord, please let that not be what happened.

I tried to comfort myself.

Calm down, Vicki, Maybe he’s just watching the whole thing.

Such a thought was no comfort.

If he’s doing that, I’ll kill him!

I drove to a pay phone to call home (since this was before smart phones and texting). To my shock, Rob answered the phone.

“Rob, didn’t you call and ask me to pick you up from school?”

“Oh, yeah. Dave’s parents offered to drive me home. Sorry.”

What a typical teen! He acted in the moment. Rob was home safe and sound while I was mentally living my own worst-case scenario.

My emotions swirled inside. Now that I knew Rob was safe, I felt relieved.

Now I can fall apart. Have a good cry

My thoughts were interrupted by the car in my rearview mirror. I hadn’t yet driven off the school grounds and one of the police cars was behind me. So I focused on my speed. Driving fifteen miles an hour isn’t easy!

Making a right onto the road, I noticed the speed limit sign. Deep concentration was in order. No time to fall apart or let my mind wander.

Keep it at 25 miles an hour, Vicki. Did the cop turn right? Yes. Better make sure I signal to turn left at the next light. Don’t forget to turn on your turn signal. Check your speed. Don’t start to cry. Hold it together.

After I turned left onto the next road, I noticed the police offer did the same. There were two lanes going in my direction, so I slowed down. Making it easy for the cop to pass me. He didn’t. He stuck behind me past three more traffic lights. Even when I turned right, he followed my route.

He must be following me. Why’s he following me? I really don’t need this. I don’t know if I can hold it together much longer—

My thoughts were interrupted again. His lights signaled me to pull over.

Perfect, just perfect!! I’ve never been pulled over before. I don’t even know how this works. I guess I need to get out my license, registration. Do I need my insurance? Better get that too, just in case.

By the time I collected all the documents, he still hadn’t approached my car.

What’s he doing? What’s going on? He followed me all the way from the high school. Did he think I was somehow involved in the fight? Is he waiting for more back-up? Oh, how embarrassing! What did I do wrong? I’ll tell him the truth: my son was missing and I thought he was being beat up. The officer would believe me because he saw me drive away from the school.

After what seemed like an eternity, he still didn’t walk towards me.

Maybe I’m supposed to get out and go to him.

Finally, the officer appeared at my window.

“Hi ma’am. How are you doing?” he asked in a very pointed manner.

“Fine officer,” I lied.

“The date on your registration sticker has expired. You should have gotten a new one four months ago. This is just a reminder. You need to get that taken care of as soon as possible.”

With all that had been going on in our lives, it’s no wonder why we hadn’t attended to that detail. Even though the officer didn’t ask me any questions, I felt the need to spill my emotional story.

“I thought my son was missing.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“Yes. He’s home.”

“I’ve met your son.”

His comment thrust my mind back into worst-case-scenario mode.

Why would our local officer know Rob? What did he do?

I continued with my calm façade and casually asked, “Oh? How do you know my son?”

“I was there that night.”

THAT night.’ He met Chris the night Chris assaulted Howie and me? That’s the night the police took him to the hospital in handcuffs. The night Chris was admitted into the psychiatric unit of our hospital.

The emotions of ‘that night’ hit me like a tidal wave. Transporting me back to Chris’s behavior. Scenes I had suppressed in my mind flashed like lightning bolts in my head. Chris’s distorted thinking. His accusations that we assaulted him. I feared the police believed Chris’s words. Before I could speak, the officer expressed compassion.

“How’s your son doing?”

“He’s doing fine. Much better. It’s a shame you saw him like that because that’s not at all like he is.”

“We knew that he was dealing with mental issues. Actually he was pretty funny that night.”

‘Pretty funny’ wouldn’t be how I’d describe Chris that night.

“Thank you, officer,” I said politely as a way of saying I’m done with this conversation.

As I drove home, scenes of that afternoon replayed in my head: the mob of kids, being pulled over, the officer knowing ‘my son’, the officer being there ‘that night.’ I realized when the officer asked me how I was doing he knew what our family had experienced. He cared.

God used a man who upholds the law to show me compassion. It took me a while to realize that. The traumatic stress of my life blocked the verbal hug God sent my way.

Kind of like Joshua. The looming stress of the upcoming battle of Jericho prevented him from recognizing his Lord.

“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’”  Joshua 5:13

 “‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’”  Joshua 5:14

Ask God to help you recognize His love for you and to hear the message He has for you today.

May this song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord”, be our prayer:



Ever watch someone take the last piece of cake? Just before you get there.

Hey, no fair! That was MY piece.

A childish reaction, right?

If you’re like me, maybe that’s what life feels like for you lately. Someone else just took your piece of the contentment pie.

You watch other people skipping through life while you tip toe around mental illness (MI). You notice others going about their day smiling. Seemingly carefree.

When will I get a chance to have fun? Or just get a break. Not a vacation—just a break. A few happy moments. Some relaxing time without having to handle emotions. Some time for refreshment away from witnessing turmoil.

Many moms who have a child with serious MI can’t get away. The child with MI can’t be left unsupervised. Or maybe it’s a teen with MI. So getting a babysitter would not be an option. Perhaps it’s a grown child with an intellectual disability who also has MI. Not many would be qualified to relieve a parent and stay with such a needy individual. To handle such complex needs.

Is it possible to find small pleasures without getting away? Has life destroyed your ability to enjoy small pleasures?

We can learn a lot from toddlers. They embrace everything with glee. Our granddaughter loved the tiny white lights in our garland. As if gazing on sparkling diamonds, she responded with an up-down sing-song, “Oo-oo!” She took each of her stuffed animals to show them. One at a time: “Oo-oo!”

Awesome pleasures can be found in unexpected places. When we least expect it. Like on a muggy summer night.

An oppressive heat wave has stalled over our region. Complete with high temperatures and unbearable humidity. Each afternoon the air is so saturated with moisture that we get a brief thunderstorm.

Last night God treated us to a simple pleasure using those uncomfortable elements. Here’s how He orchestrated it. 

Wind whipping the trees outside announced the surprise. Howie and I went outside to watch. The rain hadn’t started. We could smell it in the air. They sky looked ominous. Billowy grey clouds swirled above. Our giant evergreens swayed and danced. The menacing clouds crept closer. Howie and I bathed in the cool breeze. Such an unexpected reprieve from the heat! Ahhh.

Then the raindrops came. Plunk. Plunk. Plick. Plick. Plunk. We enjoyed the staccato music of the approaching storm. Finally the drizzle turned to a torrential downpour. Time to go inside.

“That was nice,” Howie remarked. In the same tone he’s used after watching a heartwarming movie.

We enjoyed the unexpected concert. Compliments of God.

Heavenly Father,

Thank You for sending small pleasures my way. Help me notice them. How awesome are the sights, sounds, and smells of Your surprises.

Phil Wickham wrote of God’s stormy orchestra in “Cannons”

Where to Find God


Kids love Hide and Seek and a good Easter egg hunt. Finding things brings such delight!

Think you’re too old to play Hide and Seek? If you’re like me, you seek God during dark trials.  Finding Him would bring you such delight—and peace.

How can God be found?  July 4th will give us a reminder.  What’s the secret to spotting fireworks? Simple. Look up. In the darkness you’ll find beautiful lights.

Sounds easy. Not so easy when we’re trying to find God in our struggles.

Where are You God? Are You still there? My child’s in torment. How can I help him see Your hand in his life when I can’t find you?

It’s hard to trust Him when we can’t track Him.

CAN God be found? Does He want us to find Him? Yes.

Psalm 14:2   tells us, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”

In Hebrews 11:6   we read His promise that, Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Deuteronomy 4:29  even tells us how to seek Him.

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”   

Psalm 63:1  gives us an example.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

1 Chronicles 22:19  tells us, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.”  

In Matthew 4:12-16 we read about the fulfillment of God’s promise. That Light will come into the world. God sent His Son to provide light in darkness.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

His light is much more than a beautiful burst of colors that brightens the sky and quickly disappears. His light illuminates our heart with lasting and perfect peace.

“…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  Luke 1:78-79

Where is His light? Remember what you do when you enjoy fireworks: look up. He’s hiding in plain sight.

He can even reveal Himself to your child who has mental illness (MI). Read how he did it for our son:


God revealed His presence and protection to me when Chris was out of touch from reality. I experienced His faithfulness when Chris was in the psychiatric unit. I felt His peace when Chris went to the partial-care unit. Chris, however, still couldn’t see how much healing had taken place because he was busy making up schoolwork.  His torment pierced my heart.

“God doesn’t love me. Why did He let my life get so shattered?”

I had no response. Only a plea for God.

Father, please help Chris know You still love him. Reveal Yourself to him.

Soon after, God answered my simple prayer in two powerful ways.

Chris gradually weaned back to school. Starting first with only one or two days a week. Building up to a full week. He even started going to musical practices. This was a risky move because it involved a great deal of stress. Students had to audition to be in the jazz band at Chris’s school. The director selected professional-level music. During Chris’s recovery, he hadn’t practiced his trombone. Was he ready? Could he handle the pressure?

One day, the band traveled to a nursing home for a performance. One of the other trombone players, Adam, didn’t show up. So, the director asked Chris to play his part (without any preparation or notice!)

As they were walking up to the stage, he turned to Chris and said, “I need you to play Adam’s part.”

Chris proceeded to sight read the other part perfectly! He even spontaneously created an improvisation solo that would fit the background music. Chris’s fellow musicians were stunned to witness what Chris was able to do. They didn’t’ know the half of it. They didn’t realize he was recovering from an illness that affected his mind.

God revealed His love and faithfulness to Chris when he took several tests. Anyone would be stressed at the thought of taking a pre-calculus test. Chris had to make up SEVERAL in just ten days. On one of the make-up tests, there was a problem none of the other students got correct. But Chris got it correct!

Chris finished that school year on time with all his work made up, earning nothing lower than a B on his report card. A report card which included several college level AP courses.


Yes, God can reveal His love and faithfulness even to our children who have MI.

Hillsong’s God is Able