Archive | February 2014

Silence is Golden

silence

When words don’t seem to help our children with mental illness (MI), what can we do? Keep quiet. Silence is powerful. I learned that the hard way decades ago.

In college, my friend, Dave, got one of THOSE middle-of-the-night phone calls. The caller delivered heart-wrenching news.

Dave’s first reaction: he called me.

“Vicki, my best friend was killed in a car accident. I need to see you.”

Why is he calling ME? I suppose it’s because we share a strong faith in God. But I’ve never experienced the death of a loved one.

I sought advice from my roommate.

“Karen, the roommate you had for three years died suddenly last year. What should I say to Dave?”

Karen advised, “Nothing. Let him talk. Or just sit quietly with him. Share a hug and a tear.”

After college, my husband and I kept in touch with Dave and his wife, Trish. We were closer than friends— more like family. They had their first child, Ryan, around the same time we had Chris. Soon after, they had Kevin and we had Bobby.

One day, I got another call from Dave.

“Vicki, Ryan went to be with the Lord today. He drowned in our pool. We’re coming over.”

Ryan was only two years old.

My roommate’s wisdom helped once again. When they visited, we simply hugged, cried, and prayed. And listened to what they had to say. Dave shared even more disturbing information.

To add to the horror of it, we learned that Trish’s and Dave’s mother and father lost a child when they were young parents. Both sets of grandparents were reliving their own nightmare.

So when Ryan died, Dave sought advice from his father. “Dad, you’ve been through this.  What advice can you give me?”

He simply answered, “Son, you speak of your faith.  Now it’s time to use it.”

Another opportunity came for me to practice silence in the presence of someone grieving. I was the assistant director of an overnight week-long Christian summer camp for children with disabilities. One of the campers, Bruce, experienced a tragic loss just weeks before camp. His single mother died, leaving his aunt to raise him. The aunt chose to send Bruce to camp. Our staff had training and experience with children with intellectual disabilities. She hoped we could minister to Bruce.

Alex, Bruce’s counselor, sought my advice. “Bruce is having trouble getting to sleep at night. He just cries. What should I say to him?”

“Nothing. Just spend time with him. Silently pray for him.”

Those of us raising kids with MI sometimes feel helpless. We’re unsure how to help our vulnerable and fragile children. It’s comforting to know that our silence speaks volumes. It says, “I’m here for you.” Our gentle touch says, “I understand and care.”

What about our grief? It’s hard to see our loved one suffering. Why does God delay in helping our children?

The death of Lazarus provides an answer. Mary and Martha sought the Lord to heal their brother.

“Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’  When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. (John 11:3-6)”

The word ‘so’ can lead to some confusion about this story. The strange thing about the events in this scene is that Jesus remained where he was for two more days apparently because of His love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. If Jesus loved them so much, why didn’t he rush off right away? Jesus gave them a hint of the great work He would do and the reason for His delay: so ‘that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’

Jesus explained his delay again to his disciples.

“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him. (John 11:14-15)’”

When Jesus finally arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.  Both his sisters struggled with a common torment many of us struggle with: If only…

“Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’… Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. (John 11:21, 32)’”

But Jesus gently reminded them of the reason for His delay:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? (John 11:40)’”

God is working out His perfect plan in His timing. He’s still in control. Even of the weather. Eastern US has gotten record amounts of snow this winter. Each snowfall is a reminder of our forgiveness. We stand before God ‘white as snow’ because of Christ’s blood. Reflect on His love as you listen to ‘White As Snow’ by Maranatha Singers.

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

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MI: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

dog.good.text.2  dog.bad.text  dog.ugly.text.use.3

Can Mental illness (MI) ever be good? One account in the Bible shows how “MI” came in handy.

King David faked insanity to escape the enemy. David, out of fear of King Achish of Gath and his servants, “pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. (1 Samuel 21:13)”

Insanity led to David’s deliverance. “Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?’ David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam… (1 Samuel 21:14-15 & 1 Samuel 22:1)”

Other than that story, I can’t think of anything good about MI. Can you?

So that’s the good of MI. What’s the bad of MI? The bad is when it seeps into a healthy person’s psyche. Contaminating thoughts. Selling lies.

A former second grade student of mine, Alex, had exceptional language skills. Rarely had I witnessed such amazing articulation. His verbal expression even impressed his peers.

The time came for students to give an oral book report. As expected, most were nervous. Surprisingly, so was Alex. He faced his classmates frozen. Unable to speak. Why would HE be afraid to do a presentation?

It became obvious the enemy was feeding him a lie. Telling him, “You can’t do this.”

I took him out in the hall to give a pep talk. Thankfully, as a Christian educator, I could use scripture to melt his fears.

I assured him by saying, “2 Timothy 1:7 tells us God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear. What He calls us to do, He’ll enable us to accomplish. Philippians 4:13 promises, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ The truth is that God has blessed you with wonderful speaking skills. He’ll help you give your oral book report.”

Still afraid, he asked, “Can I do it tomorrow?”

I granted him permission to wait, knowing his parents would echo my words from scripture and pray with him. He did okay the next day. And remembered God’s faithfulness. In third grade he sang a solo during a Christmas concert—in front of hundreds of people.

Alex suffered a common fear: public speaking. Never before that day had he demonstrated anxiety. His behaviors weren’t a result of MI.

Some of our children suffer anxiety disorders. They face overwhelming fears which can be crippling. Or battle worries which are constant. Their symptoms aren’t temporary like those experienced by Alex.

Other forms of MI can be equally debilitating. Our children need help to overcome challenges related to their illness. Sadly, instead of support, we receive judgment from others.

The ugly truth about MI is that some people think our kids are pretending to have anxiety or depression. Assuming their behaviors can easily be controlled. Outsiders jump to wrong conclusions and pass negative judgments. “It’s a character flaw, a ploy to gain power, or manipulation to get out of doing work.” All beliefs are wrong. Anyone who has ever experienced MI would tell you they’d do anything to feel better. Sadly, our children who have MI aren’t faking it like King David did.

Another ugly truth about MI is that some people think the child should “just snap out of it.” The assumption driving such incorrect thinking is that the symptoms are temporary. Outsiders advise, “Just talk to your child and he’ll stop acting that way.” The false belief is that reasoning would be all that’s necessary to improve behavior (like it did with Alex).

God healed Alex from his irrational fear. Can our heavenly Father do the same for our children who suffer from MI? Certainly He’s able. I witnessed an extraordinary miracle in the life of an adolescent. You can read about her transformed life in the message I posted August 21, 2013 entitled ‘Anxiety.’

The wonderful Truth is that God is able to help us through our own challenges, heartaches, and loneliness of MI.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)”

Another wonderful Truth is that Christ overcame death. May you be encouraged by that reminder of His limitless power. Be blessed by this song as you reflect on His second coming.

‘Glorious Day’ by Casting Crowns

Greater Than World-Class

Hawaii.Le.Mer

Le Mer Restaurant, Hawaii

Ever been to a five-diamond restaurant? I did only once. My husband and I went on the vacation of a lifetime. We traveled to Hawaii and splurged on an extravagant dinner. What made it so spectacular? Superb food. Unobtrusive service. Romantic ambiance. And a breath-taking view. The reflection of the sunset on the ocean, just outside our window, whispered, “Welcome to Paradise.”

How does a restaurant achieve a five-diamond status? Our son, Chris, worked for the AAA Club several summers. Often callers inquired about their Diamond Rating Definitions. Chris could articulate the distinction between different levels of service. For example, at a five-diamond restaurant diners would discover that their needs were not just met, but anticipated.

Our children who have mental illness (MI) require five-diamond attention. We attempt to anticipate their needs.  When Chris finished treatment for his psychotic episode, I wanted to prepare him for his return to high school.

“If anyone asks you why you were absent for so long, just answer, ‘I was sick and now I’m better.’”

I wondered if Chris would be able to handle any stress. So I contacted the principal.

“If Chris feels overwhelmed, I doubt he’d ask permission to leave class. He might not want to face any questioning in front of his peers. Would there be a way for him to leave class inconspicuously?”

“I’ll give Chris a “gold pass. All his teachers will be instructed that if Chris presents the pass to them they should excuse him—with no questions asked.”

The principal even provided a safe place for Chris to go on such occasions. Chris could report to a person who would be available and qualified to help him with his stress. Three staff members were identified: one on each floor of the huge school building.

Was I able to provide five-diamond protection for Chris? No. I couldn’t anticipate all his needs. That reality sometimes led to my own anxiety.

Those of us raising children with MI are keenly aware of our child’s fragile mental stability or of their shaky emotional well-being. We’d love to keep them in a protective bubble. But we’re simply not able to provide for their every need.

What are we to do? Wring our hands in anxiety or fold them in prayer? Folded hands aren’t a symbol of resignation. But a position of hopeful expectation. When we pray for our kids, we’re not giving up; we’re giving THEM up—to Him. It’s relief for our grief. We can rest in His loving care.

In the Hands of God, our child receives BETTER than five-diamond service. His care is more perfect than anything we can provide. Jesus reminds us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)”

What a comfort to know that the One who created our child knows his needs even before he asks! And He knows our own thoughts too.

Raising a child with MI can be a lonely journey. Often we wonder if anyone understands. Even our own spouse can’t seem to comprehend how we need to be supported. We wish someone would know our deepest thoughts. Thankfully, we can turn to the One who knows better than we know ourselves. How many of us offer this as our prayer to God?

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:1-6)”

It is difficult to comprehend His love. When I contemplate my status as His child, I begin to understand.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1-3)”

May you be lavished with His love today.

Reflect on His love as you listen to Scripture Songs’ ‘Behold What Manner of Love – 1 John 3:1.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U9GJf6B7mc

Real or Unreal

Macaw

The Macaw caught my eye. Was it real or stuffed? Soon I found out.

The aisles in the tropical bird store were crammed with supplies for bird-lovers. I stepped back to snap a picture of the feathery creature and knocked into a shelf of feeders. “Uh-oh,” flew out of my mouth proclaiming my fear that they’d all topple over.

“Uh-oh,” echoed back.

Did I just hear that? To confirm my suspicions, I repeated my reaction. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh,” bellowed back the refrain from the perch. That parrot, asserted itself by honking, “Uh-oh!”  As if mocking my clumsiness. Proclaiming my private mistake to the entire store.

Thankfully, a parrot can’t repeat unspoken words. Ideas hidden in peoples’ minds are safe.

“A penny for your thoughts.”  Would you reveal your most intimate thoughts so cheaply?

That phrase won’t necessary buy accurate information from a child with mental illness (MI). You might only get silence or a glare.

Years ago, when I attended part of Chris’s appointments with his psychologist, the doctor would ask, “So Chris, what are you thinking?”

Chris often looked at me as if to say, “I’m not gonna say anything with her here. My thoughts are private.”

Can you blame him? Would you willingly reveal your every thought? Certainly not the ugly ones.

Thankfully, most of us can suppress vindictive, angry, impure or judgmental thoughts. We put the mental brakes on opinions that threaten to contaminate our conversations. We resist the temptation to blurt out impressions like, “Wow! I can’t believe she …” We stifle our speech when feeling, “I wish he would just …”

Foreign thoughts that invade our thinking are annoying. It could be worse. What if we couldn’t trust our thoughts? That would be horrifying. That’s what it’s like for individuals with MI who hear voices. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish real from unreal.

We can help children who hear voices by suggesting how to distinguish between real and unreal. Those that spew hurtful or hateful messages are most likely not real; they’re symptoms of MI. The best offense is to fill their minds with undeniable Truth. God is real. He loves them.

We need to remind ourselves of that fact. God is real. And His love for us is very real.

Troubles seem to stalk our families. Bazaar behaviors become the norm. We seem to stumble through dark days searching for an ounce of hope. Praying for normalcy.

I don’t know about you, but there were days I thought I’d simply ignore the reality of MI in my life. As if I could will it away with positive thoughts.

Today, I’m going to be at peace.

But anxious thoughts would ambush my plan. Worries would pounce on my artificial peace. And pound away at my awareness of His presence. Sometimes I’d experience more subtle attacks. My focus would meander throughout the day. Carefree thoughts would focus on this chore and that errand. Then curiosity would lure me down dark paths in my mind.

I wonder if Chris is sitting alone at lunch. Did he remember to ask the teacher for testing in a quiet setting?

Such seductive contemplation would suddenly entrap me. I’d find myself snarled in my own deception.

Chris can’t be okay because no one is there to help him.

Then I’d come to my senses and remember God wouldn’t abandon Chris. At those times, I refused to allow concerns to trample my trust in Him.

How could my trust in God be unshakable? Because of who He is.

In my training to be a vision support teacher, I had to experience what it’s like to be blind. The professor instructed me to wear a blindfold and follow a sighted guide. My level of trust depended on the person leading. If I knew he’d protect me from injury, I relaxed. If my guide had difficulties paying attention, I peeked under my blindfold. Knowing I had to depend on myself.

The more I know of God and His love for me, the more I can rest in His care. I assure myself: “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:5-6)”

Thank You, Father, that You’re very real. Your Word is true and I can depend on Your love. Make Your presence known to me today in greater ways. Align and synchronize my thoughts with Yours.

God answers, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)”

Rejoice in His strength as you listen to Hillsong’s ‘Believe.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbIXoPblF8Q