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Dealing with pet loss and mental illness

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Our Pet “Praying”

A friend of mine has been dealing with her adult son’s recent psychotic episode. In the midst of it all, they had to put their beloved pet down. Where can she (or anyone) go for comfort at such a time?

How could I comfort my friend? I sent her a sympathy card and enclosed this message:


A Symbol of Unconditional Love by Vicki

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:11

How can we comprehend such love?

A little child draws a picture to show his love for a parent. God’s expression of love can be seen in His creation. He paints an exquisite sunset to bless us. How can we fathom such tenderness toward us? Is it even possible to understand how much He loves us? The King of all kings loves us unconditionally.

We get a peek at unconditional love through our beloved pets. Sometimes we feel foolish or even guilty that our pets mean as much to us as family members. Why do we love them so? Maybe it’s because we yearn for that unconditional love they show us. Each day, we receive unearned affection from our pets.

If we neglect our dog in the business of life, he still loves us. No matter how long we leave our pet, he faithfully sits by the door or the window waiting for us. When we are brokenhearted, he sticks close to us and licks away our tears. He is happiest simply when near us. If we yell at our four-legged companion or mistreat him, he’s forgiving. Our furry family member can be so gentle and yet can still protect. He sees us at our worst and loves us anyway. One of the few things in life we can depend on is his constant adoration.

No wonder, we grieve so much when they die. Routines and daily activities will never be the same. Entering home without their celebratory greeting will be painful to bear. Through tears, we’ll do simple tasks like putting dishes in the dishwasher. How we’ll miss their presence. How we wish they could live longer!

One thing remains. Unconditional love. Not from our pet, but from God. We recall our faithful dog and remember He is faithful. We picture our pet waiting for us and know God waits faithfully for us if we stray from Him. The memory of our pet sitting at the door conjures up a picture of a patient Father waiting at the door of our heart (Revelation 3:20). The exuberance our dog showed at our return reminds us of the exhilaration and compassion the prodigal son’s father showed his long-lost child (Luke 15:20).  Then, we begin to understand the sheer joy we bring to our Father.

We mourn our loss, but are comforted by the fact that our Father is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). The sudden lack of protection of our watch dog is replaced by the assurance that God protects us (Psalm 46:1).

The tears we shed were once licked away by our dog. A reminder that God will one day wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). We reflect on the many things we did with our furry friend. Then, think of our true and perfect Friend (John 15:15).

Our pet demonstrated unlimited forgiveness. God offers life-saving forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

Our hands which once embraced a loving pet now cling to God’s message of love. We cuddle up with the Bible and read words from One who is acquainted with grief. Our heavenly Father willingly watched His only Son die. For us.


I pray this has comforted you in some way, as well.

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Heart Help

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Erie, PA Zoo

Years ago a traumatic event dried up my tears. They no longer flowed. Not even during a tear-jerker of a film. I don’t remember the movie; I only remember I was the only one in the theater not crying over the death of the main character. Chris’s psychotic episode had left me emotionally numb.  As if my heart had turned to stone.

That was so unlike me. I used to be and still am a crying machine. Had I lived in biblical times, I would have been hired to be a wailer (someone paid to cry at funerals)!

I love the verse which assures me that God notices every tear drop. “You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” [Psalm 56:8 (NKJV)].

Referring to that verse, I once told my pastor, “I’m glad God puts my tears in a bottle.”

“For you, Vicki He uses a pool!” He knew I excelled at weeping.

Undoubtedly, I’m not the only mom raising a child with mental illness (MI) who’s experienced a major change in emotions. Sometimes crying ends because there just aren’t enough tears to make it better. Other times we’re afraid to cry. We fear that one tear will release an ocean of emotions—a tsunami of tears. We worry we’d completely fall apart. So we put a plug on our tears. Staying in control at all cost, is the name of the game – even if that’s not healthy for us.

Crying is a necessary part of our own emotional healing.  We have to move along in our grieving process. But do we dare open the flood gates? Who will help us?

My stone-cold heart softened in the hands of God. I pictured myself as clay in my Father’s hands and allowed Him to mold me into a healed version of myself.

Isaiah 63:8 provides the beautiful picture of our Father’s care.

“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Imagine our loving Potter reshaping us after we’ve been wounded. Picture comfort pouring from His hands like a salve.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

He comforted me, removed the torment of bad memories, and healed my broken heart.  Was it easy? No. Was it scary? Yes. Did God help me overcome the trauma of my son’s psychotic episode? Yes!

And He’ll do it for you.

 

 

 

Facing Change

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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.”

“Not again!”

active.shooter

There’s been another mass shooting. Since it happened, people are uttering the taboo phrase, mental illness (MI), out loud. Not in whispers. Spoken loudly, as if rendering a death sentence. Some proclaim, “Mental illness is what caused the shooter to kill nine people and wound nine others in Oregon.”

Let me start by emphasizing an important point: Not everyone with MI commits such crimes. Many function well and lead typical lives. Read my message ‘Not all become shooters.’

One of the survivors of the recent tragedy in Oregon, Anastasia Boylan, reported that the gunman ordered the students to stand up if they were Christians.

Can we stand firm in our faith, while facing MI?

Those college students in Oregon, who stood firm in their faith, offer us a symbol of how to live. In the face of MI, moms raising kids with MI can stand firm in their faith. Paul told the believers in Thessalonica how to survive troubling days ahead. He encouraged them to, “Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Our faith in Christ need not be shaken. Because the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, we remain firm in our belief that He is faithful. We’ve learned that His promises are true. We’ve experienced His power, provision, and protection. He has guided and comforted us. His Word reminds us daily of the hope and peace we find in Him.

Responses to this recent tragedy:

The mass shooting in Oregon has been added to the growing list of shootings in our nation. Indications are surfacing about the perpetrator’s troubled past. Even before learning about his past, most people concluded that he must have had some sort of MI. So, some say addressing MI would be what needs to be done.

The president is calling again for common sense gun control laws. Many agree that the solution to preventing further massacres would involve numerous measures.

Those of us raising kids with MI could weigh in with our own suggestions. Like how ‘bout educating everyone? There are behaviors which hint someone is about to unravel and explode. Everyone should learn about the signs which predict violence. Without insight into the problem, those warning signs go unnoticed. Loved ones often report, “He kept to himself. I never thought he’d do such a thing.” Soon after, investigators unearth clear signals.

I’ve never seen a show dedicated solely to shedding more light on the complexity of the problem. Such a show would help viewers understand the profile of a person who might snap. It would list the risk factors that might play a role in pushing a person to the brink of violence … a person who: has a history of MI, is marginalized and isolated, has been bullied, has anger issues, has abused substances, has suicidal tendencies, own guns, and/or posts rants and concerning pictures on social media sites.

It would be helpful for people to learn what a person does and doesn’t do prior to unleashing carnage. Such a documentary would help viewers understand the difference between typical behavior and abnormal patterns of behavior. It would include a focus on the role of social media postings which should alert those who read them. Then, it would equip concerned citizens with action they could take to get help for the troubled person (by helping them know who to contact).

October—A Month of Awareness:

Elevating awareness would be a good start. Prior to this last incident of mass murders, October was already an important month. Mental Illness Awareness Week is October  4-10, 2015. October is also National Bully Prevention Month

I’m grateful for organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). According to their website, NAMI  has a “network of NAMI members and friends dedicated to promoting caring faith communities and promoting the role of faith in recovery for individuals and families affected by mental illness.” During this Mental Illness Awareness Week, check out Faithnet’s resources and information by clicking on the link below:

National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding

 It’s interesting that October is also National Bully Prevention Month. Sadly, as in my own son’s case, constant bullying can contribute to mental illness (MI).

Searching for Beauty

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What can you do when darkness has shrouded your heart? In the secret places of your mind, are you groping in the dark? Are you squinting to find even a glimmer of hope? Are you straining your eyes to spot a flicker that will illuminate the way out? Are you afraid to admit that your life feels black?

Your child’s struggles with mental illness (MI) may not have ended. It may seem like the light of your life has gone out. Leaving a cloud of doom hovering over your home.

I can assure you from experience that life isn’t always as black as it seems. In the midst of my darkest hours, God’s love and faithfulness shined brightest.

Scratch art symbolizes buried beauty. Young children delight in discovering bright colors hidden beneath black. Similarly, you will delight in discovering God’s light in your darkness. It’s truly there.

Colors are revealed most vibrantly against a dark backdrop. Like a sunset glowing in the night sky. Or a diamond presented on black velvet. Sometimes, you just have to look closely. Like in a microscope.

Those who search for beauty in a microscope find treasures not visible to the naked eye. Dr. Fernan Federici is a perfect example. His microscopic images of plants, bacteria, and crystals reveal hidden masterpieces—created by the Master.

microscp.flourescnt.proteins

That same Master invites us to look into His Word to examine His love. A closer study of the scriptures reveals a treasure trove of Truth. Like the power of a King and the faithfulness of a Friend.

Zoom in on 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4a to spot a tiny, yet encouraging word.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles …”

Did you find it? “ALL” We have access to a loving Father who is the God of ALL comfort. He comforts us in ALL our troubles. How does He do that? By easing our anxieties. Think about each burden you’re bearing and envision God removing them from your shoulders.

Now zoom in on Isaiah 9:2 for a powerful and assuring Truth.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

Did you find it? “IN” We will find Christ, “the light of the worldIN the midst of our dark times. How does He do that? By making His presence known when we’re going through turmoil. Consider the current struggle you’re experiencing and imagine Christ walking beside you, holding your hand.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners …to comfort all who mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61: 1-3).

That same Lord wants to bind up your broken heart, to proclaim freedom for you from the darkness of MI, and to comfort you. He wants to replace your ashes of sorrow with a ‘crown of beauty.’ To transform your mourning into joy. To turn your despair into praise.

Wasted Wondering

Rear.Guard

Would you ever hop in a car without knowing your destination?  I have.

Our family used to have elaborate road rallies. We’d pair up with a partner and hop in a car, not knowing the destination or route. Just before we took off, my cousin, Kate, would hand us a list of directions and clues.

We had to locate specific information along the way. Kate’s cleverly-worded clues made it like a scavenger hunt.

At the dead end, turn right. How many birdhouses does the Italian family own?

On that road, we’d spot a house displaying an Italian flag. We’d count the number of birdhouses and move on to the next set of directions and clue.

Prizes were awarded to the pair who got the most correct answers in the shortest time. Part of the fun was traveling unfamiliar roads and not knowing where we were heading. It was an exciting adventure. We’d wonder, What’s over that next hill? Where’s Kate taking us?

But, not knowing where a crisis is heading can be terrifying. Helping a child who’s suffering with mental illness (MI) can be complicated. It’s hard to know what’s going on. Waves of wondering overtake our thoughts.

I wonder if my son is really feeling better. I wonder what he’s thinking. I wonder if he is taking his medication. I wonder if he’s isolating at school. I wonder if other people know what’s going on…

Wondering about the present causes us to carry a burden we’ve been invited to relinquish. We don’t need to carry our heavy load of cares. Peter reminds us to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Wondering about the present often leads to wondering about the past. We secretly feel responsible for our child’s suffering.

I wonder if I missed something. I wonder if I should have done something more. I wonder if I should have found a different therapist. I wonder if this wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t so busy…

Wondering about the past causes us to feel guilty.  Christ’s own disciples wondered the same thing when they saw a blind man. They asked Jesus, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9:2.)”

Christ’s answer relieves us from unnecessary guilt.

“‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3).

Then there’s the future wondering. MI can be so unpredictable. It’s difficult to see a clear path of recovery.

I wonder where this will lead. I wonder how bad this will get. I wonder if my marriage will survive this. I wonder if I can endure watching my son suffer. I wonder if he’ll be able to graduate. I wonder if he’ll be able to work. I wonder if he’ll experience another breakdown. I wonder how much stress he can handle. ….

Wondering about the future often leads to fear and worry. Christ said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). God knows your needs and has promised to care for you.

Here’s a verse that will remind you that He’s guiding your steps and He’s got your back.

“The Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 52:12b).

None of us chose this trip with our child’s MI. We didn’t hop into a cab and say, “Please take us into downtown MI. Be sure to take the route with the most winding roads.”

Thankfully, we’re not on a journey driven by a taxicab driver. GOD is in control of our journey.

My problem with wondering is all about wandering.

I find that I fall into a snare of wondering when my thoughts wander from Him. The more I think about God, the easier it is to rest in His care.

How would you ask God to remove your wasted wondering?

Not Abandoned

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Do you feel you’ve been left to suffer alone? Has no one come alongside you to help you parent a child with mental illness (MI)?

When a loved one dies, friends and relatives flock to the home of the grieving family. When someone is going through cancer treatments, friends offer meals and send get-well cards. When a person has been in a car accident, family members rush to the hospital. It’s different when a child is admitted into a psychiatric unit.

Why do we feel so alone when experiencing a crisis due to MI? Often, it’s because our needless shame prevents us from reaching out. Sometimes others simply couldn’t understand the turmoil that’s in our child, in our homes, and in our heart. How could they? There are no words that could convey the devastation. The whole experience can seem so surreal—even to us.

Dealing with MI can be a long journey. We get so tired of … well, of it all. Especially the loneliness. But, you are not alone. It helps to know others understand.

Paul experienced abandonment.

The apostle Paul was literally abandoned. In the absence of supporters during his time of need, Paul didn’t abandon his faith. He knew God hadn’t abandoned him.

“At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:16-18).

Can you feel God standing by your side, giving you strength to face another day?

Job experienced abandonment.

In the midst of his trials, Job experienced feelings of abandonment. He had suffered the loss of his business, animals, and children. Friends and family didn’t rally around him. They all left him. Imagine his loneliness.

Isolation led him to cry, “He has alienated my family from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me. My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger. I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family” (Job 19:13-17).

So sad. So pathetic. Can you relate?

Sometimes MI causes our child to behave like one who is betraying us. Can anyone emphasize with that kind of hurt? Once again, we can reach back through the centuries and find someone who knows our pain. God speaks to our heart in the heart of the Bible. Smack in the middle of His Word we find the book of Psalms. There we read about David’s plight.

David experienced betrayal and persecution in the midst of abandonment.

“They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved. Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother. But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me” (Psalm 35:12-16).

Later in Psalms, David despaired that, Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me” (Psalm 41:9).

Here’s more proof that David endured betrayal and abandonment:

“If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend” (Psalm 55:12-13).

Christ experienced abandonment.

The night soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Matthew tells us that, “All the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56b).

Is it comforting to know that Jesus understands your feelings of isolation?

Never Alone

The last thing we need is advice from people who have no clue what it’s like to raise a child with MI. However, someone who understands our loneliness would get our full attention if they shared advice. David knew we could benefit from his words of wisdom. He not only shared his hard-earned advice, but he added a promise. He recommended that you, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).

David could say with assurance, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

For David, it was personal. He found comfort and assistance from the One who never left him.

“As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me” (Psalm 55:16).

Can you echo David’s words of assurance? Because God is unchanging and all loving, every one of us can make the same statement, “As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.”  We don’t find confidence by mustering up hope. We find confidence by trusting the One who is faithful.

A biblical pep talk:

David has these words of encouragement for you:

“Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble” (Psalm 41:1).

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).

A lonely widow shows us how to trust God each day:

“The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help” (1 Timothy 5:5).

You’re not alone.