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Pain

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Pain. Yours or your child’s is difficult to deal with. Emotional pain can be even more debilitating than physical soreness. We’d pay anything for relief.

There’s someone who knows a thing or two about pain. Paul in the Bible experienced pain and learned how to handle it. Pretend you’re having a conversation with Paul. Here’s how the interview might go:

Do you ever feel hopeless?

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-11

I DO feel in despair. That’s easy for you to say that you can show God’s power. You don’t know what I’m facing.

“I have…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”  2 Corinthians 11:23-28

Why didn’t you ever ask God to spare you from any suffering?

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:8-10

You’re saying you delight in weakness. Are you kidding? Why would you say such a thing? How can you possibly say you delight in weakness?

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I HAVE LEARNED to be content whatever the circumstances… I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:11, 13

I still get so discouraged when my emotional pain is so great, or when my child’s mental illness prevents him from doing the things he used to do.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  2 Corinthians 4:16

I still don’t understand how you can have such a positive outlook when you’ve experienced so much suffering. What’s your secret?

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:18

My pain is so severe that some days I don’t think I can endure life any more. I don’t think I could focus on anything other than my pain. I’m not like you.

Others had tough times. Job lost his business and children all in one day he “got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’”  Job 1:20-21

I still need help to think of God’s power instead of my suffering.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

It helps to remember that Jesus suffered worse pain for me. Many people don’t know how much pain I secretly endure. But, He understands my suffering. I’m comforted knowing He will perfect my faith. He knows I need greater faith. He’ll help me keep my focus on Him. Is that right?

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What would you like to ask Paul?

 Steve Green sings about that great cloud of witnesses in his song: “Find Us Faithful.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi-Mn5tRHvM

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Agony

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Yesterday athletes’ agony became America’s agony. The bombs that blew up in Boston tore through flesh and emotions. Confusion gave way to fear and thoughts of terrorism. A marathon turned into mayhem.
All our hearts go out to the people in Boston. Those who lost loved ones. Those who were injured. Those whose dream of finishing the marathon was severed by an act of terrorism.

What’s your version of a mom’s agony? Having a child with mental illness (MI) missing, losing that child to suicide, suffering the anguish of innocent lives taken at the hands of your child with MI, or experiencing the daily challenges of the child living at home (disrupting the peace in the family, trying to stay calm so as not to trigger violence or break from reality)?

Rick Warren just experienced the horror of losing a child with MI to suicide. An unbearable tragedy. Inflicting unimaginable pain.

The parents of the Aurora Shooter suffered the anguish of innocent lives taken at the hands of their son. Who could withstand such public shame in the midst of that nightmare? A nightmare that doesn’t end.

A mother of a missing child battles relentless torment. Dealing with the daily struggle to fight back fears. Fears of what might be happening to her vulnerable son or daughter.

Anyone struggling with the daily challenges of MI in the home knows how it can wear you down…almost cause you to lose your own sanity.

Each person’s trial can be agonizing at times.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the definition of ‘agony’ is: intense pain of mind or body.

Does that describe your state of mind? Is your pain intense?

Is your mind troubled by thoughts of what’s happening to your child? Or do fears of what might happen plague you?

Regardless of the details of each mother’s trial, there are some similarities. Helplessness. Exhaustion. Strain on a marriage. Heartbreak for siblings who don’t get equal attention. Agony.

Christ experienced agony. He knew exactly what would happen to Him. He’d experience emotional torment from the soldiers’ mocking. The soldiers He’d die to save. He’d endure physical torture from the beating, forty lashes, and crucifixion. He’d suffer unfamiliar spiritual pain from the weight everyone’s sin.

As the day of His crucifixion approached, what did He do?

“Being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44 (NKJV)

God honored His earnest prayers and enabled Christ to carry out God’s plan. To willingly die for our sin.

“So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.
‘I am he,’ Jesus said.” John 18:3-5 (NIV)

We can survive each day by depending on the Lord. For Him to provide hope, guidance, healing of minds and marriages…

When our pain becomes agony, we can follow Christ’s example and pray more earnestly. God will honor our prayers and enable us to carry out His plan for our lives. To willingly face another day in anticipation of His faithfulness. God is bigger than any problem we face or fear. Nothing is impossible to Him.

Let Hillson’s song ‘This is How We Overcome’ minister to your heart:

Bitter Sweet

Basket of blessings
When was the last time you thanked God for your sanity? Probably never. We take thinking for granted.

There are people who might appreciate clarity of thought. A person recovering from a break from reality. Someone who had a cloud of depression removed.

And me. My multiple sclerosis (MS) corrodes my cognition. Numerous lesions in my brain encroach on the healthy tissues. Making it difficult for me to process information easily when I’m tired. My synapses have to take detours around the scars caused by an overactive immune system which destroys good cells. Brain drain is an uninvited visitor in my head each day. What used to be automatic is now a deliberate act. I have to concentrate on my thinking.

My premature shrinking brain causes me to value cognition. I’m grateful for each important detail that pops into my head. I’m aware of God helping me remember what’s critical for me to know. The more I need to rely on Him, the more He shows Himself faithful.

A disability has a way of making someone grateful. Weird, huh? But true.

I often think about people with disabilities in the Bible. It’s fun to imagine what their lives were like after Christ healed them. After they thanked Jesus, what was the very first thing on their to-do list?

Did the lame man squish his toes in the sand as he walked along the edge of water? Did the blind man watch a sunset, and stay up all night to see the sunrise? Did the deaf person surround himself with children just to hear their chatter and giggling?

There is great joy when normalcy is restored. A patient discharged from the hospital rejoices. So does the soldier returning home from war.

Those of us who have children with serious mental illness (MI) yearn for normalcy to be restored. There are sweet moments when that happens.

Lately, my heart has been filled with gratitude. All it took was witnessing our son and my husband enjoying time together. They went to shoot some golf balls to prepare for an upcoming golf outing. As soon as they got home, they turned on TV to watch Jeopardy together. A daily tradition nowadays.

Often they run to the store to get a few things. What a blessing to know Chris has those happy times in his life! Simple, quality time with his father.

Howie’s tender love for Chris reminds me of our heavenly Father’s caring love for us. Be blessed as you listen to the song, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”

Photo Shop

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Wouldn’t it be nice to photo shop your life? Tweak imperfections in relationships the way photographers tweak photographs?

Just for fun, imagine the possibilities.
Let’s delete shadows of painful memories. Click! Regrets of parenting mistakes gone.

Now, blur specific painful scenes. Click! Stories your child told of being bullied or ignored can no longer be seen in your mind’s eye.

Next, air brush ugliness away and smooth out edges. Click! Tension in the family dissolves.

Don’t forget to crop out unwanted emotions. Click! Anxiety and worry are gone from you and your child who has mental illness (MI).

Let’s try reducing the noise that clutters up a marriage. Click! Resentment is replaced with clear communication.

Finally, use the red eye tool to remove the tear-stained, sleep-deprived inflammation. Click! A false façade hides deep sorrow.

Sadly, it seems impossible to remove painful memories, erase regrets, smooth away tension, restore a marriage, sleep peacefully, and stop the tears.

We walk from peaceful days into the darkness. Why?

I discovered a wonderful symbolism of God’s ways when I tinkered with tools in Photo Shop.

My newest pastime is altering photographs. I’ve recently learned how to change the background of pictures.

I captured a nice picture of a macaw. The context of the cage pulled my attention away from the bird’s pretty colors. I wondered if I could improve the picture.

When I switched to a black background, the glorious colors exploded like fireworks in the night. I gasped in awe at the result. Once distractions were removed, the exquisite rainbow of colors became strikingly vibrant.

Has MI plunged you into darkness? The Designer of the universe knows how to focus your attention on Him. The darker the trial, the brighter His presence. Suddenly all that’s seen is His vibrant love.

The complicated context of our lives masks God’s presence. When our lives are uneventful, we rarely notice Him. So, God switches the background.

Walking in darkness conjures up images of someone stumbling. It stirs up ugly emotions: fright, uncertainty, loneliness…But, God ways aren’t like our ways. He knows when we walk in darkness, we look harder for Him.

In our darkest of times, God’s presence captivates our attention. His love comes alive. His comfort reaches out to us. His peace calms our heart.

Words in the Bible, once a multitude of verses, become God’s personal message to us. The Bible, previously our Daily Bread, becomes a true feast for the heart. Our lifeline. We witness His faithfulness and learn to depend on His promises.

My camera has a switch for automatic. But, I prefer using the manual switch. I like to be in control.

Have you got your life on manual? How’s it working for you? Try switching to automatic. Let God capture your heart. He’s perfecting His masterpiece. Your family portrait is framed in His perfect plans. Wait for them to be fully developed. What He’s begun, He’ll complete.

For now, we see only in part. Like this small glimpse of a snapshot.
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God sees the big picture.
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Ask God to give you His heavenly perspective.

Reflect on God’s Hand in your life as you listen to Chris Tomlin sing ‘Take My Life’

Help me, God.

kneelingprayer
Last week when our traveling vet came to put our dog down, my husband stayed with our pet to the end. I couldn’t watch.

I went upstairs and began praying for my husband. He would miss our dog, the most favorite pet he ever had. Our beloved cocker spaniel “watched” football with my husband on the recliner. There would be no long ears to pet while at the computer. No helper to prewash the dishes for the dishwasher. No dog to accompany him as Howie brought in the shopping bags.

I couldn’t ease his pain, while mourning our loss myself. No words could spare him the grief. So, I knelt to pray…an unusual position for me since I have multiple sclerosis (MS). I cried out to God.

Later in the day, Howie and I consoled each other. I lovingly said, “When you were with the vet, I got on my knees and prayed for you.”
He playfully replied, “There are two things wrong with that…you have MS and you’re not Catholic.”

Howie knows that many people pray on their knees. He understood the position of my conversation with God meant I spoke from my gut…from the core of my being. His long embrace told me how much that intercessory prayer meant to him.

Deep pain and urgency drives a person to cry out to God. Our human limitations lead to desperation.

Sooner or later, everyone gets desperate. Heartfelt prayers are sent to God. The fox hole prayer of a soldier, the surrendering prayer of an addict, the negotiation prayer of an unfaithful husband, the deathbed prayer of a terminally ill patient…or the pleading petition of a mom.

Mothers nurture and help their children. We’re driven to heal the hurts. But, sometimes those hurts can’t be cured with a band aid or a kiss. Like when a child is distraught or depressed. Or when a son is tormented by anxiety or distorted thoughts.

A mom of a child with serious mental illness (MI) watches such pain. We’d rather take the pain ourselves than have our children suffer. In helplessness, we cry out to God.

When you cry out to God, do you fast? Do you ask the Holy Spirit to pray for you? Do you sob or scream the words?

Hagar’s story encourages those of us who can’t stand to see our kids suffer.

“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.” Genesis 21:14-19

God tells us, “Do not be afraid. I hear your child crying.”
Our heavenly Father can do what we can’t…with greater love and power.

Listen to this song that reminds you He sees each tear that falls and hears when you call out to Him.

It’s complicated.

Dodgeball

Ask a youngster, “What’s your favorite subject” and recess might be the answer. Some may say gym. My second graders loved to play Bombardment during phys. ed. What fun they had dodging balls coming at them from all sides! Sheer joy.

Do you ever feel like you’re the target in Bombardment? Sometimes it’s as if trials are being hurled at us from all directions. But, there’s no thrill in dodging them.

Recently, that’s been my life.

First, a realization hit me that I’m experiencing a mild relapse. Symptoms of my multiple sclerosis suddenly got worse. Knocking me out at the most inopportune times. Like when I was food shopping with my husband, Howie. Wham! That tell-tale listless feeling came over me. It was like an implosion inside my body. Energy collapsed down through my core, leaving me dizzy. The pain in my extremities got worse. With barely enough strength I whispered to my husband, “Please take me home. I need to go home now.”

In denial, I attended a Christmas party a few nights later with Howie. Bam! That same listless feeling came over me. Right in the middle of a game of Charades.  With puddles of tears in my eyes I announced, “I need to go home now.” What a party pooper!

The next barrage came the day after Christmas. This time, a phone call catapulted the news of and incoming trial. The phone rang at 11:00 PM (which was my cue to duck!).  My husband’s brother reported, “Howie, Mom’s fallen and I can’t get her up.” Howie’s 93 yr. old mother most likely experienced a brain stem stroke. Pow! Another trial slammed me.

Another attack floored me. We noticed our beloved Cocker, Allegro had a noticeable growth on his abdomen. Two years ago, a 12 inch tumor was removed. The cancer is now spreading.

Why can’t trials just take a number and wait in line, like we do at the deli section of the food store? Better yet, why do we need to have a bunch of challenges smash us at once? If I had to order them, I’d ask for just one rocky road please….or one scoop of suffering. Actually, I say politely, “No thanks…I’ll pass…not problems for me now.”

But life stressors hit us. It’s hard enough when they come all at once. But, when you add mental illness into the mix, it’s…complicated. In our current situation, we’re exploring nursing homes for my mother-in-law. Given her acute cognition problems and her frequent falling, she can no longer live in her home. She couldn’t safely navigate the 14 steps to get to the bathroom.

Our son, Chris, told us, “I think you’re doing to Grand mom what you did to me.”  (referring to the time he was hospitalized against his will). The last thing I want to do is remind Chris of a painful time in his life. But we can’t put each trial in a box and deal with them one at a time.

Job in the Bible knew a thing or two about trials hitting all at once. He lost all, but didn’t lose it. He lost his livelihood, but not his faith. He lost all his children, but not his mind. His God is my God. I’ll survive this challenging time by following Job’s example. Job was able to say,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  Job 1:21

If he could still praise the Lord, so can I. Job chose not to follow his wife’s advice:

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’”  Job 2:9-10

Dear Father,

Help me accept whatever comes my way. Knowing You will never leave me.  Remind me this isn’t heaven. Help me focus on Your power and love to help me through this.

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).