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Photo Shop

Bird Paradise digital 007 fixed Bird Paradise
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).

What if…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it would sound:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What ifs can torment or comfort depending on our focus.

Oh heavenly Father, increase our faith!

Have you entered the dungeon of daily?

“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”  2 Samuel 22:29

The expression, “There’s light @ the end of the tunnel,” offers no hope when the tunnel feels like a circle with no end.

Years ago, I entered a dungeon of daily. Chris experienced a break from reality. His mind raced. He spoke nonstop and paced the floor. The doctor prescribed medication to help stabilize him.

After two months, we could have a conversation with him. The medicine worked. But, we still had no idea what caused the psychotic episode.

The next several months consisted of weekly visits with a psychiatrist. During the day, Chris exhibited unpredictable behaviors. One minute he’d sob, “Why? Why is my life shattered?” The next minute, he’d pound his fist through the wall.

Eventually, Chris needed to be hospitalized. He received full time treatment in a psychiatric ward at our local hospital.  Partial-care treatment followed. After that, homebound instructors visited our home.

Through it all I wondered, Will life ever be normal again? What does the future hold for Chris? How long can I go on like this?

I held onto the promise that God would never abandon me. I looked for Him in my endless tunnel. And found Him in many ways.

God protected us from literal harm during Chris’s violent outbursts. My heavenly Father revealed His presence to Chris in the psychiatric ward through a nurse—a fellow believer. He gave me perfect peace in the midst of great sorrow.

Dealing with mental illness can make us feel like we are being swallowed up alive. Living a dreary existence. Stuck inside a never-ending pit of uncertainty.

But that’s not the truth. We may not know what our future holds, but we know Who holds the future. We can be certain of His presence in our darkest times. There is light in the tunnel. The Lord turns our darkness into light. He’ll guide us through the tunnel.

The same God who protected Daniel in the lion’s den will protect us. The same Lord who walked with Daniel’s friends in the furnace will walk with us. The same Father who heard Jonah’s prayer in the pit of a big fish will hear our prayers.

How has the Lord turned your darkness into light?