Archives

Gratitude and Sorrow?

Choose.PS

How many decisions do you think you make each day? Adults make an average of 35, 000 decisions each day.

Some are good, some might be bad, and others might be—hard …really hard…like choosing to be grateful in the midst of sorrow.

Is it possible to choose gratitude in hard times? What might happen if we surrender to sorrow? That decision could lead to the deadly D’s. With us being sucked into the abyss of depression, despair, and discouragement.

Sorrow could be a perfectly normal feeling for a mom raising a child with mental illness (MI). If a child says something bazaar, starts to unravel, refuses to eat or talk, cuts herself, lashes out in unprovoked anger, or abuses substances, sorrow would be a typical emotion. What mom wouldn’t feel deep sorrow while watching helplessly as her child slips away or heads towards disaster?

We wonder what is happening to our MI child when he is away. It’s easy to let our imagination get carried away. For our own mental health, we have to refuse to entertain those fears. When I’m tempted to go down the worry path, I consciously begin to count my blessings.

I’m grateful Chris lives with us. And that he involves himself in constructive activities, rather than isolating. I’m grateful he’s goal-oriented. And that he works to achieve those goals, instead of being unmotivated.

I’m grateful for times we have positive interactions. And that he initiates happy conversations, rather than shutting us out.

I’m grateful when I get glimpses of his intellect, musical ability, or technology talents. And that he’s willing to share those gifts with us from time to time.

Sometimes it’s not that easy to shift emotions. What can we learn from real people in the Bible? The Bible is full of decisions people made.

Some decisions were bad: Jonah decided to run from God’s will.

Some decisions were courageous: The boy David chose to stand up to a giant, in God’s power.

Some decisions were good: The Good Samaritan chose to help the victim of a robbery.

And some decisions were hard: The biological mother of a child told King Solomon to spare her baby’s life and give the boy to the other woman who falsely claimed he belonged to her (instead of dividing the child and giving one half to each woman).

The Psalmist gives us an example of how to deal with negative thoughts and emotions. Many times the writer calls out to God in his despair. Often his cry of fear or sadness is followed by a sharp turn in focus. One tiny word helps him rejoice in God. The word “but” represents a deliberate decision to reconsider his situation in light of God’s power and faithfulness. Essentially, he says, “My situation seems hopeless. But God is able to support, help, deliver, protect, strengthen, and give peace.”

Here’s a list of those “But Verses in Psalms“.

Matt Redman sings about choosing to bless the Lord in all circumstances—good or bad. His song “Blessed Be Your Name” includes these lyrics:

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say, Lord

Blessed be Your name, Lord

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qp11X6LKYY

Sadness, Depression, and Other Emotions

Music.2.Lord

Some good news came from the medical community recently. New recommendations have been made regarding screening adults for depression. Why is this good news for moms raising kids with mental illness (MI)? Because the news is elevating awareness about the prevalence of depression. Those whose lives are impacted by a loved one with depression need not feel so alone. Several reporters highlighted the need to remove the stigma surrounding MI.

The time has come to raise awareness:

USA TODAY published an article January 26th about the new guidelines for depression screening in adults. Liz Szabo shared those guidelines in her article, “Task Force: Doctors should screen all adults for depression.”

In that article, Szabo included this quote from one of the task force members.

“‘We’re hoping that our screening guidelines are an impetus to increase awareness that depression is common, it’s painful, it’s costly and it’s treatable,’ said Karina Davidson, a member of the task force and a psychologist in the department of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.”

The new guidelines also addressed depression in pregnant mothers. That has prompted discussions about the difference between baby blues and clinical depression that can follow the birth of a child. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about emotions.

Regulating Emotions:

When I taught second graders, I planned several class reinforcement activities. Often the entire class deserved to be rewarded. Instead of handing out stickers, I preferred to involve my students in fun mini-lessons. One of those was an art/music activity.

“Use your crayons to draw on your paper a design that matches the music being played,” I’d instruct.

I’d start by playing a slow, classical song. The students would move their hands slowly across their papers. Even their bodies would sway gently to the music.

Then, I’d switch to a fast, lively tune. That would trigger an instant shift in mood. Suddenly, I’d have 25 bouncing beans for students—all with heads like bobble heads. They’d make short, jerking strokes on their papers.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to shift our child’s mood so easily?

A Biblical Example of Emotional Relief:

There’s one person in the Bible who could ease a king’s torment.

1 Samuel 16:14-16 sets the stage:

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, ‘See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.’

God used David to sooth Saul’s torment.

“Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).

The Power of Music:

Can music be that powerful? It absolutely can be used to minister to a depressed child. I’m not advocating that it be the only strategy used to help a child who is depressed. A multi-disciplinary approach to treatment is necessary, where a team of specialists treat the mind and body. Skilled therapists or counselors can provide encouragement and teach coping strategies. In addition, a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to treat the neurophysiological cause for the depression.

We know it’s also important to address the spiritual well-being of our children. God is in the business of meeting those needs. He answers our prayers and faithfully fulfills His promises. In addition, the Bible gives us another tool to comfort our emotionally fragile children.

His Word is full of references to music. Click here for a list of some of those verses: Music Verses

You look at your child’s despondent face, void of expression, and wonder if playing worship songs will help restore joy. You hope it can provide relief like David’s music did for Saul. I believe it can calm turbulent emotions.

Let me share another anecdote that illustrates the power of music. Years ago, I was the Bible instructor and Assistant Director for an overnight Christian camp for handicapped children. Each summer children with a variety of special needs attended our camp for one week. Campers were assigned to groups according to their age and disabilities. One group consisted of young elementary age boys who had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To say they were a handful to manage would be an understatement! Their schedule included a mid-day nap or resting period. Not only did those active kids need it, but so did their counselors.

Their senior counselor came to me one day seeking help. His bleary eyes reminded me of how mine looked when I’d pull an all-nighter studying at college.

“The boys won’t sleep or even rest during nap period. PLEASE, you gotta help,” he begged.

“I’ll stop by their cottage during nap period,” I promised.

Later that day, I headed toward their cottage. Before I could see the cottage, I could hear music playing loudly. The closer I got to the cottage, the more I realized the sound was coming from their room. The blasting music had a fast drumbeat. It was the kind of music you’d play at a wedding to get the guests up on their feet to dance. Surely not the kind of music you’d play to help hyperactive children drift off to sleep!

I entered the cottage and unplugged the boom box. I left with the boom box under my arm, calmly assuring the counselor, “You shouldn’t have any more problems.” And he didn’t.

That story shows how music can drastically improve the behavior of children with special needs. If it can be such a powerful behavior-management tool, surely it can calm emotions. Especially worship songs that tell of God’s love and faithfulness. Like Matt Reddman’s song ‘Your Grace Finds Me.’  Allow his lyrics minister to you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmFJkGEv3Lw

 

 

Finding Peace during Cold, Dark Times

0.2.13.14

When does the season match emotions? When the sun isn’t shining and the temperature hits below freezing. That’s when some people get seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Cold and grey winter days can lead to depression.

What does SAD have to do with moms raising kids with mental illness (MI)? We can relate to the strong urge to hibernate during the winter seasons of life. Times when it seems like the journey will never end. When our discouragement meter plummets lower than subfreezing temperatures. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape by crawling into bed for days? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to curl up in a warm blanket and dream of the carefree days before MI hit?

The reality is that moms raising kids with MI can’t take a week off. Thankfully, the reality is also that God can surprise us with His peace during the darkest days.

Recently I wrote a devotional for Rest Ministries—an online Christian ministry for people with chronic illness or pain. The message, ‘Winter Surprises’ may encourage you during the long winter months on the calendar or in your life. I created a YouTube video (using photos I took) to accompany the devotional. It’s my prayer that you’ll find refreshment while watching that video (about six minutes long). Here’s the link:   https://youtu.be/bownpnIV7hE

 

Standing Together

stand.togthr

I had selfish reasons for asking my friend the question. “Is your daughter still dealing with depression?” Truly, I wanted to know if her daughter’s medication was helping her deal with the demands of life. I had been praying for her. But, I also needed to hear how my friend was dealing with her daughter’s mental illness (MI). If she could hang onto her faith, then I’d find renewed confidence in my own faith. An encouraging word from my friend would remind me that God is able to help us in the midst of a very dark time.

Happily, I found that the new medication was helping. What’s more, my friend expressed unwavering faith. Her strong trust in the Lord bolstered my faith.

If she can keep her eyes on the Lord through this trial, I can do likewise.

Godly friends can show us the way to handle great sorrow. When the enemy tries to saturate our soul with fears, they serve as living examples of how it’s possible to rely on God’s peace.

It reminds me of Paul’s inner struggle when he wanted to see his fellow believers in Thessalonica. Satan had been hindering Paul from going to them.

“For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way” (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

Has your child’s MI made you feel like Satan is blocking your way, keeping you from moving on?

How did Paul respond?

“So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5).

He got to the point where he couldn’t bear it any longer.

We can relate to that, can’t we?

What did Paul do? He sent Timothy to go to Thessalonica. He needed to know if his fellow believers had been under similar temptations. He needed to know that their faith remained strong.

Timothy’s encouraging report comforted Paul.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

We gain strength from each other when we stand firm in the Lord. It’s uplifting to hear that a fellow believer has remained strong in the midst of dark trials.

Those of us who have lived many years supporting a child with MI can encourage others who are new in their journey. We can share how God revealed Himself in the midst of trials. And those starting their journey can be encouraged to persevere.

We can relate stories about how God has been true to His promises. And bolster a fellow mom in her faith walk.

We can tell about God’s faithfulness, and others will gain strength to carry on.

We can endure our own trials when we know others are finding strength in the Lord. Because we share the same living God. Who cares for us, helps us, strengthens us, provides for us, protects our children, and comforts us.

We’re connected in raising children with MI. And we’re connected in our faith. We can carry on by encouraging each other in our unwavering faith.

Remember, Paul needed to reach out to fellow believers. And so do we.

Longing for Spock-Suppressed Emotions?

spock_0

 

 

 

“Just snap out of it!” What psychiatrist would ever prescribe that treatment for depression? One did. Lucy charged Charlie Brown five cents for that advice. Sadly, we know that it’s not possible to just snap out of it.

So what do we do with our fears and frustrations, regret and remorse, guilt and grief, sorrow and shame? Can we silence those painful feelings which result from mental illness (MI)? Why can’t we just face illogical situations without reacting?

Spock did it in Star Trek. But he was a fictitious alien. That character was portrayed by a real man with human emotions. In the New York Times’ article “Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83” Virginia Heffernan shared one of Nimoy’s statements.

“‘To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior,’ Mr. Nimoy wrote years after the original series ended.”

Is it possible to suppress emotions? Would it be wise to wave a wand over our child’s head and magically remove all feeling? Would it be better to spare him any future pain of MI at the expense of feeling anymore joy?

When Chris had to endure his first stay in a psychiatric unit I don’t know who was in greater pain: him or me. My seventeen-year-old son’s body lay on my lap in a fetal position crying, “Why? Why can’t I go home?” The gentle strokes of my fingers on his head couldn’t wipe away his turmoil.

It took several months for Chris to become functional enough to return to school. My own heartache grew so excruciating that I became numb. I’d watch movies to escape the tragic reality of my life. Even tear-jerking story lines couldn’t cause me to shed a tear. I had already cried an ocean-full.

The book of Psalms became my comfort. I identified with the Psalmist who engaged in healthy self-talk.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:5, and 11).”

The Psalmist showed me a better way to escape. In the privacy of my bedroom, I could turn to God and find refuge in Him. Psalm 57:1 became my prayer.

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

God led Chris to a psychiatrist and psychologist who were both Christians. Those men provided godly advice. Healing words for Chris and for me. I’ll forever be grateful for their expertise. But also feel, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans (Psalm 118:8).”

I’ve learned that, “The righteous will rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; all the upright in heart will glory in him (Psalm 64:10)!”

I found relief in the promises of Psalm 51: 10 and 12. That God would restore my joy and sustain me.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me (Psalm 51:10, 12).”

So would it be better to be like Spock, void of emotions? Having experienced the joy of the Lord and knowing His perfect peace, I say no! I’m glad I’m not like Spock.

But here’s a thought. We can actually achieve Spock’s blessing: “Live long and prosper.” Christians have been given the gift of eternal life and have access to God’s unlimited riches.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”

Just close your eyes and picture this heavenly scene:

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7).”

We may not know what tomorrow holds, but we have a living hope. So we can join Peter and say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4).”

We WILL certainly live long and prosper. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful for emotions. With the ability to love and be loved by God.

By the way, Virginia Heffernan explained why Leonard Nimoy chose his split-finger salute for Spock’s character. She wrote that, “He based it on the kohanic blessing, a manual approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, which is the first letter in Shaddai, one of the Hebrew names for God.”

What a wonderful way to greet others: by sharing God!

More Powerful than Pain

Lord.goes.with.us

If you obey the speed limit, the road will sing to you.

Yeah, right.

Newsflash: Melodies motivate motorists.

It’s true. Musical highways are popping up around the world. Sound unbelievable? Check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJgCLq4Qo6A&list=PL5kpImGdIpVSiMPZZTUYNJTjT_K7mi8jQ

Drivers will only hear the melody when driving at the correct speed. That’s the point. Curiosity may kill a cat, but it can save a motorist’s life. Maintaining safe speeds to ‘play’ the tune can prevent accidents.

Popularity of these roads is growing because people enjoy the creative prompting to follow speed limits. Wouldn’t it be nice if all warnings could be equally enjoyable?

Raising a child with mental illness (MI) can easily lead a mom to dangerous thoughts. Her heart can be filled with fear, worry, and cares. If allowed to fester, worse emotions can result. Like depression and despair. The Bible warns against such contaminated thinking. But how do we resist when life seems so out of control?

God Word is full of loving guidelines. Gentle warnings. Our loving Father couples don’ts with dos, offering us a way out. The biggest warning sign in scripture is hell. But God offers eternal life in heaven through Christ’s death on the cross. All we need to do is accept His free gift of salvation.

There are others:

Don’t fear:

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

Don’t fear losing control of your reactions. Do rely on His power, love, and self-discipline.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).”

Don’t fear what will become of your child. Do depend on His perfect love to drive out fear.

Don’t worry:

“‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25, 33-34).’”

Don’t worry what tomorrow may bring. Do seek His kingdom and righteousness.

Don’t cling to cares:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).”

Don’t hold onto your cares. Do give them to the One who cares for you.

Too often I plunge into my prayers with countless requests. Then I realized that’s not how I approach my son. I don’t start off all my conversations with. “Chris, take out the trash. Do the dishes. Fix my computer. Move that clutter to the shed. Clean your room…” Instead I say, “How are you?” I enter most conversations with a desire to find out more about him. My relationship with him isn’t based on what he will do for me. So why do I treat God like an almighty Santa Clause?

Christ had a reason for instructing us to begin our prayers with, “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10)’”.

He knew our need to shift our focus to Him. When we first contemplate His power, anxieties melt. Pain shrinks in the light of His greatness.

Come to Him first with love. Then the list.  

Many of us can relate to Peter who seemed to personify attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). No wonder he offers great advice when we mess up. God doesn’t say, “Off to the dungeon with you!”

Instead, 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

So all we need to do is love (Ephesians 5:2), put on His armor (Ephesians 6:10-17), resist temptation (James 4:7) and draw near to His presence (James 4:8). That’s my formula for victorious living today.

Focus on Him and you listen to Matt Redman’s song ‘Blessed be Your Name.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnWKehsOXu8

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of a Warm Welcome

welcome.sign

I wished I could be eight again so I could be a student in her class. That’s how I felt each time I visited Kim’s classroom. Kim respected me as her administrator and also treated me as if I was the most important person in her life. Whenever I popped into her room she’d stop everything. Her face would beam with a sincere smile.

“Well hello Mrs. Chandler,” she’d say as if seeing me for the first time in months. “Boys and girls, isn’t it wonderful Mrs. Chandler had time to stop by and say hello?”

Her heartfelt greeting made me feel as if she’d been waiting all day for me to arrive.

Kim had a passion for people and made everyone feel that way. Everybody who entered her classroom benefitted from the same loving affirmation. Her greeting wasn’t a fake formality but a genuine validation of the person’s value.

Can such a simple reception impact a person? It sure made me feel appreciated and special.

We all need to know we’re important to others. Especially our children who have mental illness (MI). But they may not receive a warm welcome from others. Facial expressions that appear lifeless, tense, or sad don’t invite happy responses.

When our son Chris passes me in our home he often doesn’t make eye contact or smile. Sometimes my happy greeting is met with silence or a grunt. Training me to keep my smiles to myself.

But just as smiles are contagious so are frowns. The typical reaction to a sad demeanor is to avoid the person. The typical emotion of a mother who sees her son downcast is to feel sadness. For a long time my face reflected the helpless condition of my heart. My mind provided the directive to my response: “Nothing can be done to spark his smile, disengage your smile.”

One day it dawned on me that my sad expression only contributed to Chris’s dreary emotions. It occurred to me I could at least give him a warm greeting. Instead of contaminating his mood, I could celebrate his life. Simply by offering a loving smile and this upbeat reception: “Hi Chris.”

Nowadays I seize every opportunity throughout the day to let him know he’s important to me. Each time we cross paths I have the chance to let him know he’s loved.

Can a warm welcome really have a positive impact on our loved ones who suffer with MI? Think about the power of a look. The glare from a bully, the frown from a teacher, and the scowl from a drill sergeant strike fear in the receiver. On the other hand, the loving glance of an admirer, the proud smile of a parent, and the approving nod of a coach all inflate one’s self-esteem.

I often imagine what kind of look Peter received from Christ when he denied Jesus three times. Luke 22:61 tells us, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”

Jesus had told Peter he would deny Him three times. So I’m thankful we don’t read, “Christ rolled his eyes and said, ‘I told you so.’”

We don’t have any details describing Christ’s look. But we have plenty of details about His love. It’s forgiving, unconditional, and long-suffering. We can extend that same kind of love to our kids who suffer with MI. We do love our children with unconditional love. But how can we offer a warm greeting in the face of depression? By relying on the One who gave Peter a loving response to His denials.