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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.

Discouraged?

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Colonial Williamsburg

Ever notice that fears feed discouragement? You’re afraid of what might happen to your child with mental illness (MI) and your worrying grows. The problems inflate to a size too massive to handle.

I can’t begin to figure it out. What if school problems get worse? What if his new medication doesn’t work? What if our insurance won’t cover the new medication? What if we can’t find a better therapist? Giving up isn’t an option. Where can I go to escape this trial?

You’re not alone in wanting to escape. Take Elijah. He was so fearful that he felt completely isolated. He went into a cave. There he cried out, “‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.’” [1 Kings 19:10 (NKJV)]

The Lord met Elijah in his loneliness. He spoke to him in just a whisper.

“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” [1 Kings 19:10-12 (NKJV)]

Listen to part of what God told him:

“‘Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’” [1 Kings 19:18 (NKJV)]

Elijah had become so discouraged that he thought that he was the only person left who had not bowed to Baal. Boy was he wrong! A whopping seven thousand others in Israel had remained faithful to God.

Things aren’t as bad as they seem. God understands our despair. He has words to encourage our hearts. He’ll meet us in our loneliness and discouragement. Not in the wind, or an earthquake, or a fire. But in a still small voice. We just need to tune into God’s soft messages. But how do we do that?

The Lord gave me insight when our piano was being tuned.

A friend of ours came to our house to tune our piano. While he worked, I did my devotions. The piano tuning drew my attention away from the Bible. I wondered, How is he able to tune our piano by ear?

Then I realized he had developed his keen musical ear as a music teacher. The more time he spent listening to notes, the easier it was for him to discriminate between pitches.

My mind shifted back to my devotions, but then continued to wander again.

How can I develop a keen ear to hear God’s voice? Probably the same way. The more I listen to His words, the easier it will be for me to distinguish His voice from all the other noises in my head. But how can I hear God’s messages for me?

With the piano-tuning serenade in the background, God whispered to me. “Remain in My presence and you’ll hear My voice.”

Remain in His presence. That’ll help me get my heart tuned up. 

With deeper focus I searched for verses about being in God’s presence.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”  (Psalm 139:7-10).

His presence never leaves us.

“You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Acts 2:28).

His presence fills us with joy.

“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence” (1 John 3:19).

Our hearts can rest in His presence.

So next time I’m discouraged, I’ll rest in His presence and tune into God’s still small voice.

 

Dragons in our Lives

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Chinese Lantern Festival Philadelphia, PA

I didn’t stand in fear of the dragon. In fact, its beauty amazed me.  The vibrant colors lit up the dark sky.  It was just one of countless structures in the Chinese Lantern Festival.  It could do me no harm.

But dragons in our lives are another thing. Like the dragon named Mental Illness (MI). Knowing what it’s done in our child’s life, could anyone embrace that creature as a thing of beauty?

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke seemed to suggest just that. In his Letters to a Young Poet  he explains, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

It seems that Rilke would have us view MI as “something helpless that wants our love.” Seriously?  Such twisted philosophy comes from a man who lived his entire life rejecting Christianity. He searched for deeper meaning in life by writing poetry. His poems, therefore, reflect a troubled inner self.

In The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge he writes, “How is it possible to live when after all the elements of this life are utterly incomprehensible to us?” What a sad view of life!

Those of us who know God and who have an intimate relationship with Him gain an eternal perspective of trials. We have a clear vision of what He has done in the past, how He provides for us in the present, and what He will do in the future.

We see God as the One who has already triumphed. As the One who is greater than any challenges before us. And He is the One who will banish the dragon deceiver. Revelation gives us a picture of God’s ultimate power over deception.

“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1-3).

“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9).

The deceiver of nations contaminated Rilke’s view of God. He prevented Rilke from finding God in his search for life’s meaning. That deceiver led him astray from knowing God. So Rilke created his own twisted version of God.

But that deceiver of nations does not have to deceive us. We need not listen to that voice that taunts, “God isn’t able to help your child. He’s not even working….” The Bible assures us God IS alive and working in our lives.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

There may be times in our journey that we wonder where God is. But He is faithful to reveal Himself in our darkest days. And His light is more beautiful than the dragon lantern’s vibrant colors that lit up the dark sky. He’s done it for me and he’ll do it for you.


Here’s a peek at some of the photos I took of the Chinese Lanterns. Click on the link below and enjoy a diversion from your day:

http://play.smilebox.com/SpreadMoreHappy/4e4451774e7a59344e444e384f5459314f4441314f444d3d0d0a

 

No Shame

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How do you feel when you’re at a gathering and parents begin bragging about their kids? A mom raising a child with mental illness (MI) might not feel comfortable sharing achievements like, “My child started eating again…My child smiled and talked cheerfully yesterday…My child doesn’t isolate; he exercises regularly and fixes computer problems…”
We secretly celebrate our child’s victories. Why? Maybe because we think others wouldn’t understand. Honestly, it’s also because we harbor unnecessary shame. The stigma of MI stifles us.
We feel judged. Most of us imagine what others must think about us raising a child with MI. Some have actually been judged. People, who have no clue what challenges we face, have acted like experts. As if sitting on their self-imposed thrones of perfect parenting, sharing their wise advice.
In our thoughts we imagine revenge: You should TRY living just one day in my life and see how you’d cope!
We can related to the psalmist who said, “May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace” (Psalm 35:26).
Surely, those who judge us should be the ones who feel shame. Yet, we’re the ones who are made to feel shame.
We don’t deserve to be judged. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if others could understand? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could let everyone know we didn’t do anything to cause our child’s MI?
God did just that for Job. The Creator of the universe set Satan straight in his judgment of Job.
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’” (Job 1:8).
Even though Job had God’s stamp of approval, he was still made to feel shame when his friends made accusations. Job felt powerful shame. In his physical condition Job felt emotional torment. He revealed his needless shame by saying, “If I am guilty—woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction” (Job 10:15).
How can we remove the ugly cloak of shame others place on us? By proclaiming with resolve,
“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7).
The easy-to-read version of Isaiah 50:7 gives us a simpler way to memorize it: “The Lord God will help me, so the bad things they say will not hurt me. I will be strong. I know I will not be disappointed.”
The Lord protects our hearts from needless pain and then fills our hearts with praise.  The blooming trees and flowers remind me that God’s able to restore joy.
“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”
(Isaiah 61:11).
Have a shame-free and joyful day!

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

God knows.

parched land

From the ground, the residents may not be able to see the impending doom. But I could see that the river was drying up. That’s because I was in an airplane.

Are you like that river? Are your mental, emotional, and spiritual resources drying up? Is it getting harder and harder to find one more drop of compassion? One more trickle of tenderness? Has your energy evaporated? Are you just so tired? Worn out. Do you fear your caregiving drought is on the horizon?

No one can really tell how dried up you feel, but God knows. Things look different from His vantage point.

There are times we wish that we could just get away. Or at least mentally escape the concerns about our children with mental illness (MI). If only we could refrain from worry, even for just one day. Do our husbands or loved ones know just how much we need a break? Maybe not, but God knows.

Can a mom temporarily put her concerns on pause? If she did, who would attend to the needs of her most vulnerable child?  Isaiah 41:17 promises that “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17).

God will not forsake us or our children. God knows we need to be rejuvenated. Isaiah 35:1-2 assures us that God will restore life in a parched land. As we walk in our MI wilderness, we’ll witness God’s restoring power.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom …they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God” (Isaiah 35:1-2).

I’ve learned that God is able to provide quiet moments with Him in the midst of chaos or uncertainty. He has arranged times when I could take a mental break from my responsibilities. The key was putting ALL my cares in His hands. The challenge was to trust that God knows all—what I need and what each of my family members need.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Completely relinquish your child into the hands of God who loves him more, knows all, and has unlimited power. Trust God to give you a much-deserved break. God knows you need it!

Listen to Yalonda Adams’ song, ‘Still I Rise’  where she rejoices that, “God is able to strengthen me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfj-UDua9RE

 

In Knots

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Williamsburg, Virginia

“Grandpa has a sore belly,” our daughter-in-law explained. Our granddaughter wouldn’t have understood pain from a gallbladder attack. But she surely could sympathize with belly pain.  So could lots of us.

The booming gluten-free industry is proof my husband’s not alone in digestive misery. People suffer from Celiac Disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Then there’s the ‘itis conditions’: colitis, diverticulitis, gastritis, pancreatitis, and more. A simple google search of ‘digestive illnesses’ yields a long list of miserable conditions. All of which can make your stomach feel like it’s been through a meat grinder.

Mom’s raising kids with mental illness (MI) know another type of stomach pain. The kind that results from worry and stress. Concern can cripple our digestive systems. Rendering us sick with belly pain. Leaving our stomach in knots.

What can ease that kind of twisted torment? Think about what parents to do ease the belly pain of a toddler. We softly stroke their tummy. Our heavenly Father can unknot our stomach when worry twists it like a strand of Christmas lights. Not only will His loving hand soothe our pain, but He’ll replace it with His perfect peace.

If MI has left you in knots, join me in using Psalm 90:15-16 as your prayer:

“Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory” (NLT)

Stop and reflect on the phrase, “gladness in proportion to our former misery.” We serve a God who promised to, “turn their mourning into gladness,” and to, “give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

He will restore your joy. Because He loves you that much.