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Getting Away: Guilt or Gratitude?

YOKE.1

Twin Oxen, Williamsburg, VA

“We won’t be able to go on our vacation,” a friend told me. Her son had just been admitted to a psychiatric unit again. “I don’t think it would be right for all of us to take a trip while he is in the hospital,” she explained.

“Now would be the perfect time for you to get away,” I assured her. “He’s being well taken care of and will be safe while you’re gone. You need to enjoy some rest and relaxation with your other family members.”

It’s only natural for a mother to stay close to a sick child. You don’t have to tell us. When it comes to having a child with mental illness (MI), tending to a sick child is endless. Months and years pass without any breaks. There’s never a good time to get away.

Recently my husband and I planned a three-day trip to Williamsburg. With limited funds, we chose to travel on Thanksgiving Day when the hotel rates would be considerably less. Low gas prices made traveling by car doable. We could afford to take a mini-vacation. But we couldn’t afford to take our son. I fought guilt feelings.

 We should take Chris along. He never gets to go on vacations. How could I even consider leaving him on Thanksgiving?

But I knew I needed to get away. WE needed to get away. It would be good for our marriage. It was necessary to be proactive, to protect our marriage. A healthy marriage finds time for the couple to be together.

It’s just not easy to get away, especially when you have a child with MI. Before this trip, Howie and I had taken trips. Mostly to see our grandchildren. Other trips had been coupled with Howie’s business trips. It had been ten years since Howie and I had gone away just the two of us to spend time alone together.

To ease my conscience, I wondered what God thought about us taking a trip. Matthew 11:28-30 came to mind.

Jesus has the answer for people like us who are dog-tired from daily burdens. He recommends, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

In Colonial Williamsburg I spotted two oxen pulling a cart. I stood close enough to reach out and stroke their fur (but wasn’t permitted). Standing next to them was like standing next to a small car. Their massive muscles revealed overwhelming power. Yoked together, they could carry huge loads.

Suddenly I remembered the words of Matthew 11:28-30 and felt gratitude instead of guilt. It was as if God had sent those oxen as a reminder to me. I heard God whisper, “I know you’re weary and burdened. Give Me your burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and find rest for your soul.”

Maybe you can’t afford to get away even for a brief trip. Instead of getting away, imagine going to—going to Him. The one who will give you rest.

“Rest for your souls”: is that what you need? God is powerful enough to carry any load. Another version of Matthew 11:28-30 may describe your situation, your need, and your rest-giving Lord.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”  [Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)].

 

 

 

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Detecting Blessings

miracle.baby.McKenzie

How can you transform creepy crawly things into something beautiful? By freezing and framing them in a snapshot. That’s what I did with worms. They mimicked a lace design. What drew my attention to something I distained? A high school assignment which challenged us to photograph beauty found in unlikely places. Creating the project required a new perspective. I discovered exquisite beauty by seeing things differently. Viewing the familiar more closely, from underneath, and in unusual lighting revealed a new world of splendor.

Blessings are like beauty. We notice the ones which are easy to spot. Like the miracle baby our son and his wife just had. Infertility experts informed them they’d never conceive. So they adopted a baby girl. Then along came the “impossible”—a pregnancy. Last week I held their infant daughter, baby McKenzie. No one had to point out the obvious: my hands held God’s bundle of blessings.

Sometimes it’s harder to recognize a blessing. When mental illness (MI) hits, it engulfs life and eclipse blessings. But they’re there.

How did I find some? By viewing my situation differently. Concern over Chris’s MI was sucking me into the quicksand of despair, discouragement, and depression. In anguish I cried the prayer of a sinking soul: Where are You, God?

Determined to find Him, I set out to compile a list of His faithfulness and love. I trusted God hadn’t left me. And believed He’d been leaving trails of His powerful works along my path. I needed Him to open my heart and mind. To find evidence of His care and compassion.

Reveal Your blessings, Lord.

With pen in hand I sat silent. And waited for God to guide my thoughts.

He led me on a mental tour of His love.

The first blessing popped into my head:

Chris is stable.

Then another:

He’s safe.

And another:

He occupies himself constructively and doesn’t remain isolated.

Before I knew it, my paper was filled.

Chris works out regularly.

He sets goals for himself.

He’s responsible with money.

He laughs as refreshing humor.

He willingly helps me with computer problems….

Then a wonderful thing happened. My thoughts shifted to other areas of my life. Proof of God’s provision poured from my mind faster than my pen could write.

I highly recommend you ask God to lead you on a mental tour of His love. He’ll point out blessings.

The Psalmist shows us how to detect God’s blessings. Psalm 77 gives us a picture of turmoil which was abated by recalling the mighty works of the Lord.

“‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:7-12).’”

I’m grateful for that passage (and others like it). It’s God’s way of telling me I’m not the only one who asks those questions when things seem too much to handle. It also shows me how to find God when I’ve lost sight of Him.

As I wrote this message, a familiar song kept running through my head.

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God hath done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

Enjoy the same spiritual refreshment and be blessed by that hymn:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fMjgS4vu4o

 

 

R & R

Morris Arboretum Phila., PA

Morris Arboretum
Phila., PA

If you could escape, where would you go? My perfect escape would be back to the Land of Normal Livng. Wouldn’t you love to be treated to a trip to Normalcy? A place where you could spend carefree days soaking in relaxation. A place with no violence. No unexpected outbursts. No mental healthcare visits.

Thankfully God led us to a temporary oasis in our desert of mental illness (MI). This next chapter of our story demonstrates how God provided a season of rest and restoration. He revealed Chris’s resilience. Life seemed to be getting back to normal.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

In order to get released from the hospital, Chris did what he had to. During group sessions all the patients had to state how they wound up in the hospital. So Chris regularly told the staff he had assaulted his parents.

His three-week stay ended. It was time for Chris to go home. I wanted his bedroom and home to look warm and inviting. Our house had never been cleaned so thoroughly! We were thankful to have our son home again.

The summer after Chris’s junior year we traveled to Colorado. We had a wonderfully relaxing time. It was as if nothing had ever gone wrong. As if Chris hadn’t been sick at all. We went horseback riding, hiking, panning for gold, and mountain biking. Everything was perfect. Except when Robert was missing for a brief time. He had taken a wrong turn biking down a mountain in Vail.

“Where’s Robert?” I asked, bracing myself for the worst.

“Oh, he fell off the side of the mountain,” Howie explained casually.

Before my panic turned into hyperventilation, Robert appeared. Slightly scratched, but fine.

Shortly after our Colorado trip, both boys attended a music conference. They stayed overnight at a local college with 500 band leaders. Many of those attending the conference were drum majors. Chris had attended the training the year before. But this year would be different. This time he’d have to take his medication on his own.

I knew it would be a temptation for Chris not to take his medication. But he understood how important it was for him to take it. We trusted him to be responsible. And he was. Thankfully, Chris handled another major step in his recovery.

Chris had hoped one day he’d be the drum major of his marching band. He had a good chance to accomplish that goal …until he got sick. Even with his MI he still demonstrated all the necessary qualities of a drum major: excellent musical talent, remarkable marching skills, and strong leadership abilities.

But Chris’s breakdown didn’t just disrupt his life. It also shattered his dream of becoming a drum major. Yet, he still wanted to attend the conference. It made me so proud to see his resilience.

One of the events at the conference was a march off. That’s kind of like “Simon Says” only with someone calling out marching commands. If someone carries out a command incorrectly, he is eliminated. The competition continues until there is one winner left standing. Out of 500 drum majors Chris lasted until the last six. Only five others remained longer. God blessed him by letting him see he still had superior marching abilities.

After the boys returned from the music conference Chris had to fulfill his duties as a squad leader. I marveled at how clear thinking he was. He thought of every detail for the meetings. That involved offering rides to our house, planning refreshments, and preparing the agenda. Chris even organized a pizza party at a local restaurant for the freshman members. Senior band members were also invited to help the lower classmen get acclimated.

Chris’s senior year was fast approaching. We spent several days during the summer visiting colleges. Sometimes I wanted to continue on with our plans as though nothing had happened. But then I’d force myself to remember that something significant did happen.

We prayed for wisdom to know which colleges to investigate. Chris was very clear in what he wanted. His decisions made perfect sense. He wanted to go to a college with a fairly small campus that was about an hour and a half from home—far enough to live away from home, but still close enough to visit home frequently. He also wanted to attend a state university because that would be more affordable. He was especially interested in Penn State because of their famous Marching Blue Band. He hoped to join it during his junior year of college. Penn State also interested him because of their excellent business program. Chris planned on becoming an actuary.

Chris also applied to Kutztown State University. By October of his senior year he’d been accepted to both colleges.

What an awesome God we serve!!

During three weeks in the fall we hosted a German exchange student. Each weekend we took him to visit local tourist sites. It was a wonderful experience for all of us. We learned a lot and had a good time. The best part: life seemed so normal.

In the fall Chris got his driver’s license. He feared getting into a car accident. I worried that if he got into an accident he might not be able to handle it emotionally. Being in a car accident is upsetting enough for anyone, let alone someone who’s experienced MI.

If I were God, I’d make sure Chris would never have an accident.

Thankfully I’m not God. He chose to allow Chris to have a minor accident. He forced Chris to face his fears. There were no injuries. Chris hadn’t broken any laws. So Chris didn’t get a ticket. The car had plenty of damage, but Chris was fine emotionally. God reassured us Chris had become stronger emotionally.

Thank You, God, for protecting Chris and for helping us see his resilience.

During this time when Chris was feeling better he was able to articulate his experiences with MI. He could explain what it’s like to be paranoid and to be on Haldol.

“What’s it like to feel paranoid, Chris?”

“When I felt paranoid I hung onto one particular part of what someone was saying and focused on just that.”

“What’s it like to be on Haldol?” I wondered.

“It’s like having my body frozen or moving in slow motion while my brain was moving at a much faster pace.”

When it came time for County and District Band auditions Chris wanted to try out again. The year before was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The level of stress proved too much for him.

How can I tell him he shouldn’t audition? He’s a gifted musician. If I tell him he shouldn’t try out, he’ll think I’m trying to control him or treat him like a child. Or he might think I doubt his ability to handle it. He’d feel flawed emotionally. What if he tried out and lost it again?

We decided to let him try out. Soon our oasis would be gone. But God would see us through the next trial. Just as he does for all of us.

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.”