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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.

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Heart Help

stone heart.2

Erie, PA Zoo

Years ago a traumatic event dried up my tears. They no longer flowed. Not even during a tear-jerker of a film. I don’t remember the movie; I only remember I was the only one in the theater not crying over the death of the main character. Chris’s psychotic episode had left me emotionally numb.  As if my heart had turned to stone.

That was so unlike me. I used to be and still am a crying machine. Had I lived in biblical times, I would have been hired to be a wailer (someone paid to cry at funerals)!

I love the verse which assures me that God notices every tear drop. “You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” [Psalm 56:8 (NKJV)].

Referring to that verse, I once told my pastor, “I’m glad God puts my tears in a bottle.”

“For you, Vicki He uses a pool!” He knew I excelled at weeping.

Undoubtedly, I’m not the only mom raising a child with mental illness (MI) who’s experienced a major change in emotions. Sometimes crying ends because there just aren’t enough tears to make it better. Other times we’re afraid to cry. We fear that one tear will release an ocean of emotions—a tsunami of tears. We worry we’d completely fall apart. So we put a plug on our tears. Staying in control at all cost, is the name of the game – even if that’s not healthy for us.

Crying is a necessary part of our own emotional healing.  We have to move along in our grieving process. But do we dare open the flood gates? Who will help us?

My stone-cold heart softened in the hands of God. I pictured myself as clay in my Father’s hands and allowed Him to mold me into a healed version of myself.

Isaiah 63:8 provides the beautiful picture of our Father’s care.

“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Imagine our loving Potter reshaping us after we’ve been wounded. Picture comfort pouring from His hands like a salve.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

He comforted me, removed the torment of bad memories, and healed my broken heart.  Was it easy? No. Was it scary? Yes. Did God help me overcome the trauma of my son’s psychotic episode? Yes!

And He’ll do it for you.

 

 

 

Facing Change

peace.be.wth.U

At fourteen, I’d already figured out what I hated most about life.

“I hate change,” I declared.

“Get used to it. Life is full of change,” my mother advised.

Her reply didn’t change my opinion. It was set in stone. If I had anything to do with it, change wouldn’t rule my life. That was that!

Then I grew up. Life happened. Changes smashed my declaration that had been etched in stone.

Not So Bad

I discovered some changes aren’t so bad. Some are even wonderful. Like graduations, new jobs, weddings, and births. But even those changes are bitter-sweet. Each involves more responsibility. Some involve moving away from friends or family.

Unspeakable

Grownups know change is sometimes just hard. Or even devastating. Like when our close friends, Trish and Dave, lost their two-year-old son, Ryan, to drowning. That kind of change triggered unimaginable grief.

As if that loss wasn’t horrible enough, both sets of grandparents were reliving their own nightmares. Trish’s parents and Dave’s parents had lost a child in death as young parents. So, they had already experienced the searing pain that comes with outliving a child.

“You’ve had to face this, Dad. What advice do you have for me?” Dave asked his father right after Ryan died.

“You talk about your faith, Dave. Now you’re going to live it,” Dave’s father gently replied. He knew the only way to survive such a loss was with God’s help.

Decades later, Dave died from cancer. How did Trish deal with being a widow at fifty-eight? With God’s help.

Unexpected

When you were first married, did you envision a care-free Norman Rockwell family with happy and successful children? Maybe you were more realistic in your expectations. Perhaps you were mentally prepared for difficulties. But you never expected your child to have mental illness (MI). Neither did I.

Before I had children, I taught multi-handicapped children. So, my biggest hope was that my children would be “normal” – free of any disabilities.

When our sons were toddlers, my husband and I enjoyed thinking about what professions they’d enter. Both excelled in math, so we kinda thought that maybe they’d gravitate to fields that involved numbers. Like business or accounting.

MI is the kind of change that demolishes dreams. Or does it? Just because our children won’t live a life we anticipated for them, that doesn’t mean they won’t live a meaningful life.

The challenge for us is to adjust to God’s plans for our child’s future. To even embrace the path they take. How can we do that?

Handling Change

Long ago, I attended a workshop for educators that dealt with grief. The speaker said something that helped me understand what I was going through.

“Many things trigger grief. Not only does the loss of life trigger grief, but other things force us to grieve. Like having a child with special needs. That represents the loss of a dream.”

The loss of a dream.

Those words echoed in my mind. I reflected on her statement and realized that I WAS going through the grief process. In a way that gave me hope. That meant I was heading to the final stage: acceptance. With God’s help, I’d eventually get the place where I’d be able to accept change.

What’s Needed Most

As we journey towards acceptance, we need peace. Christ knew that’s what his disciples needed. Jesus appeared to His disciples after He arose from death. The men were grieving and fearful.  John 20:19 tells us that their Lord came to comfort them.

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”

He’s still in the business of comforting His children and offering peace.

Unchanging

If I could go back to my fourteen-year-old self, I’d offer some words of comfort. When teenage Vicki would declare, “I hate change,” I’d reply, “Change will always happen, but God will never change. You can depend on His unchanging love and faithfulness. He’ll always comfort you, remove fear, restore hope, and give you peace.”

Handle With Care

palm.of.hand

We all know what to do about a shaken can of soda. Let it settle before opening it. Otherwise it will explode and foam will shoot out.

Do you feel like a shaken can of soda?  Is your heart like that carbonated drink? Unsettled. Does it first have to settle before you open up and talk about what mental illness (MI) has done to your child and to you? Are you afraid that if you release your emotions, raw emotions will gush out? And you may never stop crying.

We want to feel settled. More than that, we want peace. Peace for our child. Peace in our home. Peace in our heart.

Reflecting on Peace:

I gravitate to verses about God’s peace. Recently I discovered one tucked at the end of 2 Thessalonians.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Can you guess what caught my attention? “In every way” I yearn to have peace at all times. But I never considered having peace in every way.

What does peace ‘in every way’ mean? Hum…

After checking several commentaries, I learned how God can give us peace ‘in every way.’ It means we can have peace in every way we are unsettled.

  • Peace from outward threats: betrayal, accusations, danger … physical harm that may come to our child
  • Peace from loss: of the death of a loved one, of a job, of good health, of a marriage, of a prodigal child, of a friend moving, of a child off to war … of the contentment our child used to enjoy
  • Peace from inner turmoil: worry, jealousy, discontent, fear, insecurities, anger, depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacies … concerns for our child

Recalling Peace

An infant sleeping is the perfect picture of peace. Back when our son, Chris was first born, I loved watching him sleep. I’d gaze into his precious face and catch a glimpse of serenity.

If only I could have frozen those moments in time. Those were days when Chris’s life was filled with peace.

On occasion I dare to reminisce—to recall carefree days before MI hit. It’s painful to think of what MI did to my dreams for Chris. Hopes for an untroubled life were dashed by the harsh realities of illness. Peace was snatched away.

Yet I still sometimes entertain thoughts of happier days when Chris was young. Strangers often observed, “He’s such a happy baby.” And he was.

Etched on my heart are snapshots of family fun. Like times when Chris climbed a tree with his brother or played a board game with his father.

But I can’t linger in the past too long. Because my joy gets sucked into the quicksand of sorrow.

I never expected his life to turn out this way. I just wanted him to be happy and have a peaceful life.

I see his strained smile and know that, “Even in laughter the heart may ache” (Proverbs 14:13a).

Then I remember the God of all peace can fill Chris with true contentment.

Clinging to Promises about Peace:

Hang onto promises God gives us about peace. That’s what helped me through times of greatest trials in Chris’s life. I clung to promises about peace like, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Picturing Peace:

Focus on an image of divine peace. Imagine laying your head in the palm of God’s hand. Picture yourself resting in the Creator’s mighty hand. The King of all kings has said, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16a).

That’s a place we can always find complete contentment. In His hand our security is sure. Like a parent walking a toddler across a busy street, our Father keeps a firm clutch on us. Jesus assured His followers that, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me … no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29)

Reach out to the God of all peace who holds your life in His hands. And you’ll join the psalmist in praise:

“Let everyone bless God and sing his praises; for he holds our lives in his hands” [Psalm 66:8-9 (TLB)].

Human hands can’t fix MI. But the mighty hand that created the universe can handle your life with great care. Hear Isaiah whisper, “This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand’” (Isaiah 42:5-6a).

 He will guide you through your journey. A journey that demands peace.

So, cry out for God’s peace. Cling to His promises about peace. And reflect on the Lord of peace who gives you “peace at all times and in every way.”

Reach out to Him and He’ll handle you with care.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace

(Numbers 6:24-26).

Longing for Spock-Suppressed Emotions?

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“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!

Assurances from a prisoner: God is in control

Pastor Saeed Abedini, Naghmeh and Family

Pastor Saeed Abedini, Naghmeh and Family

You don’t have to be in jail to feel imprisoned. Moms raising kids with mental illness (MI) may feel incarcerated by worry, concern, and grief. Chained to challenges with no way out. Is it possible to have joy in our hearts when MI is in our homes? The apostle Paul would answer, “Yes.”

Paul didn’t begin his letter (written from prison) to the Philippians by saying, “Pray for me. I’m in utter despair. My back has been torn open by beatings and I’m left to hang in this dungeon.”

Instead he wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Philippians 1:3-4).”

How could he even write the words “thank” and “joy?”

Later in Philippians, Paul implied that he wasn’t always joyful in his circumstances. We read him say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).” Then we understand it was a process for him to find contentment in trials.

Likewise, the more we experience God’s faithfulness, the greater contentment we’ll find in our situations. We surely may not be happy for challenges and heartaches. But it is possible to rest in the knowledge that God is still in control. If you doubt that Truth, just listen to the words of another prisoner.

An American, Pastor Saeed Abedini, has been in an Iranian jail for over two years. He endures ongoing torture and beatings simply because he won’t denounce his faith in Christ. He wrote a letter to his eight-year-old daughter as a birthday gift. Listen to his wife, Naghmeh read that letter. Warning: Kleenex alert!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1H1DlJt5mUw

Pastor Abedini assured his daughter that Christ is in control. His unshakable confidence, in the face of evil, comforts us as well. His God is our God.

To hear more of the family’s story, listen to Naghmeh Abedini making her plea to Obama to get her husband home. Her children describe what it’s like to have their father in jail.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/08/11/video-shows-torture-facing-kids-jailed-american-pastor-in-iran/

Pray for God to loosen your chains as you listen to Tasha Cobbs sing ‘Break Every Chain’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pD2zIuiC2g

World Mental Health Day: Oct. 10th

Rick and Kay Warren

Rick and Kay Warren

Are you in secret pain? Many people with mental illness (MI) are. That includes Rick Warren’s son, Matthew. His suicide thrust the famous author (of The Purpose-Driven Life) and his wife into deep despair and grief. Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay shared their painful story in a CNN interview with Piers Morgan.

Matthew Warren

Matthew Warren

That interview took place about a year ago, only five months after their son shot himself. Rick and Kay have mounted a campaign to raise awareness of MI. They’ve designated October 10th as World Mental Health Day. Listen to them talk about their reasons for offering the free online event. You’ll find that you’re not alone. They understand your pain. Just like Jesus.

World Mental Health Day with Rick and Kay Warren

You can read the message I posted about their tragic loss by going to ‘Surviving a Child’s Suicide.’

https://mentalillnessmom2mom.net/2013/09/18/surviving-a-childs-suicide/

Visit Kay’s site to find out more about their ‘24 hours of hope’ which they will host in two days on October 10th. You may or may not have lost a child to suicide. But if your child has MI you’re experiencing grief nonetheless. World Mental Health Day will offer you encouragement and hope. Lord willing, you’ll also find more healing as well.

http://kaywarren.com/mental-health-initiative/