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No Shame

spring.praise.spring.up

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!

Overtaken

race.overtaken

 

 

 

It’s rare when a teenager teaches his parent something. That’s what happened when our son, Rob joined the track team in seventh grade. A completely new venture for him.

“Mom, do you wanna come watch our first home meet?” Rob asked.

“Sure. I’ll be there.”

I approached the bleachers with great anticipation. Excitement filled my heart. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach. The gun signaled the start of the race. My face beamed as I watched Rob spring into action. Hope oozed through my tightly-squeezed folded hands. I rocked in pace with his step as if I could help him soar.

Gradually, the pack of runners divided into two. A bunch of fierce competitors bolted ahead with the speed of gazelles. A smaller clump of runners drifted further and further back. I found Rob in that back bunch. Runner after runner overtook him. Every competitor passed him. All but one.

My hands went limp. My heart sunk. I began searching for wise words to give Rob. How could I console him?

Oh well. He tried. But that kind of loss will surely make him want to quit. Should I let him quit?

At the end of the meet, I waited in the car to take Rob home. I spotted him approaching the car and braced myself. Then I noticed he had a bounce in his step and a smile on his face.

“Did you see that Mom? I beat out one kid!” he proudly proclaimed. Grinning as if he’d won.

His words left me speechless. I hadn’t anticipated such an upbeat response. Suddenly my heart was full of pride.

“Yes, Rob. Good job.”

The runners who had overtaken him didn’t discourage him. Because he had a different perspective. His focus wasn’t on the mass of kids who had run faster. Rob rejoiced in the one he had passed.

The next time he ran, I witnessed him pass two runners. The following meet, he passed three. Each race filled his heart with great rejoicing. Always viewing his triumphs instead of defeats.

Rob’s focus taught me how to focus. Not on trials. But on God’s blessings. Not on the cares of this earth. But on future treasures in heaven. Not on huge burdens. But on His power.

As moms raising children with mental illness (MI) we have to deal with our own emotions. Sadness for the turmoil our child experiences. Grief over the loss of our once happy-go-lucky child. Despair due to lack of effective treatments. Frustration because of others who don’t understand: teachers, mental health care workers, siblings, or husbands.

But sorrow doesn’t have to engulf us. Worry doesn’t have to overtake our thoughts. Like Rob, we can choose what to focus on. Each day we can begin with this resolution: with God’s help, I’ll look for the blessings my heavenly Father puts in my life. I’ll keep my mind’s eyes on Him. Searching for His faithfulness and provision.

Some children with mental illness (MI) can’t easily choose their outlook. Some don’t have complete control over their thoughts. Distorted thinking creates false realities. A mind filled with paranoia convinces the person that others seek to harm him. Resulting fears are very real. Their thoughts overtake them.

Darkness may surround us and attempt to overtake us. But we need not be swept away by our circumstances. We need not flail as if drowning in an emotional tsunami. We have the words in Isaiah 35 to comfort our soul. With thoughts firmly fixed on eternity, our sadness fades. Images of life in heaven squelch our sorrow. Hope returns. Once again, we’re able to envision an end to our tears. We picture new bodies without MI. Then our sadness is overtaken by gladness and joy.

“They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:10).”

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

 

 

Signs of Joy

Chris.Vic.Christmas  Chris.waving

What’s my remote tail wager? My smile. When our cocker spaniel was alive I’d flash a full-teeth smile in his direction. Allegro’s tail would instantly wag like fast-speed windshield wipers. Then I’d switch to a tragedy-mask sad face. He’d match my expression by freezing his tail and dropping his head. I’d alternate the faces and get the same mirrored emotion from my pet. Happy face—wagging tail…Sad face—motionless tail.

My furry family member appeared to be able to detect my mood. But detecting a person’s mood isn’t so simple. A cheerful expression doesn’t always mean someone’s happy. Many smiles conceal the opposite emotion. Like Sunday church smiles intended to hide heartaches. Or professional smiles worn to impress. Or actor’s smiles used to entertain.

I never knew how much I missed Chris’s smile until a friend asked me a simple question.

“What makes Chris smile?” she asked.

Her words released a flood of tears. My emotional dam had been holding them back.

“I’ve stopped hoping to see him smile,” I responded, choking back tears.

A toddler’s smile can be trusted. Carefree joy flashes across their face as they delight in new experiences.

As a toddler Chris seemed to smile all the time.

“He seems like such a happy baby,” strangers would observe as they offered back a beaming grin. His contagious smile would light up their faces.

That was before bullying jolted the joy right out of him. Fellow classmates taunted him. Chris’s attention deficit hyperactive (ADHD) made him an easy target. Difficult peer interactions reduced the frequency of Chris’s smiles.

When mental illness (MI) hit Chris’s facial expression appeared lifeless. No smile. No curve to his mouth. Just a flat appearance. The sparkle in his eye was replaced with a dark, dead stare. Nowadays it’s rare to see him with a genuine smile. His occasional smiles look a bit strained. Like the Kodak moment kind of poses.

Mental illness (MI) can wipe away any pretense of happiness. Facial expressions can be windows into the soul. Especially when a person has MI. The pain is so great it’s reflected on the face. The mother longs to see signs of joy in the face of her child. How long can a mom endure seeing signs of turmoil, depression, or anxiety?

Can we find any comfort from the Bible? What can we learn from scripture? Proverbs tells us what we know. “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:13).”

We know MI can crush our child’s spirit. So the cry of our heart is for God to create in our child a happy heart. A clear-thinking mind. A peaceful spirit.

The Bible has much more to say about countenance than about smiles. That’s because smiles display superficial happiness. Genuine joy comes from deep within. It’s all about the heart.

King Artaxerxes understood that Nehemiah’s demeanor reflected his inner sorrow and said, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart (Nehemiah 2:2).”

The good news is that God can change hearts. He can do what we can’t.

What can we do? Proverbs 12:25 encourages us to speak kind words to our kids. We know they make a difference. That’s some comfort.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up (Proverbs 12:25).”

We can also share Truth with our children, trusting that His Word will not return void. Here are just a few verses of peace, joy, and hope.

He’s promised peace:

“For he himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).”

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).”

“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).”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).”

He restores joy:

“He fills your hearts with joy (Acts 14:17).”

He gives hope:

“You are my hope in the day of doom (Jeremiah 17:17).”

Dear Father, use these verses to comfort and heal our children.

Hang onto Christmas Carols

christmas.carols

Preschoolers get words hilariously confused at times. Here’s an adorable mistake one four year old made when singing the last line to Away in a Manger. “The little Lord Jesus asleep on the head.”  Cute, but not correct. Not even close!

Another young child didn’t quite get the words right to Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

“O come, let us ignore Him.” Clearly, we’re not to ignore Him! His gift entices us to adore Him.

Singing favorite Christmas carols can warm the heart. Unless you’re trying to share the joy of Christ’s birth with your child who has mental illness (MI). Unless the songs magnify your pain by reminding you of happier times.

Engaging in familiar traditions becomes more complicated in the context of MI. Getting a family portrait for the Christmas card can be tricky. How do you get a depressed child to smile on cue? It’s a bit difficult to deck the halls while trying to keep an unstable child calm. Mental illness doesn’t take a break during family gatherings.

So why bother listening to Christmas carols? Favorite holiday tunes have powerful messages for us. Scriptural lyrics remind us of God’s love.

What Child is This?

“This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

When we don’t recognize our child who has MI, we can be comforted by these lyrics. What Child is this? We recognize Him. It’s Christ the King. God’s unchanging Child. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

“The King of kings, salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.”

When life seems out of control, we can remember Christ is still on the throne in heaven. May He remain on the throne of our hearts.

Silent Night:

“All is Calm.”

When MI robs our homes of calmness, we can reflect on that holiest of nights—the night when God sent His Son to bring the promise of peace.

Joy to the World:

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

When we yearn for restored joy, we can reflect on the joy Christ brought into the world and into our hearts. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have joy in the midst of sorrow.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen:

“Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ the Savior was born on Christmas day.”

We can reflect on those words. The Savior who came to save us from sin and death can save us from our trials. We need not be dismayed.

Mary Did You Know:

“Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand? Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod? When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?”

When life seems unpredictable or hasn’t turned out like we’ve expected, we can think of Mary’s Child who is always faithful and reliable. We can reflect on Mary and remember she didn’t plan on being our Savior’s mother. God brings things into our lives that we don’t plan. Though we may not understand them, His plans are always perfect. The words to this Christmas carol remind us that we have a Healer, Creator, and King. We have access to His unlimited power and love.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

“Said the king to the people everywhere,

Listen to what I say

Pray for peace, people everywhere!

Listen to what I say

The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night

He will bring us goodness and light

He will bring us goodness and light.”

We can remember He will bring goodness and light to our darkest days.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear:

“O ye beneath life’s crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow;

Look now, for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing;

Oh rest beside the weary road

And hear the angels sing.”

Let’s rest beside our weary road this Christmas season to stop and hear the angels sing.

Quiet your hearts as you listen to Carrie Underwood sing Do You Hear What I Hear?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad7KU9bCTAM

 

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.”

Does it really help to be a Christian?

A story or God’s Word? Fiction or Truth?

A story or God’s Word?
Fiction or Truth?

Liza Long wrote the article “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother – It’s time to talk about mental illness.”
She answered the question, “What’s it like to have a child with serious mental illness (MI)?”

Left unanswered were numerous other questions. Questions many of us grapple with and secretly ask God.

The big one: Is there a God who cares?

Hagar found out. When she became pregnant with Abraham’s child, Sarah banished her. Alone in the wilderness, God spoke to her. “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me. (Genesis 16:13)’”

He sees us as we stagger through the wilderness of MI. Wandering alone. Is there a God who cares? Yes, El Roi is the God who sees.

What’s the ultimate torture for a mother? To watch her child suffer and die. Hagar couldn’t do it. When her son’s water ran dry in the desert, she left him. Can you identify with her pain? Are there days when you doubt whether or not you can bear to watch your child suffer any longer?

The God who sees also hears. He heard the cry of Hagar’s son. “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 21:17-19).”

Is there a God who hears? Yes. He’s the same God who opened Hagar’s eyes to see His provision and her ears to hear His future blessings. Ask Him to open your eyes to His provision and your ears to hear the blessings He plans for you.

Is there a God who can make a way when there seems to be no way to help our child with MI? Yes. El Shaday, God Almighty is the God of all possibilities. Nothing is impossible with Him.
Here’s an experience I had that helped me understand His limitless power.

Early in the morning, one of my second graders entered the classroom looking downcast. I could see he was fighting back tears. Samuel was normally a happy-go-lucky kind of kid…very even-tempered and mature. That’s why his demeanor alarmed me even more.

Before he unpacked his backpack, I took him out in the hall. I asked him what was wrong. From his backpack he pulled out a pink folder with a ballerina on the cover.
In disgust he said, “My yellow folder ripped, so my mother gave me this – my SISTER’S folder.”
He was embarrassed and ashamed of the folder and obviously angry with his mother.

Every student in the class had a yellow pocket folder they used to take papers to and from home. Samuel knew the pink folder would be noticed by all his classmates. He feared others would tease him.

My student didn’t know that I kept a supply of new yellow pocket folders in my cabinet for emergencies.
I instructed him to, “Wait here” and went to get a new yellow pocket folder. I printed his name on the front.

When I presented the new folder to Samuel, he was so relieved that he snatched it out of my hands and proceeded to rush into the classroom. But, I gently pulled him back into the hallway. This was an opportunity to share a biblical truth.
“Your problem seemed like a HUGE problem…one that couldn’t be solved. But, to me it was a very small problem. When you get older, you will have bigger problems. To God, all those problems will be easy for Him to solve. Never forget this pink folder. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Always remember how much God loves you and never forget His mighty power.”

Is there a God who can make a way when there seems to be no way? Yes. El Shaday, God Almighty is the God of all possibilities. Nothing is impossible with Him.

Is there a God who can restore joy? The psalmist believed so. He reminded himself to tap into that fountain of joy.
“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. 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 43:4-5).”

During my darkest days, I turn on Christian worship songs. Like the psalmist, I find that praise leads me right to God, my joy.
Can God restore joy? Yes. His joy is yours for the taking! Drink freely.

Is there a God who can restore peace in the home and in the hearts of our children? Yes. Our Shepherd restores our soul. He will lead us out of turbulence to rest beside still waters. His rod and staff comfort us.
Can God restore peace? Yes. The Lord, our Shepherd will be with us all the days of our lives. He will never leave us.

Is there a God who can intercede in a marriage to rebuild that relationship? If Christ can be our Mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5), He can surely be the mediator in our marriage.
Is there a God who can restore marriages? Yes. The One who sent His Son to restore His relationship with mankind wants to renew your relationship with your spouse. The One who forgave all sin can help you unconditionally forgive and trust again.

When MI suddenly shattered our son’s live, Chris questioned God’s love for him. Don’t we all do that?
Chris demanded, “Don’t tell me Bible verses! I want to know that He still loves me. Where’s the proof?”
God’s answered by painting an exquisite moon that said, “Here’s a symbol of my love for you.”
A small child draws a picture to show their love. God paints the sky.
Can God be found? Yes. Elohim, the Creator can do amazing things to remind us of His love.

When Chris was out of touch from reality, he harmed our dog. The dog he loved. Zelda’s bloodshot eyes reminded him of his uncharacteristic violence. Tormented by those actions, Chris despaired of the loss of his pet’s love for him. “She won’t love me ever again.”
By faith, I responded, “Yes she will. Just call her.”
He called her name and she willingly responded.
Can God be found? Yes. Elohim, the Creator can do amazing things to remind us of His love.

Can God use the ugliness of MI for any good purpose? He uses trials to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in us. In this spiritual boot camp we find ourselves in, He teaches us how to show unconditional love to our child with MI. He helps us respond in gentleness when we receive unprovoked anger. He fills us with His perfect peace amid great sorrow. He is Melek, King. King of all kings. His power is limitless.

When things seem out of control and we can’t hold it together, God is still seated on the throne, holding the universe together.

When we feel the sting of searing stigma, the image of Christ reaching out to the outcasts and touching the lepers comforts us.

When we feel helpless, we remember God provides hope in abundance, as we recall the promise, “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).”

Can God help a mom of a child with MI? Yes. He is:
• Our refuge when we need protection
• Our rock when things are uncertain and unstable
• Our loving Father who will provide all we need in His perfect time
• Present when we feel alone
• The One who sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us when we need His perfect peace

So, you tell me…Does it help to be a Christian?

I say yes!

Listen to Don Moen’s popular song “God Will Make a Way”