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Better than a Resolution

center.4.life

Things shift our focus.

The death of a loved one causes us to look back and reflect.

January 1st signals the time to look ahead.

An airplane window beckons us to look down.

My husband always lets me have the window seat when we fly. On one flight, I stared out the window of the plane and spotted something symbolic. An entire housing development surrounded a baseball diamond.  As if to say that the lives of all the residents centered abound baseball. That got me to thinking.

I’ll bet some people’s lives DO revolve around baseball. What does my life revolve around? What’s at the heart of my life?

Like most Christians, I immediately thought of the Lord. My family came in second.

My mind continued to wander.

What do I think about most? What occupies my thoughts? What uses up most of my mental energy? What do I pray most about? What has impacted me the most? What has broken my heart more than anything?

Funny how a mind can wander. Especially when there’s lots of time to think.

It didn’t take me long to answer those questions. My son who has mental illness (MI) has captured much of my energy: mental, emotional, and spiritual. I’m sure that’s the same with you, if you also have a child with MI.

As I think of the year ahead, selecting a New Year’s resolution hasn’t crossed my mind. The date on a calendar won’t change my life-long resolve to be the best mother I can be for Chris (and my other son, his family, and my husband).

People make resolutions, then break them. Moms raising kids with MI can’t afford to break their resolve.

We resolve to continue supporting our vulnerable children. Take them to therapists. Help them adjust to treatments.  Advocate for them. Comfort them. Protect them. And pray for them.

What lasts longer than any resolution? A mom’s love. Especially a mom’s devotion to her child who has MI. The more our kids hurt, the more determined we are to help them.

Shakable VS Unbreakable

The mind is involved in listing resolutions. Good intentions drive resolutions. Thoughtful decisions formulate resolutions. Cracks in commitment occur when temptations arise. New priorities cause us to abandon resolutions.

Something much more powerful shapes a mother’s response to her child with MI. Love drives her actions. Motherly instincts solidify her determination to protect and comfort her child. Her love is unbreakable.

So, rather than begin a new year with resolutions, we start each day with our unshakable determination to:

  • Worry less, and trust God more
  • Succumb to anxiety less, and rest in His peace more
  • Watch TV and check out social media less, and seek His Word more
  • Strive to design our own plans (for our child’s life) less, and yield to God’s plans more
  • Talk less and listen more (to our child and to God)
  • Lecture less, and encourage more

Will we succeed every day? Absolutely not! But God’s faithfulness will never fail. At the end of 2016, we will be sure of one thing:  God kept all His promises.

 

Whole

heart.healed

What’s the dream of a mom raising a child with mental illness (MI)? For many of us the answer is found in the word ‘whole.’ Our greatest desire is for the broken child or family to be whole again. So our broken heart can rejoice once again.

It seems impossible to ignore the shattered pieces of a child’s life. We do all we can to put them back together again. But often feel like Humpty Dumpty’s king’s horses and king’s men who could put Humpty Dumpty together again. We would understand the cry of the king if he moaned, “What made Humpty Dumpty so fragile? Why didn’t he just roll away, unscathed?”

An army of why’s attack:

Why did this happen?

Why can’t any restore clarity of thought?

Why doesn’t anyone understand?

Why do we have to endure another holiday that’s overshadowed and complicated by MI?

Why can’t life just return to normal?

We writhe in emotional pain as we stand defenseless. Our arsenal of answers is empty. The barrage of why’s batters our soul. Leaving us secretly broken.

How can we feel whole while waiting for restoration?

If we love the Lord with our whole heart, we can crowd out sorrow. Sadness will remain, but God will refresh our soul. He did that for me as I searched His Word for verses about loving Him completely. He’ll do it for you.

Your situation may differ from mine. But God is the same. May He bless you as you read the following verses.

God requires us to love Him with our whole heart.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:).”

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12).”

“The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 26:16).”

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).’” Also found in: Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27

God blesses those who love Him with a whole heart.

“‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel (1 Kings 2:4).’”

“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil (Deuteronomy 11:13-14).”

“The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:9-10).”

“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart (Jeremiah 24:7).”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).”

A prayer asking the Lord for an undivided heart.

“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever (Psalm 86:11-12).”

Praise results from a steadfast love of the Lord.

“My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music (Psalm 57:7).”

My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul (Psalm 108:1).”

“I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly (Psalm 111:1).”

“I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart … and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness … When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me (Psalm 138:1-3).”

Our challenge:

“But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul (Joshua 22:5).”

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why bother?

football.stadium.blindfolded

Picture me standing at center field wearing a blindfold and ear plugs, wondering if any fans are in the football stadium. That’s how I feel as I write this message. Is anyone there to join me in the battle? Is anyone listening? For over two years I’ve been posting messages on this blog, never skipping a week.

Why should I continue? What keeps me going? Having a son with mental illness (MI) can be challenging. At times it’s wearing on my emotions. It’s a daily battle to keep my focus on Him, rather than on the trials in my life. So why bother? What’s my motivation?

If there’s just one who needs renewed hope in the Lord, I’ll share encouraging verses.

If there’s just one who needs to know that someone understands their journey and isolation, pain and shame, I’ll reach out.

If there’s just one who needs to know that God can be found during the darkest times, I’ll tell of His faithfulness to us when our son needed treatment and hospitalization.

If there’s just one who wants to know what it’s like to raise a child with MI, I’ll share my story.

I’m also driven to continue for a personal reason. Writing weekly messages helps frame my thinking. This labor of love forces me to maintain an eternal perspective.  There’s something about reflecting on what God’s doing in my life. I pray, God reveals. I write, God seals the lesson.

But I’m like anyone else. I get worn out and tired of the struggle. MI isn’t contagious but it can threaten a mom’s sanity and disrupt her peaceful emotions. So I cling to Philippians 4:7 and trust that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I find refreshment for my soul in songs like ‘Protector of My Soul.’

“O protector of my soul

You will stand against the foe

In the dark You’ll be a light for me

O Protector of my soul.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhQ8bQ6r-UE

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.

You can be an extreme survivor.

football.mercy.best

Can an enemy be more than dead? Are there degrees to an army being slaughtered? None of my history books made distinctions between defeated foes: slightly destroyed soldiers VS completely demolished warriors. Victory is victory. So what’s the meaning of Romans 8:37?

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Sounds like the kind of victory I’d love to have. Is it possible to be more than a conqueror of a trial? How ‘bout the trial of raising a child with mental illness (MI)?

The phrase, “more than conquerors” reminds me of how my second graders would write. Their limited vocabulary didn’t stop them from expressing emotion. If they wanted to convey extreme excitement, they simply used repetition.

“We had a very, very, very, VERY, good time!” The level of enjoyment dictated how many ‘verys’ were used.

Adults use much more sophisticated language. We use superlatives.

Some superlatives can be offensive. Like an obsolete term assigned to individuals with an intellectual disability. People with cognitive limitations used to fall into one of three categories: mildly mentally retarded, moderately mentally retarded, or severely and profoundly mentally retarded. It’s now unacceptable to refer to a person as someone who is severely and profoundly mentally retarded.

I once had a conversation with Chris about words used to describe children with disabilities. He was interested in hearing what I’d be teaching my college students in an upcoming Foundations of Special Education class.

“We’ll be discussing our nation’s history of special education. We usually have a lively discussion about labels which are used to describe children,” I explained. “It seems there’s a label for every exceptionality except gifted.”

“I’m severely gifted,” Chris playfully replied.

As always, I enjoyed his quick wit. His humorous oxymoron lightened the conversation.

It’s difficult for me to understand the phrase “more than conquerors.” However, I could relate to the phrase if it was “partial conqueror.” Having a son with MI fills my life with alternating victories. One day is peaceful—a delightful conquest. The next day is filled with challenges and I’m filled with despair—a surrender and retreat.  Spiritual territory is regained the following day as I rely on God to help me respond. I give an gentle answer in return for unprovoked anger—another battle won.  Maybe I’m more like a “sputtering conqueror” … relying fully on God one day, then not even seeking Him the next.

I’d love to believe I’m more than a conqueror. My problem is that I lose sight of the Victor. “We are more than conquerors THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED US.” During uncertainty I tend to forget the battle’s already been won.

Athletes know when the battle’s been won. Football players realize there’s no need to ravage an inferior team. When the score reflects the opposition has no chance of winning, they precipitate the ending. The mercy rule specifies that the clock should keep running (except for limited reasons).  The intention is to put an end to the misery as soon as possible.

God has His mercy rule in place. Eternity’s clock is ticking. There will be an end to our misery here on earth. In the meantime Romans 8:37 assures us that, “We are more than conquerors.”

Yes, the battle has already been won. God has gained an overwhelming victory. Believers can rest in His promise and presence. We’ve been promised eternal life with Him in heaven. And if that’s not enough, we have His presence in the form of the Holy Spirit. His indwelling power helps us with our earthly trials.

When things get tough with MI, we wonder if God has left us. We ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (Romans 8:35)?”

Romans 8:38-39 assures us no hardship—not even MI—will separate us from His love.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The mention of angels and demons reminds us there’s a spiritual battle being waged. God’s angels protect His people. Sometimes God sends a heavenly messenger. Like the one sent to Daniel. Here’s how Daniel described the divine interaction:

“Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. ‘Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,’ he said. ‘Peace! Be strong now; be strong.’ When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, ‘Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength (Daniel 10:18-19).’”

How did Daniel qualify for that celestial encounter? The messenger explained what Daniel had done to earn the honor.

“Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them (Daniel 10:12).”

Heavenly Father,

I come before You humbly. I’m determined to fully understand Your victory. When all around looks dismal or when things seem out of control, help me remember Who’s fighting the battle. As Your messenger did for Daniel, strengthen me and give me Your peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The more we reflect on God’s love and power, the more we find rest in Him. How can we even explain such love? By using surperlatives. Like Chris Tomlin did in his song ‘Indescribable.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWdM4B1HEyI

 

Desperation

desperation

What picture could represent desperation? What image would fully convey helplessness and hopelessness? Is it possible to depict an extreme situation that is intolerable, unbearable, shocking, and dangerous?

Rather than capture the essence of dreary desperation in a portrait, I prefer to focus on beautiful desperation: my desperation to know more of God’s love. Yet how could I ever describe His love when I haven’t come close to grasping the depths of it? The more I seek it, the greater I understand it. A right focus is the key.

Perspective is everything in dealing with life that includes mental illness (MI). Those of us raising a child with MI have a choice. We can choose to maintain an earthly perspective of the challenges we face. By contemplating all the problems, and striving to find solutions. Or we can shift our focus heavenward to gain a divine view. To seek God’s wisdom and path.

Each fall I used to explain multiple sclerosis (MS) to my second graders. I was grateful God had given me a message to share with my students. My MS gave me a lesson no teacher’s manual included. I could show them how to face trials in life. Perspective is everything.

“When you face hard or sad times, you have a choice,” I’d tell them. “You can either focus on the problem or on the Truth. The Truth is that God’s in control. He is greater than any problem you face. He has a perfect plan for your life and He’s faithful to fulfill all his promises: to comfort, help, and guide.”

“Does it hurt to have MS?” they’d ask.

“Sure it stinks to have MS,” I’d answer honestly. “But that doesn’t change who God is. I know He loves me. God’s love is perfect, present, and endless. We may not understand it or always feel His love. But we can be sure of it.”

The lesson ended with one of their favorite songs, ‘Jesus Loves Me.’

“Sing the song slowly so you can think about each word,” I’d instruct them.

I often need a personal review of that lesson. MI trials can blindfold my spiritual eyes at times. Making it hard to see God in the situation. But those situations in life don’t change who He is: a loving Father who is still on the throne. Keeping a watchful eye, with His constant love. So, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”

Even MI can’t separate us from God’s love.

It seems impossible to describe God’s love. But there’s one picture that captures the heart of a Father. It’s a painting of His Son dying on the cross for us.

I’m desperate to fully understand God’s love. Is that possible? Or is it like trying to hold water between our fingers?

trying.2.hold.water

Ephesians tells us Christ’s love surpasses knowledge.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).”

I may not come close to knowing the full measure of God’s love for me. But I’m certain that keeping my eyes on Him will help me through the challenges that accompany MI. I need Him to guide my responses.

Years ago I held a critical position that forced me to keep a correct focus. As a school administrator, serious problems came to my attention every day. If I didn’t handle them carefully, they could blow up in my face. If I reacted poorly, I could enflame the situation or spark a conversation malfunction (AKA: an argument). So my daily prayer each morning was:

Dear Father,

Guide and direct my thoughts, words, actions, and emotions. Give me Your perspective on situations and people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

He faithfully answered that prayer and gave me His wisdom. Guiding me to His solution for every problem. So I’m sure that if I want to know more of His love, all I need to do is ask Him to reveal it.

As a mom raising a son with mental illness (MI) I’m desperate to know more of His love—for me and for Chris. Hillsong’s ‘The Greatness of our God’ echoes my prayer: to increase my understanding of His love and calm my fears. Here are some of my favorite words in that song:

Give me grace to see

Beyond this moment here.

To believe that there

Is nothing left to fear.

 

That You alone are high above it all.

For You my God, are greater still.

 

There is nothing that can ever

Separate us from Your love.

No life, no death, of this I am convinced.

You my God, are greater still.

Be blessed as you listen to that song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf2YJAG84_8