Archives

Musical Strain

Trouble.Spirit.black

It’s powerful. It can make people move, smile, sleep, or cry. And can change the mood of a crowd.  Music has power to influence emotions. David played his harp and freed Saul from a distressing spirit (1 Samuel 16:23).

According to Wikipedia, a musical strain is “a series of musical phrases that create a distinct melody of a piece.” Musical strain, in Chris’s case, represented stress that threatened his peace. Music contributed to his breakdown.

Being in several competitive bands is demanding. It requires endless practicing. It proved to be too much for Chris. But once he recovered from his psychotic episode, Chris wanted to return to his old routine. That included music competitions.

Chris had been released from the hospital and had finished his junior year. Thanks to gifted homeschool teachers, Chris completed his work on time and received good grades. Summer vacations to Colorado and leadership camp proved Chris was well on his way toward full recovery. But I still worried.

Chris has accomplished a lot since his breakdown. But he might still be emotionally fragile. I don’t think he’d be able to handle the stress of those music competitions. How can I allow him to subject himself to such pressure? How can I tell him not to audition?

God reminded me His power is greater than any musical composition. His perfect peace can block out the most disturbing music. Here’s how it happened:

♦♦♦♦♦♦

November was the month auditions were held for County Band (the best musicians in the county) and District Band (the best musicians in the area—several counties). That time of the month brought painful memories.

Just last year Chris auditioned for County Band and District Band. The day after his District Band try outs, he suffered his breakdown. Howie says we should let Chris enter the competition. I’ll ask everyone for prayer.

“Is it wise to let Chris do to the auditions?” many of my close friends would ask.

“If we don’t let him try out, he’ll feel more like a failure than if he auditioned and didn’t make it. He’d resent his mother controlling his life. I can’t refuse him the opportunity to demonstrate his incredible musical abilities. I don’t want to stand by and watch the added stress harm him again. That’s why I’m asking for prayer.”

We came up with a plan to support Chris as much as possible during the auditions. I made arrangements for Chris to see his psychologist immediately after the County Band auditions. Chris traveled to the auditions with his music director, Robert, and other students. I met him there and found the hosting school staff.

“My son, Chris, has a doctor’s appointment today. I’ll need to take him immediately after his audition,” I informed them.

Robert had to deal with his mother showing up at the auditions. Chris didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he welcomed my support. A reaction that both pleased me and concerned me.

District Band tryouts came next. Plans were put in place once again. I’d meet Chris at the school and take him to his appointment with the psychologist. I arrived at the school when all the students were warming up their instruments. The auditorium was filled with blaring, distorted sounds. The unrelated notes eerily resembled the “music” of a shattered mind.

What must this sound like to Chris? It can only amplify his apprehension and any distorted thought. I’ve got to get him out of this room!

I frantically searched for Chris. With a sense of urgency to free him of the noise. Usually it was easy to spot Chris because the slide of his trombone is easy to locate. Not this time. The longer it took for me to find him, the more I began to panic.

Where can he be? What’s happened to him? Was this a big mistake?

Finally I noticed him sitting on the edge of the stage. His head hung down and his shoulders were bent over. He was the only student not warming up. His pathetic appearance filled me with mixed emotions. Sorrow made my stomach feel like I’d just headed downward in a rollercoaster. But gratitude filled my heart.

I waded through the sea of instruments and musicians. When I reached him I asked, “Are you allowed to walk around?”

“Yeah. We can leave the auditorium.”

What a relief to reach the quiet, peaceful hallway. The Lord even helped me get permission for Chris to be tested earlier than scheduled.

While Chris was in a room being tested, two students walked by. They were saying unkind things about a fellow musician they’d seen last year.

“Do you remember that weird kid who acted so strange last year?” one asked.

“Yeah. He played the trombone. He was odd.”

They’re talking about Chris! I didn’t know he acted strangely last year. Not enough for others to notice. Father, why did I have to hear those unkind comments?

Thankfully, that audition ended without incident.

Soon after, we got the results. Robert and Chris made County Band. Chris also made District Band. Any musician would rejoice in such an accomplishment. In Chris’s case this represented a tremendous testimony of God’s provision. It was also proof of Chris’s determination, courage, and talent.

Dear Father,

Thank You for showing Chris that life can go on. I praise You that Your power is greater than anything. Dissonant music filled the room. But Your perfect peace inhabited Chris’s mind. You silence the discord in our hearts and our lives.

 

 

Advertisements

Anxiety

stuffedbunnygraduating

Picture a girl clinging to her stuffed bunny on her first day of school. Now picture her as a sixth grader.

That’s how I first met Leah. It didn’t surprise me. Her application clearly stated Leah suffered from separation anxiety.

As the director of instruction of our Christian school, it was my job to process student applications. The headmaster and I felt led to accept Leah. We believed God could do a mighty work. Leah was transferring from public school to our Christian school. The exposure to God’s peace in our school could help Leah overcome her separation anxiety.

Leah’s parents were very supportive. They said they’d put us in touch with her psychiatrist.

I spoke with Leah’s mother before the new school year began. Mrs. Jones prepared me well, providing information beyond the usual school records.

“How did Leah’s last school year go, Mrs. Jones?

“Leah needed home-bound instruction for most of fifth grade,” Mrs. Jones explained.

“How many days did she attend school?” I asked.

“During the last quarter we gradually weaned her from home-bound instruction. Each week she attended more hours.”

“Did she eventually make it for an entire school day?” I inquired.

“No. She couldn’t make it. Often the school had to call me because she experienced a panic attack,” her mother answered.

“What were her panic attacks like?”

“She’d complain of stomach aches and headaches. She’d ask to go to the nurse.”

“Did the nurse find any evidence of a physical illness on those occasions?”

“Never. The psychiatrist recommended that I pick her up from school when her anxiety reached that level. I had to bring her home every day.”

Leah’s mother gave me the name and number of the psychiatrist and encouraged me to speak with him.

When I called the psychiatrist, he laid out a plan.

“If Leah complains of any physical ailments and asks to go to the nurse, send her. If the nurse determines that Leah’s physically well, she’ll bring Leah to you. Casually ask Leah about school and things in her life. Your calm demeanor should help her relax. If she complains of any physical discomfort, tell her that the nurse said she’s fine. Then quickly change the subject.”

As the school administrator, I’d be the person to determine if we needed to call home and ask Mrs. Jones to pick her up.

We put that plan into action. The first week of school I needed to call her mother twice. Mrs. Jones picked her up. Even during that first week, however, Leah was able to remain in school for several entire days. Maybe not in class, but in school. Sometimes all she needed was to talk to her mother on the phone. That calmed her. I’d then take Leah for a walk outside and she’d relax enough to go back into the classroom.

By the end of the year Leah was attending entire days. She still carried her bunny, but rarely needed to go home. Her visits to the nurse diminished. She and I met only occasionally.

On the last day of school I asked to speak to her in my office.

“Leah, you’ve made it to the end of the year. God has helped you overcome your anxiety. I’m so grateful to Him and proud of you. Let’s thank the Lord.”

After a time of prayer, I presented her with a gift. I gave her a miniature graduation cap for her bunny.

“It’s time for both of you to graduate. You’ll be graduating sixth grade. Your bunny will graduate from school. He’ll no longer need to accompany you next year. You’ll be fine on your own with God’s help.”

Leah attended seventh grade without her bunny and without needing to go home. She never again needed to call her mother from school. Later in the year, Leah even slept over a friend’s house. Quite a remarkable accomplishment and testimony to God’s faithfulness in her life!

Leah went on to attend college and get married.

We’re not very different than Leah.

Don’t we also worry? Forgetting God is in control.

Aren’t we vulnerable to fears? Allowing our thoughts to be consumed by the what if’s.

Aren’t we prone to the contaminated thinking of the culture which tells us we can solve all our problems? Believing we don’t need God.

Like Leah, our minds are easily led astray. Forgetting how much God loves us and our kids. Paul knew that danger when he warned, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).”

What a comfort we have in the reminder Peter gives us to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”

Let your mental anguish melt away as you listen to “You Are My Hiding Place.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVC6rfX3Z8

 

Not All Become Shooters

RJ

What’s so remarkable about a man who raised three children? He accomplished that and more, against all odds and in spite of his mental illness (MI).

As a baby, his twin brother died from a rat bite. Several years later, his father died in a war. His grieving mother had an abundance of children, but little money. She unleashed her anger on the man and his siblings.

In desperation, the man’s mother remarried. But soon after, his step-father lost an arm in battle. The great depression fueled his mother’s fury and frustration. As money dwindled, her rage grew. The abuse escalated.

So, in his early teens, the man left home. Farmers took him in. He worked on the farm before and after school to pay for his rent. During the day, he got teased by fellow students. Thick glasses and poverty seemed to give them license to taunt.

His days consisted of farm chores, school attendance, field labor, and homework assignments. Nothing more. No play. No friends. No family. Except the man’s older brother who stayed in touch with him.

The man attended college, financed by his older brother. Upon graduation, he got hired as an electrical engineer. Marriage, children, and a home in the suburbs came soon after. Followed by an earned master’s degree. Which led to depression. Treated successfully by medication.

The man’s children grew up and married. His son earned a Ph. D. from Harvard University. His two daughters became special educators and married. One of his grandsons became a physician. Another grandson is currently working on his advanced degree at Harvard University.

Who is the man? My dad. My hero. My son’s role model. Although cancer took his life years ago, his life is an example of someone who contributed greatly in spite of MI.

What do Abraham Lincoln and Brook Shields have in common? How ‘bout Ludwig van Beethoven and Catherine Zeta-Jones? Or Jesse Jackson Jr. and Herschel Walker? Or Vincent Van Gogh and Princess Diana?

They’re all famous people who contributed richly to society in spite of their MI.

Mental Health Advocacy Inc. has a lengthy list of people with MI living successful lives. Their point: people with MI have something to contribute.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has a list: “People with Mental Illness Enrich Our Lives” demonstrates that MI impacts people in all walks of life. It affects famous athletes, politicians, actors, artists, musicians, scientists, etc.

We can’t relate to the rich and famous. But, we can relate to the human spirit. The desire and drive to make a difference.

NAMI’s list reminds us that someone with serious MI can live a victorious life. Yes, it’s a struggle.

But, we are not alone:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Deuteronomy 31:6)

We can be more than conquerors:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37)

We often hear horror stories about MI. Like the mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. Anxiety can consume us after hearing those stories. Seldom do we hear success stories. How encouraging it is to know many people live fulfilled lives in spite of their MI.