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Worry Workout

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There’s a lot to worry about working out.

Do any of these questions reveal your inner thoughts?

Why did I skip my work out? Why can’t I get disciplined and work out regularly? How will I measure up to others exercising who have well-toned bodies? How often will I have to work out before I get trimmer? Why bother?

We bother because research proves it’s helpful. Certain benefits can be linked to exercising. Those benefits motivate us to get to the gym. Sometimes.

 Wishful Thinking

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if working out could eliminate worry? The more we’d run, the more peaceful we’d feel. All worries would disappear. That would certainly motivate me to get to the gym!

Moms raising kids with mental illness (MI) are given good reasons to worry.

We find ourselves on the worry treadmill. Fears elevate our heartbeat. Anxieties cause us to sweat.

Why isn’t he smiling? What happened before he got home? What is he doing in his room? Why is he isolating? Has he taken his medication? Has he eaten today? Why hasn’t he showered? Why isn’t he talking? …

 Wonder about Worrying

Does worrying help?

That question is asked in the recently-released movie, “Bridge of Spies.” The plot surrounds actual events that occurred during the Cold War in the ‘60s. Tom Hanks plays the part of an insurance lawyer named James Donovan. Donovan is appointed to defend a Russian spy named Rudolf Abel. Several times during his conversations with Abel, Donovan observes, “You don’t look worried.” Abel’s reply each time is the same: “Would it help?”

The spy didn’t appear to be asking a rhetorical question. The pointed look on his face hinted at a more instructive question. It seemed like he wanted Donovan to consider if worrying would even help.

That’s our challenge. Consider if worrying helps. The passage in Matthew 6:25-34 tells us it doesn’t.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:27, 34).

That whole passage assures us that God will take care of our needs.

 Wonderful Workouts

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, compared physical exercise to godly living. He pointed out, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Timothy 4:8).

A spiritual workout has eternal value. But, what is a spiritual workout?

It involves toning up our spiritual muscles by daily praying, reading the Bible, following God’s guidelines, and telling others about Him. Simply put, we step on the spiritual treadmill and…Read. Pray. Show. Share … Read. Pray. Show. Share … Read. Pray. Show. Share … Read. Pray. Show. Share …

Our spiritual workout also involves rest. We rest our hope on the One who is still on the throne. The “music” running from our biblical earbuds remind us, “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).

So we don’t need to rest our hope on medications or therapist for our kids. Like the psalmist, we can say, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5).

Facing Change

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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.”

Finding Peace during Cold, Dark Times

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When does the season match emotions? When the sun isn’t shining and the temperature hits below freezing. That’s when some people get seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Cold and grey winter days can lead to depression.

What does SAD have to do with moms raising kids with mental illness (MI)? We can relate to the strong urge to hibernate during the winter seasons of life. Times when it seems like the journey will never end. When our discouragement meter plummets lower than subfreezing temperatures. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape by crawling into bed for days? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to curl up in a warm blanket and dream of the carefree days before MI hit?

The reality is that moms raising kids with MI can’t take a week off. Thankfully, the reality is also that God can surprise us with His peace during the darkest days.

Recently I wrote a devotional for Rest Ministries—an online Christian ministry for people with chronic illness or pain. The message, ‘Winter Surprises’ may encourage you during the long winter months on the calendar or in your life. I created a YouTube video (using photos I took) to accompany the devotional. It’s my prayer that you’ll find refreshment while watching that video (about six minutes long). Here’s the link:   https://youtu.be/bownpnIV7hE

 

In Knots

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Williamsburg, Virginia

“Grandpa has a sore belly,” our daughter-in-law explained. Our granddaughter wouldn’t have understood pain from a gallbladder attack. But she surely could sympathize with belly pain.  So could lots of us.

The booming gluten-free industry is proof my husband’s not alone in digestive misery. People suffer from Celiac Disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Then there’s the ‘itis conditions’: colitis, diverticulitis, gastritis, pancreatitis, and more. A simple google search of ‘digestive illnesses’ yields a long list of miserable conditions. All of which can make your stomach feel like it’s been through a meat grinder.

Mom’s raising kids with mental illness (MI) know another type of stomach pain. The kind that results from worry and stress. Concern can cripple our digestive systems. Rendering us sick with belly pain. Leaving our stomach in knots.

What can ease that kind of twisted torment? Think about what parents to do ease the belly pain of a toddler. We softly stroke their tummy. Our heavenly Father can unknot our stomach when worry twists it like a strand of Christmas lights. Not only will His loving hand soothe our pain, but He’ll replace it with His perfect peace.

If MI has left you in knots, join me in using Psalm 90:15-16 as your prayer:

“Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory” (NLT)

Stop and reflect on the phrase, “gladness in proportion to our former misery.” We serve a God who promised to, “turn their mourning into gladness,” and to, “give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

He will restore your joy. Because He loves you that much.

 

Better than a Resolution

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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.

 

Thanksgiving: Praise and Prayers for Those Suffering

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What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘spread’ at Thanksgiving? For most people, that word conjures up fond memories of a huge feast. A golden turkey surrounded by Aunt Sally’s stuffing, Cousin Sarah’s sweet potato topped with marshmallows, Ben’s bean casserole, and more. Followed by another spread of desserts. Apple pie a la mode, pumpkin pie, and the ever-popular Grandma’s homemade chocolate cake.

Sitting around the holiday table with loved ones can be uncomfortable—in more ways than one. We pig out on the food. And wind up stuffed. Uncle John raises awkward conversations. And we wish we could crawl under the table.

As Thanksgiving approaches, a mother raising a child with mental illness (MI) might have additional things on her mind. Instead of enjoying fond memories of a food spread, some of us fight emotions. Fear spreads as we conjure up thoughts of worst-case scenarios.

Will my child with MI be stable enough to join in the celebration? Will other family members be accepting of him? What if his symptoms emerge? How will others react if he doesn’t eat? How will I respond to probing questions? Can I bear seeing him sitting in a corner all alone another year?

Most Americans pause to thank God on Thanksgiving. Surely, those of us raising kids with MI have a list of praises for God at this time. That He’s protected our own sanity, if nothing else. Wouldn’t it be a relief if Thanksgiving was also a time to send prayers for those who are suffering?

We may feel alone in our journey, but we’re not the only ones who suffer. Everyone suffers at one time or another. President Lincoln demonstrated his awareness of that fact in his Thanksgiving Proclamation. Find his words of compassion in a portion of that proclamation:

“I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.”

Lincoln was referring to the suffering of the nation faced with civil strife. He invited citizens to pray for ‘the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.’ Those same words could be applied to us.

Here’s my Thanksgiving Day prayer for you:

Dear Father,

I thank You for how You’ve provided for mothers raising children with MI. For those who have seen Your hand in their lives and who have seen improvement in their children. I’m grateful for Your protection. For each mother reading this, I now ask that You give ‘full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union’ in her home.  May Your love spread in the hearts of each family member. Bless each one with a truly joyous Thanksgiving Day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Handle With Care

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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).