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New School Year: SUPPLY Needed

New.school.yr.SUPPLY.nded

The approaching new school year means…excitement or apprehension, depending on your circumstances.

Students entering school for the first time eagerly anticipate going to school “like the big kids.”

Students returning to school with mental illness (MI) may worry about “the big kids” who bully.

School pressures can cause concern to any student. But for someone with MI, it can easily increase anxiety. And threaten mental stability.

That’s why moms raising kids with MI can also experience increased anxiety late in August. As the start of school creeps closer, her thoughts might become more consumed with her child’s stability.

I remember when Chris was heading back to school the year after he experienced a psychotic episode. Fears swarmed in my head about what might happen.

Will Chris remember to take his medication? Will his medication need to be adjusted? Will other students ask him intrusive questions? Will he be able to handle the pressures of homework? Will he be able to concentrate and think clearly? What will happen when he has to face his first test?

 We needed to get Chris’s supplies in order. But I needed to BE supplied—by God. I needed His provision, peace, presence, and power. God proved to be more than sufficient. He faithfully provided all Chris needed. And calmed my fears.

Moms raising children with MI need help. Back-to-school TV commercials fill us with a sense of urgency to seek God’s help.  Here’s a suggested prayer from one mom to another:

Heavenly Father,

Please help my child find a loyal friend. Place a caring teacher in his path this year. Lead us to a skilled therapist that will connect with my child, and who will teach him effective coping strategies. Guide me to a compassionate school administrator or staff member, who will be a proactive advocate for my child. Provide sufficient finances to pay for expenses that insurance won’t cover. As life gets more complicated, give me wisdom to know how to manage all the details of life. Show me ways I can support my other children, while ministering to my most vulnerable one. And please give me strength to endure. Protect my marriage in the midst of this trial. Finally, I ask that you help me keep my focus on You, rather than on the challenges that may come. Remind me that You’re still on the throne and in control.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

 Our heavenly Father is able to supply all that and more. He promises to reveal His peace, presence, and power.

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

he delivers them from all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17).

This song will help you face each day. The lyrics will remind you that He’ll carry you and your loved ones through. Let King & Country’s song “Shoulders” minister to you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40wYfjv6yt8&feature=youtu.be

Listen

listen.pray

It was worse than the teacher described.

“Observe my lesson and you’ll see that Rick doesn’t pay attention—at all!” The seventh-grade history teacher invited me to see for myself what he witnessed on a regular basis. As administrator, I provided instructional support to teachers. Often classroom visitations provided insight.

On the day I observed, the teacher was reviewing for an upcoming test. Mr. Jones wrote on the smart board. The students copied. He wrote. They copied. Suddenly, he broke the pattern.

“This next fact will be on the test. Listen up!” He stated an important date in history, but didn’t write anything on the board. Not one student wrote the critical fact!

When the lesson ended and students had left, Mr. Jones was eager to hear my reactions.

“Well, did you see what I was talking about?”

“Yes. Rick wasn’t paying attention. But, you’ve got a worse problem…I’m not sure how carefully all the other students are listening.”

I didn’t drop that bomb without offering support. Soon after, I taught a mini-lesson on how to take notes. The twenty minutes I invested resulted in better note-taking skills and improved grades.

Teachers need students to listen. Likewise parents need their children to listen. Adults require kids to listen—to pay attention and to obey.

However, a child with mental illness (MI) may not have any desire to pay attention. Our son once said, “I’m apathetic. I just don’t care anymore.”

His desire to listen declined. Mine increased. I hear a sound in the middle of the night and strain to detect if there’s a problem. Chris often sleeps during the day and goes out at night. He prefers working out at his gym when there are less people around. Although he’s an adult, I still find it difficult to sleep soundly when I know he’s out.

Moms have perfected the skill of sleeping with one ear open. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines that skill as being ‘alert to catch an expected sound.’ We listen to hear the door open and close, signaling our child has arrived home.

Many moms raising kids with MI have also trained their ears to listen to the tone in the child’s voice. Subtleties in their child’s communication help a mother gauge emotional well-being. I’ve learned to be attuned to Chris’s pace of his speaking. Faster speaking lets me know his mind is racing a bit. Sometimes I can detect a slight strain in his voice which signal elevated tension. Careful listening is key.

Emotions can block careful listening in children with MI. My emotions affect me similarly. I’ve discovered they block my careful listening to God. I approach God with all my problems and sorrows. Never giving Him a chance to speak to me. I bow my head and my words are off and running. I reach the finish line and say, “Amen.” If I communicated that way with friends, I’d find myself friendless in no time!

I’m sure God has things to say to me. In my personal walk with Him, I read His messages in the Bible. And hear His direction for my life through other believers (sermons, Christian radio speakers, saved friends and family members).

I want more. I want to learn how to settle my heart before God when I pray. So I can hear what He wants to tell me. I’m finding it so hard to clear the thoughts which clutter my mind. If I can teach seventh graders how to listen better, certainly God can teach me how to hear His voice. Not receiving audible words, just connecting with His thoughts. I’m sure if I seek His help, He’ll gladly teach me how to listen to Him.

And I know He’ll do the same for you.

“Therefore consider carefully how you listen (Luke 8:18)”.

You can be sure He listens to you:

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you (Jeremiah 29:12).”

Moving On

next.chapter

What’s harder than parenting? Stopping parenting. Sure, we never really stop parenting. But there comes a time when children grow up and move on. A mom attends her ‘baby’s’ graduation with pride in her heart, a camera in one hand, and a tissue in the other. Tears are sure to flow.

Graduation marks a time of reflection. To recall God’s faithfulness. To think about the graduate’s accomplishments. To gaze into his bright future. But what if the future didn’t seem so bright? What if it seemed fragile? Or uncertain?

How does a mother of a child with mental illness (MI) deal with her emotions when facing such a milestone? We’re tempted to continue protecting our child. To keep handling everything. We’re torn between letting him go out on his own or keeping him safe in a stress-free lifestyle. How do we find a place for our child? Is there a place for a young adult with MI? What does the future hold?

Those were questions that badgered me in the spring of 1998. Chris was about to graduate high school. I found peace and assurance by looking back. I recalled God’s faithfulness throughout Chris’s life.  God had provided all Chris needed: comfort whenever peers bullied him, caring and capable teachers who understood his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), healing and restoration when he suffered a psychotic episode.

Chris was about to travel to Germany, return home, and then go off to college. I needed to know he’d be okay. Would I be able to trust that my Father would be with Chris wherever he went? God reassured Jacob, Moses, and Joshua. He promised that He’d be with them wherever they went. They believed God would do what He said. Could I believe in that promise?

  ♦♦♦♦♦♦

I had perfected the art of squelching painful emotions. The secret: deaden the feelings with details. A mountain of responsibilities can bury the worst fears. So when the headmaster asked me assume another role, I welcomed the opportunity

“Would you be willing to fill in for one of our second grade teachers? Her doctor recommended bed rest during her final weeks of pregnancy.”

“Sure,” I gladly accepted. I still had to handle everything related to my position as Director of Instruction. But the busyness would keep my mind off Chris’s upcoming graduation.

All the arrangements for Chris’s graduation had to be done after work. I purchased party decorations, bought his gift, addressed invitations, etc. We even arranged to surprise Chris with a limousine to pick him up after graduation.

I also had to help Chris with preparations for his trip to Germany. That involved getting gifts for the host family doing laundry, getting traveler’s checks … The high school held a meeting for the families who were involved with the exchange program. Howie, Chris, and I attended the meeting.

As we planned for Chris’s trip, we also prepared for Robert’s trip. As soon as the school year ended, Rob would be off to a two-week Christian camp where he’d be a counselor in training (CIT). As if our lives weren’t complicated enough, Rob had to have a mole removed. It looked suspicious to the doctor. I managed to find an afternoon that matched an opening with the doctor’s schedule.

Even my nights were packed. That was the only time I had to complete paper work. None of it could be done during the day because I was teaching in a classroom.

The busyness of life made it easy for me to stuff my emotions. Shoving my feelings deep inside couldn’t work forever. Sooner or later they’d escape. And escape they did.

One evening while grading papers I heard Howie playing the piano. Suddenly I recognized the song. It was “Pomp and Circumstance.” A tsunami of emotions erupted. I found myself sobbing.

School had been such a struggle for Chris. Not because of the academics. Learning came easily for him. His ADHD made it difficult for him. He had to work hard at developing social and organizational skills.

“One day you will graduate,” Howie and I would say to encourage him. “Then life will get easier. Adults aren’t as mean to each other as children.”

That “one day” had arrived. It had come so quickly. I was unprepared for the emotion I felt. The river of tears flowed from painful memories of all Chris had endured. They also flowed from tremendous joy that Chris had made it. He accomplished so much in spite of ADHD and MI.

Just eighteen months earlier, during Chris’s psychotic episode, I didn’t even know if Chris would be restored to reality. I had wondered if his broken mind and shattered life could be restored. But now he was graduating with plans to travel to Germany. And then to college.

Chris had received the John Philip Sousa band award. An honor bestowed on only one student each year. The inscription on the plaque read, “In recognition of outstanding achievement and interest in instrumental music, for singular merit in loyalty and cooperation, and for displaying those high qualities of conduct that school instrumental music requires.”

What triumph over adversity! Thank You, Father for Your grace and power!

As I reflected on Chris’s life, I realized that, like Paul I had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).” They weren’t easy lessons. There were times I wasn’t sure whether Chris would live or die. Whether he would ever think rationally again. But over and over God had shown His faithfulness. My trust in Him had grown. My faith hadn’t been shaken.

I never expected to be spared form tragedies other Christians have to face. When those trials hit, the promise of God’s grace comforted me. When I didn’t know how things would turn out, I clung to the fact He is a loving Father. I reminded myself that He had a perfect plan for our lives. Through it all I remained firm in my belief that God would sustain me.

Summer arrived and both boys were away. Freedom from responsibilities with the boys and work allowed more time for reflection. My thoughts naturally shifted to the next chapter in Chris’s life. He’d soon be going away to college.

My baby will be leaving home for college soon. I know You’ve prepared the way for Chris, Lord. But I need You to help me with these emotions I’m feeling.

Once Chris came home from Germany I returned to my familiar coping strategy. I cluttered my mind with details in an attempt to crowd out the emotions. I made lists of what to buy and what to pack.

The time came to drive Chris to college. I felt emotionally stronger and up to the task of letting him go. We had to take two cars to fit all his stuff. Rob came along to help move Chris into his dorm. We arrived on the campus and proceeded to unload the cars.

Chris’s room looked unwelcoming. I got to work unpacking his belongings

I’ll get all this stuff unpacked. Then this room will feel more like home for Chris.

Chris interrupted my motherly ritual. “I’ll do that Mom.”

The time had suddenly come to say good-bye. I had successfully managed to deliver Chris to college without getting emotional. I hugged Chris.

“Isn’t this the time for you to share some motherly wisdom with me, Mom?” Chris asked.

I hadn’t prepared any pearls of wisdom. I had forced myself to do just opposite. I didn’t want to think about the fact that we were turning the page to a new chapter in our lives. The Lord helped me give the most important reminder.

“Remember, Chris, the Lord is with you everywhere—even at college.”

As we drove home my head was flooded with questions.

Will Chris remember to take his medication? Will anyone find out about his medication and condition? How will he get along with his roommate? How will he handle any stress? Will he make friends with anyone? Will he call?

Wondering can easily lead to worrying. So I stopped wondering and focused on the fact that Chris planned on coming home every weekend.

Anyone can make it five days apart from a loved one. He’ll be fine. God is with him.

 ♦♦♦♦♦♦

As Jacob journeyed to a new land, the Lord promised him in a dream, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go (Genesis 28:15).”

God reassured Moses of His presence by saying, ““My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (Exodus 33:14).”

In Moses old age, he transferred his leadership to Joshua. His dying message echoed God’s reassurance: “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).”

After Moses died, the Lord Himself reminded Joshua of His abiding presence saying, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”

God enabled me to rest in the knowledge of His presence in Chris’s life. When you think of it, we all need to trust in God’s presence in our child’s life. Even the youngest child won’t be in our presence every minute of the day. There’s comfort in knowing God’s presence remains when we’re absent from our child.

 

Greater Than World-Class

Hawaii.Le.Mer

Le Mer Restaurant, Hawaii

Ever been to a five-diamond restaurant? I did only once. My husband and I went on the vacation of a lifetime. We traveled to Hawaii and splurged on an extravagant dinner. What made it so spectacular? Superb food. Unobtrusive service. Romantic ambiance. And a breath-taking view. The reflection of the sunset on the ocean, just outside our window, whispered, “Welcome to Paradise.”

How does a restaurant achieve a five-diamond status? Our son, Chris, worked for the AAA Club several summers. Often callers inquired about their Diamond Rating Definitions. Chris could articulate the distinction between different levels of service. For example, at a five-diamond restaurant diners would discover that their needs were not just met, but anticipated.

Our children who have mental illness (MI) require five-diamond attention. We attempt to anticipate their needs.  When Chris finished treatment for his psychotic episode, I wanted to prepare him for his return to high school.

“If anyone asks you why you were absent for so long, just answer, ‘I was sick and now I’m better.’”

I wondered if Chris would be able to handle any stress. So I contacted the principal.

“If Chris feels overwhelmed, I doubt he’d ask permission to leave class. He might not want to face any questioning in front of his peers. Would there be a way for him to leave class inconspicuously?”

“I’ll give Chris a “gold pass. All his teachers will be instructed that if Chris presents the pass to them they should excuse him—with no questions asked.”

The principal even provided a safe place for Chris to go on such occasions. Chris could report to a person who would be available and qualified to help him with his stress. Three staff members were identified: one on each floor of the huge school building.

Was I able to provide five-diamond protection for Chris? No. I couldn’t anticipate all his needs. That reality sometimes led to my own anxiety.

Those of us raising children with MI are keenly aware of our child’s fragile mental stability or of their shaky emotional well-being. We’d love to keep them in a protective bubble. But we’re simply not able to provide for their every need.

What are we to do? Wring our hands in anxiety or fold them in prayer? Folded hands aren’t a symbol of resignation. But a position of hopeful expectation. When we pray for our kids, we’re not giving up; we’re giving THEM up—to Him. It’s relief for our grief. We can rest in His loving care.

In the Hands of God, our child receives BETTER than five-diamond service. His care is more perfect than anything we can provide. Jesus reminds us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)”

What a comfort to know that the One who created our child knows his needs even before he asks! And He knows our own thoughts too.

Raising a child with MI can be a lonely journey. Often we wonder if anyone understands. Even our own spouse can’t seem to comprehend how we need to be supported. We wish someone would know our deepest thoughts. Thankfully, we can turn to the One who knows better than we know ourselves. How many of us offer this as our prayer to God?

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:1-6)”

It is difficult to comprehend His love. When I contemplate my status as His child, I begin to understand.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1-3)”

May you be lavished with His love today.

Reflect on His love as you listen to Scripture Songs’ ‘Behold What Manner of Love – 1 John 3:1.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U9GJf6B7mc

Emotional Pain of Bullying

 

Vicki's Picture Book

Vicki’s Picture Book

“What if my son wasn’t bullied?”

Is that thought among your what ifs? Do you wonder what role bullying played in your child’s mental illness (MI)? Thinking maybe bullying caused it.

Bullying is painful for the target and for the victim’s mother.

Our son, Chris, was the object of bullying throughout school. His ADHD made him an easy target. Other kids knew how to torment him in class without getting caught. If Chris told them to stop, he’d be the one to get in trouble for disrupting the class. His belongings were often taken from him. Kids teased him at recess. Even beat him up. He got so taunted on the bus that I drove him to and from school.

As he got older, it got worse. In sixth grade Chris became a latch-key kid. My new job prevented me from driving him to and from school. He had to take the bus. When he got off the bus, children harassed him. The school district said there was nothing they could do. The police advised against taking action. Saying it would only enflame the situation. So each day when I came home I’d check him for bruises. Then I’d comfort him and repair his damaged self-esteem.

Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse, they did. In high school he joined the marching band. I often watched his peers walk past him as if he didn’t exist. A form of bullying that says, “You’re not worthy enough to be acknowledged.” Someone even pulled a knife on him. In college a teacher whacked him on the head with a book because he slept in class. NOTE: His medication made him drowsy.

Undoubtedly, bullying impacts mental health. The website stopbully.gov addresses the effects of bullying. They state, “Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health …”

Some children are bullied more than others. Even just one traumatic event can scar someone emotionally. It’s time to update the old adage: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never FOREVER hurt me.” Emotional scars can last a lifetime.

Ask my mother-in-law, Mary. When she was alive, she frequently told the story of an incident that happened when she was eight years old.

At home, her parents spoke Ukrainian. So, Mary pronounced ‘soup’ by saying ‘zoup.’ In second grade she told her teacher, “I’m having zoup for lunch.”

Her teacher asked her to repeat what she said.

Mary repeated it and the entire class laughed at her. Including the teacher.

Mary told that story over and over again … even 85 yrs. after it happened.

Bullying has impacted my life as a bystander, parent, educator, and administrator. That’s why I wrote a picture book to empower bystanders. Children who witness bullying are often too intimidated to tell an adult. There seemed to be a need for a book to help bystanders. One that parents and educators could use to teach bystanders what they can do to prevent bullying. Heart Eyes: Beth and the Bullies is now available on Amazon in print or as an eBook.

What’s the worst kind of bullying? Would it be when someone is threatening a person’s life? Imagine if your best friend’s father was trying to kill you? In the Bible we read about David. His best friend’s father, Saul, repeatedly tried to kill David.

David didn’t understand why he was so persecuted. He asked his best friend, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”  (1 Samuel 20:1)

Later in 1 Samuel 30:4 we read how things got so bad that, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.”

Have you ever cried that much over the tragedy of your child’s life?

The same God who protected David’s life can minister to you. David strengthened himself in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). Find inner strength in the Lord your God.

We can praise God in our storm because we know He’s with us. ‘Praise You in the Storm’ by Casting Crowns reminds us of that truth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCpP0mFD9F0

 

 

Mental Health Boot Camp

boot.camp.mental.health

My husband and I will be away on Wednesday so I’m posting this early.

I’m passing along a post from another website. It was posted on Devotional Diva’s blog September 30th.  It clearly portrays what life can be like raising a child with mental illness. While demonstrating how to maintain a focus on the Lord.

http://www.devotionaldiva.com/2013/09/mental-health-boot-camp/#comments

Rest in His love for you as you listen to “Be Still and Know” from Scripture Lullabies.

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

The Dreaded New School Year

school.supplies.worry

When purchasing new supplies and new clothes for your child with mental illness (MI), did you buy some new worries too? I did. Chris would have to face changes in his senior year of high school. He’d have to trust new people. Would he be able to handle the stress? Would I?

My greatest fear: another breakdown. With God’s help, Chris finished his junior year of high school on time. His studies were interrupted by hospitalization, followed by out-patient care, followed by home bound instruction. Yet, Chris successfully completed eleventh grade. I convinced myself things would be smooth sailing for Chris from then on. That happy place of denial didn’t last long.

The only thing worse than watching your son “lose his mind” is noticing some warning signs that indicate it’s about to happen again.

In October of Chris’s senior year that’s exactly what happened. From my first experience with Chris’s breakdown, I learned to notice early warning signs. When I realized Chris getting close to the edge again, I felt very helpless. I didn’t know if anything could be done. He already was on medication.

At the same time, I felt confident the Lord would sustain me as he had before. But I dreaded having to watch Chris suffer like that again.

When I picked Chris up after school he acted differently than normal—especially on days he had band practice. He either talked incessantly or fell asleep immediately. He started getting some nose bleeds, which indicated his blood pressure might be unusually high again.

I knew we had to do something, but worried there was nothing that could be done. Worry led to shame…I felt ashamed I wasted emotional energy worrying. God tells us in His Word we shouldn’t be anxious because it can’t add one day to our lives. In my mind I knew worrying wouldn’t accomplish anything (except maybe cause me health problems!). In my heart I believed God was able to do beyond all I could imagine. Yet, I feared the situation would only get worse. Sometimes our imagination is our greatest enemy.

When I took Chris to see his psychiatrist, Dr. Newman, I learned there was a very simple solution.

“We can give Chris a tiny bit of extra medication at the time of day when he experiences the most stress,” explained Dr. Newman.

“How will that help? Most of his medications cause him to be drowsy. Won’t that just make him sleep more?”

“No. When Chris experiences additional stress, his brain produces adrenaline. Adrenaline reduces the effectiveness of his medication for psychosis. The adrenaline makes his mind race so he can perform under the stressful conditions. That’s why he’s more
talkative when he first gets in the car after school.”

“Why does he fall asleep sometimes?”

Dr. Newman went on to explain. “Once the stressful condition is over, Chris experiences a “bounce” which is a sharp decline in his mental energy. That’s why he falls asleep so suddenly. It’s the way his body allows him to recover from the stressful experience.”

It started to make sense to me. It seemed like what happens to infants when they get an injection. Sometimes they cry a lot and then fall asleep after the ordeal ends (the sharp decline in mental energy following a stressful experience).

We agreed to try administering just a tiny bit of medication as needed, at just the right time of day. I was still worried. I thought it could be dangerous to increase the dosage of a psychotropic medication with a teenager who was on the brink of another breakdown.

I needed to know, “What if this doesn’t work? Could this bring on a psychotic episode?”

“That would be a mini-crisis and you should beep me. Say it’s an emergency,” Dr. Newman replied casually. His casual demeanor didn’t reduce my level of concern.

Chris would be the one who would determine when he needed the extra pill, based on elevated stress. I knew Chris wouldn’t go to the nurse to get his medication. That could make him late for band practice. Being late for practice would just add more stress. Having the nurse show up at band practice to give Chris his extra pill would be an option either. What teen would appreciate that?

The best solution: Chris would carry his own extra pill. The school nurse initially wasn’t willing to let Chris do that. The school’s zero tolerance policy against drugs was the issue. But Chris was entitled to a reasonable accommodation. A compromise was proposed to have Chris also carry a note from the nurse giving him permission to carry the pill and administer it to himself.

When I picked Chris and Robert up from school, Robert got into the car before Chris.

“How did Chris act during band practice?” I asked him.

I never realized Robert had grown tired of my asking him how Chris acted in school (all during Chris’s junior year). Robert’s response was a wake-up call for me.

“Please stop asking me how Chris acts!”

“I’m sorry, Rob. I won’t ever ask you again.”

As soon as Chris got in the car I could see for myself how things went. He wasn’t talking incessantly. He didn’t fall asleep at all. It seemed like the problem was solved and the crisis was over.

Peace returned to Chris and to me. But there would be more critical periods that year. Times when I’d succumb to worrying. Occasions for God to reveal His faithfulness once again.

God can always make a way when there seems to be no way. Let Don Moen’s song “God Will Make a Way”  remind you of His unending faithfulness, power, and love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zo3fJYtS-o