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parched land

From the ground, the residents may not be able to see the impending doom. But I could see that the river was drying up. That’s because I was in an airplane.

Are you like that river? Are your mental, emotional, and spiritual resources drying up? Is it getting harder and harder to find one more drop of compassion? One more trickle of tenderness? Has your energy evaporated? Are you just so tired? Worn out. Do you fear your caregiving drought is on the horizon?

No one can really tell how dried up you feel, but God knows. Things look different from His vantage point.

There are times we wish that we could just get away. Or at least mentally escape the concerns about our children with mental illness (MI). If only we could refrain from worry, even for just one day. Do our husbands or loved ones know just how much we need a break? Maybe not, but God knows.

Can a mom temporarily put her concerns on pause? If she did, who would attend to the needs of her most vulnerable child?  Isaiah 41:17 promises that “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17).

God will not forsake us or our children. God knows we need to be rejuvenated. Isaiah 35:1-2 assures us that God will restore life in a parched land. As we walk in our MI wilderness, we’ll witness God’s restoring power.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom …they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God” (Isaiah 35:1-2).

I’ve learned that God is able to provide quiet moments with Him in the midst of chaos or uncertainty. He has arranged times when I could take a mental break from my responsibilities. The key was putting ALL my cares in His hands. The challenge was to trust that God knows all—what I need and what each of my family members need.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Completely relinquish your child into the hands of God who loves him more, knows all, and has unlimited power. Trust God to give you a much-deserved break. God knows you need it!

Listen to Yalonda Adams’ song, ‘Still I Rise’  where she rejoices that, “God is able to strengthen me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfj-UDua9RE

 

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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

 

Getting Away: Guilt or Gratitude?

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Twin Oxen, Williamsburg, VA

“We won’t be able to go on our vacation,” a friend told me. Her son had just been admitted to a psychiatric unit again. “I don’t think it would be right for all of us to take a trip while he is in the hospital,” she explained.

“Now would be the perfect time for you to get away,” I assured her. “He’s being well taken care of and will be safe while you’re gone. You need to enjoy some rest and relaxation with your other family members.”

It’s only natural for a mother to stay close to a sick child. You don’t have to tell us. When it comes to having a child with mental illness (MI), tending to a sick child is endless. Months and years pass without any breaks. There’s never a good time to get away.

Recently my husband and I planned a three-day trip to Williamsburg. With limited funds, we chose to travel on Thanksgiving Day when the hotel rates would be considerably less. Low gas prices made traveling by car doable. We could afford to take a mini-vacation. But we couldn’t afford to take our son. I fought guilt feelings.

 We should take Chris along. He never gets to go on vacations. How could I even consider leaving him on Thanksgiving?

But I knew I needed to get away. WE needed to get away. It would be good for our marriage. It was necessary to be proactive, to protect our marriage. A healthy marriage finds time for the couple to be together.

It’s just not easy to get away, especially when you have a child with MI. Before this trip, Howie and I had taken trips. Mostly to see our grandchildren. Other trips had been coupled with Howie’s business trips. It had been ten years since Howie and I had gone away just the two of us to spend time alone together.

To ease my conscience, I wondered what God thought about us taking a trip. Matthew 11:28-30 came to mind.

Jesus has the answer for people like us who are dog-tired from daily burdens. He recommends, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

In Colonial Williamsburg I spotted two oxen pulling a cart. I stood close enough to reach out and stroke their fur (but wasn’t permitted). Standing next to them was like standing next to a small car. Their massive muscles revealed overwhelming power. Yoked together, they could carry huge loads.

Suddenly I remembered the words of Matthew 11:28-30 and felt gratitude instead of guilt. It was as if God had sent those oxen as a reminder to me. I heard God whisper, “I know you’re weary and burdened. Give Me your burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and find rest for your soul.”

Maybe you can’t afford to get away even for a brief trip. Instead of getting away, imagine going to—going to Him. The one who will give you rest.

“Rest for your souls”: is that what you need? God is powerful enough to carry any load. Another version of Matthew 11:28-30 may describe your situation, your need, and your rest-giving Lord.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”  [Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)].

 

 

 

Surviving Loneliness

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Why do you go for a walk? Would it be to exercise, think, relax, or explore? Maybe it’s to take pictures, study creation, or enjoy the scenery?

There are different motivations for walking with someone else. To take a romantic stroll or have an uninterrupted conversation.

Sometimes the walk can be routine or boring. Like walking to get somewhere. Or it could result in a precious memory. Like when my husband and I held the tiny hands of our one-year-old granddaughter.

Aborigines practice a more serious type of walk. They go on a journey—‘going walkabout’—which takes months. The concept of ‘going walkabout’ is new to me. I recently learned about the Australian aborigine ritual from a devotional posted on Rest Ministries by Kerryn. In her message titled ‘Going Walkabout To Be With My Father’ she described the aborigine form of initiation.

Wikipedia explains that a walkabout refers to, “a rite of passage during which male Australian Aborigines would undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months.

In this practice they would trace the paths, or “songlines”, that their ancestors took, and imitate, in a fashion, their heroic deeds.”

I read that and wondered: What are songlines?

The article ‘How Indigenous Australians Use Music to Mark Geography’ by kuschk offered a description of songlines.

“In Aboriginal mythology, a songline is a myth based around localised ‘creator-beings’ during the Dreaming, the indigenous Australian embodiment of the creation of the Earth. Each songline explains the route followed by the creator-being during the course of the myth. The path of each creator-being is marked in sung lyrics.”

I may not believe in their mythology, but it got me thinking. Do I follow the true Creator’s lead in my life? Psalm 89:15 assures me that, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, Lord.”

How I yearn to find His light in the midst of trials. Sometimes it’s difficult to track God’s lead when raising a child with mental illness (MI). It can be a lonely life. Only someone walking that same desert journey can understand what it’s like. Because of the stigma that surrounds the illness, most moms don’t talk about it. Their hesitancy to reach out compounds the loneliness. Deep sorrow and anguish fill the isolation. We wander aimlessly in an emotional wilderness devoid of understanding companions.

Husbands travel their own wilderness—one of mental wandering. As they struggle to discover the way out…some solution for their child’s pain. A way to fix the problem.

At the root of a mom’s loneliness is her need for someone to understand. Christ understands. He experienced times in the desert and even welcomed lonely places. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

So we can meet Him in our lonely places.

My research about ‘going walkabout’ shed new light on my walk with the Lord.

Tourism Australia promotes the modern-day benefits of going walkabout. Their article ‘Walkabout’ stated, “Today we can learn from the Aboriginal concept of ‘walkabout’ and leave the pressures of everyday life behind to re-discover what is important to us. For the majority of us, going ‘walkabout’ means taking a holiday and using this time to escape the pressures of daily life and to get back in touch with ourselves.  Going ‘walkabout’ restores a sense of magic and wonder to our lives.  It enriches our spirit.”

I like the part about escaping the pressures of daily life. But disagree with getting back in touch with myself. True spiritual enrichment can only be found in Christ. Salvation through Jesus provides me with the gift of the Holy Spirit. I can think of no greater wonder than to benefit from the indwelling power of God in me.

Raising a child with mental illness (MI) can be painful. It’s a long drawn-out grieving process. Great sadness comes from desiring a better life for our child. Denial teases us on good days.

He seems to be doing so well today. Maybe he’ll be able to handle future stress.

But familiar symptoms return. Reality hits. Grieving returns. Where do we turn?

The world offers solutions. Tourism Australia points out that, “Contemporary understandings of ‘walkabout’ remain true to the concept’s Aboriginal heritage. To go ‘walkabout’ in the 21st century is to escape from the pressures of everyday life and to reconnect with yourself, with loved ones, and with the natural world.”

Escaping ‘from the pressures of everyday life’ sounds enticing. But reconnecting with myself sounds empty. I’d rather retreat and reconnect with Christ. He alone knows my secret pain.

My walk with the Lord should parallel an aborigine walkabout in one way.

Tourism Australia explains that, “a ‘Walkabout’ is not an aimless activity but a deliberate and focused journey connecting Aboriginal people to their traditional lands and spiritual obligations.”

My walk with the Lord should be ‘a deliberate and focused journey.’ What would that be like?

I’ll imagine Christ joining me on my private walkabout. I’ll picture Him joining me when I withdraw to pray for my son who has MI. I’ll ‘watch’ Him wipe away tears from my face and fears from my mind.

I’ll visualize him holding my hand as He guides me through each day. I’ll listen to the songlines He marks along my path. Worship songs will help me be alert to signs of His leading.

Heavenly Father,

Forgive me for not having a closer walk with You.  How I love spending time in Your presence!  Help me to keep my focus on You, walking with you each day.

Calgon take me away, PLEASE!

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How can water help when you’re drowning? Would staring at it help? How ‘bout tossing a coin into it, with a wish all your troubles would vanish?

Maybe you could hold it all together if your sole responsibility was to parent a child with mental illness (MI). But MI doesn’t come in a vacuum. For me it comes with being a wife, mother to my son and his wife, grandmother to their two daughters, patient of multiple sclerosis…

Perhaps water could help. A marine biologist believes water has stress-reduction qualities. I read about it in Washington Post’s article By Eric Niiler “‘Blue Mind’ explores the calming effect that water has on people.”  The title grabbed my attention.

The article, posted on Jul 28, 2014, had huge implications for people living with MI. Marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols wrote a book entitled Blue Mind to share his research findings. He found evidence of the healing power of water.

In a telephone interview with The Post Nichols was asked, “What is ‘the blue mind?’”

He replied, “It refers to a mildly meditative, relaxed state that we find ourselves in when we are in, on or under water. It’s something I’ve been experiencing and observing my whole life.”

So the solution to our troubles lies in immersing ourselves in water. For how long? Could we go on a scuba diving excursion and return home to a normal life? I doubt it.

I do believe the key lies in water, however. Passages which involve water offer much hope. In Mark 4:38, for example, we read about how Christ, “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

It’s easy to give into feelings of abandonment. We’re tempted to cry, “God, where are You?” It helps to know Christ’s disciples looked at the turmoil surrounding their sinking boat and assumed He didn’t care. They dared ask Him, “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown (Mark 4:37)?’”

Christ didn’t rebuke the disciples. He rebuked the wind. Because of His love for the disciples. He wants us also to bring our cares to His throne of grace.

We can pray to the One who calmed the wind and waves:

Dear Jesus,

I don’t know why my child has MI. But I believe You care about my child, my family, and me. I praise You for Your power over all things. In the midst of this tumultuous time, calm my fears. Restore peace in my child and household. In Your precious name I pray, Amen.

That prayer could be whispered in complete confidence that Christ hears and answers. Or it could be spoken with uncertainty.

Did He hear that? Was He listening? Will He answer? It’s possible. Maybe. I hope so. What if He doesn’t?…

Rough waters give us a picture of doubt. James 1:6-8 describes the prayer of one with shaky faith.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:6-8).”

When Chris was a toddler, he’d ask me for his lunch. I’m pretty sure he didn’t follow up his request with these thoughts:

I wonder if my Mom will feed me today. Did she hear me ask for my lunch? Should I ask again? Did I remember to say ‘please’? She fed me yesterday, but maybe she’s too busy today.

A young child can be certain of his earthly mother’s love and care. Jesus used our imperfect love to help us understand God’s abiding care.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:9-11)!”

His point: we can ask with certainty that God hears and answers.

It’s nice to have data from a marine biologist to validate what we know: water is relaxing. It’s also refreshing. But the living water Christ spoke about in John offers much more than quenching a thirsty mouth. Jesus promises that, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).”

Several commentaries help us understand the richness of that promise.

Benson’s Commentary explains that whoever believes in Jesus, “shall not only be refreshed and comforted himself, but shall be instrumental in refreshing and comforting others.”

God’s comfort can flow through us to our hurting and vulnerable child with MI.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary provides this insight: “The comfort flows plentifully and constantly as a river; strong as a stream to bear down the opposition of doubts and fears. There is a fullness in Christ, of grace for grace. The Spirit dwelling and working in believers, is as a fountain of living, running water, out of which plentiful streams flow, cooling and cleansing as water.”

God’s comfort is limitless. No matter how often we seek His comfort, we can be sure it will never end.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers describes the indwelling power. “There is in him a power of life which, when quickened by faith, flows forth as a river.”

We have unlimited comfort and grace flowing through us. Now THAT’S refreshing.

So I don’t cry, “Calgon take me away!” Instead I cry, “Christ, flow through me today!.”

R & R

Morris Arboretum Phila., PA

Morris Arboretum
Phila., PA

If you could escape, where would you go? My perfect escape would be back to the Land of Normal Livng. Wouldn’t you love to be treated to a trip to Normalcy? A place where you could spend carefree days soaking in relaxation. A place with no violence. No unexpected outbursts. No mental healthcare visits.

Thankfully God led us to a temporary oasis in our desert of mental illness (MI). This next chapter of our story demonstrates how God provided a season of rest and restoration. He revealed Chris’s resilience. Life seemed to be getting back to normal.

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In order to get released from the hospital, Chris did what he had to. During group sessions all the patients had to state how they wound up in the hospital. So Chris regularly told the staff he had assaulted his parents.

His three-week stay ended. It was time for Chris to go home. I wanted his bedroom and home to look warm and inviting. Our house had never been cleaned so thoroughly! We were thankful to have our son home again.

The summer after Chris’s junior year we traveled to Colorado. We had a wonderfully relaxing time. It was as if nothing had ever gone wrong. As if Chris hadn’t been sick at all. We went horseback riding, hiking, panning for gold, and mountain biking. Everything was perfect. Except when Robert was missing for a brief time. He had taken a wrong turn biking down a mountain in Vail.

“Where’s Robert?” I asked, bracing myself for the worst.

“Oh, he fell off the side of the mountain,” Howie explained casually.

Before my panic turned into hyperventilation, Robert appeared. Slightly scratched, but fine.

Shortly after our Colorado trip, both boys attended a music conference. They stayed overnight at a local college with 500 band leaders. Many of those attending the conference were drum majors. Chris had attended the training the year before. But this year would be different. This time he’d have to take his medication on his own.

I knew it would be a temptation for Chris not to take his medication. But he understood how important it was for him to take it. We trusted him to be responsible. And he was. Thankfully, Chris handled another major step in his recovery.

Chris had hoped one day he’d be the drum major of his marching band. He had a good chance to accomplish that goal …until he got sick. Even with his MI he still demonstrated all the necessary qualities of a drum major: excellent musical talent, remarkable marching skills, and strong leadership abilities.

But Chris’s breakdown didn’t just disrupt his life. It also shattered his dream of becoming a drum major. Yet, he still wanted to attend the conference. It made me so proud to see his resilience.

One of the events at the conference was a march off. That’s kind of like “Simon Says” only with someone calling out marching commands. If someone carries out a command incorrectly, he is eliminated. The competition continues until there is one winner left standing. Out of 500 drum majors Chris lasted until the last six. Only five others remained longer. God blessed him by letting him see he still had superior marching abilities.

After the boys returned from the music conference Chris had to fulfill his duties as a squad leader. I marveled at how clear thinking he was. He thought of every detail for the meetings. That involved offering rides to our house, planning refreshments, and preparing the agenda. Chris even organized a pizza party at a local restaurant for the freshman members. Senior band members were also invited to help the lower classmen get acclimated.

Chris’s senior year was fast approaching. We spent several days during the summer visiting colleges. Sometimes I wanted to continue on with our plans as though nothing had happened. But then I’d force myself to remember that something significant did happen.

We prayed for wisdom to know which colleges to investigate. Chris was very clear in what he wanted. His decisions made perfect sense. He wanted to go to a college with a fairly small campus that was about an hour and a half from home—far enough to live away from home, but still close enough to visit home frequently. He also wanted to attend a state university because that would be more affordable. He was especially interested in Penn State because of their famous Marching Blue Band. He hoped to join it during his junior year of college. Penn State also interested him because of their excellent business program. Chris planned on becoming an actuary.

Chris also applied to Kutztown State University. By October of his senior year he’d been accepted to both colleges.

What an awesome God we serve!!

During three weeks in the fall we hosted a German exchange student. Each weekend we took him to visit local tourist sites. It was a wonderful experience for all of us. We learned a lot and had a good time. The best part: life seemed so normal.

In the fall Chris got his driver’s license. He feared getting into a car accident. I worried that if he got into an accident he might not be able to handle it emotionally. Being in a car accident is upsetting enough for anyone, let alone someone who’s experienced MI.

If I were God, I’d make sure Chris would never have an accident.

Thankfully I’m not God. He chose to allow Chris to have a minor accident. He forced Chris to face his fears. There were no injuries. Chris hadn’t broken any laws. So Chris didn’t get a ticket. The car had plenty of damage, but Chris was fine emotionally. God reassured us Chris had become stronger emotionally.

Thank You, God, for protecting Chris and for helping us see his resilience.

During this time when Chris was feeling better he was able to articulate his experiences with MI. He could explain what it’s like to be paranoid and to be on Haldol.

“What’s it like to feel paranoid, Chris?”

“When I felt paranoid I hung onto one particular part of what someone was saying and focused on just that.”

“What’s it like to be on Haldol?” I wondered.

“It’s like having my body frozen or moving in slow motion while my brain was moving at a much faster pace.”

When it came time for County and District Band auditions Chris wanted to try out again. The year before was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The level of stress proved too much for him.

How can I tell him he shouldn’t audition? He’s a gifted musician. If I tell him he shouldn’t try out, he’ll think I’m trying to control him or treat him like a child. Or he might think I doubt his ability to handle it. He’d feel flawed emotionally. What if he tried out and lost it again?

We decided to let him try out. Soon our oasis would be gone. But God would see us through the next trial. Just as he does for all of us.

Not Me!

Thanks.No.Thanks

What is the main reason ladies attend a women’s retreat? To be able to say, “I’m going to the ladies room,” instead of, “Let’s go potty.” To have a reason to buy new clothes…for themselves. To have wonderful fellowship—lots of great conversations (all simultaneously, of course). For lots of laughing and good crying.

All true reasons, but not the main reason. They go seeking the Lord. To hear His voice. To worship Him—uninterrupted.

Not me. I went to escape the whole ordeal of Chris’s mental illness (MI). He was well on his way to recovery and didn’t need me as much. It had been four months since his first psychotic episode. His medication helped him return to school. Chris appeared to be managing things well.  Howie sent me on my way with his blessings.

The theme of the retreat was ‘Jesus is the Potter and We Are the Clay.’ Worship music helped me relax. MI was far from my mind. I basked in His love. His perfect peace refreshed my soul.

The speakers shared verses challenging us to yield to God’s molding. To let Him shape us into vessels worthy of service for Him. On the last day of the retreat one of the speakers held up a beautiful cup and saucer. Gold lining hinted at its extravagance.

“This cup and saucer are very special to me. Not because it’s an expensive piece of china. It’s valuable to me because of who gave it to me. A dear friend bought this for me. To thank me for journeying with her from insanity to sanity.”

“Journeying with her from insanity to sanity.”

Those words jolted me back to reality. My heavenly feeling was replaced with MI worries. A familiar empty feeling returned to the pit of my stomach. I forced myself to continue listening to the speaker. To resume my emotional vacation. To listen to God speak words I needed to hear.

The speaker presented the challenge: “Those of you who want to be servants of God, to be vessels chosen by the Master Potter, stand.”

Just about all 500 women in attendance rose instantly. Except me. I remained planted firmly in my seat.

Oh no…I know what this is all about. I’ve just been through the fire. Now I’ll be content to let the Lord just leave me on the shelf for a while.

Suddenly, I realized I was one of the few ladies still sitting.

How must this look? Many of the women know I’m the administrator. They’re probably wondering why Miss Christian School administrator isn’t willing to be God’s servant. Well, I don’t care. I’m not going to stand to be seen of men…I mean to be seen of women.

Then my thoughts began to wander. I reflected on how much I’d seen God work in our lives through Chris’s MI. Words from one of the workshops echoed in my mind.

“The deeper the pit, the brighter the light.” I’d experienced that first-hand. In my darkest hour, God’s light showed us the way. Reminded us of His presence. Surely, my trial had been bittersweet. I experienced the provision, protection, and comfort of God.

I went from ‘not me’ to ‘use me’ and stood confidently. With tears rolling down my face. Knowing the cost. Trusting in Him.

Father, I’m not standing by my own human courage. I’m standing on Your promises. Knowing that as You’ve been faithful before, You’ll be faithful again. So, I trust You to mold me and use me. 

I returned home from the retreat ready to face whatever. Knowing I’d be okay no matter what happened because I’m a child of the King.

And so are you!

Sing along and tell the Master Potter, “Have Thine own way.” 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioJf4EpVdU8