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Breath

Breath.of.God

“I’m thankful I can breathe.” Who would say such a thing? Don’t we all take breathing for granted? Not a woman I know who had multiple sclerosis. Her symptoms are severe. She’s unable to walk. And she can’t talk clearly. Swallowing is difficult at times. Yet, she praises God for allowing her to still breathe. She rejoices in being alive.

Breathing is a sign of life. A breath is sometimes associated with strong emotions. A beautiful sunset can leave us breathless. In awe of God’s majesty.

Breathing a certain way can be beneficial. Taking a deep breath can restore calmness. Slow, cleansing breaths promote relaxation. Those exercises can even help distract from pain. Ask any mother who relied on them during labor.

Even young children can find breathing exercises helpful. When one of my second graders sobbed uncontrollably I’d say, “Take a deep breath….Now breathe out…Take another deep breath…And breathe out slowly…”  Gradually, they’d calm down.

That method could help a child with mental illness (MI) deal with anxiety.  Some individuals may it helpful in reducing worry and apprehension.

Breathing can be severed temporarily. By bad news. When someone is told about the sudden death of a loved one, they gasp. As if it’s impossible to take in air, while absorbing the information. Breathing is halted at the shock. Only to resume when tears begin to flow.

Do you find yourself holding your breath as you face another day? Not knowing what kind of day your child with MI will have. Not sure what will be required of you. Wondering if you’ll be up to the challenge.

As I researched ‘breath’ in the Bible, one passage described how I’ve felt at times.  It’s a familiar story in Ezekiel. The Lord gave Ezekiel a vision of dry bones being brought to life by God’s breath.

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’

“I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 37:1-4).’”

Those dry bones represented people who were hopeless. And lifeless.

“Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off (Ezekiel 37:11).’”

Dried up. No hope. Cut off. But God promised to breathe new life into His people.

“Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord (Ezekiel 37:12-14).’”

Moms raising kids with MI can sometimes feel dried up, without hope, and cut off.  We often need to be filled afresh with His Spirit so we can live again.

There’s hope in the breath of God. His breath has power to create. Like when He gave life to Adam:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).”

And when He created the starry hosts:

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth (Psalm 33:6).”

Job attributed his very existence to the breath of God. He said, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4).”

Isaiah reminds us that it is God who gives breath to all people. With His almighty power, He can make all things new.

“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. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles …See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you  (Isaiah 42:5-6, 9).’”

The One who gives breath will take hold of your hand.

Do you think your situation is too impossible for God? Consider the story of Lazarus. Christ breathed new life into a person without life.

“When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face (John 11:43-44).”

Ask God to breathe new life into you. To make something new in your situation. Be renewed with hope as you listen to Hillsong’s ‘Breathe on Me.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmxFQpSL4Bk

Assurances from a prisoner: God is in control

Pastor Saeed Abedini, Naghmeh and Family

Pastor Saeed Abedini, Naghmeh and Family

You don’t have to be in jail to feel imprisoned. Moms raising kids with mental illness (MI) may feel incarcerated by worry, concern, and grief. Chained to challenges with no way out. Is it possible to have joy in our hearts when MI is in our homes? The apostle Paul would answer, “Yes.”

Paul didn’t begin his letter (written from prison) to the Philippians by saying, “Pray for me. I’m in utter despair. My back has been torn open by beatings and I’m left to hang in this dungeon.”

Instead he wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Philippians 1:3-4).”

How could he even write the words “thank” and “joy?”

Later in Philippians, Paul implied that he wasn’t always joyful in his circumstances. We read him say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).” Then we understand it was a process for him to find contentment in trials.

Likewise, the more we experience God’s faithfulness, the greater contentment we’ll find in our situations. We surely may not be happy for challenges and heartaches. But it is possible to rest in the knowledge that God is still in control. If you doubt that Truth, just listen to the words of another prisoner.

An American, Pastor Saeed Abedini, has been in an Iranian jail for over two years. He endures ongoing torture and beatings simply because he won’t denounce his faith in Christ. He wrote a letter to his eight-year-old daughter as a birthday gift. Listen to his wife, Naghmeh read that letter. Warning: Kleenex alert!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1H1DlJt5mUw

Pastor Abedini assured his daughter that Christ is in control. His unshakable confidence, in the face of evil, comforts us as well. His God is our God.

To hear more of the family’s story, listen to Naghmeh Abedini making her plea to Obama to get her husband home. Her children describe what it’s like to have their father in jail.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/08/11/video-shows-torture-facing-kids-jailed-american-pastor-in-iran/

Pray for God to loosen your chains as you listen to Tasha Cobbs sing ‘Break Every Chain’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pD2zIuiC2g

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!.”

Desperation

desperation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

trying.2.hold.water

Ephesians tells us Christ’s love surpasses knowledge.

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

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

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

Dear Father,

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

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

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

Give me grace to see

Beyond this moment here.

To believe that there

Is nothing left to fear.

 

That You alone are high above it all.

For You my God, are greater still.

 

There is nothing that can ever

Separate us from Your love.

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

You my God, are greater still.

Be blessed as you listen to that song:

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

 

MI: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

dog.good.text.2  dog.bad.text  dog.ugly.text.use.3

Can Mental illness (MI) ever be good? One account in the Bible shows how “MI” came in handy.

King David faked insanity to escape the enemy. David, out of fear of King Achish of Gath and his servants, “pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. (1 Samuel 21:13)”

Insanity led to David’s deliverance. “Achish said to his servants, ‘Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?’ David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam… (1 Samuel 21:14-15 & 1 Samuel 22:1)”

Other than that story, I can’t think of anything good about MI. Can you?

So that’s the good of MI. What’s the bad of MI? The bad is when it seeps into a healthy person’s psyche. Contaminating thoughts. Selling lies.

A former second grade student of mine, Alex, had exceptional language skills. Rarely had I witnessed such amazing articulation. His verbal expression even impressed his peers.

The time came for students to give an oral book report. As expected, most were nervous. Surprisingly, so was Alex. He faced his classmates frozen. Unable to speak. Why would HE be afraid to do a presentation?

It became obvious the enemy was feeding him a lie. Telling him, “You can’t do this.”

I took him out in the hall to give a pep talk. Thankfully, as a Christian educator, I could use scripture to melt his fears.

I assured him by saying, “2 Timothy 1:7 tells us God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear. What He calls us to do, He’ll enable us to accomplish. Philippians 4:13 promises, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ The truth is that God has blessed you with wonderful speaking skills. He’ll help you give your oral book report.”

Still afraid, he asked, “Can I do it tomorrow?”

I granted him permission to wait, knowing his parents would echo my words from scripture and pray with him. He did okay the next day. And remembered God’s faithfulness. In third grade he sang a solo during a Christmas concert—in front of hundreds of people.

Alex suffered a common fear: public speaking. Never before that day had he demonstrated anxiety. His behaviors weren’t a result of MI.

Some of our children suffer anxiety disorders. They face overwhelming fears which can be crippling. Or battle worries which are constant. Their symptoms aren’t temporary like those experienced by Alex.

Other forms of MI can be equally debilitating. Our children need help to overcome challenges related to their illness. Sadly, instead of support, we receive judgment from others.

The ugly truth about MI is that some people think our kids are pretending to have anxiety or depression. Assuming their behaviors can easily be controlled. Outsiders jump to wrong conclusions and pass negative judgments. “It’s a character flaw, a ploy to gain power, or manipulation to get out of doing work.” All beliefs are wrong. Anyone who has ever experienced MI would tell you they’d do anything to feel better. Sadly, our children who have MI aren’t faking it like King David did.

Another ugly truth about MI is that some people think the child should “just snap out of it.” The assumption driving such incorrect thinking is that the symptoms are temporary. Outsiders advise, “Just talk to your child and he’ll stop acting that way.” The false belief is that reasoning would be all that’s necessary to improve behavior (like it did with Alex).

God healed Alex from his irrational fear. Can our heavenly Father do the same for our children who suffer from MI? Certainly He’s able. I witnessed an extraordinary miracle in the life of an adolescent. You can read about her transformed life in the message I posted August 21, 2013 entitled ‘Anxiety.’

The wonderful Truth is that God is able to help us through our own challenges, heartaches, and loneliness of MI.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)”

Another wonderful Truth is that Christ overcame death. May you be encouraged by that reminder of His limitless power. Be blessed by this song as you reflect on His second coming.

‘Glorious Day’ by Casting Crowns

Awesome!

Sofieloveslights

Ever watch someone take the last piece of cake? Just before you get there.

Hey, no fair! That was MY piece.

A childish reaction, right?

If you’re like me, maybe that’s what life feels like for you lately. Someone else just took your piece of the contentment pie.

You watch other people skipping through life while you tip toe around mental illness (MI). You notice others going about their day smiling. Seemingly carefree.

When will I get a chance to have fun? Or just get a break. Not a vacation—just a break. A few happy moments. Some relaxing time without having to handle emotions. Some time for refreshment away from witnessing turmoil.

Many moms who have a child with serious MI can’t get away. The child with MI can’t be left unsupervised. Or maybe it’s a teen with MI. So getting a babysitter would not be an option. Perhaps it’s a grown child with an intellectual disability who also has MI. Not many would be qualified to relieve a parent and stay with such a needy individual. To handle such complex needs.

Is it possible to find small pleasures without getting away? Has life destroyed your ability to enjoy small pleasures?

We can learn a lot from toddlers. They embrace everything with glee. Our granddaughter loved the tiny white lights in our garland. As if gazing on sparkling diamonds, she responded with an up-down sing-song, “Oo-oo!” She took each of her stuffed animals to show them. One at a time: “Oo-oo!”

Awesome pleasures can be found in unexpected places. When we least expect it. Like on a muggy summer night.

An oppressive heat wave has stalled over our region. Complete with high temperatures and unbearable humidity. Each afternoon the air is so saturated with moisture that we get a brief thunderstorm.

Last night God treated us to a simple pleasure using those uncomfortable elements. Here’s how He orchestrated it. 

Wind whipping the trees outside announced the surprise. Howie and I went outside to watch. The rain hadn’t started. We could smell it in the air. They sky looked ominous. Billowy grey clouds swirled above. Our giant evergreens swayed and danced. The menacing clouds crept closer. Howie and I bathed in the cool breeze. Such an unexpected reprieve from the heat! Ahhh.

Then the raindrops came. Plunk. Plunk. Plick. Plick. Plunk. We enjoyed the staccato music of the approaching storm. Finally the drizzle turned to a torrential downpour. Time to go inside.

“That was nice,” Howie remarked. In the same tone he’s used after watching a heartwarming movie.

We enjoyed the unexpected concert. Compliments of God.

Heavenly Father,

Thank You for sending small pleasures my way. Help me notice them. How awesome are the sights, sounds, and smells of Your surprises.

Phil Wickham wrote of God’s stormy orchestra in “Cannons”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_GNVWAo1pY

The Worst

bad.worse

The first time my parents left their teenage daughter home overnight they knew I could handle everything. Everything?

I’m sure they didn’t expect their check-in phone conversation to sound like this:

“How are things going, Vicki?”

“Oh fine. By the way, Aunt Betty and Uncle Ken and their kids are visiting. They dropped by two days ago.”

“Where are they staying?”

“In the driveway. In their camper.”

“Where are they eating?”
“Here. I’m making them meals. By the way, we had a small kitchen fire.”

“What! Are you okay?”

“Sure. I put it out before there was any more damage.”

“There’s damage?”

“Only black smoke all over the walls. Nothing a fresh coat of paint won’t fix. So, how are you and Dad?…Mom, are you still there?”

As bad as that news sounded to my mother, it could have been a lot worse. The unexpected guests weren’t robbers. The house didn’t burn down.

Gotta love a teenager’s reaction to the world. Ignorance can truly be bliss. Back then, it was so much easier to face the world calmly. With an invincible spirit.

Hey life, give me your best shot. I can handle anything. No big deal.

Through the years, I’ve learned otherwise. I can’t handle everything. Some trials ARE a big deal. Like mental illness (MI).

Oh to have that teenage calm and casual outlook on life. Nowadays, I can’t summon a serene spirit to saturate my responses. I know how horribly wrong things can turn out.

Thankfully, I have access to God’s perfect peace. The trick is keeping my focus right when things are bad. Trusting Him instead of considering all the possible outcomes.

When MI hits home, sometimes bad goes to worse. At those times, I tell myself “It could be worse.”

James Stevenson wrote a delightful story for children teaching them things can always be worse. In “Could Be Worse!”, a laid-back grandfather seems unimpressed or concerned at his grandchildren’s reported problems. Each complaint receives the same unemotional, “Could be worse.”

One morning, the grandfather tells them a story of unbelievable events that happened to him—all in one night. One extreme calamity after another. At the end of his tale he asks them, “Now what do you think of that?”

Their response: “Could be worse!”

Lesson learned. He transformed their thinking.

God can transform our thinking, if we allow Him.

When the weight of this MI marathon gets too heavy, I start the list of worsts. God takes over and floods my head with reminders of blessings.

Here’s how it goes.

It could be worse. Chris could be missing. We could be homeless, wondering where our next meal will come and what’s happening to our son. We could be living in a war-torn country. Chris could be filled with rage. He could be dead.

Chris is home with us and safe. He has goals (to pay off his debts, etc.), gets exercise, and interacts with people at his church on Sundays.

Maybe you’re living my worst. Most likely, you’re not living THE worst unless you’re enduring MI without God’s presence. His presence can comfort in the midst of the worst trial.

Chris Tomlin reminds us of our need for Him in his song, “Lord I Need You”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rR_Rdb1CTE