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.

 

Strange

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In the midst of the Christmas gift-giving, my mother noticed something odd. With a frisky tone of voice, she pointed out, “Howie’s listening to a glass … we’ve lost him.”

All eyes shifted to see my husband, who in fact was holding a glass to his ear.

Howie explained, “My ears are hot and the cold glass—”

“No need to explain,” interrupted my mom, playfully. With a frolicsome smile, she spun her hand at the wrist as if wiping his explanation away.

Her implied message, said in jest: we love and accept you no matter what you do.

Here’s the thing about strange behaviors: some are easy to accept. Others: not so much.

Strange, Funny, and Humorous:

Some strange actions tickle our imagination and make us laugh. Like unusual things captured on YouTube videos.

Babies are always a favorite subject in YouTube videos. Like the ones in these “Funny Baby Videos”:

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

Add music and narration to funny animals and you’ve got a hilarious funny animal video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOr8ryJUOyQ

Strange, and Not So Funny:

Mom’s raising kids with mental illness (MI) often witness strange behaviors in their own homes. Seeing our children act in unusual ways is far from funny. It’s concerning and heart-breaking. The strange happenings seem so foreign to “normal” life. We convince ourselves we’re the only ones enduring such an abnormal existence.

If people could peek into our home, they couldn’t possibly understand such bizarre behaviors. No one would believe what’s going on in our home.

The fact is there are countless other moms who WOULD understand. Because they’ve also faced what we’ve faced. There is nothing we’ve experienced that hasn’t been experienced by other moms throughout all time. And since others have experienced and are experiencing what we’re going through, we’re not alone. Others understand.

Solomon guarantees that, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We can be sure of Solomon’s insight because, “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30).

So Peter cautions us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Strange and Accepted:

Think about your child who has MI. Is there anything he would do that would make you stop loving him? Are there any behaviors that would seem so extreme that you’d lose your compassion for him? No. Your love is unconditional.

The rest of the world may think our kids are a bit odd and seek an explanation. But, like my mother, we simply say in our hearts: “No need to explain.” And love them no matter what.


 

NOTE: This message is not to imply that life with a child who has MI is full of strange behaviors. Unexpected behaviors may occur, but they’re not constant. Life is simply complicated. A lot like everyone else’s life: full of ups and downs, twists and turns. Happy times and hard times.

 

Comfort Food

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Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole

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Thanksgiving Turkey

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Grandma’s Homemade Chocolate Cake

I sat at the kitchen table planning my day, not expecting the surprise. Without saying a word, Chris presented me with a soft pretzel. He simply put the treat on the table and left the room. His gesture satisfied my taste buds and warmed my heart.

It was the best comfort food I had eaten in a long time. Because it came from Chris. One of his most admirable character traits is thoughtfulness. Happily, mental illness (MI) hasn’t ravaged his thoughtfulness. Chris gives the best gifts ever.

Chris knew I’d appreciate a soft pretzel from our local pretzel store—the only place we ever go to buy pretzels. The blessing lingered long after I had devoured the pretzel, because it was a for-no-reason gift. They’re the best kind!

A side note: Philly is known for its soft pretzels. But not all soft pretzels are created equal. No self-respecting resident of Philadelphia would settle for a street vendor’s “soft pretzel” (and I use that term loosely when used in reference to those cold and hard cheap imitations). A true Philadelphian seeks out stores which bake soft pretzels daily on the premises. Those soft and warm pretzels are made with only the finest dough.

I’ll cherish that memory of Chris giving me comfort food. It’s usually moms who provide comfort food. What is it about food? It arouses emotions and triggers memories. It’s enjoyed in the context of happy social events. For those of us raising kids with MI, food can be thought of in the context of two periods in our lives: times before MI hit, and times during and after MI.

Food triggers powerful memories: Before MI struck, our lives were full of happy food-related events. Christmas cookies remind me of when I baked cookies with the boys each year. Popcorn reminds me of the countless weekends the whole family went to the movies. The Ground Round Restaurant was the place our family regularly ate with the boys’ grandmother. Strawberry jelly reminds me of when I picked strawberries with the boys (and returned home to make jelly). The smell of hot dogs transports me to all the football games where the boys participated in their marching band performances.

We still enjoy happy food-related events with Chris. They’re even more precious to me now.

Food for kids with MI: Once MI became part of our lives, food took on a different role. It became part of Chris’s treatment plan. His neuropsychiatrist helped Chris understand how different foods could help or hurt his emotional stability. We learned, for example, that carbohydrates can impact emotions. Note: Scroll down to find a few links to articles written on the subject of nutrition and MI.

Food expresses love, compassion, and appreciation. We bake to bless others. We cook meals to encourage a patient or widow. We plan parties to celebrate accomplishments. The Bible is full of references to food.

We read of God’s compassion toward widows when He gave instructions regarding food for them (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).  That’s a reminder that His heart is compassionate toward us.

We read of God’s provision to His people in the wilderness, when bread came like rain from heaven and quails covered the camp (Exodus 16: 4, 11-19, 35). That’s a reminder that He provides for us.

We read of God’s promise to give “food in due season” (Psalm 104:27-28 and Psalm 145:15).

Christmas season—reflect on what Jesus did with food:

Christmas is a great time to reflect on events that involved Christ and food. Each one reminds us of what we need most. Moms raising kids with MI need to remember God’s love, Christ’s power and provision, Jesus’ ever-present life surrounding us, and His second coming (when there will be an end to our sorrow and to our child’s torment).

  • Christ multiplied food to demonstrate His power and provision. (Mark 6:32-44)
  • Christ’s birth was evidence of God’s love for us. (John 3:16)
  • He celebrated the Passover with his apostles, foretelling his death and resurrection.

We have the assurance that He is alive.


 

NUTRITION AND MI:

In an article, “Carbohydrate Reward and Psychosis: An Explanation For Neuroleptic Induced Weight Gain and Path to Improved Mental Health?” researchers state that, “evidence for nutrition interventions to improve psychotic symptoms has received little attention.”  Authors of the article, Simon Thornley,  Bruce Russell, and Rob Kydd, go on to say, “Carbohydrate modified diets may also provide an adjunct to antipsychotic medication, potentially limiting unintended effects such as weight gain and adverse increases of other indices of cardiovascular risk.” Their concluding remarks include this recommendation: “The common link drawn between eating, psychosis and mid-brain dopaminergic reward, logically, suggests that psychosis may be improved, by modifying carbohydrate consumption.”

In Mental Health Foundation’s online article, “Diet and Mental Health” they warn about the impact carbohydrates can have on emotions. They recommend that people, “Avoid sugar and sugary drinks, cakes, sweets and puddings. These are loaded with calories but have little nutritional value and may trigger mood swings because of their sugar content.”

Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin clarifies the impact food has on mental illness (MI). The Mayo Clinic posted his article titled “Is it true that certain foods worsen anxiety and others have a calming effect?” In it, Dr. Hall-Flavin specifies which carbohydrates would benefit someone with anxiety.

Eat complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals. Steer clear of foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and drinks.”

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)].

 

 

 

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.