Tag Archive | parenting

Restored

dry.bones.2

What’s the strangest thing you ever snuggled up to? Mine is a collection of skeletons. When visiting our son’s college science lab, a trio of bones lured me over. I abandoned any attempts to hide behind them and playfully peeked through them for a fun picture.

Those bones are a reminder that an entire nation shares the emotions of moms raising kids with mental illness (MI).  God gave Ezekiel the symbolism saying, “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.’ I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land (Ezekiel 37:11, 14).”

Does that describe how you feel at times? Dried up, without hope, and cut off?

We feel cut off from those whose lives haven’t been devastated by MI. Parents of healthy children could never fully understand our daily challenges and hurts.

What makes us feel dried up at times? I think it’s because we try everything we know to bring about restoration. In our child. In our marriage. In our home. In our heart.

We’re designed to nurture. We thrive on tenderly caring for a hurting child. We’re not equipped to deal with helplessness when our child needs Mom to make it all better. A fact I’ve learned from experience.

When our sons were young, I felt fully equipped to mend any problem. A skinned elbow needed a Band-Aid and a kiss. Trouble with a playmate required listening and assurances that they’d remain friends. Homework struggles presented opportunities for me to apply my teaching skills. A shattered toy could be fixed with glue.

There came a time when my motherly affections couldn’t solve the problem. MI struck Chris. Glue couldn’t restore his joy. A wise word or warm hug couldn’t repair his shattered mind. Only God could repair our son’s emotions, mind, and life. Only God could repair my broken heart.

As I reflected on the word ‘restoration’ I thought about my mother’s pew. She purchased it for a dollar from our church back in the 60’s. Growing up, I loved sitting on her pew because it reminded me of services we attended in that little Episcopal church.

One of my earliest memories is of the back of the pew in church. I couldn’t see over it. So I would play with the hymnal in the rack attached to its back. My finger would trace the design in the wood. I’d peeked over at my mom and dad sitting beside me on the pew. And watch them holding hands as they listened to the sermon.

Years after my father died of cancer, my mother decided to downsize. The purchase of a smaller home meant she had to choose what to keep and what to give away. I found the old pew on her list of things to unload.

“You’re not giving the pew away, are you Mom?”

“Yes, dear,” she answered. “It’s in bad shape.”

How can she part with that pew? She and Dad spent countless Sundays worshipping on that pew.

My husband and I rescued the pew. We found an expert skilled in restoring furniture.

“Do you want me to smooth out these parts?” he asked, pointing to the dents and gashes in the wood.

“Absolutely not! That’s what makes this pew so special,” I replied. “It’s evidence that many heard God’s Word while sitting on this bench.”

Actual Pew from All Saints' Episcopal Church  Fallsington, PA

Actual Pew from All Saints’ Episcopal Church
Fallsington, PA

Chris’s MI left me like that damaged pew. It pierced my heart. The gashes in my memories are signs of sabotaged perspectives. Times when my focus on God got snagged on earthly concerns. Thankfully, God didn’t discard me. He healed my hurt and transformed my thoughts.

In His restoration process of my heart, God left holy reminders of His faithfulness. Each scar is coupled with healing passages: verses God used to encourage and comfort. The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23:3 continues to restore my soul.

God’s ways surely aren’t like our ways. He allows trials into our lives. Carries us through them, while revealing His faithfulness. Making us stronger by bolstering our faith. Just like a painful procedure I endured as a young child. A procedure that restored a ruptured artery and made it stronger.

An artery in my nose grew quicker than the nose itself. So it would spontaneously start bleeding. All attempts to stop the flow of blood failed. The only way a doctor could stop it was to apply heat to the bleeding point. Thereby sealing it. A scar would leave that spot in the artery stronger.

Similarly, God plugged my gusher of doubt with assurance of His care. At precise moments of despair, the Great Physician revealed His power, presence, and peace. Restoring my faith and making it stronger than ever.

Oh how we need God to breathe new life into us! And how we need to feel settled in our hearts. Ezekiel witnessed God breathe new life into bones. And He promised to settle the Israelites in their own land. That same God can breathe new life into you. He can settle your heart in your own home. We can face another day because His Spirit is in us.

If you need a good cleansing cry, listen to Steve & Annie Chapman’s song ‘Goodnight Kiss.’ The lyrics will take you back to the simpler times of being a mom to toddlers. Times that required endless physical stamina. Times of hurried care. But times filled with precious memories of when you could easily restore what was broken.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIpVDAqa2ug

Advertisements

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.

 

How to Discipline

discipline.right.wrong

“Stop bumping into walls!” Would it be okay for a mom to say that to her child who is blind? Absolutely not. She’d understand it’s not intentional.

“How many times do I have to tell you to stop falling down?” Would a mother of a child who has cerebral palsy ever discipline her child that way? Never. She’d show compassion rather than give criticism.

It’s easy to know how to handle those situations. Disciplining children without special needs is fairly clear as well. Maybe not easy, but we have an idea how to respond.

A toddler’s constant talking can feel like torture at times. There’s a limit to how many words a mom can hear in one day. The young mother’s mind screams, “Leave me alone! Shut up! Please, for just one hour, stop talking. I’m begging you…I can’t stand it any longer.”

She replies with all the gentleness she can muster. “Mommy needs to concentrate on making dinner right now. Why don’t you go play with your toys for a while?”

Disciplining a child with mental illness (MI) isn’t so clear.

When a child is emotionally fragile and mentally unstable, how do you handle behaviors which would otherwise be unacceptable? Responding the wrong way could be dangerous. Or, an inappropriate reaction could plunge the child into deeper depression.

When Chris first started to unravel, he talked incessantly. Little did we know, his mind was racing. He continued talking even after our repeated instructions to stop. Finally Howie and I loudly demanded, “Stop talking!” Chris’s MI prevented him to comply. We couldn’t understand his disobedience. Until he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

In the throes of a psychotic episode, Chris barked obscenities at us and punched holes in walls. He often broke things. Reasoning with a delusional mind wasn’t possible. Shouting at him would have provoked worse violence. Punishing him would have enflamed the situation.

We needed to respond calmly. Often ignoring the anger and destruction. That was the only way to defuse the situation. Preventing incidents proved better than reacting.

Does the Bible help us know how to discipline our MI children? Christ is our example.

Christ individualized His responses to those who need correction. He …

  • Used a statement (telling Peter to put down the sword he cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, telling the adulteress’s accusers that whomever is without sin should cast the first stone, telling the adulteress to go and sin no more)
  • Coupled an action with a statement (when He turned over the tables of the moneychangers)
  • Extended mercy (asking God to forgive those who were crucifying Him)
  • Gave a command (rebuking the demons in the man to come out in Mark 1:23-26)
  • Asked a question (when he responded to the Sadducees and Pharisees)

So, how do we discipline a child with MI? We follow Christ’s example. Considering the situation and the heart of our child. Seeking God’s guidance.

When Chris was a child with MI, it helped me to contemplate three things (in addition to talking it over with Howie):

  1. What must it be like for Chris to have MI? Are his actions deliberate? To what extent can he control his behavior?
  2. What would God have me do regarding a specific situation? If I lean on Chris too hard, would it be worth sending him over the edge? Is it time to extend mercy?
  3. Is Chris posing a risk of harm to himself or others? If so, what actions should I take? Is this a time to trust God for protection?

This was and is my daily prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Guide my thoughts, words, actions, and emotions. Help me know how to prevent unwanted behaviors and to respond to them. Give me Your wisdom to know how, when, of if I should react. Protect our family from any physical or emotional harm. Fill Chris with Your perfect peace and restore clarity of thought. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let this song minister to you as it reminds you of God’s love.

Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWT3Hd6WqE0

 

 

 

 

How to Love

Bentlight

Our 32-year-old son, Chris, doesn’t want to be treated like a child. He no longer wants me to meet his needs when he’s hurting. His desires are perfectly normal. Since he lives with us, I observe hints of difficulties. And sense his internal turmoil.

On his good days, it’s easy to get clues he’s feeling fine. He might join me on errands. Or stop to chat with me while passing through the kitchen.

For so many years, that ability to discern his emotional or mental needs served us well. Now, he doesn’t reach out. I only detect clues he’s in need.

He comes and goes and I watch how he walks.

He seems slumped over. Is that just my imagination?

I catch a glimpse of his face, careful to look without him noticing.

He looks sad. Or is that just fatigue from working out at the gym?

As long as he remains somewhat active, I know he’s not isolating. That’s a good thing. When he conceals himself in his room, I’m left to wonder.

How do I stop being a mom? Is it possible to extinguish the impulses to ease a child’s pain? How do others keep from worrying?

When a young child is hurting and vulnerable, our sole priority is to help. A mother’s instinct is to nurture, protect, and comfort. We’re drawn to minister to needs. It’s as natural as breathing. Impossible to stop for any length of time.

So how does a mom love a mature son who has serious mental illness (MI)?  Differently.

A ruler in the Bible shows us how we can love our adult son or daughter differently. Jairus was one of the synagogue leaders. His twelve-year-old daughter was dying. What did do?

Mark 4:22-24 tells us Jairus humbled himself and went to Jesus. Seeking help from the Great Physician. One who could heal his daughter.

Jesus agreed to go to his daughter. But then Christ stopped to heal another woman with a blood flow (Mark 5:25-34).

Can you imagine what Jairus must have felt? Surely, he was thinking: No, no, no…don’t stop now. There’s no time…my daughter is dying. PLEASE, Lord, come with me NOW! You can heal that woman later.

We can all relate to delays. Waiting in traffic is one thing. Waiting for God’s answer to our prayers is another thing. Especially when we’re praying for God to provide His peace and clarity of thought for our child with MI. That kind of waiting could lead to depression if we don’t hold onto our faith and keep our eyes fixed on Him. With our head buried deep in His Word.

Finally, Jesus healed the woman. But then the grateful woman had to tell Christ her “whole” story (Mark 5:33). Was Jairus feeling panicked? Surely, it didn’t help when others came spreading their fear. Informing him that “your daughter is dead” (Mark 5:35).

But, Christ calmed his fears.

“Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe’” (Mark 5:36).

Then Jesus raised up the girl (Mark 5:41-42).

What’s the message for us? When Christ delays, He’s still working. When fears bombard us, He’ll provide comfort. And remind us to keep believing and not waver in our faith.

When we don’t know what’s going on, we can trust in what we DO know. We do know God is still in control. He hears our prayers. He’s promised to comfort us. He’ll provide all we need.

Do you have an adult child with MI? In what ways do you show your love?

Casting Crowns’ song reminds us “TIS SO SWEET TO TRUST IN JESUS.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DdgkvnsHjM

I regret it.

Jesus hugging a teen
Did you ever say something that was taken the wrong way? Last Saturday, I unintentionally hurt someone I care about.

I managed to make a gifted artist feel discouraged by asking one simple question. Ryan Jackson is the illustrator for a new picture book I wrote. He studied under Chris Van Allsburg, the author and illustrator of award-winning children’s books such as The Polar Express, and Jumanji. So, it’s not surprising that Ryan’s illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful. When my husband first saw Ryan’s work, he literally was knocked off his feet. Howie had to lie down.

Ryan has almost completed all the pictures for our book. Howie and I met Ryan and our graphics designer for some last minute planning. At that meeting, I casually asked, “How hard would it be to change Beth’s hair color?” Since Beth is the central character, she’s in every scene.

That one impulsive inquiry caused Ryan to feel as though I wasn’t happy with his work. Which couldn’t be farther from the truth! The poor young father of three darling little girls has been working through the nights to meet our April deadline. Along I come with a comment which sounds like criticism.

In tears, I apologized.

Saturday must have been the day for accidental misunderstandings. Howie casually reminded our son that it was daylight saving time…time to move clocks ahead an hour. Chris mistook Howie’s reminder as a lack of respect. He was insulted and angry.

Ever since Chris became a teenager, he hated hearing advice from us. Now that he’s 32 yrs. old, he resents it even more. More than anything, Chris would love to own a home rather than live with us. While he saves money toward that goal, he endures living under our roof.

Is it possible to stop parenting? Maybe when a child turns 18, goes to college, enters the military, or gets married, it’s possible. Painful, but possible. Young parents know a day will come when their children will no longer need them. The days of nurturing and providing will end.

A friend once said, “Parenting is demanding. When children are toddlers, it’s physically demanding. During their elementary school years, it’s mentally demanding (helping with homework). Along come those turbulent teenage years and it’s emotionally demanding. Finally, when they become adults, it’s spiritually demanding (as you pray for their bigger needs).”

But, how can a mom stop parenting a child with serious mental illness (MI)? Affection, once happily received, is suddenly rejected. A teenager with MI recoils at a loving touch. Encouraging words once restored joy to a sad child. But, sadness has become depression and loving encouragement doesn’t soothe emotional pain.

We need to find different ways of showing our love. It’s not giving up parenting…it’s giving our parenting up to God. We seek Him in earnest. Our prayers become deeper and more heartfelt. We commit our child’s thoughts and emotions to God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we ask.

The One who died so that we might be forgiven, is there to help us each day. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow.