Tag Archive | psychotic episode

Why was I so surprised?

GodsLove

The mom stood speechless looking into her son’s bedroom. Who’d cleaned it so promptly? Her proud son took her on a tour of the spotless room. Such quick obedience was uncharacteristic of him. No wonder his mother looked stunned. Normally he has to be reminded at least five times.

Some parents hope for eager and rapid compliance from their children. But deep down inside they harbor low expectations. Procrastination and delay have been the pattern. It’s as if one simple reminder sparks a battle of the wills. “Clean your room.” (inaction) “I told you to clean your room.” (silent resistance) “Get up and clean your room now.” (slow-motion action)

It’s understandable that a parent would be shocked at a child’s uncharacteristic prompt obedience. But I’m ashamed to admit something. I’ve often been stunned when God has answered my prayers. Why is that? It’s not out of character for Him to show His power and love. Quite the contrary. I know He hears my prayers. Yet I’m frequently surprised when I witness His mighty power in our lives. I suppose it’s because I haven’t begun to fully understand His limitless love, and immeasurable power.

Maybe I should tape the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 to my refrig. They’d remind me, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

The past fifteen weeks I’ve been sharing the details of our story. Last week left off with Chris heading off to college. During Chris’s five years away at college God provided in ways I could never have expected. He provided immeasurably more than I could have imagined.

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“In your decades of practice, how many patients with schizoaffective disorder have attended college?” I asked Chris’s psychiatrist.

“Only two,” he answered. Proving what a victory God had already worked in Chris’s life.

In the context of such an accomplishment, Chris faced additional stressors. Some were minor. Like when he lost his backpack which contained all his textbooks, notes, and student ID card. I surprised him by driving to his campus in order to purchase an additional set of textbooks, etc.

“I found my backpack,” Chris declared when he greeted me. It wasn’t a wasted trip. Chris felt supported.

Other situations arose which were much more difficult to solve. Like Chris’s serious back pain. Chris had joined Penn State’s Marching Blue Band. The high-step marching exacerbated his pain. Several epidural steroid injections eased his pain. But only delayed the inevitable. Back surgery would be the only procedure that would end his pain caused by two severely herniated discs.

During summer break Chris had a laminotomy—a procedure that removed part of his herniated discs.

“Can I march in the band this fall?” asked Chris.

“No. You could re-herniate the discs,” warned the neurosurgeon.

Chris marched anyway. God protected his back from further injury. And helped Chris manage the demands of college. The long band practices and studying didn’t overly stress him. He seemed fine until his blood tests revealed elevated liver levels.

“I’m going to reduce the dosage of your medication. That might bring them back into normal levels,” Chris’s psychiatrist said.

The reduced medication caused Chris to unravel. He was in his final semester of his program. Easter break was fast approaching. Soon after, he’d graduate college. But that dream seemed to be slipping away. Chris started calling home ten times or more each day. At all hours of the night. He seemed to be getting worse. There wasn’t much we could do.  It would take hours to drive to his campus.

“Call Dr. Kipley. He’ll know how to help,” I told Chris.

“I already did.”

“What did he say?” I wondered.

“You need to go to the hospital.”

I knew Dr. Kipley was right. But would Chris willingly admit himself into a psychiatric unit of a hospital? Especially after having experienced the horror previously?

Chris kept calling late into the night. Until that final brief phone call.

“Mom I’m in trouble,” was all he said before hanging up. That click thundered in my head. Like a bomb exploding.

What does THAT mean? Is he going to kill himself? Hurt others? Run away?

Howie and I prayed and asked God for wisdom. The Lord directed me to start calling hospitals close to his campus. We discovered Chris had admitted himself into the psychiatric unit in the hospital closest to campus. His heavenly Father gave him the courage to get help. In spite of Chris’s fragile and unstable emotions he managed to call a cab. Undoubtedly with God’s sustaining power.

We spent Easter visiting our son in the hospital. Once Chris was released the challenge remained. Would Chris be able to graduate on time? I turned to God who is able to do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.”

Dear Father,

Please help Chris graduate on time. I know there seems no earthly way he can pass his finals. Not without full clarity of thought. But I know you’re able. Please give us wisdom to know how to help.

Thankfully Howie was able to tutor our son. Chris was released from the hospital into our care. While at home recovering from his near psychotic episode, Howie helped Chris study for his finals. Amazingly Chris passed all his tests and graduated on time. To God be the glory; great things He does!!!

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Stability

God.stronghold

Why would thousands of commuters approve of the decision to shut down a bridge on a major highway? Is it because they look forward to adding more time to their already long drive into work? Could it be they eagerly anticipate the adventure of finding new routes amidst already clogged roads? Hardly! It’s because they understand the bridge is unstable. They fear what might happen. The tilting bridge could collapse.

That’s a picture of life in the home a child with mental illness (MI). Life with MI can be as flimsy as a house of cards. Normalcy and peace in the home can be as fragile egg shells. There’s instability and no one knows what might happen next. The uncertainty instills fear. Violence may or may not occur. But change is inevitable. That’s a troubling reality, a sad fact.  It’s hard for moms to accept their child won’t be the same. Can others understand?

Getting a new house, a new spouse, or a new job can be both fearful and wonderful. Wonderful because of the exciting adventure ahead. Fearful because of the changes that will occur. Change is unsettling to most people.

How can we cope? What can we do when we sense a new trial looming on the horizon?

This next part of our story provides one answer. I turned to my unchangeable Savior. Christ offered stability in the face of oncoming instability

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In March Chris behavior became alarming. He acted strangely, but different than the first time he suffered a psychotic episode. The first incident happened when he made an odd comment.

“I found the verse in the Bible about what should happen to a child who hits his parents,” he told me.

The verse in Exodus 21:15 came to my mind. ““Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.”

“What did you think when you read that verse, Chris?”

“I think I got off easy,” he replied.

Chris still didn’t understand that his behavior was a result of his MI. Prior to his first psychotic episode he’d never been violent to us or anyone else. Quite the contrary. He was a loving and appreciative son. Often he’d thank me for making dinner.

That conversation signaled turmoil simmering inside Chris, tormenting him once again. I braced myself for another incident. Whatever that would be.

Early one week he didn’t communicate with us. He didn’t respond to our questions or share in our conversations.  He stopped smiling.  Within that week his behavior deteriorated quickly. New red flags popped up.

When I insisted he respond to us, he became belligerent.

“Don’t you ever shut up?” he’d ask.

Each day seemed worse. It took him longer and longer to respond.

“What did you say?” he sometimes asked.

I sensed he was having trouble thinking. It seemed hard for him to process information. Thankfully my teaching experiences helped me know how to respond. Some of my former students had significant processing delays in their thinking. They simply needed to hear a question repeated. So I’d repeat my questions to Chris slowly, using a minimum of words. Still he struggled to understand.

Everyone noticed Chris’s difficulty thinking. His brother, Robert, pointed it out. Chris’s teachers called to share their observations. The band director reported similar behaviors.

It progressed to the point that Chris wouldn’t even answer at all. No matter how many times we’d ask him something. No matter how slowly I’d post the question. Chris even started putting his fingers in his ears when I spoke to him.

“That’s typical teenage behavior,” some of my friends told me. Trying to comfort me.

I knew it was worse than typical teenage behavior. God gives mothers intuition and insight into their kids. Especially the most vulnerable ones.

Dear Father, I sense Chris is heading to another psychotic episode. Chris seems to be unraveling again. He’s become unstable again. Ease my anxiety.  I don’t know what we’ll be facing this time. Help me focus on Your stability in the midst of instability. Thank You that You never change. I know You’ll be faithful, just as you were last year. Once again I need Your peace, protection, and guidance.

The psychiatrist told us Chris was heading for different kind of psychotic episode. His first one caused his thoughts to race. This time his mind was slowing down.

By Thursday of that week Chris sat motionless with his head down. I knew I needed to take him to the psychiatrist.

“Chris you need to stay home tomorrow. I’ll take you to see Dr. Newman,” I informed him.

Chris silently refused. He just glared at me.

Reluctantly I allowed him to go to school. Friday was the day Chris’s physics teacher had breakfast with his students at a local diner. Our whole family frequently joined them. After breakfast Howie would take the boys to school on his way to the train station. I would drive my car to work. That morning the waitress was much slower than usual. In spite of that, the boys wanted to stay and finish breakfast.

“I’m not going to have time to take the boys to school. Can you drive them?” Howie asked me.

“I’ll drive you. Chris can take my car to drive himself and Robert to school,” I answered quickly. The time pressure caused me to make a poor decision. Chris was in no condition to drive.

When I got to work I did the final preparations for the Math and Bible Olympics. They were scheduled to be held that afternoon. I put in a call to the psychiatrist. Hoping he could prescribe a minor adjustment to Chris’s medication.

“Chris isn’t talking at all. He sits motionless with his head down. He even glared at me last night,” I reported

“I’m deeply concerned. I need to see him first thing tomorrow morning,” he said with urgency in his voice.

His tone scared me. Chris has the car. What if he completely loses it while driving home from school? I have to get to him as soon as possible.

The elementary school principal could fill in for me. She had helped with all the plans for the Olympics. The only problem was that she was pregnant. Due any minute.

“I need to meet Chris at his school before he leaves. I can get the Olympics started. Will you be able to run them?” I asked her.

“Sure. As long as I don’t go into labor!” she agreed.

Dear Father, please be the stability in this day. Keep her from going into labor. Prevent Chris from driving before I get to him.

I left work at 2:00 PM and flew to Chris’s school. I arrived there just before he left. And followed him home.

That night was Gym Night at the high school. All the students were divided into two teams (by last names, according to the alphabet). Chris had signed up for two events. One of them was Simon Says (much like the band march off). With him being son unstable, I was afraid of what he might do. I feared that if he got eliminated and the opposing team cheered, he would run to attack someone.

I watched him pacing before his events. Thankfully, he behaved normally during those events. As I watched him compete, his focus amazed me. It seemed impossible for him to hold it together under all the pressure of a gym filled with noisy spectators. Gym Night lasted several hours. All that time I studied Chris. Sitting poised and ready to leap off the bleachers if he acted peculiarly or violently.

Dear Father, please help Chris behave normally. My emotions are churned up. Please be the stability of my heart tonight.

Thankfully, the evening ended without incident. The next morning Howie and I drove Chris to see Dr. Newman. After one hour of observing and Chris and talking with us, Dr. Newman determined that Chris’s psychotropic medication was no longer working.

“We need to wean him off that medication and phase in another type of psychotropic medication,” he told us.  “This will be another very critical time. I can’t predict what will happen,” he warned. He then instructed us to, “Take Chris to see his psychologist today. Also get the paperwork started at the hospital in case Chris has to be admitted again. Call me if anything changes.”

I didn’t know what the future held for Chris. But it was enough that I knew Who held his future. God had been our stability during this instability. He’d continue to carry us through whatever was in store.

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Yes, life with MI can feel as flimsy as a house of cards. But God is our Rock and Stronghold.

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies (Psalm 18:1-3).”

What’s it like?

peek

Here goes. I’m going to share some of the most horrible details of mental illness (MI).

Why would I share such intimate details of my life? What would motivate me to re-live painful memories? To let other moms raising kids with MI know they’re not alone. Other families experience similar struggles.

Our trials are both alike and unique. The details of your journey with MI may be different. But many of us share the experience of an unpredictable life. We all have access to the unchanging, reliable Father. God’s faithfulness is the thread that holds us together and connects our stories.

“What’s it like to have a psychotic episode? What’s life like for a mother whose son is out of touch with reality?” people wonder.

For me, it seemed endless … all-consuming …overwhelming … daunting … surreal. I needed endurance, wisdom to manage odd behaviors, and comfort to remain calm.

The last two weeks I’ve shared details about our journey. In the first part of our story [‘When Mental Illness (MI) Hit Home’] I shared how Chris had begun to unravel in 1996. His reality had given way to unstable thoughts and fractured emotions. My heavenly Father provided guidance and started helping me through my grieving.

Last week’s entry (‘Unprepared & Sad, but Unflinching’) showed how God provided peace and protection for me and medical care for Chris. This week I’ll continue the story and explain how God provided endurance and wisdom.

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For ten days, I didn’t sleep at night. I only rested. I took very brief showers in the evening when my husband was home. I hid all our knives, scissors, matches, medicine, and anything else I thought could be a weapon or harmful to Chris or us.

It was important for me to keep track of where our dog was at all times without Chris realizing it. I had to maintain a calm demeanor no matter what Chris’s emotions were. One minute, he’d hug. Minutes later, he sob and say, “Why me? I didn’t do anything wrong.”  Suddenly, he’d explode. He’d shout, break walls and mirrors, and slam doors.

I recall one incident when Chris karate-kicked a mirror. As I sat on the floor cleaning up the broken glass, I sobbed. It felt like I was picking up the broken pieces of his life.

Watching my son so broken was heart wrenching. It didn’t seem real to witness his bazaar and violent behavior.  His explosion of emotions seemed like years of pain were being unleashed.

Those days were difficult for Rob as well. Life was anything but normal. He had to go to school and act as if everything was fine. Robert thought the brother he knew was gone. I couldn’t guarantee Chris would return to reality, or ever be like he used to be.

There was no way for me to shield Robert from what he had to see at night. As Robert got ready for bed that night, he had to step around the broken glass and his weeping mother.

We witnessed Chris destroy other things. He’d pick up something, break it, and say, “This is evil.” He took Robert’s Casio keyboard and totally destroyed the controls.

God helped me endure the constant playing of “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the opera). Chris played it over and over and over until I thought I’d lose my mind. I couldn’t take the CD away until I felt sure Chris wouldn’t become violent looking for it.

After I hid the CD, I heard Chris playing the opera on the piano. Robert begged, “Do something to make him stop playing that music.” Hiding the piano wasn’t possible.

Chris also played “Joy to the World” in a dissonant tone. That song was always coupled with his warning, “The world is going to end.” One day, he got his trumpet and yelled, “Turn on the TV. Here it comes!!! Get ready! The world will end now!”

What does that mean? What does he intend to do?! Oh Father, please protect me.

Thankfully, nothing happened. Oddly enough, his musical abilities never left him. He played the piano and the trumpet all day. Always in a distorted, dissonant tone. Reflecting his tormented emotions. It was as if he found a creative outlet for his misery. I heard it. All. Day. Long.

Chris made the strangest comments and barraged me with questions. He constantly asked me what the Bible said about certain things. His racing thoughts caused him to demand the answers immediately. I couldn’t find the verses fast enough. Even though I was extremely frustrated, I couldn’t yell at him or give up. Either of those responses would have gotten him angry or violent. God filled me with supernatural calmness.

His distorted view of God’s Word resulted in peculiar actions. One day, he ripped the back of a white shirt and tied it around his neck to represent wings. He declared, “I’m the archangel.”

He carried his Bible everywhere and preached nonstop. We had to stop speaking about the Lord because that would just feed his twisted thinking. I never realized how much a part of my everyday conversations were about the Lord. I hid all our Bibles. We had more than I imagined!

One day, the mother of a girl from Chris’s school called to let me know he had called their home at 2:00 in the morning. To prevent future mid-night wake-up calls, we hid all our phones.

During the day, I couldn’t turn on the radio or TV. I didn’t want to risk Chris hearing something that would feed his distorted thoughts. I struggled to find something to do. Household chores lent themselves to calm and productive activities.

Chris’s blood pressure remained high as long as his mind raced. Often, his nose started bleeding. As a child, I had endured numerous nosebleeds. So, I knew what did and didn’t work to make the bleeding stop.

When Chris got his first bloody nose, I began to tell him what to do.

“Breathe out of your mouth, Chris.”

Chris perceived that as controlling and he resisted. He did the opposite of what I told him to do. In my frustration and sorrow, I cried.

Chris responded by shaking his head from side to side. The blood flew all around the bathroom, splattering it on the walls. It looked like a murder scene. I knew if I didn’t leave the bathroom, his nose would never stop bleeding. I had to walk away.

Please, Lord, stop his nose from bleeding.

Each day I kept anecdotal records and documented what was going on. This helped the professionals identify what was wrong with Chris. I administered his medication (Risperdal). It was important to follow the doctor’s specific instructions. The dosage had to be adjusted each day. We quickly spiked the dosage during the first few days, and then gradually lowered the dosage as he became more stabilized.

Twice every day, I gave Chris his medicine. It slowly restored some awareness of reality. But, Chris’s mental illness remained. His distorted thinking led him to believe the pills I gave him caused his strange thoughts. He thought I was intentionally trying to cloud his mind. So, he threatened my life.

He found a screw driver. Holding it two inches from my face he’d say, “I’ll kill you if you give me that pill.”

Each dose became a life and death experience. I’d look lovingly into his tortured eyes and calmly whisper, “Take your pill. It will help you.” Miraculously, Chris took it each time. Sometimes after first growling at me.

Thank You, Father, for protecting me every time I give Chris his meds.

One day, without my knowledge, Howie gave Chris some over-the-counter medication. The doctor said it would help calm Chris down. The problem was I had just administered an increased dosage of the Risperdal. I took Chris in the car to see some Christmas lights. Suddenly, he began to get extremely agitated. He started pounding the dashboard. Then he put his head back and said, “My tongue is swollen.” He began shouting and crying. It was extremely difficult to drive while calming Chris.

Thank You, God, for helping us return safely home. 

My heavenly Father provided endurance and gave the wisdom needed to manage Chris’s bazaar and violent behaviors. He helped me face the unthinkable. He’ll do that for you.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20).”

God’s love never fails. He lifts us up when we’re weak. Join the Afters as they praise God in their song, ‘Lift Me Up.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6UAGhJHmOw

 

My Introduction to Mental Illness

holding_handsEarly in my career as a special educator, I faced a particularly challenging situation with a student. Her mental illness foreshadowed things to come. God graciously provided the experience so I would recognize it in my son years later.

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September signaled the time for a new school year to begin. It was my third year of teaching at the school for the blind. I finished typing braille name tags for the desks. I’d meet my new students the next day. The building administrator stopped by my classroom to deliver an important message.

 “One of your students, Kim, is having a psychotic episode,” my supervisor told me.

I searched my memory for the meaning of “psychotic episode.” Pushing aside embarrassed feelings, I admitted my ignorance and asked, “What does that mean?”

Mr. Graham casually said, “Kim’s out of touch with reality.”

His calm tone didn’t match his words. Surely they didn’t match my reaction!

This time I could only ask myself, What does that mean?

I was trying to comprehend it all and still keep my focus on everything that was about to happen in a typical first day of school with multi-handicapped children. Panic started to set in. I bluntly asked, “Can I ask a stupid question? Why is she coming to school?”

“Kim’s parents want her to see the school psychiatrist. He’s not in yet. When he arrives, I’ll let you know.”

Somehow I’d have to deal with Kim until he came in. But, how would I manage her while greeting my other students?

Little did I know, years later I would fully understand what it meant for someone to have a psychotic episode.         But on that day it was all new to me. This was not in my lesson plans.

What am I supposed to do with her? What am I supposed to do with my other very-involved students while dealing with Kim? What am I supposed to tell my aide? 

There wasn’t much time for me to figure it out. I was filled with panic. Emotions consumed me with self-pity.

Why did this have to happen? It’s not fair.        

Like other teachers, I prepared thoroughly for the first day of school. Educators want that day to be very special and run smoothly. I was no exception. I worked hard to ensure a happy and productive start to the school year.         I prayed each student would adjust easily to their fellow classmates, to their aide, and to me.

But, this unexpected news caught me off guard. Like someone just ripped the rug of confidence right out from under me. Just moments before, excitement bubbled inside me. I eagerly anticipated the first day with them. I was looking forward to meeting my adolescent students who were blind and multi-handicapped. Because of the many hours I spent studying their files, I felt I already knew them. Their records outlined academic, physical, emotional, and social limitations. Each one had needs beyond my training. But, I felt up to the task.

Clearly, all my students presented a challenge. Teaching them would be difficult. But, I was well prepared. I planned for a smooth start. Not, however, for one of my students to be out of touch from reality. My fairy tale script for the start of school wasn’t supposed to begin with such a gaping hole.

I needed to learn an important lesson: life isn’t predictable. Things don’t always go as planned.

Some teachers have to teach with limited teaching supplies due to budget restrictions. I’ve even known teachers who had to start a school year without new textbooks. But, I’ve never known anyone who had to teach a student who had no working mind. This wasn’t covered in my college Methods of Teaching course. I realized my need for God’s guidance.

Leaning on the Lord was a new experience for me. Even though I grew up attending church every Sunday, it was all empty religion and tradition. It didn’t become real until I was in college and faced a crisis in my life.         It was then that I realized there was a difference between religion and a relationship with the Lord who cares for me personally. It all became real. Jesus died for my sins and He cares about my life. So, I said a quick prayer and continued my preparations for the first day.

Heavenly Father, give me wisdom to know how to welcome each student tomorrow. Especially Kim.        

Thankfully, all the other students arrived before Kim. Each delivered by their morning daycare workers. My fairy tale script was still intact, for the moment.

Kim arrived last, escorted by Mr. Graham. Her eyes had an empty, lifeless look to them. Not like the given-up-on-life stares I saw in another student’s custodial care institution. There was no hint of expression on her face.         It almost looked like she was asleep with her eyes open. In a daze. Like a live mannequin. Frozen in space and time.

Mr. Graham guided her to a chair. There she sat. Motionless. Catatonic.

“Welcome to class, Kim. I’m Miss Vicki. That’s Miss Sharon. We’ll be your teachers.”

No reaction.

Teaching the lessons proved easier than expected, considering the circumstances. My emotions proved to be the hardest things to manage that morning. I felt tremendous compassion for Kim. Such a strong urge to reach out to her. To connect with her some way. To ease her pain.

A foreign feeling engulfed my heart. Helplessness. That new and unfamiliar emotion would visit me often as a parent. Too often.

After a few hours, the psychiatrist arrived and took Kim away. Later that day, I learned she was in a fetal position. I couldn’t help her. All I could do was pray for her.

God was teaching me how to handle helpless situations. When things seemed out of control, I could turn to Him. Anywhere. Anytime. He was always available. Able to help those I loved.

Kim returned to school in two short weeks.

“I’ve never witnessed such a quick recovery,” the psychiatrist told me. He went on to caution me.

“Kim will experience paranoia. While she wasn’t in touch with reality, life when on. Events happened without her knowledge. She might think everyone is making things up.”

As predicted, Kim appeared quite paranoid, confused, and distrustful.

Since many of the students in the school exhibited unusual behaviors, visitors had to be approved by the public relations director. If approved, the director would inform the staff in advance of a tour. Unfortunately, around that time the director neglected to notify us of a tour. I would have requested the visitors bypass my classroom so as not to upset Kim.

My classroom had a window on each side of the door. I kept my door closed while teaching. Suddenly, without any notice, there were many faces peering into my classroom. Kim had enough vision to see the door. She noticed the faces staring at her and let out a bone-chilling scream. She put her head in her desk. I thought, ‘Serves them right for not notifying us beforehand!

My four years teaching at the school for the blind presented additional problems to solve. Some insurmountable enough to remind me of my inadequacies. Of my need for God’s guidance.

Encounters with students who had emotional problems, mental illness, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) were part of the job. Never did I imagine I’d face similar situations in my home. God, in His loving care and wisdom, knew those experiences would later help me as a parent.

Through those seemingly impossible problems, God showed me His power and love. Verses in the Bible came alive and had new meaning. Upheld promises bolstered my faith in a loving Father. Years later as a parent, I’d claim those same promises.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…”  (Ephesians 3:20)

 “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)  

Thank you, Father for Your constant care when I need guidance.    

How has God prepared you for what you’re facing?