Thursday, December 14, 2017


Christmastime:  Jingle Bells, Caroling, Mistletoe, and Ho Ho Ho’s. Shopping for that perfect gift, baking cookies, elves, and decorations everywhere.

Christmastime:  Family gatherings, Christmas trees, garland, and St Nick. Lights, glitter, tinsel, and wreaths.

Christmastime:  Candy Canes, Reindeer, Secret Santa, and Ornaments.  Joy to the World.  Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  O Little Town of Bethlehem.  Unto Us a Child is Born. 

Christmastime:  We all have visions of what Christmas is supposed to be.  We have traditions, memories, plans, and generally much merriment and celebration is to be had by all. 

Christmastime:  The promise of a Savior foretold long ago.  The long-anticipated birth of our king, Lord, and Savior has finally arrived.  He wasn’t just any baby.  The Creator creates Himself in a new form. He comes as that which He created.  Not coming like a human, but as a human. Jesus…the God/man.  Growing in the womb and experiencing all those human things common to man except sin.  He leaves heaven just for us. 

He didn’t have to come.  He could have chosen an easier way.  But, He didn’t.  He chose to come out of his deep and great love for each one of us.  He didn’t come as a grown-up or even a child, but as a helpless baby.  The creator becomes the created, which in itself is unbelievable, but He did it anyway.  He came just as Scripture foretold.

Christmastime:  Our King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes in a way we least expect.  He is born in a stable at the backside of an inn.  His bed is a trough.  He’s amongst the animals.  There’s no room for him anywhere else.  Insignificance seems to mark his birth.  What royal lineage would enter the world this way?  There is no royal fanfare announcing His birth.  No trumpets sounding from the palace or messengers sending word throughout the land that the royal son has arrived.  But wait, what man doesn’t announce, God does.  With a star and a multitude of angels, He is announced to the shepherds and wise men of old.   The Savior from everlasting past comes to fulfill a promise.  He has arrived just as He said He would, born in the city foretold, born to a virgin.  Our Emmanuel, God with us, has arrived.  The hope that we all long for is born some 2000 years ago. 

He grows up in our world and comes to fulfill more of His promises.  He experiences life as a human being and so understands our struggles.  The creator comes to serve us.  The creator comes to give us a hope and a future, and even comes to die for each of us …in our place… taking on all our sin so that we can be in fellowship with Him forever.  And so, God shows us His great love for us, first as a baby, then on the cross, and forever with us.   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The least wonderful time of the year

The holidays painfully remind the mentally ill and their loved ones just how different they are, how big their challenges are, and how far from “the most wonderful time” they actually are.

This is their song…

It’s the least wonderful time of the year
With my kids sad or yelling
And everyone wishing we’d just once stay clear
It’s the least wonderful time of the year

It’s the en-enviest season of all
With those holiday meetings we’re so early leaving
And friends still don’t call
It’s the en-enviest season of all

We’ll miss parties they’re hosting
Marshmallows they’re toasting
And caroling out in the snow
‘Least we won’t be the stories
And reasons the glories of
Christmases were a “no show”

It’s the least wonderful time of the year
Our feelings we’re stowing
Our hearts will be groaning
‘Cuz loved ones aren’t near
It’s the least wonderful time of the year

Feel for them.  Reach out to them.

Help change “least” to “most” this year.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Lies We Believe

{This is a guest blog by a very dear friend who has bipolar disorder.  AG}

I eventually stopped believing the lies others told me and the ones I told myself, but it wasn’t easy.

These lies ruled my life for years, damaging my health, my spirit, and my self-worth.  At first they went down easy, like a hot cup of tea and honey.  Their sweet promise of a better life, along with the short-term gains I saw, convinced me this was all good!  But like most things we consume that seem helpful but aren’t, they grew into a bitterness I simply had to purge.

My journey from this diet of deception wasn’t easy.  It took many years of staring into the mirror, contemplating truth shared in love, and practicing personal disciplines.  All this continues today.

Lie #1… “You need to get off your meds and change your diet (or your exercise or your sleep).”

Vitamins and herbs!  Exercise and more sleep!  The latest diet—and lots of water!!  I heard this lie from people who clearly benefited from these things.  Problem was, my struggle wasn’t just physical.  Now, I’m not saying improving your physical health won’t improve your mental health, but this lie got me believing my medication was only covering up lifestyle behaviors I stubbornly refused to change.

The truth is, while the mind and body and spirt are independent yet interrelated, they’re also subject to illness and in need of appropriate care.  Use of medication is sometimes necessary for the mentally ill.  I know this firsthand: I went off my meds, relapsed horribly, and wound up in a psych ward.  Had I not believed this lie, I wouldn’t still be haunted by the memory of that experience.

Listen to professionals.  See a therapist periodically, even if it’s only to “check in”.  Work to improve all aspects of your health—mind, body, and spirit.

Lie #2… “If you only have more faith, you’ll be cured.”

The arguments used to support this lie were very convincing, mostly because I desperately wanted to be cured.
“The Bible tells about Jesus freeing people who were disturbed because of demons.  If mental illness was real, the Bible would’ve recorded Jesus healing someone with mental problems, and it doesn’t.”
“James said the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.  If you’ve prayed and not been cured, your faith is obviously weak.”
“When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t heal someone’s son, he told them it was because their faith was weak.  If you only had strong faith, you’d be healed!”

While we all know that reading Scripture and praying to God are essential for living the life Jesus promised, his promises don’t guarantee we won’t have problems.  In fact, it’s the opposite!  Jesus himself said: “In this world, you will have trouble.”

Pray, of course.  Read and study, too.  Learn God’s tools for godly living: right thinking, thanksgiving, holiness, perseverance, self-control, and, yes, faith.

Lie #3… “You’re broken and weak.”

Unlike other lies, this one first went down like a big, chalky pill.  After awhile, though, I didn’t mind, because it explained why I was sick and it justified why I should stop trying.

But most people weren’t so direct.  They usually coated this lie in a sugary paste and wrapped it in a question.
“Why do you sleep so much?”  Implication: You’re lazy.
“Why don’t you do that yourself?”  Implication: You’re irresponsible.
“Here’s a book on positive thinking.”  Implication: You’re a pessimist.
“You should work full-time like your friends.”  Implication: You’re a freeloader.

Unlike other lies, this one sprang from judgment of who I was as a person, so it hurt even more.  Responding from the heart was key here.

Know your true self.  Rest on God’s opinion of you.  Spend time with encouraging people.  Seek God’s approval.

Many other lies came from deep within me, especially when I focused on my circumstances rather than my blessings.
“God’s punishing me!”
“God abandoned me!”
“God doesn’t answer prayers.”
“I have to figure this out for myself.”
“I have no hope of living a better life!”

Believe God’s words in John 9:3, Matthew 28:20, 1 Peter 3:12, James 1:5, and Jeremiah 29:11.

The lies continue to come, and it takes effort to not believe them.  But I’m proof that tending to your health, trusting in God, and advocating for yourself can create a very good life.

Today, I’m healthy though not cured, faith-filled though still growing, content though not always happy.

And I’m okay with that.  You can be, too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Don’t Walk That Impossible Road Alone

While listening, empathy, and caring make things better, they don’t guarantee a comfortable journey.

They say it’s darkest before the dawn.  In our marriage, that was true.  Ann and I made it through our dark night, but the dawn that followed lit up a winding, rocky road much different than what we’d hoped for…
Mental illness would forever plague our family.
Chaos in our home would kill most of our ‘couples’ relationships.
Fatigue from explaining and fear of judgment would stifle most other relationships.
The all-encompassing world of raising special needs children would crowd out even simple pleasures.

We cried from deep inside: “How will we be able to walk this road?”

Realistically, there’s only one way.  Now, some might tell you that you can do it on your own, while others predict you’ll never make it.  Even more will say that Ann and I are weak, that we’ve given up, and that we use religion as a crutch.  But after decades of walking this path, still enjoying a satisfying marriage, and somehow helping others from the pain of our past, we can testify from the trenches: “We know!”

That way?  Faith.  Faith in, and faith that.

Faith.  “Faith is being sure of what’s hoped for and certain of what’s not seen.”  Would you bet everything that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?  Faith is that level of confidence, but about things like healing and restoration that are far beyond the horizon you can barely see today.

Faith in.  “Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  Few can argue anymore that Jesus didn’t exist; there’s too much historical evidence proving he did.  The question now is whether there’s enough reason to trust him for everything, including our current situations.  But consider this…

Faith that.  “He’s risen!”  “I’m with you always!”  “I’m coming soon!”  “In this world, you’ll have trouble.  But take heart!  I’ve overcome the world!”  Jesus—the one who rose from the dead, stays with us, will come back, and already won—walks this path with us!

And because of our common faith, Ann and I can walk our seemingly impossible, trouble-filled road and…
See all our children as blessings, despite attacks and deception and scars and loss.
Understand and not judge, empathize and not pity.
Accept our lot, even when it’s not pleasant.
Help others through our love and service.
Praise God for it all and through it all.

Now, your path is different and likely more difficult than ours, and I honestly feel for you.  But I know from first-hand experience that faith in Jesus makes all the difference.  He never disappoints.

I also know that faith isn’t a couple’s walk.  While a common faith will bring you closer to each other, you must still walk your own ‘faith’ path while walking your ‘marriage’ path together.  Grace and patience will need to flourish in that situation, but your faithful walk may be the thing that prompts your spouse to put their faith in Jesus, too.  At that point, your marriage, your family, and the world will be blessed in so many more ways!

Trust in him who’s overcome.  Trust that he can and will do all he’s promised.  While your situation might not change this side of eternity, keep trekking with him.  Remember, change isn’t the goal.  Making the most of your journey is the goal.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Will you listen to just one more voice?

Can I add anything to all the voices speaking out this week, to the hundreds of articles written during this year’s “Mental Illness Awareness Week”?  I’m no PhD.  I’m no author of mental health books.  I’m no keynote speaker charging thousands per engagement.

Who am I that you should listen to me?  This is who I am…
I’m a father of six, most of whom have some kind of brain disorder.
I’m one who mourns the death of a child who lost his fight with mental illness.
I’m the husband of one who’s persevered with me even when the night grew so dark we could feel it.
And I’m a Jesus follower, convinced that the Bible is true, the Resurrection happened, and Jesus will return.

The first three facts above give me at least some credibility.  The last one gives me reason to think that I can add some valuable insights.  And here they are:

Mental illness is one of many consequences of the Fall.  Mankind was cursed when we chose our way over our Creator’s, and so we deal with autism and angina, bipolar and bronchitis, depression and diabetes and death.  Mental illness is now part of the human condition that we, in part, caused.  That doesn’t make it our fault, though, it just is.

And it’s important that we understand and accept this, because it helps us answer these and many other questions…
Did my diet cause my daughter’s depression?
Will pills cure my son of his schizophrenia?
Can I “pray away” my wife’s anxiety?
Did my parenting cause my child’s OCD?
Can I move someplace where I know that my future children won’t have autism?
Will my addictive tendencies ever really go away?

Because we’re cursed, the answer to all these questions is, unfortunately, “No.”  But there’s hope!  It’s called…

The Resurrection.  In a nutshell, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proved that he was who he said he was, and that he has power over all things, including death.  And, yes, mental illness, too.  But while he has power over mental illness, he unfortunately hasn’t yet vanquished it, nor physical illness, nor death.  But there’s hope!  It’s called…

The Second Coming.  Since Jesus is who he said he was, he’s powerful enough to do what he said he’ll do, which includes wiping away every tear, eliminating death and mourning and crying and pain, and (my assertion) curing mental illness.  Unfortunately, we probably have many, many years of dealing with mental illness before he comes again.

So, what do we do ‘til then?

Live.  Love.  Forgive.  Repeat.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mental illness can’t win. It just CAN’T!

Mental illness can really do a number on a person when it’s left alone.  No medication, wrong medication, self-medication, plus years without therapy all played a role in my son’s demise.

Before he was afflicted, people would describe David as resourceful, charming, adventurous, caring, conscientious, and loving.  Everyone loved to be around him!  He also loved the outdoors, was active at school and church, and dreamt really big dreams.

But his best qualities became his worst attributes once mental illness hit…
His resourcefulness helped him sometimes, but it mostly got him into trouble.
His charm turned into manipulation, even with people he just met in jail.
His adventurous spirit became recklessness, often at the expense of others.

And he eventually began to care about the wrong things, because he believed the lies his mind was telling him.  Since he did have a conscience, the war in and for his mind grew more vigorous, with severe anxiety tipping the scales.  He won some of those battles, but he lost the war alone on a cold January night.

Though mental illness stole his life, it won’t get the last word.  I won’t let it!

I’ll fight it and expose it wherever and whenever I can.  For David’s sake.  For the sake of everyone at war with it.  For everyone who’ll bury their child if I don’t speak up.

Unfortunately, my story is all too common.  Millions of others have the same challenge.  The question is, How many voices, how many hearts will join me?

Will you advocate for the mentally ill even when others don’t?

Will you help others learn lessons from your pain, so they don’t have to feel it themselves?

Will you carry mercy, grace, and empathy to the unlikeable, to the angry, to the hopeless?

I know you can!  And if you do, mental illness doesn’t stand a chance.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Listening—unnatural, but necessary

Piloting the “USS Marriage”toward a common point requires something very unnatural: listening!

The darkest times in our marriage were when my ears were farthest from my heart.  Though Ann and I slept only a foot from each other and ate together at a table just five feet long, it seemed like the worlds we were perceiving, living in, and trying to manage were on opposite ends of the galaxy.

The reason?  I (and, to a lesser degree, Ann) didn’t apply this truth: You hear with your ears, but you listen with your heart.

Now, ‘hearing’ is a natural action requiring no effort.  It just happens.  Sound waves hit your ear drum, impulses travel to your brain, and, voila, you hear!  We learned that in middle school.

‘Listening’ on the other hand…..  Big difference!  Listening is a conscious choice, demands your attention and concentration, with the goal of understanding.  All that doesn’t just happen; it’s not natural.  And, boy, it takes a lot of work!  We learned that in middle school, too.

Listening in a marriage, especially one that involves additional challenges like navigating the ‘special needs’ world, demands all that and more!  And you don’t learn that in middle school!

You learn it through trials and arguments and anger and frustration.  You learn it despite differences and missteps, loud voices and cold shoulders.  You learn it over time and through the fire, nose to nose and will to will.  And if you’re lucky, you learn at least some of it through the stories and the tears and the encouragement of others.

Any which way, when you learn it, you learn it for life.  And you apply it not just in your marriage, but with every person you ever meet, forever.  Why?  Because you never want to go through that learning process again, with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Now, I won’t detail here the pain we experienced to close our ‘listening’ gap, because the pain’s not the point.  It’s like the pain of preparing for a marathon—it’s not pretty, you don’t want to talk about it, you just do it.  Instead, you talk about your finish time, the satisfaction you felt, the lessons you learned on the months-long journey.

So, what did we learn?  A few things…
·        You build trust when you’re faithful.
·        You become a friend when you’re present.
·        You earn forgiveness when you show grace.
·        Comparison says, “I’m hurting more.”  Judgment shouts, “I’m hurting you!”  Avoid both.
·        Listening’s a 24/7 activity.  If you take a break, they will, too.  And it just spirals from there.
·        The loudest message is often the unspoken, unwritten one.  Dig deep between the lines for the treasure.
·        Sometimes you just need to listen.  That’s all.  Just listen.  Don’t fix, don’t suggest, don’t comment.  Just listen.
·        James said: “Faith without deeds is dead.”  We say, “Listening without empathy is dead.”

Listening enables empathy.
Empathy enables caring.
Caring sustains love.
Love is the goal.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


A truism of life: sorrow and JOY often mix.

Proverbs 14:13… “Even in laughter, the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.”

One of the Top 10 joys of my life was the night I gave birth to my first child.  One of the Top 3 sorrows of my life (so far) was the morning decades later when I buried him.

Unspeakable joy fills my heart when I remember the days before the illness set in—and even the days afterward when David triumphed in remarkable ways over all that burdened him.  Yet, sorrow remains knowing that all he could’ve been was lost to something that’s so consuming and so pervasive in our world today.  Sorrow not only for me and for Mike, but for every parent who needs to make a hard decision or who passes through a dark, painful valley.

So it is with most children.  So it is even more with children who are plagued with a mental illness.

So, too, it is something that God himself knows first-hand and can walk through with us.

“So God created mankind in his own image…and He blessed them...”  Such JOY!

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness had become…and his heart was deeply troubled…”  “The waters rose and covered the mountains…and every living thing that moved on land perished…”  Such SORROW!

He knows our joy, and He feels our sadness.  He blesses our lives, and He supports our ‘tough calls’.  He’s our strength and our comforter, especially through life’s difficult seasons.

Some words of wisdom from all this…
Pursue joy and blessing despite the risk of sorrow.
Don’t let today’s grief erase yesterday’s joy—nor constrain tomorrow’s choices.
Run to God in both joy and sadness—first in thanks, then for guidance and comfort.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Aim For A New Point On The Horizon

While it’s important to carefully choose the story you tell yourself, it’s also important to accept reality and adjust as needed.

William Arthur Ward wrote…
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

For our family, the breeze blew in pleasant directions for years.  One of my favorite pictures captures the essence of our life at about the fifteen-year mark: Ann, Amanda, and Rachel smiling at an all-family Christmas gathering, the girls in matching dresses that Ann had made.  While the photo didn’t capture the boys, it told of a time when our whole family was happy and healthy, loving and laughing.  We had energy to spare and were creating more memories than the Cabin Notebook could hold.  Life was sweet!

And the dreams Ann and I shared for the years to come were as strong as ever: dreams of Godly children living fulfilling lives; visions of a home full of happy, healthy grandchildren; expectations of deep marital bonding.

But I had my personal dreams, too: after-work hours spent putzing around our mini-farm; weekends filled with fishing and hunting and hiking; quality time with grandkids and close friends; traveling the world with Ann.  Now, I didn’t share all those dreams with Ann, mostly because I didn’t want to put them before hers.  Plus, we were still busy building our family; some things needed to wait, and I was okay with that.

Then the mental illness gale rolled in, and dreams began to drown.  Not only mine, but hers and our kids’, too.  Worse yet, I mourned the losses privately.

No—even worse was that I didn’t try to understand Ann’s pain!  That went on for years, and our marriage, our family, and our relationships suffered.  Only after we shared our highest hopes and deepest disappointments did we together begin to adjust our sails.  Now, that “sharing” wasn’t easy.  It took a lot of time, tears, and effort, and it required that we both listened more with our hearts than with our ears.

In the end, we learned how to bend and how to use those gale-force winds to propel us toward a different point on the horizon, a point that will be just as sweet (but in different ways), a point that we couldn’t have found if not for that noisy, powerful, deadly storm.

Today, we’re confident that when another gale rolls in (and it will!), we’ll adjust our sails to yet a different point in the distance.  Nonetheless, knowing even now that we’ll need to throw some dreams overboard is sobering, but we’ve learned that it’s better to arrive alive than not at all.

What point on the horizon are your sails set for?  If it’s one that threatens to tear your ship apart given the direction the winds are blowing right now, accept realty, adjust accordingly, and arrive alive!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Be Careful What You Paint

I use these words to describe my friend Alycia:

Why?  Because she IS all these things.  She’s a business woman and a public speaker.  She’s a singer and a songwriter.  She’s a mother, a wife, and a homeschooler.  She’s someone I and a lot of other people look up to.

So, tell me, what kind of picture of Alycia do these words paint in your mind?  What would you expect her to look like, to sound like, to act like?

Take a second to really think about this.

Now, think some more.

Here’s another word that some people use to describe her:

Why?  Because Alycia has Bipolar Disorder.

Now, what does your mind’s eye see?  What’s your picture of her?

If I saw your picture, would I use these words to describe it?...

What does it take for you to say “I know all there is to know about them.”?  A word?  A label?  One non-typical encounter?

Be careful that you don’t paint someone’s portrait using just one of the colors on your pallet, especially if that color’s tainted.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Choose The Story You Tell Yourself

Like many newlyweds, Mike and I looked forward to a bright, “happily-ever-after” future following our brief courtship and joyful wedding.  The first couple decades included so many blessings…
Six wonderful children
Fun family trips to the cabin
Weekends at Grandma’s lake home
Good health, great friends, and Spirit-filled churches
Years of productive homeschooling
Continuous employment income
Peace, safety, and growth

…but also heartaches and rough patches, like…
Unwise decisions
Loss of parents and friends
Loss of forty-thousand dollars
Health issues that grew into crises
Loss of many pre-born children
Six homes in five years
Lost dreams

Now, our lists might pale in comparison to yours, but author Bronnie Ware’s guidance speaks to us all:
“…remember the happy times.  Even if they bring memories that also make you sad, try to focus on the good times.  It's easy to get caught up in feelings of loss, loneliness, or lack, rather than in the blessings that were once there."

While we can’t forget painful events, we can choose what we focus on.  And what we focus on ultimately colors our vision, shapes our feelings, and affects our future.

If we focus mostly on the recent or the difficult, we’ll live like that’s all there is or ever was—or worse, can ever be.  We’ll tell ourselves: “Life’s terrible!”

We’ll forget the starry-eyed love that filled our early years.  We’ll miss the encouragement for today that past successes give.  And we’ll lose the hope of a better tomorrow.

If we focus instead on the blessings and the growth—tempered by the wisdom that only pain and disappointment can bring—we’ll live like our past was a teacher, our present is a guide, and our future will be better than we can imagine!  We’ll tell ourselves: “Life’s wonderful!”

We’ll rejoice in past blessings that are still fresh today.  We’ll find strength for the journey in the struggles of the past.  And we’ll greet each morning with excitement and anticipation!

Regardless of your past or present, what you focus on is your choice, and yours alone.  Know, though, that whatever you choose writes the story you tell yourself.  And that story affects everything.

Choose wisely.  Choose ‘WONDERFUL’!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

When It’s Hard To Say Anything Positive...

“You need to be your husband’s biggest fan…” the speaker declared.

“But you haven’t met Mike!” I screamed in my head.  “Half the time we talk, he shuts the conversation down before telling me what he thinks.  And he’s clueless the other half of the time!  When I share my feelings, it’s like it doesn’t even sink in.  Then there’s the kids and the finances and the future—his priorities match mine as often as east meets west.”

“…because the rest of the world’s against him!” she continued.  “Even when it’s not, that’s how he feels—everything’s a battle.  Every time you bash him, every time you talk about his faults to him or to others, you show the worst side of him.”


That was then.  Thankfully, today’s a lot different.

Another Bible Study speaker recently asked me: “Who’s your biggest encourager?”  Without hesitation, I said “Mike!”, and I know he’d say the same about me.

So what’s changed?  I’ll explain…

Most of the time, we actually are like peanut butter and jelly, skipping down the path hand-in-hand.  Birds singing.  Sun shining.  The wind at our backs.  A real Hallmark couple.  It’s easy to love and encourage each other on those days!

But sometimes it’s hard, and we’re like oil and water.  On bad days, we both feel alone—single parents living in different worlds.  Usually it’s finances, drama, ‘kid issues’, and other outside forces that pit us against each other.  But not always.  There are times when we just get tired of each other.  (After thirty years, that’s to be expected.)  On those days, I used to spit venom in Mike’s face and shout from the roof tops “HE’S TERRIBLE!”  And he’d do the same to me.

The difference now is that we’ve built a Relationship Savings Account—an ‘RSA’—that we draw from when issues surface.  And as long as the RSA balance doesn’t go ‘negative’, we get through it without bashing each other personally or, more importantly, to others.  You see, because we’ve invested day after day before we need to ‘make a withdrawal’, we now see each other as a friend who disagrees instead of an enemy who needs to be destroyed.

While it’s great if both of you begin making deposits at the same time, don’t wait until the other’s ready before investing!  You can start building your Relationship Savings Account today by doing any of these simple things that have helped us…
·        Leave encouraging or loving notes before you leave in the morning.
·        Tell them how much you appreciate all they do.
·        Go on a fun date.  (my favorite!)
·        Ask how you can pray for them.
·        Actually say “I love you.”
·        Ask “How can I help?”
·        Show affection, but not just in the bedroom.
·        Extend grace when they don’t respond or reciprocate.
·        Offer to talk about priorities and the future (but don’t force the subject).
·        Brag about them to others—they may not know you’re bragging, but it helps you.
·        Pray for them and for your relationship.  Again, they may not know you’re praying, but God listens.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mental illness stole my Father's Days

Fifteen years into fatherhood, mental illness burst into my son’s life and took up long-term residence.  So did chaos, friction, tears, lying, arguments, anger, and disrespect.  Then drugs.  Then jail.  Then death.  As is often the case, guilt, self-doubt, and self-criticism also moved in, right into my heart.

Up until that time, Father’s Day was a special day for me.  The hugs and gifts from my six kids were always great, but seeing the results of my fathering—the wonderful people that my kids were becoming—meant everything to me.  If the “proof is in the pudding”, my kids were proving that I was a good father, and I pridefully, arrogantly relished that thought.

So it’s probably no surprise that I began to approach Father’s Day with a lot of restraint after David’s world began its downward spiral.  If great kids proved that I was a successful father, David’s lying, stealing, drug abuse, and jail time obviously proved that I was a failure.  I couldn’t honestly accept “Happy Father’s Day!” wishes, or rejoice over the memories of the past year, knowing that I’m a fraud, filled with shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred.

Years later, though, someone challenged me with a question: If I’m a failure as a father because of my child’s actions, aren’t I also saying that my mentally-ill child was a failure as a person because of his actions?

Absolutely not!  The illness caused David to do those things.  It’s not fair to him to discount his kindness, generosity, and love of life, or all the happy memories he created, just because a part of his life was painful and out of his control.

Then it hit me…  While I applied that truth to my son, I didn’t extend it to myself.  In the same way that David wasn’t a failure as a person because an illness caused him to do certain things, I’m not a failure as a father because my child—ill or otherwise—did certain things.

At his memorial service, Ann and I shared and honored the deepest essence of our son, the illness-free part of him.  Even though we candidly acknowledged his many mistakes and his drug-induced death, we also celebrated the fullness and joy of his life, and rightly so.

In the same way, the deepest essence of being a father—the loving kindness, the patient guidance, the protective provision, the sacrifice, generosity, and love—should be the thing we celebrate and honor on Father’s Day.  But for years, I allowed David’s illness-driven actions to convince me of my failures and to rob me of that celebration.

Thankfully, I’ve come to apply to myself the same grace that I extend to David.  Mental illness no longer steals that joy.

If you’re a father whose child acts poorly because of mental illness, take it from someone who’s been there: Their actions don’t diminish your fatherly heart, effort, intent, or ability, your worth, your meaning, or your value.  Don’t let the disease steal your joy as a father.

And if you know of a father who’s struggling to enjoy the third Sunday in June because his ill child isn’t ‘perfect’, encourage him, support him, and honor him for the sacrifice and investment he’s made.  You’ll make his Father’s Day something special.