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.