Thursday, December 20, 2018

Our Crooked Tree Of Life

Tom and Barb’s Christmas tree was awesome!

It stood a full fourteen feet tall under the cathedral ceiling, the perfectly-shaped body donning a thousand white lights that glowed with a subtle bluish hue like that of a crescent moon on a clear winter’s night.  Ornaments from odd parts of Europe and generations long passed filled the spaces between the strings of lights and hung from the branches even deep inside where the lights didn’t dare to go.  A sparse amount of expertly-placed tinsel and just a few candy canes complemented the more striking hand-made glass ornaments.

As a Christmas tree, stunning, glorious, Hollywood-perfect!

As a metaphor for life, so desirable, representing a blessed journey.

But, at least for me and Ann, unrealistic and unattainable.  So, too, for many others raising special needs kids or caring for a mentally-ill loved one.

Our Christmas tree is much different.  Always has been.  Still blessed, but different.

For over thirty years, one of our six kids picked out our Christmas tree.  As a family, we would pile into the minivan after lunch on Black Friday and drive to one of the county’s few tree farms to cut down our perfect tree.

Some years the tree was tall and full.  In other years, it was skinny with a lot of space between its branches.  Rachel would often choose a “Dr. Seuss” tree, and David always picked one that wouldn’t fit in our living room.  One year, we harvested a ‘Hershey’s Kiss’ tree!  And since Ann did most of the decorating, she made sure it wasn’t a “pokey” blue sprucewhite pines or Douglas firs are her favorites.

This year, the last four of us still at home went and found the ‘perfect’ tree.  Ann decorated it within a couple days, using far fewer lights and ornaments than in years past, making sure the prominent bare spot faced the window.

Soon after, I turned off all the lights in the living room except for the ones on the Christmas tree, and invited Ann to come snuggle with me on the couch.  We sat in the dark for quite a while appreciating the glow of the tree, the quiet of the house, and the warmth of each other’s company.

Then Ann spoke six simple words that I know came from deep within her heart and reflected what she really thought of the more than forty years of life we’ve spent together.

She said: “That tree's like our life.  Crooked.”

I didn't say anything.  Didn’t need to.  I knew exactly what she meant.  I just squeezed her hand, then pulled her a little bit closer.

Yes, crooked.  Not picture-perfect as some have and many wish, but curving here and there as it stretched from floor to ceiling.  Not necessarily ‘bad’, but definitely ‘crooked’...

Like our faith.  Rooted deep in our parents’ religion, then choosing one that we believe God called us to live out.

Like our parents.  Shining examples of love and decades-long commitment, but two passing much too early.

Like our marriage.  Strong and bright and full, yet dark in spots.  Often the highest of joys and closeness, but also the lowest of pain and strife, especially when mental illness showed its ugly face.

Like our family.  Five pre-borns forever absent from around our table.  Our oldest now with Jesus after losing his fight with mental illness.

Like our friendships.  Some deep and long-lasting, while others, including those we cherish, faded as life sent us down different paths.

Like our health.  Nearly sixty-year-old bodies forever bent under the weight of life and love and work and sacrifice.

Like our finances.  Sparse here and there, but never barren.  Not a full storehouse, but always provisions for today.

Like our calling.  From investing in the lives of our kids as they grew into their own, to ministering to others who, too, decorate a crooked tree.

Crooked.  And thin.  And bare in places.  And lit with just a few lights.

But uniquely ours, adorned with ornaments that represent our special life…
A pink and red candy cane built with a child’s plastic craft pieces.
A tiny birdhouse from the workshop of the world’s greatest woodworker.
Berry-laden mistletoe, made from the plaster casting of a grandchild’s small feet.
One hand-sewn, three-inch square red pillow given to our oldest on his first Christmas Eve.
Five miniature figurines—one for each child who never shared the fun of decorating.
An unusual, dark blue Dr. Seuss-y star hanging off the side near the top.  Just because.

We wonder at, celebrate, and give thanks for our Crooked Tree Of Life.

You owe it to yourself to do the same.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

That Four Letter Word

"When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, ...dissension, division, ENVY, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these."  Gal. 5:19-21a NLT

"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's leading in every part of our lives."  Gal. 5: 24 NLT

Boy, do theses verses really smack me in the face. With Christmas just around the corner, I find myself slipping into my flesh and losing my focus on my Lord. It's not like I'm going to keep Christ out of Christmas or give into drunkenness or go to wild parties, which another version calls orgies. But that four letter word, "envy", comes creeping in.

After all, we all know when you have a loved one with a severe or sometimes even not so severe mental health concern that your family isn't "normal". I’d sometimes get sick of making special accomodations for my family member or missing a party because it was too difficult for him, her, or someone else in the family to be there. I didn't want to hear it again, "Just make them come". Don't get me wrong.  Sometimes I had to "make them come." But other times, it's a bad idea to force a situation on my family.  It even gets harder when they’re in the throws of a psychological episode that coincides with a holiday and out of touch with reality for a time. I longed for "normal" or even some semblance of "normal".

When I think of one particular Christmas several years ago, while one of my son's was living at a halfway house, I remember making cookies for the guys and how some of them didn't have anywhere to go for Christmas. My not so normal Christmas was looking pretty good from their perspective. I was fretting over not seeing all of my kids at the same time while they were not seeing anyone. I always get myself into trouble when I play the comparison game with those that I think have a happy, well adjusted, Christmas card kind of family. I focus on those that have what looks like the "perfect" family. So while I'm focusing on them, I can't focus on God and there in is the problem.  

Then, I read that last verse about how, if I belong to Christ Jesus, I've nailed this sin to the cross. Whenever I am letting envy get even the tiniest foothold I am blocking the Holy Spirit from leading that part of my life. Can I say, OUCH? Over the past few years I’ve gotten better at not focusing on envy and keeping my focus on what this holiday season is all about. I know I’ve got a ways to go, but when I let go of those pie in the sky unrealistic dreams of my perfect family and let the Spirit lead me my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other day, it’s so much better. I’m sure it will be better for you too. We all just need to stop trying to lead our lives and let the Holy Spirit lead us. Then Envy has no power.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We’re all mentally ill

That’s my theory, anyway.  Before you say I’m crazy, read this whole post, then tell me what you think.  Am I right, am I wrong, or might I be on to something regardless?

So, what makes me think that we’re all mentally ill?  The combination of a few things.

First, facts about people:
We’re comprised of at least two components: physical and mental.
As we age, these components change—our bodies and minds morph.
Everyone’s flawed.  We each have stains, blemishes, quirks, and anomalies.  (Since we’re each ‘physically’ flawed, why would we ever think we’re not also ‘mentally’ flawed?)
Some imperfections vary over time.  Some eventually get worse, much worse.

Next, facts about diseases:
Some diseases lie dormant for years before their symptoms appear.  (We may have the illness, but not exhibit any symptoms.)
Some diseases can’t be diagnosed until after their symptoms flare up.  (Being symptom-free doesn’t mean we don’t have the illness.)
Each disease affects each person differently—some to a small degree, others more significantly.
The affects or symptoms of a disease don’t jump from “none” to “maximum” in a fraction of a second.  They progress from one degree to another over time—maybe weeks, maybe months, even years, but almost never instantaneously.

Finally, facts about me and some of my kids:
I haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness nor been told by anyone that they think I have one.
Professionals have diagnosed many of my kids with at least one mental illness.
I demonstrate many of the same behaviors some of my diagnosed kids do, but often to a much lesser degree.

When I look in the mirror, when I consider the above, I draw the conclusion that I have at least one mental illness, and probably three.  As of today, though, my symptoms haven’t risen to the level of needing professional help.  (Again, ‘as of today’.)

All this leads me to believe that I, a human—and, by extension, you, also a human—have a mental illness.  We might not yet see it, others might not discern it, and it might not ever rise to a professionally-diagnosable level.  Nonetheless, I’m willing to accept that I’m mentally ill.

And I’m okay with that.


Because I admire my kids and others who not only wrestle everyday with symptoms far beyond mine and far beyond what I can imagine, but also deal with society’s stares and statements, hand-delivered on ice-cold platters.

Because I know that if I differ only by degree and not by type from everyone who’s been diagnosed, I’m less likely to judge them, to avoid them, or demean them.

Because if “I’m not okay, you mustn’t be okay”, meaning it’s just possible that we could live in a much different world.

In the end, I might be wrong.  But, then again, what if I’m right?  Either way, imagine the kind of world this would be if we at least considered the prospect that we’re all mentally ill: A world without stigma around mental illness, without judgment or guilt or shame.

As someone who’s lived alongside mental illness for decades, I’d enjoy a world like that.

A note from the author…

I know some of you reading this are thinking “You don’t understand.  You don’t know what the mentally ill deal with!  You demean everyone who has a mental illness when you refer to yourself as if you were one of them.”

I’m sorry you feel that way, that’s not what I’m saying, but that’s exactly my point.  As long as we focus on our differences, as long as we view ‘them’ as a diseased version of ‘us’, this all continues: judgment and guilt and pity and shame and ignorance and disbelief and stigma.

But if we saw and heard and treated people who display symptoms of mental illness as no different than us in nature and in worth—and if we viewed ourselves as people fortunate to not be as affected as they are—we could maybe, just maybe begin to empathize, to inquire, to discover, to learn, to soften, to love, and to advocate.

In a nutshell, this is what I’m saying: We as a society need to do these things to have even a hope of creating a world full of compassion and understanding, full of respect and support, full of grace and mercy and love.

And I do hope we create that kind of world, because the current one’s not really helping those who many call "the mentally ill".

Thursday, September 20, 2018

It's Not All Wedded Bliss

38 years of marriage is a great feat nowadays. Throw mental illness into your family dynamic and getting married at a young age and statistics say we were doomed from the start. We can’t take credit for our success in staying together. But we can give you a few pointers whether you have mental illness in your family or not. It’s all stuff you know and have heard before, but maybe has a slightly different twist on it or you haven’t thought about working on your marriage in a while.
Here goes it:

1.  When it’s tough always see and remember the best version of your spouse. Remember the good stuff instead of the bad.
2.  When it looks like your unappreciated and forgotten go the extra mile to do something (anything) for your spouse. Write them a love note, send them an “I love you” text, pick up some flowers, make or buy a favorite dessert, or give them a hug just because. Do this in good times and in bad and don’t expect them to reciprocate or even receive this gesture very well.
3.  Always pray with and for your spouse. (If your spouse doesn’t want to pray with you, you can still pray for them.)
4.  Stay in God’s word every day. Even if it’s one verse.
5.  Never gossip about your spouse. (This is especially hard for the ladies.) Better yet, brag about them.
6.  Seek professional help if you harbor anger, resentment, or have unresolved conflict. Encourage your spouse to do the same if they are open to it.
7.  Know their love language and apply it to your relationship with them. 
8.  Date your spouse.
9.  If you don’t have shared interests find them. It could be a hobby, volunteering, or even working on a house project together. 
10. Lastly, let Christ permeate every area of your life. That’s the best way to keep your marriage in the wedded bliss category.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Two Hearts

Was there yelling sometimes? Of Course
Did everything go according to each other’s plan? Not always
Were there many happy moments in our household? Absolutely
Could you tell they loved each other? Yep
This poem is for the two of you.


Two hearts so full of love for their God, Jesus.
Two hearts so full of love for others.
Two hearts so full of love for each other.
Two hearts that pray for us.
Two hearts living out whatever God leads
them to do each and every day.
Two hearts that love each other even when it’s not easy.
Two hearts that inspire us to love more.
Two hearts that complement each other’s strengths.
Two hearts that readily forgive.
Two hearts so big it’s a wonder how those hearts 
fit into two people.
Two hearts I am so privileged to know and be known by.
Two hearts filled by God, reflecting His love to us all.
Two hearts of integrity, wisdom, and
strength of character.
Two hearts that often beat as one.
Two hearts that I am so honored to be able to call
Dad and Mom.

Happy 65th Wedding Anniversary Mom and Dad!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Nobody likes it, but many of us do it. Since mental illness hit our family I have done it less and less. What is it? It is unwanted advice. I came to realize that most of the time I’m speaking out of ignorance and giving advice that is not wanted, needed, asked for, and is actually hurtful and harmful.

The damage of all of this unwanted advice is isolation, shaming, and marginalization of the person getting this so called good advice. For those hearing this advice the struggle to continue sharing your story vs. isolating yourself is real. When this judgmental advice is the norm, it makes it so hard to open up and risk hurtful words coming your way again and again.

Common phrases like:
“Just snap out of it” ~ as if that’s something you can easily do
“It’s all in your head” ~ That’s true, but not really what they mean.
“Have you tried…..” ~ Yes, it probably would help and you may have tried it or are currently doing it. That aside, it minimizes you and your diagnosis. Plus, you’ve heard this advice about a gazillion times already.
“If you just did this, you’d be fine.” ~ This one doesn’t even recognize that you have a mental illness.
“Do you have some unrepentant sin?” ~ Once again, not mentally ill. It’s all about your personal sin.

The same holds true if your loved one has a mental illness. The words are a little different but the affect is the same. Words like “Just make them”, It’s all in their head.”, “Have they tried…”, “Have you tried….” are just as common. There’s only so many times one can get beat up with these words.

Ignorance is often the catalyst of this unwanted advice. We all hear ignorance is bliss, but for those of us on the receiving end of these hurtful words of advice, ignorance is hell, isolation, and painful. Plus this ignorance promotes stigma.

So what are we to do? If you’re the person making these sorts of statements and giving this kind of advice, please STOP. Know that you are only making matters worse. Better yet, ask how you can support this person emotionally or in practically ways instead of telling them what to do or not do.

If you are the person receiving this advice, please don’t close yourself off because of these hurtful words. And even more important don’t let someone else’s ignorance be your reason to isolate.  It’s challenging to share your story while risking ridicule and judgment. Remember that sharing your story is one of the best ways to educate others about mental illness. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Doing The Dance

We all want to help our child be as successful as possible and will help nudge them along as they grow up. What do you do when your child grows up physically, but their illness has caused them to not grow up emotionally? You want to help them without being a crutch. It's a constant balancing act where at any moment you could tip the scale in the wrong direction.
Between his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, and Addictions there were numerous times that I thought our son had fallen for the last time and was ready to get up out of the pit.  
As a mom, I was torn between giving David what he needed for today and hoping that he would get to a point where he could consistently provide for himself. I wondered if his illness had taken over too much because there were many days when all I could see was the illness in the forefront and my son trying to break through that illness. I wanted to help, but sometimes I was only making it worse?  
I knew several people who had a mental health diagnosis that were living life in all its wonder and thriving in spite of their disorder. I admired them and looked to them for insight. However, just like cancer, there are stages and forms that are more or less severe. For various reasons David's diagnosis and stage of illness was one of those that the odds were stacked against him.
Friends would tell me to help him in ways that only added guilt to my already fragile emotional state. Often these ways would only enable him to go down the destructive path of his illness and take us along for the ride. They would say that Jesus would have helped, so I should too. After all who in their right mind has their son arrested, gets them committed to a mental health facility, and turns their child away when they see a real need. Well, I think many people would be surprised by the answer.
I'd like to share a story of one of the last times I had to say no to David. He was 28 and I was taking him to our weekly lunch date when he said to me, “Mom, It’s getting cold out and I can’t stay at my friends anymore. Do you want me to be homeless?” (translation:  Can I come back home?) How is a mom supposed to answer that one? He had put me on the spot and tugged at my heart all at the same time.  
What was I supposed to do? I couldn't trust him to be in our home. I needed to set boundaries without making it sound like I was rejecting him. We had been down this revolving door road several times before and it wasn't good for him or the family.   There’s no easy way to say to your child those types of things without them feeling hurt. I loved him so much and just wanted to save him from this illness that had taken most of him away from all those that loved and knew him. If only there was an easy answer. I paused, prayed silently to myself, and then responded with an “Of course not, but this is your choice.” As the words came out of my mouth I thought, “Where did that come from?” followed by “Thank You Lord.” This followed with a discussion of his viable options that I already knew he wasn't going to do. My heart sank and I clung to God for peace about this decision even when everything in me was screaming to let him come home knowing that would have been a disaster on so many levels.
He did indeed become homeless wandering the parks of a mid-sized city. He eventually hit a new bottom. Then he was committed to a mental health facility, followed by a half-way house.
There’s always a fine line between accommodating a real need and perpetuating the illness by enabling and being codependent. It’s a dance I don’t like and sometimes get wrong. That being said, I want to encourage you if you are doing that dance too, that you are not alone. There are many of us having to be seen as the bad guy or gal not only by our loved one, but most other people too.
That is when our faith can really be tested and fervent prayer for discernment is really needed. You will make the wrong choice occasionally. But mostly, you’ll make the right choice even with all of those around you telling you that it’s wrong. Keep doing what you know is right, but also never give up on them.
If you are not in this dance, please don’t give us ill-informed advice and be thankful you can sit this one out.
Accommodating is great. Enabling is terrible.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

What's wrong with bumper bowling?

You know what bumper bowling is.  They put long, inflated tubes in the gutters on either side of the lane so it’s nearly impossible to miss the pins—at least with your first ball!

Die-hard bowlers say that using bumpers is cheating, that only babies should use them.

“Bumpers only encourage people to be reckless and irresponsible because there aren’t any consequences!  How will they learn to get better so that they stay OUT of the gutters?!”

I see it differently.

In my mind, bumper bowling can actually help everyone enjoy the game more.  How?
·        It can eliminate fear of embarrassment.  Some of us don’t know how to bowl well, and it can be scary doing something you’re not good at.  Bumpers can help calm the fear of trying something new.
·        It can build self-esteem.  Both the bowler and their friends can feel good that at least one pin was knocked down, especially when bowlers in neighboring lanes are easily getting lots of strikes and spares.
·        It can make the rest of the day pleasant.  With a better score thanks to bumpers, the bowler won’t be upset or feel guilty about wasting their bowling partner’s time or money getting all ‘zeroes’.

A lot of opinionated people with little mental health knowledge think like die-hard bowlers.

“Accommodating a loved one with mental illness encourages them to be dependent and to shirk their responsibility because life’s too easy!  How will they learn to become self-sufficient when you enable them?!”

I see it differently.

In my experience, accommodating a mentally ill person can sometimes help everyone.  How?
·        It can eliminate fear of embarrassment.  Some of us don’t know how to handle common aspects of life, and it can be scary doing something you’re not good at.  Accommodations can help calm the fear of trying something new.  Eliminating fear in one area can free up a person to stretch in another.  Since anxiety (fear) is heightened in mentally ill people, it makes sense to reduce it from time to time.
·        It can build self-esteem.  Both the mentally ill person and their family members can feel good that at least some progress was made, especially when other relatives, neighbors, and churchgoers are easily getting through life.  Those who have to work extra hard just to navigate through life should rightly feel good about any progress, be it slow, infrequent, or minimal compared to others.
·        It can make the rest of the day pleasant.  With at least some success thanks to the accommodation, the mentally ill person won’t be upset or feel guilty about wasting their family member’s time or money making little or no progress.  Daily frustration and guilt driven by lack of progress can be eliminated through careful use of accommodations.

Referring to her mentally ill daughter, someone once told a friend of mine: “You’re enabling her!”

My friend replied: “You bet I am!”

What a great response!  My friend chose to accommodate in that situation for all the above reasons, and it helped her and her daughter.  True, constant accommodation often causes problems.  But when it’s used wisely, accommodation can help a lot of people in a lot of ways.

You might not get to choose your lane, but ignore the opinions of people who have no clue what your lane’s like.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

When Mother's Day is Hard

What does every mother want for mother’s day?
I don’t know about you, but I want to hear from my kids and if at all possible, see them.  Second, I want to recognize my mom and tell her how much she is loved.  
For some though, Mother’s Day is sometimes hard. They still love their kids to pieces, but the brokenness of mental illness in even one of their kids lives can make for a difficult day.
He’s off his meds and homeless and the text never comes.
She’s living who knows where with who knows who and that call doesn’t happen.
He’s never going to visit because he can’t bear to see one of his siblings that he’s wronged.
Whatever the reason you feel forgotten by someone you have so much love for. What will these moms be doing this Mother’s Day? They may put on their happy face and even be happy for the most part. They’ll still appreciate their mom and tell her so in their own special way.
But they’ll also have a sad spot in their heart for that son or daughter. They’ll know that he or she loves them even though that call won’t come or that visit won’t happen. There’ll be moments where tears will flow. They’ll feel helpless to help them. They may have a hard time not dwelling on all that the mental illness has taken from their child. They’ll long to hug their child and tell them how much they love them and how much God loves them.
Things may be getting worse and they’ll wonder if this is the last Mother’s Day that their child will be living. The longing to make it all better will be a big part of their day even when the visit doesn’t happen or the text never comes. Even though they are happy for other moms they’ll stay off social media because it’s just too painful to see and read about those moms.If you are one of these moms, along with a big hug, this note from your son or daughter is for you.
Dear Mom, 
I just want to say Thank You.
Thank you for never giving up on me even when you don’t hear from me.
Thank you for wanting to take all of my burdens away.
Thank you for still loving me when my illness is manifesting some pretty ugly stuff.
Thank you for advocating for me when I don’t even know I need advocating for.
Thank you for praying for me.
Thank you for being there for me when I’m ready to get help.
Thank you for encouraging me even when I feel I don't deserve encouraging.
Thank you for seeking wisdom from God as to how best to help me.
Thank for educating yourself about mental illness and learning all you can about my disorder.
Most of all, thank you for being my Mom and showing me a glimpse of God’s great love for me by showing me yours.
Love, Your Son or Daughter 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Is God worth it?

Is God still worth it even after mental illness kills your kid?

That’s a tough question, but not a rhetorical one for many parents.

James said, “…the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up

For years, Ann and I laid David at God’s feet.  For years, we prayed for protection and provision and healing and hope.  But on a cold January night, he died alone on an uncovered, blood-stained mattress from an illness-induced overdose.

In the days between David’s death and his memorial service, Ann and I wrestled with a lot of questions.  The most important question was this: “Is God still worth it—worth our love, our obedience, and our hearts—after we prayed so much but He didn’t ‘raise up’ David?”

I know my answer, but I also know that your answer might be different.  So, let me point you to two Scripture passages that might help you with any struggle you may be having around this question.

The first is in Hebrews 11, the “faith” chapter: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for, to be certain of things we can’t see…”  The chapter lists many ‘heroes of the faith’ like Abraham, Noah, Joseph, and Rahab.  The faithful.  Prayer warriors.  Followers.  Blessed by God for their confidence, courage, and devotion.

But Hebrews 11 also says this about others with great faith: “There were others who were tortured…  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword…”

The same God heard the blessed and the tortured, the victorious and the stoned.  He didn’t rescue them all, but all of them, including the persecuted, remained confident and certain.  Not confident that they’d be saved, but certain that He’s worth it.

The other’s in Daniel, chapter 3.  The pagan king ordered Daniel’s friends to worship a golden idol under threat of being thrown into a blazing furnace.  They refused.

They said: “If we’re thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your hand.  But even if he doesn’t, we’ll continue to [worship only Him].”

In the end, God miraculously saved them.  But their pre-furnace, confident message communicated to the king (and to us centuries later) that they were certain that He’s worth it.  They didn’t know they’d walk out of the furnace unharmed, but it didn’t matter to them.  God, in their minds, was worth all worship, praise, and obedience regardless.

God doesn’t promise healing or rescue, and we all have first-hand experience that prayer isn’t a magical tool that makes God create the outcome we want.  Sometimes He heals and rescues, and that’s great!  And we naturally praise and worship Him during those times.

But He’s no less worthy of our worship, praise, and love during the most difficult times.

That’s a tough message to wrestle with, I know.

If you’ve gone through (or are going through) tough times and are still on the mat wrestling with God about this question, don’t stop until you get your answer.  You need to be confident.  You need to be certain.

If you’re anything like me and countless others, you’ll learn that He is worth it.  Worth it all, and then some.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Loving My Spouse

Marriages can be great and very rewarding, but they can also be hard.  Too hard sometimes.  Throw mental illness into the mix, and it can seem like it’s not worth the effort.
To be honest, there are periods when I don’t want to work on our relationship.  I want him to do all the work and meet my needs and understand that I just can’t meet his right now because I have so much on my plate!  He needs to appreciate that I’m at least giving him my leftover time!  So many others need me, and I’m being torn in so many directions with so many emotions!
During one season, I tried to be super volunteer, super friend, and super mom—all of which made me a not-so-super wife.  Volunteering is good, but I was overdoing it.  My friendships were important, too, but they took precedence over my husband.  As for being “super mom”, I was certain that I was the only one that could ___________________ for my children.  Sure, I probably could help them better than others could, but others could also help them if only I’d let them.  Finally, I needed to make better choices about “self-care”.  Yes, some things—many things—had to give.
In the end, I needed to make my husband a priority.  It wasn’t hard to do, but it took focus…
Taking short but meaningful walks in the neighborhood.  Sending him encouraging texts for no reason or slipping notes into his lunch.  Going for an ice-cream cone at McDonald’s (think “cheap date”) and sitting and talking about our dreams or hopes.  Intentionally asking how we can pray for each other.  Choosing to not talk about our kids.  Knowing his love language and loving him in that way.
Intentional.  Proactive.  Focused.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Got Depression?

Does this sound familiar?...

You’re talking with one of your church friends, and you tell them that you deal with chronic depression. Instantly, you sense that they view you as ‘less of a Christian’ or think that you must have some unrepentant sin in your life. This happens more often than we Christians want to admit. Because of this, many who struggle with depression begin to doubt the truth of their diagnosis, almost trivializing it. They minimize it because that’s what they hear from people they know, trust, and love.

I know a number of people who live with chronic depression. I was recently talking with a friend, and she started apologizing that she was diagnosed with JUST depression instead of bipolar, as if to say depression wasn’t as legitimate or difficult to live with.

It’s true that depression is different from many other mental health conditions, but let’s stop comparing it in terms of what it takes to live with it on a day-to-day basis. Ask anyone who has chronic depression, and you’ll learn that it’s anything but easy. On top of that, it’s a diagnosis that many people don’t think is legitimate. They think that all a person needs to do is to eat differently, pray more, get closer to God, or exercise more, and “presto!” the depression’s gone. Now, I’m not saying that those things don’t help, but chronic depression does have a biological component to it. Barring a miracle, none of those things will “cure” depression.

Chronic depression is defined as depression that lasts more than six months. I got a taste of that when David passed away. The experience helped me to understand what it's like to live with depression on a daily basis. I'm so thankful that I didn't have to live with it the rest of my life! If I did, I know that I would've needed regular treatment of therapy or medication or both. Today, whenever I hear a friend say they "just" have depression, I instinctively, lovingly correct them.

If you live with chronic depression, I encourage you to stop apologizing for it. What you have is as real and as difficult as any other malady. When you trivialize it, you only hurt yourself.

And if someone you love lives with chronic depression, please keep in mind that theirs is a difficult walk. Listen to them. Feel for them. Love on them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Reaffirming Love

“I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you…..  Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.”  2Cor. 2:5-8  NLT

I would have never thought that when I first held David in my arms that I’d be part of a family that personally is touched by one of their own being an undesirable in society. He was a “normal” child. At least we thought he was. Looking back, there were signs of things to come. Things started changing in his mid- teens. At first we thought he was just hanging out with the wrong kids and/or making bad choices.  There was some of that, but this went a whole lot deeper. As time progressed, and his untreated Borderline Personality Disorder got worse, there was more and more trouble which caused more and more hurt. Many people ran the other way when his disorder manifested itself at their expense. 

If anyone knows even the smallest bit about someone with this disorder, there’s a lot of insecurity attached with it. How does one decide when to let them fall, when to pick them up, who to tell, how to protect the rest of the family, and so on. It’s a constant pray for discernment.

I remember one such time when David was down and discouraged. He was in his 20’s and living somewhere in Waukesha with a new friend after a short time of homelessness. He had little money and hardly any food. I picked him up, took him to the food pantry, got him some groceries, took him to lunch, and just hung out with him for a little bit. I felt like it was a pretty good day for both of us. He seemed to be making some better choices.

A few days later I saw him again and he was already out of food. He had sold some of the food to buy alcohol. I knew how I reacted to this news was critical. I was disappointed and hurt and realized that even if I didn’t give him money, he’d find a way to get what he wanted. Why this surprised me, I have no idea, since David was resourceful to say the least. Anyway, back to the story.

Instead of reacting negatively, I simply ignored the situation as if it didn’t happen. I could tell David was not in a place to receive anything and he was quite discouraged. Besides that, what would it have accomplished for me to come down on him? He already knew how I felt and was feeling the guilt without me having to say anything. We had some conversation, I did go with him for a few more groceries, and I tried to encourage him. One thing I always told him is that we all mess up, but that doesn’t mean to give up. 

If you notice the verse says “REAFFIRM your love”. That tells me that the person that caused the trouble is someone that you know and love already. When mental illness touched our family it displayed some pretty ugly stuff. How I reacted was very important to helping or hurting David and I had to make hard choices with him often.

I could choose to give up or not.
I had choices of how I was going to react to the situation.
I could choose whether to discourage or encourage him.
Every day was a choice whether to seek God in every moment.
I had a choice whether to forgive him or hold it against him.

Every day is filled with choices. What do I choose? What do you choose?

Friday, February 2, 2018


One of the greatest gifts that David’s diagnosis has given me is perspective. I never would have guessed when David was born that I would learn so much about others, myself, and God from him and his struggles with mental illness. 

Perspective: I gained new insight into the homeless and their families. I could understand not only the pain of not finding your homeless loved one, but also the pain of not allowing them back into your home once you’ve found them.

Perspective: I learned so much about those in jail and prison. I could relate to those that believed that jail was the best place for their loved one and the emotional and financial cost to the families of those that have someone in jail.

Perspective: I understood the word “stigma” especially from many within the Church. The shunning and isolation was often painful and gave me deep sensitivity towards others that may be going through similar struggles. It also made me realize how I perpetuated stigma before I understood what mental illness was.

Perspective: I discovered more how God feels when we mess up and we refuse to listen to his wise counsel. It is so very difficult to watch and know that you’re powerless to help your loved one when they refuse help or don’t want to be helped. It’s gut-wrenching. How much more must it be for the God that created us and only wants good for us.

Many scripture verses that used to puzzle me or were difficult to relate to became some of my favorite verses because of new perspectives on suffering, sorrow, and grieving.

As David was going down this often dangerous path of destruction it was easy for me to see the poor choices he was making because of his illness and the toll it was taking on his very life. As I’d reflect on his choices God would ever so gently remind me of my poor choices and the planks (Matthew 7:3-5) in my eyes.

I gained perspective in so many areas of my life and because of that, David’s journey with mental illness was the biggest catalyst in helping me grow in my love for God and others. It would have been easy for me to let these new perspectives make me bitter, angry, or even reject God in my life and sometimes I didn’t choose very well. But, I always had a choice and you do too. Choose God and let him teach and grow you. You won’t be disappointed!