Hope for Caregivers Found in Hope Prevails

Hope Prevails (but it Took Me Awhile to See That)hope prevails

If you’ve ever read the ‘About’ section of this blog, or seen my bio on my twitter account, you’ll know that I call myself a ‘recovering cancer caregiver.’ If you have ever gone through a season of life where a family member has contracted a life-threatening disease or experienced a life-threatening accident, you know what I mean.

When the season of caregiving has ended, many caregivers find themselves wading back into the ‘real’ world wondering how to cope with mundane tasks and decisions. The adrenalin that has pumped through your body for days, weeks, or months in response to the stress of your loved one’s condition doesn’t know how to turn itself off.

The ensuing emotions, thoughts and feelings can produce post-traumatic stress-like symptoms in the caregiver, along with feelings of guilt (even if the one you cared for survived), and yes, even depression. I’ve been there. Maybe you have, too.

After my first caregiving journey, I feel into depression. If you would have asked me at the time, I would have denied the depression (after all, I should have been bubbling over with joy because of Pedro’s miraculous recover).

In retrospect, I realize that I suffered from depression and it harmed not only my health, but also my relationships with my daughters and my husband. I wish I would have had a book like Hope Prevails to help me through that difficult time.

Now, I jokingly claim that while it took Pedro one year to regain his health and equilibrium after his stem-cell transplant, it took me seven years to recover from his illness.

Why Caregivers Need Hope Prevails

hope prevails

Dr. Michelle Bengtson, a neuropsychologist, has experienced some of the same journeys that I have. Her husband also had cancer and she played the role of caregiver for him. She, too, suffered from a mystery illness. Even though she is a Christian, she also suffered from depression.

Here are five great reasons why every caregiver needs a copy of Hope Prevails!

  1. If you’ve ever acted as a caregiver, you know the emotional and physical toll it can take on your mind and your body. The evil one especially loves to whisper lies into our hearts when we suffer from stress and exhaustion. So even if you don’t think you suffer from depression, Hope Prevails will help you armor yourself for those days when you don’t feel able to cope.
  2. The prescriptions Dr. Bengtson offers at the end of each chapter offer action steps that don’t require a trip to the pharmacy.
  3.  Caregiving feels hopeless at times, and Dr. Bengtson offers hope over and over again through Bible texts and her own experience of how she used those texts to change her habits.
  4. The playlists at the end of the chapter (someone needs to get permission from the artists and compile a CD set with all of them in one place!) have beautiful, encouraging selections of music. Listening to music that uplifts and speaks to our deepest needs helps bring healing by keeping us focused on the One who gives us hope.
  5. Dr. Bengtson explains the relationships between our own mental state, the lies the evil one feeds us, modern medication, and therapy. The most powerful weapon at our disposal is our relationship with God—the God who also gave knowledge to doctors and scientists to help us direct our efforts most effectively.

What about you? Have you ever struggled with depression? Do you have a favorite song or Bible verse that has helped you feel hope?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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New Beginnings

The teachers at my new school lined up to welcome students to a new beginning.

The teachers at my new school lined up to welcome students to a new beginning.

It’s off!  The school year is off in giant whoosh of new beginnings and the whirl-wind that represents in our home is phenomenal this year.

Our atypical new beginnings involve a new school for my husband to principal (that MUST be a verb, because there is sure a lot of work involved).  A new beginning for my son meant a whole new school five states away from his last school.  He started last Monday not knowing one.single.person at the entire high school and his bravery astonished me.  It means a new school for me.  And not just a new school but I’m teaching 7th grade, the last piece in my teaching arsenal.  I’ve now taught everything from pre-k through college and adult education.  It means a long drive toward the sunrise each morning and a longer drive (I swear it’s true) toward the sunset in the evening and it’s the first time my husband and I aren’t working at the same school in nineteen years.  It means I have a whole fresh classroom.  A classroom without prejudice.  I don’t know these kids and they don’t know me.  We can make of the year whatever we want!  This year my middle daughter is off to college and of course she’s chosen a different university than my other daughter.  She is preparing for the first time away from home;  three states away from her support system.  She’s declared a major of engineering and has committed to figuring out if she’s chosen wisely.  My oldest is returning to her college in Nebraska and while that’s not new, she’s returning with a new heart.  You can’t serve a year in an orphanage and not return a different person.  She’ll be six states away from me, but don’t worry, I’ll keep her close.

We are renting a teeny tiny (for us) apartment and the majority of our stuff is in storage.  A very full storage that makes finding anything next to impossible.  Our home barely has room enough for us but sadly, by the end of this week that won’t be an issue as my children spread their wings and fly.

New beginnings.  Every school year starts off with new beginnings and this year has more than its fair share.  That’s overwhelming.  That’s awful.  That’s exciting.  That’s wonderful.

Here’s another wonderful thing.  Every single day is a day of new beginings.  I thought this as I drove into the sunrise last Friday – t’s refreshing and new and invigorating.  Every day we get a new start with God.  No prejudice because when He forgives, He also forgets, and He drops our sins into the bottom of the sea.  A new start because His love is too amazing to hand us anything different.  A new chance because He paid for it.  A new me, because that’s just how powerful He is.

Whether you’re starting a new school year, or trekking off on a new adventure, or doing the same old thing you did yesterday, and the day before that, I invite you to take a moment today, and pray for a new beginning.  A new beginning with a God who loves you in a powerful and all-encompassing way.   It’ll be overwhelming, awful, exciting and wonderful – a new beginning just for you.

I invite you to take a moment today, and pray for a new beginning. Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Intercessory Prayers Provide Invisible Lift

Christians often say they will ‘lift someone up in prayer,’ but what does it really mean? I can’t give you a theological answer, but I can offer you my experiences with the powerful lift of prayer.

lift

Startled Awake

“Pray for British envoy Terry Waite,” the voice startled me awake from a deep sleep around two in the morning my senior year of college. I’d heard about Terry Waite’s situation and about how he’d been taken hostage in Beirut a few months earlier.

I threw my legs over the side of the bed and knelt—not my usual position for prayer, but when a voice wakes you up and tells you to pray, you kneel. For the next ten minutes I prayed. I lifted him up in prayer. I prayed for his captors, for his physical safety, for his sanity, and for his family.

Did my prayers cause his captors to release him? No. That took another four years. I may never know the results of my prayers that night during my lifetime, but I know without a doubt that I prayed for a reason and my prayers played a part in a bigger plan.

Fourteen years later I had the opportunity to experience the lift of prayers during Pedro’s cancer year. I mostly moved around in a grace-filed haze, focused solely on doing all I could to help Pedro, protect our daughters, and survive. Hundreds of people who lifted us up in prayer played a part in the miracle of his recovery (I don’t call it a miracle lightly. His doctors—scientists, not men of faith, called Pedro a walking miracle). The constant and specific prayers helped me to survive what seemed unmanageable.

More Lifting

Two years after Pedro’s recovery I once again received a call to pray. “Pray for Becky Curtis.” Once again, the call came during the wee hours of the morning and I went into my prayer room and sat down and prayed. I knew she had been in some sort of car wreck earlier that evening, but I didn’t know the details. Later on, I discovered that my call to prayer came at a critical time when Becky’s life hung in the balance.

Just over a year ago I had another experience with prayer warriors lifting me up in prayer. Our daughter Sarah had ditched her grandparents in an airport and planned on living there for a week before her flight to London left. She had no debit card and no cash. I messaged my friends, who immediately started praying. One of them told me that she had startled awake early in the morning and felt the need to pray. Her urge to pray coincided with the exact time that Sarah had collapsed into unconsciousness at an airport train stop. Of course, I didn’t discover this until months later.

According to James 5:16 “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). Anyone who believes in Jesus has his mantle of righteousness—which means that the act of praying, by default, is done by ‘righteous’ people. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a sinner or a saint. If you pray, your prayer matters. It might even change a life.

 

What about you? Have you ever been called to lift someone in prayer?

Happy to Announce a Miracle

Happy

From Circling the Drain to New Life

Fourteen years ago Pedro circled the drain (hospital parlance for ‘didn’t look like he would make it’). I wondered if I would ever dare to experience happiness again. Today I just sent him a text picture of our first grandchild. Happy doesn’t begin to describe this moment.

But God works wonders and miracles in our lives. Every day. Some days, we don’t realize or acknowledge the simple miracles of life—like Calliope Hummingbirds (a whopping 2.75 inches long) migrating from Alberta to Central America with flowers that they need for sustenance blooming at just the right time along their route.

So, big miracles or small miracles, today I live in wonder with a thankful heart. Our grandson arrived via C-section and mom and baby and dad are all doing fine. On Thursday, I had resigned myself to being present from afar via texting and phone calls.

But God had other ideas. My boss, the school board chairman, thought I should go to Tulsa to be with our daughter. I started hunting for tickets. They fell outside our price range and I resigned myself to a long drive. But Pedro’s brother graciously offered standby tickets (he’s a pilot).

When I arrived at the airport, six people had priority in the standby line on a full plane. But I made the flight and arrived in Tulsa four hours before the scheduled trip to the hospital for our daughter’s induction.

After 24 hours in the hospital, the doctor determined that the baby’s head and shoulders would not fit, so they scheduled a C-section. At 10:00 this morning, Abel Forest Melchor arrived. In a few minutes I’ll get to go back to the post-partum room and cuddle with our daughter and snuggle with our grandson.

God is good. All the time. Each day holds miracles and wonders and God desires happiness for his children. Sure, things will happen that we don’t understand. We will experience pain and trauma. But the miracles and wonders will outweigh the heaviest burdens—especially if we dare to embrace the happy God wants us to experience.

Happy

happy

The miracles and wonders will outweigh the heaviest burdens--dare to embrace the happy God… Click To Tweet

What about you? Do you feel God daring you to embrace some happy?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What's your inspirational story? Link up below, and don't forget the 1-2-3s of building community: 1. Link up an inspirational post. 2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment. 3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it! Please link back to this week's post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbustrest and @caregivermom to share my inspirational post. Join us! Click To Tweet

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Glaciers, Relationships and Religion

Glacier

Finding a Glacier

“What’s one thing you really want to do in Alaska this summer?” I asked Pedro before our trip started.

“Walk on a glacier,” he replied.

“Awesome! I already have that on my list of fifty fun firsts. Too bad you won’t turn fifty until after we get back,” I teased, “otherwise you could add it to your list.” Of course, I only remembered seeing one glacier in Alaska when I worked there 34 years ago, but Alaska had to have more than one glacier!

Our first weekend in Alaska, our hosts suggested a trip to Kennecott—an old copper mining town at the foot of a glacier. After checking online, I discovered that a short hike would take us to the toe of Root Glacier. Even better, the source said we could just walk out onto the glacier. Perfect!

The National Parks Service owns Kennecott these days, and the surrounding area belongs to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park—the largest National Park in the United States. We arrived a little after noon, and took in two movies at the visitor’s center whilst waiting for the rainstorms to blow over.

Once the rain let up we set off for the glacier. Pedro and Sarah got ahead of me because I kept stopping to snap photos of flowers, waterfalls and ruins tucked into the greenery. In less than a half an hour, we arrived at the bottom of the moraine (a huge pile of rocks that the glacier deposits as it recedes) and the blue ice of the glacier loomed in front of us.

Walking Freely

We passed a tour group learning how to put on crampons, and I watched as Pedro and Sarah scooted up the toe without slipping. It didn’t look too steep, so I headed up after them. I may have even felt a little smug because other people had paid money to walk on a glacier, and we just walked up it with no special equipment. We wandered up at an angle without slipping or sliding. I snapped photos of the incredible colors and miniature crevasses. Once we had our fill of the majesty of the glacier, the mountains and the experience, we headed down.

I turned downhill and started taking tentative, fearful steps. After all, I’ve hit the big five-o and I didn’t want to fall and break a leg or a hip. I started wishing for the crampons and a helmet of a guided tour. “It’s not as slippery as you think!” Sarah called out to me from a hundred yards down glacier.

“Oh, yeah?” I said to myself. “Not slippery? Isn’t all ice slippery?” When I noticed that Pedro had pulled out his iPhone and started recording my old-lady descent, I decided to try walking normally. Sure enough, despite the fact that I walked downhill on ice, my feet stayed firmly under me. I made it to the bottom without landing on my backside.

Not All Glaciers are Created Equal

A week later, we passed the Matanuska Glacier as we drove towards Anchorage. At a nearby lodge, we discovered that just to drive out to the glacier would cost us $50.00 (evidently a private company owns the road that leads out to the glacier, and they charge $25.00 each person). We opted for two slices of the best rhubarb pie in the world and enjoyed the glacier view—content with our previous glacier hike. You can buy a lot of rhubarb pie for $50.00 (I’ll refrain from confirming or denying how much we spent on rhubarb pie over the three weeks we spent in Alaska).

We also wanted to see a glacier that ended in a body of water. I looked around and found a glacier tour to Portage Glacier that would cost a mere $40.00 each. We decided to hike up Portage Pass and view it from afar.

A week later, we decided to check out the Valdez Glacier and discovered that it, too, ended in a lake. We drove our vehicle right up to the shoreline and watched the icebergs float around from the comfort of our car.

Learning from the Ice

Over the course of our trip we saw hundreds of glaciers—each one unique, amazing, awe-inspiring and beautiful. But our favorite glaciers are Root and Valdez—the ones we could access freely and enjoy at our leisure.

Those glaciers remind me of the difference between religion and relationship. God invites each of us into a relationship with him. It costs nothing (for us, anyway) and will inspire and astound us. We only need to seek for ourselves. Having a few friends along to encourage us makes the journey easier.

All too often, religion wants us to experience relationship with God—with a price attached. We must do things a certain way, follow hired guides who dispense advice and rules, worship God in a certain way, and stay with the group.

#Religion wants us to experience relationship with God--with a price attached. Click To Tweet

Don’t misunderstand me—organized worship has its place. Church communities have their place. But first and foremost, we need to remember that God wants us in relationship with HIM—not a particular religion.

A personal relationship with the almighty God may seem daunting—unattainable even. But Psalm 34:8 challenges us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We shouldn’t wait around for religion to heal our hurts and fill our souls. We need to get out on the glacier and discover for ourselves all that God has to offer us.

Learn to seek out experiences with God and nature that don't cost a dime. Click To Tweet

What about you? How do you strive to build a personal relationship with God?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Five Tips for Finding Hidden Humor in the Hospital

hidden humor

Hidden Away in Area 51

I held the clean pair of hospital pants up to show Pedro, and shook my head in disgust.

“Pretty big,” he said with a lopsided grin—lopsided because one half of his face didn’t move due to paralysis from cancer.

“Both you AND I could fit in these puppies,” I exclaimed. “That seems to happen a lot on the weekends.”

We laughed at the mental picture and then Pedro said, “I’m ready.” He slowly sat up and swung his bacon-thin legs over the edge of the bed.

I grabbed a towel and steadied him and his IV pole as we shuffled to the shower.

After living in the hospital with Pedro for weeks at a time, I knew the drill and the nurses didn’t mind that I assisted Pedro with his personal needs whilst they changed the bed linens.

This involved making a trek to the laundry closet hidden behind an accordion door in the hallway to get towels and clean hospital gowns and pants (thank goodness this hospital had pants—not all hospitals come with pants).

Not all #hospitals come with pants! 5 tips for keeping things #humorous in the hospital. Click To Tweet

On weekdays, the closet held carts labeled “Area 17,” signifying Eleven Long at UCSF, where an ample supply of neatly folded and stacked gowns and pants marched up the cart from size small to XXL. Another cart held sheets, blankets and pillowcases, and a third cart carried washcloths and towels.

Weekends told a different story. On Saturday mornings the carts would arrive in the early morning hours from the laundry, but instead of multiple sizes and items, they had a more all-or-none flavor. For example, the carts contained only XXL pants or only washcloths and no towels.

And I had a theory. Call me crazy (or bored), but by the third weekend in the hospital, I had decided that on the weekends, aliens pushed their “Area 51” carts around the hospital before dawn and filled them with items from the other Area carts. Small pants from one, towels from another, pillowcases from a third. Only they weren’t organized aliens, and they would crisscross the hospital hallways haphazardly grabbing items to fill their carts.

Once, I shared my alien theory with a friendly nurse. She laughed and decided that the aliens probably stocked the exam gloves on weekends, too, since the available boxes would suddenly change from three sizes to one size by Sunday night.

There’s Humor Everywhere

I’m glad she didn’t have me committed. I don’t believe in aliens, but the mind movie of aliens rushing around with laundry carts did give me reason to chuckle and laugh in a hospital ward where things were dead serious. As a caregiver, I needed to keep the atmosphere upbeat and positive.

Every couple of hours we’d “walk the dog” around the ward and mark Pedro’s progress on a whiteboard. We joked with the nurses and doctors and played Pedro’s theme song after chemo. When he felt well enough, we watched funny movies and played endless games of UNO.

We banished bad attitudes and kept God’s promises hidden in our hearts. We knew without a doubt that whatever the outcome, God knew the number of our days and the purpose for our lives.

5 Tips for #caregivers to keep #humor in the hospital. Click To Tweet

If you’re a caregiver remember this:

1. A cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22) (and it costs less than what goes into the IV drip).
2. Your positive attitude will affect the culture in the sickroom. Don’t be afraid to decorate the room with what makes you happy.
3. You don’t have to worry about the outcome, that’s God’s job. Avoid the ‘what if’ game.  Read books by Patrick F. McManus or other authors with a well-developed sense of humor.
4. Levity belongs in hospitals—don’t be afraid to watch funny movies, laugh out loud and crack corny jokes.
5. Keep God’s promises hidden in your heart (or taped to the IV pole).

What about you? Do you have any funny hospital stories to share?

Obedience – It’s All in the Love!

High energy, cute and has perfect obedience  – – when she feels like it.

She has perfect obedience skills, if she wants

She has perfect obedience, if she wants…

That’s our new-this-spring mini-Aussie puppy.  We love her.  But when she doesn’t feel like obeying? She does exactly what she wants.  And lately what she wants, is to jump.  She loves jumping somewhere near your face.  Actually, preferably ON your face.  She’s got springs for legs and can actually almost get my face on a leap from the ground.  I’ve been desperately trying to teach her “off”.

She’s not interested in that particular skill.  I push her off the bed and she slides off with all her brakes on.  I yank her off my face when she leaps up against my shoulder while I’m on the couch.  I shove her off my new shirt before she can snag it.  “Off!” I insist.  She leaps and licks.  She happily and completely ignores my command.

I’m the dog trainer around here.  I make her obey.  I’ve trained her.  She sits on command.  She lies down on command.  She shakes hands.  She rolls over.  She jumps (on command).  She speaks.  She even plays dead (although it’s a very excited little ‘dead’).

Why won’t she get off?

Friday night, as I pulled her off the back of the couch yet again, insistently telling her “Off!” I said aloud to no one in particular, “Why does she obey me so well at times and not at all when I tell her to get off.  Again I pushed her and pronounced firmly, “Off!”

And it hit me.

The first training I did was “sit”.  We had pieces of cheese and any time she got near obeying, I rewarded with cheese and excitement.  I taught her to go to different family members by each one holding cheese to reward her for seeking out the right person.  I taught her to play dead by giving the order, pushing her over and immediately rewarding her with high praise and cheese.  Training was a joy and a game to a working dog like this little Australian Shepherd.

For some unknown reason, it had never occurred to me to teach her off when I wasn’t actually wanting her off.  It had never been a game, it had never been rewarded.  It had never been demonstrated unless I was frustrated and she felt like failure.  When my tone of voice was stern, she didn’t want to obey, she wanted to slink away.  When I was frustrated at her jumping into my face and hollered, “Off!” she knew she was in the wrong and wanted to apologize – by licking my face!

So Friday night I followed my exuberant puppy down the hallway where she had leaped onto the bed where my husband lay reading.  “Gemma,” I spoke happily, “Off!”  I pointed off the bed.  She stared at me and leaned against my husband.

“Come on girl, Off!”  I pointed at the floor and she looked at me.

“Off!”  I gently pushed her off the bed and as soon as she hit the floor, I praised her extravagantly and patted her with joy.  “Good girl!” I crooned.

“Up!”  I patted the bed encouragingly, “Up!”  She hesitated, double-checking my face and then leaped up onto the bed in ecstasy.  I praised her.  Petted her.  And told her to get off.

She stared at me and leaned over the edge of the bed.  “Off!”  I repeated.  She sadly got off and as soon as she landed I praised her.  She began to jump with joy.  We played the up and down game for about 5 minutes, with lots of hugs and pats and praise.

Last night, when she leaped onto the couch and jumped at my face I steadied my voice and said encouragingly, “Off!”  She looked at me with regret, but jumped down onto the floor and awaited my praise for a job well done.

It’s all in the tone. It’s in the expectation.  It’s in the practice.  It’s in the love.

Now I don’t want to compare our children to our dogs…but, well… I’m going to compare our children to our dogs. Children want to obey too.  But first we have to let them know our expectations.  When I used to teach grades 1-3 and had student teachers they often told me how amazed they were at how much we practiced obeying in my classroom.  I explained to them that practicing how to do it right prevented me from having to discipline them for doing it wrong later.  I wouldn’t have to waste learning time later, if I taught them how to do it right before they had a chance to mess up.

I start teaching again in a few weeks, so this timely post is for me, as much as you mom, dad, teacher, Pastor.  We have to share our vision – explain what we want to see, hear.  We have to practice.  We have to speak with a loving tone and not teach in a moment of anger or frustration. Expecting obedience?  It’s all in the tone, in the expectation, in the love.

Expecting obedience? It's all in the tone, in the expectation, in the love. #inspirememonday Click To Tweet

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Six Steps to Protect Your Mental Health

Protect Your Mental Health

by Jon Beaty

How to Protect Your Mental Health

If you haven’t taken steps to protect your mental health, your risk of developing mental illness is higher than it needs to be.

We all know people who suffer from mental disorders. You may have already suffered, or still suffer from our own mental illness. But, if you’re fortunate enough to have been spared from mental illness, don’t let your guard down.

None of us is immune to mental illness.

None of us is immune to #mentalillness. 6 proactive steps to protect your #mentalhealth. Click To Tweet

I endured personal struggles with mental illness at a time when I was trying to launch a career as a mental health therapist. A difficult childhood. A troubled marriage. Dissatisfaction with work. Lack of sleep. Poor nutrition. They piled up and left me depressed.

Most people will go to great lengths to avoid admitting something’s wrong in their brain. They’ll minimize it, denying anything is wrong until they can’t hide it anymore.

I did that.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But, in our culture, mental illness still carries a stigma.

Awareness of mental illness has grown, but many people still suffer in silence. Their illness remains a dark secret. They fake a smile, act “normal,” and sometimes hold down a job, while their inner world is in turmoil.

I’ve been shocked more than once when someone I knew committed suicide. This ultimate act of despair is too common.

We need to stop brushing signs of mental illness under the rug as if they’ll just go away. Mental illness is at epidemic levels. Even with the proliferation of pharmaceutical treatments designed to improve mental health, the prevalence of mental illness is at its highest levels in known history, and greatest in the most developed countries.

All of us are at risk of mental illness. Some are at greater risk because of their genetic inheritance. Others are at risk because of damage to their brain, or abuse and attacks on their sanity. And some are at risk because of exposure to destructive toxins.

In my own experience with mental illness, I turned to a helpful psychologist to start on a path to better health. Many people find talking with a professional counselor helpful. Medication can also reduce the effects of debilitating symptoms.

But’ whether you’ve experienced mental illness or not, there are steps you can take to strengthen your brain, increase your happiness, and have a thriving life. Psychotherapy and medication by themselves may keep the illness from getting worse. For the person still struggling with mental illness, these steps can help you recover, and enjoy life. For the person free of mental illness, these steps can protect your mental health.

1. Discover your story.

God brings each of us into this world as part of a story. Discovering your place in this story gives your life meaning. Meaning is essential to well-being.

Without meaning and purpose, we wander aimlessly, become disillusioned, and increase our risk for illness and an early death. One study revealed that a strong sense of purpose lowers the risk of death by 20 percent! Other studies have linked a sense of purpose to lower stress levels, greater ability to bounce back from traumatic experiences, and protection against Alzheimer’s.

Discover your place in the universe. Join a cause greater than yourself.

2. Cultivate positive relationships.

We are designed for positive relationships. We thrive when we surround ourselves with people who encourage the best in us.

Take note of these facts from research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences:

When we surround ourselves with friends whose moods are more positive than negative, we strengthen our resistance to depression.
If we’re already depressed and surround ourselves with positive relationships, we double the chance of recovery.
Join communities that possess positive attributes you’d like to cultivate in your own life.

3. Enjoy nature.

Humans were designed to thrive in outdoor green spaces. Most of us spend the majority of our lives shut away from the natural world. But God didn’t design humans to be stuck in a chair all day, crowded into a cubicle, hunched over a desk, or shut up in a classroom.

People who routinely access green spaces report less mental distress and higher life satisfaction.

Make a habit of getting outside at least once a day where you can enjoy trees, oceans and streams, flowers, green grass, or a garden.

4. Eat well.

When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He provided everything they needed to flourish, including edible plants for their nutrition. In 2012, researchers at Dartmouth University revealed that fruit and vegetable consumption are directly correlated with psychological well-being, more than the effect of being unemployed. They recommend between 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies a day.

There’s plenty of evidence on the negative effects of processed food, and the benefits of whole foods. This evidence often focuses on the benefits to the heart, and hips. But whatever nutritional damage or repair we do to our body has a direct impact on the health of our brain.

Discover and dine daily on the foods you need for optimal health.

5. Sleep well.

The brain repairs itself in sleep. Anything less than seven hours of sleep at night impairs the brain’s ability to produce the hormones that help us resist the negative effects of stress, think clearly, and experience positive emotions.

Guard your sleeping hours and learn and put into practice what helps you get the most restful sleep.

6. Receive and give love.

Love is the essential energy that drives the human soul. Unlike many other mammals, human children are designed to be nurtured in a loving family, by their parents, until they reach adulthood.

Regardless of the culture they grow up in, children who feel rejected by their parents, especially by their fathers, feel greater anxiety, insecurity, and aggression toward others than children who feel loved by their parents. These feelings often linger into adulthood.

Even with parents who gave their best, many of us entered adulthood feeling an emptiness at our core, myself included. Many of us have turned to other relationships or addictions to fill the emptiness we feel. That experience left deep and open wounds.

God is the ultimate source of love. A thriving life depends on our ability to receive God’s love, and give it away.

Nothing reveals God’s love and how to receive it better than the life and death of Jesus Christ. His life of generous giving is a model for us to follow.

Immerse yourself in your favorite Gospel story until it ignites a warm glow inside of you. Then share that glow with others.

There’s a growing body of research that shows a positive correlation between acts of kindness and better health. For example, more than one study has shown that charitable acts reduce the negative effects of stress on our physical health.

We were designed to give love as much as we receive it. When we do, life improves for others as much as it does for the giver.

What are you doing to protect your mental health? Share with a comment below.

 

Jon Beaty

Jon Beaty is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in mental health care. For fun, he and his family keep Boer goats and honeybees on their mini-farm in Estacada, Oregon. Jon is author of the book If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work. A free sample is available
at www.jonbeaty.com.

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an Inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom to share my #inspirational story at #InspireMeMonday. Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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God’s Timing Is Not All About Me

 

God's timing for our house was perfect. God's timing for our lives is perfect!

God’s timing for our house was perfect. God’s timing for our lives is perfect!

It’s been proven to me, yet again, that God’s timing is perfect.  That His will is best.  That I need to learn to relax: God’s got things under control.  That life is not all about me, that there are others needing things to happen as well.

This spring and early summer has been a crazy time for our family.  My husband and I traveled from one end of the country to the other trying to determine God’s will for our lives (jobs, kids, housing, etc).    After securing a job in California, we decided to post our house as “For Sale by Owner” and let God do His thing.

God’s ‘thing’ was to wait.  God sat quietly while I packed and worried.  We had no place to live in California, and we had no bites on our house.  I packed.  I fretted.

I tried not to, I really did.  I prayed often throughout the day and gave my worries to God – over and over again.  As those sneaky little worries kept coming back, I’d pray them away again.

Our family has been reading a book called “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson.  Mark talks about making prayers specific, circling the problem with prayer and waiting for God to act.  I decided, without telling anyone (but eventually caving and telling a few) of my circled prayer request:  “God, please sell our house within next two weeks (well, you know it takes longer than that to go through, but sign a contract of intent) and please sell it for over $___,___.  At the same time, Lord, I’d like your will to be done.  This is my specific prayer – but You do what’s best.”

This was big for me!  I don’t like the idea of putting God in a box of impressing my will upon His.  But I prayed that prayer, over and over.  And while I prayed, I let go of the worries.  Things would work out.

The phone rang frequently about the house.  Several people came to look.  Dozens of real estate agents hard hit to sell for me.  I stayed strong in the belief that God was going to take care of this house.  We had a real estate agent/friend who was willing to help us  as a friend, not an agent) to save cost. We waited.  We hunted for housing in California and we cleaned and packed in our house in Kansas.

Two weeks.  Time’s up.  Nothing.  No housing in Cali, no house sale in Kansas.  What?  Lord?  I drew the circle, I prayed.  It wasn’t His will.  Story of my life.  I’m pretty sure it’s because my will and His will are not always aligned and so through “unanswered prayers” I try to maintain faith.

Time flew into 3 ½ weeks and the truck was coming in 5 days.  I dejectedly packed yet another box and wondered what God had in mind.  My husband sat at the table with a computer and a phone.  No housing.  No sale.  We discussed options and they were all discouraging.  At last we decided that if God didn’t sell our house by Thursday, we would list it with an agent and if nothing came free in California, we would lease long-term (not a financially sound decision we were wanting).  We prayed and left it at that.  I went back to my boxes and my husband went back to his papers.

The phone rang.  A man in California told us a month-by-month rental had come available LAST NIGHT.  It’s small (tiny) but live-able, would we like it?

Oh yeah.

I packed more and my husband put away his papers and packed in the garage.  The phone rang.  “Your house is exactly what I’m looking for,” exclaimed the excited woman on the phone.  “Hold the house for me until I get off work!”

Amy (not her real name) came over and walked in the door pronouncing the house to be everything she was looking for – she criticized nothing (and believe me, there’s plenty to pick on) and let me know she wanted the house.  It felt too good to be true.

Amy told us she’d call the next day with an offer and I waited thinking we’d never hear from her again.  Things didn’t happen this smoothly.  She called the same night and we talked.  She didn’t know what she was doing, without a real estate agent, and neither did I.  I told her of our friend and we set up an appointment with him.

She told me how thrilled she was with the house.  I took a breath and let her know for me, this was a “God thing.”  I said, “I don’t know of your beliefs, but this is an answer to prayer for us.”  I told her that we had decided to list and she laughed and said if we had listed, she wouldn’t have noticed it.

Amy described to me how her life had fallen into rough times and after selling her house, following a divorce, she had to find a house in the area in order to keep her kids in their school, but she couldn’t afford most houses in the area.  She told how she was looking for a ‘sale by owner’ in order to save costs and get a slightly better house.  She told of losing her phone and the discouragement at not being able to look for houses because she couldn’t get online any more.  She told of her boss getting her a new phone that morning and her sister telling her to relax.  “God does not have your house ready for you, Amy, just relax and let Him find your house.”  Just seconds before she called me, she made the choice to download Zillow, the house-hunting app I used to post our house.

This house sale is a God thing.  Prayed for by me.  Prayed for by Amy.

God did not meet my timetable.  He missed it by over a week.  But God was not sitting quietly while Amy and I fretted and worried.  He was busying arranging houses and money the way it was needed. God missed my prayer target, because He was busy arranging the needs of more than one person, in His time!

It’s not all about me, God’s timing involves so many angles we can’t even begin to understand.  Thank you Lord, for taking care of our needs.

God missed my prayer target, because He was busy arranging the needs of more than one person.… Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


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Celebrate the Fourth With a Few Bald Facts

Bald Eagle

 

I thought it fitting to write about our nation’s symbol on the day we celebrate our Independence from England and the formation of a new country—one based on the ideal of equality for all (a work in progress, because we all suffer from human nature). I’ve learned a few things over the years about Bald Eagles that I thought I’d share with you (along with some photos I took in Valdez, AK yesterday where I stumbled across a convocation of eagles).

1. That eagle scrBaldEagleeam you hear in the movies isn’t real. Well, it’s a real scream, but it belongs to the eagle’s smaller cousin, the Red-tailed Hawk. Evidently Hollywood types wanted a more dramatic call, so they do voiceovers for the regal eagles. An eagle sounds more like a combination between a gull and a chicken. I vote we let eagles have their voice back.

2. Eagles mate for life. Mostly. They don’t choose a mate until they reach the age of four or five, and they stay together until one of them dies. If the pair’s eggs don’t hatch, they may separate and seek another mate. Bald Eagles can live up to 40 years in the wild. That means that they stay faithful for about 30-35 years (which we could all learn from).

 

 

 

 

 

bald eagle

3. If you see a pair of
eagles, the bigger one is the female.
Female eagles weigh 25% more than their mates and have the bigger wingspan (up to eight feet). Both the male and the female build the nest, incubate the eggs, and feed the young. Eagle offspring may hang out with their parents for up to a year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bald eagle4. Eagles have training wheels. Ok, not really, but their longer flight feathers serve the same purpose. Until they experience their first molt (after they have learned to fly well), a young eagle may look bigger than its parents because it has longer flight feathers that aid it with its flight lessons.

5. Benjamin Franklin was only partially correct. He disdained the choice of the Bald Eagle as the national bird because he had observed that they stole from other animals, ate carrion, and allowed smaller birds to harass them. While eagles to eat carrion and do steal food from other hunters, they also do a fair amount of their own hunting, and have even been known to hunt cooperatively with a family member (one distracts the prey whilst the other swoops in from behind). Eagles also hunt and eat other birds—but they don’t usually bother with the ones smaller than mallards.
6. Eagles don’t just represent strength for a nation. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that if we wait (live in expectation, to be ready and available) on the Lord, he’ll renew our strength and we’ll soar on wings like the eagle.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm sharing my #inspirational story with my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom. Join us! #InspireMeMonday Click To Tweet

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Freedom Might Require a Step (with Him)

Freedom in Jesus might require a step of faith

Freedom in Jesus might require a step of faith

The chanting crescendoed behind me as I drew in a deep breath and answered the question, “Señora, ¿Siga?” (Ma’am, are you going next?)

I nodded and stepped forward while the chanting rose and fell.  “Libertad, libertad, libertad!” screamed the worshippers we had passed way back on the mountaintop ridge trail.  The chant bounced off the mountains and back at us as we had climbed upward and then down to the launching point.  It accompanied the first of our group as they plummeted off the zip-line platform down into the clouds to the other side of the valley in these gorgeous Guatemalan mountains.

I was next.  I volunteered.  My daughter, Karina, and I were on a trip of a lifetime together and she was waiting to try zip lining.  I didn’t want my fear to overcome me.  I really didn’t want to chicken out and ruin things for her.  “Libertad!” bounced around me again.  “Freedom, freedom, freedom!” It no longer held any semblance of singing, but rather was just bellowed, over and over again from the worshippers in the distance.

Why did I volunteer to go next?  I couldn’t even see where I was headed.  The cable stretched out off the mountainside, but disappeared into some clouds before you could see where it landed.  Hands fastened my belt and snugged down the straps across the shoulders.  I felt a jerk as they tested the clips.  They handed me the handle and the guide said in Spanish, “Just take a step, Ma’am, and the mountain will do the rest.”

Yes.  The mountain would do the rest.  NOTHING would be between me and the tippy-tops of the trees way below.  I breathed deep and swung my foot out over nothing.  My other leg shook a bit.  I put my foot back down.

Just a step?

Just a step?

“Really?” I questioned the guides, “Just step?”

My gaze couldn’t help but wander down the cliff to the trees far below.  Just step.  I didn’t have to run, or jump, or anything. Just step and let the mountain do the rest.

“Libertad!” screeched the worshippers again, “Freedom!”

I glanced back at Karina and swung my foot forward again.  My shaky back foot lifted up and suddenly any pretense of control over my life was gone.  I was flying!  I flew over the trees and without further thought my mouth opened and I screamed.  Wind whistled by my face and trees whirled under my feet.  Weightless and effortless, my journey carried me forward through the fog and across the valley.  My scream gurgled into laughter and as I approached the platform on the opposite mountaintop I felt a certain resistance in my soul.  My life was coming back under control.  I would swing into the platform and my wild ride would be over.  I looked back down into the tree-tops and I laughed aloud again. “Freedom!”

I landed safely and watched from the trail as my daughter came flying across the valley to my side of the mountain.  She landed with a brilliant smile and a quick, “That was Awesome!” and we climbed up the mountain to the return zip line that was higher and stretched several hundred yards farther.

The chanting was fainter from this side of the valley, just barely heard across the breezes.  I stepped forward as they fastened my harness back onto the zipline.  “Step forward whenever you’re ready, Señora,” directed the guide.

I smiled and stepped.  My heart yelled, “Freedom!” as I zipped across the tree tops and swung out across the huge expanse of valley below.  I screamed on this trip too, but not from terror, more from just joy in the moment.  I laughed my way through the cloud and felt joy flood through my whole body at the views of the valleys below and the multi-hued green of the forest canopy and I flew right on into the platform on the other side.  That WAS awesome.

Taking a step to FLY!

Taking a step to FLY!

My daughter arrived shortly after I did, having braved being harnessed so that she was hanging hands-free and spread-eagle “como superman” they all said.

In the glow of conquering our fears, we took a picture, the zip line in the background and the chant, “Libertad, freedom,” still ringing around the mountains.

We took that step of faith to experience the amazing thrill of a zip line!

We took that step of faith to experience the amazing thrill of a zip line!

That was spring break.

A week from today the moving truck arrives.  We move from Kansas to California.  From teaching high-school to teaching middle-school as well as high-school.  From having one child at university and two at home to having two at university and only one left at home.  From working for my husband to working with another principal.  From friends I know, to complete strangers.  From a house we own to a place we don’t even know yet (yes, you read that right, we do not even have a rental – pray we find one before our truck has to unload our things four days after loading).  My life has no feeling of control.

“Ma’am,” says My Guide, “Are you going next?”

I glance around me, fear holding that back foot into place.  My foot swings out over space and I hang tight onto my harness.  My house, my neighborhood, the school I know, the safe church family, students I already know how to handle, friends and even a singing group.  They’re here and they’re safe.  I have no idea what’s on the other side of the clouds I have to sail through and I have no clue what’s going to happen once I land on that platform on the other side.

Somewhere I hear a faint chant, “Libertad, freedom, freedom.”

“My daughter,” respectfully whispers My Guide, “you just have to step.  I will do the rest.”

With God, we just have to take a step. He'll do the rest, and give us freedom. #inspirememonday Click To Tweet

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


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Five Ways to Make Church a Haven for the Hurting

make church a havenToday’s guest post comes from Amanda Goodman, a brave woman who shares her struggle with mental illness because she wants Christians to understand that they can make church a haven for the hurting. You can find other posts in this series here.

On January 26, 2011, our daughter, Brianna Ruby Goodman, was born in Minnesota. I immediately felt different and didn’t know if it was normal. I was hyper, talkative, couldn’t sleep, and even had delusions. My husband, David, and I were not prepared for what was happening with me. He arranged an appointment at the Mental Health Clinic on Valentine’s Day and the counselor talked to me briefly. She looked me in the eye and said, “You are manic.” I was familiar with the term as my Dad has Bipolar Disorder.

Things got worse. I had Postpartum Psychosis. In my psychotic state, I believed there was a birthday party for me and without understanding, I checked myself into the hospital the day before my 31st birthday. I was hospitalized for a week and left heavily medicated with the diagnosis of Postpartum Psychosis with Bipolar Onset.

After this manic episode, I went into a depression common with Bipolar. Depression is horrible and I just felt numb and apathetic. It lasted about 2 years. I went through a long trial of medications to find one for me. My husband supported me by going with me to the psychiatrist frequently. I finally went on Lithium.

My family and I moved back to Charlotte, NC. I began having to help with my parents’ care. In March 2014, I was trying to take care of my Dad after my Mom had moved into Assisted Living. I was very stressed managing their care and I could feel the mania in my body. I was losing more sleep which continued to work in a downward spiral. I decided to give up my keys, my journal and my phone.

mental health awarenessA few days later, I got angry with my father-in-law, grabbed his collar and he called the police. He knew I needed help. I talked to the policeman and he had to handcuff me in order to take me to treatment. Handcuffs and a police car are designed to be painful!

I was hospitalized again for 10 days. While in the hospital, I felt so close to God and enjoyed group sessions and therapy.
I have Bipolar but I am a child of God, a child of the One True King. I believe that God wants me to share my (mental health) story for His Glory. God has reminded me of a passage in 2 Corinthians several times. One part is “ My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10).

Why is church a hard place to go when you have a mental illness?

When I went from mania into depression, it was extremely difficult to go to church each week. It was one of the hardest places I had to go. I think it was hard because most of us have our masks on at church and we are not willing to be authentic with each other. It was much easier for me to pretend and tell people that I was fine rather than to admit I was struggling. I couldn’t find the words to explain my feelings with depression. I think depression is like tires being stuck in ruts. It is hard to get moving and hard to explain to others why you feel apathetic.

Five Ways to Make Church a Haven

  1. We are all broken. It is important to remember that we are all broken in need of restoration.
  2. We all need God. As Christians, we need to be willing to walk alongside people who are struggling with mental illness/illnesses and love them like Jesus.
  3. You don’t need to ‘fix’ anyone. It is ok to sit with someone and say nothing at all. The person may need you to be there when they feel like talking.
  4. Remember your Es. We should encourage one another and show empathy. We have to be willing to love people where they are or when they feel unlovable. Also, we need to remember that we do not know how a person is feeling inside.
  5. Churches need to be like hospitals (because we are all broken), not like courtrooms where people are judged. We do not need to be embarassed to discuss mental illnesses or cases of suicide. People who commit suicide were really struggling and didn’t know how to ask for help. We need to break down the mental health stigma by sharing more with others without being paralyzed by fear, shame or embarassment.
#Churches should feel like hospitals, not courtrooms. #mentalillness #bipolar Click To Tweet

There are many mental illnesses and each has different physical, emotional and mental characteristics and different treatments or therapy. It becomes complicated. Treatment requires using trial and error with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other trained professionals. With my Bipolar, I finally found the two medicines that work for me. Someone else with Bipolar may have different medicines they use. It is our human tendency to want to fix a problem by putting a band-aid on it. Unfortunately, some things are not solved quickly and do not go away like mental illnesses.

When I was manic at the beginning of my mental health journey, Brianna’s great-grandparents and other family came to take care of Brianna. We were receiving meals from my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, and kindly women kept our house clean and even did our laundry. I know it sounds strange but I wasn’t even able to do our laundry. So it was a blessing for us to have all of this help and a sacrifice from those families! To this day, I don’t know who helped with laundry and it doesn’t really matter. They were being the hands and feet of Jesus!

As the church, let’s be willing to step out of our comfort zone so people do not feel alone. Let’s be authentic, discuss mental health and share our masks in order to provide Hope. It is not all about us. We must realize that it is ok to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus and remember that we personally may have to struggle in order for people feel and experience God’s love.

make church a haven
Biography: Amanda Goodman was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. I attended Meredith College and majored in Child Development with K-6 licensure. After marriage, she and her husband moved to Minnesota, where her daughter was born. She taught second grade for seven years. She and her husband David and daughter Brianna live live in North Carolina.  She loves Jesus and lives out her faith by sharing her story for His glory.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an inspirations post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Life’s a Mess – Be Still and Sing

Life can be a mess - sing anyway

Life can be a mess – sing anyway

Life can be a mess.  It might be a quiet mess and you can’t tell anyone what’s going on, or maybe it’s  loud mess while you’re moving across the country or you’re the prime number one spot on people’s prayer chains.

Maybe your family is going in all directions and you don’t know what’s going to happen and your brain spins in a desperate attempt to sort it all out.

Maybe sadness eats at your soul and the loss of your husband of 60 years tears at your heart.

Maybe distance is separating you from someone you love.  Maybe someone you love is creating distance.

Maybe college feels impossible.  Maybe your older child cannot find a summer job and therefore might not make it to college.

Maybe you are afraid your house isn’t going to sell or maybe you won’t find a house to buy.

Maybe heaven can’t come soon enough to reunite you with your son.  Maybe the disease carried by your loved one is carrying you away.

Life can be a mess.  A loud mess or a quiet mess.

And either way, here are God’s words to you today.  Just for today, my friend.

God says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10 NIV

How do I know?  Because all of the above has been on my mind this week.  All.Of.It.  Now all of the above mess is not just mine – but I know people who are struggling with each thing listed.

Life can be, and has been for me, overwhelming.  I sat outside on my porch swing tonight, thinking about writing something “inspirational” and snickering at the thought that I had anything to offer a reader.  Suddenly my son appeared with my camera in hand, trying to catch the cardinal singing heartily from the tree.  And while I was focusing on the beautiful red feathers, just beyond the range of the camera I spotted a dear grazing in the dusk.  I came inside to put away the camera and my verse of the day came up:

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

In the midst of life's mess - be still and let God be exalted!

In the midst of life’s mess – be still and let God be exalted!

Life can be a mess - sing anyway #inspirememonday #blessedbutstressed Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Five Tips for Celebrating National Survivors Day

National Survivors DayToday we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day—a day to celebrate survivorship as well as bring attention to the fact that winning cancer doesn’t always signify that the battle has ended.

Life after #cancer exists, but one should never expect it to follow familiar trajectories.… Click To Tweet

It’s a day to cheer on those who survived as well as acknowledge that survivors face ongoing challenges. Cancer changes everything—it changes one both physically and financially; it causes trauma in family members and caregivers; it can alter the course of one’s career.

All too often the survivor never mentions the subtext of those multiple ‘survivorships.’ But the reality of life post cancer can prove just as overwhelming as life during cancer.

In our case, cancer’s ravages left Pedro in a weakened state that took over a year to recover from. To this day, he has neuropathy (nerve damage) in his right foot that prevents him from enjoying hiking great distances. The chemo drugs also caused necrosis (death) of the bones in his hips and about seven years after cancer he had to go through core decompression surgery on one of his hips. Eventually, he’ll need a hip replacement.

Each of those subsequent treatments puts a financial strain on our family. A clean bill of health doesn’t mean that a survivor no longer has to worry about financial stresses and corollary health issues. It took us 12 years to pay off cancer. For some families, it takes even longer.

The emotional toll can nibble at different family members like a piranha, quietly wounding the soul until the wound festers and rises to the surface. In retrospect, I wish I would have signed the family up for counseling to treat the wounds as they happened—it may have made a difference. On the other had, I can’t let regret become a piranha in my life.

Cancer survivorship can cause upheaval at work as well. Pedro lost his job because of his cancer, and it took nine long years and additional schooling to rejoin the education workforce as a full-time employee again.

Of course, his experiences during those nine years working in construction, building a house, substitute teaching, and going to school uniquely prepared him for the job he holds now as the principal of a private school that operates almost exclusively on donations.

Remission from Cancer Doesn’t Equal Remission from Its Consequences

#Remission from #cancer doesn't mean remission from it's consequences. #NCSD2016 Click To Tweet

These five tips for celebrating a survivor will help you think outside the box when it comes to celebrating with a survivor.

1. When you celebrate a survivor, remember that that battle might not be over—it’s just being fought on a different front.
2. Continue to come alongside a survivor (which means listen more and talk less).
3. Don’t be afraid to ask sensitive questions—What do you find the most difficult part of your life after cancer? or I know you’re in remission, but do you still need support in any way?
4. Offer to help. Maybe the survivor could use free childcare once a month to reconnect with a spouse. Perhaps the survivor needs help cleaning the house or shopping for groceries as they build back their strength.
5. Give advice sparingly (and only when asked). Survivors don’t need to hear about your neighbor George’s second-cousin-once-removed who had cancer and went on to win an Olympic medal).

What about you? Do you have a survivor you’d like to acknowledge?  Tell us a little about them and their battle and leave a line of kudos and encouragement (and don’t forget to let them know in person, too). 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


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Finding Haven on Earth

havenI didn’t leave a letter out on this post’s title.  I really want to talk about finding haven on earth, not ‘heaven’.  Because, well, we won’t find heaven down here.  But we can find haven. Harbor. Port. Refuge. Favorable opportunities.

For me, a haven represents anything that brings peace to my soul.  Sometimes I find it in church when my voice raises with other congregants as we sing praises to our God and king. Other times, I find haven in the strangest places.

havenI laid on my stomach and drank in the dark blue of the Colorado River as it wandered slowly around Horseshoe Bend.  I inhaled the scent of dew-kissed desert rock in the cool morning air and adjusted my grip on the tripod.  As the sun rose behind me it lit the tops of the high canyon walls and sharpened their reflection in the water below.  I dared not shift too much, after all, I lay on the edge of a precipice that dropped 1000 feet down to the river below.  Haven.  A place to rest in safety and retreat to capture the beauty that God created.

haven at horseshoe bend

Later that afternoon, we lined up with a small tour group and followed Lennard, our tour guide, into the narrow confines of Upper Antelope Canyon.  I have seen photos of this magical place, but with the hundreds of tourists and their guides all visiting the same narrow slot canyon at the same time, I doubted I’d find any haven.haven

But I did.  I also discovered that in order record the stunning shafts of light shining in from above, tour guides kick of throw sand into the air.  The drafts of wind in the canyon pull the lighter debris upwards, and the light stands out like pillars.  Without the junk, we wouldn’t see the light.  Which reminds me of life.  Without the junk, we wouldn’t see the Light.

Without the junk, we wouldn't see the Light. Finding haven on earth. Click To Tweet

What about you?  What does ‘haven’ mean to you and where do you find it?

What I Learned in May (aka Mental Health Awareness Month)

mental health awareness month

Ignorance can kill you (or at least hurt someone you love) #mentalhealth #stopthestigma Click To Tweet

Until last March, I had very little awareness of the varity and severity of different mental health issues.  I used the word ‘crazy’ with abandon and insensitivity.  If people didn’t agree with me, or their actions seemed incomprehensible to my moral code or background, I wrote them off as loco.

Things have changed. Our family went through a harrowing journey when our youngest daughter experienced an epic manic episode–not her first one, evidently, but the first one that we witnessed and experienced with her.

I don’t use the words crazy or loco any more.

This year, I decided to focus on bringing awareness to others about the different mental health challenges that ordinary people face.  Since I didn’t know much, I called on other brave souls to write about their experiences and share them with our readers.

I learned a lot.  In no particular order, I’ll share the highlights with you.

  1.  I had no idea that harm OCD existed. Instead of the need to wash one’s hands repeatedly, suffers imagine that they will do bodily harm to those they love.
  2. Whilst prayer plays an important part in healing, Christians should avoid bad advice to those who disclose a mental anguish to them.
  3. Jim Miles taught me that ‘Leprosy’ in the Bible doesn’t just mean what we know as leprosy today.  It included acne and rashes and other skin disorders.  The point?  God made us smart enough to come up wtih therapies (medicinal and talk) that help us overcome our mental health issues such as post-partum depression.
  4. The church plays an important role coming alongside those who suffer from mental health problems (and their families).  Tara Ulrich gives some great advice.
  5. Marisa Slusarcyk shared with us the horrific cost of mental illness (and the fact that a person can suffer from more than one at a time). Bottom line? Don’t judge.  You never know what combination of chemistry and trauma brought on a person’s mental state.
  6. Don’t confuse adolsecent angst and defiance with the warning signs of the onset of bipolar disorder. You NEED to know the difference.  Education saves lives.
  7. Guest writer Marie Gregg made me think about anxiety disorders in a whole new way.
  8. Every heard of Caregiver PTSD? I called it chemo-brain by proxy. With more and more family members tending to the physical and emotional needs of the sick and elderly, the incidence of Caregiver PTSD will rise.
  9. Don’t ever think that people with PTSD make this stuff up. Be gentle in your interactions and once again, never judge. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser shares great advice on how to relate to someone with PTSD.

God created us with incredible capacities to learn, love, bounce back, adapt, change and thrive.  I challenge you to educate yourself about how you can best react to the hurting people around you. I’d also appreciate it if you would share any of these posts on your social media channels to help spread the word about mental health awareness. Together, we can purpose to #DoNoHarm and #Stopthe Stigma!

What I Wish Christians Knew About Harm OCD

Harm OCDEditor’s note: The following piece was submitted by an anonymous author.  Whilst many of us invision repeated hand washing, or perhaps Monk’s compulsion to have everything orderly when we hear the words ‘OCD,’ that isn’t the only kind of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It first happened six months after I turned eighteen, as I was walking to the chapel at my university for a required assembly. Palm fronds swished against a clear sky and a light wind brushed my face. I was thinking about how I wished I could stay in my dorm room and read rather than attend a required assembly with two thousand sweaty students.

The next thought sliced into my mind out of nowhere.

What if I stabbed a family member?

I stopped walking.

I did not just think that, I thought. I would never do that.

People surged past me, chattering about upcoming exams, the greasy cafeteria food, lack of sleep. I made myself start walking again, but my mind sank deep into thought.

How do you know you would never do that?

Because I love my family, I thought. Because I hate violence. I can’t even watch scary movies without a pillow over my face.

But does that mean you’ll never hover outside your brother’s door with the knife from the kitchen and—
Stop.
—sneak over to his bed and—
Stop, stop.

A gruesome image followed. I swore at myself to stop, to banish the image from my mind. By then I had come to the steps before the chapel. I climbed them slowly, my fingers clutching the metal rail.

You see, said my mind, you can imagine it. That means you might do it. Mightn’t you?

No.

Yes.

No, I wouldn’t. I could never do that. I love my family, I love my brother. Please, that’s enough.

How can you be sure you won’t hurt them?

I dropped into a wooden pew and tried to answer that question for the next hour. I failed, and for the rest of that week, my throat ached in the place where my mind told me I might draw a knife across a loved one’s neck. During work one evening, I called my mom, and I sobbed to her that something was wrong.

“Explain it, sweetie,” she said, but I didn’t dare. She would have no choice but to report me to the police if she did, or commit me to an insane asylum.

Sane people did not have these thoughts.

So my mom offered all she could: prayer.

But I had already begged God to take the thoughts and images away from me, and he had not answered.

I almost didn’t want to go home for the summer, for fear that I would fulfill the horrors my mind now paraded in front of me every day. I saw my life laid out before me: One day I would snap under the weight of the thoughts, and I would lose control and do the terrible thing, and then I would die in jail, a criminal who had never wanted to commit a crime. The thought slammed me into a place of crushing self-hatred. But then I knew—and this thought made me feel only slightly better—that before I let myself hurt anyone, I would kill myself first.

I tried to distract myself with my summer job, with spending time with my family. If they were all around me, where they could restrain me should I show signs of snapping, they were safe. One warm summer evening, we watched a movie that started to show my nightmare: a kid with a knife, entering his family’s house with a chilling look on his face. I left the room, slipped into the bathroom, and sat on the toilet lid, my face cradled in trembly hands. After half an hour, I edged back into the living room. I wanted to ask if the boy had done it, if he had done the unthinkable. But I didn’t, because if he had, might that not mean I could, too? It was better not to know.

Another year of college flew past, and then another summer. I tiptoed through life, avoiding situations that could cause me to hurt someone else: I stayed away from knives, from guns, from balconies. Each day I judged myself a murderer for the images that seared my mind, and one day in church as I sang a song about God’s love I felt that God had ditched me. I wanted nothing more than to meet him and ask him what was wrong with me. I wanted to talk to him in person, and ask him to heal me. Just then another horrible thought burned my mind and nearly pushed me to me knees.

I closed my mouth. The song swelled toward the ceiling. Clouds loomed over the stained-glass windows, shuttering all the light.

My biggest enemy, my snatcher of joy, lived within my own bones and smiled my smile, and not even God could squelch it.

Somehow I successfully completed a third year of college. During my senior year of college, I decided to look for help for another problem I’d been facing for years. After some online research, I ordered a book called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne. I decided to read from the beginning, and the book covers many types of anxiety disorders. I read disinterestedly about obsessive-compulsive disorder until I read this line:

“Obsessions may occur by themselves, without necessarily being accompanied by compulsions. In fact, about 20 percent of the people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder only have obsessions, and these often center around fears of causing harm to a loved one” (21).

I re-read that lifesaving line.

Eagerly I read on, and found this:

“It is very important to realize that as bizarre as obsessive-compulsive behavior may sound, it has nothing to do with ‘being crazy.’ You always recognize the irrationality and senselessness of your thoughts and behavior, and you are very frustrated (as well as depressed) about your inability to control them” (21).

Yes, that’s me, I thought.

On the next page, I got a morsel of information on how to help myself: cognitive therapy. “Fearful, superstitious, or guilty thoughts associated with obsessions are identified, challenged, and replaced. For example, the idea ‘If I have a thought of doing harm to my child, I might act on it’ is replaced with ‘The thought of doing harm is just ‘random noise’ caused by the OCD. It has no significance. Just having the thought doesn’t mean I’ll do it’” (22).

Reverently, I closed the book.

I was not psychotic, I was not evil, I was not a murderer. I probably suffered from some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I researched books specifically for OCD and found a well-rated one called The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD: A Guide to Overcoming Obsessions and Compulsions Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by John Hershfield and Tom Corboy. In this book I found the answer to the type of OCD from which I suffered: harm OCD, which centers around the fear of hurting loved ones. I spent hours reading about why the brain begins the thought processes it does. I learned that most people have fleeting thoughts of what if I hurt someone I love?

The difference between those people and people who suffer from harm OCD is that most people recognize such thoughts for what they are: meaningless thoughts, not threats. Their brains do not seize on the thoughts and launch into relentless cycles of questioning, fearing, and judging.

These two books started hoisting me out of the pool of darkness that I had swum in for three years. I still struggled with intrusive thoughts, but I fought the OCD with techniques I learned in the books I read. I got brave enough to search harm OCD on the Internet, and found out that, while the information on it is relatively new, hundreds of people have it—probably thousands—but few seek treatment because they are afraid of the same things I feared: that their family members will think them psychotic and evil, and that doctors and counselors will commit them to psychiatric hospitals or jail.

And sadly, sometimes the reaction to this mental illness is negative, but I have been lucky. In the past year I have told my mom, husband, and a handful of other family members and friends about my struggle with this illness, and each of them has emanated understanding.

Intrusive thoughts still plague me from time to time, and on some days I can deal with them better than others. But I’m determined to beat OCD. Each morning I make three requests of God, and one of them is that he help me conquer the OCD soon so that I can live the way I once did and worry about the things normal people worry about.

Because of my experience with OCD, I try to stay alert to clues that someone might be suffering from a mental illness they don’t understand, and while I pray that God comforts them, I also pray that he will lead them to the right tools to help them start to heal, as he did for me.

Don't confuse #OCD with #Monk--it's not just about straightening books. Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

Find some #inspiration with me over at @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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What I Wish Christians Understood about Cheer

cheerAre Kind Words Enough to Cheer Up an Anxious Person?

It says it right there in Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Unfortunately, some Christians believe kind words can serve as the only antidote to anxiety. They can’t. Kind words provide a corollary, but we should never assume that they provide the only or best answer to anxiety.

Some #Christians beleive that kind words provide the antidote to #anxiety. They don't. Click To Tweet

I have a generally upbeat, happy-go-lucky sort of attitude, so it took me awhile to understand our daughter’s bouts of paralyzing anxiety. She would call me in the middle of the night, crying and scarcely unable to verbalize her symptoms. I would kneel by her bed and murmur soothing things to her and pray with her and help her breathe. Eventually, she would fall asleep and I would return to bed and toss and turn for the rest of the night, wondering what we had done wrong in raising her to produce such deep anxiety.

Our routine seemed to work. In hindsight, I should have taken her to a therapist. I come from a background and era where we avoided coffee, tea, alcohol, loud music and psychiatrists. At this point in my life (after coming alongside a daughter with panic attacks and experiencing life with a daughter with bipolar disorder) I understand how my ignorance and attitudes prevented them from finding help sooner.

A quick search on the Internet shows that therapy (and possibly medication) can alleviate panic attacks, anxiety, and panic disorders. Sometimes, the symptoms can have a physiological basis (heart problems, thyroid problems or hypoglycemia, caffeine or illegal stimulant use). Other times, stressful events can bring on periods of intense anxiety (those who suffer often experience the same symptoms of someone having a heart attack).

If you or someone you love suffers from anxiety or panic attacks, take action.

1. Offer kind words such as “Have you ever considered seeing a therapist to help you with your panic attacks? I’d be happy to go along with you if you need mortal support.”
2. Commit to praying for them and with them (scientists are currently studying whether or not intercessory prayer provides healing results).
3. Avoid phrases such as, “What’s wrong with you? You have a nice home and a great family” or, “So and so has it worse than you do, and he or she never seems anxious.” Only God knows how people are knit together. Guilting someone does not bring cheer.
4. Personal faith in God does not provide immunity from anxiety or panic—it CAN make it easier to overcome the symptoms with the help of therapy and medicine.
5. Never assume that anxiety or panic prove that a person’s faith is weak.

Does the Bible lie or contradict itself? No. That verse in Proverbs simply says that anxiety weighs down a heart, and kind words can cheer someone up. Sometimes, those kind words need to come from a professional who knows how to guide a person through the emotional minefields that comprise the knots of heavy anxiety that produce panic attacks.

So be kind. Get help if you need it without shame or self-recrimination or help someone you know get help.

What I Wish Christians Knew About Prayer and Mental Health

demon possession and mental health

Are Mental Health Issues Demon Possession or Something Else?

Today’s guest post comes from Jim Miles.

My sister spent her twenties declaring that she would never, ever have children. By the time she reached thirty-three, however, things had drastically changed. Her insecurities over her ability to be a good parent gave way to the maternal instinct to nurture and love a baby. It was a joyous day when she sat on my living room couch and broke the news to our family that she was pregnant. The whole family rallied around her in excitement, but no one was more excited than my sister.

On January 1, 2006, my sister delivered the most beautiful baby in the world, a sweet little girl weighing 11 pounds, 6 ounces and sporting a natural fauxhawk. My little niece was the greatest gift to us all.

My sister loved her baby so much, but as she sat home with her precious newborn girl, she couldn’t stop imagining horrific accidents befalling her. It was an irrational fear that she simply couldn’t stop from replaying in her mind. Unable to shut it off, she became overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. The most joyous event of all of our lives was becoming, for her, a crippling fear born out of love.

My mother, unfortunately, didn’t understand mental health. She grew up in the era when depression was a taboo subject, something to be ashamed of. To her, someone with schizophrenia, for example, was hearing demons. Her lack of education on the subject blended with her strong faith for a perfect storm of ignorance. Although my sister knew my mother’s perspective on mental health, she was at a point of desperation when she confided in her about the darkness of her fears and anxiety. “It’s demons speaking to you,” insisted my mom with her characteristic certainty. “Pray them away. Just pray them away,” she told her. My mom was sure my sister just didn’t have enough to occupy herself, so she needed to pray away the demons who were stealing her joy.

My mom’s response to my sister’s postpartum depression and her ongoing anxiety and depression is, unfortunately, not uncommon in some Christian circles. Just last year, a wise Christian friend posted a meme on Facebook about prayer as the only means needed to treat depression. For those who live with chronic depression and anxiety, well-meaning spiritual advice can not only be damaging, it can rob them of the life God wants them to live—a life full of joy.

This declaration of mental illness as demons or other supernatural influences is rooted in a misunderstanding of the Bible. In his time here on earth, Jesus healed many lepers and cast out many demons. In the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, any time Jesus heals lepers, the footnote directs us to Leviticus 13 and 14 and the related footnotes, where we learn that leprosy was the traditional Hebrew word for “various diseases affecting the skin,” not the disease we know today. The Bible is a history, spiritual history, and life guidebook from God; it is not, however, a medical textbook for modern Christians. In other words, all the times Jesus healed leprosy, he may have been healing psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, or any number of other skin diseases.

Similarly, it’s important to understand the concept of demon-possession in the Gospels. Just as people of the day didn’t know of the different skin diseases, they didn’t know of the invisible health ailments that affect the body. It seems likely that when Jesus cast out demons, he was frequently casting out figurative demons. Just as having faith to move a Mathew 17:20 mountain doesn’t actually alter the location of Kilimanjaro but offers us faith to battle mountainous problems in our lives, demon possession was likely the ancient world’s understanding of medical ailments. For example, in Luke 11:14, Jesus casts a demon out of a mute man. Unlike in other instances, such as Matthew 8:28, there is no conversation with demons to report. Perhaps this man in Luke 11:14 had a figurative demon, plagued by selective mutism, severe anxiety, aphasia, or another health-related issue that affected his ability to speak.

Similarly, the demon-possessed girl in Mark 7:29 might have been healed from a neuromuscular disease, bipolar disorder, meningitis, or diphtheria. Jesus didn’t come to enlighten the world on medical problems; He would not have set the record straight on people he healed with schizophrenia, polio, or diabetes. Hence, both the people who were healed and the writers of the Gospels would have naturally thought these people were plagued with demons.

Today, we know the difference between aphasia and demon-possession. We know that diabetes can make children lethargic and emotional. Similarly, we know about glutamate and gamma-amino butyric acid deficiencies leading to major depression. We know that prescription drugs can be used to strengthen nerve-cell connections or to restore a balance of neurotransmitters in a person’s brain. There are very effective medications and therapies that change the lives of people who live with mental illness.

Knowing this, telling someone that all they should do is pray away mental illness is to lay on them a burden no one can bear. It implies that their faith or their love for Christ is not strong enough, as if there is something defective about whom they are and about their faith, a defect that gives them mental illness. As one friend with major depression was known to say about people who told her to pray away her condition, “If it was that easy, don’t you think I’d be better already?”

We would never tell ourselves or others to just pray away hypothyroidism, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, kidney disease, blood clots, or other invisible health issues; we would encourage them to seek medical treatment. Why then do we burden people (and ourselves) with the expectation that they should pray away medical issues affecting mental health?

This is not to say that prayer shouldn’t be part of the treatment equation. Whether you are fighting cancer, heart disease, or depression, you should be seeking God’s touch on your body and guidance for the doctors treating you.

Prayer should be part of the treatment equation--whether you have cancer or a #mentalillness. Click To Tweet

In John 15, Jesus instructs us to be a branch connected to Him as the vine and calls us into obedience, saying in verse 11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” People living with anxiety, depression, and postpartum depression should not use the Bible as a crutch to prevent them from treating an illness that robs them of their joy (in Christ or otherwise). Christ came to set us from free the bondage of sin and the need to earn his love through burdensome laws and rituals. Jesus came to set the captives free, not to shackle people with the sadness and fear that comes from untreated mental illness.

Thank God my sister didn’t settle for my mother’s advice. When prayer didn’t prove to be enough, she talked to her doctor, who helped create a treatment plan for managing her postpartum depression and anxiety. My sister tells me, “If I didn’t have medications, I guarantee you I would not be here today.” And, six years after having her first child, she gave birth to another beautiful girl, and there was no recurrence of postpartum depression.

Untreated depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues rob people of a joy-filled life, and too many well-meaning Christians offer advice on praying away mental health issues instead of directing others (and themselves) to seek effective medical care. We know medication and therapy help people with mental illness, so mental illness can’t be of a supernatural origin, from a lack of faith, or the result of demonic influence. After all, real demons don’t respond to pills like mental illness does.

We know medication and therapy help people with #mentalillness; therefore, it can't be of a… Click To Tweet

prayer and mental healthJim Miles has a B.S. in English Education and Bible from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and an M.B.A. frColton Silver Hero (NB)om Augsburg College. He is the author of Hero, a Christian superhero novel for readers aged 10-14. For more information, visit www.coltonsilver.com.

What Would You Try if You Knew You Had Already Won?

already wonWhat Would You Try if You Knew You Had Already Won?

“What time are you hoping to run it in?” the well-dressed, silver-haired runner in front of me asked as we waited in the chill morning air near the front of our color group.

“I just want to make it up Doomsday Hill faster than I did last time,” I said with a shrug. “What about you?”

“I want to finish in under an hour and thirty minutes,” she said, as she looked down at her race bib.

“Is this your first time running Bloomsday?”

“It is!” She shook her head. “Can you believe I’ve lived in Spokane all my life and this is the first time I’ve ever run it?”

“Good for you!” Sarah said.

“I’m sixty years old now, so I decided I had time to train and run this crazy race.” The lady looked doubtfully at her bib number again. “Although I’m not sure what I’m doing up in this group!”

“Did you run in another race to qualify?” I asked.

“No, my friend is one of the organizers, and he asked me what time I thought I’d get. When I got my bib I was shocked to find myself in the yellow group!”

“You’ll do fine,” I assured her. And then I looked at my own bib and wondered how I had ended up in the yellow group. After all, the yellow group was the third group back from the starting line!

“Do you have any advice for a first time runner?” she asked.

“Don’t start too fast,” I told her. “That’s what I did last time and by the time I hit Doomsday Hill I didn’t have any energy left. I plan on keeping my pace slower at the beginning of the race. You know,” I added, “As soon as I cross the starting line, I’m already a winner.”

She looked at me quizzically. “Do you mean because you’re out here running?”

“Sort of. I’m pretty sure that I’ll come in first place for runners from Holbrook, AZ. And I know I’ll be the first runner with my last name, since no one else in the world has the same last name!”

She laughed at my joke (I love it when people get my strange sense of humor).

“I’ll probably place pretty well for people from Arizona, and most of all, I want to beat my time from before and finish strong.”

already won

Some fun stats from the first time I ran Bloomsday in 2013.

Right about then a friend I hadn’t seen since last year texted and let me know they had found a spot at the back of our color group. I turned to Sarah and her friend Deanna, “Do you guys mind moving to the back of the group?”

“No problem,” Sarah said. “They won’t start timing us until we cross the starting line, so it doesn’t really matter where we start.”

We wished our new friend good luck and made our way a half a block back to find our old friend—not an easy task in a crowd of 45,000 runners. By the time the race started, we had our strategy worked out—run together for the first mile, and then meet up on the bridge after the finish line afterwards.

As I ran, my own words rang in my head. “I’m already a winner.” It didn’t matter how fast I ran or whether or not I beat my old record. I had won because I showed up. Sure, I wouldn’t win the prize money (that was reserved for people who finished in less than half my time), but I showed up. I ran. I had fun.

As I neared Doomsday Hill, I had already conquered Government Way (one-third a mile at 4% incline) and Cemetery Hill (including one-third a mile at almost 5% incline) and covered 4.75 miles.

already won

Yes, there really is a vulture at the top of Doomsday Hill!

I had actually prepared this time around, by running up and down the stairs at school every Tuesday and Thursday during my hour-long playground duty (I usually put in 20-50 flights). I huffed and I puffed and I didn’t slow down. I ran up all three-quarters of a mile of the 6.5% grade. When I saw the giant vulture at the top of the hill, I knew for sure that I would finish the race.

When I crossed the finish line I found Sarah and some other friends, and we rejoiced in our accomplishment. I finished faster than I did three years ago, AND I made it up Doomsday Hill faster this time—in fact, I ran the hill faster than most of the rest of the race!

As I traveled home, I kept thinking about ways we win. I felt empowered to run because I knew I had already won for my town and my last name. Silly, maybe, but it sure took the pressure off because I had a reward in hand (ok, bragging rights can’t be held, but you know what I mean).

How many things do I avoid in life when I don’t try because I fear ‘losing?’

Yeah. That book proposal I fear finishing and mailing to an agent. That broken relationship I fear mending because I don’t want to feel rejection. That project I started and haven’t completed because I fear I won’t like the results.

Even worse, I deny my relationship with Christ with my negative thinking—after all, he promised to be with me always (Matthew 28:20). We know that we can do ALL THINGS through his strength (Phil 4:13). And through Jesus, we are promised victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57) In other words, I’m already a winner. And so are you.

Don’t ever forget that you’ve already won when you follow Jesus.

What about you? Do you let fear prevent you from starting or finishing projects?

How I Wish the Church Would Treat Those With a Mental Illness

church would treat mental illness

Guest writer Tara Ulrich gives some great advice on how she wishes the church would treat mental illness.

“There are so many board and care facilities in the shadows of our steeples and we don’t even know they are there.” These very words jumped off the page at me as I researched my final paper for my Loss and Grief class during seminary. How often do these words ring true for the church? How can the church be better about reaching out to those who daily struggle with one of the many mental health issues in our world?

I am the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. My mom had a nervous breakdown shortly after my sister was born. Growing up, we didn’t know anything different. Yet growing up, my sister and I kept pretty silent about Mom’s illness because we saw the stigma associated with the illness. We didn’t want others to know that part of our story. We sat in the pews almost every week praying for the sick and those in need yet only our hearts knew that those prayers included prayers we were saying for our mom and our family.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until I was 18 years old and working at a Bible camp for the first time that I openly shared about our journey with mental illness. It makes me sad that I didn’t feel comfortable telling our story to anyone especially at church; the one place where we honestly should have been welcomed with open arms. Jesus himself was the first one to break bread with the downtrodden and the outcasts.

I am in no way here to condemn the church or God’s people, because I have been just as guilty as the next person. But I do want to share some ways that I believe the church and God’s people can make a difference in breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and mental health issues.

4 ways the church can help #stopthestigma surrounding #mentalillness. Click To Tweet

1. Get to know me and my mom. Learn what we are passionate about. Share in our hopes and dreams together. But most of all, simply listen to our story and learn from it. “The bravest thing you’ll ever do is tell your story”—Brene Brown

2. Learn more about Mental Health by attending a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) convention or read more at their website: www.nami.org. There are so many great resources available on their website.

3. Start a support group in your area. I am so thankful that my mom’s doctor was so good about asking us if we had any questions. It helped me to understand mom’s illness so much better. There is power in knowing you are not alone!

4. Pray for all who daily struggle with mental illnesses and their families. Include them in the prayers of the people during worship. Mark Mental Illness Awareness Month (Oct) and Mental Health Month (May) during worship in one way or another.

5. Shower them with God’s love!

It took me a long time to tell my family’s story, but know I cannot not tell our story since it is so much of who and whose I am. You may not ever fully understand my journey, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, you can reach out to me by simply showing me and my family—especially my mom—and all who suffer with mental health issues God’s love. Together we can embrace who and whose we are; beloved children of God!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

Find me today at the #InspireMeMonday link up! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Suspect Someone Has a Mental Health Issue? Read This

expect

People Never Expect to Have a Mental Health Problem

I didn’t expect to hear that my twenty-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in a text message from my sister-in-law—who heard it from someone who came along with the person who came to the emergency department to evaluate Sarah before the hospital released her in the wee hours of the morning (that’s the garbled version I understood of the events that transpired).

It strikes me as a casually callous way to hear the news that Sarah’s life would forever change. One part of me felt immense relief that someone else could finally see that something had gone terribly wrong in Sarah’s mind. The other part of me reeled at the thought that I had missed what now seemed so glaringly obvious.

Admittedly, friends, former teachers, and church members who knew Sarah from high school had reached out to me in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis.

“What’s wrong with Sarah?” they would ask in Facebook messages and text messages. “Is there anything we could do to help?”

I loved them for their concern, and I sent suggestions of calling her, texting her or even sending cards to her. In retrospect, my suggestions seem analogous to fighting a forest fire with buckets of water. Of course, I asked my closest friends to pray for her—and those mighty prayers played a part in saving her life on at least one occasion.

How I wish that someone, anyone, would have looked at her behavior and asked me, “Have you considered that maybe Sarah has a mental illness?” I would have been angry at first—the shock of the suggestion snapping my emotions to full defensive position—but I would have pursued it.

Last October Sarah and I shared our journey on the blog, as part of the #write31days challenge. About two-thirds of the way through the series and before the post explaining about Sarah’s diagnosis went up, one of my roommates from college emailed me.

She had started reading the series midway through the month, and before even going back and starting from the beginning she wrote and asked if Sarah had seen someone to rule out bipolar disorder. My friend had no idea if Sarah and I were writing in ‘real time’ or describing something that had happened in the past, but she cared enough and knew enough about bipolar disorder to reach out and ask the hard questions.

Statistically speaking, with over 5.7 million persons over the age of 18 afflicted by bipolar disorder, more than one of our friends had to have known something about bipolar disorder and seen patterns in Sarah’s behavior that raised red flags.

But in today’s society, where we hesitate to tell someone they have toilet paper trailing from their heel after a visit to the bathroom because we fear offending them, maybe Christians feel it would prove too invasive to question a fellow church member’s mental hygiene.

I suggest that as Christians, we should all strive to speak to each other in love—even about the hard things like mental illness. Whilst Sarah struggled with depression and subsequent mania, I suffered from self-doubt. Perhaps her behavior was normal. Maybe this was just a bid for autonomy—normal behavior for an almost twenty-year-old.

A person in the midst of mania does uncharacteristic things—things that church members gossip about, cluck over and see as a sign that the afflicted person has denied his or her relationship with God. But let’s face it—Christianity doesn’t provide immunity from bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue.

#Christianity doesn't provide immunity from #bipolardisorder. #StoptheStigma Click To Tweet

I suggest that if a young adult you know starts to exhibit girl (or boy) gone wild behavior, you can do the following things.

1. Pray. Before diving in the turbid waters of discussing a possible mental health issue with someone else, ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s his job to convict. Not yours.
2. Educate yourself. Find out the basic signs or indicators of different mental illnesses. The NAMI website is a great place to start.
3. Pick your moment. Don’t bring up your concerns in public.
4. Don’t diagnose. Leave that to the professionals.
5. Start the conversation right. “I’ve noticed that ________ seems to be really struggling right now. Is there anything I can do to help?”
6. Remember that drug and alcohol use or addictions often mask mental health issues.
7. Use nonjudgmental phrases such as, “Have you ever considered that ______ might suffer from bipolar disorder?” If you have personal experience with someone who suffers, you might add additional details. “I know my daughter did a lot of crazy and hurtful things before she was diagnosed, and ________’s behavior reminds me a little of my daughter.”
8. Expect a reaction—most of us live comfortably in denial, so make sure you follow step number one. Don’t be offended if the person reacts with anger or hurt. I often wonder if any of my friends and acquaintances on Facebook saw what was happening and secretly diagnosed Sarah but failed to bring the subject up with me because they feared a negative reaction.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—there’s a difference between spiritual oppression and mental illness. God created us smart enough to find medicines and therapies for what ails our bodies—like tuberculosis, whooping cough and cancer. He also created us smart enough to find medicines and develop therapies for what ails our minds.

God expects us to find healing and health for whatever afflicts us—whether it’s physical or… Click To Tweet

What I Wish Christians Knew About Anxiety

anxiety

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges
come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life
is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out
of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and
well-developed, not deficient in any way.

– James 1:2-4 (MSG)

I suppose I’ve always been the melancholy sort. Glass half-full. Everything
that can go wrong will go wrong. Even as a child it was difficult for me to
see the bright side. Instead my eyes were drawn to unseen fears and terrors.

One moment stands out in a lifetime of moments. The night before a
standardized test, I broke out in a rash all over my body. I was so afraid
of failing. No matter what my parents did or said to reassure me, the fear
squeezed my heart tightly. Six years old and already full of dread.

The mind is a strange thing, really. As I slipped off of the shores of
childhood and onto the choppy seas of adolescence, the agonies rose in
direct proportion to the ecstasies. I did very well in school. Had friends.
Participated in the drama club. Held down a steady job. Played basketball.
Yet no matter the accolades, the sense of impending doom simply would not
go away.

Success followed me into college. I studied journalism. Won awards writing
for the paper. Sat at the top of the Dean’s List. But I carried around a
whole lot of dead weight. Terrible relationship choices. Flirting with
anorexia. Panic attacks. One day I couldn’t hold it together anymore and
passed out in the middle of a routine in a Latin social dancing class.

I’d been taught to believe in God. My mother tells me that at age four I
announced, very matter-of-factly, that I had asked Jesus into my heart. I
then went straight back to coloring. Around 10 or 11 I read through 1 and 2
Samuel, captivated by the story of David. My faith was babyish, insecure.
Other things easily pushed it to the back burner.

I never completely forgot God and He certainly never forgot me. Shortly
after my husband and I got engaged, we decided to start attending church. A
few weeks in and we were hit with the, “Gee, we probably shouldn’t sleep
together on Saturday night and go to the church the next morning”
realization. We threw ourselves into cleaning up our lives and into the
life of that church.

A few years, some broken friendships, some disillusionment and the
discovery that marriage isn’t always a picnic later, I sat on the couch in
our living room. A pile of neatly folded laundry to my left. Keys in my
right hand. I felt…nothing. Or so much of something that it didn’t
register. Just numbness. I had crafted my suicide plan and was ready to
carry it out.

This is how I know God never forgot me: My husband came home earlier than
he was supposed to. I didn’t tell him anything. Not immediately. I threw my
keys into my purse and started putting the laundry away. It all came out
the next day, after a session with my counselor. I’d begun seeing her a
couple of months prior to that September day. I knew something was wrong. I
just didn’t know how deep the wrongness went.

I would love to tell you that I was set free from anxiety and depression
after confessing my suicide ideation and slogging through a year-and-a-half
of therapy.

I would love to tell you that I don’t miss the medication that I can no
longer take because of a jacked-up liver.

I never drank or did drugs. I grew a tumor instead. So just about the time
I felt I was stable and doing well, through the disjointed hell of
withdrawal I went. Crying, shaking, sweating, vomiting, the “brain zaps.”
The longest two weeks and then some.

Out with the tumor. A scar running from just beneath my sternum, down
around my rib cage and ending at my waist. For the rest of my life I have
to be careful about what I eat, what I drink, what medications I take. No
more Cymbalta. No herbs, either, because they could cause further damage.

So I’m left sitting here, back where I started in many ways.

This is okay.

The thing about this lifetime of worry and woe is that it’s led me straight
into the arms of Christ. Oh, I’ve been stupid. A real idiot. I’ve made bad
decisions and spent years doing my own thing without caring too much about
Him. I’ve played at religion, going through the right motions on the
outside while wondering if my heart would ever stop being cold. I’ve let
myself be distracted by the pettiest of concerns, the grossest of grudges.
I am not and will never be perfect this side of eternity.

But I know One who is perfect, and He has preserved my life through all of
the rebellion I could control and all of the janky physiology I couldn’t.
His presence is the gift of grace I’ve done nothing to deserve. I am the
greatest of sinners and the slowest of learners, but this I know to be
true: He is my life.

I often wonder why Christian people assume that the anxious and the
depressed have committed some great sin to be afflicted so. My teeth are
set on edge when I hear some claim with great hauteur, “Just confess and
you’ll be healed.” Faulty, shallow theology. Why is there this assumption
that mental illness must equal lack of relationship with God?

You know what they say about assumptions.

My mental struggles have nurtured my faith. They burn away the
inconsequential and insignificant. They move me to fall on my face and
declare with the psalmist:

Unless the Lord had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in
silence.

If I say, “My foot
slips,”

Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my
anxieties within me,

Your comforts delight my soul.

– Psalm 94:17-19 (NKJV)

My mental struggles have nurtured my faith. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet
11060165_721078458024921_981956193750371454_n

Marie Gregg lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with her husband
Chris and two neurotic dogs. She loves studying Scripture, libraries and
chocolate. You can connect with her over at Along
the Way
.

What I Wish Christians Understood About Mental Illness

what i wish christians knew about mental illness

What I Wish Christians Understood About Mental Illness

Today guest writer and blogger Marisa Slusarcyk talks about the true cost of mental illness.  Be sture to check out her backstory post over at her blog Trendingmama.com.

We Pay with More than Money

$26.30
$21.23
$44.42
$16.87
$25.44
$10.09
Total $144.35 CDN

*Not including meds that I don’t buy EVERY month, also doesn’t cover anything OTC like Tylenol or Advil or allergy medications.*

That’s a lot of small numbers equalling a fairly large amount and for many people that number is significantly higher. You see, those are the prices of my medications to HELP (not cure) my PTSD and its underlying symptoms, which for me, are insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, suicidal ideations (and attempts!), flashbacks and nightmares, depression, and I am sure I am missing something.

I also have to buy bandages and antibiotic ointment for when I give in to the evil in my head and cut myself in a futile attempt to end things or in the very least find an escape. It only takes me a few seconds to pop the blade out of a perfectly good razor.

All of that said, I am blessed to be one of the few who gets disability from our government here in Canada. It took me forever to be approved, a million suicide attempts and hundreds of scars and over a year from the date I had originally applied, but I couldn’t work anymore. The public caused me to be paranoid and the time to think never ended well. I tried working alone, in offices and even volunteering. It felt good for a few months but normally ended when I would quit because I was spending more time in bed trying to end my pain than I was living.

Sometimes, I feel like a chess piece being chased around in a stalemate, unable to be captured or defend myself. It is rare now, but sometimes that razor still falls apart and slices into me like a hot knife through butter and then, I feel like I have failed.

What is “Normal”?

I look at the people covered in tattoos or those who have severe and irreversible body modifications and I wonder why what they do is considered “normal” and is generally accepted when what I do is not? Why has society drawn a line saying that those who are mentally ill need to find a better coping mechanism, like reading or running but those who have no diagnosis are able to have metal studded implants and their faces permanently painted like a cat.

It gives me a lot to think on and I realize that there are simply stigmas that we can’t seem to run from, stigmas that we can’t seem to change and I wonder if I am so wrong, how are these people right? Isn’t the need for a cut the same as a needle on fast pace jamming in the ink of a tattoo?

Why is it that I am the “sick” one, and I am made to feel so taboo?

His body is tattoed to look like a cat. Why do people think that #mentalillness makes ME the… Click To Tweet

So, instead of depending on therapists in fancy offices who haven’t had any experience with my type of pain I walked away from their Porsches and fancy words and reached out and up and uttered a few simple words that changed my life, “Please, God, why?”

God Intervenes

Don’t get me wrong, there was no earth shattering response that answered the question, but I do feel like the question is no longer being ignored. My pain is known and has been all along. God didn’t plan for my extreme abuse, but He does plan to use the remnants of me to bring Him glory, or as I like to say, I will use my gory to bring Him glory.

I always thought I was a Christian so I can’t exactly pinpoint when God became more than a book or an imaginative figure that I had only toyed around with, but I do know that in seeking Him and trying to find out who He is, what His plans are and where the future will bring me, I have somehow stumbled across answers that I had never thought to ask and I have asked questions that have never been answered.

I have learned that His timing is perfect and that medicine isn’t evil the way some celebrities may have you think. It is perfectly fine to take medication for anxiety or depression and to speak your soul because God already knows all of it and He is the one who has allowed doctors and scientists to create exactly what my body needs.

I have also learned that using my words whether they express my pain or my gratitude, are heard and read by many, and that by sharing I am able to give not only myself a voice, but bravery to others to do the same.I am learning to share and use my voice to give bravery to others to do the same. #StoptheStigma… Click To Tweet

We can totally defeat those nasty stigmas surrounding mental illness and what it means, we can be the barrier-breakers and the givers of hope in a world that often times seems hopeless.

Women in Recent History

In the last 100 years, give or take, women have been recognized as “people,” earned their right to vote, wrote books without having to use a male pseudonym, have entered the work-force and get more and more equal rights every single day.

As a woman with mental illness I want a diagnosis to be understood instead of feared, I want medications to be available to everyone who needs them. I don’t want to be looked at as the frail little lady who can’t handle life when in reality I have lived so many more emotions than most. As someone with mental illness I want the stigmas to be shredded and the laws to change and every doctor to be properly trained.

I believe that God is using my story to help educate and cause a change.

what I wish Christians Understood About Mental IllnessBorn and raised in Kenora, Ontario Canada, Marisa was a teen mom who has overcome incredible circumstances in order to provide the best life she can for her small family. Avid reader, blogger and a God-loving Christian, are just a few of the titles Marisa holds. Reading the Word and learning about God and His plans for her life are her current mission.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @caregivermom and @blestbutstrest for some #Monday #Inspiration! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


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What I Wish Christians Knew About Caregiver PTSD

caregiver PTSD

One Woman’s Journey Through Caregiver PTSD

In this guest post by Anna Smit, author of Love Embraced: A Journey in and through Suffering, shares tips for dealing with caregiver PTSD.

I was diagnosed with PTSD in April, 2015, a year after losing my mother to glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most deadly forms of brain cancer. What many people don’t realize is that PTSD is not just an illness that war veterans suffer from. It is also an illness many caregivers of loved ones suffer from, often without diagnosis.

Unbeknownst to myself, the time I had spent taking care of my Mum, together with hospice nurses and other family members, in the final weeks of her life, far from my husband and eldest daughter, had taken their toll.

If you have ever taken care of a loved one with a terminal illness, you will know that during the illness, it is hard not to become completely focused on the care, repressing any and all feelings that get in the way, which is exactly what I did. But I didn’t just do this at the time, but also thereafter. I returned home, to the other side of the world, and dived straight back into my part-time teaching position and motherhood, until the exhaustion became too much and I handed in my resignation. My body was spent from the months of repressing strong emotions, an inexplicable tension holding my body captive.

This journal entry, from the first month as a stay-at-home Mum, gives you a window into the then unexplainable emotions that lay beneath the tension:

I am a mixture of an angry ball, a numb being and a broken, hurting, aching heart. The smallest thing consumes me with rage, or leaves me absolutely cold, or brings me to tears overflowing. I just long for someone to pick me up, place me on their lap and hold me there, allowing me to just be, to let it all out, to be myself, to not have to pretend that the world doesn’t hurt, cut and pull me under. Father God, I cry out to you, take me as I am, hold me as I am, enfold me in your protective arms. (Love Embraced, Chapter 12 A Voice)

A couple months later, flashbacks of my mother’s last hours also came back to haunt me. Although the peace of God was palpable upon my mother through her illness, her last hours on earth were horrendous to witness. In Chapter 13 Life of my book, I record how Jesus met me most powerfully in the deepest darkest valley of my life:

The images, sounds and smells of my mother’s final hours, too horrible to share here, crippled me into a state of traumatized shock and deep, deep fear and grief. I sat there thinking that if this is what life looks like, if this is what the life of those who love and serve the LORD looks like, then what hope was there, what was there to live for. I was utterly overcome, blinded to all love and affection, all blessings of family and friends.

In that moment I truly believed that God was out to pour out His wrath on all of us and that life was not worth living. In absolute desperation, I cried out, “Is this it? Is this the life you promise us?” I was really, really angry and for the very first time I directed this deep, deep anger and desperation at the LORD. And then I dared Him to show me that life really was worth living- I turned to my Bible and opened it, my eyes resting on the following passage:

John 6: 35 – 40 (The Message)
Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.
“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

The more I read this passage, the more my tears flowed. I read this and finally, finally started to understand just how deeply I am known and loved.

If you look closely, you’ll see what I came to see and truly understand the more I read it. The Spirit of God responds to my deepest fears, grief and insecurities in His overwhelming promises. He tells me that:

• Jesus is holding onto me and will NOT let me go.
• Jesus is working in me to make me “upright” and thus worthy to stand before my Heavenly Father at the end of time, that His work of righteousness will be completed in me to cover the shame of ALL my sin because of His Great and Perfect Sacrifice in Love.
• Jesus is also working to make me “whole”, to bring restoration and healing where now pain, heartache and fear reside.
• My mother’s body and mind are no longer unbearably broken, that she is now standing before the throne of God, the Father, “whole” and “complete”.

ALL I have to do is “trust, “lean on, feel safe or secure, to be confident in” Him (John J. Parsons). He tells me that by abiding in Him, I will no longer hunger or thirst.

This deep dark valley led me to seek professional help, through which God moved powerfully to begin healing and restoration, not only from the months of watching my Mum suffer, but also from crippling, repressed childhood memories.

Both before and after my diagnosis, I was incredibly blessed by the love and support of not only my family, but also my Christian community. However, not all support offered in love was helpful. If you know someone who suffers from PTSD or suspect that they suffer from PTSD, then if they are anything like me, they will greatly appreciate any of the following support:

Pray for them (I had friends praying for me from around the world and still do, prayers that have been and are being powerfully answered),
Pursue them in gentle, loving kindness. When you don’t hear from them, pick up the phone to call them, drop by to visit them, take the time to sit next to and listen to them, cry with them, share your own weaknesses with them (stories where you struggled to understand God, doubted His goodness), encourage them to express their emotions, especially anger,
Send them links to worship music that speak of God’s Presence in fear, hurt, trauma and grief. One of the songs I played the most was Kari Jobe’s I Am Not Alone.
Speak the truth of God’s everlasting love over them. One of the Scriptures I had on my fridge for some time is Romans 8: 38 – 39 (NIV): “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Encourage them to express their anger, ensuring that they know that anger and in fact all human emotions are in and of themselves not a sin. If opportunity affords itself, sit down to go through Biblical examples of people expressing their anger before God (e.g. David, Job, Jeremiah) and let them see how being real before God, allows Him to unearth and minister to the hurt, trauma and pain that so often resides beneath anger.

Often, PTSD completely disables one’s ability to process emotions adequately. Traumatic experiences are crystalized into cocooned memories at the time they originally experienced. This means that any time these old memories are triggered, it is as if you are experiencing the original horrible experiences all over again, as you become trapped in the old emotions and untruths attached to these old memories, being blinded to the present (safe) situation and truths of God’s Presence and Love.

But this is where God’s Word and Spirit have the power to break through and open us up. One incredibly powerful tool we can use is the Biblical Lament. Margaret Feinberg has a very useful step-by-step instructions to write your own lament. I’d encourage you to share this with the person you know, who is struggling through PTSD: What To Do When You’ve Got An Achy Breaky Heart with God.

4 tips for traveling alongside a #caregiver with #PTSD #InspireMeMonday Click To TweetHere are some more ideas for helping someone navigate their emotions:
Gently encourage them to seek professional help, offering to go with them the first time, if they have nobody else to accompany them. And as they go through therapy walk beside them through it, don’t assume you’re no longer needed. If anything, even more support is needed at this stage.
Stay in communication with them, when you don’t know how to respond to what they share, show your love through hugs, cards, practical help (like offering to look after their kids) expressions like: “I don’t know what to say, but just know that I love you and am here for you.” Silences pierce more than usual for PTSD sufferers: they already feel very isolated, alone and guilty for needing extra support.
Avoid telling them to “be strong in the LORD” and that if they were to trust God more their grief or anger would subside. Whatever you do, don’t discourage them from showing emotion or make them feel guilty for crying, being fearful or angry. Trusting God is actually daring to express all of our emotions before Him, just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gesthemene, so that He can bring us peace, hope, comfort and healing.
Encourage them to pursue creative outlets, such as writing, drawing, singing, playing an instrument…and to spend time outside in nature. These are all things which God can use to help us to uncover and release pent-up emotions. And enable them to do such things by dropping round to take care of their kids, or dropping off a meal or doing something to give them the time to pursue creative or outdoor activities.

Lastly, I’d like to thank those of you who are walking beside someone with PTSD. I know that it is a big burden to bear. Please ensure that you too seek support from others, as you minister to your friend, family or church member. And when you need to, step back and recoup, being sure to communicate your need to do so with the one suffering from PTSD.

Above all remember to keep pouring your hearts out to God, letting Him guide and strengthen you.

If you are interested in reading more about my journey through suffering into God’s Mighty Arms, you may like to pick up a copy of my book Love Embraced: A Journey in and through Suffering, which recently released on Amazon. Below you can find a description of the book’s contents.

Cancer, Grief, PTSD and The Embrace of Love
Not one of us is immune to suffering. So many of us have experienced loss, rejection, trauma and/or deep hurt. But often we decide to keep working, to keep going and to keep numbing that which we are terribly scared will break us into tiny little pieces. Love Embraced records the author’s own journey through such suffering, in:
– caring for her mother dying of cancer
– grieving her mother’s death
– her diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and
– working through repressed childhood memories.
But, it also reveals how in starting to face that which she was too frightened to face, she began to embrace and be embraced by a mighty God into:
– freedom
– hope,
– comfort,
– peace,
– strength and deep joy.

caregiver PTSDAnna Louise Smit is a Kiwi-Dutch wife, mother, author and writer. She blogs about the Love of God in her life at Joy of the Spirit Within. Anna shares vulnerably of her journey through grief, fear and PTSD to encourage others struggling through similar circumstances. She wants them to know and experience God’s Presence in the depths of their suffering, a God who is yearning to bring them hope, comfort and healing. Anna’s first book, Love Embraced: A Journey in and through Suffering was released on Amazon last week.

What about you?  Are you a caregiver and think you may have developed PTSD?  Do you know a caregiver who might be experiencing some of these symptoms?  Please share this article with them!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Don’t Miss the Obvious

missIn retrospect, I wonder how I could miss the obvious. In fact, looking back at my adult life, I think I’ve missed the obvious on more than one occasion.

For example, a student gets caught smoking weed in the dormitory and spends three hours going berserk and ends up in a police car headed to the hospital. Another young woman goes from model student one month to raging alcoholic the next and drops out two weeks from graduation.

A young man drags himself to class day after day, close to catatonic—does he really hate English class that much? Maybe he uses drugs and no one realizes it. Or maybe he’s just depressed. But the depression goes on and on and on.

A young lady living with us seems to change overnight from a friendly and engaged family member to a sullen and accusatory adolescent. Eventually, her behavior returns to normal for awhile, but I hear stories of her life after graduation, and they make me sad: drug abuse, brushes with the law, jail time.

I confess I used to think that each of these incidents reflected on the parenting skills of the families of origin. Until something similar happened to us—an everyday average Christian family who had a daughter dive into deep depression and shoot out the other side a frenzied, angry, unreachable adolescent.

What did I miss? Because I never educated myself about mental health issues, I confused desperate behavior for defiant behavior. My students and my daughter all acted out of character (given, I understood this much better when it involved my daughter’s out-of-character behavior), but no one seemed to understand that defiance and drug or alcohol abuse weren’t part of their normal make up.

Those things signaled a deeper issue—a breakdown in mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Don’t be like me. Educate yourselves before it is too late. It’s no coincidence that the onset of bipolar disorder happens in adolescence and that adolescents are the most likely to commit suicide.

There's no PET scan for #mentalhealth issues. Educate yourself. It's a matter of life and death.… Click To Tweet

Find out about different mental health issues that can face young adults and anyone, for that matter. Learn to ask, “Is this reaction beyond normal?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to start keeping track of behavior that you observe. Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with an adolescent that you love and worry about.

And if the behavior turns out to be nothing more than a bad day or a bid for autonomy—that’s great. At least you didn’t miss something that could make the difference between life and death in a young person’s life.

It takes a village to help those with a #mentalillness. Learn how you can help. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet

warning signs

Please share the infographic or the blog post or both!  Let’s get the word out about mental health issues–they are treatable, but, but first they need to be identified!

What I Wish Christians Knew About PTSD

PTSD

PTSD, God, and The World

They call combat trauma an illness. And it has symptoms—hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, insomnia, quickness to anger, emotional numbness—the list goes on.

You can look it up.

But it’s one other thing, and you have to understand this.

PTSD is homesickness.

We’re supposed to go to war to come back to a peace we can enjoy. Putting the tools of death away, we’re enjoined to slip into the welcoming arms of a civilian world, secure in the knowledge that we’ve done our bit, and that now, it’s time to enjoy a well-earned rest.

And many combat veterans can do just that. A large part of the success of that the shrinks call re-integration is the degree of home-front support. After World War Two, a popular war if there ever was one, many combat veterans were able to find a measure of peace, and while troubled by memories, they found that, in their hearts, they could eventually accept a place in the civilian world.

They knew that the burden had been, at least to some degree, shared. The folks left in the ZI (Zone of the Interior—the States) had at least endured rationing and restrictions, and while none of that compares with combat, it’s something.

And most families knew someone who’d been wounded or killed. Sorrow was shared, too.
It’s different now. We have a professional military, not a conscript force, and it’s very much insulated from the civilian world. It’s Us and Them.

And when the military went to Iraq and Afghanistan, America went to the mall. That’s how it was perceived.

How do you come home to that? How do you come home from a hard, dirty, dangerous life, one in which you’d see things that would make the average civilian puke?

How do you return from knowing that each day might be your last, and that there are a lot of ways to get greased, and none of them leave a beautiful corpse?

It’s hard to return, because it’s shared over there, and back here in The World—no one gets it. Some try, but they just don’t understand.

We all want to be understood. We all want to be home.

And what you’d call hell, I call home.

Even if my health would allow it, I would not abandon my responsibilities here, my wife and my dogs, to head back to the fight. But if I was healthy, and had no ties…

I’d be gone, just like that.

Not to seek death. That’s not the point. But to find, once again, the only life that has deep, vibrant meaning for me.

It’s like the opening song from the old series, Cheers…everybody wants to go where everybody knows your name.

War knows my name. And Hell would welcome me back.

Six tips for relating to someone with #PTSD. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet

So what can the Christian Community do? Here’s a list of suggestions for relating to those who suffer from PTSD—not all will work for everyone, but at least one should. I hope.
Never assume – don’t assume that because I’m scanning tree lines and rooflines, and that because I take a quick look around a door’s corner before stepping into what for me is the fatal funnel (doorways are great places to get shot)…don’t assume that I am damaged goods, that I probably drink, and that I may do drugs. That’s Hollywood. I’m different, not damaged. I’ve been places that you can’t imagine, and seen things you wouldn’t want to.
Don’t try to relate – unless you’ve been in combat, you don’t know what it’s like, so don’t try to say you do. Most combat veterans will politely brush you off, some will be quite harsh…and none will be helped by this kind of well-meant attempt.
Give me space – don’t tap me on the shoulder to get my attention, and don’t step suddenly into my peripheral vision. I probably won’t hit you (though you may think I’m about to), but you’ll see me turn faster than you’d think anyone could move, and you won’t like the way I look at you in that instant. Trust me.
Ask your church to hire a pastor who’s a combat veteran – being able to get pastoral counseling from someone who understands both the pain and the attraction of living with sudden violent death at your elbow can be awfully valuable
Don’t quote ‘warrior’ Scripture – I hate to write this, because it’s often so well-meant…but offering comparisons with David’s mighty men, for instance, can cause a huge push-back. It’s meant as respect, but can come across as condescension. If we know the Bible, we’ll find it. If we don’t, and show an interest, you can suggest certain books or psalms. The first verse of Ps. 144 works well for me…”Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war…”
Do recognize and build on shared humanity – I always loved dogs; still do. I like Impressionist painting, and metal music, and wildflowers. We can share those loves. We may be under a distant war’s shadow when we talk, but at least we’re talking.

I’ll never be fully home, and if the bell rings and I can answer it, I will.

There will be a part of me you’ll never be allowed to know, unless you were there.

But I can be your friend. I sure want to. After all, I’d die for you.

#DoNoHarmAndrew Budek-Schmeisser blogs about being the recipient of caregiving, marriage and life over at Blessed Are the Pure in HeartHe and his wife are owned by rescue dogs who assist him and inspire him. He has published one novel (you can find out more on his website) and a short book.  For your FREE copy of his latest book Faith in the Night-Finding God When All Seems Lost, visit his blog. 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Maybe You Should Pass

passMy Grandma B was a self-proclaimed Rook champion. She loved the game and made sure that each of her grandchildren knew how to play. When we were very young, she would put on her visor and call us to the Formica topped table in the kitchen where we would perch on the dinette chairs and watch in fascination as she carefully shuffled the cards with her arthritic fingers and dealt them out, starting with the person on her left.

Her already hunched shoulders would hunch over even more as she dealt and instructed us. “Remember, the one is worth 15 points and can take any other card.” or “Be careful not to bid too high if you only have 14s. You’d make a better partner.” If one of us should start to bid wildly high to take possession of the kitty, she would gently remind us, “Maybe you should pass, you’re not guaranteed good cards in that kitty!” It seemed like she always won.

As we grew older, our game skills increased to the point that we became worthy partners and actually got to play for points with the rest of the adults. We’d practice with each other when Grandma B went south for the winters, and play against her when she came to spend the summers with us.

Our deck of Rook cards grew old and worn—and my brother and sisters and I memorized the markings on the back of the cards. The birdie had an eraser mark in the raven’s eye. The one of yellow had a crease in the corner. Someone had stepped on the 14 of red and left faint sneaker marks.

By the time we started college, we knew the backs of those cards like we knew the backs of our hands. Only Grandma B didn’t know what we knew. “Who wants to play a game of Rook?” she would question on a Saturday night. My mom would make popcorn and fruit milkshakes and we’d gather around the kitchen table and play hand after hand. “I don’t see how you kids always win,” she would mutter in frustration mixed with pride.

We’d always play call partners (whoever won the bidding got to call for a partner who held whatever card the winner would decide on), and I confess that I would sometimes deliberatly call Grandma B as my partner if I had a rotten hand and knew I would lose the round, just to take her down with me.

We used our insider information to bilk Grandma B of win after win, crowing quietly at our success. Occasionally, we’d let her win. We felt invincible in our Rook skills. Of course, with somebody else’s deck, we played like mere mortals. Winning and losing on the merits of our decisions and ability to keep track of trump cards.

That old deck of Rook cards reminds me of what God offers us. Only when he calls us to partner with him, he’s in it for the win. He offers a relationship with us that will make us seem invincible.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (Isaiah 43:1b-3a NIV)

God doesn’t promise to keep us from water and fire and trials—but he does promise to be with us as we pass through those things. People will shake their heads and wonder how we keep on going in the face of adversity. But we know the secret. When we answer the call to relationship with the king of the universe and spend time getting to know him, we enter into a whole new level of living.

God doesn't promise to prevent trials, he promises to pass through them WITH us. #fmfparty Click To Tweet

We can quietly get on with the business of passing through the trials that life throws up in our path—whether it’s an unexpected caregiver journey, our out illness or physical limitation, job loss, uncertainty about our future, or worries about our children. We can play life with confidence because God promises to always pass through it with us.

A Living Forward Update

Living Forward Update

Living Forward Update

At the end of March I spent a night away from home at a free campground on my Life Plan retreat. I really wanted to take life planning seriously, because my caregiving journeys derailed the vague plans I had for my life back in my 30s. I also feel an urge to use the time on earth more wisely.

Part of the Living Forward process includes not only making a Life Plan, but reading it daily for the first 90 days. It’s been almost thirty days since my retreat, and here’s what I have discovered so far.

First of all, reading the document daily adds about seven minutes to my morning routine. Part of the Life Plan includes writing down a current state of affairs for each of the areas (in other words, things you know you need to improve). I decided after the first week to quit reading the ‘current state’ section for each of my areas since they focus on the way things are rather than the steps I’m taking to change them.

The authors of Living Forward suggest that you schedule time each week to go over the plan and make adjustments and chart progress. I haven’t done this yet, and I can see why it would help me focus on specific action steps. So far, I have only completed one action step (cleaning off the top of my dresser and adding a small filing box so that Pedro and I can empty out our pockets of receipts and file them in their proper tax folder).

About two-thirds of the actions steps involve things of the heart and brain—attitude action steps, you could say. Because I read the Life Plan every morning, those attitude action steps help guide my internal thoughts. For example, when I FEEL like speaking out in staff meeting in a not-so-gentle way about something that I hold a strong opinion on, I remember that one of my value statements includes seeking emotional abundance. In order to do this, I need to calm myself when I feel threatened or upset. In addition, I want to strive to moderate my tone of voice and speak with deliberation—not just blurt out what I view as the truth.

Another side benefit of writing out a Life Plan has been the ability to pick and choose what I commit to with more clarity. The most important people in my life are Pedro, Sarah, Laura and Louis and their unborn baby, and my parents. When I challenged myself to do Fifty Fun Firsts during my fiftieth year, I knew that Pedro and I can do many of those things together—thus, I am investing in my relationship with my best friend.

Some people who heard about the whole Life Plan concept worried that creating a Life Plan in some way goes against seeking to do the will of God. They reason that if a person makes a plan, they haven’t left room for God and his guidance.

Part of creating a Life Plan includes prioritizing what I feel holds the most importance in my life. As a Christian, my personal relationship with God holds first priority. Therefore, when answering the question “How do I want to be remembered?” by different people in my life, the first person on my list isn’t my husband.

It’s God.

I want God to remember that I was a faithful servant who always sought to do his will and intentionally worked on relationships with difficult people so that his love could be reflected in my life at all times.

Although I’ve had this vague thought in my mind for years, I’ve never articulated it before. By writing it down and reading it every day, I have discovered a subtle attitude change (as in, perhaps I’M the difficult one because I don’t cultivate a spirit of love and acceptance towards those that I feel I have nothing in common with).

This realization has helped me to understand Proverbs 16:9—“We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it” (MSG). Without constant connection with God, I have a hard time controlling my temper. Without constant connection with God, I often speak before I think. Without constant connection with God, I make decisions before I think or pray about them.

Without a constant connection with God, I often speak before I think. Click To Tweet

There you have it, my Living Forward update for the first thirty days. In writing this, I realize that I need to start penciling in some of the specific action steps so that I don’t leave them all for the end of the year.

What about you? Have you read the book or a similar book? What changes are you working on in your life now? I’d love to pray for your success!

I Need to Celebrate Fifty Fun Firsts

fifty fun firstsIn less than two months I’ll hit a new decade and I’ve decided to make the transition fun. I think I have Pedro convinced to try it too. We want to accomplish fifty fun firsts in our fiftieth year (try saying that ten times fast!). Some of the things on our list will overlap, because we love trying new things together.  Other things he has no desire to try (and since cancer and it’s side effects, some things aren’t physically possible–backpacking, for instance).

New decades provide a great opportunity to evaluate my routines and branch out to try new things—if they don’t fit at least I tried something different. With fewer than fifty days until the commencement of my fiftieth year, I need some help coming up with ideas.

I have a few personal guidelines for my fifty fun firsts list. The firsts can’t cost too much, because we live on a budget. In addition, now is not the time to try anything immoral or illegal. Now that that’s out of the way, I need your help in generating ideas for my list!

The top of my list includes hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim in one day (I think it’s 21.5 miles). I’ve done the south rim to the river and back up again (17 miles) in one day, so I’m fairly confident that I’m ready for the big trip.

Another must do on my list is to visit Havasu Falls—we have a couple of students who live in Supai, and I keep telling them I’m going to hike down and visit them. The time has arrived (ok, I’ll have to wait until October because the trail down gets a little toasty in May).

I’ve always wanted to drive to Alaska, which we’ll be doing this summer. Sarah will be working up there again, so we have the perfect excuse for a road trip.

Three down, forty-seven to go. I would love to hear your suggestions for fifty fun firsts to do in my fiftieth year. This information might help you help me: I love to read a wide variety of genres. I enjoy physical challenges. If any of you live in Alaska or have visited before, I could use ideas on what to see and where to go.

I’ll keep everyone posted on my final fifty—thank you in advance to helping me out!

Help me think of fifty fun firsts to celebrate my fiftieth year! Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

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What Goes Down Must Come Up

what goes down must come upWhat Goes Down Must Come Up (More Lessons from the Grand Canyon)

Don’t tell my students, but my legs really hurt. My feet ache. I think twice before using the facilities because, well, my quads hurt when I sit down. When I went for a jog this morning, I wondered what 90-year-old had swapped their body with my almost-50-year-old body. I blame it on the Grand Canyon.

Ok. I take full responsibility. Someone (me) had the great idea that the school should have another Super Sunday—a day when the teachers bust out of their regular roles and teach a class about something that they love to do. Pedro took a group mountain biking, another teacher taught about Japan and served Japanese food, someone else took kids Frisbee golfing and another teacher taught a card making class. Me? I wanted to hike down the Bright Angel Trail to River’s Rest and back up again in one day.

Why? Maybe because I did it on a whim two years ago, and then I did it again last year—which makes it a tradition. Nine days before the hike I managed to twist my ankle pretty badly, and I worried that this year I wouldn’t make it to the bottom of the canyon, much less back up again. But I had 15 teenagers signed up to go—willing to roll out of bed and onto the bus at four in the morning—getting out of bed that early on a weekend morning defies teenager logic. There’s no way I was going to let them down.

The Grand Canyon defies gravity. They even post signs along the rim affirming this phenomenon: “Warning! Going down is optional; coming up is mandatory!” But after my last two experiences, I knew what to expect and I prepared for the hike, hoping I could avoid the day-after-aches-and-pains. Evidently, no amount of stair climbing and running on relatively level terrain can adequately prepare one’s body for the rigors of the canyon.

After everyone filled their hydration packs with food and water, we gathered for last minute instructions. We prayed for safety and strength for our journey and took off down the trail. After the first three miles, my shins started to hurt. The students had galloped down the trail with my warning to wait at Indian Garden ringing in their ears.

When I reached Indian Garden, none of the other sponsors had arrived, but a text message came through advising me to not wait for them. I took a quick break, retied my bootlaces and told the kids to head on out if they wanted to go all the way to the river.

They did. The prettiest part of the hike follows Garden Creek below Indian Garden. Lofty Cottonwoods provide shade, and the walls of an overhanging canyon hug the narrow pathway. Cliff rose blossoms perfume the air and the clear water of the creek sings harmony to the birds tweeting overhead.

But the stampede of students had passed me, so I couldn’t linger—I knew how much they wanted to dip their feet in the icy Colorado River. I hurried on—down the corkscrew curves and switchbacks until the trail met up with Pipe Creek, which eventually ran into Garden Creek again shortly before dumping into the Colorado.

what goes down must come upThe kids cheered when I arrived (not because I had arrived, mind you, but because they could now enter the water). Most of them had already devoured their sack lunches, even though it was only 10:30 in the morning. I took off my boots and socks, soaked my hot feet in the river and ate my lunch whilst keeping a wary eye on the students. The river flowed swiftly and the water level seemed higher than in previous years.

The crazier kids immersed themselves in a quiet eddy with groans and yells. “Mrs. Ojeda, it’s your turn!” one of them challenged.

“Let me finish my lunch,” I replied, “then I’ll go in.” Yep, the water felt like it had just melted off a glacier.

“You’ve got seaweed on you,” one of the kids said when I hauled myself out of the water mere seconds after dunking under.

Sure enough, some sort of aquatic plant had hitched a ride on my shirtsleeve button. I smelled fishy, but hiking up the hill wet sure makes the journey more pleasant (I should caution that wearing jeans would NOT be comfortable—I had quick-dry shorts and a long-sleeve shirt on). The elevation at the bottom of the canyon is the same as the elevation in Tucson, AZ. By the time one reaches the south rim, one has climbed a vertical mile and the temperature and weather feels more like that of Flagstaff.

“Remember, I’ll buy ice cream for everyone who makes it to the top before I do!” I called out as the kids picked up their trash and tied their sneakers. By the time I located my hiking poles and checked around to make sure no one had left garbage, I found myself alone on the beach.

what goes down must come upI love a good challenge. I passed the first group of students after a mile. After two miles, I found two of the other chaperones munching on lunch in the scant shade beside the trail. They promised to wait for the stragglers, and I kept on hiking. My need to pass more students warred with my photographer’s eye. I compromised by stopping occasionally to snap quick photos.

what goes down must come upAt Indian Garden I caught up with another student. Right after Three Mile Rest House, I caught up with another one. “You should carry me to the top, Mrs. Ojeda,” he said as I paused to ask him how he was doing and take a few shots of the way we had come.

“Just keep hiking,” I told him. “You can make it to the top!”

I started passing more and more people who looked ill equipped for the trail. Flip-flops shod their feet and they carried nothing more than a cellphone stuck to their ear. No water. No snacks. No realization that they had already traveled three miles down the trail. No pauses to wonder at the majesty of the canyon. Going up is mandatory.

what goes down must come up

The last mile and a half of trial climbs this impossible-looking section of canyon.

The closer I got to the top, the more incredible the hike seemed. Despite the seven miles of trail between me and the river, it seemed impossible that the trail would somehow wind to the top in a mere mile and a half. The sheer walls towering above me seemed impossible to scale without ropes and climbing equipment. But I knew that a trail clung to the sides of the cliff because I had passed this way before.

what goes down must come up

The view looking back from about a half mile to the end of the trail. The river of green to the right is Indian Garden (4.5 miles down), and the trail continues to the right (not the faint trail you can see to the left).

Many of our life journeys follow a Grand Canyon sort of path. We step out blithely, ill equipped and naïve, only to find the journey more difficult than we anticipated. We wear ourselves out on the downhill sprint, only to realize that we have little in reserve to make it to the top. But what goes down must come up. And when the way seems impossible, God has already prepared a way out for us. When the way overwhelms us with the impossibilities, if we call on God, he’ll reveal the potential within us and give us the comfort and strength that we need.

Many of our life journeys follow a Grand Canyon sort of path. #caregiver Click To Tweet

Each journey we take—whether it’s a caregiver journey or a journey to better health or a journey to stronger relationships—strengthens us for the next journey that looms. My journey as a cancer caregiver prepared me for my journey as a parent with an adolescent in full-blown mental health crisis. Each journey involved a common element—the knowledge that God was in control and would be my shepherd no matter what the outcome.

By the time I reached the top, I had managed to pass seven students. But everyone got ice cream—after all, the challenge was more about me being competitive with my time from last year and giving them an incentive not to linger. The next time they face an overwhelming situation in their lives, I want them to remember their accomplishment—that they DO have the strength to do what seems impossible, and that with God’s help, they can do all things.

When Life Bites – Inspire Me Monday

When cute puppies are sleepy, you forget how they can nip and bite!

When cute puppies are sleepy, you forget how they can nip and bite!

Moments of pure joy.  My puppy, Gemma, streaked across the green grass of the playground, the entire first grade class in hot pursuit.  Gemma bounded with delight and the glee on the faces of the little children showed equal enchantment.

I had to come back to the school to bring my son his lunch (yes, that still happens at 15-years-of-age) and instead of leaving our new puppy home alone, I brought her with me.  The first graders captured her from me with complete rapture and took her to recess while I ran inside.  When I came out, they were running and jumping with total abandon and Gemma had never looked cuter.  Within a few moments the kindergarten class joined the melee.

The children shrieked and ran, Gemma jumping amongst them and grabbing at whatever she could reach with her little puppy teeth.  The teachers and I tried to explain how the children needed to not let Gemma bite.  We also suggested that not every child should try to touch the cute puppy all at once!  I ordered Gemma to not bite.  No one was really listening.

One little girl took off running and shouting and Gemma flew after her.  The whole pack of children followed, shrieking and giggling and galloping happily.  Back and forth, around the slide and back to circle a tree they dashed.  No one really knew who was chasing whom and no one cared.  Laughter and shouts continued.

Playful puppy loves to bite!

Playful Gemma loves to bite!

Suddenly, Gemma had enough.  She left the pack of children and ran straight for me, the children flocking along behind her.  I watched in astonishment as the “shepherd” side of her Minnie-Australia- Shepherd-self kicked in.  Whenever a child tried to pass Gemma at a dead run, Gemma would turn and nip at the child.  On they ran, Gemma in the lead, carefully keeping the entire pack of children behind her as she believed they belonged.  She reached safety (my side) and dove under the park bench to rest.

A kindergartner declared the Gemma had bitten her.  A first-grader giggled that Gemma had nipped at him as well.  I explained how Gemma was a herd dog, that she had an instinct to keep her sheep together and she was just acting as her instinct told her to – keeping her herd of children together.  They thought it hilarious that this adorable little puppy thought they, the children, were sheep.

After a moment of not-so-silent contemplation, a boy jumped away from the group.  In a flash, Gemma was out from under the bench and pursuing the laughing boy.  They raced across the playground together, Gemma one step behind the boy’s flashing red tennis shoes.  Again the entire kindergarten and first grade classes joined the chase.  Laughter rang across the grass as Gemma flew alongside the boy, completely ignoring the other children trying to get her attention.  She ran, jumped and nipped until I felt rather nervous on behalf of the child.  Was he going to cry?  Was that puppy not so cute any more now that she was nipping at him non-stop?

The boy turned toward myself and the two teachers standing with me and ran as fast as he could straight to us, Gemma nipping at him with every step.  I braced to catch the dog and console a sad boy for that mean puppy biting.  I was trying to think of a good reason that Gemma had chosen him to pursue and bite.

Instead the boy raced to my side, gazed up adoringly and breathlessly tapped his chest and panted, “I…I am just… so GLAD…so glad that Gemma… picked ME to be… her… little lamb!”

What a lesson!

How many times do we feel that life is nipping at us?  How many times have you felt bit by the very thing that you thought you were doing well at?  How many times do you have to change your course because someone was mean?  How often do we feel hurt by things in our life? How do we enjoy it when life does not go the way we think it should?

Honestly, I have felt rather nipped and bit and sent to stop running in my own direction too much lately.  I might feel misunderstood or rejected or sad at life not going the way I want it.  But what if I’m trying to turn left when God wants me to turn right.  And when I get nipped to head the right direction, do I run harder and faster and feel more joy?  Or do I feel sad and picked upon?  Do I tell people all the things that are going wrong?  Or do I arrive to a group of friends and pant out between breaths of joy, “I am so GLAD God has chosen ME to be his little lamb!”

I am so GLAD God has chosen ME to be his little lamb! #inspirememonday Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Why Should YOU Care About Mental Illnesses?

mental health awareness

National Mental Health Awareness Month

Depression. Bipolar Disorder. Schizophrenia. Mania. Anxiety. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Eating Disorders. Sleep Disorders. Autuism. Disassociative Disorder. Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The list goes on and on.

Mental health issues and mental illnesses leave those who suffer AND those who care for them feeling left out, sidelined, and sitting in the shadows. When we turn to the most natural source of comfort—the church—we often find ourselves misunderstood, hopeless and plagued by platitudes.

Not only do people with mental health issues face a stigma, but they face a double stigma from fellow Christians. All too often Christians feel that people who suffer from mental health issues should be able to ‘pray away anxiety’ and ‘seek scriptures for schizophrenia.’ They confuse mental illness for spiritual darkness and bandy about advice that does nothing to address the symptoms (believe me, I’m guilty of this, too).

mental health awarenessDuring the month of May, we’ll be hosting a series that addresses some of the following questions for National Mental Health Awareness Month:

  1. How should we as church members and part of the body of Christ respond when a fellow Chrisian faces a mental health crisis?
  2. What does it feel like to suffer from a mental health issue and receive nothing but condemnation and promises of prayer from the church?
  3. How should Christians respond when their service is disrupted by that kid-in-church-who-just-doesn’t-behave-and-it-must-be-the-parent’s-fault?
  4. How can I as a Christian come alongside someone who is suffering and #DoNoHarm?

The purpose of this series is to provide a safe place for Christians to share and discuss the mental health issues that are their reality. Mental health issues hurt more than just the person with the diagnosis. It’s time to stop the (double) stigma and educate ourselves with stories from the shadows that give us insight, hope and spread compassion.

If you have a story to share or professional advice to offer, we’d love to hear from you.  It is by giving voices to our stories and shedding light on the issues that we can bring those who suffer out of the shadows and provide a framework of compassionate and appropriate responses from Christians.

Let's all join together to #stopthestigma surrounding #mentalhealth issues. Find out more… Click To Tweet

 

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES for the #DoNoHarm Series

  1. Posts should be written in first person and address some aspect of mental health from either a person with a mental health issue’s perspective or a caregiver or family member’s perspective.
  2. We are looking for posts between 600-1000 words.
  3. Keep it clean and family friendly.
  4. Include a short bio with a recent photo of yourself. If you want to remain anonymous, that’s ok, too. Just let us know.
  5. We will link back to your blog and promote your guest post on social media (if you want).
  6. On the day your post goes live, you are welcome to respond to any comments left by our readers.
  7. Preference will be given to posts submitted in HTML format (it’s not that difficult to do, and we’ll walk you through it if you don’t know how!).
  8. We reserve the right to make minor formatting changes if necessary for clarity.
  9. STILL INTERESTED?
    Please fill in the feedback form and in the form’s comments section give a brief synopsis of what you’d like to write about. We will contact you for more information if we think your post would be a good fit for our series.

If you’d be so kind as to share this post on your social media, I would really appreciate it.  There are people out there with stories to share and people who need to hear them!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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From Holeness to Wholeness

holeness to wholenessFrom Holeness to Wholeness

I teach English.  I can make up words, can’t I?

If you look at any word long enough, it just starts to look weird. Take ‘whole’ for example. We all know the ‘w’ makes no noise—someone just tacked it on to distinguish it from ‘hole.’ Which is a good thing, actually, because ‘hole’ without the ‘w’ holds the opposite meaning.

‘Whole’ means ‘entire’—all of it. Not one part missing that was intended and created to be present. ‘Hole,’ on the other hand, signifies an empty space, a lack, scarcity.

All too often I find myself acting from a place of holeness instead of wholeness. I think I should do something that I don’t really want to do (does anyone else get this feeling when someone from the nominating committee at church tries to corner you in the women’s restroom or trap you between the pews after the service?), and without thinking it through my brain goes to autoresponder and I say, “Yes, I’ll lead out in the children’s classes” even though I have no talent in that area nor desire to add a weekly commitment to my already overbooked life.

And so I serve out my term from a position of holeness and feel guilty because I can’t find it in me to serve wholeheartedly. It’s a lose-lose situation. This happened a lot during my caregiver journey (a time in life when our biggest temptation is to prove we actually are Wonder Woman).

This year I made a commitment to allow God to constrain me. Constrain has a double, opposite meaning—to compel and to hold back. I want him to make up my mind (which means I need to keep listening). In order to allow God time to speak, I have to create space between the question and my answer.

I have uninstalled the autoresponder feature on my mouth and installed WaitTime 4.9. When opportunities arise, I can answer one of two ways. “Let me pray about it” works when dealing with Christians and those who know me well enough to know that my relationship with God comes first. “Let me check my schedule” suffices when dealing with anyone else.

I have uninstalled the #autoresonder on my mouth. #LivingForward Click To Tweet

It helps to have a Life Plan backing me up (something that I invested a lot of prayer and study in) so that I have an actual framework for my prayer (“Father, you helped me come up with a Life Plan, is this an opportunity that you want me to take? If so, please show me how it fits in with what you want.”) The Life Plan also helped me see the importance of filling in time slots for the most important events first—the ‘big rocks’—so that my life doesn’t fill with little things.

I want to say with Caleb that, “I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” (Joshua 14:8 NIV).

What about you? How do you make decisions so that you can serve with your whole heart?

March Lessons Learned and Relearned

lessonslearnedLessons Learned and Relearned in March

1. I learned in March that our first grandchild will be a grandson! Pedro has already talked about tiny motorcycles and gear, not to mention mountain bikes for tykes. The ultrasounds always make me ponder that the Creator of the universe knows ME and every step I take. He cares about every aspect of my life.

The Creator of the universe knows ME and every step I take. Click To Tweet

2. I learned how to hitch up a 24-foot travel trailer (including things like sway bars), pull it to my destination, back it up and make sure it’s level before unhitching it and enjoying my ‘home away from home.’ Did I mention that learning how to back up is a big deal?

3. God repays us for the years the locusts have eaten. It might not happen all at once—in fact, it might not happen until heaven—but he gives us glimpses of restoration while we live on earth. Sarah chose to spend her spring vacation with us, and we had so much fun talking, running, and hanging out together. She baked up a storm and helped around the house and I felt like I’d had a vacation by the time she left at the end of the week.lessons learned

4. I re-learned the lesson that when I set a goal for my exercise, I have focus to my workouts and fewer excuses for skipping them. Sarah and I will run in Spokane, Washington’s Bloomsday Run (12K) on May 1st. Exercising in January and February has always challenged me due to the cold and the short days. Usually, I let the challenge (um, excuses) bleed over into March. I even managed to keep running the week we spent camping with Laura and her husband (the grandson-to-be’s parents).

5. Podcasts make great companions for my training sessions. I only subscribe to two podcasts, Michael Hyatt’s “This is Your Life” and Kirsten Oliphant’s “Create if Writing” both keep me informed, inspired and energized while I run.

6. I read seven books this month. Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGuide and Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy impacted my life the most. I struggle with self-awareness, and Holley’s book really helped me clarify some things about myself and the purpose God has for my life. I also struggle with drift, and Living Forward provided a framework for evaluating my life in the context of my relationships with God, family and others. My favorite new-to-me author this month is Mary Jane Hathaway. Her book Pepper in the Gumbo sparkled with good dialogue and a great plot. I also got to read the galley copy of Karen Whitemeyer’s newest book No Other Will Do. I think this book tops all of her previous books (quite a feat, because they are all good). It explores overcoming what we believe about ourselves in a gentle way through a fast-moving plot and witty dialogue.

What about you? What cool things did you learn in March? If you’re a blogger and want to join the fun, you can drop over to Emily P. Freeman’s and link up your post.

Just Jump! Inspire Me Monday

No fear - just jump!

No fear – just jump!

“Go ahead.  You can do it!”

“Don’t over-think it, just jump!”

“If you don’t leap, you’ll always wish you had.”

We both peered over the edge into the turquoise waters below.  Way below.  Way, way below.

My daughter looked at me again.  “Are you sure?  That’s scary!”

“Just jump.   Don’t think too long. Just jump!”

She backed up and ran at the gate.  My mouth dropped open and my camera came up – she was going!

She stopped at the last second and teetered on the edge.  She looked at me standing right beside her.  “That’s a long way down!”

“Yes, it is” I replied, gazing downward with her.  “But you can do it.”

She backed up a slight bit and quicker than you can read this, she catapulted off the platform, plummeted down through the air and splashed into the waters beneath.

Her head bobbed to the surface under my watchful gaze.  The first thing she did upon surfacing was to look up at me and grin a huge wrap-around smile.  She waved jubilantly and swam over to the rocks, grinning the whole way.

I was so proud of her.  Her fear of how high the platform was did not stop her.  The natural hesitation at the top did not get in her way.  She jumped.

A man standing across from me on the platform asked, “Are you next?”

“Are you kidding?”  I retorted, “I’ll never jump off something this high!”

He looked a little baffled and I laughed to myself as I walked off the platform.  I had just encouraged my girl to jump.  Reminded her that she didn’t want to overthink it.  Encouraged her that she shouldn’t let fear rule.  Supported her desire to do something amazing, in spite of it being overwhelming.  I helped her do something I didn’t have the courage to do myself.  Something I not only feared, but wouldn’t even consider.

What kind of mother is that?

It’s the same mother that held a frog (I don’t like slimy things) for the first time when my other daughter was tiny – in order that she not grow up with a fear of reptiles like I have.  The same mother who waded into the river in spite of the crawdads so that my kids wouldn’t worry about swimming in the wild.  The same mother who bit her lip when my kids climbed a cliff and the same mom who let my kids walk to school by themselves, never telling them I walked along where they couldn’t see so that they would develop confidence.  The same mom who let them learn to saddle up when horses make me nervous.

Don’t worry, I didn’t push my daughter off the platform.  I saw in her eyes that she’d be happy if she did this.  I didn’t force horseback riding, or swimming in the river or anything.  I simply tried to let my kids not grow up letting fear rule their lives.  It’s not that I don’t want them to be careful, I do.  I just want them to not let fear rule – I want them to be able to face challenges and jump.

And she did.  I walked away from that platform on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, but my daughter jumped, twice.  And then she decided, with thought and experience, that she didn’t feel like jumping again.  I failed at jumping, but for some reason, I feel like I succeeded.

 

Sometimes a mom's job isn't to conquer her own fear, sometimes it's to teach your children to not be afraid to jump!… Click To Tweet

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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National Nutrition Month Recipe Roundup

National Nutrition Month

National Nutrition Month Recipe Roundup

Life isn’t about making giant changes and experiencing instant success.  It’s more about making incremental changes the eventually equal success with staying power. March was National Nutrition Month, and I asked some of my friends to share their favorite healthy recipes with you. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a spot where you can link up your favorite healthy (er) recipes.

Check out the links to #healthy (er) recipes at the #NutritionMonth Recipe Roundup! Click To Tweet

Breakfast Foods

Eva Krasova from Kidminds has an awesome recipe for green pancakes–if Dr. Seuss can have green eggs and ham, why not have green pancakes?

Amee from the Inspired Housewife has a plethora of healthy and gluten-free recipes.  These Healthy Egg Muffins are part of the 21-day fix plan.

If you like your eggs a little spicier, try this Zesty Egg Bake–it’s a crowd pleaser and perfect for brunch.

Salads

Here’s a Tasty Kale Salad from Hope, Heart, Home’s Susan Shipe. She has a Tasty Tuesday series you won’t want to miss.

Entrees

Airman2 Mom’s Amanda Huffman’s Healthy Chicken Stirfry

Natalie from Messy Mom shared her Turkey Burger recipe.  She shares some great tips on make extra ahead of time and freezing the excess for a quick meal later on.

Magdaline from Momzcuisine shared a recipe for Wild Asparagus that looks amazing as well as a Greek rendition of Peas and Potatoes.

I loved this recipe from Julie, the Cancer Dietitian, for Sweet Potato Burritos.

You can find some of my favorite entree recipes right here on the blog.  I especially love this Spicy Enchilada recipe.

National Nutrition Month

This tasty entrée is all flavor, but gluten-free and vegan (unless you like cheese, and add a little to the top).

Beverages

Patti from Total Health Science’s shares her friend’s Hot Ginger Tonic recipe.

LeeAnn Taylor shared her friend Julie’s Tried and True Green Smoothie Recipe.  Julie is a registered dietitian and specializes in oncology nutrition.  If you’re a caregiver to a cancer patient, you’ll want to check out her site for sure!

Sweet Treats

Lauren from Lauren’s Latest has a great recipe for Peanut Butter Energy Bites that don’t have any processed sweetners. Lauren also as a to-die-for Pumpkin Pecan Cobbler (which is really a lava cake).

Healthy (er) #brownies disguised as decadence--so good, no one will know! http://wp.me/p2UZoK-ax via @blestbutstrest #chocolate #mintI’ve discovered that you make make sweet things better for your family if you replace the whites with browns and halve the yellows.  In other words, replace the white flour with whole-wheat flour and the white sugar with brown sugar.  I replace half the butter or margarine in each recipe with applesauce.  No one is the wiser, and I feel better about serving fewer refined ingredients. If you don’t believe me, do a taste test with the brownie recipes.  Let me know what your family thinks!

 

 

 

 

 

Link up your favorite healthy (er) recipe here! I’m always looking for ways to tweak recipes and make them both yummy and nutritious.

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How to Mentor Even if You’re an Introvert

mentoring for introvertsMy phone rang during class and I checked the number before stepping outside to answer it. “Yes?”

“I have Maria here in the office with me,” the principal said, “and she wants to know if you’d be her mentor.”

“Um, I guess so,” I answered inelegantly. “What does that involve?” Inside, I cringed at the thought of mentoring someone. I already had a calendar full of to-do lists. But when the principal asks AND he’s your husband, not to mention that Maria had requested me, I couldn’t refuse.

“Just meet with her once a week and see how she’s doing, having a mentor is part of her action plan after her experience this weekend.”

Ah, yes. Maria and a group of other students had been smoking weed. I breathed a prayer and tried to inject more enthusiasm into my voice. “Sure, I’ll act as her mentor.”

The inner, lazy, conflict-avoider part of my nature warred with the constraint of God. As an introvert who highly values her alone time, I had managed to stave off all requests for mentorship over the years. At the last school I worked at, the church ladies had an active mentoring program with the students at the school—but I used my daughters as an excuse (I didn’t want them to become jealous of my relationship with another teen girl).

But, with both girls out of the nest, I had lost my excuse.

When Maria showed up in class later that morning, she buzzed straight to me and exclaimed, “When will we meet?”

“Um, Wednesday afternoon or evening?” I asked.

I wracked my brain, wondering what in the world we would do and afraid that she would turn out to be one of those silent girls where every word extracted involves Novocain and sharp instruments. I prayed (ok, maybe whined), “Lord, you know I don’t have the emotional energy left at the end of the day to carry a conversation with a stranger. I can start off with a few questions, but I need Maria to grab the bit in her mouth and take off running.”

Wednesday loomed, and I still had no idea what to do. My tiny town doesn’t have a local Starbucks (nor do I feel comfortable feeding teenaged girls caffeine) or a mall or even a shopping center. It’s a one-move-a-week sort of town, and the hours are so limited I haven’t made it to the theatre yet in the four years we’ve lived here.

I needed to go grocery shopping and to the post office, though, so I met Maria after classes and she hopped in my car and off we went. I felt a little embarrassed that the extent of my creative mentoring abilities involved a trip to the market.

One question, that’s all it took. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked. Like the proverbial racehorse, Maria chattered unhindered by me for the next 40 minutes while I got my mail and pushed a cart around Safeway.

God knows what he's doing-why do I ever doubt that? #mentoring Click To Tweet

God knows what he’s doing—why do I ever doubt it? I still don’t know how to be a mentor. I think I’m more of a ‘mentrovert’, but I know that if God called me, he’ll equip me. I do know he hasn’t called me to preach to Maria or point out her mistakes or the consequences of her actions. He has called me to come alongside her and listen to her stories.

So far, we’ve grocery shopped a few times and gone on a few long walks. I’m open to ideas! What about you? Have you ever mentored someone? What kinds of things did you do?

A Life Plan Retreat on a Budget

Life Plan Retreat

My Living Forward Life Plan Retreat

It seems appropriate that I spent yesterday and today—Easter Sunday—away on my Life Plan Retreat. I started my adventure yesterday afternoon by learning how to hitch up our trailer by myself and backing it up the hill and around the corner in order to exit the easy way. For those of you who know how much I dislike backing trailers up, you’ll understand my sense of accomplishment and success.

Next, I drove thirty miles away to a county park that has free camping next to a ‘lake’ (aka wide spot in the river with a small man-made dam). I leveled the trailer all by myself, but since only one other camper vied for the 20 spaces, I didn’t bother to unhitch it. I know, it’s sort of the cheater’s way to camp, but I didn’t want to waste time unhitching and re-hitching—I needed to get to work!

By four-thirty, I had my copy of Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, along with my downloaded Action Plan Guide, my Bible, Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide and Lisa Murray’s Peace for a Lifetime along with a bunch of colored pens spread out on the table.

My 'retreat center'm aka, our trailer.

My ‘retreat center’  aka, our trailer.

I spent about an hour processing some of the baggage from the previous week and praying about the process before I could actually start working on my Life Plan. The Action Plan Guide (found on the book’s website) really helped me to quickly review the main points of the book and the purpose for even writing a Life Plan.

The first order of business was to write my legacy statements—how do I want my family and friends to remember me? By thinking about the end, I actually gained a lot of clarity about how I need to act in the present. Whilst reading Living Forward, I stressed quite a bit about this task—but I didn’t find it difficult at all. I think, deep down, we all have a general idea of how we want to be remembered. And honestly, we all want people to remember us for positive things—who wants to be remembered as ‘that jerk from church or work”?

At six I popped a big bowl of popcorn and baked a few cookies (I had prepared the dough earlier, so all I had to do was pop them in the oven) for my supper, and settled in to reread parts of Living Forward that would help me focus on choosing my Life Accounts (the areas of my life that I want to purposefully invest in).

After supper I went for a quick walk to enjoy the sunset color and listen to the jungle-like sounds of Great-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds settling into the marsh for the evening.

When I finished my walk, I started in on my Life Accounts. I didn’t get creative with them, but stuck to a simple nine suggested by the book (after all, this document isn’t intended to be written in stone, and I can always go back and tweak them as I go). When the clock struck eight, I decided I’d had enough introspection for the day so I went to bed.

I awoke at 5:30, eager to finish my Life Plan—after all, I needed to be home by about 12:30 in order to keep an appointment with the bike club (Pedro and I try to take students out mountain biking at least two or three times a month when the weather permits).

Using the Life Plan Action guide and referring to the book, I made my way through evaluating my Life Accounts and prioritizing them. Once I finished these steps, I moved on to using the Life Plan Template for writing up my actual Life Plan.

This section of the retreat drained me because after writing a purpose for each Life Account, I needed to honestly write down the current state of affairs for each one. I’ve neglected some of these accounts quite a bit over the years, and it stung to see my shortcomings on paper. I didn’t let my deficits defeat me, though, because the next step involves writing down actionable plans for improving them. Once again, I found it easier than I expected.

Don't let your deficets defeat you when writing your #LifePlan. They are opportunities for… Click To Tweet

By 10:16, when I wrote my last action step for the last priority on my Life Accounts, I felt renewed and yes, even a little reborn.

The next step will involve reading my Life Plan every morning for the next 90 days. As I read over it and pray about it, I will discover ways to complete my actionable steps and internalize the values that I want to commit to. After all, writing a Life Plan and never looking at it again would be like forgetting that Jesus rose again to change our lives once the Easter dinner dishes have been stacked in the cupboard.

I haven’t been on line since yesterday morning, nor have I been on the phone or read any emails. I did text Pedro to let him know I’d arrived and everything worked fine, and I did respond to texts from our girls (after all, family makes up some of my top Life Accounts).

I found it much easier to concentrate and actually get work done when I didn’t have any of the usual distractions around me and no responsibilities other than preparing myself a few meals. I expected the process to take much longer, but the time constraints helped keep me on task.

If you don’t have the luxury of being able to take an entire 20 hours away, you could shorten the process by doing all of the pre-work ahead of time. Use the Action Plan Guide to review what you’ll be doing and decide on your Life Accounts in the week leading up to your retreat. Find a coffee shop or a quiet corner of a library and settle in for three to six hours and write out your Life Plan.

The key elements of the Life Plan Retreat include writing a Life Plan and committing to reading the finished product for the next 90 days. I’ll let you know by the end of June how the constant re-reading has helped me as I strive to become all that God wants to become.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Accepting the Rescue

reach for the rescueCould anyone rescue my daughter?

A year and a month ago, I didn’t know if I would ever see my daughter alive again. I had visions of her beaten, bruised body lying unclaimed in a foreign morgue whilst I searched the world over trying to save her. Her life seemed doomed to a destiny of heartache, suffering and pain that would eventually lead to an early death.

It could have happened. She had a one-way ticket to London and no money. She had burned just about every relationship bridge with family and friends. Her life spiraled out of control—only she didn’t seem to realize it.

I called on my prayer warrior friends—church ladies who had watched her grow up and loved her—and they responded with mighty prayers. Prayers for protection. Prayers for peace. Prayers for safety. For three long days of uncertainty their prayers kept me together.

And as Good Friday approaches, it seems fitting that I remember another parent with a beloved child. This Father knew his Son’s destiny included death. Only now, after my daughter’s experience, do I began to appreciate what God the Father must have experienced as he sent his only Son to a far away land where the inhabitants left his body beaten, bruised and lying in a tomb.

I know I wanted to mortgage the house and sell all my possessions so I could seek Sarah and bring her home to us. But I didn’t. My impulse would have driven her further away at that point in her life. I had to stand by and let someone else rescue her.

How tempting it must have been for God the Father to throw all the resources of heaven behind an earth invasion in order to save his beloved Son. But he didn’t. To save Jesus from the experience of the cross would have ruined the greater plan.

Saving Jesus from the cross would have ruined the rescue plan. #goodfriday Click To Tweet

The plan to sacrifice one for the sins of many. He had to stand by and let his Son rescue mankind.

And because Jesus suffered in every single way we as humans suffer, we have a Savior we can identify with, confess to and find rebirth within his love. He. is. alive. The plan is in place. To stay alive, we have to reach out to the Rescuer. Click To Tweet

 

Light the Next Step (and trust the Guide for the journey)

View from the top of La Nariz del Indio, Guatemala. Lighting up the boot heels worked – we found our way!

Single file, we trudged through the darkness.  Silence surrounded us, punctuated only by the strained breath of those not used to trekking up a mountain in darkness.  We’d never been on this trail before, and other trails branching off in different directions reminded us to stay closely behind the guide.  Our guide, Miguel, tromped ahead in his knee level rubber boots, grinning broadly whenever hit by the beam of a flashlight and tramping effortlessly along at our pace, at times dropping back to check on the slowest and then jogging ahead to point the way.

I hadn’t been hiking in a long time – not up a mountain anyway.  I live in Kansas.  The elevation and incline were taking their toll, but I doggedly kept behind the guide, my breath growing shorter with every intake.  I also wasn’t used to hiking in the dark.  Miguel had no flashlight – knowing the trail by memory.  The rest of us in the silent group traipsing through the pre-dawn time had a wide variety of light.  My daughter carried her phone that lit up the trail around her feet.  Another, Victor, carried a lantern that flickered with each swing but didn’t lend much assistance to finding the trail.  I had a pak-lite; a light invented for hiking in darkness and for ease of carrying.  It’s tiny and I always have it in my backpack.  So even though we hadn’t planned on this hike, I had my little light and it lit up just enough ahead of me to keep the guide’s feet in my view.  Another lady had a big heavy flashlight with a weak beam that made it hardly worth the weight.  The stars were brilliant overhead and while the peace was amazing, the complete darkness beyond the feeble circles of light made for slightly eerie hiking.

None of us were worried – we were headed as high as we could go in order to watch the sunrise over the volcanic mountains around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

The trail switch backed up the mountain and tourist tennis shoes slipped and slid up the incline.  I stayed as close as I could get to the guide as my eyes could see nothing beyond his shadow.  Labored breathing now punctuated the darkness – my labored breathing.  I couldn’t catch my breath for some strange reason and I began to hear a bit of a whine to my gasps for breath.  I trained my tiny light forward, focusing on the those rubber-boot-heels and trudged on, blessing the family who had gifted me with my pak-lite.  Those boot-heels began to mean the world to me.

Silence continued as I followed those boots up another steep section, tripping over rocks and roots.

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet

 And a light unto my Path.

The words sang through my brain.  I couldn’t see the trail. I couldn’t see the top of the mountain.  I couldn’t see the cliff below or the coffee plants mixed in the trees just beyond the edge (I saw those on the way back down).

All I could see were the heels of my guide.  My guide who ran this trail four or five times a day.  My guide who knew ALL the trails on this mountain as well as he knew the faces of his children.  My guide who jogged back along the line to make sure all followed safely behind him.  I pursued those heels over a hole and up another switchback.

I have lots of decisions to make in my life.  I like to have a plan.  I want to know the future.  I prefer to have everything neatly packaged and gift-wrapped before I commit to anything.  I want a million-candle-watt spotlight that will whoosh down the trail and light up the trees on all sides and blind any animal in its path.  I want the beam to swish ahead to the end of the trail and light up any scary spots.  But instead, I have a pak-light.  I have a Word that tells me to trust the feet of my Guide, who knows my life Path like He knows the faces of His children.  I have a tiny but mighty light that illuminates my path only one step at a time, but as long as I can step in each footprint left by my Guide, I can stay on the right trail.

IMG_9520

And when we climbed around the last corner and I grabbed onto rocks and pulled up the last steep part and we rounded the corner we could see the slightly glowing horizon where the sun was preparing its arrival.  We stood entranced, breathing hard, but victorious while Miguel grinned in pride of his mountain and view.  We watched the sun rise behind the silhouettes of the volcanos and the rays of warmth reached across the tranquil waters of the lake, welcoming us to a new day.

By trusting the Light and following carefully in the steps of our Guide, we CAN reach the top and experience victory!

By trusting the Light and following carefully in the steps of our Guide, we CAN reach the top and experience victory!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Clueless Christian Surprised by Subtle Sin

Clueless Christian

During vacation last week I bravely went on a solitary hike down in the Chiricahua Mountains in southern Arizona. For some reason, no one else in my family felt like getting up at four in the morning, driving two hours from our camp site, and spending the day looking for birds. I love them all anyway.

I expected to see fellow birders out on the trails, but I had the forest to myself (along with a bottle of pepper spray). As I hiked along, I realized why I birded alone—instead of a multitude of birdsong, I only heard the plaintive cry of a Mexican Jay. Evidently I had arrived at the famous birding haven well ahead of the migratory birds.

After giving a mental shrug, I kept on hiking, hoping I’d see or hear at least one cool feathered friend before I headed back to camp. After a half a mile, a cheery little sound announced the presence of a bird, but since my auditory memory isn’t that great, I couldn’t figure out whom I should look for. Nor could I see anything. The giant pine and sycamore trees marched along the rocky creek bed, but I failed to see any fluttering wings or hopping movements.

My eyes glazed over as I stared at the bark of a nearby pine tree. Suddenly, the bark moved. Surprised, I yanked my camera into position and discovered that the moving bark had a long beak and two clingy claws. A Brown Creeper! It had been awhile since I had seen one, and I had never managed to get good photos before. I happily spent the next thirty minutes getting beautiful shots of the master of camouflage. If it hadn’t been for his sweet spring song, I would have walked right on by, clueless about his presence.Clueless Christian

Sometimes, I feel like a clueless Christian. I bop along doing my own things when, BAM, out of nowhere, I trip and fall. That happened this week when Pedro quietly admonished me for my less-than-loving attitude towards a colleague. In his wisdom, he spoke to me right before walking out the door for an appointment so I could pick myself up and examine his words in solitude.

As much as I hated to admit it, I have let my personal preferences for personality types overshadow my feelings—which in turn color my actions. Even though someone’s personality feels like fingernails on a chalkboard, Jesus calls me to respond in love.

God asks us to respond in love to the nails-on-the-chalkboard people in our lives. Click To Tweet

Instead, I go to great lengths to disguise my feelings about the person. I think I have done an admirable job of camouflaging my antipathy, when in reality I have secretly catalogued every scrape on the chalkboard. It doesn’t take long for those annoyances and unresolved interactions to gain bulk and weight to the point that I just. don’t. want. to. spend. any. time. around. that. person.

And so I enter the avoidance phase. I go out of my way to not show up where that person might be. I manufacture excuses for not showing support. In short, I think I have masterfully camouflaged my feelings but my actions sing out for the careful observer to hear and see.

That’s me. Clueless Christian surprised by subtle sin. Now it’s time to screw up my courage and restore the relationship by discussing my feelings in a kind way with the person I’ve been avoiding. I should probably thank Pedro for helping me recognize the error of my ways, too.

What about you?  Do subtle sins ever surprise you?

Living Forward is Triage for Life

Living Forward

Living Forward: a Book Review

God has a sense of humor. First, he gives me a word for the year with a double meaning—constrain—which means to both compel and to hold back. Next, he puts three books in my life (books I received for free with the understanding that I would leave an honest review) and I feel compelled to read all three of them carefully because I want to hold up my end of the bargain.

All of the books belong to the self-help category—not a genre I read on a regular basis. Ok, who am I kidding? I haven’t read a self-help book for a good six or seven years.

I just finished the third book and I feel as if I stand at the base of Everest—but due to the first two books, at least I have the proper equipment. Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, presents the rationale and procedure for creating a Life Plan. A Life Plan is a statement of goals and priorities based on writing one’s eulogy.  Yep.  It sounds a little macabre, but the authors point out that if we don’t think about how we want people to remember us, we won’t know how to allot our time and efforts in our life accounts (and who wants to come up short of funds when the bills come due?).

As my fiftieth birthday approaches, I have come to realize that although I have a lot of ideas, wishes, and unspoken desires, I haven’t spent a lot of time actually accomplishing or fulfilling many of them. Nor have I spent much time thinking through the WHY I do what I do.

For the last 28 years or so, motherhood, marriage and work have consumed my time (all worthy pursuits). Throw in a couple periods of intensive caregiving for family members who experienced cancer and mental illness, and it’s easy to see how my boat of life has started to drift with the tide. I haven’t exactly sat in the boat with my hands folded watching the scenery bop by. But I have spent a lot of time bailing like crazy and when the storms stopped, blinking in wonder at where I ended up.

Although I excel at micro planning, planning long-term and actually thinking about leaving a legacy has never occurred to me. I’ve often mistakenly thought that ‘legacy’ simply meant a pile of money one leaves one’s children or some charities—as a teacher, I figured I’d never have much of a legacy to leave. Now I understand that ‘legacy’ has a broader definition—how I spend my time will leave a legacy of relationships and accomplishments that will help others.

I find it no problem to plan logistics, transportation, classes and activities for 90 students to spend a week camping in the Colorado Rockies, but I rarely plan for more than six months away and most of my unspoken goals remain daydreams floating in the ether of my mind. It’s time to stop the drift.

#Livingforward is like triage for life. Click To Tweet

Hyatt and Harkavy have convinced me that I need to create a life plan and look at my life accounts and prepare purpose statements for them. I need to schedule a day away to put my Life Plan on paper. So, in the next week, I will commit to doing the pre-planning and organizing.

Life is precious, and I don’t want to keep wasting time wondering what in the world I’m doing. I feel constrained to continue with the trajectory God has put me on (but I could definitely use some prayers, because like I said earlier, I feel like I’m standing at the base of Everest and I feel constrained to climb it—no matter how difficult it might prove).

What about you?  Does the term ‘Life Plan’ make your insides quiver like tapioca pudding during an earthquake?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Learning to Share is Harder Than I Expected

Learning to share

To Bear is to Share

I can never make up my mind what the Christian’s response to that verse in the Bible that exhorts us to ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2 NKJV) really means. Sometimes, I shy away from it—sure that the God only wants my tithe, offerings and castoffs duly donated to the Salvation Army or missionary barrel at church (Who am I kidding? Jesus doesn’t need my junk). After all, I have enough problems of my own and have no desire to take on someone else’s mess (they made it, they can deal with it).

At times I’ve done the opposite (especially when called to be a caregiver). I’ve swooped in with my superhero cape and done my best to fix someone else’s problems using the skills, insights and wisdom God gave me. I confess I’ve felt disgruntled when my rescuee didn’t follow my advice or feel adequately appreciative of my heroic efforts to bear his or her burdens.

But as I grow older, I’m coming to understand the verse better. Sometimes, reading a different translation sheds new light on the text and the entire context of the passage. The Message version says this in Galatians 6:1-3:

“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

The context explains it all—our position is not superhero or disinterested offering giver. God calls us to position ourselves as fellow travelers. God doesn’t need us to judge or to save. He needs us to reach out to the oppressed. He needs us to share the burdens of our fellow travelers. We don’t carry the burdens (that’s HIS job). We simply share them.

God doesn't need us to judge or to save. He needs us to reach out. Click To Tweet

I see this as a call to listen. Our ears should be the first in line for service (with a hand of comfort offered as well). We don’t need to offer advice, try to solve someone else’s problems or offer religious platitudes. We need to listen. Once our fellow traveler shares her burden, we need to offer the four hardest words know to woman, “How can I help?”

And of course, once again, we should listen.

God calls us to be burden sharers, not burden snatchers. Click To Tweet

Peace for Lifetime: The Self-Help Book I Didn’t Know I Needed

peace for a lifetime

Peace for a Lifetime Review

This book is the first in a trifecta of books that I really needed to read (but didn’t realize how much I needed to read them). Reading Peace for a Lifetime is like sitting down with a friendly counselor in the comfort of my own home. Lisa Murry never pushes or insists, she just quietly guides the reader through the necessary steps to discovering more about one’s self (not an easy task for someone like me).

I first picked up Peace for a Lifetime because I wanted to support a fellow blogger and writer with her book baby—not because I particularly felt the need for increased peace (I thought I had a pretty peace-filled life, thank you very much). But I soon realized that the book isn’t just about obtaining peace.

#PeaceforaLifetime isn't just about peace. It's about emotional abundance, too. Click To Tweet

First of all, Lisa explains emotional abundance and its importance in our lives. A key element (especially for women) lies in learning to stay an individual even in the context of a relationship—it’s all too easy to subsume oneself in one’s spouse or children, as any wife or mother knows.

Lisa constantly points the reader to the only source of true nutrition for feeding our emotional selves—God our Savior. She also points out that we have to get to know ourselves and learn to own our emotions before we can be truly fit to help anyone else.

As a recovering caregiving (from my husband’s journey with cancer and my daughter’s struggles with mental illness), I know all about the importance of self-care. But I learned a new term in Peace for a Lifetime—self-nurture. For me, the most powerful words in the book are these: “I cannot allow myself to be intimately known by another person if I haven’t first spent time becoming intimately acquainted with myself.”

As I progressed through the book, I came to understand that maybe I haven’t spent enough time over the years getting to know myself—which probably explains why I don’t feel ‘grown up’ yet—despite the fact that I’m pushing fifty. I jokingly tell my students that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Ok, so maybe I know, I just haven’t wanted to really analyze or admit it.

Lisa has a great acronym for dealing with communication—LIFE. One must live calmly, implement healthy communication, free others (as we free ourselves) and engage in collaborative conflict-resolution skills.

Peace for a Lifetime is easy-to-read, well-researched (a delicate balance—to be both easily understood AND well-researched), and it includes questions at the end of each chapter that help a reader evaluate her or his self.

If you’ve felt a vague unease about how your life is progressing, or just plain unsettled and unhappy, this book will help you gain clarity about yourself and your needs. I mentioned that it’s the first in a trifecta of books God put in my path—the second one is Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide and the third is Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy’s Living Forward.

What about you? Have you ever picked up a book, thinking you didn’t really need it, but discovered that it was just what you needed at the moment?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Why I Quit the News Cold Turkey

NewsI quit watching the news on television during the first Gulf War when I was pregnant with our firstborn. I read somewhere that babies started to recognize the voices in their lives before they were even born, and I didn’t want our baby to think Tom Brokow was her father.

I subscribed to Newsweek, though, so I kept current with the news. Until I had our second child and didn’t have as much time to read, so I switched to radio news. I’d listen in the car and on the stereo at home.

Finally, I realized that teaching full time and parenting full time gave me no time for quiet, so I quit the news cold turkey. Call me an avoider or an ostrich, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I haven’t missed anything.

The weather is too hot or too cold.

Nations can’t get along with each other and there’s a war or genocide or act of terror or aggression going on.

Somebody killed somebody else in cold blood.

The economy is either going up or down.

A natural disaster claimed lives.

Somebody famous did something that has earned everyone’s ire/respect/vitriol.

A politician has lied or broken a promise.

With social media, I can keep track of the real news—whose child has made a great choice. An unexpected kindness from a stranger changes someone’s day. A friend or a stranger needs prayer.

I’d go so far as to say that the news is unbiblical. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The news? It certainly doesn’t meet those standards!

The news just doesn't meet the standards I want to live by. Click To Tweet

What are your thoughts on the news?

February Taught Me My Need for a Plan

February Lessons

What I Learned in February

I’m joining Emily P. Freeman at www.chattingatthesky who hosts a monthly link up where bloggers share what they’ve learned during the month.  

For almost fifty years I’ve drifted along, and life has been good.  Sure, we’ve had some serious bumps along the way, but that happens to everyone. My caregiver journeys seems to be over for now. This year, I’m focusing on the word constrain as I ask God to constrain me (the word also means ‘compel’).  Of course, when God answers prayers, it shouldn’t surprise me.

When God answers #prayers, it shouldn't surprise me. Click To Tweet

My motto (unspoken) of “Don’t plan big because then you won’t be disappointed” is catching up to me.  For the past several months I’ve had a compelling urge to think more deeply about what I’ve accomplished in life and to act with intention to accomplish more. Maybe the fact that the other side of the hill looms on the horizon has something to do with it, too.

  1.  Little Planning: In December I purchased a planner–just a simple $7.00 one from Wal Mart, and a set of four pretty pens.  I knew that in order to accomlish more, I needed to write down goals. Last year I wasted $30 on a really nice, big planner that had questions and places to answer them interspersed throughout, along with hour-by-hour appointment lines.  I used it for two weeks. I chose a pen color for each of the four areas in my life that I wanted to set goals for: Exercise, Household (I decided it was time to clean the bathrooms more often than once a month ;), Work and Writing.  At the beginning of the month, I map out specific goals for each area on the overview calendar, and then each week I review them and add them to the daily calendar.  Making a plan for an entire month wears me out. Crossing things off a list makes me excited, so this works for me. I’ve kept up on the goals and tasks for the day, and given myself grace and a few extra days when I didn’t.
  2. Emotional Planning:  I didn’t realize I needed to go through some serious emotional planning.  No, I don’t mean that one can plan her emotions–I mean that I read a book that helped me realize I haven’t spent a lot of time getting to really know my emotions.  By planning quiet time with a guide book (Peace for a Lifetime by Lisa Murray), my Bible, journal and prayer, I’ve learned more about myself in the past month than I have in the past 48 1/2 years.  Lisa calls this ‘self-nurture.’
  3. Planning a LIFE statement: After reading Peace for a Lifetime, God neatly arranged the next book I needed.  Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide helped me understand that I needed to craft a statement based on my strengths, talents and communication style.  She calls this a LIFE Statement (which stands for Love Is Faith Expressed).February Planning
  4. Planning from the end:  Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy’s book provides the final part of my planning.  Living Forward actually challenges the reader to think about the end of life and write a eulogy for him or herself. I’ll be setting some time aside in March for a retreat to write my Life Plan (and write my eulogy).

The question remains:  Has all of this planning helped me in any way?  Yes.  My house looks a lot nicer (and I love to have a tidy house, I just don’t like to spend time cleaning ;)). I’ve kept to my exercise goals during the two hardest months for me to exercise.  I’ve written more and worked on projects that I’ve put off for far too long. I’ve been a more organized teacher.  Once I align my Life Plan and my LIFE statement, I think planning on my calendar will become easier. I think that if I had known this stuff back during my caregiving seasons, I would have been happier and able to accomplish more because I would have understood that God gives me ‘seasons for a reason’ (~Holley Gerth).

What have you learned in February?

Why You Need to Read the ‘You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide’

already amazingGod always lines things up in ways that I never expect. For example, I recently applied to participate in two launch teams for authors I respect—Holley Gerth and her You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide and Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy’s Living Forward book.

Due to our small town post office’s change in hours, it took me a week to pick up the packages. Once I had the books in hand, I couldn’t decide which to read first. Making a life plan sounds so important, especially because I realize that I have done a lot of drifting in my life. Since I’d been chosen to participate in that launch first, I decided to dive right in to Living Forward.

From the very beginning, I felt the conviction that this book has so much to say to me—but to be honest, the whole concept of developing a life plan terrifies me. I belong to that generation of women that was neither oppressed nor empowered—thus I felt unsure as to whether or not I NEEDED a Life Plan.

For the most part, no one told me overtly that I COULDN’T do something because of my gender, but the silent message I received was that as part of the female half of the world, my roles should include the three Ms—marriage, motherhood and mentoring—regardless of whether or not I felt especially equipped for any of them. To deny my highest calling would waste the talents God gave me.

Don’t get me wrong—I love marriage and motherhood, but I wouldn’t say that either came naturally or easy. My introverted personality and habit of stuffing my feelings made communicating with my extroverted, exuberant husband a real challenge at times. Over time, all those books I’ve read on relationships have helped me become a better communicator.

Likewise, I didn’t take to motherhood the way fish take to swimming. Self-help books and parenting classes provided a much-needed rescue ring (not to mention the fact that learning to parent on the same page as my husband increased my communication skills). I made some real blunders as a parent, but by the time I needed to really step it up and employ all that I had learned, by God’s grace, I think I did ok.

Mentoring (that natural ability to come alongside younger women and somehow help them—along with the kitchen sink of duties assigned to women in churches) remains illusive. I’d rather get up front and preach than fold the communion cloths and fill the cups with grape juice.

Pedro and I have grown through 27 years of marriage and conflict resolution, and we plan on enjoying each other’s company for as long as we both shall live. But our nest has emptied (mostly—our youngest is in college), and I feel the need to fill it with something—and no idea with what to fill it. A life plan seemed like the perfect fix.

But I hit a roadblock after the first few chapters of Living Forward. Who am I to write a life plan—as long as I stumble along making sure that my marriage remains solid, my children feel loved and anyone who crosses my path feels mentored in some way, everything should be good, right? Women are supposed to just drift along and care for the next person God places in their path, right?

Maybe not. I decided to switch to the other book for awhile, and I’ve discovered a lot about myself by going through Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Workbook. The exercises and videos helped me realize that ‘God puts us in a season for a reason’—and those seasons might not last forever. For example, whilst I embraced motherhood and learned the skills I needed to become a better parent, I no longer have children at home. That season has ended.

Although I’ve nurtured others quite a bit—my husband through cancer, our daughters, my students—I can’t say that I’ve been intentional about it. Over the years, I have learned to say ‘no’ to things that people have tried to guilt me into doing (“You’re cheerful, won’t you be a greeter at church?”), but I haven’t really had a plan for why I say no (which induces a lot of guilt).

Gerth takes readers through the steps of self-discovery (this is NOT an easy step for me!), which enables us to see that as women, God doesn’t expect us to adhere to the 3Ms. He created each one of us for an amazing purpose (and it might not be marriage, motherhood, or mentoring).

The #AlreadyAmazing LifeGrowth guide takes you through the steps you need to discover your… Click To Tweet

The first four chapters or units of study delve into the reader’s gifts (this is where doing the study in community would be a great idea, because, frankly, I have a hard time identifying my gifts), interests and styles of getting things done. Once the reader has figured these things out, Gerth introduces readers to the concept of LIFE statements (Love Is Faith Expressed).

Once again, this proved difficult for me, but Gerth walks the faint of heart through the process with plenty of tips and encouragement. The last chapter deals with examining the legacy one wants to leave—which, ironically (or should I say, providentially), is where Hyatt and Harkavy’s book begins.

The LifeGrowth Guide includes everything a gal needs to figure out her LIFE statement so that she can move on to her Life Plan (found in Living Forward). The beautifully designed book has room to journal, doodle, think out loud and jot down notes. Each session, or chapter, has corresponding videos from the author as well as excerpts from her book You’re Already Amazing, and extension activities. The back of the book includes directions for group leaders and facilitators—creating a virtual women’s retreat in a box.

I’ve never considered doing a group Bible study or women’s group, because I don’t have the time to come up with the curriculum. But with this tool, even introverted me could act as hostess and facilitator.

It's like discovering a women's retreat in a box from Amazon. #AlreadyAmazing Click To Tweet

What about you?  Do you have a hard time identifying your needs, strengths and talents?

On Becoming Weary

M&Ms

Life might feel out of control, but don’t wear of doing good, God has a plan!

Almost two years ago (March 2) I started on a new life-regimen.  I found out a long list of allergies to foods and cut them all out of my diet.  Completely.  Cold turkey.  No sugar.  No gluten.  No soy.  No dairy.  And those are just the major things on the list.  The list is lo-o-o-o-ng (the doctor flinched when looking over my list before handing it to me).  I was determined – sick of feeling sick and tired of feeling tired.  So I ate exactly the way I was supposed to eat.  I lasted over a year.  I stuck to it.  I lost almost 30 pounds and felt a return of energy.

This last summer, because of some losses, we did a lot of traveling and taking care of family estates.  During that travel, I let myself use the excuse of eating M&Ms to keep myself awake while driving 30 hours across country.

I’m not sure what’s happened, but the trip has long been over, and I’m still eating M&Ms.  I don’t feel too great and we won’t talk about weight gain.  But see, I can always provide myself a reason.  Things have been rough.  Extra stress at work, extra work with my kids, extra loneliness or bad weather.  Who knows.  I can give myself a list of excuses to not stick to what makes me feel better – not right this moment, but in the long run.

Let’s face it.  My reasons might be valid – my reasons to self-indulge.  I DO have stress and work hard and blah, blah, blah.  So I have issues.  Who doesn’t?  Do any of you reading this not have issues you have to deal with?  If so, please write me immediately and let me know who you are and what kind of magic you possess that allows you to live free of the curse of sin surrounding you.

In my weakness and weird determination to ‘self-medicate’, I’ve been making myself worse.  How stupid.  How weak.  How pathetic.  How typical.  Anyone with me?

I had a tough moment recently, and my middle child (okay, she’s an adult now, having recently turned 18, but I still consider her my child), texted me this verse:   “ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9).

I’ve read it before.  But my child gave this to me because I needed it and that left quite the impression and while feeling a bit sorry for myself this week, I’ve also reached a determination.  When I want to quit work, or quit being social, or quit eating right, or quit trying to be nice to rude people – I want this verse emblazoned on my soul.

To make this real and easy to talk about, I’ve used M&Ms.  They’re not a sin, y’all!  I used chocolate because it’s my go-to thing.  But really it’s the issue of just plain not doing what is right for me.  Not listening to advice or doing what God asks of us.  That’s the big picture.

Selfish me wants to feel better right now, to be noticed, to feel rewarded or recognized.  I want to be understood.  But God says this, “AT THE PROPER TIME”.  I want things now, but God has a proper time.  I have to trust.  I have to keep doing what is right and not tire of it because I have to remember that God will make everything right in the end.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”… Click To Tweet

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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The Morning Miracle on Eleven Long

morningI started awake and rolled to a sitting position on the narrow Naugahyde chair-turned-cot. Each time Pedro stirred, I jerked awake again to check on him. He seemed more feverish than before, more confused as he mumbled in his delirium. I pushed the call button, and went to the bathroom to wet another washcloth to cool his forehead.

Before I had a chance to write it out, the door opened and a nurse came in to see why I’d pressed the button. “He seems more restless,” I told her, “I’m not sure what’s wrong.” She did her thing whilst I did mine—pressing a cool cloth to Pedro’s forehead and praying incoherent prayers.

The nurse changed something on the IV bag, and then softly left the room. The scene repeated over and over all night long. A fungal infection had entered Pedro’s bloodstream, and his last round of chemotherapy had killed off all his white blood cells.

Before darkness had fallen, the doctors had mentioned giving him a white blood cell transplant and asked questions about possible donors. I’d called his only brother, only to find out that he was across the world at the moment, and wouldn’t make it back for at least 36 hours.

“It’s a race,” the doctor had said as he left the night before. He never finished the sentence or the thought. By the time the first light peeped in the giant windows of the hospital room, my brain had ground to a halt. The nurses came in to draw blood yet again, and I wandered down the hall, to the elevator and down to the waking-up city to grab some coffee and a scone for breakfast. I knew the doctors wouldn’t meet for another hour, so I had time to regroup before I spoke to one of them.

As I shuffled down the hall of Eleven Long towards Pedro’s hospital room, hands warmed and mind numbed from worry and lack of sleep, I saw a doctor heading down the hall with a big smile. “Pedro’s brother won’t be here for another 24 hours,” I said in a rush, “but he’s probably the best candidate for a white blood cell transplant.”

“Oh, we won’t need him,” the doctor said. “Haven’t you heard?”

“What?” I almost spilled my coffee. “Heard what?”

“Pedro has white blood cells again! It’s a miracle!”

Morning. When God answers prayers and cancer tucks its tail and retreats to its corner, licked again.

Morning. When scientists proclaim a #miracle even though they don't believe. #cancersurvivor Click To Tweet

Morning. When scientists proclaim a miracle—even though they don’t believe in the One who does miraculous things.

Morning. When an exhausted caregiver feels God’s mercies anew. Every. Single. Time.

What about you? Is there a time you’ve experienced God’s mercies that really stands out in your life?

Triggers is Not Just for Mothers of Young Ones

Triggers Book

 

It’s not often that I read a non-fiction book that that has me turning pages as quickly as Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. In fact, it’s not often that I read books on parenting, since our two girls have entered adulthood.

But Triggers touches a place in my teacher heart and my wifely heart and my soon-to-be-grandmother heart (as well as my mother heart, of course). I have struggled with my temper throughout my life (my parents tell me that my grandmother once despaired of ever seeing me happy), and this book helps even an old codger like me see ways that I can grow and get more authentic in my relationship with God. And the more I immerse myself in his grace, the easier it becomes for me to deal with others.

The authors, Wendy Speake and Amber Lia, divide the book into two sections. The first section has all those triggers that a parent can immediately relate to: whining kids, roughhousing, sibling rivalry, disobedience, etc. As one reads, one starts to feel as if the paramedics have arrived.

As one reads, one starts to feel as if the paramedics have arrived. #Triggersbook Click To Tweet

Once the authors perform triage, the reader gets drawn deeper into the root reasons for way he or she may have a tendency to fall apart at the drop of a crumb or hearing “Why, Mommy?” for the eight-hundred-and-seventy-six-thousandth time. The real inner work begins in the second half of the book—it’s akin to visiting the doctor or the counselor or the secret places within our own hearts to examine, confess, and root out the things that make us lash out in frustration.

TriggersThe authors format the book in a user-friendly way—each chapter has anecdotes, biblical advice and prayers. The reader can choose to read the book in one sitting or use it as a daily devotional book. Likewise, a stressed-out busy reader could jump around and read the chapters that shout out to them the loudest.

Don’t think that because you don’t have young kids around (especially boys), that Triggers isn’t for you. It is. It’s for anyone who longs to have better relationships with family and coworkers and especially for anyone who longs to grow closer to God. I’ll be gifting this book to any moms-to-be on my gift list—starting with my own daughter (but don’t tell her, I want it to be a surprise 😉 ).

You can find the physical book at your favorite bookstore on online, or, if you’d like to just read it as a PDF or send it to your eReader, you can order it here (this is an affiliate link).

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregiver mom for an #inspirational link up. Check out the great stories! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Why That Proverbs 31 Woman Really Chaps My Hide

Proverbs 31 WomanThe Proverbs 31 woman irritates me. I think of her in my head as Mrs. Perfecta Esposa (in a snarky sort of way). Ok, maybe it’s the ideal of Perfecta that really rubs me the wrong way. Well, in all honesty, the fact that people think that anyone should live up to the standard of Perfecta just seems wrong (especially if it’s some very human male pointing out a woman’s shortcomings). Even worse, when a caregiver holds herself up to Perfecta and then slides into depression because there is just NO way one can care full time for another human being plus act like Perfecta.

People don’t understand that the woman mentioned in the epilogue of Proverbs is the ideal woman for that time and place. There are things she has that I will never have—servant girls, for starters. We don’t have that kind of money, but I’m sure if we did, I’d do a great job of portioning the needs of my maidservants.

And seriously, who can get up before the crack of dawn do all the household chores, put in a full day’s work at school AND select the flax and wool for spinning and weaving—I knew how to spin when I was little, but I haven’t found much need for that skill in the last forty years.

In addition to all of the above, I have no skills in stock market trading (although I did act as the general contractor when we built our house), nor do I have extra funds lying around to invest.

I know how to sew, and used to make church dresses for the girls when they were younger—shoot, I even made my own wedding dress and then remodeled it for our eldest daughter when she got married. But I can’t weave sashes (my skills were limited to finger weaving key chains and loop potholders in grade school), nor does my family wear scarlet when it snows (we prefer anything insulated and waterproof, thank you very much).

If the lamps don’t go out at night, it’s probably because I’m up too late trolling Facebook. While my arms work vigorously during my workouts, they complain vociferously the following day (giving me the perfect excuse to avoid housework).

Purple isn’t my favorite color, but when I can afford it, I wear linen—during the winter, though, Gore Tex products are more my style.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Bible is out of date or out of style or worse, not true. I just think that women beat themselves up because they’re not THE Proverbs 31 woman (e.g., a superwoman type).

What we often miss or overlook or ignore is the fact that Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic poem. Each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This means that all of those things that the wife of noble character does happen in alphabetical order—not chronological order! Anyone who has ever had a toddler or two running around the house knows that without a nanny, mamma ain’t going to get a lot done.

But that’s ok. The reason Perfecta’s children rise up and call her blessed has a lot to do with Perfecta’s intentional parenting through each stage of her children’s lives. Believe me, I don’t think the writer had teenagers in mind when he penned those lines! Toddlers are too egocentric and pre-teens and teenagers tend to think their mother’s IQ rates the same as charcoal.

The key resides in verse 30 “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;/but a woman who fears the Lords is to be praised.” The ‘fear’ here is not the ‘oh-I’m-so-afraid’ kind of fear. It’s the ‘I-live-in-reverential-awe’ kind of fear.

God doesn’t expect us to meet the standards of an ideal woman. He expects us to live in awe and reverence for him. If I live a life that honors God, that other stuff will fall into place. It probably won’t happen overnight, because allowing God to rework my sinful nature will take a lifetime.

If I focus on all the ways I don’t measure up—I’m wasting my time and energies. Click To Tweet

I don’t need to compare myself to anyone (including Perfecta)—I only need to chart my progress in comparison to the woman I used to be before I accepted a personal relationship with God to change me into who he wants me to become. And that’s good news for the weary caregiver (or momma or wife or teacher or woman).

What about you? Have you ever compared yourself to the Proverbs 31 woman? Have you ever been in a caregiver season and really berated yourself or felt hopeless because there was just NO way you’d ever measure up?

Traumatizing Help: squirrels and caregiving

Traumatizing help It all started with a normal hunt for food.  An innocent little squirrel dashing across a seldom used road to get some food for his family.  He darted and dashed in a frantic hurry, but the maintenance truck zipped around the corner and the poor little squirrel saw stars and then the world went black.

Two students walking up the hill spotted the little smooshed squirrel in the road.  They crept closer and just when they were ready to leave him for dead, he twitched.  That’s all it took to win his way into their hearts.  They snatched him up, holding his bloody tail carefully, and snuck past the girls’ dean into their room.

They created a nice little nest for him in a box and laid him gently inside, wiping away blood and watching for another twitch.  He remained still, but breathing. They left him alone for a while during dorm worship and when they checked on him again, his eyes were open and his tail was bleeding badly and hanging crooked.  They picked him up and examined him carefully.  That tail was not going to make it.  Whenever he moved they could tell he was in pain and they sympathized greatly.

A third girl entered the room.  She worked with animals.  She would know what to do. She decided the tail was bad and grabbed a pair of scissors.  Girl one held the squirrel and girl two cut through the tiny bit still attached. The squirrel jerked awake, startled and angry.  This changed the tone of caring for Mr. Squirrel.  He was mad and the girls felt badly. One girl went to dispose of the tail and the other two, in their wisdom, decided he needed a bath, from all the blood.

With the best of intentions, the two girls held the terrified little squirrel in firm grips and dipped him into a sink full of sudsy water. That was truly the last straw.  Little squirrel went absolutely berserk!  He’d had enough.  He chomped into the finger nearest him and turned in a lightening quick circle and clamped onto the palm holding his behind.  The girls shrieked and automatically let go.

What followed could surely be used as a movie sequence for crazy dorm-life activities.  The squirrel found all his energy and flew like a crazed maniac across every surface of the room.  He was fast and angry and little dots of blood helped the girls track him around the room.  They chased and called and the little guy flew faster.  After one girl had thrown the tail out the front door of the dorm, she joined the crazy squirrel hunt going on in room 309.

Three girls jumped and leaped and almost caught him time after time.  But he had no intention of suffering any further indignities, even though without his tail his balance was off.  He just ran faster, squeaking and clawing and scrambling across every surface of the dorm room leaving disaster behind him. A girl pounced and suddenly the room was quiet.  The squirrel had nothing left to give.

He lay, panting in the nest in the box and the girls turned their attention to bandaging each other’s wounds. An RA entered.  Her eyes widened at the disaster and the blood.  She insisted upon calling the dean and worried over the bite marks. The poor little squirrel was returned to the bushes beside the road, with the hope that he could find his way home.

The girls’ dean and I ended up laughing ourselves into tears while reconstructing the story.  Three girls with the best of intentions traumatized the very squirrel they were desperately seeking to help!

How many times, as a caregiver, did I receive advice that left me speechless?  Carrot juice enemas?  Fly to another hospital?  Stop putting your child through this and let come what may. How often do people who care deeply make the caregiving journey that much harder?

Recently I spoke with the mother of a leukemic patient whose family questioned their choices of treatment.  They were sure this family was not doing everything they should, in spite of the fact that teams of doctors from more than one hospital had formulated the treatment plan.  I just saw a facebook post from relatives of a small girl in ICU with a shocking medical issue.  The post thanked people for their prayers and support but BEGGED that people please refrain from advice and/or spreading unnecessary imagined worries. Good intentions.

As time has lessened the hurt of some of the things that were said to me while I cared for my boy, I’ve come to realize that people truly care, but sometimes the mouth moves before the brain engages.  When dealing with parents facing a struggle in disciplining their child, or with a family member caring for an ill loved one, or when a friend is faced with a medical emergency – let’s NOT cut off their tail, dunk them in water and chase them around the room.

Let’s hang onto our advice (especially that advice we’re not actually qualified to give) and just offer encouragement.  Let’s ASK before jumping in to take control of someone else’s health.  Let’s only share with the prayer chain the actual facts and not all the conjectures. Let’s help, rather than traumatize!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it! Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @caregivermom and @blestbutstrest for some inspirational stories! Join us! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Almost Losing to Completely Understand

Losing my Attitude

Almost Losing My Husband and Daughter Helped Me Understand

I grew up in a conservative family, attended private schools from kindergarten through college, married, had two children and thought I had life all figured out. I kept myself squeaky clean and did all those things that ‘good’ Christians should do and figured God would reward me by giving me a peaceful, easy life.

I had another think coming. My outward appearance and façade proclaimed that everything was going my way, but inside I suffered from the Judgy McJudgerton syndrome (otherwise known as a closet legalist).

Because my sins didn’t fall into the immoral or heinous categories, I figured I was pretty sin-free. I would look at other parents who had troubled kids and shake my head and wonder what-in-the-world-had-gone-wrong-in-their-family.

And then my husband came down with a nasty bout of cancer that had him circling the drain multiple times. It took a miracle to heal him, and I came to know that God allows us to have trials to make us stronger—without the wind, tree roots would never need to go down deep.

Without the wind, tree roots would never need to go down deep. Click To Tweet

When our daughters hit their teenage years, I still judged people—those kids who got arrested for DUI, that rapist or murder, the student who cheated on a test—they all stood condemned before God (and their parents by proxy). And then my eldest daughter shoplifted. Suddenly, I was the bad parent. I felt uncomfortable. I felt ashamed. I felt convicted that maybe I needed to stop judging others. But I didn’t.

Judging had become a habit. One God needed to gently break. I didn’t fully understand that he has no limits to his love. He loves his squeaky-clean children just as much as he loves his murderer children. He loves his Judgy McJudgerton children just as much as he loves his rapist children.

When our youngest struggled with depression last year, and then started doing things so uncharacteristic that they scared me, I finally understand a little bit more about how God has no limits to his love. My daughter told me to F-off. My daughter told me to get out of her life. She did things that no mother would want their child to do. But you know what? I loved her anyway. And I just have puny human love.

Imagine how much God loves you, and me, and the bum on the street. There is no limit on his love—how much he loves us and for how long he’ll keep on loving us.

There is no limit on God's love--how much he loves you nor for how long he'll love you. Click To Tweet

I finally get it. I see people differently now. God loves them. Really loves them because they are his. Who am I to put them down, judge them or belittle them? They are each God’s precious children.

Do You Have a Life Plan?

Living Forward

 out-of-control focus? A Life Plan Can help: Part II (CLICK FOR PART I)

Have you ever had a focus problem? Mine started when I became a parent (parenting is HARD work and seems to require all of our focus!), and intensified during my caregiving journey. About three years after Pedro’s miraculous healing, I realized that I needed to re-find my health. Our girls needed a mom who could keep up with them as they entered their pre-teen years, and I had a hard time doing much of anything. Suddenly, I had a new focus.

It took nine months of hard work, eating better and exercising more, but I eventually lost my caregiver weight (I may have over-focused on weight-loss and healthly eating, though, because our youngest daughter ended up struggling with aneorexia her sophomore year in high school).

When I took a photography class six years after Pedro’s recovery, I started to realize my my focusing problem. Hyper-focusing on something has its advantages—a photographer can create ‘bokeh’ where the subject matter jumps from the print and everything outside the plane of focus takes on a soft blur. On the other hand, spending the time to stitch together a panorama that shows a larger-than-life view of the subject can produce a startling effect, too.

I’ve learned to ask myself which kind of focus I need in a situation. Do I need to focus intently on something small and detailed? If so, for how long should I spend time on that one thing? Would stepping back and looking at the bigger picture help me more?

Learn to distinguish what kind of focus you need for each of life's problems. Click To Tweet

I actually find looking at the bigger picture a difficult task. Out of the 80,000 or so (but who’s counting, right?) photos that I’ve taken in the past five years, only a fifth of them are landscapes.

Life reflects art. I do ok focusing on the small things and the details, and I can even do some mid-range planning (for a few months or years) but I hesitate to step back and look at the really big picture—my life and where I’d like to be in five, ten, fifteen or even twenty years. That’s why a letter in my inbox got me pretty excited this week. I’m on the launch team for Michael Hyattt and Daniel Harkavy’s upcoming release, Living Forward.

Living Forward is a book about creating a life plan. Other than a vague sense of ‘I’d like to get married, have some children, have a fun job and enjoy life’ I’ve never had a life plan. I’ve had a great life drifting, but it’s time to step back and focus on the really big picture. I want to stop drifting and start living intentionally. You can find more information about the book by checking out this post. 

After reading the first chapter, I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and start charting a life plan (aka, focusing on the really big picture).  What about you?  Do you have a life plan or are you like me, just drifting along?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom for some inspration for my Monday! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Out-of-focus Caregiving Can Harm Your Health

watch your focus

I learned the hard way what happens when I lose my focus.

I opened the box and quickly tore the wrapper from around its contents. Ah. Pure bliss—a thick layer of dark chocolate covered an incredible sweet bar of chocolate ice cream. “How do you spell relief?” I asked myself. “H-A-A-G-E-N D-A-Z” I said under my breath as I bit into heaven and I started trudging up the eleven flights of stairs to Pedro’s hospital room.

I took the stairs because I wanted to eat an ice cream bar, and I figured the climb might cancel the calories. A niggle of doubt wormed into my brain. After all, I’d already put on about 45 pounds since Pedro’s initial diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma six months earlier.

My internal argument raged as I huffed and puffed up flight after flight to the blood cancer ward.  “Everyone says I need to take time for ME,” I thought. “If I want to eat an ice-cream bar, that’s taking time for me, right?

Unfortunately, I had lost my focus. I had focused so intently on helping Pedro get well, that I lost sight of myself and the bigger picture of my life. I coped with stress by eating—too much, too quickly and too often. I had quit exercising (I had a perfect excuse—big cities had dangers around every corner, and if something happened to me, what would happen to Pedro and the girls?).

My focus had caused a severe case of denial. As in, I thought I needed to deny myself everything good and healthy in my life in order to help Pedro, and then I ignored the results of my denial (increased feelings of tiredness and ability to cope without resorting to crutches—like chocolate).

It's unhealthy to deny yourself everything good in life when you become a #caregiver. Click To Tweet

Photography eventually became the catalyst to help me understand balance in my life. But that’s a story for next week (and my five minutes have ended).

(You can find my first caregiver self-care tip here.)

What about you? Have you ever had a season of caregiving or extreme stress that caused your focus to slip?

And It Was Beautiful–A Book Review

and it was beautiful#Cancer puts in an appearance, but the grace of God holds the starring role. #AndItWasBeautiful… Click To Tweet

I didn’t want to read this book. I hate knowing the end of the story before I begin, and one can’t be in the Christian blogging world without knowing how the story ends. I avoided reading Kara Tippett’s first book The Hardest Peace, because, well, it’s about cancer.

Ever since my husband received his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis fourteen years ago, when our daughters were only eight and nine, cancer stories have both fascinated and repelled me.

I remember watching Shadowlands with my senior English class two years after Pedro’s successful stem cell transplant and weeping silently at the back of the classroom through the entire second half of the movie. The story probed the wounds in my memory and found them unhealed.

For the past six years I’ve found healing in writing about our family’s experiences with cancer, caregiving and cancer fallout. I even started a blog for other ‘recovering cancer caregivers’ in the hopes of helping others who found their caregiving journey a difficult and lonely existence.

When I saw the title available on NetGalley, I impulsively clicked the request button. After all, in experiencing my own healing, perhaps I could make it through someone else’s story without feeling survivor’s guilt by proxy (cancer caregivers experience a lot of things by proxy: chemo-brain by proxy is another example).

and it was beautifulThe title of the book aptly describes the content—And it Was Beautiful. Kara writes about the hard places of cancer; the ache of knowing she won’t be around for so many of her children’s firsts; the despair of treatment after treatment failing to work; the physical exhaustion that comes with treatment; and the challenge of doing the mundane tasks like laundry and cleaning. But its not really a book about hard places—it’s a book about grace.

I discovered that the hard places didn’t make me weep—the parenting stores did. The diamond prose that refracted and dispersed the beauty of her parenting during the hard times always brought tears of recrimination to my eyes—oh that I could have been so intentional with my children during our hard times.

The book makes the reader pause and think. If a woman dying from cancer can extend grace to others, live and love intentionally on a regular basis, and grow ever closer to her Savior—what excuse do I have? I have health, family, a job I love and a comfortable life. I have no excuse for my crabby attitude and miserly extension of grace to those who offend me (note—I said ‘offend’ not ‘sin against’—that’s how petty I can act at times).

If you’re worried about reading a book where you know the ending—don’t worry. Your spirit will feel refreshed (and you may have to keep a box of Kleenex handy—but watering plays an essential part of growth). Cancer puts in an appearance—but the grace of God holds the starring role.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom to share #inspirational stories. Join us! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Little Green Tractor – Lessons on Obedience

A little green tractor and a big lesson.

A little green tractor and a big lesson.

Just like that, he was gone.  I ran all the way around the house and my little red-headed four-year-old was gone.  I hollered and yelled.  No answer.

I had been hanging sheets on the laundry line in the backyard and he’d been peddle-pushing his little green tractor around and through the sheets.  I asked him to stop.  That was just seconds ago.

Suddenly, he’s gone.

I ran across the parking lot to the school (we lived on a boarding school campus), my heart pounding as I called out, “Andrew!”  No noise.  No green tractor.  No bright red hair.

I yelled louder and ran the other direction.  Nothing.  My dog bounded around my feet, thinking this was the best game ever.  I was not amused.  There is a lot of trouble a four-year-old boy can get into in just a few moments.  Thinking of the worse case scenario, I started down the hill, my stomach in my throat and my eyes scanning everywhere.  My neighbor, from down over the hill drove up.  “Carol, I heard you calling Andrew.  You go look on campus, I’ll drive down to the river.”

My worst fear.  The river.  Swift flowing, eddies and boulders, cold and deep.  Andrew loved the water.  “There’s no way he could be that far, he was JUST with me!”  I hollered frantically.

His sympathetic eyes met mine as he shifted gears, ready to go, “Go look on campus, I’ll take the river.”

With my whole being I wanted to run to the river.  Oh Lord, why didn’t I just let him dirty up the sheets.  But no, he couldn’t be in the river, he didn’t have time.  I ran around a corner and scanned yet another area – no little guy.  Another building, another corner – no sign of the little green tractor.

Three honks break into my thoughts.  Oh thank God.  My neighbor had found Andrew.  I ran back to the top of the hill and met the car, complete with the green tractor hanging out the back and a little boy in the front.  “He was on the bridge, almost out to the highway.”

I grabbed my boy and hung on tight.  “Andrew!  What were you doing?”

“I wanted to ride with the trucks!”  His chin quivered.  He knew he was in trouble, but he wasn’t quite sure whether mommy was happy or mad.  Mommy wasn’t quite sure either.

I set the tractor down beside us and leaned in the car window to thank my friend and neighbor.  As I turned around, I saw Andrew leaning forward on the seat of the tractor, feet not down to push, but rather up on the handle bars as the tractor began zooming down the hill all over again.  Why that little booger.  That’s how he had made it all the way to the river.  Rather than push, he’d just picked up his feet and flew down the hill.

I grabbed my boy in one hand and the tractor in the other and marched both home.  I stomped around back where I hung the tractor from the rafters on the back deck.  “No more tractor until you can learn to obey!”  I declared to my boy as I explained why he needed to stay in the yard.

His chin quivered as he looked longingly up at his favorite toy.  Mommy took his favorite toy.  That’s what he knew.  Andrew was totally unaware of the dangers, thinking only of how fun it was to zoom down that hill.

The dangers were all I could think about.  The swift flowing river and the highway filled with logging trucks told me I was right, and I thanked God for keeping my little guy safe.

Every day Andrew asked if I could take the tractor down.  Every day I reminded him why it was up there.  Eventually, of course, I took it down and he had another chance to stay in the yard with his tractor.

Such a simple thing – obedience.  It’s for our best.  It’s for our safety.  It’s for our salvation.  God gives us guidelines for a reason.   Sometimes we just want to pick up our feet and do what we want and sometimes God hangs up our little green tractors until we learn to be safe.

LIttle Green Tractors and lesson in obedience! #inspirememonday via @caregivermom Click To Tweet

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Count Every Heartbeat a Present

Life is Precious

“There’s the heartbeat!” the tech exclaimed as we ignored our daughter and crowded around the TV screen. Sure enough, a tiny pulse of light beat out a staccato rhythm in the raspberry-sized formation—our grandchild-in-progress at seven and a half weeks gestation.

An awed silence filled the room. “I never thought I’d be present for this moment,” Pedro said. “I can die happy now.”

Don’t get me wrong—he’s not near death (as far as we know—only God knows the number of our days). But humor in life AD (after diagnosis) varies greatly from humor in life BC (before cancer). He said the same thing when each of the girls graduated from eighth grade, and then high school, and when he walked Laura down the aisle, and when she graduated from college.

Staring death in the face leaves a person with a greater appreciation for the present of the… Click To Tweet

One does not normally celebrate a heartbeat—but we did. We left the imaging center, piled in the truck and celebrated with a big breakfast at a nearby restaurant. The five of us laughed and enjoyed our last day of Christmas vacation together before heading back to Laura and Louis’ house to finish our remodeling job.

Late that afternoon, just as the sun started to slip below the low-hanging clouds, we gathered in the backyard and tried to get their dog to cooperate for a photo shoot. Only one of the thirty or so shots turned out (Bella insisted on moving—mostly to check out Pedro’s every move on the back porch).

And now, Laura and Louis are ready to share their news with the world via Bella’s announcement:
Bella's Announcement

I have now attained grandmother-in-training status.  What are your favorite grandma memories (either with your grandma or as a grandma)?

Do You Need to Check Your Coffee Grinder’s Settings?

coffee grinder Christianity

“Which grinder do you use for your decaf?” I called out to my daughter.

“The small one.”

I grumbled inwardly—at home I used a nice burr grinder, and I worried that the blade grinder wouldn’t produce the same taste (I’m not a coffee snob, really). My burr grinder odyssey had started with the best of intentions—I wanted to save money and create my own coffee-shop-worthy lattes at home. So, I did what I do before making big decisions—I researched on the Internet how one can craft good lattes at home.

According to my research, a burr grinder produced a finer, more even grind—which allowed the water to get pressed through at just the right rate to produce smooth, beautiful crema (the nirvana of coffee aficionados). As a result, I found a good burr grinder on closeout at Costco along with an inexpensive espresso machine.

I love vacation, and I love my daughter, but I worried that my latte would lack the taste I’d worked os hard to achieve. As I poured beans into my daughter’s grinder, I couldn’t remember how long one has to hold down the lid to get a fine grind. I hoped counting to 100 would produce a good enough latte.

As the coffee came out the spouts with perfect crema, I marveled at the efficiency of my daughter’s cheap blade grinder. After all, I’d been having trouble with my espresso machine at home producing watered-down coffee with little to no crema.

Maybe I had failed to use a fine enough grind on my machine at home.

When I returned from vacation, I eagerly set my burr grinder to a finer setting, only to have even more watery results. Maybe the higher elevation affected the brew, I thought. The next time, I moved the dial ever further—but the results disappointed me again. Perhaps I wasn’t compacting the coffee into the filter enough, so I tried pressing with all my might. On the third try, I moved the dial all the way to fine grind—but my grinder didn’t seem capable of making the almost powdery grind that my daughter’s blade grinder produced.

Frustrated, I finally cleaned the inner mechanism of my grinder and shook it a little (as if that would solve the problem). That’s when I realized that for who knows how long (maybe ever since I purchased the grinder), I had been slowly moving the dial in the wrong direction.

Instead of setting my grinder to a fine grind, I had been inching it towards the coarse grind. No wonder my espresso machine had produced an increasingly watery brew!

After my careful research, I knew that a burr grinder should produce a better-tasting brew—but while I felt vaguely satisfied (maybe even self-satisfied that I saved money whilst other chumps forked out five bucks for a venti), I always felt vaguely cheated because my decaf skinny lattes didn’t taste like the ones in the coffee shop.

After properly adjusting the grind to ‘fine’, I have savored my money-saving, crema-rich lattes—but my experience left me uneasy. In what other areas of my life have I fallen short because I failed to set the dial at the proper setting?

Christianity, for one thing. For the longest time I thought I was a Christian because I had bought into a religion. Baptized at seven, I did all of those things I thought I should do to be a ‘good Christian girl.’

For some reason, I thought that part of my Christian persona included judging others by my new standards. I bought into a culture of comparison that eventually left me dissatisfied with my weak and judgmental religion—mostly because I realized that my Judgy McJudgerton mentality had become my own harshest critic.

I bought into a culture of comparison that left me dissatisfied with my weak and judgemental… Click To Tweet

Maybe that’s what Jesus talks about when he says, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging” (Matthew 7:1-2 MSG).

If I feed myself a steady stream of internal (or external) criticism of others, pretty soon I will direct that stream at myself—I become coarse and produce a bitter brew in my life.

I have discovered the value of checking the settings in my life—whether they be the dial on my coffee grinder or the reasons behind why I do the things I do. When I allow God to constrain me and break down my natural inclinations, I turn into something finer that will produce a pleasing crema.

Christianity is more than just a category on a checklist. It’s a living, vibrant relationship that works within me. When I lose my settings, no matter how hard I try to squish all those ‘right things’ into my life, I end up producing a weak witness that doesn’t deserve the name Christian.

How’s your brew been lately?

I’m linking up with Women2Women Ministries today.

You Need This Book if You’re Affected by Bipolar Disorder

bipolar disorder is not a life sentence

Here’s the skinny on the book that everyone should read if they know someone with a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

I remember the nurse wheeling me out of the hospital with a lanky newborn on my lap dressed in a white onesie with vibrant giraffes strewn all over it. My first baby wearing the first article of baby clothing that I’d eagerly purchased the minute I found out we were expecting.

As we settled our firstborn into the rear-facing car seat we had borrowed from a friend, I felt a sense of unease. The nurse had already wheeled the chair back into the hospital and the electronic doors had swooshed shut with authoritative finality.

“That’s all?” I thought. “They let us take a baby home just like that?” Admittedly, it WAS our baby—I had the bread-dough midsection and bloodshot eyes to prove it. Surely, though, the nurse had forgotten to give me something. A how-to manual would have been nice.

It took me another seventeen months to get my act together and feel confident so that when we brought our second daughter home, I didn’t keep glancing over my shoulder hoping they’d run out with a manual as we drove away. I filled the intervening months between firstborn and second born with research and experience. I learned all about feeding schedules and potty training and when to call the doctor. I felt capable.

For a while, at least. When I closed the trunk on our Prius and pulled away from the crisis center almost twenty-one years after bringing home our second beautiful daughter, I once again wished someone would hand me a how-to manual. I longed for guidance on how to help our once sparkling daughter navigate her way through her deep depression. I wanted answers.

And three months later, when my husband brought Sarah home from her second crisis center stay—this time with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder—I couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would discharge a patient who clearly still suffered from the aftereffects of mania into the woefully unprepared hands of shell shocked parents.

Sure, a sweet nurse had given me the title of a great book to read—but Dr. Kay Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, didn’t fall into the how-to category. It gave me hope that my daughter could achieve a normal life, but as a memoir, it didn’t give guidelines for how to navigate the diagnosis.

I have discovered the book that every newly diagnosed patient with bipolar disorder should receive upon discharge (along with copies for all adult family members): The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, Second Edition: What You and Your Family Need to Know by David J. Miklowitz, PhD.

Miklowitz, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Medicine, and Senior Clinical Researcher at Oxford University, UK, directs the Integrative Study Center in Mood Disorders and the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program at the UCLA Semel Institute. Dr. Miklowitz’s numerous publications include the award-winning book for professionals Bipolar Disorder: A Family-Focused Treatment Approach.

Whew. Now that we have his credentials out of the way, let me explain why I love this book. Prior to my daughter’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder, I thought bipolar was just a happy/sad cycle that some people experienced (not to mention the name of my brother-in-law’s snowmobile/UTV racing team—Bipolar Racing). Now I realize that bipolar disorder has many facets and it has very little to do with happy/sad cycles.

I used to think that a bipolar disorder diagnosis equaled a life-sentence of pain, misunderstanding and trauma for both the patient and everyone who loves him or her. Not true. Miklowitz lays out challenges that will likely face everyone involved and takes each involved party through possible scenarios of not just coping, but thriving.

When Sarah received her diagnosis, I worried that she would never be able to have children (should she want to one day). Miklowitz includes a chapter just for women that analyzes the risk factors and helps women make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health.

I used to think that a bipolar disorder diagnoses meant that one person would have to struggle alone whilst everyone else in the family felt confused, betrayed, or outraged. Not true. Miklowitz shows how a family-focused treatment approach actually helps prevent relapses that require hospitalization (and trust me, hospitalizations equal trauma for everyone involved).

The survival guide serves as a true how-to book on thriving with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Not only does it explain in laymen’s terms all of the vocabulary that attends the diagnosis, it explains the medications and side effects.

Since the median age for a bipolar diagnosis is 25 years of age, it stands to reason that families need to educate themselves as much as possible about the illness. More importantly, family members need to understand their role as a support team member and not a manager or owner of the illness.

Family members need to understand they are team members, not managers or owners of a #bipolar… Click To Tweet

Patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder can do two critical things to help manage their illness—select a support team and come up with emergency plans of action for what they want to happen when they start to slip into either a manic or depressed episode.

Above all, The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide serves as a framework for honest and difficult conversations. But those conversations pave the pathway for those affected by bipolar disorder to learn to thrive rather than just survive.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom over at #InspireMeMonday. Come check out the awesome links! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Meet the Ultimate Blood Donor

ultimate blood donor

This month our country celebrates those who donate blood during National Blood Donor Month. This got me thinking about my experiences with blood donation.
I donate blood when I can—but often the techs turn me away. After registering and going through the health history and mini-physical, the tech does a little needle prick and squeezes a drop of blood from my finger into a sterile solution. More ofthen than not they will shake their heads and inform me that my hemoglobin levels are too low (aka, I’m anemic).

But I try, because I know firsthand the importance of blood transfusions. In 2002, Pedro received a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer (one affecting the white blood cells). In order to treat his cancer, doctors administered chemotherapies that killed his blood cells—making his highly susceptible to secondary infections after each treatment. In fact, a secondary infection almost took his life.

Pedro received many units of blood during his year of cancer, chemo and recovery. Each one brought life-giving elements to his worn-out body at just the right time. He even received a unit or two of my blood (we don’t have the same blood type, but our blood types are compatible).

While Pedro knew the importance of receiving blood, the idea of a stranger’s blood coursing through his veins and arteries and pumping through his heart—well, it kind of grossed him out. To accept someone else’s blood is to allow a living part of them to become a part of you. On the other hand, he also knew that without the blood of strangers, he had no chance to live. When the doctors ordered a blood or platelet transfusion, Pedro always accepted it (but he never dwelt on the bag of blood hanging on his IV pole).

We all know that we need blood to survive, but you might not know exactly what blood does for us (I know I didn’t!). Blood has three primary jobs in our bodies—transportation, regulation and protection.

First of all it serves to carry life-giving substances such as nutrients and oxygen to all of our cells. It also transports waste and carbon monoxide to the proper body parts for elimination. Blood also carries stem cells—the basic building blocks of life—around our bodies. Stem cells have all the coding needed to regenerate the different types of blood cells and other tissues needed by our bodies.

As a regulator, blood works to keep our temperature constant so that our vital organs can work properly. In addition, it keeps our pH levels constant for optimal functioning.

Blood protects us in several ways. When something damages a blood vessel, the platelets go into action to knit the damage back together as quickly as possible. When bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites enter our body, the white blood cells multiply and quickly respond to the invasion.

I have a profound appreciation for anyone who takes the time to donate blood—and a profound respect for those who accept the donations. Donors give life, and recipients accept a gift that’s freely offered.

Thinking about the blood donation process and the role of blood in my body brings to mind another blood donation. Over two thousand years ago, God sent his son to live on this earth. While Jesus lived and breathed here on earth, he experienced every kind of suffering that I experience today. He lived a perfect life and willingly paid the price of death so that I could have hope. He offered his blood to pay for my sins.

I’d call him The Ultimate Blood Donor. And just like a cancer patient, I need to recognize the cancer of sin in my life and my need for a transfusion. A transfusion that transports, regulates, and protects.

I need to recognize the cancer of sin in my life and my need for a transfusion. Click To Tweet

Jesus’ blood creates new life within me. It transports hope throughout me while carrying the sin and guilt to the grave (Jesus’ grave, not mine). I can know forgiveness as well as comfort because Jesus suffered in every way that we suffer.

In addition, accepting the blood of Jesus helps to regulate me. Every morning I show up for my daily transfusion (I spend time with him through Bible study and prayer). I have discovered that the closer I come to the heart of God, the easier it is for me to handle stress, disappointment and trials.

Those daily transfusions also protect me from the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). God promises to enter into relationship with us—all we have to do is ask. Once we’ve accepted him, he can protect us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3). That protection doesn’t mean that we won’t experience bad things—it simply means that God will never leave us nor forsake us as we live out our lives in a sinful world.

Of course, I can’t just walk into a hospital and ask for a pint of blood, but I can receive a transfusion of Jesus’ blood simply for the asking.

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG

We have permission to approach the God of the universe and say, “Hook me up! I’m a dying sinner in need of mercy.” All because Jesus agreed to become the ultimate blood donor.

We can walk into God's presence and say, 'Hook me up! I'm a sinner in need of mercy.' Click To Tweet

I’m joining my friends Jennifer and Holley today.  Check out the other great stories on their sites!

Good Blood from Bad – Unexpected Blessings from Caregiving

Leukemia is the definition of bad blood, but good can come from even that.

Leukemia is the definition of bad blood, but good can come from even that.

“You need to come on over to the student center,” my husband, Randy, spoke softly over the phone, the noises in the background almost overriding his voice.  “The students are turning out like never before!”

“I can’t bring Andrew down there though, his counts are too low.”  I responded.  We’d already had a similar conversation earlier in the day.  We were both awed and humbled at the turn out of the students of Milo Adventist Academy, where my husband served as principal and I taught Spanish.  The Student Association held a Red Cross blood drive every year, but this year, they held it in honor of our four-year-old leukemic son.

“I know,” Randy said, still speaking so no one would overhear, “but the newspaper would like to interview Andrew.”

“What?  The newspaper?  Who called the newspaper?”  I yelped.

“The Red Cross called.  They’ve never had this percentage of students in a school respond to a blood drive before.  It’s amazing Carol.  Bring him down.  Something good is coming out of leukemia.  Right here, right now.”

We bundled up, I put a pale and tired little boy into our sanitized wagon, donned our face masks and I pulled the wagon down to the student center of the school.  Two Red Cross buses idled in the parking lot and students milled around both outside and inside the building.  I stared around me in awe as we wended our way through the groups of student, my little guy in the wagon getting high-fives and “way to go, buddy” comments.

The news reporter asked Andrew how he felt about all this blood donation.  He looked around in confusion.  A student walked up to Andrew’s wagon.  He’d told me the day before that he was scared of needles.  His face was a little green as he squatted next to Andrew.  “I’m next Andrew.  I’m doing this for you, but I don’t like needles!”

Andrew pulled his mask down slightly and very seriously said, “All you have to do is count to three and blow out hard and you’ll be fine.  If you just hold still, it will be over fast.”

Tears gathered in my eyes.  How many times had we had to practice that method of needle insertion to a frail little arm?

The Red Cross nurse called a name and the great big senior straightened.  “That’s me.  If you can do it, I can do it.” And he disappeared inside the bus to donate blood.

I never expected to have my son in the newspaper, but if something good can come from something bad, I'm all for it!

I never expected to have my son in the newspaper, but if something good can come from something bad, I’m all for it!

The next day Andrew was on the front page of the newspaper, along with the senior donating blood.  Andrew’s blood was unhealthy, but because of that 78% of the student body donated blood that day (the percentage includes those who were too young to donate) and who knows how many lives were helped.

 

 

 

Check out more stories from 31 Days of Unexpected Blessings from Caregiving

Donating blood can make good things come from bad! #31daysofunexpectedblessings #redcross #cancer via@caregivermom Click To Tweet
Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining @caregivermom and @blestbutstrest to share my inspirational post. Join us! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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First of All, Just Plead Guilty

My most expensive photo everI thought I’d share my $190 photo of a bird with everyone. It’s the first good photo I’ve taken of a Painted Redstart. You’re probably wondering how a photo I took could cost $190. Let me explain.

My plane had arrived after midnight, and I needed to teach in just seven hours. Pedro slept in the passenger seat while I drove home. I changed my cruise control to 55 as I drove through Payson, AZ during the wee morning hours. As I left town and headed down the hill to Star Valley, I yawned, and longed for an all-night gas station so I could buy a cup of cheep coffee and stay awake for the last 90 miles of my drive.

A bright light popped off to my right, and the instant adrenalin rush rivaled the blackest cup of coffee I could have consumed. I looked down at the speedometer and realized too late that I had missed the warning sign about the changing speed limit.

I knew I had received my first ticket-by-mail. A great way to end a stressful month. Not. When the bill arrived, I couldn’t believe it. The tiny town of Star Valley wanted to extort $210 dollar from me. Their electronically activated ticket-issuing computer had clocked me at 56 in a 45.

I begged to differ. I drove a Prius, and everyone knows that when in cruise control, the constant velocity engine keeps a Prius at a steady speed regardless of ups and downs in terrain.

As an inexperienced ticket getter, I assumed that I could just show up to court on the court date printed on the ticket, explain to the judge what had happened and he would have compassion on me and lower the fine (who has $210 extra dollars sitting around, anyway?).*(my 5 minutes are up, but the story isn’t over)

When I showed up, the receptionist at the courthouse told me that I couldn’t actually speak to a judge. I could get a court date. Things went downhill from there.

After six months of stress and worry about my daughter’s depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders—not to mention fighting with insurance companies trying to find the best care for her—I wanted to fight a battle I could win.

Instead, I ended up in a courtroom waiting for a judge who asked me a question I wasn’t sure how to answer. He wanted a black and white answer to his “How do you plead?”

I didn’t want to admit I was completely guilty, after all, I was guilty of speeding, but not guilty of going as fast as the computer had said I was going (I researched on line, and their sensors have a standard deviation of plus or minus 1 mile an hour).

Confused by his question, I pled not guilty. To which the judge answered that he would remand the case to the city’s attorney and I could show up in court three months hence.

Tears sprouted out of my eyes. I didn’t have time in my life (or money) to hire a lawyer, take another day off work and return to plead my case. I wanted resolution right then. The judge softened a bit and said I did have the option of go to talk to the city’s attorney and do some sort of plea bargain that would keep the ticket off my record and possibly lower the fee.

Did I mention that I’ve never been able to cry without an equal amount of snot gushing out of my nose? I think he sighed in relief when I petulantly turned my back and walked out of the courtroom. I made it to the bathroom to clean up my face, than headed to Star Valley to hunt down the city attorney.

By the time I arrived, I thought I had everything under control. When I spoke to the attorney’s secretary and tried to explain my plight, the tears sprang unbidden from some deep well. I tried to explain the injustice of a machine handing out $210 tickets because if a police officer had stopped me, we could have had a civil conversation and he or she would have been able to use common sense to decide whether or not I deserved a ticket.

Of course, I had come unprepared for another snot/cry combo, and the secretary had to leave the room to find a box of tissue. I ended up signing some sort of no-contest agreement with the attorney and he lowered the fine by twenty bucks.

I got in my car and drove slowly out of town and back towards home, the secretary’s advice to “get outside for a bit and enjoy the beautiful day” grating on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. What did she know? I wondered if the almighty electronic ticket giver handed out tickets to people who drove while impaired by tears.

Not wanting to chance it, I pulled over and sobbed for a while. I put the car in gear and continued on my journey—the deep blue sky mocking me. By the time I saw the road leading to the fish hatchery, I decided maybe I would head up and look for birds. I didn’t really want to show up at home in my distraught state and try to deal with a depressed daughter.

I hiked around a bit, and a flash of red and black caught my attention. I grabbed my camera and hurried back to the spot. Forty-five minutes later, I had captured a handful of great photos of one of the more difficult birds to photograph—the Painted Redstart. They hang out in low underbrush (so the lighting isn’t that great), they move quickly (so one has to anticipate their moves), and their coloring—black with white and red accents requires a fair amount of sunlight to actually capture the beauty of the bird.

As I got in my car and headed home again, I realized that maybe that nice attorney’s secretary had been right. Something about nature soothes me and helps me to refocus my attention.

The closer I got to home, the more I realized that perhaps the judge and the attorney weren’t part of an evil empire trying to wrest hard-earned money from guileless drivers. If I had just pled guilty when the judge asked me, I probably would have been able to explain my case and HE would have lowered the fine (probably more than a measly twenty bucks, too). After all, I was guilty of speeding.

In retrospect, I know that all too often I try the same tactics with God. I do something outside of his will and he convicts me of my sin but I want to argue with him and justify my position and explain why it wasn’t such a big sin, more like a sorta accidental sin.

I try to argue with God an explain that I just 'sorta sinned'. Click To Tweet

But sin is sin. Guilt is guilt. They both separate us from God. And if I don’t plead guilty, than my Advocate has his hands tied. He can’t speak up for me to the Judge, and the Judge won’t be able to extend mercy.

Lesson learned. Here’s my $190 photo.

The $190 photo
Have you ever had an expensive lesson (with a little grace note of beauty to make the pill easier to swallow)?

The Last Word on My Mental Illness

Mental IllnessContinued from…

Today’s guest blogger authorized and participated in writing our #write31days series “31 Glimpses in to the Unquiet Mind” back in October of 2015.  This final post serves as an update and an explanation for all that Sarah went through and why she chose to participate and authorize this series.  She gets the final word.

During October, many people asked why I was letting such personal things be written about me for the Write 31 Days blogging challenge. The answer was simple. I wasn’t worried about the stories being too personal. I already posted so many strange pictures and status updates on Facebook and on other social media during my two bouts of mania that the October stories seemed to serve as an explanation to my strange behaviors.

But that was not the main reason I wanted this story told. Most of all, I want people to learn about mental illness through our (my family’s and friends’) experience, to show how real it is and how hard it is to deal with—especially when nobody knows what is going on.

I also wanted people to feel empowered to tell their own stories. The ability to share our stories and connect on a personal level is truly a gift. So many of us have gone through difficult, life-changing experiences that make us realize how important family is, and how important friends are.

When I was in the psych ward, I thought my family hated me and that they had done me wrong in the worst way. In the end, I knew they loved me and their love lead their actions. When I was depressed and wanted to find some kind of “death pill” online that would give me a painless end because I didn’t see any point in living anymore, it was my family that kept me going. I have never felt so much love as I felt during these last two years. I am so thankful for my friends and family who forgave me for my unexplainable actions and kept on loving me no matter what.

#mentalillnessI am currently studying at Walla Walla University, completing my Spanish major and getting teaching credentials for Spanish and art. Since I took a year off, I expect to graduate in 2018. With the exception of a few minor (and normal) ups and downs, my mood has stayed stable since my last manic episode in March of 2015 (and the inevitable month of hypomania that followed) thanks to the guidance of my ever-patient parents and family, the support of friends, consistently taking my medicine (a mood stabilizer called carbamazepine, which worked wonders after my first manic episode in Argentina), regular appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist, and a constant effort to maintain balance spiritually, physically, and mentally. I can’t wait to see what blessings and adventures this new year will bring.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and help build the community by visiting and leaving a comment for the person who linked up before you.

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Don’t Be Afraid! Just Believe!

Fear Not!Even in the mid-90s, no one was still listening to records anymore, but for me, there is still some Christmas music that must be heard against the crackling of needle on vinyl. Classical guitar, organ and chimes, brass quintets—all instrumental arrangements of ancient carols whose lyrics, inscribed in memory like grooves on the record, flood into place every year.

In the muted light of window candles, the only sound in the house was Christmas music, and even though I was cradling my own little olive-skinned, dark-haired replica of the baby Jesus, the carols seemed somehow sinister that year:

“The hopes and fears of all the years . . .”
“. . .through all the weary world.”
“. . . a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”

I was sinking in all that deep, and I knew this in my bones as surely as I knew that I had left the hospital the day before with a breast pump, instructions for “cup feeding,” and a deep knowledge that this. was. not. going. to. go. well. at. all.

Depression in December feels out of place whether it’s PPD or an on-going struggle. All the earth was rejoicing—although not necessarily over the birth of Jesus—and the only words from the Christmas story that resonated with my despondent heart were “Fear not!” Those words—spoken by an angel—were supposed to quell the fears of shepherds who had probably never witnessed anything brighter than their evening cook fires. What were they supposed to feel on being exposed to heavenly glory?

The fear that blazed through my heart throughout that two-decades-distant yuletide season was the sneaking suspicion that I was doomed to be a failure in this mothering gig. I knew that I was not patient, nor kind, nor longsuffering by any standard. Like the shepherds, I was “greatly afraid.” Viewed through the haze of raging hormones, the blazing glory of all that I should be was terrifying.

Those words—“Don’t be afraid”—show up at least eighteen times in the New Testament, and eleven of those occurrences are directly from the mouth of Jesus. My favorite example happens in Capernaum. Jesus is walking down the street, and a man (Jairus) has been tracking him down. His daughter is ill. He has come to ask if Jesus will come to his house and heal his daughter. She’s dying.

Jesus starts to follow, but a side drama unfolds in which a woman, in dire need of healing, interrupts. In the meantime, someone from the crowd comes forward to give bad news to the man. His daughter has died. Don’t bother the teacher anymore.
Hopelessness.

I could completely identify with Jairus in that woozy, paralyzing cocktail of despair.
But the story continues as Jesus looked Jairus in the eye (as if they were the only two people on that crowded street) and said,
“Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
“I know how this looks, but you have to trust me.”
“Don’t look at the circumstances. Look at me, and believe for hope.”

This is not a state of denial, but an invitation to make a choice. Jairus needed to look away from the screaming banshees on the street—the howling wasteland in his heart—and to acknowledge that they were real.
But then to trust Jesus anyway.

You know how Jairus’s story ends. Jesus gets to the man’s house and restores his daughter to life.

How did my story end? I slogged through the season, eventually the haze cleared, and the growing faith that rescued me that Christmas has persisted—in spite of being blown out of the water every few years.

The hard truth of living on a fallen planet, especially at Christmas time, is that there is often reason to fear:
All the little girls who are sick will not be healed.
All the little boys living in poverty will not be warmed or fed.
All the mothers with cancer will not go into remission and see their babes graduate from high school.
Real things happen that strike fear in my heart—and only a fool would not fear.

But that long-ago Christmas, the angel’s words in Luke 2 were an invitation to me to step over a line—to go from trusting myself to trusting God; to stop trying to calm my daily anxieties with my own fortitude or accomplishments or with random distractions. All of these things change way too fast to give me any lasting peace or security.

Now, every Christmas, I read and I listen carefully, because I still need to hear the angel’s words to those shepherds. Every year, I want to accept that invitation to look up from my own small, pitiful fire—and to behold the glory of God.


Michelle MorinMichele Morin is the wife to a patient husband, Mum to four young men and a daughter-in-love, and, now, Gram to one adorable grand-boy. Her days are spent homeschooling, reading piles of books, and, in the summer, tending their beautiful (but messy) garden and canning the vegetables. She loves to teach the Bible, and is privileged to gather weekly around a table with the women of her church. You can find her excellent book reviews and other thoughts at Living Our Days where she blogs about the grace she receives and the lessons from God’s Word that she trusts.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

Throwback Monday! Since many of you are spending more time with your families during the holiday season, we’ll make this a throwback Monday style link up.  Go ahead and link a current post (if you have one), but feel free to link up a few of your Advent or Christmas posts from years gone by.

Please visit the person who linked up right before you and leave some comment love.

Get the word out and share what inspires you with your tribe on social medial.

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Semantics Matter! Do Your Part to Stop the Stigma!

I am bipolar.

Continued

On Thanksgiving morning Sarah and I woke and prepared for our quest—to run a 10K on Thanksgiving Day. Four years earlier, back before her bipolar disorder diagnosis, she, Laura and I had run in Huffing for Stuffing, a 5 and 10K event in Bozeman, MT that benefited the local food bank. This year, we invited friends to participate along with us—wherever they might live—and make a donation to their local food bank.

Laura ran a 5K in Tulsa, my friend Amy walked 5K in Alabama, another friend walked 5K on a sunny -6 degree morning in Bozeman, and Gilbert, a former student who suffered serious injuries in motorcycle crash last year, managed to walk almost five miles. Some of my other friends, Debbie and Kebrina, ran the real event in Bozeman, Montana.

In Holbrook, the below freezing weather and weak sunshine made my nose drip and my eyes water as we headed outside for our own personal “Huffing for Stuffing” event. It felt good to run with Sarah again, as if we had started a new chapter where the familiar characters had returned to doing comfortable things together again.

After we passed the halfway mark, Pedro texted both of us to let us know that he had breakfast ready. Since I didn’t want to stop mid ‘race’, I used the voice recognition feature to let him know that we hadn’t finished our quest. Later that day, I glanced at his text again and my heart almost stopped beating for a split second.

Right above Pedro’s innocuous words, “Oh! I forgot about your turkey run!” the words from a conversation between he, Sarah and I jumped out and squeezed my heart. It took me a moment to realize that the words above his “Breakfast is ready” text had been written back in March.

Back when Sarah suffered from mania and paranoia and had lost her executive functions (foresight, hindsight and insight). Pedro and I had each texted her “I love you!” and her response of “Whatever” glared angrily back. I had to scroll back through the whole painful conversation and check the date just to make sure.

God graced our Thanksgiving vacation with the greatest present ever—our daughter. Our sweet, helpful, funny, responsible, kind, talented, enthusiastic, and ready-for-any-adventure daughter. She has returned to college and she has a plan. She has goals in life and knows how to reach them.

She has dealt with the bumps in college life with equanimity and calm. She has come to terms with the fact that, like a person with diabetes, she will need to maintain a certain lifestyle in order to cope with her bipolar disorder.

We have both arrived at a point in our journey where the numbness of diagnosis has worn off and learning more about bipolar disorder seems like the right thing to do. I have learned that semantics make a difference.

I had gestational diabetes during my first pregnancy. The diagnosis required immediate lifestyle changes to get me through the last few months of pregnancy, and lifestyle changes in my late thirties when I realized that because of the gestational diabetes I could more easily fall prey to Type 2 Diabetes if I didn’t watch my weight.

People I know who identify themselves as diabetic—as in “I AM diabetic” always seemed to over identify with their diagnoses—turning it into an excuse or a crutch and bemoaning their life sentence that prevents them from indulging in what they long to indulge in (and then they often indulge anyway—worsening their situation).

On the other hand, those who take the “I HAVE diabetes” approach seemed more balanced in their lives. They have a long-term health issue that requires them to make some adjustments, but they don’t plan on letting their diagnoses dictate their life.

Making the distinction between BEING bipolar and HAVING a bipolar disorder might not seem significant at first, but semantics matter. I think it makes all the difference in acceptance—not just for one’s self, but for family members and friends as well.

After all, one would not go around cheerily announcing, “I’m cancer!” or “I’m kidney failure!” or “I’m heart disease!” One HAS those medical conditions. The having rather than the being expresses inherent hope that with lifestyle changes, medical intervention and follow-through, things will normalize.

Semantics matter. People HAVE a diagnosis. They are NOT the disease. #stopthestigma… Click To Tweet

Cancer, especially, carries a comeback codicil. But eventually, one learns to live life in the present and ignore the shadowy scepter of relapse. It took a few years to realize that every time Pedro had a sniffle or a headache or a bout of dizziness that a rational reason existed to explain each of these things (common cold, dehydration, standing up too quickly). I fought against hyper-vigilance and helicoptering (not at all becoming behaviors in a spouse).

As the parent of a young adult diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I must rein in my inner vigilante and refuse to fall into the trap of analyzing every laugh, giggle, unusual text or delayed response. These things do not mean Sarah has relapsed. Hyper-vigilance and helicoptering are equally unbecoming in a parent of an adolescent.

And so for now, we spend our spare time learning—educating ourselves in the intricacies of a long-term disease that plays out differently in 99.9% of the cases. The family members of persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder have a responsibility to educate themselves about the disease, the resources available, and how to have helpful conversations in the same way that the family members of a person with diabetes need to educate themselves.

Only through open conversations, education, acceptance and planning can those with mental illness experience the support that they need to navigate the confusing waters of their diagnosis. Above all, they need to know that they are not alone. They are not pariahs.

If you have a family member with a #bipolar diagnosis, educate yourself! It's your job to help… Click To Tweet

To be continued (Sarah gets the last word 🙂 )…

Children Are a Gift From God

My daughter became my caregiverUntitledWe named her Mikaela, meaning a gift from God. And that she is.

Not only because we finally had a little girl after three boys, but also the joy that she has been to us every single day of her life. She has always been mamma’s little helper, but she amped it up big time when I fell ill four years ago.

Mikaela was about to turn 15 when I was suddenly struck with chronic pain. It happened one Sunday afternoon, as I lay down to rest. A severe pain shot through my back. I couldn’t finish lying down, nor could I raise myself back up. The slightest move would cause contracting pains across my lower back. I spent a month flat on my back.
From the start, Mikaela began to help out. She made and brought me protein shakes for my meals that first month since I was unable to rise up off of the bed. But even as I began to improve with medical help, she continued to serve the entire family. She took on preparing all the meals, doing the grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and virtually running the household.

This was, as you can imagine, a great help to not only me, but to my husband as well. Being a pastor, Michael had to continue serving the church along with caring for me… visiting the sick, dealing with church business, and preparing sermons and planning for three services a week. I had served as church secretary up to this point, so he took on a lot of my work as well. Without Mikaela’s assistance, he would not have been able to accomplish this for as long as he did.

My hat is off to all caregivers that are trying to care for a loved one and be the bread winner as well. I’m not really sure how anyone does it. We could not have done it without the love and support of friends and the understanding of the church board when I was first sick.

The most amazing thing about Mikaela is that she gave up her entire high school years to care for her momma (and really, her daddy too). While we did manage to get her to the DMV for her learner’s permit, it was 3 ½ years before we got her back there to actually take the road test. She had plenty of practice though. She became my chauffeur as I improved and needed someone to drive me to therapy at the YMCA and run errands. She became an excellent help in assisting me in and out of vehicles, up and down steps, or just extra support when walking distances. And she did all this without prompting or without complaining. She is always thinking of my care in every decision she made. Even for just a trip down stairs for a snack, she would pop her head into my room to see if I needed anything.

But the most amazing thing about this beautiful young lady is that she basically gave up her high school experience to serve her family. We were homeschoolers. In some ways, this was to our advantage because she didn’t have to leave home and go to school, but then she was at home and missing socializing that we would have had at the homeschool co-op. Mikaela was totally self-directed. She stayed right on top of her studies and finished remarkably well. And she did it all while cooking, cleaning, and planning for the family. This meant she spent most, if not all, of her time at home—caring for the family. There was precious little time out with friends, or going to games or movies, if not for her brothers who would take her out on the town.

Michael and Mikaela-the author's two gifts from God.

Michael and Mikaela-the author’s two gifts from God.

All this and more is why I want to share this with you. There are not many teenage girls today that would do all this without grumbling or whining. Mikaela has been so gracious and uncomplaining. I really don’t know how we could have made it this far without her.

She is truly a “Gift from God.”

[UNSET]GGMandy is a farmer’s kid turned pastor’s wife. Growing up she swore to never marry a farmer nor a pastor; however, in God’s irony, she married Pastor Farmer! Along with her husband she has served in the Church of the Nazarene for the past 26 years. She served many years in children’s ministry and recently in women’s ministry, especially mentoring young adult women. Her husband has just recently taken an early retirement. The GG is her name stands for many things. As a farmer’s daughter, she is Gene’s Girl, as a pastor’s wife, she is a Gracious Guide, as a grandmother, she prays she is a Godly Grandmother.
GGMandy has been struggling with chronic pain for the past four years. She is an encourager who now gives her time to encouraging others on two blogs, Leaving a Legacy and Raised in a Barn. Her daughter, Mikaela is a recent high school graduate and a blossoming musician. She taught herself the guitar and led her youth group in worship for four years and is now trying her hand at music and Vlogging. You can get a taste of her style at KaeZanne, leave her a word of encouragement while you are there.​​​

 

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Practical Advice for Keeping the Holidays Happy

Keeping the Holidays Happy

The shorter days seem to suck minutes out of each hour—causing me to rush around and get things done at a breakneck pace. Meanwhile, little chores and tasks seem so laborious. Who wants to file the growing stack of papers on one’s desk when the weak winter sun beckons to come out and enjoy its tepid warmth for a few stolen moments of exercise before the thermometer drops below freezing?

The end of the quarter looms, and I suddenly realize that how little time remains before I must turn in final grades on projects we haven’t finished because I’ve leisurely assumed that we had plenty of time to cover this or that topic before the semester ends.

Each morning I struggle to hop out of bed when my alarm chimes. Normally, I have no problems popping out of bed at four in the morning, but not in December. Instead of falling back asleep while my alarm patiently counts down nine minutes of snoozing time (who came up with how long one should snooze, anyway?), my mind races through all I must accomplish. My recriminating thoughts have fistfights with each other, and when the bell goes off, no one wins.

I forget that every day of the year has 24 hours and no one says I must accomplish a full day’s compliment of work in the meager nine hours and fifty-eight minutes of sunlight allotted to me. How did I ever cope when I lived further north and had an hour less of sunshine? What do people in Alaska do?

Christmas programs, gift buying, work parties, decorations, real trees or fake, friends, family, the delicate negotiations of who will spend which hours of the holidays with whom and where, cookie exchanges, shrinking bank accounts and expanding waistlines, expectations and always, always, the need for light. The need for Light.

It takes me years to decorate each new house we move into—how will I decorate for a single season before it ends? How does Martha Stewart do it? How does a gal preserve her peace in the season of hustle and bustle and high expectations?

I find my answer in the lights. They remind me of the Light of the World, who came as a tiny babe to walk alongside us. Immanuel—God with Us. Not just saving us from our sins through his sacrifice, but experiencing our pain as well. Rejected by family and friends, abused physically and verbally, homeless, laughed at, misunderstood, endangered, betrayed—he really was with us. He knows suffering.

And so during these dark days of December, I cling to the Light. I put candles in my windows and wrap sparkling lights around the barren trees outside (ok, my husband does the manly decorating outside). I make a date with the Light the night before and wake up eager not to miss it.

When the alarm chimes, I slip out of bed straight onto my knees and thank God for the Light. I pad to the kitchen and brew myself a decaf skinny latte with a dash of cayenne pepper and then head to my prayer chair. This month I’m copying a passage about the Light from scripture in my journal each morning. I tell my students all the time that the reason I have them copy things is because I want it to go through their fingers and lodge in their brain. It works for teachers, too.

I change my activities. I love running—but only in the early morning—my body refuses to participate in that activity after eight a.m. I don’t have time to run before work (and can never drag myself outside after work). To get my heart pumping, I concede to riding the exercise bike during the winter months instead.

The transition doesn’t come easily for me (I whine and wish that I could motivate myself to run in the dark and cold), but since I value exercise, I make the effort. My aging joints thank me for the break in routine, and my brain reminds me that doing the same exercise over and over eventually causes it to lose its effectiveness (scientists have discovered that the body needs to change things up in intensity, duration and activity in order to promote weight loss and other health benefits).

Adjusting my expectations helps, too. I will never have a Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart Christmas. My presentation will never grace the pages of a magazine, and no one will ever how beautifully decorated our home looked. But I can host friends and family with grace. I can make each person who walks through my door feel special by asking questions, engaging in conversation and giving the gift of my attention.

I also acknowledge that I can’t do it all alone. As an introvert, doing community does not come naturally for me. This year, I’ve joined a weekly ladies prayer group. As we meet each week, I feel more comfortable in community—freer now that I know I have friends praying for me, and that I can return the blessing by praying for them.

***

C2A2 (2 Cs and 2As to help you remember how to keep the #holidays happy!) Click To Tweet

 

Do you have any practical advice for keeping the holidays happy? Share in the comments and share at the Facebook chat!

Bringing Hope to Others With Cancer While We Wait

LarissaWaiting with Expectation Means Bringing Hope to Other

When I took my wedding vows I never really thought the “in sickness and health” part through all the way. I guess I just assumed that would come later in life – like when we were in our 60s or 70s. However, sickness arrived when my husband was 44 years old—while deployed in Iraq.

When I first heard the words “they found a mass” I was totally wrapped up in myself—and our future move from Okinawa to Oahu. As a Marine spouse I felt like all I had experienced had made me tough. That was until I first heard my husband being diagnosed with a leiomyosarcoma—this was going to require a whole new level of toughness. Before the official diagnoses the hubs named his mass T.I.M. for The Inconvenient Mass. I couldn’t stand the word mass so the hubs got creative and T.I.M. was named. The naming of the mass was just the beginning of the humor that has gotten us both through the past four years.

I never really saw myself as a caregiver—I am a wife to a very independent Marine who had been benched for a short while before T.I.M. was removed in 2011. I lived in cancer-free bliss, on the island of Oahu, and enjoyed our last tour to the fullest. I am grateful for the time God gave us thinking “we” were cancer-free. I knew the statistics and that T.I.M. could come back—science said there was a 40% chance. However, we would catch it in its infant stage and fight it early. Or, so we thought.

I wasn’t prepared for what the second diagnosis brought. The cancer was discovered in the unlikeliest of places. And, it wasn’t following sarcoma protocol—it had the nerve to come back in several places this time. Though I was caught off guard, our Mighty God was not.

We got a second opinion this time and so we take the five-hour trek to Houston every two months to get new scans and discuss the sarcoma’s growth. Right now B.O.B (Blobs on Bill) is growing at an unimpressive rate—so we wait. We wait for two months to pass. And then we wait for the results. And then we wait to hear what the specialist has to say. Then we drive back home and we wait again.

And in those waiting periods life goes on. Life goes on after a cancer diagnosis. People move on after they think you are ok. And yet, I don’t get to move on. I am in a two-month holding pattern.

I have noticed that God is using these two-month stretches of time to grow me. To show me that I can lean on Him and that He is still in control. He has not moved on though family and friends have. He cares about me. The weird part about waiting is living and moving forward while waiting. Life has to go on. Bills still have to be paid. The dogs still want to eat. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday still come around just as Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday do as well. Holidays come and go. In the midst of this waiting I lost my mother to cancer. In the midst of waiting I have taken a girls weekend. I wrote 31 days in a row on “Doing Community Well”, while waiting. In the midst of waiting I take care of my husband. We nap every day. Exhaustion is his only “symptom” right now. I am resting while I am waiting. I am praising God while I am waiting. I am enjoying time with my girlfriends while I am waiting. I co-lead a women’s Bible study while I am waiting. We open our home every Wednesday night to our Life Group while we are waiting.

One weird reality right now is that I am a caregiver to a mostly healthy person. Both the hubs local oncologist and the specialist at MDA say that he is the healthiest cancer patient they have. And, so, we wait!

Someone asked me recently what my ministry was and it dawned on me that my ministry is my husband. And my/our ministry, as a couple, is to shine brightly in the dark world of cancer. We bring hope in with us wherever we go.

Our ministry is bringing hope to others with cancer (and their #caregivers) while we wait to see… Click To Tweet

Romans 15:13 (NIV) “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

My ministry as a caregiver is to walk into MD Anderson with my cancer patient and I smile and hug others when I get a chance. I talk to other patients and caregivers since I am the extrovert in our family. I share about how we are trusting God during this “terminal” waiting period.

1 Chronicles 16:8 (NLT) “Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.”

People without cancer give us weird looks. Or ask a ton of questions. Or any variation of looks and emotions and questions. Cancer families just know. They understand the waiting. We actually wait and laugh and make jokes about cancer together. It’s our coping mechanism. It gives us a break from the reality of what we are facing. And it makes all the sitting in waiting rooms so much easier.

I see this current season in my life as a privilege to serve my husband and others and I pray daily that He would be glorified through me! I am waiting and I am praying. And I am waiting with expectation for my God who is faithful.

Psalm 5:3 (NIV) “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”


LarissaLarissa Traquair is a blogger, volunteer and C.I.O. (Chief Inspiring officer) of the Gr8tful Tribe on Facebook and on Periscope. She is known as the Gr8tful Chick on all her social media outlets. She is a mom to a pair of adopted bulldogs and has been married to her Marine for 22 + years. They are retired in Texas now and trusting God through the transition from active duty to retiree all while dealing with a cancer diagnosis. She loves all things paper –scrap booking (Project Life); stamping; and paper planning. She also loves dark chocolate and doing lunch with girlfriends. She shares gratitude, her love for food, and what God is doing in her life over at www.thehouseoftraquair.blogspot.com. She currently serves on the social media team of a military ministry called Planting Roots where she can be found coordinating their Periscope Broadcasting schedule among their 21 member volunteer team.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

Take a moment to visit Angie, the other hostess, too!

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Only You Can Determine if Caregiving is a Burden or a Blessing

You get to choose your attitude

Only you can choose whether caregiving is a burden or a blessing!

My Story is Your Story

My life has been marked by many events. which if I am honest, made me who I am today. Life lessons abound and are interspersed with several periods of putting my plans on hold in order to care for others. During the 31 day writing challenge, I read many posts about caregiving and the journey these people traversed to get to where they are now. I am intrigued by their stories and my heart feels deeply for them. Until recently, I did not understand that the words I read are ones that mirror parts of my own story.

2 Cor 9-7

As I struggled to balance a two week period recently, where my dad was in the hospital and his apartment needed to be cleaned out before the end of the month, I had a conversation with one of my brothers. I voiced concerns, frustrations and finally named my struggles with these words, “I am a caregiver.” He didn’t patronize me or downplay all the feels I was feeling at that moment. He came alongside and acknowledged this truth. I had never spoken these words out loud to anyone before this.

I am blessed by a wonderful family who cares deeply for each other and willingly supports a member when needed. But, they all live out of town and when you are craving a physical presence to sit next to you in silence or in shared words, reality reminds you that you are alone. Caregiving, when alone, takes on a new level of staying strong and leaning on the one who you can always count on – God!

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Throughout my life, I have played the role of caregiver. My first experience was caring for my former husband, who endured one physical problem after another. I learned quickly that caring for young sons, as well as a husband, was a full time job. However, I already had a full time job as a teacher. I carried an “I am fine” persona with me at all times and from the outside looking in, I had it all together. I still wear a strong outer shell as a result of my years of living life through the challenges as well as the joys. This last experience with my dad is creating a softening of my heart and a deep desire to not just care for someone, but bless them with my time.

My brother spoke truth into my heart during that phone conversation and his wise words have stuck with me. He changed my perspective of caregiving by saying he looks at it as a way to serve a loved one. My attitude of trying to get it all done while remaining strong, is slowly falling apart, one piece at at time. I can choose to bless someone with the gift of time or carry the burden of feeling like my time is not my own. There is nothing easy about either choice, but God loves generosity and presence.

6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

You might also be in a position of caring for someone that feels burdensome at times. God is cheering for you as you give the gift of being present. Perhaps, like me, you did not even recognize that the role you were playing was caregiving. It took me many years and one conversation with my brother to understand I was a caregiver. We need to embrace the positions God calls us to in our lives. This little blip along the road will be used for God’s glory, when we see the blessing of time that is inherent in caregiving.

I am slowly learning to bless others with a cheerful heart, knowing that my time is not really my own. We belong to God and giving of our time, serving others, or blessing all with a smile is building God’s Kingdom. A blessing that in turn blesses you more in return.

View More: http://kimdeloachphoto.pass.us/allume-mary

Mary Geisen is the mom of two amazing, grown sons. She is blessed to be a retired 3rd grade teacher and a woman seeking God in the ordinary routines of life. Lover of the beach, coffee and long walks outside are coupled with a love of reading. God’s story for her life blossomed into written words that begged to be shared with others and then her writing journey began. The power of God’s words has inspired her journey of healing and drawing closer to God through the power of grace.

Join Mary on her grace journey by connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

When You’re Ninety-Eight, I’ll be Ninety-Nine

Sisters and best friends

Continued from last week…

March

Louis and I swing into my parents’ driveway in Holbrook, Arizona, a few days after the last phone call, the one where Sarah sounded more like Sarah, the one where I realized maybe just maybe I could have my sister back.

The car’s clock glows in the desert darkness; it’s midnight. I ease out of the car, let Bella dart around sniffing her old home, and walk slowly to the front door. Light only seeps from one window in the house. Sarah’s window. Everyone else sleeps.

I open the front door. It creaks. I peer into the black entryway. Soft thumping sounds come up the hall and turn the corner and there she is. Sarah. She hesitates, and I hesitate. Are we still sisters, after all of this? The game we played as children unfurls in my mind.

When you turn eight, Sarah says, I’ll be six, but then I’ll turn seven.

And then I’ll turn nine, I say. Nine!

We giggle. Nine, so old, so far away.

But then I’ll turn eight, Sarah says. And you’ll turn ten.

Ten hushes us. We imagine the way we will be at that venerable age—fearless, probably.

And then I say, slowly, then we’ll get so old that when you’re ninety-eight, I’ll be ninety-nine, but then I’ll turn a hundred. And you’ll come knocking on my door, and we’ll go do old lady things together.

I run toward Sarah. She runs toward me. I fling my arms around her, feeling her skin, her bones, her hair, her hands. She feels different—raw somehow. But she also feels the same way she always has.

We talk for hours.

I'll turn 100 and you'll come knocking on my door, and we'll go do old lady things together.… Click To Tweet

May

High in the grapefruit tree at our southern California rental house, I press my phone to my ear and talk to Sarah. The sun sinks, and we keep talking. The streetlights flicker on, and we keep talking. She sounds more and more herself, more and more Sarah. She listens to me speak about my upcoming move to Oklahoma and all its intricacies. I listen to her tell me about Puerto Rico, about New York, about the things her unquiet mind led her to do.

Grapefruits plump and round stud the branches around me like small suns. I trace my finger down the waxy skin of the nearest one and drink in the sound of my sister coming back.

June

I am nervous when Sarah flies to Alaska for the summer. She has told me her frustrations about our father not believing she can last a week without getting fired; she needs someone to believe in her. So I try. I try to believe that she will work well and hard. I try not to betray my own hesitance.

She sends me several pictures once she gets there: a muddy-looking glacier as seen from the freeway. The impossibly sunlit evening hour. And, finally, a tiny log cabin. Red flowers spill from the windowsill. Aspen trees encircle the rustic structure. A little plaque on its side says her middle name on it—Katrina—for she has decided to go by that name, to distance herself from everything now attached to Sarah.

I stare at this third picture for a long time. I touch the warm phone screen.

This little cabin, prepared with care. Her new employer knows everything, yet she believes in Sarah.

I am her sister. I must have faith even stronger.

July

Every week I call her. Every week, the wild notes in her voice become calmer. She tells me about crisp Alaskan days, grizzly tracks, her kind and gentle employers. I tell her about the shroud of wet hot air that is Oklahoma in the summertime, about chigger bites dotting my stomach, about clearing brush with friends in crashing storms and sheets of rain unlike any Californian drizzle. We laugh at the jokes we tell each other; we squeal at each other’s cute stories. Always I ask her if she’s doing okay, if she’s taking her medicine, and always she says yes.

September

After three months, Sarah flies back to Washington to attend college there.

Her Alaskan employers ask her to consider working for them the following summer.

November

On my twenty-third birthday, she texts me Happy birthday!!! Do you have time to chat today?

I call her right away. She tells me stories about her classes and her work and her friends. Funny stories. Hopeful stories. I hear those friends chattering in the busy college cafeteria background.

“I’m talking to my sister,” Sarah says to them.

To be continued…

IMG_5432-242x300Laura Melchor writes from Tulsa, OK, where she works part time and goes to school full time.  She will graduate with her Master of Fine Arts in July.  She and her husband love their teaching jobs and enjoy motorcycle riding and camping in their spare time.  Bella, their German Shepherd dog, fully approves of their love of camping. She and Sarah have been ‘Spider Sisters’ for their entire lives.

Linking up with my friends Jennifer and Holley today.

A Soldier in the Service of the Ultimate Caregiver

The Ultimate Caregiver

The Ultimate Caregiver
Well, yes, God. But not quite in the way you may think.

When I’ve been told to ‘lean into God’, or ‘cry out to God’, or crawl into the lap of Abba-Daddy, I have nodded as if I understood.

But the reality is this: I have no idea how to do any of those things. To me they’re words, spoken in a tongue that I can’t decipher.

When I was able to go to church, and saw congregants ‘on fire with the Spirit’, it was baffling (and please don’t ask me about speaking in tongues!).

You see, I don’t have a ‘personal relationship with Christ’. I can’t walk with Him, and talk with Him. If I try, it’s simply imagination. There’s got to be something missing in me, and I do envy those people who have that.

I have tried. I spent hours in prayer, and went ‘jogging with Jesus. I journaled ‘letters to God’. No joy. Not even a flicker.

But there is another road. Perhaps one more attuned to a PhD in structural engineering; perhaps this road was God’s plan all along.

I do believe in Him, that He died on the Cross in payment for our collective sin, and that He rose again on the Third Day. And so on.

My faith comes from historical fact and logic, some of which was delineated by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Lewis’ textural criticism of the Gospels (and I do know something about this kind of analysis) holds them as consistent reportage of real events, notwithstanding the Rashomon Effect of different people seeing minor details differently. The Gospels are quite unlike fiction; if they were, they would be representative of a form that the world would not see for about 1400 years.

The Gospels would therefore either be true, or the collective work of emotion-addled madmen, and there’s nothing in them to indicate that. Quite the contrary; Matthew, Luke and Mark can be frustratingly dry.

Add to this the Apostles’ actions after the ‘alleged’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. Sane men do not pursue a path that they know is likely to end in martyrdom for a cause they know to be false.
The Christian interpretation of the Gospels simply makes the most sense, and I choose to believe it. Believing otherwise would fly in the face of the simplest and most coherent interpretation of the evidence.

Heck of a comfort when you’re dying, eh?

Actually…it is.

I don’t have to depend on either the emotion that goes with praise and worship, or the feelings I may get on hearing a particularly good sermon. Neither of those have an effect my faith.
My faith is like a plain of rock; hard and bare, but very solid.

And it frees me to be able to accept the Ultimate Caregiving…caregiving that recognizes me for what I am, and helps me to make the best of an increasingly bad situation.

I don’t cry out to God; I accept orders from Him, a call to duty that doesn’t accept excuses linked to my physical being. There are things that must be done, and He expects me to do His work, and to expend my energy in a cause He finds worthwhile.

The support of my wife, the care of the dogs to whom we’ve given last-resort sanctuary, and my writing, which I hope shows the conviction I feel that life is worth living, that there’s good to be done…even in the face of death.

He may order me to my death, but that would not be from a lack of love. It would be in a cause whose importance would transcend His anguish at seeing me hurt…and sorrow and pain far greater than I could experience at the moment of a horrendous death.

He isn’t here, but He’s on the other hand here; His immanence is made manifest by the strength from which I draw to keep going. He doesn’t talk to me, tell me what to do, what to write, how to act…I suspect He feels that I know full well how I’m supposed to serve His cause, and that I best get on with it.

Sometimes I fail; I know that when it happens. It’s an unfulfilled directive. I try to avoid those, because He is the kind of commander that I don’t want to disappoint.

He is the kind of commander I don't want to disappoint. The Ultimate #Caregiver Click To Tweet

Not disobey; I said disappoint, and I mean it.

Because He understands the material He has to work with, in me.

And in that, in taking me as I am to see Him in the way I can, He’s the Ultimate Caregiver, and I look forward to getting to know Him as a person. When I get to Heaven, I’ll stand Him a Foster’s.

It’s the least I can do.
AndrewAndrew Budek-Schmeisser blogs about being the recipient of caregiving, marriage and life over at Blessed Are the Pure in HeartHe and his wife are owned by rescue dogs who assist him and inspire him. He has published one novel (you can find out more on his website) and a short book.  For your FREE copy of his latest book Faith in the Night-Finding God When All Seems Lost, visit his blog. 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Take a moment to visit

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

Need some inspiration for your Monday? Check out the posts at the #inspirememonday linkup! Click To Tweet

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Forgiveness and Caregiving Create Amazing Changes

Caregiving and ForgivenessMy mom died before she grew old, I was thirty-nine. She was gone before my daughters, Jessica and Caitlin, graduated high school and walked down the aisle. I never thought I’d spend the last half of my life without her.

It was Thanksgiving 1998, her diagnosis came as a shock to all of us. Mom’s primary care doctor said she had hepatitis and told her to go home and rest. However, she didn’t get better. Testing confirmed she had pancreatic cancer and just two weeks later she had surgery to remove half of her pancreas. She then started a long process of chemotherapy.

My mother was miserable. Food no longer tasted good, she couldn’t keep it down. She was so tired. I took her to her doctor’s appointments dreading the answer to the question we didn’t want to ask, “How much time does mom have?” We hadn’t spent our time well together and now it was fading fast and I didn’t want it to end.

Soon after mom received the diagnosis, she let the wall down, the wall that keeps us from being real. She shared her deepest regret, which was looking the other way when my step-father was heartless and cruel in his choice of words. She cried and I cried and she told me how much she loved me. As she lay dying, she tried to make up for lost time and past mistakes.

I helped mom sell her house and she moved into a little bungalow around the block from us. For the first time in their lives, my daughters experienced what it was like to live near grandma. They rushed to her home after school to help her wash dishes or rake leaves in the yard. Mom taught Jessica how to bake. They watched television together and she laughed at their stories about school and first boyfriends.

About a year after surgery, mom could no longer live alone. We moved her into our house, into the spare bedroom at first. When she needed more assistance we moved her into the living room and set up a hospital bed near the large windows in the living room.

I watched my daughters care for her. Caitlin brought her water, tissues, and books to read. Jessica sat on the edge of her bed and they talked. My daughters were learning to nurture others through caregiving for their grandmother.

Mom treasured her oldest friendships, her grade school and high school friends and the women from the neighborhood where I grew up. They were like family and they visited her regularly.

Mom’s co-workers, young and old, kept scheduled visits on a calendar so one or two were there each day. They played cards, brought her special treats, and shared office gossip. We set up a jigsaw puzzle near the front windows and watched the snow fall.

Spring came early that year and I was thankful for it. We welcomed the warm rays of sun coming in through the front windows. Mom could watch from her hospital bed the rhododendrons and azaleas begin to bloom. Gray squirrels scurried around on the brick planter to gnaw on corn cobs. Our gray and white cat, spent most days curled up at the end of her bed.

Mom’s health declined steadily and one day her friend Grace held my hand and said to me, “Nancy, it’s time to tell your mom it is okay for her to go. Tell her you’ll be all right.” My aunt and brothers came to my house that Sunday, it was Mother’s day. They each had some time alone with mom. It was bittersweet knowing it would be the last time we would celebrate this day. Never again would there be a reason to buy hanging planters filled with her favorite Fuchsias. Sunday brunch at Budd Bay Café wouldn’t be the same without mom.

I sat with my mom longer that night, well after my daughters had gone to bed. I knew mom could hear me, I didn’t know how much she understood. By then she was using a pain pump, pressing a button to self-administer pain medication as needed. Her breathing was labored and her face looked thin. Through tears I said goodbye. I told her how much I loved her and said “I always felt loved by you. We’ll be okay mom, it’s your time to go.”

The following night, not more than a couple hours after I had gone to sleep, I sat straight up in bed and knew something had changed. I walked into the hall and before I entered the living room I heard it – the quiet of the night. I had gotten used to the sound of mom’s labored breathing, but now the house was silent.

Walking slowly to her bed, her body was still and the light had left her eyes. I sat down, unable to move. After several minutes, I called my brother and my mom’s friend and asked them to come. It was midnight when staff from the funeral home got to my house, I was surprised at how quickly it was over.

I don’t remember much about the following weeks. The memorial service was at our church. I wanted to speak but the words didn’t come. I went home to a quiet house and looked around and realized I had lost my way. I kept busy working and being an involved parent but life was passing me by. I didn’t want to reach the end of my life carrying the burden of regrets.

It was then I opened my Bible and began searching for answers I knew I would find there. An older woman at church became my spiritual mentor and I learned what it was like to work through past hurts and use those experiences to grow into the person God planned for me. I had to experience the emotional pain of losing my mom in order to reach a point of needing my Heavenly Father.

Taking my mom in to live with us during the last months of her life was the right thing to do. If it had it to do all over again, I would do it just the same. My daughters saw by example, this is what you do for those you love. I still remember mama.

Nancy GNancy Gladwin is a writer and artist. She writes for her two beautiful daughters and you! She blogs at Timeless Truths. She is grateful for her husband, Greg, and God’s unconditional and unfailing love. When she isn’t writing or studying God’s word, she is making memories with her twin grandchildren. She loves to explore the woods and water of the Pacific Northwest. “May the words I write resonate in your heart and point to God our creator who gives us hope.”
 

Don’t Dwell, Become the Dwell

Psalm 4:8

Dwell: Dictionary.com

Verb:
3. to linger over, emphasize or ponder in thought, speech, or writing (often followed by on or upon).

4. (of a moving tool or machine part) to be motionless for a certain interval during operation.

Noun:
2. a period in a cycle in the operation of a machine or engine during which a given part remains motionless.

In the hurry and bustle of life, my mind usually fills with thoughts and images that take up space. I dwell on them. I can’t change them; they happened in the past, but I ruminate on them as surely as a cow chews its cud whilst standing in the field.

Why didn’t I starting hunting the Internet sooner when Sarah’s depression didn’t go away once she started medication? Why didn’t I investigate her odd behavior in more depth during the middle of her Argentina year? Why didn’t I write down the name of the medication that she went on or ask her to bring home a report from the doctors that she saw down there?

The whys pour in and flood me with remorse. I knew about diseases that afflicted young adults away at college—things like spinal meningitis (she received her vaccine) and mono and battling self-image and eating disorders. Why didn’t I know about mental health?

I must forgive myself for what I did not know. I must remain motionless and gaze in wonder at the stars and become the dwell. As a child of God, he asks me to be still, to know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). I must deliberately calm myself and clean out the thoughts and know that my job consists of exalting Him.

My work does not consist of parading my mistakes over and over through my tired brain. It consists of exalting God and pointing out how each step of the way, he promises to do something good. He has worked in the situation and he will continue to work in the situation to bring about his greater purpose.

When I become the dwell in the great machinery of life, I can dwell on His love and power and mercy and grace and truely dwell in the safety of his plan.

God will continue to work out the situation according to his greater purpose. #mentalhealth Click To Tweet

For more about this story, click here.

Battling Resentment in Caregiving

battling resentment during caregivingIn celebration of National Family Caregivers Month, we’re sharing the stories of other bloggers and caregivers. Today guest blogger Barbara Haper writes about the resentment she sometimes feels as a caregiver and offers some practical tips for battling resentment.

Seven years ago we moved my mother-in-law 2,000 miles away from her home to live near us in an assisted living facility. Her declining condition eventually took her to a nursing home, where she dwindled down to 90 lbs. We brought her to our home so she could pass away peacefully among family. However, she responded well to one-on-one care, gained weight, and has been here for over two years.

I’ve experienced a gamut of emotions since being involved with her care. Happiness that she was cared for and that our family could spend more time with her. Gratification to be able to give back to someone who had poured her life out for loved ones. Sadness from her decline, the loss of the person we knew, the knowledge that she’s going to get worse, planning funeral arrangements. Frustrations over staff members not adequately taking care of her, family members not keeping in touch, not being as available for my son’s family during his son’s NICU stay as we would have liked, the effects of dementia though knowing she couldn’t help those things. Dislike of the physical aspects of care-giving (some are natural caregivers: I am not). Weariness over the everyday aspects and wondering how much longer we can do it. Pressure from the needs of family, work, finances, and other obligations. We’ve felt like the ham and cheese of the sandwich generation. We've felt like the ham and cheese of the sandwich generation. #caregiver #dementia Click To Tweet

But the one I’ve wrestled with the most is resentment and its accompanying guilt. What is there to be resentful over? Though I love and miss our kids, I had looked forward to empty nest opportunities. I’ve felt “tied down” as we can’t go out without paying ($17 an hour here) for an aide to stay with her (her needs are too specific for just a friend to stay). While I appreciate hospice services, so many people coming through my home invades my introverted sanctuary. Sometimes they don’t call before they come or don’t arrive when planned, disrupting schedules. When my mother-in-law was in facilities, a 40-minute round trip there might find her either repeating conversations or too groggy to talk. We’ve had to set aside social functions, personal projects, and even ministries in order to take care of her.

Over the years I’ve found a number of helps from the practical to the spiritual that help me in battling resentment during my caregiver journey:

Taking care of one’s own health and sleep needs. Everything looks worse when you’re tired or run-down.

Talking with someone. Not bashing or complaining, but just being able to discuss the situation helps.

Getting away even for short periods provides a little respite.

Taking a day at a time. God gives grace and strength for the moment.

Remember what brought us to this place. As we trace our history with my mother-in-law’s care, we come to the same conclusion, that this is the best situation for her at this stage.

Remember that caring for a loved one at home used to be the norm before assisted living facilities and nursing homes became widespread, and it still is in some countries.

Remember her care of her family for so many years, and look at this as an opportunity to repay her love and care.

Think how we would want to be regarded and treated if we were in the same situation.

Pray. Sometimes, before going into my mother-in-law’s room, I pray I might be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Colossians 1:9-13). I need His strength, longsuffering, and patience, He has the power to help me to go beyond acting out of duty to enable me to serve with joy. I frequently pray that He will help me have a more loving, unselfish heart. Hebrews 4:16 promises we can find grace to help in time of need at God’s throne.

God has the power to help a #caregiver go beyond acting out of duty and enabling us to serve… Click To Tweet

Remember truth: It is God’s will that we take care of our parents in their old age (Exodus 20:12; Mark 7:8-13; 1 Timothy 5:4, 16), whether in our home or a facility. If our spouse needs care, we vowed, “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.” Our child’s care is our responsibility.

My time, life, schedule, home, hopes, plans, and dreams, are not mine. They’re God’s. They were surrendered to Him years ago and need to be surrendered to Him daily. This is His will for me now. Though care-giving is not my natural gift, that’s what God has called me to. I can trust Him for grace.

Remember the Christian life is one of service, not self-focus. This is seen throughout the Bible, especially in the life of Jesus:

We exhort you, brethren…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all. (I Thessalonians 5:14).

 

Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward (Matthew. 10:42).

 

To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews. 13:16).

 

After [Jesus] had washed their feet…he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).

 

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men (Ephesians 6:7).

 

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9)

 

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

Accept this as my primary ministry. Though some pursuits and ministries have been put on the back burner for now, this is not a hindrance to our ministry: it is our ministry.

I hope these have been helpful. I would love to hear how you deal with caregiver emotions, especially resentment.

God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister
(Hebrews. 6:10)

Barbara HarperBarbara Harper will celebrate 36 years of marriage in December. She and her husband have three sons, one sweet daughter-in-law, and an adorable 18-month-old grandson. She enjoys reading, stitching, card-making, and writing for a ladies’ newsletter at church. One of her passions is getting women into the Word of God for themselves. She loves to write about her family, funny or interesting things she see, and things God has taught her at Stray Thoughts. She did a larger series there on Adventures in Elder Care last year.

An Important Life Lesson from an Epileptic Horse

Unquiet Mind 38

…continued from Saturday.

From the time I finished high school until I finished graduate school, I spent most of my summers as the horsemanship director of a Christian summer camp in central Oregon. One summer a coworker brought her horse to camp, a young, fiery-tempered gelding that she wanted to work with and eventually use as a mount for campers. We soon discovered that he had a unique problem.

For no apparent reason, the horse would suddenly stand stock-still and begin to quiver all over. He would drop to his knees, fall over on his side with a grunt, and proceed to thrash wildly—legs flailing and head twisting from side to side. After several minutes of mayhem, he would gradually cease his contortions, roll back on to his knees and heave himself up into the standing position.

For at least twenty minutes after an episode, he would walk gingerly around his stall or the corral, shaking his head and nickering inquisitively. I always thought he looked a little shocked. His behavior bewildered and confused us. Up until this incident, he had acted like a normal horse.

The first time it happened, I felt certain he suffered from colic, but since the episode didn’t digress into a full-blown medical emergency, I figured I must have misdiagnosed him. The second time it happened, the camp doctor witnessed the event.

“I’ve never seen an animal have a grand maul seizure!” he exclaimed.

“A what?” I asked.

“That horse suffers from epilepsy,” the doctor explained. “The seizure happens when his brain experiences a storm of electrical activity, causing things in his brain to misfire.”

We decided to not let campers ride the horse, regardless of how he progressed in his training. Over the course of the summer his owner had to bail off him a time or two when he had a seizure out on the trail. I always felt sorry for him—especially because he looked so dazed, confused and embarrassed when he stopped seizing.

***

The gradual fading of hypomania stretched out over weeks. In the meantime, we could only pray that if God wanted Sarah in Alaska, he would make it possible. Sarah did her part by remembering to take her new medication and keeping her appointments.

I could tell by the little things—the way she handled conflict, the way she made a conscious effort to use her phone in moderation, and her willingness to exercise—that the real Sarah had staged a comeback. Of course, after almost three years of struggles, we had all forgotten the ‘real’ Sarah. At times, she too, seemed unsure of who she really was. As we spoke about things that had happened during her manic cycle, she expressed remorse and regret and disbelief over her actions. She expressed deep confusion over how in the world she had ever thought that the things she had done could have seemed ‘normal’ to her.

I believe the cutting incident expressed a desire to pay penance for what she had done while manic, and because she still suffered from hypomania, it made perfect logical sense to her.

***

Some people may think that bipolar disorder is simply an extension of a person’s normal highs and lows, and that with therapy and self-awareness a bipolar person can avoid depression and mania.

Modern research does not agree. According to Dr. Jay Carter, Doctor of Psychiatry and author of multiple books on bipolar disorder, the prefrontal lobe of our brains develops last—and the information stored there leaves us first as we age. The prefrontal lobe acts as our moral filter, and it doesn’t fully develop until late adolescence. As a person ages, the wisdom of the filter slips away and a person loses the ability to think with ‘insight, hindsight, and foresight,’ according to Dr. Carter. In other words, irrational things look rational and a person loses the ability to see the consequences of one’s actions.

Dr. Carter explains that physiologically, a storm of activity in the prefrontal lobe causes mania. A person will experience racing thoughts that seem to knock out logical thinking by their sheer volume. Mania convinces a person that they don’t need sleep (and one of the corresponding problems with sleep deprivation is the loss of executive function).

After the mania, Dr. Carter explains, the prefrontal lobe takes a vacation for 6-8 weeks. He calls this the “temporary lack of executive functions.” According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, executive functioning and self-regulation skills:

“are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

Only now, as I further study bipolar disorder, do the things that Sarah did (especially whilst manic) make any sense to me. For a long time, I blamed myself and my parenting style for her bad decisions. After all, our goal as parents had been to raise godly children who understood the difference between right and wrong—and Sarah’s manic behaviors showed a blatant disregard for anything we had ever tried to teach her.

The devil loves to take our insecurities and use them against us during trials and moments of… Click To Tweet

Bipolar disorder, like epilepsy, has a physiological basis and rational explanation. Just as that epileptic horse could not control when and where he might succumb to a grand maul seizure, a person has no choice over whether or not they will experience a storm of activity in their prefrontal lobe which results in a manic episode. When the mania subsides, a person will often fall into a pit of depression as their executive functioning goes back ‘online’ and they experience guilt and regret over their behaviors.

***

A week before her scheduled departure, the psychiatrist finally gave the green light for Sarah to go to Alaska. She made arrangements to meet with the psychiatrist over the summer via Skype, and made sure that she would have access to a nearby clinic for the monthly blood draws (to ensure that her white blood count stayed normal).

Pedro worried that Sarah would end up getting fired her first week on the job, and I worried that something might trigger another manic episode.  But deep down, I knew that God had arranged everything for her and he would use the situation as a time of rest and healing for Sarah.

…to be continued.

Linking up with my friends Jennifer Dukes Lee, Holley Gerth and Sarah Frazer today.

A Tribute to A Sister Who Bears the Burden of Caregiving

A moving tribute to a sister who bears the burden of caregiving

In celebration of National Family Caregivers Month, we’re sharing the stories of other bloggers and caregivers. Today guest blogger Debby Hudson writes a tribute to her younger sister, who carries the burden of caregiving for their mother.

You don’t realize how much of life you can’t know.

When you’re a kid, you go with the flow, watch the family ties and expect things will play out by what you’ve seen. You discover which aunts are the entertainers, with stories or shenanigans. You see who’s the wanna-be singer and who is the serious type. You don’t see trouble coming. You don’t anticipate your world of family Thanksgivings or vacations will break apart.

It was the divorce that first blind-sided you. Then remarriages with both parents and new siblings who would be much younger than you. You couldn’t know you’d have a sister you’d never share a home with or that you’d end up on opposite sides of the country from your parents.

Life happens in unexpected ways but you grow up and live with the distance and look forward to visits. You even start to dream of the time Mama will retire and maybe then, she can spend longer than a week with you and her grandkids. Until the other thing you didn’t see coming happens: dementia.

We believe it’s Alzheimer’s dementia, though I don’t think there has been a medical test confirming this. Just a knowing from the doctors and growing acceptance from the family.

It started with little things, like the repetitive questions that turned into forgetting birthdays and progressed into not calling. Living thousands of miles apart, phone calls had been our connection. When this stopped, and when she abruptly ended my calls to her as if I were a telemarketer, the amber caution light started flashing red.

It’s one thing to bridge the distance of miles, it turns out to be impossible to bridge the gap of a fading memory.

There wasn’t much discussion in emails between my sister and I. Nothing more than the shared information that mama’s care was becoming more of a concern. Mama lived next door to my sister Lisa making it easier for my sister to notice the signs something was off. To notice Mama was wearing one shirt pulled over another or that she wasn’t bathing. Most disturbing was when she’d ask the granddaughters, the ones who were growing up right next door to her, who that man was. That man, their dad, her son-in-law who’d never lived farther than a stone’s throw from her backyard yet she didn’t know him.

It’s near 10 years since these lapses grabbed our attention. It’s been ten years since mama’s youngest, my sister, 16 years younger and still raising her own kids, was drafted into the position of ‘primary caregiver’. A job no one volunteers for. But love pushes forward through the heartache of dementia.

They’re up there in the northwest corner of our country where the fruit valley produces those golden apples, and we’re down here in the southeast corner where we produce tourists to fill our beaches in winter. There is never enough time or money to get back and forth for either of us. For me to pitch in, or Lisa to take a break.

A few years ago we moved mama into a care facility as she needed 24-hour care. Lisa, once again, had to bear the burden of standing up to the aunts, mama’s sisters, who were still in denial of the disease. It’s always been her, making the drives back and forth for visits, laundry, doctor’s appointments, haircuts, birthdays and holidays. We’ve shared our tears, Lisa and I. Not for the time spent in seeing to mama’s needs but the sadness of losing our mother.

I stumbled on thUnknownis verse one day.

God says, “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Isaiah 49:15

I don’t know how to support Lisa any more than with my words and assurances that she’s doing the right thing. It seems meager and not enough. Her reward is having Mama smile at her, hoping her smile means the smallest of recognition.

We know God’s mercies are new each morning. He has not forgotten Mama or us. Great is his faithfulness.

Unknown-2Debby Hudson is a beach-loving South Florida girl who grew up in the church but learned about grace from an ever-changing group of men in recovery. Music, good words and lots of laughter with friends and family are her favorite parts of life. You can find more from her at Living in Graceland.

 

 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

Take a moment to visit  Angie, the other hostess.
So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Introducing Hypomania-the Third Bipolar Sibling

Romans 8:35

…continued from Tuesday.

Blood dripped down my wrist in small parallel lines and I didn’t know why. Well, actually I did know. It’s not like I just woke up and looked at my arm and saw this. I was the culprit.

Minutes before, had I walked to the bathroom, crying like a baby, opened the drawer and proceeded to slice at my flesh like as if it were the most natural thing—the best way to express how much I hated myself in that moment. After I saw the satisfying blood begin to pool, I etched the words “I’M SORRY” near my inner elbow and then went over the letters again because they weren’t bleeding like the other cuts. I think by that point I was satisfied even though they never really reached the bleeding point, and I went back to my bed and felt better. Actually I felt amazing. No pain, just exhilaration. I took pictures on my cell phone of the cuts like as if they were some kind of trophy of my struggles.

A moment after I did it, I couldn’t figure out why I had. I was not a cutter. But in that height of emotion it was the only option. Something had sparked this explosion of self-hatred in a conversation I was having with a friend thousands of miles away. My careless actions and words during the conversation had caused me to relive and somewhat carelessly reenact the past—the horrible things I had done earlier this year when I was in an altered state of mind—and my friend had judged me. I took it like a blow to the face and in that moment believed myself to be the smelliest pile of poop ever, so naturally I had to make myself suffer for all my sins.

I had learned about coping mechanisms in the psych ward and realized that I had failed miserably at coping with my emotions this time. I decided to write about my feelings in a notebook:

“I’m sad. I’m angry. I hate myself. My mind, specifically. I want a new one. God, give me a new mind. Change it, rip it out and burn it in sulfur and give me a pure, healthy one. F*** my mind. I’m sorry. Forgive me for my sins. I don’t understand. Why did I think it was okay to talk to a complete stranger like that? I’m not like that. I failed the test. Why did he have to test me like that? I’ve never cried so hard before…this week. I cry so much these days. It’s unusual. I’m not depressed. I’m not manic. I feel normal. But I’m not. I’m not. I have a problem and even 900mg of lithium per day isn’t doing jack squat. Okay, it is. I’m better than before. You hear that? I’m BETTER. I’m better…but I know you don’t care. What you saw was a small piece of a large, ugly, f***ed up puzzle in my sick mind called bipolar disorder 1, the worst of them. I can’t make it go away. You saw a tiny slice of its effects. It could’ve been so much worse. I wish you would understand that but I know you won’t. And it doesn’t matter anyway. I cut my arm open several times with a knife. Why? I can’t say. I was angry and needed to break something. So I broke my body….”

I went on for about five pages and felt better afterwards. The next day I would have to go to work and try to hide from the students the obvious cuts on my arm. What had I done? I felt silly for having cut myself and I wished I hadn’t done it. The scars would take a while to fade. My impulsive and emotional behavior would take a while to fade as well.

***

Sarah shared with me the reason that she had cut herself, and she showed me her arm.  I struggled to understand what had happened and why a complete stranger would feel the need to ‘test’ Sarah so see if she had ‘changed’ from what she had been like a month ago.  I’m sure he felt it was his Christian duty to call out someone for sinful behavior, but I didn’t appreciation the devestation he wrought in our home with our daughter.

The line between well-meaning Christians and absurd quacks blurs when we take on the role of the Holy Spirit and try to convict people of their sins and faults.  No one would ‘test’ a person with a broken leg by removing their cast after a week an urging them to go for a jog to see if they’ve recovered yet.  Neither should we try to ‘test’ those who suffer from mental ailments just to see if they’ve recovered yet.

#Mentalillness, like physical illness, takes time to recover from. Be patient. Click To Tweet

***

Summer approached, and I worried about how Sarah would find a job.  Her moods had stabalized, but she still angered easily and seemed to have problems focusing on tasks.  For example, she worked in the school library whilst the libraian recovered from surgery, but couldn’t seem to reshelve books with any accuracy. I realized that my worrying would not get her a job.  My praying would not get her a job, either, if God didn’t think she should take on that responsibility quite yet.  And so I prayed for healing and that God would continue to work things out in his time and grant me patience in the process.

Sarah found an advertisement for a summer job at a small bed and breakfast lodge in Alaska and surprised me by applying for the job.  We talked about the necessity of full disclosure with her potential employers (something I had learned from reading An Unquiet Mind), and Sarah assured me that she would have no problem in authorizing her boss to contact her psychiatrist.

Within a day or two of applying, the owners called Sarah and interviewed her over the phone.  The sweet Christian couple, a retired nurse and teacher, actually wanted to hire Sarah, even after she explained what she had been going through.  They agreed that it would be best for the psychiatrist to give the go-ahead before purchasing Sarah’s plane ticket. Bless them.  The grace and acceptance they exhibited towards Sarah contrasted so sharply with the person who wanted to ‘test’ Sarah.  God knew exactly what this mamma’s heart needed.

May we always make an effort to build people up rather than trip them up. Click To Tweet

Sarah still had to overcome the hurdle of gaining her psychiatrist’s approval, though.  I drove her to her next appointment and we had a girl’s afternoon out.  This time her psychiatrist invited me in and I lerned a new term.  Hypomania. Evidently, Sarah was hypomanic and the doctor wanted to change Sarah’s medication and see how she resonded before approving the job in Alaska.

As a newbie to having a family member with bipolar disorder, I really didn’t know much.  I’d met Depression (deep and persistant), I’d been introduced to Mania (wild and irrational), and now a new sibling had stepped forward: Hypomania. The dictionary calls it a more mild form of mania.

Hypomania Cartoon

Sarah and I joked about hypomania being better than mania, but the affected person still lacks a filter. Sarah started the new medication and we settled in to await the results and the approval of her psychiatrist.

…to be continued.

 

How to Overcome Misunderstanding When You’re a Caregiver

Melony

In celebration of National Family Caregivers Month, we’re sharing the stories of other bloggers and caregivers. Today guest blogger, Melony Lucas, explains how she learned to overcome misunderstanding when people didn’t understand her son’s sensory processing disorder.

I’m standing on the street corner with my two boys when a voice calls out from a car window, “What kind of mother are you? Get some shoes on that kid, sheesh! Have you no love or care?”

Yes, it is cold out and yes, my older boy doesn’t have shoes on. It takes about 45 minutes of therapy for him to wear socks….and then shoes. There was this helicopter you see…but there is no time to explain, because the driver, a police officer, just calls out his disdain and speeds away.

He knows nothing of the countless hours of pouring out my very self as mother to three children, one of which has sensory processing disorder. What kind of mother am I? A tired and weary and hanging-on-by-a-thread-yet-unwilling-to-quit-because-of-love-for-these-kids kind. The kind that asks again and again and again the questions of the people who can help me get to the bottom of what is wrong with my son. The kind who listens to parenting advice with patient frustration, knowing that things are more complicated than that.

The policeman’s words, they are merely few amongst many that cut deep. He epitomizes the countless times I have been misjudged and misunderstood by the watching world, and it is painful and lonely.

Remember that you don't know the whole story--don't judge without seeking understanding. Click To Tweet

***

Seven years later and I’m watching this boy run towards his teammates gathered around a ball. He plays soccer now….. soccer! With shin guards and cleats and soccer socks pulled up over his special seamless socks we buy on the Internet. I am beside myself with joy at the miracle that just bounded out of my car. And tears well up, for it has been such a long and hard fight to get here. A long, long, hard fight.

I join the other soccer moms on the sidelines, yet there is this sting of loneliness. Because even if I declare with gusto, “I never thought I’d see the day my son could do this!” try as they might, there is no one here who can really understand and rejoice with me save the God Who Sees. The One who has been a witness all along, He alone understands.

To be understood is a beautiful thing. Flesh and blood to whom I can speak without many words, yet be understood, is a gift I do not take lightly. Ones who have prayed and watched and spoken life into my soul when it all hung too heavy, this parenting of children, with a special needs one thrown in the mix. Ones who were kind with their expectations; understanding it was a hard and exhausting road we were on. Their understanding, comforting as it is, still has its limits. But there is a limitless ever present God who knows. He knows when I sit and when I rise and He knows what it is to be misunderstood.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? ….He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name, because of His great power and mighty strength not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel; “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God….He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:21, 26-28 emphasis mine)

***

My boys didn’t just get to watch the helicopter land that day—they got to go inside it. It was a Med-Evac chopper training via the vacant field near our house. I didn’t know any of that ahead of time, I just heard the sound of the blades cutting through the sky and I ran out to catch a glimpse of it.

I saw it land, grabbed my boys and we ran the couple of blocks so they could watch. And then I basked in the joy of watching them take it all in. When the pilots got out to stretch their legs and invited us over for a closer look—oh, the Joy! Can’t you just picture it? On this random otherwise ordinary day, two little boys sitting in a helicopter, looking at all the buttons, talking with the pilots! Our hearts soared with the joy of it all—until those policeman’s words sucker-punched the air right out of me.

Walking slowly home, the boys’ eyes gleam, their heads lift to the sky while my eyes fill with tears, and my head hangs low—until the whisper comes from the Voice who spoke the earth into being, the One who sees what is done in secret and rewards, Who promises that our labors are not in vain and encourages us to not lose heart. I breathe in His life-giving words and lift up my head as He comforts and counsels,

Helicopter trumps shoes. Helicopters trump shoes. Be encouraged, Mama, you have My wisdom, and helicopters always trump shoes…especially for Zeke.

***

This God who knows and sees gave me perspective and helped me forgive those unkind words, reminding me that I didn’t understand anything about that policeman either. I knew nothing about the kind of calls he’d been on during the week, or what his growing up life was like that caused him to be so angry at me for my boy without shoes on a cold day.

Some of my favorite verses about being known and understood: Psalm 139; Hebrews 4:14-16; Psalm 103 especially vs. 14; Matthew 6 especially vs. 4,6,18; 1 Corinthians 15:58.

melMelony Lucas’ life is filled full with love from her man Jeremy along with Hannah, Zeke, Daniel and thier fluffy Saint Bernard.  She’s been surprised by joy in the noise of the city and quiet of the mountains, and spends her days continually chasing after it amidst the stuff of life.  You can find her on her blog; ChasingJoy where she writes about what she discovers along the way.

Hope Tools for the Holidays When You’re a Caregiver

Tools for the Holidays
In celebration of National Family Caregivers Month, we’re sharing the stories of other bloggers and caregivers. Today guest blogger Karen Sebastian gives practical tools for caregivers to implement over the holidays.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.Food and the holidays are linked especially during Thanksgiving. As the smell of pumpkin pies baking mingles with the savory aroma of the turkey that is browning in the oven it feels like home.

As I look back over my role as a caregiver, I have to admit that one of the hardest holiday seasons was the first year that my husband, Bill, could not sit down and eat with us because he could no longer swallow. He lost his ability to swallow and received his nourishment through a feeding tube. I was tempted to skip hosting the traditional meal at our home but decided to keep things as normal as possible for everyone. It was hard.
Everyone tends to congregate in the kitchen to taste and nibble on the turkey as it is sliced. The tastiest morsels are right there as you make the final preparations and get it all ready to put on the table. As we were carrying on about how yummy it all was, I felt a wave of sadness hit me because Bill would not enjoy this wonderful shared experience that we take for granted.

I went into the den and gave him a big hug. “I’m so sorry that we are carrying on so much about how delicious the food it when you can’t have any,” I said softly.

“I just enjoy that everyone is having such a good time,” he replied. “It makes my heart glad to hear you.”

That particular year he did not sit with us at the table. After eating, we joined him in the den to share our expressions of gratitude.

The Sebastian family the year this story takes place.

The Sebastian family the year this story takes place.

The holidays are stressful anyway yet when you add the components of a caregiver’s responsibilities, it can be even harder. What do you do when the rules change? How do you handle giving up certain traditions? How to you navigate the sorrow you are feeling?

Hope Tools
Distill the essence of the holiday
Our holidays can be weighed down with traditions and expectations that we carry out routinely without examining why we do them. This is a wonderful opportunity to ask your family what they enjoy doing. Ask the one you are caring for what they most feel capable of doing. You don’t have to do it all. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In our case, we gathered around my husband and shared our gratitude list. We started with the youngest and moved up the age ladder. He closed our time together with wise words and a profound prayer. Sometimes less is more.

Celebrate being together
The whole purpose should be to spend some time together. Let go of the date and use alternate ones that best coordinate with hospital visits and/or other demands. Take lots of pictures. Urge those who normally would not want to have a picture taken to do so. They will treasure it in the years to come.

Laugh together
Laughter abounds when we get together if we will lay down all expectations for perfection and specific outcomes. In our busy lives, these times together are precious. Don’t let hurts from the past rob you of the joy of today. The key to living a life with no regrets is to let the children lead the way with their joy and pleasure in the present moment. For this special time, lay down the worries for the future. This holiday is a precious gift. Enjoy it.

Prayer
Thank you, Lord, for the many promises to give us strength when and where we need it the most. As we enter this holiday season, I receive from you the dignity and peace of knowing that I am serving You as I care for my loved one(s). I thank you for the grace to remove all external trappings of what this holiday should look like. As you carry the burdens this year, we invite You in to our celebration of gratitude and life together. Fill our hearts with laughter with no fear of the future because You will walk with us through it all, just as You have up until now. I receive your joy and laughter in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

karen 2015 bio laughingKaren Sebastian is an author, blogger, and gifted speaker who transparently shares the hope she has found in the darkest times of her life. As an ordained minister, she served as co-pastor of several churches alongside her husband, Bill, who has now moved to Heaven. She also founded HOPEpreneurs, a consulting firm dedicated to helping women succeed in the marketplace. Affectionately known as The Hope Lady, Karen takes every opportunity to inspire hope both personally and when speaking. Karen lives in Dallas, Texas, close to her children and grandchildren. You can find more of her adventurous discoveries of the beauty of hope in a dark, cloudy world at her blog. http://www.karensebastian.com.

Bipolar Disorder: There is No Fix-it-and-Forget-it Cure

God will NEVER leave you!

…continued from Friday.

Whilst Pedro sped towards California to pick up Sarah, I headed home the long way to indulge in a little phototherapy. I welcomed the alone time and the opportunity to stop whenever I wanted to snap photos of the beautiful spring flowers or get out and hike around looking for birds.

I planned on spending Friday night along the way, and then making a leisurely detour down to Tucson to look for a rare bird on Mt. Lemmon. Pedro called Saturday night and shocked me by asking, “When will you be home, we got here about an hour ago.”

He explained that he and Sarah had started talking about her application process at Walla Walla, and that he had told her, “If you’re not ready to go back to school, you can always come home.” For some reason, she didn’t think she had the option to return home.

We would discover over the following weeks that Sarah remembered some of what we said during her manic cycle, but not all of it—and usually in chunks. Before she left Puerto Rico, Pedro had told her that she couldn’t live at home IF she continued to make crazy decisions. So she remembered the first part, but not the condition.

Tears of relief sprouted when I heard about Sarah’s decision. While I applauded her desire to return to school, I worried that she couldn’t cut it quite yet. And so we settled in to the new normal, hoping that life would offer a season without stress.

We didn't understand the inner and outer workings of #bipolardisorder. Click To Tweet

We didn’t understand the inner nor outer workings of bipolar disorder, though. Sure, I had read a good book, and I knew the importance of taking one’s medication faithfully, seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis and having a willingness to let prospective employers know about one’s diagnosis.

Both Pedro and I had a ‘fix it and forget it’ expectation. But we didn’t understand the cycle of mania. One the one hand, we loved that Sarah no longer operated under a dark cloud of depression. On the other hand, we couldn’t understand the giddy girl who had taken her place. She had left home in February an energetic college student and returned an excitable junior high girl.

Sarah’s social life consisted of spending hours on end chatting with friends in Portuguese on WhatsApp and other social media applications. She spent a lot of time in her room giggling and laughing out loud over funny things that her friends had said. Most of her friends were under the age of 18. She decided to volunteer at the school for the remainder of the school year, so at least her days had some structure—but with her nose constantly buried in her phone, I’m not sure how much actual work she performed.

After two weeks at home, the tension had neared the snapping point between the three of us. I invited Sarah on a weekend mother-daughter getaway to Tucson to hike and look for birds. I anticipated spending quality time with her, chatting about her life, her hopes and aspirations, and building some new memories to refuel our love banks.

Instead, she spent every moment not answering a direct question from me by chatting to her friends on social media and occasionally engaging me in a game of guessing how old her aforementioned friends might be by showing me their photos. I missed my young adult daughter.

We did stop along the way to take photos of a cool bridge at the bottom of a deep canyon and to eat a quick picnic supper. Afterwards, we kept driving to our hotel. The next morning, we woke up early and drove to a new birding spot—Sarah hiked a half a mile or so with me, than wanted to return to the car. After about an hour, I went back to the car, and experienced a moment of panic when I couldn’t find her.

Eventually, I noticed that she had left a note on the windshield saying that she’d gone to a nearby nature center to listen to a lecture. I joined her, and we spent an hour listening to the state of honeybees in the United States. Afterwards, we drove to a lake and once again, Sarah hiked with me a little before returning to the car.

The next morning, I had plans to visit several places bright and early. After leaving the hotel, Sarah realized she had left her phone charger. She called the hotel to make sure they had it, and we drove 20 miles out of our way to retrieve it. Things went downhill from there. Twice more we stopped at parks to hike and look for birds—and both times she only went a short distance before she would return to the car to chat with her friends on line.

The second time, she asked for the keys because her phone battery needed recharging. I kept hiking for another hour, hoping to find a rare bird that someone had reported in the area. Rain and worry turned me back before I found the bird. When I returned, the car wouldn’t start—by keeping her phone plugged in the entire time, Sarah had managed to drain the battery on the Prius. I childishly slammed a few doors and spoke sharply as I explained to Sarah that she had unwittingly drained the core battery—the one you’re not supposed to drain—by her insatiable need to use her phone.

Fortunately, we had roadside assistance and even though it was a Sunday, someone came and got us on the road again. By the time we arrived home, I felt grumpy and in a funk. My weekend away had turned out nothing like I expected. Instead of wanting to climb mountains and enjoy adventures like the Sarah of old, she contented herself with a quick stroll and hours of engagement on social media.

I missed my daughter, yet at the same time felt a deep sense of gratitude that she had returned. I just didn’t know what to do or how to act around her. She snapped and snarled, groused and grumped and couldn’t seem to perform even the simplest tasks without gentle (and not-so-gentle) reminders from me on how to perform them and when to perform them. I hate coming home to a dirty kitchen—but Sarah couldn’t seem to understand that when I asked her clean up after herself, I meant AT THAT MOMENT, not at five or six in the evening.

We had a couple of heart-to-heart chats about her behavior and how it affected other people in the family. Her forgetfulness and inattention both frustrated and scared me. She drove back from Flagstaff after an appointment with her psychiatrist and ended up driving almost 90 miles past Holbrook. When she finally realized she had gone too far, her car had almost run out of fuel with no gas stations within 20 miles.

One evening I went to the girls’ dorm to give a worship talk on self-harm. I felt unqualified to speak on the topic—but Laura had struggled with it as a teenager, so I had read several books with sound advice on what to do when your child became ensnared in self-harm. Most of all, I wanted the girls to know that Jesus had not only died for their sins, he had suffered so that they would know that he could identify with them. He bled for us, so we can take comfort in that knowledge rather than listening to the devil’s lies that we have to harm ourselves in order to feel relief from our pain.

The next day, I discovered that Sarah had cut her arm up in a moment of pain and remorse.

…to be continued.

The New Mommy Guilt: Putting Your Parent in a Care Facility

National Family Caregivers Month

In celebration of National Family Caregivers Month, we’re sharing the stories of other bloggers and caregivers. Today guest blogger, Michele Morin, writes about the new mommy guilt and how she combats it.

I heard her footsteps on the stairs last night—jolted out of a sound sleep and into the familiar world of worry.

Step, click, pause.

The foot, the cane, the balance check.

Exhaling in the dark, I realized . . . no. I had been dreaming. She’s not here anymore. She’s walking in safety now, through hallways with sturdy rails, assisted by MAs and CNAs and an alphabet soup of helpers who tend to her every need.

Although I understand that she will not shower at their recommendation either.
For weeks, I rehearsed the words I would use: “Mum, you know that it’s getting harder and more risky for you to be walking around the house. Your eyesight is getting dimmer, your balance and strength less reliable. You cry every day over the walk to the bathroom. It’s time for us to find a safer place for you with people who can care for you.”

Will this decision ever stop feeling like a thing that needs forgiveness?

I used to say that homeschooling my children was the hardest thing that I had ever done, but after after…

Five years of arguing against irrational choices (No, Mum, people with glaucoma cannot cancel their eye doctor appointments).

Five years of attempting to meet unreasonable demands (Mum, we just had hot dogs two nights ago. I can’t feed the family hot dogs every night).

Five years of defending boundaries and clinging to reasonable parameters of sane living (Ple-e-e-ease don’t put your fingers in the serving dishes).

I thought I had identified my new “hardest thing.”

I was wrong.

As hard as it was to say yes to my mother’s request to live with us; as exhausting as it was to insist that she make good choices and then shift gears for the same kinds of conversations with four teen and tween sons; as discouraging as it was to find the same bathroom catastrophes on a daily basis—none of this compares to the process of moving her to a nursing home.

As Mum raged and refused, the paperwork process halted and jolted over ground that I thought I had already covered.

With her acquiescence came a slow smolder, and I could see that she did not believe that she was in any real danger in our home—any more than she believed me when I told her that her 3:00 a.m. movie marathons were waking me up.

“You can’t hear that TV through two closed doors!”

“Oh, yes, Mum. I can. Believe me, I can.”

A friend gave me some old pictures of my family the other day. I was in my twenties, my sister was visiting from Alaska, and my mum was just about the age I am today. She was smiling—the kind of smile that lingers after a good hard laugh. Those occasions became fewer as her days of caring for my dad came to a close. She bundled up his worldly goods and shipped them out the day he died along with any expectation of happiness beyond the radius of her chair and the nearest television screen.

When Mum asked to come and live with us, I imagined, briefly, that somehow this would redeem our relationship; that God would use Mum’s final years as a sort of rebuilding of the desolate places that Isaiah wrote about when he predicted a way of salvation from ruin through a Messiah who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me
Because the LORD has anointed Me . . .
To comfort all who mourn . . .
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD,
That He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1, 2, 3

That was not to be, at least not on this planet.

However, this does not mean that God has not been at work in other ways. I’m still in the process of sifting through the ashes, trusting Him to reveal the beauty, to give meaning to the years of mourning.

I am trusting for “the oil of joy” to lubricate my relationship with nursing home administrators whose frequent messages feel like calls from a school principal about a naughty child.

I am trusting for the “garment of praise” to protect my mind from the false guilt that measures every day and every minute between visits as if I could prove myself worthy of God’s love by winning the dutiful daughter award.

I am trusting for strong roots because I know that there is a generation of young saplings planted and growing who are learning from my husband and me what it means to value life, to respect a person as a bearer of the image of God when that likeness has become obscured by anger, bitterness, and dementia.

We should respect a person because they bear God's image--even when that image is obscured by… Click To Tweet

God is in the process of transforming my immediate and demanding “whys” into “hows”: LORD, how can this whole experience be transformed so that you are glorified in it? And, of course, I do not see the answer yet, but as Isaiah trusted and wrote about a salvation that he did not fully experience on this earth, I am also learning the wisdom of waiting:

“For as the earth brings forth its bud,
And the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
Isaiah 61:11

Lord, let it be so.


Michelle MorinMichele Morin is the wife to a patient husband, Mum to four young men and a daughter-in-love, and, now, Gram to one adorable grand-boy. Her days are spent homeschooling, reading piles of books, and, in the summer, tending their beautiful (but messy) garden and canning the vegetables. She loves to teach the Bible, and is privileged to gather weekly around a table with the women of her church. You can find her excellent book reviews and other thoughts at Living Our Days where she blogs about the grace she receives and the lessons from God’s Word that she trusts.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @caregivermom and @blestbutstrest to share some #inspiration for your #monday! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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At Last, a Breakthrough in Manic Behavior

Psalm 30:12

…continued from yesterday

“What do you think you’d like to do when you get out?” I asked Sarah on March 18.

“I dunno. Go back to Walla Walla, I guess.”

“Wonderful!” I said, happy that she had voiced an opinion and it didn’t include anything outrageously illogical. “Would you like me to check and see what you need to do to start school next quarter?”

“Yeah. I don’t have access to the Internet, so that would be great.”

At last, I had a task to do—something that felt constructive and helpful and as if Sarah had made progress. I called the admissions office and discovered that Sarah would need to reapply. I filled out the form for her online while she guided me over the phone with the answers.

“Hey, Sarah,” I said, “the next question asks if you’ve ever been arrested or have a record or been put on probation.”

“Oh. What should I do?”

“Be honest,” I advised. “If they want to know the details, they will contact you. You can probably say that ‘I was convicted of shoplifting while experiencing an undiagnosed mental health issue.’ or something like that.” I held my breath. Two days earlier, Sarah didn’t want my advice. Her answer would help me gauge if she had actually improved.

“Yeah. That sounds good. I probably should be honest about it.”

I breathed a prayer of thankfulness and continued filling out the application. When we finished, I hit the send button and prayed once again—who knew how the college would react to her reapplication form. I figured that God would guide their answer, which would in turn direct us in the best course.

If Walla Walla didn’t accept her, Pedro and I had no idea what to do with Sarah. Her options had narrowed due to her behavior. Her grandparents and aunt and uncle all felt a little hesitant about taking on her care—and at this point, we didn’t really know how much care she would need. In addition, from the vitriol she had aired in the previous month, we didn’t think she had much interest in living with us again.

We did feel certain that one of us should show up for her discharge. If returning to school worked out, she would need someone to drive her car from Reno to Vallejo, and then drive with her to Washington. Pedro and I debated and changed our minds a dozen times before coming up with a plan. He would fly from Tulsa to Reno the next day, visit his parents and pick up Sarah’s car, and then drive to California to pick her up from the hospital. He would make a quick detour to pick up her remaining things from his brother’s house as well. After that, they would drive to Washington via Yellowstone—make a road trip out it since the university would not resume classes for another week.

Pedro flew out the afternoon of the 19th, and the hospital promised not to discharge Sarah until he arrived. I received a reply to Sarah’s admission application, and I called her to explain what it said.

“They want you to call the dean of students just as soon as you can,” I said. “They want to hear your explanation about the shoplifting before they come to a decision.”

Once again, her response surprised me. “That’s cool,” she said. “I understand why they would want to talk about it.”

I gave her the number and promised to text it to Pedro so that she would be able to call just as soon as she had phone access. When we hung up, I wept tears of relief and gratitude. While she didn’t sound exactly the same as before all this started, I felt as if the real Sarah had started her journey home.

***

I spent the strangest nine days of my life in the psych ward. I don’t remember much about the first two days, but I know that on the first or second day a psychiatrist asked me what was going on. I talked for several minutes, explaining in a rush my difficult situation and that I was not suicidal and I wanted to get out of this place and I was angry. At the end he said something along the lines of, “I didn’t really follow anything you just said. You are displaying typical symptoms of mania. You have bipolar disorder.”

How could he not understand me? I made perfect sense. I had delivered an award-worthy speech. I didn’t believe I was manic and I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I sure couldn’t be manic. I was normal. The doctor prescribed Depakote and during the next few days I reluctantly took the medicine at the arranged times and went to the group meetings. The daily events were neatly written on a whiteboard in the main room, and since I had nothing better to do I went to most of them. During one group with a doctor of pharmacy I found out that using marijuana worsens the symptoms of mania tenfold.

The kind people I met there made the experience better, but I was sure I was in hell. I had no Internet access, I couldn’t shave my legs, some of the patients creeped me out, and I felt trapped. When my dad said I had prostituted myself, I hung up, ran to my room crying and wrote several hateful letters to him and everybody who had made me come here. I never wanted to talk to them again. Especially my dad. I was sure I could never forgive him.

As the days went by I began to calm down and realize that maybe everybody was right—the things I did during the last few weeks were not normal. My aunt and uncle would visit me every couple of days and they even said I seemed better, calmer. They would always ask me if I needed anything, and I asked for a notebook and drawing supplies. I wrote some strange poetry and stories in that notebook, and reading back through them I could see the progression from anger and confusion to acceptance.

Close to the end of my stay I ripped up the hate letters and agreed to have my dad come and pick me up from the psych ward. He had been right about everything and I just couldn’t see through the fog of mania. In the beginning I thought everybody owed me a huge apology for ruining my life, but in the end I realized they had saved my life. Now that the fog had started to lift, I couldn’t wait to see him and give him a big hug and tell him I was sorry.

***

If only mental hospitals came up with comprehensive aftercare plans! #bipolar Click To Tweet

I started the long drive home. I had no idea what the future would hold, but an overwhelming sense of peace flowed through me as I drove.  Once again, God had cleared a way where no way had seemed possible. I had a rosy glow full of expectations about the future.  Sarah had calmed down enough that the doctors declared her ready for discharge, and now all she needed to do was get on with her life.

If only.

…to be continued

The Devastating Conundrum of the Manic Cycle

Bi-polar Affective Disorder

…continued from yesterday.

3:15 pm, March 17-St. Helena Hospital Center for Behavioral Health

Happy St. Paddy’s Day! I’m not wearing green but up in this club we can’t touch each other, so I doubt I’ll get pinched today. I’m wearing my baggy grey slacks and a Newark (NJ) pink Tee shirt.

Sidney needs to learn when to shut up his fat butt…I can hear him all the way over here in room 108A moaning and yelling most of the day. He drives me bonkers, that old fart. For more than one reason. He’s always telling me I’m too loud and that I never clean up aftermyself. Whatever. Earplugs in..where are they…?

Can’t find..oh. In my pocket—yay. I don’t like the noise…eternal and muffled…that they make in my head. Oh well. Better than listening to Sid.

Besides that, I’m pretty happy today. Tio just bought me some wax pastels in 24 colors, and yesterday a sketchbook (one of those big ones with 30 pages) so today I’m gonna be drawing and experimenting with those. Finally some real art supplies! We just go out of an interesting process group with a PhD psych intern named Michelle. it was enlightening for sure. Kellie told me to take deep breaths and it helped because I was talking/thinking a million miles a minute. I hope I didn’t dominate the conversation too much.

They have groups all day. Pretty much every hour or so. Sometimes they’re consecutive. I’m not sure I feel about that. At least they’re usually interesting. I think “movement group” is going on so I’m gonna go. Later…☺ I must come up with a name for you, Diary. Writing “Dear Diary” at the beginning of every entry would be too cliché. Maybe I’ll ask around.

I’m in a psych ward in Vallejo, CA. I’ll talk about how I got here next time.

***

We quickly discovered that all of Sarah’s strange Facebook posts and You Tube videos only hinted at her risky behavior during her manic cycle. When her aunt started looking through the content on Sarah’s phone, she wrote us an impassioned letter about what she had found.

Evidently, Sarah had made ‘friends’ with a strange assortment of people (mostly males) from all over the world. She had received videos from a young man in Iraq showing him and his friends torturing someone. She had sent selfies that a rational person wouldn’t send. She had strange conversations on social media apps like WhatsApp.

The findings shocked us at first because Sarah had always dressed more conservatively than anyone else in the family. But one of the markers of bi-polar affective disorder includes risky, exciting behavior (often of a sexual nature). In other words, a person’s normal filter or moral compass gets lost in the manic high.

Pedro and I felt we had to bring this behavior to her attention and try to help her understand that her behavior had NOT been normal and not a true representation of who she is. Pedro spoke with the caseworker and asked whether or not we should have the conversation with Sarah while she remained at the center, or wait until her discharge. The caseworker advised to go ahead and have the hard conversations over the phone while Sarah had a 24-hour support system around her.

After six days in the hospital, Sarah’s speech remained rapid, but her mood swings had slowed down. In retrospect, I don’t know exactly why we felt we needed to bring up this aspect of her behavior—maybe because based on her conversations with her aunt in the emergency room and the contents on her phone and our subsequent conversations, we didn’t think she actually knew what she had done in New York. And if she did understand what she had done, she didn’t understand that her behavior had NOT been normal. And if she didn’t understand than we knew that she would carry through with her threats and go off her medication as soon as the hospital discharged her.

As I read An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, I saw clue after clue that tied all of Sarah’s behavior together over the last two years. The depression. The lack of self-confidence (despite her previous track record of success and excelling in school and sports). The weight gains and losses. The strange clothing purchases that she made whilst in Argentina. The time her good friend told her that she talked too much. The uncharacteristic pursuit of a young man. The multiple changes of plans and careers. The extreme depression upon returning to the United States that the standard depression medications didn’t touch. The suicidal thoughts and ideation. The long drive to Reno (which included multiple stops to shop). The incessant plan changes and utter rage and isolation from those who loved her and knew her best. The plans to travel to London with no money and no debit card. Her inability to see that her chosen course of action could only end in heartache.

The conversation did not go well. Sarah seemed shocked by our view of what happened. She didn’t understand that we could view her behavior in such an unsavory light.

Only now, as we write this series together, do I realize the strange conundrum of mania. A manic person might not be able to reason, but they have sensitive feelings. I fear we hurt her badly.

***

What Do You Want From Me?

Do you ever think
that maybe you were wrong?
To lock me up like this
A bird without a song…

I was living life
the best I could but now
you’ve kept me from wanting
to like this. How?

How could you stoop so low
send me to hell
stand back and expect
me to kiss your ass and tell..

then bow down to a fake god
one hidden from my sight
you call me a whore
then read the Bible every night.

***

Because I had been voraciously reading the book by Dr. Jamison, I knew on an intellectual level that the inability to see one’s behavior as aberrant or out of character is normal for a person on a manic high. On an emotional level, it would take me much longer to come to terms with this devestating conundrum. The fact remains: Bi-polar affective disorder, like any other disease, manifests itself differently in each person.

People in a #manic cycle might not appear to have logic--but they still have feelings! Click To Tweet

…to be continued.

Bottom Line: Bi-polar Disorder Doesn’t Just Hurt One Person

Bi-polar Hope

…continued from Sunday.

(Once again Laura writes from a sister’s perspective. In her last post, she spoke of ‘The Text’—when Sarah cut off communication with her and unfriended her on Facebook).

We are house hunting in Oklahoma on a chill March day. One week has passed since The Text, and now I know something bigger is wrong here. Now I know something more sinister than regular anger snatched my real sister away. A beast with a name flung around anytime someone’s mood surges from sad to happy or drops from joyous to angry. Such a name cannot describe such a beast.

On the drive from one house to another, I stare out the window at the barren branches of Tulsa trees.

My phone rings. The number marching across the screen says Unknown, but I know who it is. I do not want to answer. Before my “hello” is complete, Sarah starts talking.

“Hey Laura, what’s up, I don’t know why they have me up here in this place, yo, like, I’m going to get out of here ASAP, I’m going to go to Hollywood and I’m going to meet up with Sia, you know, write some songs with her, and then I’ll find J. Lo and see if she wants to do some shows with me, you know, we’ll go to the Grammys together, like, there’s this guy here, he’s so cool, he’s going to take me down there with him, he says I’m so sexy, we were kissing, even though no one here is supposed to touch each other …” She laughs, a high tittering thing. I snatch the opportunity to speak and ask her about the treatment, the medicine.

She says, “Screw treatment. Screw lithium. I’m not going to take any effing medicine after I get out of this place up in here, yo.”

She abruptly hangs up after several more minutes of talking talking talking. I shove the phone into the bowels of my purse and get on with the day. My mother, father, husband, and I see houses and loan officers and the Realtor. We smile and laugh but Sarah lurks behind everything we do.

She is talking to me, at least. Even if I do not feel it is Sarah talking to me at all, not rational comforting Sarah, not the Sarah of before.

We get out of the car, poke our chins over this windowsill and that. The phone rings; my mother speaks into it for a long time. After she hangs up I walk beside her through the old Tulsa neighborhood. Wind knocks pale dead grass down and down again.

“Insurance is going to stop paying,” she says. “They say she’s not in immediate danger anymore. They want the hospital to release her tomorrow.” She looks at the iron sky and folds her hands behind her back, knitting her fingers into one fist.

She says no more. If my sister is released now, she will find men to pay her for sex in exchange for clothes and lodging and drugs. Left untreated, she will kill herself in one way or another.

Two days pass. Two more phone calls filled with quixotic plans and fast, fast speech, and yo and dude and eff this and that. My father calls the insurance company and convinces them to keep her just long enough, just until Friday, and then on Thursday he leaves Tulsa. He will travel 1,770 miles to St. Helena, California, to try to intercept her before she dives back into hell.

By tomorrow, Sarah must understand that something is wrong.

By tomorrow, she must be willing to go with our father, to keep taking her medicine, to keep seeking treatment to quash the beast that is bi-polar disorder.

Tomorrow dawns and drags itself, head lowered, through the raw morning hours. At one o’clock, in the car again, my phone rings.

“Hey,” Sarah says. She sounds hesitant, a child emerging from a hiding place while the seeker is still out. She takes a big breath. I let the sound curl around me like warm water.

Then she speaks. “How are you?” In these fear-choked words I hear the phrase she cannot speak: Help me. I close my eyes and rest my temple against the chill glass. “Hey, Sally,” I say, calling her by one of my hundred nicknames for her.

Her breathing quickens. I know she hears what I cannot say aloud.

I am here. You are coming back to me.

This time you will stay.

Take my hand, sister.

This time I will not let go.

…to be continued.

Advocating for an Adolescent with a Mental Health Diagnosis

Hebrews 13:5

…continued from Saturday.

{For those who have been following our story from October, we want to assure you that we plan on finishing it in November.  When we took up this challenge, we had no idea that the telling would stretch over more than 31 days.  Thank you for your interest and encouragment.  We hope that by sharing our journey, you will find hope and a blessing for whatever challenging circumstances might be staring you in the face or lurking around the corner. God is good.  All the time.}

St. Helena Hospital Center for Behavioral Health—Day 5

No matter what
I do, its wrong.
It will get me in deeper
trouble
Deeper in a hole that they
are digging for me
Will I ever get out?
Escape this hell?
Leave me alone…
Go away…
Please.

***

Unlike with a cancer diagnosis, where the doctors sit you down and explain the course of treatment, how many visits one must make to the clinic for which procedures, and which activities one should and should not engage in whilst recovering, the mental health systems leaves a patient’s treatment largely up to him or herself.

The #mentalhealth system leaves a patient on his own to negotiate and advocate for treatment and… Click To Tweet

The insurance standards for cancer coverage include empirical data—the patient has either gone into remission or lost the battle. The insurance standards for mental health coverage vary widely with only anecdotal data—does the patient appear to respond to treatment? Yes? Time to send the patient home. No? Keep the patient another day or two.

On Monday, the hospital finally assigned a caseworker to Sarah. I felt as if they had finally dropped a pair of water wings into our ocean of grief with the assumption that the five of us would find the water wings and that the flimsy inflatables would somehow support our combined confusion.

Pedro and I both spoke to the caseworker and tried to explain that while they may think that Sarah had responded to the treatment, we could hear little difference in her speech patterns and conversational topics. Pedro’s brother and sister-in-law had visited Sarah, and reported that she had changed very little since admission.

Art in the psych ward
Therein lies one of the fatal flaws of the mental healthcare system. No one routinely gathers empirical or even anecdotal evidence from the family members—the ones who know the patient best.

The #mentalhealth system in the US is fatally flawed. #stopthestigma Click To Tweet

When Pedro suffered through his darkest hours of his cancer journey, I or another family member stayed with him 24-hours a day. If something seemed off—his speech became less logical or his breathing different, we would alert the medical staff and they would check his vitals and chart the changes. The clues that we provided presaged a worsening in his condition each and every time.

While not every intern (Pedro received most of his treatment at a large teaching hospital) welcomed our input, most of them appreciated receiving further insight into their patient’s progress and condition. After Pedro’s last treatment in San Francisco, we returned home to Bozeman, MT where he would receive monthly chemo injections into his head via an Ommaya reservoir. The local oncologist had never seen one of these before, and invited me into the room to make sure she used it correctly because I had watched countless interns perform the same procedure.

Throughout his treatment and recovery, family members played an important part of the treatment and recovery. We were part of the team. With Sarah, it seemed as if many of the mental health professionals viewed us as part of the problem rather than part of the cure—especially once she turned 18.

Admittedly, Pedro and I wouldn’t qualify for “Perfect Parent of the Year Awards”—but we do love our children unconditionally and have always tried to provide a loving home environment where they felt safe to discuss whatever topics they wanted to, explore their dreams and grow into adulthood with the tools necessary to help them succeed.

I realize that many times the family of origin IS the problem for children and young adults suffering from mental health problems. Alcoholism, incest, verbal abuse, physical abuse, neglect, lack of boundaries, outrageous expectations, and religious fanaticism—all of these things can contribute to a messed-up child. Although we were strict and spanked our girls a handful of times during their toddler years, we also did everything possible to build good relationships with them and keep the lines of communication open.

The mental health world seems shockingly unconcerned about enlisting one’s family into the treatment and recovery program, though. For example, no one at any time offered Pedro and I support as parents back when Sarah struggled with anorexia. No one ever invited us to a support group for parents with anorexic children. No one offered us reading material or even websites where we could find out more about the disease.

When Sarah struggled with binge eating, she went to see a school counselor, and eventually a private practice counselor (who helped more than the school counselor did), but no one recommended books we could read to help her out nor asked for a complete family history that may have unveiled key information that would have made treatment more effective.

Before Alta Bates admitted Sarah to their program, the intake counselor listened politely to my pleas and explanations, but reiterated that Sarah would need to make the phone call and the arrangements. When Sarah abruptly quit the program, no one from Alta Bates called either Sarah or me to inquire about her absence. She could have been dead.

When she spent time in the crisis center in Flagstaff, a psychiatrist did sit down and chat with both of us the third day of her stay when I went to visit her on the weekend. I don’t know that our chat made any difference. Upon discharge, they gave Sarah a list of psychiatrists, and after contacting one of them, she had a few appointments to mostly discuss medication in the months after her discharge.

I knew how to fight #cancer--but no one told me how to fight #mentalillness. #caregiver Click To Tweet

I longed for guidance in exactly what to DO. I understood how to fight cancer, and I wanted to know how to fight mental illness (or at least some guidelines on how I could be more supportive!). Finally, after snot-sobbing into the phone when a nurse broke the news that Sarah would probably get released the following day, someone gave me a resource. The kind nurse on the other end of the line suggested that I read the book An Unquiet Mind by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison.

As soon as we hung up, I logged on to Amazon, purchased the ebook and started reading. As I devoured the book the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. Dr. Jamison’s memoir didn’t give dry, clinical explanations of bi-polar disorder—it told her story: a psychiatrist who suffered from it. It’s one thing to write about one’s observations of how to handle a person with bi-polar disorder and something completely different to invite the reader inside one’s mind.

The book would shape my thoughts and directions as I cobbled together the discharge plan that the mental health care system failed to provide.

…to be continued.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

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Calling all Caregivers!

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and to celebrate, we’d like to share YOUR story on our blog to bring inspiraiton and hope to other people.  We’re looking for both caregiver tributes and caregiver stories.  Click here to find out more.

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