2017: The Year of Coming Out

Living With Mental Illness

 2016 was the year of secrecy.

 When my husband and I first met our daughter at six weeks of age, we knew her prenatal drug and alcohol exposure was already wreaking havoc in her pitiful little body.  As the years unfolded, despite stellar early services, the remnants of her early, undeserved chaos showed itself in mental illness, the severity of which became realized in heart-wrenching ways over the last year.  As her parents, we worked hard to keep things under wraps as we hoped we could find our way to some normalcy; the kind of normalcy others don’t question.  Some may call it naive to hope she could somehow walk away from the seriousness of her mental illness and begin to function as a typical teen, but I call it hope.  It is with hope, that I become brave.  It is with hope for her future, my future, and the future of others who are tormented by minds that betray them that I come out in 2017.  I think there are four good reasons to go public.

  • To be a voice.  Our loved ones need their chaos explained through coherent words.  Speak what those scars across her arm really say.  Speak what was behind his seemingly cruel and hurtful behavior.  Describe to those who care to be involved what it feels like to be the one suffering from the specific illness(es) you are well-versed in.  Yes, its okay to confirm acceptance is not the same as understanding.  If anyone should understand the mind of my mentally ill child, wouldn’t it be me, her mother?  Yet, there are things that I will never fully comprehend.  I can, however, accept her as she is and do my best to explain her in a way that honors her humanity.
  • To remove stigma.  Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  Mental illness is not a chosen path no more than cancer would be.  Genetics are not chosen.  Early-life trauma is not chosen.  Continuing to hide our challenges only serves to multiply the stigma as it screams “be ashamed”, “be guilty”.   Look, we are all fallen people, and any of us are but one step away from a diagnosis that would be our mark of disgrace.  Strip stigma of its power!
  • To advocate.  When we advocate, we are a champion, a spokesperson (the voice), and a crusader.  When we are the advocate, we are one who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.  Both of these take some education on our part; training, so to speak.  Advocating for our loved one runs the whole gamut from teaching other family members all the way to petitioning our legislating bodies.  It is impossible to do this well without becoming experts ourselves.  It is our responsibility to further the causes that bring hope and help to those fighting the myriad of mental illnesses.
  • To receive support.   After months of expending enormous amounts of energy I didn’t have trying to carefully guard our secret, I had come to a place of isolation, loneliness, and fatigue.  After a recent crisis, it became apparent I no longer had the strength or desire to continue battling with no backup.  Quite honestly, our life looks very different from those who have typical teens, and there is nothing to be gained by hiding that.  Is it hard? Yes!  Worth it?  Without a doubt.   Self care?  At its finest!

Welcome 2017!  May we meet your challenges with renewed strength, goals,  and the bravery to be bold.

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Refusing Refugees or Refusing Righteousness

My journey of conviction in a year of fear.

Our eyes met briefly before she ducked her head.  She in her hijab, me in my gaudy elf hat.  She, fresh from Syria.  Me, fresh from Fear.  She, needing protective winter coats for her family.  Me, needing to shed the armored cloak I’d wrapped around my heart.  She, fleeing from a war zone.   Me, with a son who served in one.

Our church is very intentional about ministering to the marginalized in our community and we have both the blessing and responsibility of reaching our refugee community.  I’ve served at a couple of events now where I was in direct contact with refugees of other faiths, and I have a hard time finding words to describe the blessings I’ve received each time.

Having said that, I must give full disclosure.  I’m scared.  Each time, I’ve experienced fear.  I’ll even be transparent enough to tell you, I played through the scenario of a radical Islamic terrorist coming in to our serve event and blowing us all away.  And yet, we both found ourselves there.   She, fleeing that.  Me, fearing that.  All we have to do is watch a news segment or read an article flashing across our social media, and we start cultivating the ground in which Satan is ready to seed the thorny thistle, Fear.

Months ago, I engaged in a debate with fellow believers regarding the wisdom in accepting certain refugees or immigrants.  I took a hard stance against it.  As time passed, the Holy Spirit just wouldn’t stop stirring my pot.  He’s been holding up a mirror, and I’m ashamed of what I see.  There is validity to both sides of the argument, and balancing intellectual arguments with spiritual admonitions is difficult at best.

It’s the head verses heart problem.

Or, is it the them verses me problem?

  My comfort.  My safety.  My beliefs.  My opinions.  My politics.

The days immediately following my encounter, we watched Aleppo’s torment continue with unspeakable acts of deadly violence against thousands of men, women and children who were created in the image of God.  They were known to Him from conception regardless of their current spiritual state.   No pagan God created these fragile human beings, MY God spoke them into being just as he did me.   This week, I saw her in my TV screen.  I saw her losing all she had and all she had ever known.  I saw her losing her babies, her husband, her parents, her siblings.  I saw her eyes meet mine and this time, they held the gaze.  I saw her, and I wept.

I have so fortified my heart against fear, pounding in crucifying nails and drilling holes in biblical teaching, that I have not heard the still, small voice of God.  So bound was my heart, it could not appropriately break in sync with my Lord’s surely rent heart.

 This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.  1 John 3:16-17 (The Message)

The question isn’t what have I done.  The question is what have I not done!  The question isn’t what do we need to legislate or how do we screen, I think the question is simply this….what does God’s word mandate?  He makes it so easy!

 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

 He said to him, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:36-40 (HCSB)

How do we do this?  Your mandate will look different from mine.   Prayer will show you yours.   Of this I am certain, the pile of Christmas gifts under our tree is an affront to the needs of people fleeing from terror if all I do is watch the suffering on high def under the twinkling lights.  Join me in praying for Peace on Earth.  Join me for praying for how we, in our cozy comfort, can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the survivors of atrocity both collectively and individually.

I wish I had a legitimately vetted list of organizations to add to this blog.  I will suggest Samaritan’s Purse, and please feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

I want to leave you with this.

Let Your Heart Be Broken