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Monday, September 22, 2008

To Walk and Talk Like a Christian

I seem to be struggling lately with the concept of what a Christian life is like. Not with salvation but with what comes after. I just read a book by Jerry Jenkins called "Though None Go With Me". Let me tell you that if you read that book thinking about becoming a stronger Christian I don't think you'd have any motivation to do so. It was depressing and portrayed the Christian life as one full of suffering, struggling, duty, lonliness, fatlisim, and hardly any joy. It's listed as inspiration reading and left me thinking once again that not many understand the Christian life.
Why are so many sermons about what I should be doing as a Christian? What am I doing for Christ? How "good" is my life? How surrendered am I to Christ? I, I, I....

Since I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a young girl I have been in a relationship with him. At times I have pushed him aside because I wanted to live my life without him. Other times I have struggled with him, maybe like Jacob beside the river, demanding to know his name. There have been times of joy, of sadness, of quietness, of tragedy. He has been part of it all, because I am His and He is mine. I didn't have to read my Bible everyday but I do need to desire to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Isn't it more about hearing his voice and knowing what he wants me to be doing today? More about loving my son when he is irritating me instead of yelling at him in an angry voice? More about joining God in his work than having him put his stamp of approval on mine?
What did Jesus teach his disciples while he lived with them for three years? I believe He tried to teach them the difference between religion (that's what the Jews practiced) and a relationship with God. He exemplified for them how to walk in the kingdom of God instead of worrying about any earthly kingdom.

Maybe I'm not being too clear, but I'm tired of a Christian life where I have to work hard and make sure I measure up. I'm tired of one verse being taken out of context to become a "life verse". I'm tired of playing "church". Maybe I'm just plain tired.

There is one thing I still love and that is God's Word. I get excited teaching it to junior highers (even when I'm not sure I can put up with them for another minute!). I love to memorize it and let it sink into my soul. I like to read books written by people who seem to understand God's Word in its entirety and have a good grasp of what a life looks like that is pleasing to God. Jerry Jenkins, forgive me. I'm just not sure I can swallow your brand of Christianity.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My Granbaby

My newest granbaby had a heaven-birth. Just when spring had finally come to Maine, just when I finally felt like I was getting over my cold, just when I felt like celebrating. Kathryn has written her response on her blog, Pocketful of Hope. You may want to go there and listen to the song by Natalie Grant. If you click on the title of this post (My Granbaby) it will take directly to Kathryn's post.

I listened to the song and let the tears roll down my cheek. I turned it up loud and let the music fill me. This is my grandchild. I am so glad that he (he or she, but I'm stuck on boys right now) was welcomed even in his short stay here. His coming was heralded with stripes of teal and orange and brown, with a blog all his own, with many hearts full of hope.

I hate death. It is the last enemy to be destroyed, and someday it will be, but not yet. And so we live with death. Endings and partings that cause us so much sorrow. All it took from my daughter was a call on my cell phone as I was driving to Newport this morning. She asked if I could stop by on my way home. And then I knew. I knew he was gone. I knew that this hope was not be.

I cried and thought about God giving a life and God taking a life. I thought about the times that God has given life to me and then taken that life away. I remembered the grief and tears and pain. Then I remembered that each time He has also given me something else. I have no idea what He might give to my daughter. His ways and thoughts are not mine and He will choose something that I wouldn't. All I know is that He is not the kind of God who just takes. He is not ruthless and uncaring. His love is so deep that it transcends the pain. But we must wait on Him.

The love may come as you listen to a song. It may surprise you as you drive over a hill and see a sunrise. It may overwhelm you some moment when you least expect it. And in between there will be lots of moments of pain, tears, longing, and sadness. But so be it. His life deserved no less.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

All the things I never say to my daughter...

I never tell you that my heart is breaking and the tears are welling up in my eyes as I read your blog. Why do I find it so hard to show my emotions? Why do I hesitate to hug you and cry with you when Acadia is having a really bad day? Why do I find it easier to do things?
I am so proud of the mom you have become. For how you have loved Acadia with all your heart, advocated for her through all your research and psychiatric appointments, and struggled with her over everything from taking her meds to brushing her teeth.

I am thankful now for every moment of disagreement we had as you grew up. It made me seek God for wisdom to let you be who you were created to be. It forced me to try to see the world through a different viewpoint (yours!). You were born with a fiercely independent spirit, a gifting of creativity, and a longing for adventure. As I struggled to understand you as my first-born daughter and you struggled to find your path in life, we both were being prepared for the days ahead.

You set your sights on tribal missions in Papua New Guinea. Today finds you living on a back road in Maine struggling with the day to day issues that plague a bipolar child. Yet before Acadia was born God gave you the skills you would need. Homeschooling taught you how to teach yourself and how to use the public library. Bible school taught you how to manage on little and learn whatever new skill was needed, even if it was butchering a cow! And all along the way you learned to listen to the Spirit's voice and trust God's leading.

Now I want to be your biggest supporter. I want to shout to the world, "Look at what my daughter is accomplishing!" People used to urge you to record music. Some suggested you would make a good lawyer. Your talents could take you in many directions that would win you the acclaim of the world. But you and I both know that this child God has put in your arms is more valuable than gold or recognition. So instead of shouting to the world, I pause in my day to whisper another prayer for the safety of my granddaughter and strength for my daughter to guide her through another day.

P.S. The springy cupcake is just for you! Calorie free!!!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The piece of the puzzle fell into place

My granddaughter has struggled fiercely these last two weeks. Can you imagine being sick with the flu for two weeks? Episodes of vomiting until there is nothing left in your stomach yet your stomach still insists on trying to vomit. In between these episodes your body aches and you suffer with alternating fever and chills. Fortunately you have a loving and caring mother. She wipes your brow with a cold wash cloth while you are upchucking in the toilet. She holds your hair back out of your face. She feeds you Popsicles as you start to recover and makes sure you don't get dehydrated by bringing you glasses of ginger ale. At first you are too sick to even finish a movie or play a game, but she keeps trying to help you feel better by offering some distractions. Gradually you are able to get off the couch and take a shower and get dressed, even though it takes all your energy. You are able to eat some toast and tea and begin to get some strength back.

Sadly, my granddaughter has struggled with a worse illness then the flu. She has been in the throes of a mixed state. Sounds strange, does it? Well, you would have to understand what bipolar means and how it affects children.

A mixed state is when symptoms of mania and depression occur at the same time. During a mixed state depressed mood accompanies manic activation.

Mania is the word that describes the activated phase of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of mania may include:

  • either an elated, happy mood or an irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
  • increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • racing thoughts and flight of ideas
  • increased talking, more rapid speech than normal
  • ambitious, often grandiose plans
  • risk taking
  • impulsive activity such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretion, and alcohol abuse
  • decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue

Depression is the other phase of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may include:

  • loss of energy
  • prolonged sadness
  • decreased activity and energy
  • restlessness and irritability
  • inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • increased feelings of worry and anxiety
  • less interest or participation in, and less enjoyment of activities normally enjoyed
  • feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • thoughts of suicide
  • change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
  • change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)
This description is for adults but it will do. Now you will wish that my granddaughter had had the flu for two weeks. But her episodes have been full of crying uncontrollably, yelling, screaming, punching, pacing about a room, fixating on an idea and being unable to let it go, fearful thoughts, wishing she could die, feeling great guilt, wondering why she is here on this earth, kicking, scribbling childish pictures to represent her emotions, making messes, throwing things, unable to bear certain sounds, lack of appetite, and more.

Her mother (and at times, dad), have been there through it all. Holding her when she cries uncontrollably, cleaning up her messes, restraning her, reading to her, playing games with her, lying down with her at night so she can sleep, taking her to the psychiatrist, taking her to the emergency room and finding out that the psychiatric hospital has no bed for her, giving her medications, and more.

Today we took her to Acadia Psychiatric Hospital (yes, she and the hospital have the same name!) to be evaluated for a day program. We didn't get too far. The woman doing the intake was the type of person that really sets Acadia off. She managed to hold it together (barely) but wouldn't answer any questions so Kathryn did all the talking. There was nothing in the room for Acadia to do. She started to play with the mini-blind of the door and eventually decided to open the door and run out. I ran after her and was able to catch up with her in the hallway, but by then the alarm had been pressed and 10 to 15 people had magically appeared. When they told me to let her go she ran again and this time they restrained her. The intake worker had already told us that she believed Acadia should be admitted to the hospital. After a few minutes, they asked Acadia if she thought she could get up and go sit in a room and she said yes and they let her up. She held herself together for the next two hours while she was admitted, and while mom had to fill out paperwork. Only when we left did she cry and scream again.

There are currently 12 boys on the floor and she is the only girl. This is not the research hospital in Maryland where you can play video games and never have to do therapy. This is a place where you must realize you are sick and work hard to get better so you can go home again. This will not be easy for Acadia. She feels horrible and scared and wants it all to end.

There is hope. She has a Heavenly Father who loves her, who created her and from whom she can never be separated. She has parents who will give their lives for her and are sacrificing their lives every day to keep her safe. She has a church family that are caring and understanding. She has an extended family who pray and do what we can to be supportive.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Piece of the Puzzle

Sometimes life forces you to accept hard things and make difficult decisions. I have been batting around the words "mental illness" since 2004 when Anna was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. I thought I understood what it meant and I accepted the fact that my granddaughter, Acadia, was bipolar. I agonized with my cousin as she went through months and months of darkness and depression. I watched my own son suffer from anxiety and have to be put on medication. But this week has taken me to a new level.

Acadia (9) took a turn for the worse this week. Her mom has written about the turmoil they have been living through on her blog. I am realizing that accepting that Acadia is bipolar means recognizing when she needs hospitalization. We don't hesitate to hospitalize a child who is in a diabetic coma, or has leukemia and needs treatment, or has epilepsy and needs testing. Why do we treat a mentally ill child any differently? Why do we think her mother can take care of all her needs when she feels like killing herself and thinks there are bombs in her house? Why do we think this is the worst thing that could happen to a child?

I think I know why. It is because we don't understand it. If a child has a known disease a doctor can treat her with all available drugs and treatments. But how do we diagnose a disease that affects a child's thoughts, moods, emotions, and self-control? How do we get this child to tell us what is going on in her mind when she is no longer sure what is real and what isn't. And then how do we treat it?

Well, bipolar in children is now a known disease. There are drugs and treatments. There are times when these drugs and treatments must be administered in a hospital. Will it be a perfect solution? No. Does every child with leukemia go into remission? No. Do treatments help 100% all the time? Of course not. Will we stop treating children with these childhood diseases? Absolutely not!

I am beginning to understand the child with mental illness, but only just beginning. I am willing to do whatever it takes to help Acadia. I am willing to see her admitted to the pysch hospital. I am not ashamed of it or of her. I don't see it as a failure on her parents part. I don't view it as our last resort. I see it as the next piece of the puzzle. I accept it as good, safe treatment for Acadia. I believe that God, in his grace, is allowing this for a season. I believe He will take care of her there. I believe good things will come of all this. Do I understand it? No. Do I cry? Yes-when I see the heartache in my daughter's face because she can't answer her baby's questions. Tears come when I pray and the heartache seems overwhelming and the puzzle is still there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Be Strong

It is the beginning of the new year and my granddaughter Acadia is home from the hospital following a long, two month stay. I wish I could say that she is better, or that they found the cause of all her problems, but of course they did not. I find myself struggling with discouragement and sadness and my mind full of questions. These emotions beg to be settled with words on paper. Writing has always been my therapy, my way of understanding what is really important to me, of holding on to whatever that is, and clinging to it when the emotions have passed.

In reading Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Schultz (a gem of a book!) aloud to my boys, I came across this poem. It seems to be my call for the New Year and what lies ahead.

Be Strong!
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do, and loads to lift;
Shun not the struggle--face it; 'tis God's gift.

Be Strong!
Say not, "The days are evil. Who's to blame?"
And fold the hands and acquiesce--oh shame!
Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God's name.

Be Strong!
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day how long;
Faint not--fight on! Tomorrow comes the song.
-Maltbie Davenport Babcock

And then in reading Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon (another gem!), she quoted the English clergyman Jeremy Taylor:

"Nothing is intolerable that is necessary. Now God has bound thy trouble upon thee, with a design to try thee, and with purposes to reward and crown thee. These cords thou canst not break; and therefore lie thou down gently, and suffer the hand of God to do what He pleases."

It is hard to still see Acadia struggling. If we knew that "this" or "that" was the answer, that working on "this" would finally bring results, it would be easier. But there are no easy answers. I watch her and I feel so helpless. I pray and cry and hope and the only answer God gives is to be thankful.

So I am praying that way for her now, "Lord, thank you for the gift of Acadia. Thank you for having her here this morning. Thank you that she could do her math, even though the handwriting page sent her into a tailspin. Thank you for her mother who calmly handles her, who loves her sacrificially and carries on. Thank you for what you are doing in her life even when I can't see any progress. Thank you that all your promises are true, even for Acadia. Help me to claim those promises for her. Help me to be a light for her in her darkness. Help me to be the grandmother she needs. Help me to shun not the struggle of praying for her, but to consider it my gift from You."

Both these poems allude to a day down the road when the song comes, when God rewards and crowns. I pray, knowing that that day lies ahead, and I pray for the day that God brings Acadia to her "place of joy".

Acaida- a place