The Comfort of God

2 Corinthians 1:3-4  All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. (VOICE)

For a long time I had trouble seeing any good coming from my struggles with a bipolar stepson. Nothing in my life had prepared me for dealing with the kind of behavior I was seeing in him as he went through phases of mania and depression.

photo by Alex Proimos

I was a little bit mad at God for dropping me into a situation I didn’t understand. But once my stepson had been diagnosed and as I gained some steady footing, I went about the work of learning as much as I could about this illness. Books, support groups, internet research all contributed to a clearer picture of mental illness in all of its forms. Somehow just taking the unknown and giving it a name and learning that many others are dealing with the same thing made it less threatening.

Scripture was an even greater source of learning for me. I love this verse from Corinthians because it assures me that God knew exactly what He was doing by placing me in this family. Already I’ve had a chance to share with others about my struggles and what I’ve learned. The comfort God has given me I have been able to pass on to others and let them know that they’re not alone.

You know, God never wastes anything that He allows us to go through. Whatever you’re facing in your life, God can use to make you stronger, to help you learn to rely on Him, and to share His compassion and comfort with others.

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Guaranteed Grace

Psalm 30:4-5  Sing, all you who remain faithful! Pour out your hearts to the Eternal with praise and melodies; let grateful music fill the air and bless His name. His wrath, you see, is fleeting, but His grace lasts a lifetime. The deepest pains may linger through the night, but joy greets the soul with the smile of morning.  (VOICE)

Well, here I am again, admitting that too often my pouring out to the Lord takes the form of complaints. But I’m gradually learning that praise and gratitude are the keys to a better state of mind. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal, and it has made me look for the blessings and graces of God rather than looking too much at my circumstances.

Why does everything look worse at night? So often in the dark hours my mind goes to those troubling things we experience with my mentally ill stepson. I worry about his drinking, his friends, his compliance in taking his meds.

photo by Bigroger27509

But here the Scriptures say that even though things look bleak at night, joy will return in the morning. I’ve found that to be true. In the light of day things don’t seem quite so bad. You see, God’s Word also tells me that God’s grace “lasts a lifetime.”

We recently bought something that had a lifetime guarantee. Even so, it’s only made out of stuff that will never be able to last forever. No so with God’s grace. It has a guarantee that lasts for eternity. And that’s a guarantee you can count on.

I made a pact with myself that when I get those nighttime blues I would “count my blessings” as the old hymn goes. Try it the next time you can’t sleep for thinking of the maze of mental illness you are traveling through.

God’s guaranteed grace will carry you when you feel you can’t make it one more step.

Guaranteed.

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Rescued from Fear

Psalm 34:4  When I needed the Lord, I looked for Him; I called out to Him, and He heard me and responded. He came and rescued me from everything that made me so afraid.  (VOICE)

My stepson was in a full-blown psychotic episode and my husband was out of town. I took the dog and went into the bedroom, closed the door, and sat on the edge of the bathtub. Too frightened to even pray, I said, “Jesus, Jesus,” over and over until I finally heard the front door slam.

photo by Kecko

That was life before my stepson’s diagnosis and medication. He has few episodes now, and when he does, it’s much less severe.

Fear was a constant companion in those days because I never knew what benign comment could send him into mania.

Gradually, I learned something important. Even that prayer of desperation that could find no words was a prayer that God hears and answers. And an even more important thing is that even though He doesn’t always rescue me from a specific problem, He rescues me from crippling fear.

Fear keeps us from doing dangerous things and that’s a good thing. But the kind of fear I experienced clouds the thinking. Extreme fear can be paralyzing. That’s when I need to remember that God is right there in the middle of whatever I’m dealing with. His love and grace are enough to lead me through to the other side.

The kind of fear I let control my life was non-productive, but I learned how to focus on God instead of focusing on the circumstance. I learned how to remind myself that God is sovereign and He will rescue me from my fear.

And so, my friend, when fear seems to crowd in, remember that God has never abandoned you no matter how chaotic it seems. His attention is not dependent upon anything you do or don’t do or can do. Our hope is secure, and He won’t allow you to be overtaken by circumstances. Instead, He can overwhelm you with His love and care just when you need it most.

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Life in Progress

Psalm 73:28a  But the closer I am to You, my God, the better because life with You is good. (VOICE)

Sometimes life doesn’t seem so good when mental illness invades through the behavior of my stepson’s bipolar struggles.

When I read this verse the other day, I had to ask myself just what it meant by “good.”

It doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean always smooth sailing. It doesn’t mean God fixes problems in the way I think He should.

Here’s what I think it means as a Christian: Progress.

photo by Andrew Smith

When I look at where we were in the days before he had been diagnosed, I realize how far he’s come. The ups and downs are less severe because he’s on medication. True, there are days when it seems we’ve taken a step backward, but then things improve much more quickly.

I also see how far I’ve come. It’s easier to weather the brief storms, and I more quickly turn to the Lord instead of trying to keep a stiff upper lip in my own strength.

Progress.

Take a look at your own journey. Don’t be so critical of yourself when you think you’ve blown it. My own perspective has changed as I’ve learned to accept God’s grace in those moments. God loves me no matter what. He loves you too, flaws and all.

Progress. That’s what is good.

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God’s Pure and Simple Gift

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.  (VOICE)

How many gifts have you received over the years? No one really counts them, but chances are you received more when you were a child than you have as an adult. When I was a child, it was truly quantity over quality. It didn’t matter if it was a small thing that probably didn’t cost much because it was another notch in my gift belt.

Now don’t get all annoyed with me. We all have a materialistic streak in us when we’re too young to appreciate the significance of gift-giving. Even as an adult, I enjoy receiving a gift if it’s one that reflects the heart of the giver.

asenat29 on Flickr

The greatest gift of all, salvation, truly reflects the heart of God. There is absolutely nothing I could ever have done to deserve that gift. If I could have, it wouldn’t be “pure,” would it?

Another gift I have received from God’s hand is that of living with a stepson who is bipolar.

Let me say that again in case you missed it the first time – living with a person with a mental illness is a gift.

“How so?” you ask.

One of the greatest sources of spiritual growth in my life has been the necessity of learning how to navigate the mine-field of mental illness. My faith has been tested, my heart has been broken, my wisdom has been inadequate. And yet it is those very things that have stretched me and refined me and forced me to run to God because my own resources are so paltry.

If my spiritual life had not been challenged, who knows what kind of wimpy Christian I would have become.

So in your struggles with someone who is mentally ill, cling to God and see His grace in what you are going through. There’s nothing God loves more than having His children snuggle in His arms in complete abandon, learning to trust Him more and more as we travel toward becoming Christlike.

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A Normal Christian Life

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  Celebrate always, pray constantly, and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. (This is God’s will for all of you in Jesus the Anointed.)  (VOICE)

Why can’t I just have a normal family?

This was my angry cry to God the first years of my marriage when I found myself living with a stepson who is bipolar.

photo by reebs

photo by reebs

Now I’m really not sure there is such a thing as a “normal” family. We all have our issues, either major or minor. For the Christian the standards for normality are revealed in this verse from Thessalonians. My life as a Christian should be one of praise, prayer, and thanksgiving. And, Paul says, it should be that way no matter what’s going on in my life.

I’m learning how to live like that, mainly through the difficulties of mental illness. God has given me the grace to stand steady in the ups and downs of my stepson’s illness because God is always good, and what He allows in my life, therefore, must be good for me. God can use anything in my life for my growth and for His glory.

One of my teacher friends has a poster in her room that says, “Let’s put the fun back in dysfunctional!” It always made me laugh, but there’s a grain of truth in it. The turbulence we go through may not be fun, but we need to see it in light of the greater picture of what God is doing.

So we may not be perfect yet, but we don’t have to be ashamed when we mess up in our journey. The only time we’ll not be dysfunctional is when we get to heaven.

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A Fitting Home for God

Numbers 7:1-2  When Moses finished setting up the congregation tent, sanctifying, anointing, and setting apart it and everything in it – its furnishings, altar, and sacred receptacles, as befits God’s holy dwelling place – then Israel’s tribe leaders, the heads of their extended families, the leaders of everyone who had been organized and counted, came forward to make an offering.

photo by Stilfehler

photo by Stilfehler

Is dish soap something to get mad about? Really? Well, that’s exactly what triggered a peevish attitude in me the other day. My stepson had taken a new bottle of dish soap from under the kitchen sink while we were away. I can’t believe how much it irritates me when he does things like that.

I also can’t believe that I let something like that bother me. For goodness’ sake it’s just dish soap!! And after all, he did leave me a note that he had taken it.

If I’m the residence of the Holy Spirit, I wasn’t acting in a way that “befits God’s holy dwelling place.”

Taking care of this physical body to honor God isn’t that hard. But sometimes I don’t take good care of His spiritual home.

So I’ve resolved to take better care of this temple, inside and out.

Are you tending to His sanctuary? Together let’s commit to bring honor to God as we navigate the sometimes rough waters of mental illness – to bless and not scold, to be compassionate and not judgmental, to pray and not complain.

May our homes, internal and external, be a witness to the grace and mercy God has extended to us.

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