Friday, May 31, 2013

You're Not Alone

April was Autism Awareness Month and May was Mental Illness Awareness Month. It's coincidental they line up because they are only matching letters- Autism could just as easily been covered in August and awareness for Mental illness in March, but alas here we are. The two are linked although when someone mentions "mental health" our thoughts jump straight to depression, schizophrenia or other maladies. Yet the Autism Spectrum (which technically includes Asbergers Syndrom and not as officially includes ADHD and bipolar disorder) deals with many of the same social stigmas, especially at church. So I have done my best to cover both subjects to the best of my ability (and to the limit of my emotional capacity). Of course I cannot cover it all, so here are more posts on the subject.

The news of Matthew Warren's suicide in April prompted many Christian bloggers to offer up their thoughts on mental illness. I think this is too important a subject to be covered by a single post, or even a series of posts. Additionally, everybody has their own personal story of mental illness impacting their lives. So below is a compilation of posts that I've found on the subject. Please feel free to add your own in the comments. (And a huge hat-tip to Adrian Warnock who has continuously posted on this subject throughout the month over at the Patheos blog portal. You'll see many posts from him below.)
 
The posts that got this started:
On mental health:
On depression:
On medications and treatment:
On suicide:
Other conditions:

I've closed out each of my previous posts with a reminder that if you are struggling through dark times, if you feel alone, if you feel the church has rejected you, to have hope. Some of us do understand. You are not alone. I pray these resources are an encouragement not only to you, but are useful for the Church as a whole to better understand, better relate, and better sympathize with those who are struggling and know of no where else to turn but to Jesus and his bride.

Flashback Friday: Tips for a Faithful College Life

The end of May means graduations for many. I know students with senior-itis have been counting down to this weekend for months. This is a repost from last fall.

****

[Last September] the teen I’ve been mentoring for the past few years is head[ed] off to college. As a last blast before he left, I put together a series of studies to prepare him for the collegiate life. I based these on personal experience, having been converted in campus ministry and honestly, never wanting to leave. I figure some of you might find this useful.Consider it cramming, spiritually.

Time Management (Ephesians 5:15-16)

College is the first time many are living on their own. You don’t have anyone to hold you accountable for your time. Classes aren’t a set 8:00-3:00 schedule. One of the greatest blessings of college life is time. But like many other blessings, it can also be a curse if you do not manage it well. Success academically and spiritually on campus relies on your ability to manage time.

Homework: build your schedule, including all your classes, meals, and sleep. Don’t forget to plan out your weekends too.Compare with how time is spent now

Sleep (Proverbs 6:9-11)

Review: review your schedule from before. Did you plan for approximately 3 hours of study per hour in the classroom? Did you schedule time to eat, sleep, have a quiet time? When are you going to do your laundry? Even if you have every hour accounted for, things come up. The campus ministry wants to play volleyball on the quad Friday afternoon. There’s an all-night devotional Saturday night. Part of managing your time well is being flexible so that you’re not bit by putting things off until the last minute. I missed a community outreach/devotional one Saturday because I put off doing my homework too long and was behind in one of my classes. It happens.

All-night study crams, the exhaustion of long lectures, and just being on the go 24/7 introduces you to one of the benefits of your flexible schedule in college- the nap. It is an art that must be perfected. Because if not... well if Proverbs 6 didn’t convince you, read Proverbs 24:32-34 a point so important the Bible repeats it.

This scripture became a running joke in my campus ministry. Yes, it’s ok to rest when you need to, but don’t let it become a habit. The afternoon nap takes time away from sharing your faith, serving in the community, studying your Bible, and doing your homework.

Yet rest is critical to success. How many flame-out after the all-nighter? One time when cramming for a final, one of my friends stayed up all night by taking No-Doz (replace with 5 hour energy, Monster, or Red Bull these days). He crashed and slept through the final. When you are well-rested, you are more receptive and you stay healthy.

Homework: if you’re not doing it already (and this assumes school hasn’t started yet), start imitating the same sleep schedule you plan on following at college to get your body used to going to bed and waking up at the same time.

Responsibilities (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Chances are when you go off to college you will be living with strangers, either in dorms or in an apartment or household. Even if you pick your dorm-mate, you will still have to build new relationships with neighbors and classmates. Ideally, your future roommate is another believer, but there are no guarantees. To minimize stress in those relationships, it is important to establish responsibilities in the house, apartment, or dorm. Delegate and assign. Accept responsibilities. Learn to do laundry, wash dishes, make dinner. Share the load. Nobody likes a freeloader. Make sure “each part does its work”

If possible, contact your future roommate in advance and find out who owns what. Who has a microwave, who has a coffeemaker, who has a DVD player. Share, and expect to lose DVDs, break dishes, ruin furniture. It’s part of being young and irresponsible. But you don’t have to be completely irresponsible.

Homework: Make a list of what you’re good at around the house. What is your favorite meal to fix? Are you good at cleaning the sink, but hate cleaning the toilet? List it out, let your roommate know. That way you can work to a middle ground.

Relationships (1 Corinthians 15:33)

College is a great opportunity to meet new people, but be warned that those influences rub off. Never again will you have the same opportunity to stay up late and muse life. I remember studying the Bible with a Wiccan, trying food I’ve never heard of at the multicultural center, being introduced to new music, and so on. While you’re making new friends, keep your closest relationships with those who share your values. It is important to keep an open mind, that is how we learn new things and learn to relate to others, but you need to be on your guard against allowing relationships to define who you are.

Homework: Before you leave, be sure to get the contact information (cell, email) of your closest friends. It is unlikely you're all going to the same place for college. but stay in touch. Facebook, smartphones, Skype, etc make it that much easier to stay in touch.

Prioritize your relationship with God (Psalm 143:8, Mark 1:35)

Make sure you plan consistent time with God.Even though I mentioned before that you will be blessed on campus with free time you never knew you had, that time fills up quickly. Homework, ministry events, just having fun will fill your days. Make sure you keep your relationship with God a priority. Wake up early. Pray. Study your Bible. (Want to know an easy campus evangelism tip? Open up your Bible and read during lunch at the food court of your Student Union. And watch people come to you!)

This also relates back to relationships. You will never be closer to a friend as you will be when you are in the battle together. There's just something about getting together with friends to pray while watching the sun rise that bonds. Funny story, that I admit didn't happen to me: a couple of people in my campus ministry were out early one morning and a cop stopped them because they were acting suspiciously. Seeing people out running before dawn was no big deal. But two people walking back and forth on a sidewalk praying looked funny.

And these times are the ones you'll be able to share when you've grown old and crusty and have your own blog (or whatever they'll have then)!

Make opportunities for evangelism (Luke 10:2, Acts 8:4)

This is a time in people’s lives when they are looking for meaning, for significance. They also have a lot of free time. There will be endless opportunities to share: on the way to/from class, lunch at food courts/student union, dorms, quads, intermurals, etc. Don't turn down the opportunities for the late-night talk, the diversions on you way across campus, and so on.

Also take advantage of on-campus activities and organizations. Those are perfect opportunities to meet new people, try new things, and get more out of your college experience. Activities like student-government, intermurals, community service, and on and on, there is literally something for everybody. (spoken by someone who used to be a campus activities director)

Put Romans 12 into practice

Be transformed, but not conformed by the world. Be humble, exercise your gifts (and discover new ones). Love, rejoice, share, practice hospitality. Endure persecution. Love your enemies.

Remember, you will never have a time in your life such as this. Make every moment count. Cherish the memories you'll make. Make new friends. Try something new. Above all, glorify God in all you do (1 Cor 10:31)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shelter from the Storm

In 1999 a tornado struck downtown Salt Lake City. It was unprecedented and unpredicted. Yet locals responded almost instantly with disaster relief. The primary reason was credited to the Mormon Church's teachings on preparedness. From the AP: "For decades, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have urged members, which make up about 70 percent of Utah's population, to stockpile a year's supply of food as a hedge against the unexpected. Before survivalism was popular, Utah companies sold food in 40-pound bags, 100-hour candles, and water storage barrels. And the church has a silo filled with 19 million pounds of wheat just in case normal distribution systems break down."

A couple of years ago a wildfire forced several evacuations south of us and a local high school was one of the evacuation centers. That high school was only a mile and half from our church building. it seemed like a perfect opportunity to serve- to deliver food, clothes or blankets or just to be present to provide comfort through prayer. But we did none of that. Why? One, because we weren't prepared and two, because our church facility isn't centrally located in the community no one was physically near to respond.

I don't share this out of disappointment, but rather with the benefit of hindsight to consider what we can learn and what we can do better.

Bobby Ross Jr wrote an article in Christianity Today on the response of faith-based organizations to the tornado that hit Moore, OK. What was fascinating in that post was how different denominations and organizations had their particular niche. You didn't have twenty different organizations all bringing fresh water; some groups specialized in preparing and distributing meals, others in medical care, others in meeting basic needs of clothing and shelter, and still others specializing in grief counseling.

So what lessons can we learn from Salt Lake City and Moore, OK?

  • Don't take on too much.
Obviously it is too much to ask a single congregation, no matter how big or small, to do everything. I like how the groups in the article above knew their strengths and didn't try to grasp beyond their reach. My church and your church need to identify one thing we can excel at and direct our resources there. Is it a food bank? Is it pastoral counseling? Is it manpower to sift through rubble to look for survivors?

  • Have a disaster-plan.
What if an earthquake strikes Sunday morning, do your brothers and sisters know where to go and what to do? If there is a disaster during the middle of the week, does your church leadership know how to reach everyone and is there a centralized meeting location to meet for immediate help? Who is the point-person(s) to contact and coordinate relief?

There are several pieces to this:
  1. Being linked up with the local Red Cross to let them know your church is available for evacuations and registering with the local VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, mentioned in the CT article above) so that they know you can help and what your resources are on the relief side
  2. Having a current contact list with emergency contacts (out of the area in the case of local disaster) of church members, having specified rendezvous points (because phone lines may be down or jammed with high volume) and having a specific communication plan (who contacts who and how to manage accountability) when it comes to checking on the welfare of the congregation
  3. And having supplies and resources in case of emergency- disaster kits including food and water, medical supplies, and blankets/bedding for those who are hit hardest in your fellowship. Plus it is important to have funds in reserve so that supplies, hotels short-term, or just benevolent hand-outs for those who may have lost homes. (So many churches today operate on a razor thin budget that this may seem impossible, but what would your church do if one or many of its members found themselves homeless due to natural disaster?)
These are just a few tips and are by no means exhaustive. A good article for reference is this article from Leadership Journal.


Yesterday the freeway through town was closed due to a massive sandstorm caused by winds gusting to 60 miles per hour. The winds in Oklahoma reached 200. My house shook. Cars struggled to stay on the road. Yet what we experienced was nothing compared to living in tornado alley. However, we live right on the San Andreas Fault. I joke that when the "big one" hits, we'll have ocean-front property. Yet personally I don't have a 50 gallon drum full of purified water. I don't have gasoline or a generator. I don't have a year's worth of non-perishable food in my pantry. If/when a major earthquake shakes our community, will I be prepared?

And if I'm not prepared how can I expect my church to be?

You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
(Isaiah 25:4)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Too Much Information

You don't hear that too much anymore, do you? TMI- too much information. Maybe it's due to the rise of social media, where we can read in an instant about what our friends had for breakfast or see the latest picture of their cat.

Blogging has become like that too. Everybody has one. A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with a friend who is a literary agent. He said, "Five years ago, if you had a blog that was considered a big deal- a built-in platform with a following. Now, you're expected to have a blog- so you need to work that much harder to stand out."

That's certainly one problem. But another relates to what I wrote about last time- too many blogs means too many websites to visit to read.

The long weekend afforded me time to go through my blog subscriptions. (And the fact that Google Reader is going away added extra motivation.) I deleted many that haven't been updated in a year, and deleted others that I just don't get around to reading. Even then, when all was said and done, I am still subscribed to 88 blogs. I don't have a traditional "blog roll" on this site because it would just be too long. (And yes, of those 88 there are probably only a dozen that I visit regularly; but still.)

Another problem with this, besides being a complete time-suck and distraction, is that I recognize I cannot cover every subject, nor do I know everything (shocker, I know) so I read a lot with the intention of sharing a lot with my readers. That's why I have my Facebook page (/shameless plug), to share not just my posts, but what others are writing about on subjects near and dear to my heart and my convictions.

But I often wonder, with hundreds of blogs out there covering the same ground as I am, if I'm just another voice in the din? On the other hand, as I was going through my blog subscriptions I was surprised how many blogs folded up shop or only submitted a couple of posts before running out of steam. This is hard and time-consuming and it's hard to believe I've been doing this for nearly seven years. So why do I do it? Because I don't believe there is such a thing as too much information. Sure, there may be not enough time or not enough resources, but when it comes to an infinite God it is impossible to write too much. As a wrote in a post a couple of years ago:

"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole [Internet] would not have room for the [blogs] that would be written." (John 21:25)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Flashback Friday: Global Reach

Reposted from last May and still appropriate for "Missions Month". The writers' conference I referenced isn't until October this year, so if you're interested you can follow that link below.

****

Last weekend I attended the Antelope Valley Christian Writers' Conference. This was my fourth or fifth time attending, and while the pointers and tips are helpful, the fruit in attending is really found in the fellowship and encouragement to keep plugging away. Do I have a manuscript that I'm shopping? No. Am I taking baby-steps by submitting work to magazines and anthologies? No. Am I actively building my platform through social media? No, not really. So it would be easy to look at my "progress" and be discouraged and maybe even quit. So I need the swift kick in the butt at a forum such as this to continue on.

Meanwhile, last night my small group study met to discuss the fourth chapter of David Platt's Radical, titled "The Great Why of God". David has many versions of this succinct summary of God's purpose for our lives: God's extravagant grace is poured out on us so that his extravagant glory may be known in every nation. Put another way, God blesses us so that we can use those blessings to bring him Glory here, there, and everywhere (Acts 1:8). Or, God saves us to make his salvation known to the whole world. (Psalm 67)

Coincidentally (there are no coincidences with the Holy Spirit!) one of the keynotes last weekend was titled, "Until the Whole World Hears" (which tempted me to re-post this entry from last year rather than taking the time to churn out a new post this morning). The main point of this lesson was that through writing, God has given me the opportunity to reach the entire world for his glory. That sounds lofty, absent a bestseller. But through the Internet and social media, this is really true. Last night I used the example of my Twitter account. I am followed, or I follow, at least one person from every continent on this globe sans Antarctica. In my stream last night I had updates from literally all over the world. That may not be that big of a deal, since how many Twitter followers actually "know" me, but the truth is that through Twitter I have had conversations with an Elder in London, a missionary in Thailand, and a campus ministry in Indonesia. I also shared about when one of my friends got married a couple of weeks ago to a woman he met on the mission field, his wedding ceremony was Skyped all over the world. Another of my good friends here Skypes every Sunday service to his mother in Argentina.

Now I don't know if this blog will be read by anyone outside of the town I live in or beyond my immediate family, but if I don't write then no one will read it. In this world-wide web, I may be a whisper in a din or one among a multitude of bloggers, but I still have worldwide impact through the power of my words. And God only knows where that will lead me. One of my good blogger-buddies, Duane Scott, simply by sponsoring a child, will be travelling to Zimbabwe to write about his experience and the needs of the children there. Another of my friends, Jason Stasyszen, used his blog platform to raise money to adopt a child from Japan. And coincidentally (what did I say about the Holy Spirit?) one of the contacts I made this weekend, a pastor in Chicago named Dan Darling, is working on a book with another blogger buddy, Dan King. And what was Dan's first book? The Unlikely Missionary.

Until the whole world hears. And it is a small world, after all.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bibliophile or Bible-phile?

I need help. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I admit, I’m a book junkie. I remember after I became a Christian in college I would spend evenings devouring my Bible and afternoons hidden away in the bookstore browsing titles. Homework, what homework? Besides the negative consequences of slipping grades, the long term effects have also had their impact- overflowing bookshelves pushing away any open space, a cluttered garage filled with boxes of books, stacks of titles on the kitchen table that I insist on leaving out because I’m going to read them eventually, really I am.


Photo credit: Soilse
My latest drug of choice? Free e-books on Kindle. My Kindle App has 37 titles, only four of them read so far. iBooks has another twelve books, or free previews of books. And I just got done ordering three more titles from Amazon. One of those, God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola, I got mainly because of the 25 free resources (a few were audio, so those didn’t add to my book count) offered the first week of its release. (I admit, I would’ve gotten this book anyway as I really like Viola and the premise of the book is very intriguing, but the free resources compelled me to buy it when I did. And I wasn’t alone, so many addicts like myself were sucked in by his offer that Amazon actually ran out of copies to ship!)
And then there are the dozen or so unread titles that I’ve purchased on impulse, received to review on my blog, or have been given to me by my enabler friends who know I like to read.

But there’s been another, more serious, consequence: I don’t study my Bible as thoroughly as I used to. I’ve become a bibliophile instead of a Bible-phile. I can tell when it gets bad- I’m irritable, I get writer’s block, I lose motivation, I become critical and I stop praying. I recognize when I’m on a bender. I know my books can’t satisfy my soul the way the Bible can, and drawing close to Him through His Word refreshes my prayer life. Yet I keep going back to my quick fix.

I’m trying to cut back. I can’t quit cold-turkey, although I probably should. I declined the current book study I usually do with some of my blogger buddies. I put back on the shelf many of the books that were stacked up in my kitchen that I was planning to read. I’ve boxed others away. I even got rid of a few a while back.

The thing is, I need focus. I can’t read a half-dozen titles at once. I need to learn how to balance reading for recreation, for education, for edification and for devotion. I have too much on my plate that depends on me getting cleaned up and sober.

So I am focusing on a single book for edification, with two others on the wings for education. I’m cracking open my Bible more (but still not enough) for devotion. And I’d like to think I’m being more productive in my writing.

But what’s that, someone on Facebook posted another Kindle deal? I’ll be right back…

How do you balance your recreational reading with devotional Bible study?
Are you able to read more than one title at a time?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fishing for a Calling

I don’t know about you, but I always get hung up on Jesus’ call to follow him and be a “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17). I am by no means an evangelistic superstar. I struggle to be out of myself reaching out to strangers and have a hard time raising the topic in the relationships I have. I always seem to be looking for a reason to let someone else do it or rationalize my personal ministry as being in some way different. At the same time I have the underlying conviction that my ministry is where I am- that the Kingdom of God, expressed through living a Christ-like life, loving and serving, and sharing the Gospel, is not limited to formal titles, organizational structure, or calendar events. In other words, we shouldn’t wait for a formal church program to appear on our calendar before we minister to others.

(As an aside, when I was at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a pastor and he asked if I was in ministry. I told him no, but I did lead a small group and he answered “well that’s ministry.” And he’s right, though I often forget that.)

Despite this conviction, I struggle with identifying myself as a “fisherman”. In Jesus’ day the young men that he would eventually call to follow him fished on the Sea of Galilee by casting nets over the side of their boats. Me, I drop a worm in the creek and wait all day for a nibble.

But I read this yesterday from Jamie Arpin-Ricci in his book The Cost of Community: When Jesus called his first followers, he “encounter[ed] them in the midst of their daily work, [calling] them to follow him and employ their skills for God’s kingdom.” (pg 27) He called fishermen to be fishers of men. Of course I knew this and understood the intentional play on words, but I never extrapolated that to my own life. I have always read this as I am called to be a fisher of men regardless of my daily work.

But if I take Jesus as meeting me where I am (and Paul talks about continuing where we are when we are called) then Jesus isn’t calling me to be a fisher of men and he’s not calling you to be one either.

That may be sacrilegious to hear, but it is true. Jesus isn’t calling me to be a fisher of men because I’m not a fisherman. If you are a teacher, Jesus is calling you to be a teacher of the Gospel. If you work with your hands, Jesus is calling you to build his Kingdom. If you are in the service industry, Jesus is calling you to serve his children. (This has shades of what Paul writes in Romans 12, “If you teach… if you serve...”)

Jesus is calling you to a metaphor for his Kingdom work that is specific to you.

So where does that leave me? I’m an engineer by trade so am I engineering God's Kingdom? I cannot say I am a ‘designer’ as I cannot improve God's perfect design. I can’t say I am a ‘problem solver’ for it is too easy to turn that into an excuse for inaction. I guess I could call myself a 'developer of disciples'. That would fit with what I do on this blog, in my small group, and in my limited free time.

Arpin-Ricci continues, “Just as he called his disciples amid their workplaces, so too he expects that we respond to his calling as our first priority. It is not enough to merely make room for Jesus in our lives, not enough to be volunteers in his mission when we have the time or the inclination. Rather he calls us to follow him, to utilize all of our strengths, gifts and resources for our truest vocation – ambassadors of his emerging kingdom.”

Yesterday Grayson Pope urged not to let our "wiring" keep us from our calling. Could it be that what has been holding me back was simply semantics?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dear X, My Name Is

Last time I talked about our inner voices that Satan uses to deceive and discourage us. The beautiful thing is that those voices do not define who we are (although sometimes we are tempted to allow that to happen).

Here are a couple of songs to help make that point. My negative self-talk, my failures, my sinful nature do not own me because I am a child of the One True King.

(Songs by Disciple and Matthew West)






Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tiny Voices

Those voices in your head- you know them, you hear them frequently. No, you don't necessarily see an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, but the voices are still there. We've come up with a nice way of describing these voices- "self-talk"

I've heard that up to 75% of our self-talk is negative. "You can't do that." "You look ugly in that shirt." "That person over there is better, smarter and more attractive than you." And on, and on.
 

Do these words sound familiar? Of course this negative self-talk are all lies. Satan is so-named because he is the "deceiver" and "accuser". When Jesus was tempted in the desert, Satan wasn't there throwing rocks at him, he was trying to get Jesus to doubt who he was. "If you are the son of God..." When Jesus told Peter to, "Get behind me Satan!" The devil himself wasn't standing in Peter's place, but he was influencing Peter's self-talk.

While a lot of our self-talk is normal, even the negative- we are our own worst critics after all- some of it is explicitly evil meant to drive a wedge between you and God and rob you of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, namely joy, peace, patience and self-control.

In counseling it is sometimes helpful to give these voices names. "Bubba" the bully who puts you down. "Suzie" the little girl who is scared of who might come into the bedroom at night. Sometimes trauma can be so bad that these voices, these personalities, can create fissures in the subconscious leading to disassociation. Other times, they are there just to bring you down. Once identified, it can be helpful to have conversations with these voices- to let them know you are in charge and that you don't have to listen to them anymore. (But not always- it is very important to do this under the guidance of a professional, especially in cases of disassociation or when there has been significant trauma.)

But no matter how serious or real they seem to be, they are all lies.

A friend of mine recently went on a business trip for a high-profile meeting. One of his voices was telling him that he was going to do something to screw it up and that he didn't deserve the platform he had. But he effectively told this voice to shut up. He told his voice, "Look, you're not going to have a good time on this trip and I'm not going to have a good time if you go on this trip. So save us both the trouble and stay here." He took a cue from Jesus and told him "you do not have in mind the things of God" And it hit him, this voice was Satan. It always was and it always will be. And it didn't have to control him anymore.

I remember once reading the book of Job and being struck with the realization that Satan had to ask permission from God to torment him. I recalled Jesus saying to Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you." (Luke 22:31-32a, NASB) And of course there is the promise found throughout the New Testament of being set free from the slavery of sin.

This self-talk, you don't have to listen to it. While some voices are stronger, some trauma too real to just "pray away", many of the voices in our head are nothing more than Satan trying to deceive us and those voices can be overcome with prayer. Recalling Job and Jesus' words, I've found this prayer, or ones like it, helpful:

"Lord God, you are all-knowing and all-powerful. Nothing happens outside of your will. You are faithful and promise that you will not allow us to be tempted more than we can bear. [1 Corinthians 10:13]. Please, Lord, do not give permission to Satan to tempt or deceive me with his lies. Close my ears to his accusations and give me hope and confidence in the blood of your son, Jesus to overcome all my doubts and fears. In the authority of His Name I pray, Amen."

What are some of the negative voices you hear? Have you given those voices a name?

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What's a Parent to Do?

So I've been spending my last several posts on the issue of mental health, getting personal with my "not autistic enough" son. In these posts, there's been a lot of description, but not a lot of application. So I'm going to share my notes from a conference last year from a class called Parenting Children With Special Needs.

First, it is important to have the conviction that God does not make mistakes.

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'

'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" (John 9:1-3)

Whatever you are going through, whatever your children are going through, it is all in order to display the work of God.

If you struggle to believe that (and who doesn't at times?), remember that God can relate to us as parents.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
(Isaiah 49:15)

Next we cannot blame ourselves. You did not do something wrong to cause this, nor do you deserve it for something

He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:10-12)

If you're a parent reading this, have faith that God chose you to be the parent to your child. He knows your inmost thoughts, he has your child's days already written (Ps 139), and he picked you out of all other options to be your son or daughter's parent. Plus, your child is no accident, he or she is not a mistake, your son or daughter was fearfully and wonderfully made (v 13-16)

Most of all, love, love, love. Love your child. Love the teachers or other parents who may be critical or judgemental, love those who are patient in teaching, serving and befriending your children.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)

For those of you who have reached out to me over Twitter or Facebook, I will continue to keep you in my prayers. Please also pray for me and my family.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Not Crying on Sundays

I have a confession to make.

Not that long ago, I went through a period where I didn't want to go to church.

Yeah, I know. Me, you, everybody; this isn't much of a confession. But this wasn't because I wanted to sleep in or catch the early NFL game. No, I didn't want to go to church because most of the time I would come home crying.

This is our usual Sunday morning routine. Get up and get ready for church. Eat breakfast, making sure that our son had a high-protein, low sugar balanced meal. Sometimes we'd pray in the car on the way there. If it wasn't out loud, I would always pray silently before dropping off my son in class. We would take him to his classroom, he would grip tightly to our hand or our leg, and we would have to pry him away to get him to go in. He'd try and escape back out the door, sometimes stopping to sit just outside in the hallway. Other times, he would find a chair off by itself and plant himself there, pull his knees up and bury his face safely behind them.

About a half-hour in to our church service, a volunteer would come and tap me on my shoulder to tell me my son was having problems. I'd leave worship, sit him down and try to talk to him one-on-one reminding him of the importance of following directions and not being disruptive to the other students. Sometimes I'd let him go back to class. Other times, if it was really bad, I'd keep him out with me. I wouldn't dare take him in to the church service. So we would sit. Alone. Waiting for church to be over. I'd feel every glance and glare from people walking by. I'd smile politely but I can read their eyes: "what's his problem?"

Let me for a moment define "really bad" which unfortunately was much of the time. My son would crawl under the table and kick the mechanism that folds up the legs. It made a neat sound, rattling against the metal. It fascinated him. Other times he would start tearing up his paper into little pieces, just to see how small he could make a rip. Sometimes he'd wonder what those pieces of paper would taste like, so he would proceed to eat as many as he could before a teacher could intervene. He wouldn't join in circle time when everyone would be singing together. He wouldn't sit still in his chair. A teacher could only put up with this for so long before they would have to call for reinforcements- me.

So while sitting outside of class and outside of worship, my son and I would have deep talks. Sometimes I'd take him outside just so he could run around in circles to burn off all of his extra energy. Sometimes we'd talk about God and Jesus. Most of the time we'd talk about what made my son tick.

But by the time church was over I would be near tears, crawling out of my skin. "Why didn't we take two cars?" I'd ask myself. The silent, invisible wounds from every comment and sideways look were killing me.
Here are some comments we'd hear. Maybe you've heard them, or some variation, yourself:
  • Boys will be boys. He'll grow out of it.
  • If you kids are going to be disciples of Jesus, they need to be more outgoing. You need to teach them to not be so shy.
  • You need to do something about your son, there's no reason at his age he shouldn't be able to sit still.
  • No, there's nothing wrong with him, you just need to teach him self-control.
  • I don't think you're disciplining him enough at home.
  • Remember, spare the rod and spoil the child.
So I'd leave church wondering if we were wrong about our son. Maybe we just needed to spank harder, discipline him more severely. At best I was paranoid about his condition, at worst I was a failure as a parent.

Sound familiar?

But there were others in our church who watched this from a distance. They recognized it. They felt our pain. And soon we'd have parents giving tips of what worked for their children and share the struggles they have had. One mom, a parent of two teenagers with autism, said that she recognized it as soon as she met our son. Affirmation! Relief.

Some teachers also understood. One makes a point to assign my son to be a helper- keeping him busy and out of his chair. Others know that when he's sitting off by himself, that they just need to leave him be until he is ready and acclimated to his new environment.

And we changed our habits too. Yes, a high protein and low sugar breakfast is still a must. But now we also give him coffee every morning. While that may sound strange, caffeine is a natural stimulant that has the same effect (in principle) as ADHD drugs. Explaining this to one parent changed his life- he noticed that when he'd drink tea or coffee he wouldn't feel as much anxiety and could focus better. He is know on ADHD medication and you'd think he was a completely different person.

This isn't just my son I'm talking about. Teaching class a few weeks ago, the lesson was on Palm Sunday. The kids were restless so I suggested we go outside and have a parade for Jesus. We marched around our church building singing as loud as we could, shouting "Hosanna in the Highest!" But there were two boys who dragged along behind, covering their ears. Even outside in the open, this was too much stimulation for them. My son hung back with them. He understood.

Chances are, there are children at your church, in your Sunday-school class, friends with your children that have either ADHD, autism or maybe even both. It might be your child and you don't know what to do. It used to be said that one in 88 children would have autism. That rate has recently been raised to one in 50. More than one in 10 have ADHD with boys twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed, a percentage that has increased 70% in the last five years. A 2009 study suggests that one in six children have sensory integration issues that impede their daily functioning.

Let me repeat:
  • 1 in 50 children have some form of autism.
  • More than 1 in 10 children have been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • 1 in 6 suffer from sensory integration issues.
These are children at your church, in your neighborhood, maybe even your home.

As I continue to say in this series of posts, you are not alone in dealing with this. Talk about it. Share what works and doesn't work. Don't be afraid of the label and have your child checked out.

For the church, one of the most important things to do is to educate others. Sunday-school teachers are volunteers; they are not likely to be professionally trained teachers or have degrees in special education or developmental psychology. If it looks like your child's teacher doesn't know what to do, it is probably because they really don't. And this was the hard lesson for me- don't take their lack of understanding personally. Be kind. Share. Offer encouragement.

Most of all, have hope. It does get better.