Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Scarlet A

In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne, becomes marked with a Scarlet A on her chest—literally—for bearing a child out of wedlock while her husband is away.  She spends 7 years in prison, endures public shaming in the town square and the community trying to take her daughter away, and remains silent about the father of her daughter, Pearl.  She is shunned by her community and forced to live without support, interaction and love.  Ultimately, this branding of her sins on her chest, leads to a lonely, drab existence, keeping secrets, manipulation, revenge, and an unfortunate upbringing for her child, a difficult child.

We, who have lives that are unconventional and unacceptable to many Christians also feel marked by a scarlet letter that leads to judgment, silence, and distance. I’ve seen these marked people on the fringes, and I’ve been a part of the problem. I feel sad that my cousin, Bryan, never felt comfortable or accepted in churches after having spent time in prison and because of his many tattoos.  Because of our relationship while he was in prison, I know of his developing faith in God. It is an unfortunate thing, that he never experienced a faith community before his drowning 10 years ago in Joe Pool Lake.  

Between dealing with mental illness and its stigma, as well as atheism and its stigma, we feel doubly branded, misunderstood, and abandoned as unwanted, too much trouble, and as if we are wearing the scarlet letter of Atheism—all 4 of us.  Honestly, as we have opened up about these 2 issues, we have lost friends and family.  Frankly, it all baffled me early on.  I now live this reality.  I expect it, yet we still experience hurt and disappointment.  We do not have a shared community.


I want to clear up a few things that lead many Christians to believe things about atheists that hinder any interactions and beliefs about atheist that do not accurately reflect who they are and their positions.  These issues I have had to face.  I don’t have that option, as my vows have lost no meaning or promise.  I seek to understand, because I love my husband.  I seek to understand to change the current climate.  I seek to understand, because I want better for my family—especially my children.  I seek to understand, because I want to help others. I seek to understand so that harmful systems can be fixed to better serve, reach and LOVE those outside or on the fringes.  I seek to understand to lead.

We know many of you Christians have not really had much contact, relationship or conversations with people who consider themselves to be atheists.  Honestly, I hadn’t either.  Keith has had these types of conversations, though, over the years—though at the time he was on the other side of where he is now.  I live in a different place as a believing wife of an atheist husband with 2 teenage children who are at the developmental age and stage of trying to figure out what beliefs are theirs, what beliefs are their parents’, and where they find themselves in this really tricky place.

“These myths do more than hurt atheists. They also harm the basic religious freedoms of all Americans, regardless of their beliefs. Religious freedom and tolerance don’t mean much if they can’t be expanded to include those without religion.
-Amanda Marcotte

There are articles and essays easy to find online about the most common myths about atheism and information refuting those—if Christians are willing to do the work of researching, reading, and considering new/different information.  This video is actually of an atheist asked to share the realities in a church at Sunday worship at the request of a pastor. I recommend it  because it is a good conversation and a good picture of our experiences.  This atheist was raised a Christian. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hzHSA7pSWc
 I’m sharing here about our personal experiences, though the accepted list of most common myths about atheists apply to Keith as well.

The Atheist

This probably seems like an odd place to start.  Of course, an atheist has chosen, come to, or can only accept a belief system for which there is scientific proof and evidences.  Most Christians express a lack of care for someone who has joined this group with no God, no matter how it happened or what wounds might be present.  Some people are raised in atheistic families and it is their way of life.  For the increasing number of former Christians who have had a de-conversion, as the term goes, it has been a hard process.  And this is a quickly growing populace in our world today.  Individuals leaving a faith group or belief system, experience grief.  There is a loss of community, shared beliefs with family, shared holidays and these things alone change a lot of life.  For an individual raised in a Christian home there is often a loss of family contact and the angst of other loved ones to deal with, along with their judgment.  Atheists in the United States live in a culture and society in which religion is crammed down their throats—Christmas, Easter, prayers at football games, supposed wars on Christmas, and accepted terminology, etc.  Add to this the faulty beliefs many hold in regards to atheists and this is not an “easier” path as some Christians believe in their attempt to explain away how faith can be lost.

Atheists' Children

In addition to atheists paying a price, our children pay a price for lack of understanding and love in these situations from Christians, churches and pastors.  So, while we know many believers believe this is happening in our home or in any atheist’s home, Keith is not pounding his beliefs in to Jerica and Cade.  He wants them to be educated.  He wants them to think critically. He wants them to be able to make their own decisions, something he doesn’t feel he had the freedom to do growing up.  We are working hard to provide a safe place where our kids can wrestle with all of the hard questions, knowing they are loved regardless of where they find themselves in relation to God.  They see that their mom and dad love each other dearly, and are committed regardless of differing beliefs.  But there is a tension we live in now.  It is not a tension of fighting, or trying to be right, or not connecting.  It is a tension that we are all hanging in different places at the moment and are learning how to live in that, be ok, and have loose ends.  At a friend’s for dinner this past weekend, a prayer was said before a meal.  Keith always waits quietly.  Jerica and Cade are watching their dad, and I am watching them.  It is a tension that mainly comes from Christians in our lives.

Recently, comedian, Tim Hawkins posted a video to Facebook that was being passed around among Christians of the songs that atheists’ children must sing.  I saw believers commenting and laughing about this and passing it on.  When I commented that I didn’t find this funny and that I wished Christians would seek to love and understand atheists instead of poking fun of them, I received feedback from others who think it’s ok to poke fun, because Tim pokes fun at lots of people/things.  I am certainly ok with Tim Hawkins, a professed Christian, laughing at himself and people like him who he completely understands—that’s one thing.  He knows who buys his videos and tickets to his shows.  It’s a group-think mentality. 

BUT. To poke fun at someone else we don’t really know or understand? We are further isolating others, perpetuating myths, and do not endear ourselves to a group among us who we should be trying to love, support, and show God to.  I can guarantee you that this was NOT FUNNY AT ALL to my 2 children, children of an atheist.  This has been a hard process on them as well.  They’ve had to grieve and adjust to ideas, beliefs, and changes in our family as a result of Keith’s atheism.  They have also experienced different treatment as a result of their dad’s beliefs, which they do not currently share, but which they must always consider, think, and adjust to.  A pastor at a church we’ve been attending has treated my children differently, trying to show them very specific videos, putting them in positions where they were supposed to choose between their dad and God, and requiring different things of them based on their dad’s belief and their up-and-down struggle with their own beliefs. 

Light bulb, folks.  Pay attention.  

My children are not responsible for their dad’s belief or unbelief.  And 13 and 14 year old brains are experiencing the largest and fastest growth rate of all lifetime—as it’s supposed to. The growth at this time involves the development of abstract and critical thinking.   Adolescents are ALL trying to figure out what they believe and can own NO MATTER their parents’ beliefs.  Kids MUST go through this if they are to ever have a faith of their own.  

Scientific, proven biological processes here. 

This should be a time when children are supported as they think, study, struggle, and find their way.  It is ok to struggle.  It is ok to question. Home and church should be the SAFE places to do this.  Faith is a journey, not a destination.  Sometimes it is an easy flowing, beautiful part of us, but other times it is hard, rocky, and appears to dry up.  The LOVE OF GOD loves no matter what.  And waits patiently.  Understanding.  Not laughing.


Strange beliefs exist among most Christians in regards to atheism.  I do not understand how we still perpetuate such foolishness, but I definitely want to address it as I was once guilty of it also.  I really began to see/hear these crazy beliefs and their evidences after moving to Cedar Hill.  When we moved it was time to find a church in our community or surrounding area.  I had to do this on my own for the 1st time.  So people at this church see and know me (a little), but they do not know Keith. At all. All they really know of him is that he’s an atheist, he wasn’t always, and basic stats.  Keith will not attend church with us at all any more, but he will go to events outside of church—cookouts, swim parties, dinner out, etc.  (As I’ve mentioned in other posts, these things don’t happen nearly as much as I’d hoped a faith community would do.)  So, most have met him a time or two and most likely when we’ve invited them to OUR home.  After meeting Keith, 9 out of 10 church people comment to me, “Keith is a really nice guy?”  Yes, with a question mark and surprise in their voices.

What Keith is Not

People.  He’s a person.  He does not eat babies—no need for sacrifices.  He is not a pagan—he does not worship nature or animals.  He has no tail or horns.  Actually, he doesn’t even believe in the devil.  He does not hate God or Jesus.  Atheists do not hate gods or devils or demons.  They don’t believe in them, so they have NO emotions about this.  There are even atheists who attend churches, just for the community or for unity in families.  More than you would think.   

What Keith Is

Keith IS nice.  And gifted. And funny.  And very talented—as an engineer, at managing money, baseball, and creating or building anything and everything he wishes to. Creative, he is.  Keith is loving and supportive and encouraging.  He takes care of our family, including my mom and dad—which was all his doing.  Is he rougher around the edges as an atheist?  Some, but these rough edges have less to do with atheism and more to do with the hurt and trauma of the last few years due to mental health issues, care giving, and family.  Keith is very plugged in to our marriage and our children.  He was all of these things before THE A WORD, too.

A Tip

Believers, Keith is not going to sit through your God’s Not Dead movies, nor is any atheist.  This movie, and movies like it, are created for, and to back up, evangelical churches and its members who already believe.  Again, a group-think mentality.  Atheists are mostly not at all like you’ve seen portrayed in these movies and college classes. Nor are atheists’ exchanges with Christians often like what is perpetuated in these types of movies.  These movies are VERY stereotypical and are NOT the norm.  Few Christians ever truly engage atheists, often out of fear, and because it is hard and emotional to debate and support their beliefs.  Poorly written, produced and directed Christian films are just not going to do it.  Keith, as with many who experience de-conversion, knows the Bible and scripture very well.  He has read all the apologists.  He has read young earth creationists.  He knows more about the Christian belief system and history than most Christians.  It is not going to be a blog, a movie, a book, or post that is most likely to affect any change in the heart of an atheist. 

What Now?

We are not going to reach atheists by shunning, condemning, judging, avoiding or ignoring atheists.  With this group of society growing while groups of believers are shrinking, we should not be pointing fingers, laughing, or discriminating against them or their children, if we are truly living out the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission. 

At one time, I regularly asked for prayers for Keith, and for others to take time to get to know him and what is important to him.  He was more than willing to do this.  No one has taken me up on that in 3 years.  We have to live on our end always knowing there’s a big elephant in the room when it’s anyone besides our family of 6 present.

Think about what freedom of religion and freedom of speech really means.  Look at these freedoms in your own life.  Stop trying to keep others from the same freedoms—this goes for other religions like Islam, atheists also.  Many Christians preach, want and relish that freedom for ourselves, but we do not allow that same freedom to everyone else.  We must do what we say.  We regularly force our religions, the most mainstream one in this country now, down everyone else’s throats without a second thought.

Get out of your comfort zones.  Know what you believe.  Shore up your own faith.  Don’t be afraid of conversations or doubts.  We all deal with it.  Practice what you preach.  

Above all.  
Love equals being known, being heard, and being loved despite it.

You can't love someone you don't know.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


I often write, and post, on lessons learned the hard way, through struggle, mistakes, ignorance and hurt. Unfortunately, we all seem to learn that way. The wisdom and experience Keith and I have gained in recent years has been the hardest learning curve of all.  This motivates me to make things better--bringing issues, concerns, or problems to light, so that if you know someone going through hard stuff, you have a better idea of what helps and what hurts.  I hope, and believe, most people want to be helpful.  If they are not, it may be just from a lack of experience and/or education. I want you know how to help your friends and family members.  I want you to not have had some of the hard experiences and lessons we have faced.  I am not continually bringing issues to light to be negative, bash and blame or make people feel bad.  I operate on the premise of turning "my mess in to my message" and "my test into my testimony."  And I want better.  For me, my family, and for all of you.

I do want you to know, too, that there has been joy and relief along the way in our messes and tests.  People have shown up, and we have experienced encouraging moments and interactions that help keep us going.  It's not only the hard, bad stuff you need to know or that we can learn from.  And I want you to know that we are ok.  Really. We are people who function, laugh, enjoy each other, connect deeply, recognize how far we have come, know what is truly important and worth our time/energy, what it means to live one day at a time, and long ago quit trying to hide behind masks.  We know to surround ourselves with those who provide support and affirmations, and to not surround ourselves with people who bring stress and who do not speak or act in support or love.  We are adept, as a family, at talking out feelings, concerns, and anxieties.  We feel confident about the changes, decisions, and boundaries we have established for our family. We thrive and we have some strong emotional muscles.  We are extremely unified.

So, I'm going to toot some horns today and make you aware of resources available for you and your families in times of need, particularly when you're dealing with a mental health diagnosis and the related challenges.  All of these things & people are, in my opinion, part of God's provision for us.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
NAMI is the largest grass roots organization in the country.  NAMI provides classes, support groups, mentors, and advocates for the needs of the mentally ill.  We attended NAMI's Basics Class for parents of children who exhibit symptoms before age 13.  We also attend the support group for parents when we can.  NAMI provides all courses, groups, materials, etc. FREE of charge.  NAMI also trains law enforcement to handle situations with ill individuals they come across.  NAMI also has classes for family members of adults with MI, and for the individuals dealing with a mental illness. I am also certified to present for NAMI in their Ending the Silence program, which targets high school kids--sharing warning signs, erasing stigma, and plugging teenagers in to all of the available resources.  NAMI keeps us up to date with the latest research and best practices.

www.namidallas.org is my local chapter.
www.nami.org is the national website and can help you find resources and a chapter near you.

I Am Here Coalition by The Grant Halliburton Foundation
This organization targets young adults, 13-22, providing support, education and resources.  The host a large conference each year called, "When Life Hands You Teenagers."  This organization also provides quite a bit of support and education for addressing mental illness in faith communities.


Mobile Crisis Number
ADAPT Mobile Crisis Line  (866)260-8000
(I keep this number in my cell phone.)

Also.  Our friends.  
All 2 of them.  (Just kidding.)
And some others.  
Casserole friends.

We did have friends who showed up at the hospital, most of whom we hadn't seen in a long time. They were welcome faces and safe arms. They brought milk shakes, hung out in the waiting area to be available to our family, spent the night at the hospital, brought hot meals, helped set up a Caring Bridge site, and rubbed aching backs.  While we do not hear from most of them regularly, we treasure and appreciate their presence, help, and prayers.  These people got us through those first few days.  

Bradleys, Garners, Austins, Filbecks, Gabbert, Gillies, Hickox, Furliches, Lewis, Ogren

A good friend from high school, drove nearly an hour one way and brought meals when we were still driving back and forth between home and Children's hospital while our child was in inpatient.  We actually made that drive for weeks every day--during inpatient and outpatient.  


After all of the inpatient, outpatient, and transitioning to school, my 2 dearest friends gathered up a group of friends who made us a freezer full of meals.  This was SO helpful.  When hospital stays were over and school transitions made, we were still driving to therapy appointments 2-3 times a week, only beginning the hard work of processing what has occurred, and trying to figure out how to eat, sleep, and breathe again.  For a month, we just had to grab something out of the freezer.  No decisions.  Just whatever was next.  My 2 dearest friends who did this?  They walked with us.  All the way.  Because they did that, they knew what we needed--even when we couldn't voice it.

Lesli, Sarah, Brina, Robin, Debbie

My mom.  The Saint.  It's a running joke in our family about my mom's sainthood.  And as in most joking, there is definitely a kernel of truth here.  Big one.  My mom is selfless and giving.  She is compassionate and available.  And although she and dad were going through everything with us, and she is Dad's main care-giver, she was a source of unwavering support and help.  She was able to pick up the slack and keep things going in our home when Keith and I didn't even know how to get out of bed and function. Mom made sure there was food and clean clothes.  She is loyal, attentive, a cheerleader, sacrifices for others, and faithful in prayer.

Saint Monnie

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Grieving: Yesterdays, Boxes, and Shelves

I want to share some pieces of advice. Words that have been helpful to me. Words that help me give grace to others. 3 pieces that don't necessarily have to do with each other, but they do.


I have a friend from ACU/Abilene days.  I only "see" her on Facebook, but seeing her and hearing her is important to me. She is wise, compassionate, and funny--all borne of heartache and healing. We were brought together years ago (nearly 20*%&@# years ago) when we sat in a hospital supporting a dear friend we had in common who was losing her dad to cancer. We were all ACU students at the time. We bonded over hard chairs, prayers and hugs, and a commitment we made to make sure that our friend in common would not ever spend a moment in that hospital by herself, without a friend at her elbow.  We agreed to make sure one of us was always there.  I know I missed some college classes and even remember walking out on a test to do so. It never mattered.  And because I made this promise to a new friend, I got up and walked out of a college class that last morning knowing I had to get to the hospital.  With no cell phones, or texts, or emails in that day and time (dating myself again), it had to be my Spirit that told me no one was at the hospital and the hour as drawing near.  I was there.  Standing outside the room, the only non-family member present, as a wonderful father and man was ushered in to heaven.

This new friend knew about sitting alone in a hospital.  Her freshman year of college (my senior year of high school) her brother (a freshman in my high school) took his own life.  And no one showed up to the hospital. I did not know them then, but was devastated to think this friend and her family grieved alone.

And that thought and feeling and desire to show up and be present has been with me ever since.  

And she made it our mission to not leave our friend alone in a slightly different, but no less, devastating situation.  This beautiful soul also found her dad after a suicide attempt later on.  She knows grieving, and picking yourself up, and taking a step.

And letting go of YESTERDAYS.

So I contacted her not too long after our child's serious suicide attempt.  The only person that I thought would relate, who I could say things to and not worry about judgment, and who I knew at the very least would pray--knowing prayers.  Shared grief, that I'm sure looking back from my current vantage point was hard for her to dig back into years later.  But she did it for me.  And she shared some advice with me that was given to her in a grief support group.  This advice gave me a knot to tie into the end of the rope I was quickly losing my grip of.  I have saved this advice.  And periodically revisit it and remind myself of what I need to let go of.

Her words to me:
"Someone told me I needed to forgive myself to be able to quiet all of the would'ves and could'ves that continued to torture me. I asked how in the world I would ever be able to do that and they responded,

"Let go of the hope for a better yesterday." 

That was a huge moment for me and I have clung to that thought. Forgiveness - letting go of the hope for a better yesterday. That was a turning point for me because all of the things that happened in my yesterday's, some of which I may have been able to change, most of which I would have never been able to do anything about, were done and gone. They were never going to be back and there was nothing that was going to change them. I had to be still and know that God is God."

This advice is helpful to anyone grieving. When we're grieving, we are experiencing a loss. That loss can be from physical death, death of a relationship, dreams, expectations, normal life, etc. Particularly, when grieving a suicide, and suicide attempt, the grief is complicated and has some extra components for the loved ones trying to learn to live again.


For many years, my mom participated in a Christian 12 Step Group at the church I was raised in, their church of over 40 years.  My mom is a compassionate person and gained much from working through the group, encouraging others as they worked the steps, and the perspectives she gained from the stories of other brothers and sisters. One of the lessons she learned in that group that I have heard her share often is about our BOXES.  Think of this as an emotional BOX.  We all have our own emotional box.  When life has hit hard and I am dealing with things like my dad's Parkinson's disease, teenage children, and changes in our family or marriage, my box is full.  When my box gets full, I'm brewing for a melt down.  It is too much! I cannot put one more thing in my emotional box at that moment! You have your own box, too.  I may or may not know all that is in your emotional box. When your box is full, you've got all you can handle.  So, when you look at the list of what is in my box, don't compare it to what is in yours.  It doesn't matter if you think the stuff in your box isn't as bad, or hard, or overwhelming as the stuff in mine.  When your box is full, you have all you can handle. And you are ready for your own meltdown.  We, ALL OF US, can only handle what fits in our box, no matter what it is.  Occasionally, even in my support groups, when someone hears everything we've gone through in the last 3-4 years, they automatically start to say, "well, my story is not as bad as yours."  This discounts their own box, their own story, and their own grief.

If your box is full, it is full.  
Sit down, 
YOU do belong here. 
No apologizing for your tears, angst or grief.  
We'll learn how to handle our boxes together.  
No matter what is in them.

One thing we've learned through all of our therapy, psychiatry, and the myriad of things we've had to process and grieve in the last few years, is that you can only deal with and truly grieve--one single item at a time. I can grieve the loss of innocence for my child and nothing else.  When I've made a little progress with it, I can put that one back on the shelf.  Then I have to pick up another thing on my shelf that needs attention.

 Over 10 years ago, when my only older 1st cousin drowned in Joe Pool Lake, I grieved.  I loved him.  We had forged a special relationship as adults mainly through our letters, art, books, and gift exchanges through the Texas prison system.  He was a talented, but troubled soul.  When he died after being on the outside for a few months, and during the 4 days it took for the rescuers to find his body, I grieved hard.  Just for Bryan.  Six weeks after his drowning, my best friend who'd been battling an awful cancer for over a year, left this earth as well.  When she died, I had to put grieving for Bryan on the shelf--even though it hadn't been very long since Bryan's death.  At times I would put Lynn on the shelf because I needed to grieve for Bryan around that 1st birthday when I visited his grave.  But then I had to put Bryan back on the shelf, because I was grieving Lynn, I was grieving for her girls, her husband, her unwavering friendship and support, and we were all facing so many 1st's without her, a group of "framily" forged in service, support, and grief.

At that time, I would feel guilty for not grieving Bryan.  That had nothing to do with my love for him, my amount of sadness, or whether or not I missed him.  It had everything to do with what was the most pressing grief at the moment and that I could only take one thing off my shelf at a time to grieve.

Our bodies, brains, and psyches can only handle so much grief at a time. I had to grieve the loss of innocence and the terrible trauma we learned had happened to our precious child after her suicide attempt first.  We have had to grieve the loss of our life as we knew it--several times.  We have grieved the changes in friendships, which continues at this point in varying levels and as milestones occur.  We have grieved the changes in family relationships. I have grieved recently, because this current life is our normal now and it's not what we want for our children, or ourselves.  We have grieved the loss of spiritual unity.  We have grieved the challenges life has brought to our table. We have grieved the loss of Keith's faith.  We grieved it as individuals, couples, and then with our children when it was time to reveal this particular loss to them.  I had begun grieving the loss of Keith's faith before our world was turned upside down.  When I found that child of mine near death, Keith's faith went on the shelf.  I could not handle it and the grief for and over my child and our family. We also have a large piece of grief that we visit only very briefly, but that we know is looming as we watch my dad's decline due to Parkinson's' disease.  Due to that, some of our grief processes have been long.  I could not revisit and begin to really grieve the losses from Keith's de-conversion until over a year after the suicide attempt.  It was all too much at one time.  I have had friends express in so many words and through action/inaction that they think I/we should be all better, over everything, moved on, back to normal, etc.  So, when you wonder at this point why I am still grieving the loss of normal life and friendships? Because I have way more on my shelf than can be handled at a time.

Grief is work.  Hard work.  Not fun.  But it has to be done.  Each grief.  So full healing can occur.

Let go of your hope for a better yesterday, don't apologize or compare the fullness of your emotional box with mine or anyone else, and give yourself permission and grace--you can only deal with one item at a time. Give others that same grace with their grief shelf.  Let go of timetables, expectations of yourself or others, and be and deal.  Right where you are.

Monday, January 19, 2015


I am not a trend person.  I don't follow trends.  In fact, I generally avoid doing something--simply because it is a trend--a function of my stubborn streak that I will purposely avoid doing something "trendy."  And I don't jump on bandwagons.  I do what my passions are and with the gifts and talents I possess. (Exactly why I avoided blogging for so long...but why I finally gave in.  Go, me?)

So, on this day that we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his compatriots, I don't want to blog about him.  Because everyone else is.  Logical or not.  The truth is, we don't celebrate this day particularly as a family. We celebrate MLK, Jr., his work, and all those who stood with and for him and since him, every day.

Every day when we look at our daughter, who according to the world's standards and the conditions the early civil rights afforded the black race in the US, should NEVER have been our baby. 

We celebrate the strides these men and women made when we sit and laugh with friends we couldn't have hung out with in our home 60+ years ago.  

We feel loved by friends when they share with us the hurts, disappointments, and discrimination they have lived through as a condition of the color of their skin.  

When our son at 5 years of age said he could not imagine a life without his sister and a sister with Jerica's black beauty (because that would be a boring family), our hearts soar with what is SUPPOSED TO BE.

What is RIGHT, LOVELY, and FAMILY.  

And we get this in a way that words cannot express, nor is it a feeling that can be contained in my head or my heart.  And we are forever changed.  I try to live a life that remembers MLK, Jr. and his sacrifices, receives the blessings of the civil rights movement, and makes proud the people on whose shoulders Keith and I stand--and depend--as we raise our children of 2 different races and genealogies.  We want them both to know where we would be without the work of these heroes and heroines.  Where we'd be?  Without Jerica.  And that is a sad, emptiness I can't even fathom. Yet one we've all had to face.

So. Here I am. On MLK, Jr. Day, blogging about it, about him.  

There's a word that has been rolling around in me for some time.  The word is SILENCE.  I referenced this some in an earlier post about raising children with mental illness and how much it hurts when life-long friends go silent in your lives.  That silence leaves a vacancy as you miss the friendship, miss the unique people, miss the history your families have shared, and miss the support you once thought would not wane.

Where this term SILENCE and MLK, Jr. coincide for me today, is in the following quote:

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Seeing this quote again today from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded me of these last few months of unrest following Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Eric Gardner's death in NYC, Tamir Rice--only 12 years old, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, and the list could go much longer.  Unarmed men and children.  Tragedies, all.  

In the early days following Michael Brown's death and the unrest and protests that filled our news feeds, news channels, and papers, I sat and watched it all.  And prayed.  And cried.  I didn't post a whole lot during those 1st days.  Questioning posts popped up from some of my black friends a few days in.  Some posts were heartbreaking, some were sarcastic, and some were angry.  My black brothers and sisters wanted to know where were their white friends?  Where were their Christian friends who claim to value all life?  Why were WE not speaking up FOR THEM and WITH THEM in the face of prejudice, hate, stereotyping, blaming and judgment, as well as the sheer LACK OF JUSTICE.

And those are EXCELLENT questions.  Questions they should be asking of us.  Questions we should be answering for them.

I told my friends who pondered these things, that I was only remaining SILENT for the moment.  I wanted them to speak freely, to share, and to say anything and everything they needed to say.  My friends needed to lament and scream and shake their fists.  I didn't want my SPEAKING to hurt them further, to interfere with their grieving processes, and I didn't want my SPEAKING to come from a place of ignorance or misinformation.  I told these friends that I would stand and walk with them.  

Any time.  Any place.

There is a time to be silent.  When we don't have all the answers, when we don't understand what we are seeing or hearing, when the tears and sobs drown out words, when we haven't walked in someone's shoes, when tragedy takes our breath away--those are times when SILENCE is warranted. Silence is warranted when words are said simply to fill space.  Words that only serve to fill a silence that you are uncomfortable with as a listener should remain silent.  Words should love, encourage, challenge, and support.  People often do not wish for or appreciate advice from anywhere and everywhere.  Most people want to be heard.  And validated.  So, there is a time to be silent. 

But only for a moment.

ONLY after really and truly listening, should I begin to speak.  And that speech should be with words that are affirming, acknowledging, encouraging, and supporting these friends and families I love.  Words and questions that seek answers, that seek to educate, that seek to unify, that seek to bring healing--these are the words that should move us to break the SILENCE.  

I know the pain of silence.  Silence that judges and abandons.  I've been silent at times.  Sometimes to listen.  Listen and validate.  It should never be interpreted that I won't speak up.  I will stand up for and with my black friends, my black neighbors, my black daughter and all of my children's black friends and their families.  Sometimes silence means I'm listening, that I'm walking right here beside you.  Supporting your arms when you feel weary.

But I do not stay silent forever.  I do not stay silent for very long.  And I hope you can hear and receive my words now, whatever your color, culture, or beliefs.  For my friends, neighbors, but especially for my son who knows life no other way than as it should be, as it is.  And for my daughter who sometimes is spoken to differently when someone realizes her parents are white even as she is fully black. And we witness.  And educate.  And hold closer.

Staying quiet and staying away, are both SILENCES that hurt. And this SILENCE hurts even more when it's from our friends and family, much more than from our enemies.

 I hope I've never done that to someone who needed me to show up and speak up.  Yet, I'm sure that I have. Before I knew more, understood more, loved more. Before I listened more. For that I apologize deeply, and I hope you can forgive me.  And join hands with me in speaking the healing words and marching out the actions that communicate volumes more than our filler, empty words ever could.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Heart Condition

I've attended Bible Study Fellowship studies off and on for years.  I enjoy the challenge of a study that is so in-depth, keeps me accountable, and encourages members to stick to the Bible and what God's word is saying.  All around the world each week, and in kids' classes, through BSF we are all studying the same lesson over the same scriptures.  If you stick with BSF, with recent updates and adjustments, it now takes 10 years to have completed the study of the entire Bible with such depth.  Some studies cover one book of the Bible, for example last year we spent the entire time studying the book of Matthew.  Other years, the study is more topical.  This year we are studying the Life of Moses.

I love studying Moses and have done this BSF study before.  I love reading about how God, through his mother and sister, saved the life of baby Moses. (Ex. 2)  I identify with Moses, who felt unworthy and incapable of being God's spokesman and tried to talk God out of it. (Ex. 3-4)  Who doesn't know the story of the plagues and Moses leading the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt towards the land God promised them? (Ex. 7-11) The Israelites first Passover and favor. (Ex. 12)  And the parting of the Red Sea, a most excellent miracle of God's hand.  (Ex. 13-14) The Ten Commandments, God's presence and provisions, the Jews' disobedience and quickness to mistrust God's plan even after such miracles continue through this book.  The book of Exodus covers a lot of our well-known stories of the faith and the lessons we learned about as children on the infamous felt boards. These are the stories we like to hear about Exodus.

At the end of Exodus, God has instructed Moses about how to build the tabernacle, altar, and tent of meeting.  (At this point, the Old Testament begins to lose some of its luster for me.)  This takes us to Leviticus, admittedly one of my least favorite books of the Bible to study.  (Keeping it real.)  This book opens with lots of instructions about priests, consecrating and ordaining priests, and all of their duties.  We hear again and again about the offerings that must be given regularly for sin, peace, fellowship, atonement, etc.  All of these things point us to Jesus, who paid the price of these rituals and practices on our behalf all at one time on the cross.  I am all about the pointing to Jesus part, and not so much about the rules and regulations part.

I was not looking forward recently to reading and answering questions on the rituals and rules in Leviticus again.  But. Wow, has God turned this study and my expectations for Leviticus on its head this year!  Because I did not believe that these laws and regulations had any bearing on my life or my walk with Jesus.  I was wrong.  Heart wrong. While these offerings are no longer required of us to atone for our sins, to make right the sins we've committed, or to fulfill the penalty of our sinful conditions, (thank you, Jesus), the heart conditions of these offerings are required of us.

Let me say that again.  
Let it sink in.  

While we are no longer under the law because of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, we are under the heart conditions that these early laws point us to. 

These laws point us to Jesus.  And Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Matt 5:17) When Jesus came, HE turned faith and religion on its head as He continually pointed people to the conditions of their heart.

Over and over in the book of Matthew's account of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5-7) , Jesus tells the people, "You have heard it said..." & "But I say..."  And every time He points us to our hearts--the thoughts, feelings, motives, and beliefs we hold in our hearts.  We live out of our hearts. (Matt. 5:21)  Out of the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak. (Matt. 6:19-24) The fruit we produce, or do not produce, in our lives speaks of our heart conditions. (Luke 6:43-45)

Leviticus 19:18 is what Jesus quotes in Matt.5:44, when he tells the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount, that they are to "Love your neighbors as ourselves."  How did I not know this before 2015???
God was giving His people explicit instructions on how to live their lives, conduct their business, and how to approach Him.  A Holy God could only be approached by a holy people, a people set apart, and living differently than the world lived or expected.  

Where all of this has culminated in a Big Light Bulb Moment at this point in this book of the Bible for me, has come down to the burnt offerings that the priests were taught to conduct and the people to supply, in order to stay right with God and each other.  Though we don't have to find, kill and present an unblemished calf, goat, lamb or turtledove, or oil or grains, to make up for our sins, we should have a heart condition that longs to confess and be right with God, and a heart that is quick to make reparations and restitution.

And God wasn't just addressing sins towards Him, He was also addressed thoroughly what the Bible calls "unintentional sin" in these early books in Leviticus.  I know from my life's experiences and my own mistakes that this is an area we do not address today and do not want to address.  We are way too quick today to shift the blame and move on with little more than a verbal apology, if we even do that, if we didn't actually "intend" to sin.

"I didn't mean to."  
"That wasn't my intention."  
"I hope you know my heart really was in the right place."  

We've all heard it.  We've all said it.  There are times that we don't mean to have sinned against someone, but we do. God required that His nation of Israel make sacrifices to atone for even the unintentional sins, and then He also required that reparations and restitution be made with the affected persons. (Leviticus 4-7) While we are not under this law, we do want to be in communion with God, holy and with a heart growing more and more like His each day.  His HEART for His people has not changed!

We may not have known the harm our actions could cause someone else. We make errors in human judgment.  We may have acted carelessly without caution, and without enough forethought. We may not have consulted God on a matter before acting.  All of us are guilty of these sins.  When we make these kinds of mistakes, even though it wasn't our intention, we sin.  And we hurt people with our unintentional sin and they still feel the full effects and consequences of our actions.  Even though we didn't really mean it.

With a heart condition that is focused on JESUS and LOVE, we want to make right our sin, rather they be against God or another person created in His image. And we should want to address the situation or relationship through reparations and restitution.  And this takes HEART.  Not money, not words, not even gifts, but a HEART willing to be humble, open to love, and carrying out actions that shows God is its treasure.

God covers this. 
 In Leviticus.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


I am a monkee, I guess.  I don't actually think of myself that way, because I am not the typical "fan girl." But Monkees are not typical fan girls either, and we sit at a table at which everyone is invited.  I am a faithful reader of Momastery and its author, Glennon Melton. Momastery
Monkees is a pet term for fans and followers of Glennon's who live out love and community and service.  I recommend her book, Carry on, Warrior, as well.  I am a visual learner and several phrases she uses frequently in her writing and a couple of terms she's coined, really communicate to me visually.  Like, "Love wins" and "We can do hard things."

And PERSPECTACLES.  (My favorite Glennonism.) When Glennon points us to other perspectives and challenges her readers to see something from someone else's point of view, she tell us to put on our perspectacles.   I get this.  I see myself in my mind's eye actually putting on new glasses, glasses that are not mine, do not match my prescription, and glasses I may not have ever seen or considered before.  With this visual word picture, I can see clearly--I have to actually DO SOMETHING ACTIVE and really put on each perspective and pair of glasses.  This looking through different lenses and different glasses to see something from someone else's point of view?  This is NOT A PASSIVE endeavor, friends.  Active.  Get moving.  Get to seeing.  With your heart.

I have worn many of my own perspectacles in recent years; sights and visions I never expected to have to put on in my life.  Having worn so many different and unusual perspectives by practice does seem to make it easier to put on some one else's.  This doesn't mean I have to keep them on. It does not mean that my belief system will change.  I will have an understanding, though, of the place someone else is living and what is driving their choices, fears, passions, etc.  I still have to live my life, but if putting on someone else's perspectacles for a hot minute means that I can reach them, touch them, do hard things with them or for them, then it is worth this action which must involve me heart and soul...and eyes.

Up to this point in my little blog's short life, I have mainly shared about mental illness.  I have uttered the word atheist in public for you. (Practice that word so you can get passed it the next time you hear me on the topic--at a later date.)  Right now in the place I'm living, mental illness is definitely at the forefront and in a very un-rose colored set of lenses, I might add.  In addition to mental illness & atheism, I will also be covering other topics.  These topics are also passions of mine due to having worn their lenses for a good bit of time.  Every pair of my own personal view finders tends to be a topic that is widely misunderstood in the normal circles of life.  I hear God calling me to change that; to bring topics in to the light--especially into the light of the church, to give a voice to the marginalized, and to walk with people-not away from them or just in front or behind.  Side by side.  Breath by breath.

So other topics you can expect to hear about: women (especially in relation to the church), faith journeys, adoption, parenting a child of another race, living with aging parents, parenting kids with different needs, gifted education, race relations & reconciliation, empowering parents in the educational systems, care-giving, and adolescence.  On several of these topics, I am able to speak from several sides as I have been both parent and teacher to gifted children with co-morbid learning differences, for example.  

Expect me to move among these topics as the Lord orders and directs my steps.  I am also willing to address topics by request.  If I am asked and I can, I will.  I will be honest about my knowledge, abilities, training and experiences.  Authenticity is one of the traits I value most in myself and others.  I hope, of all anyone will ever say of me, is that I was authentic and truly cared for them wherever they are in their journey.

Get your glasses ready, have a towel and some Windex nearby.  We all need some clearer views in this life.  And share. Follow. Pray. Study. Explore.  Share my blog with anyone and everyone you feel could benefit from it for any reason.  My goal is not for my name to be known, but for my heart and resources and hard earned wisdom to be available to love, encourage, and educate.  To make a dent in the stigma, misunderstanding, and fears that keep others from getting help, turning to Jesus, or giving a body of believes a chance to love them.  To sharpen other irons as my own iron is sharpened and refined.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Oxygen Masks in a Crisis

I'm not a comfortable flyer, so I tune out the safety messages that play on video screens and the attendants demonstrating the exits, flotation devices and oxygen masks in a plane before take off.   In those moments, paying attention to the safety devices and plans makes me even more anxious.  Now, I know that does not make logical sense.  Logically, I should pay close attention so that in an emergency I am fully equipped to survive.  (But who said anxiety is EVER logical!?)  I really do know what they're going to say.  I do not fly often, but I fly enough to know the routine.  If you do pay attention to the instructions, you are aware that parents are told to place their own oxygen mask on their face before they turn to help their child.  The reasoning behind this states that you are much more equipped to aid your child or anyone around you if you are safe, breathing oxygen, and able to think clearly.

This picture presents a perfect example of what a parent must do when in the middle of a mental health crisis or other types of crises.  If you are keeping up with my posts and made it all the way through the previous post, What I Want You to Know, then you probably realize that we've spent a good deal of time operating in a crisis mode in recent years (multiple).  Crisis mode for us began with finding our child clinging to life, through days in ICU, inpatient and outpatient hospitalizations and through the next 18 months or so afterwards.  During this time, we slept little.  When we did, sleep was fitful, involved nightmares, fear and terror, and frequent waking and checking breathing.  Eating became difficult due to the amount of stress we were under and our bodies reaction to it.  When you aren't eating or sleeping much, thinking is fuzzy at best.  We were having to consider and make such important and crucial life-giving decisions that we could not think about or make decisions about the "easy" things. Thinks like what to eat for dinner, what clothes to put on, and what to do next.  Even following a well-used recipe or making a grocery list felt overwhelming. Remembering to take a shower, eat something, take your own medication--all things that can quickly be dropped as a parent focuses all they have on a child in crisis.  Tears were always at the ready.  For days on end, we would get in fearful, panicked modes where we would search the house and every crevice again making sure we hadn't missed anything that could be used to harm or kill oneself since the last time we looked, only hours before.  Friends and therapists who were involved in our lives then and now, tell us how pale, gray, and zomby-ish Keith and I were for a long time.  I mostly paced at night.  Keith avoided sleep all together. During the day when both kids were back in school, I slept and Keith worked from home.  We jumped any time the phone rang, as there were some rough days at school.  We lived in fear, as the statistics say after such a young person makes such a serious attempt, there would likely be more attempts in the coming days and weeks. The only details I could keep up with involved multiple therapy appointments each week and getting everyone to these appointments and school on time.  I forced myself to put up Christmas decorations those first couple of years, though my heart was definitely NOT in it.  We went through the motions for the kids.  We needed friends and support, but we had nothing to give in return.  And we were not easy to be around as we paced, grieved, screamed, cried, searched, and floundered.  We couldn't make plans, because life was not stable, and we could barely think about today.  We were taking life from one breath to the next.  We couldn't even do day-to-day yet.

Several people talked with Keith and I during that time, primarily the kids' therapists, psychiatrists, administrators, etc. urging us to make sure we were taking care of ourselves.  WHAT?  I'm supposed to worry about myself when a bomb went off in our home and family, with my children as the biggest casualties?  SERIOUSLY!  This even sounded ridiculous to us in the beginning, even though we knew deep down there was truth in it.  But we are parents.  And parents do whatever it takes, including putting their own needs, desires and wishes on the back burner, when their child needs.  We hear all of the time still from therapists and doctors that we have done EVERYTHING we needed to do for our kids. They wish all of their patients' parents followed through and did the hard work of restructuring, adjusting, and learning all that was necessary to MAKE SURE our children had every therapy, every need met, and every opportunity to reach their full potential.  Our attitude was FORGET ABOUT US. This is ABOUT OUR KIDS.  And we'll throw ourselves under a bus FOR OUR KIDS.  THEY ARE EVERYTHING.  THEY ARE FIRST.  We don't care what you think about us.  Just SAVE OUR KIDS!

At the same time, we knew we had to be in good enough shape to get through the day for our kids, and so we knew intellectually that we had to do something for ourselves to be able to keep this up.  We knew we had to do whatever it took to keep our family intact, which meant also taking care of our marriage.  I can say that, miracle of miracles, Keith and I were always united--and we weren't faking it.  We agreed 100% about what we needed to do for the kids--including therapy decisions, medication decisions, restructuring our home, family decisions, setting boundaries and enforcing them.  We have been fully committed at all times to each other. We have never blamed each other for anything that has occurred or the place we find ourselves in now.   Y'all, that right there tells me THERE IS A GOD! YES, JESUS!  AMEN?  Most couples struggle, don't see eye to eye, and butt heads over the types of decisions we've had to make.  And families frequently fall apart as marriages crumble.

It is in this time of crisis, that the oxygen mask becomes uber important.  While this is not a new analogy in care-giver circles, it bears revisiting.  Parents MUST do whatever they have to do to take care of themselves.  If we are not taking care of ourselves we will not be able to take care of our children.  We must have something in there to give them.  That means we have to sleep, eat regularly, get a little exercise, and find a way to decompress.  We must put our own mask on, even though it feels counter-intuitive, and breathe deeply before we turn to our children.

At some point, we knew that we had to take care of ourselves just to keep functioning at a basic level.  Enough people kept telling us...  At first, though, it still seemed ridiculous.  And when people would tell us to be sure and take care of ourselves and each other, we didn't even know what that meant or what it looked like.  Because I was in crisis mode, I didn't even know the 1st step in doing that self-care thing.  No one ever explained that part.

Fortunately for me, I have a dear, treasured friend who is a therapist.  She is not my therapist, though she does counsel me sometimes with such love and dignity. <3 I finally said to her one time, "What does self-care look like?  I can't even begin to think of what that means or looks like."  I didn't even know what my desires, wishes, or needs were any more--other than food and shelter and for my life to go back to "normal."  She gave me a list of things she'd created for herself in one of her graduate counseling classes.  I looked at her list and I knew I COULD DO THIS.  I still initially had to work through some guilt in focusing on myself, but this is GOOD HEALTH, folks.  So, I'm going to share some things from her list.  I'm also going to add some things we figured out to do.

A REAL therapist's self-care list:
v  Smell  
o   Orange Ginger Bath & Body Works
o   Candles – vanilla and lavender

v  Sight
o   Blue water (ocean, beach)
o   “Mindless” TV or movies
o   Pinterest

v Taste
o   Coffee
o   Dark salted chocolate
o   Comfort food (pizza)

v  Sound
o   Rain/waves sounds
o  Music

v  Touch
o   Hugs 
o   Shoulder rub
o   Petting the dogs

v  Spiritual
o   Meditating on Scriptures 
o   Going to church and Life Group for community
o   Hanging out with close friends during the week for fellowship
o   Daily devotional and prayer time

As you can see this list is formed around your 5 senses and your spiritual being.  Self-care can be doing really simple things that don't cost money, take little effort, but provide a space and a time to decompress, think about other things and wake up all your senses, remembering the person God created you to be and to rest in His gifts for you.

Some things that STILL work for us in our self-care:

  • Seeing a therapist to focus on processing all we've been through, but also to really focus on our marriage.
  • Massage appointments.
  • Lunch date with my people (my sister-girlfriends) once a week.
  • Holding my dear friend's infant son while he napped during our once a week lunches.
  • Once a week lunch dates just Keith & I.
  • Date night once a month.  (We were already doing this as a couple, as well as monthly dates one on one with our kids.)
  • Attending support/education classes through our NAMI chapter.  Attending their parent support groups.  All free of charge and all life changing.   National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Reading a book for pleasure. 
  • Going alone to a movie while the kids are at school.
  • Taking a nap.
  • Taking Xanax (because sometimes when it's hard, and it's hard all of the time, and the psychiatrist says you need to do this occasionally so you can check out, you listen, and you do it and you don't feel guilty. And you can face life again afterwards with a lighter countenance.)  Tis is allowed on the actual airplane, too!
  • Unplugging from the internet, social media, and everyone "playing" at real life on there
  • Going to the gym.
  • Getting a pedicure.
  • Playing poker with the guys.
  • Having pajama days and watching movies.
  • Eating ice cream floats.
  • Planting & digging in flower beds. (I call this my dirt therapy.)
This is a big one:  BOUNDARIES.  Boundaries are also a crucial part of self-care.  Boundaries keep out people that bring stress, because in a crisis you don't need more stress or anyone pulling your time or attention away from the immediate needs of your little family.  Boundaries circle the wagons closer with those who have proven they are safe, and they are not afraid or run off by your tears, anger, guilt, second guessing or inability to make a decision on what to eat off the menu. These are the people who hold your arms up like Aaron and Hur did for Moses. (Exodus 17:11-13)  They are the people who pray, meet needs before you voice them, and don't care that it is a one-sided relationship for a while.  These are the few who you can give your prayer requests for them to pray, because you aren't talking to God yet, but someone needs to.  These essential people do not judge you and do not give advice that you haven't asked for. These are also the people who do not expect you to be over this now and back to your old self.  You will never be the same.  These people will not either.  That is ok, because you are all going to be stronger and more compassionate as a result of living with you, daily, step by step, in your crisis.  Boundaries do this and they don't apologize, because you should not have to apologize for taking care of your children, spouse, or yourself--especially in a time of crisis.  And frankly, you'll care a whole lot less what others think when you know you are doing the RIGHT THINGS.   Boundaries say NO.  You need to take time and step away from extra activities, committees, and volunteering.  Your 1st ministry is to your family--and this includes the necessary step of self-care:  putting on your own oxygen mask, taking some deep breaths, and clearing your head so you are ready to care for your struggling children/family.

These things will give you a starting place to think about and brainstorm/start some things for yourself.  Because if you don't take care of yourself, then your child or any other person you are caring for, will NOT have the HEALTHIEST caregiver.  And they need us.  And they need us to be healthy.  We are not only modeling good mental health for our kids by doing this, we are providing a solid foundation and a place for them to feel safe and loved and for them to feel secure, because there is an adult that is not going to let them fall to the bottom without a ladder to climb back up.  They don't have to fend off hurtful, ridiculous statements and questions people pose to them.  We keep those people away.  Outside the wagons. The healthy, in control adult is going to provide the safe boundaries for them, and we are going to protect them as their health dictates their needs and THEY WILL KNOW THIS.

So, folks.  Start a self-care list for yourself.  No guilt.  Do the right things.  Therapists, when you recommend self-care, give those zomby, sleep deprived parents an idea of what that looks like.  They really can't access all of their brain at this time.  Just get them started.  If you know someone in crisis now, share this post with them.  Even better, call them and tell them you are coming over to make a grocery list and then run that errand for them.  Set up a night that you, or another trusted adult, can manage the home front for a couple of hours so a mom and dad can have dinner out without having to manage melt-downs, feeling plans, etc.  We ALL have something we can offer here.

P.S.  Our children in crisis do NOT need "helicopter parents."  (Really no child does, but it's easier to fall into it with an ill kid.) Keith and I were never the "helicopter parents" hovering over our children every second, intervening and preventing consequences, or believing our children could do no wrong and things were never their fault.  I'll tell ya', though when your kid tries really hard to die on you and then comes home in an extremely fragile state, which your other kid ends up in also because of all the trauma, IT IS HARD to not be a helicopter parent.  Resist.  It is not best for your child.  Your child needs your support, boundaries, and solid foundation, but they need to learn the coping skills to continue to function in the real world that will not always be on their side.  Success is not avoiding struggles or difficulties.  Success is facing hard things and obstacles, failing, getting up again, and continuing on.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What I Want You to Know

Trigger Warning:  Suicide, Mental Illness, Self-harm

I want you to know my children.  I want you to know how beautiful, talented, and amazing they are.  I want you to know that they have much to offer the world.  My daughter is artistic.  She plays the piano, viola, and some guitar and bass guitar--the last 2 self-taught.  I want you to know that she is empathetic and compassionate. I want you to know that my girl volunteers at our local animal shelter and would take every single animal home, if we let her.  I want you to know that my son is a talented athlete desired and recruited by various select teams.  I want you to know he chose to give up band, which he excelled at, because it conflicted with being able to work with the autistic and physically handicapped students at his school during his lunch period.  I want you to know that he volunteers time with Special Olympics and loves every minute of it.  I want you to know that my children are both intellectually gifted and do well in school.  My daughter is only 14.  My son is but 13.

I want you to know that my children are also the face of mental illness—the stories you never hear.  Their stories are the “norm” when it comes to young teenagers dealing with mental illness whose symptoms may begin around 9 or 10, or even earlier.  My children, between the two of them, face struggles with major depressive disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, self-harm, attention deficit disorder, and we have survived one very serious suicide attempt.  I want you to know that my children are valuable, loving, and productive, that they are worth all the effort and heart ache, and that they are not their disorders.

I want you to know that it is OK to talk about mental illness with us. Conversing about the topic with us communicates that you care and that we can be authentic, and we can just be exactly where we are. Keeping mental illness locked in the dark closet for so many years has lead and fed the stigma, fear and misinformation that surrounds this topic still in our society.  The media only reports on the rare, and often unsubstantiated, reports and assumptions made about mental illness every time a violent act is carried out against others.  The vast majority of individuals struggling through some form of a mental illness never display violent behavior and need not be feared. 1 in 4 individuals will struggle at some point in their lives with a mental illness, and most hold jobs, contribute to society, and raise families, just as my children will someday.

We want you to know that our children’s mental illness is not our fault.  We did not cause it.  We would all take it ourselves for them if we could.  We want you to know that our kids’ therapists, doctors, and our support group members remind us over and over that it is not our fault.  We want you to know that we need this repetition because we still blame ourselves, especially on the bad days.  Mental illness, and even suicide attempts, are never the result of 1 contributing factor.  The causes, biological factors, and histories, are always multifaceted and complex.  We want you to know that we do not ship our children to inpatient facilities or residential care facilities because we don’t love them or just don’t want to deal with them.  We do need breaks, respites, and alternative perspectives and objectivity.  We make decisions that insure every member of our family is safe, needs met, and all members are receiving the necessary support.

I also want you to know that parents who place their children on medication to address their mental illness often do so as a last resort.  While there are people who portray us as people just wanting a quick fix and looking for a magic pill, the truth is the majority of us have tried everything else before we agree to medication.  Most of the time our children are already in counseling, support groups, and have been through a battery of tests.  Depression, ADHD, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar, etc., are illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, or cancer.  As a society, we do not shame individuals with diabetes or high blood pressure for taking their medication.  We don’t tell a child with asthma that they are just using medication as a crutch, nor do we tell them they just need to decide to be well.  We don’t usually tell individuals with auto-immune diseases in our churches to get over it, they need to pray harder, or place the blame for a cancerous tumor directly on the sufferer.  There would be an outcry if we told parents that they were going to turn their child into a drug addict if they use their insulin, like we do when a child is taking a stimulant to help with focus in school.  And, yet, we have heard all of these things laid at our feet and on the backs of our children.  (On the contrary, individuals whose mental illness is not being addressed with the appropriate medication will medicate themselves with illegal drugs and alcohol.)  Mental illness is an illness that is not always curable, but it is treatable—and the earlier we start the better.  Multifaceted approaches are often the most successful in maintaining physical health, mental health, and emotional health.  Counseling, support groups, medications, exercise, good sleeping and eating habits are all necessary for our mentally ill children, just as they are for children with other chronic or serious illnesses.  The medications, strategies, therapy, and skills we agree to for our children are based in research and best practices.

I want you to know that in my parent support group, we often joke that mental illness is not a “casserole illness.”  If my child were diagnosed with a dreaded disease, friends, family and church members would arrive laden with food for our tables and freezers, send cards and flowers to encourage us, and would place us on all the prayer lists and organize help cleaning the house and running errands.  And what happens when one of our children is rushed by ambulance narrowly surviving a suicide attempt?  A few people might show up at the hospital as long as we’re still in ICU or the “normal” parts of the hospital.  I know families who sat all alone in an ER waiting room after a loved one died by suicide, no one coming to sit with them, and no one mentioning the manner of death or acknowledging their loss in public ever again after the funeral service.  What happens when one of our children comes home after weeks in an inpatient psychiatric facility?  We struggle to function on little to no sleep keeping one eye open all the time to make sure our child is not alone and is making safe choices and having healthy thoughts.  And we eat ice cream floats for dinner, because it's all we can manage to fix and keep down. While everyone thinks our life should be just about back to "normal."  

I want you to know that we are never the same after our child, or children, experience failing mental health and we survive episodes of self-harm, suicide attempts, and searches for the right medications with the fewest side effects. We struggle to keep up with therapy and psychiatry appointments, tracking mood changes and medication changes, and continually dealing with schools who do not know how to support or manage accommodations for the mental and emotional health of our child.    Who can make a decision about dinner after a day of dealing with all of this?  I have large notebooks detailing medical history, medications tried and discontinued, hospital and testing paperwork, feeling and safety plans, school meetings and 504 paperwork for the schools and keep everything together should we need another hospital stay—for either or both children.  Medications—over the counter and prescriptions—are kept under lock and key and we continually change that key’s hiding place.  I haven’t slept through the night in 3 years, because I wake up in a panic and have to check each child and make sure they’re still breathing.   We have to turn away from regular relationships with family members who won’t make the healthy choices with us or respect our boundaries, at the urging and with the support of our mental health team. We have to do verbal emotional check-ins with our children and process where they are and how to continually handle regular life situations better.  We are continually expecting our children to meet expectations in society and school, while empowering them with healthy strategies to do so at the same time.  We spend all of our resources trying to get to the best therapists, clinics, doctors, and medications—which are all very expensive—and most of whom don’t take insurance, because insurance won’t pay them enough. Mental health professionals, especially those for pediatric and adolescent patients are all in great demand since there are simply not enough going into the field. Our mental health systems are woefully inadequate to meet the needs of those who need them most.  Money is a huge factor in the quality of mental health care, and those with less resources get so much less help, training, and support.  And families suffer silently because of it.  We live in crisis mode for so long that we forget what is normal, age appropriate behavior.  We fear completely letting our guard down because we know how bad it can get and how quickly.  We don't ever want to miss another warning sign again.  And as far as getting back to "normal?"  There is no such thing as normal anymore.  We look at life in terms of stability and instability and react accordingly.

Want to know one of the worst things that happens to us and our children when one, or multiple children, receives a big, bad mental illness diagnosis?  Silence.  Avoidance.  Distance.  We know then that you are judging us and our parenting, that you are afraid of being around our children, and that we are too much trouble and too much risk for you to really get to know us or stay in relationship with us--when we are too empty to have anything to give back to you and can't carry our share of the load.  We experience family members raking us over the coals about our decisions.  We have experience friends telling us what all is wrong in our family when we are just trying to vent and just needed someone to listen.  We share in our support groups with tears and bitterness how we never hear from friends any more—even really good, long-term friends. We do notice when you never reply to emails or instant messages, you never text or call us anymore, and invitations to birthday parties, holiday functions and social events stop coming. We watch our children be treated differently in their youth group or by ministers.  We see you on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as you post pictures of gatherings with friends and parties—with all of the people who would have included us in the past, but no more.  People we miss.  People who we thought would never abandon us.

Parents of children, teens, and young adults struggling to get on top of a mental illness grieve.  We grieve a lot, and we grieve hard.  We grieve the loss of innocence.  We grieve the loss of a childhood.  We grieve the death of our dreams and expectations.  We grieve for the life we had before and that our lives will never be the same again.  And we grieve the loss of all of the people who no longer wish to continue in relationships with us.  We grieve the loss of sleep, peace, and trust.  We second guess, worry, and re-evaluate everything in our lives again and again.  We grieve because we can't fix, solve, or love away the problems our children face. We grieve for our healthier children who can become casualties as the child in crisis must receive attention 1st and may sometimes dictate life for the rest of the family.

I want you to know that we lay our lives and our hearts bare in all of our rawness with all of the professionals treating our children, and we do everything they recommend we do. We read books, blogs and websites. We attend workshops and training. We all receive counseling as individuals, as a family, and as a couple.  No stone left un-turned.  We will do anything for our children.

Now you, dear reader, have had a taste of our lives raising children with mental illness diagnoses.  What I want you to DO now that you have more awareness?  Educate yourselves.  Talk to your children about warning signs and help them develop an action plan so if they are experiencing any of the symptoms, or they see warning signs in a friend or family member, they know exactly who to call and what to do.  Call a friend who struggles with depression and encourage them to go grab a coke with you.  Hug a mom at church whose child is cutting themselves and ask her how you can pray for her.  Ask her what she needs and then follow through in trying to meet one need.  Drop off a meal or a restaurant gift card to a family who has a member hospitalized in an inpatient mental health facility.  Provide childcare so these parents can get a date night.  Say the words associated with mental health regularly, so that they do not remain societal taboos.  Say the name of an individual who lost the battle with the illness changing their brains by killing themselves.  Don’t let their names and memories be lost.  Don’t judge them or attribute their suicide to selfishness, which is never a factor in an attempted or completed suicide.  Don’t judge their parents.  If parents knew what to do and how to prevent a suicide attempt or completion, they would have done it many times over.  We are all doing the best we can with what we have.

And remember.  Please.  Individuals diagnosed with some form of mental illness are normal people experiencing a difficult time, who need an open mind, caring attitude, and helpful support.  Their parents need these things also as they shoulder the burden and responsibility of caring for a child often misunderstood by people, systems, and establishments in a life that no one would choose.