I am a wife, mother of three (Seth-17, Lena-15 and Eli-12), ordained pastor, follower and vessel (albeit sometimes a broken one) of Christ. One of my other titles is that of homeschooler to my daughter (never saw that one coming!). Iced coffee, reading, baking, exploring, friendship, and musical theater are some of my favorite things. I enjoy speaking to and empowering women as they navigate various seasons in life. I hold a special passion for encouraging families with a child struggling with a mental disorder or other unique challenge.
We have encountered something in the sphere of our earthly residence that is unprecedented. And knowing how to approach it feels confusing and frightening. In March, questions emerged: How long will this last? How do I protect myself and others?What does the future look like if I am unemployed? Who do I listen to?
Uncertainty remains. Despite the dip in COVID19 cases in some parts of the world, proceeding from a collective quarantine raises more questions: What does “normal” look like now?How do I adapt to this new territory? This place feels new for many of us. But the truth is that historically and globally, collective hardships (even pandemics) are nothing new. Some parts of the world experience them on a daily basis. In the midst of the uncertainty, how do we respond?
Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: Not that I have already obtained this (Philippians 3:10-11) or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14.
It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.” Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supercede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting..doesn’t come naturally. .Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while….or longer.
None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in his world. We just must expand our view.
We overcomplicate it. We forget that parenting doesn’t take tools, it takes relationship. We want our kids to behave so we read a book on “The Top Three Ways to Stop Your Child From…”. We look to counsellors and medications to “fix” our children.
The need to feel connected… and then counselling, medication, and books can add to the solution. You don’t start here, you start with connection.
When we were struggling to figure out what was happening with our son at the young age of 5, getting a diagnosis helped us understand what we were dealing with. Knowing he was struggling with clinical anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD gave us a framework to work with, but it couldn’t end there. Diagnosis only gives us a view “under the hood”, it doesn’t “fix the car”.
Anger was his way of saying, “HELP ME!” Opposition was his way of saying, “I feel out of control! Look at me!” The more we searched for outside help without giving him the relationship he needed but couldn’t ask for, the more the episodes of rage increased. It hit its peak at 8 years old when he became suicidal.
All those years of us trying to help him clinically only created a bigger problem inside. He was taken from us for three weeks to stay in the children’s hospital mental health unit. Even with our daily visits, his anxiety only increased with the separation.
The hospitalization was good for the doctors to observe him on meds. The medication helped our son become more reasonable to connect with. The problem was, I was expecting the time in the hospital and the meds to fix my son. I expected when he returned home that everything would become “normal”. But it wasn’t, his rages continued.
I remembered what one of the psychologists at the hospital had said to me after I mentioned I send him to his room when he throws fits of rage. She said, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.”
I started keeping my son close to me when he would rage. I made connecting with him the number one goal, not fixing his outward behaviour.
I started getting curious about what his anger was trying to communicate with me. I would sit in the room while he would rage, reassuring him that I was there to help no matter what. I would stick by him.
He belonged in our family. Over time as I consistently did this, I watched my son soften. I saw him go from dysregulated to peaceful. The more I made connecting with him my priority, the more regulation I saw.
Healing the brain, with human touch
The number one thing I have learned through my experience with my son along with 20 years of working in resilience and seeing other children go through similar is that we can’t expect clinical answers to solve a mental problem. Our brain heals differently than our body.
Our body responds to clinical answers: a cast for a broken leg, surgery to remove a tumour, antibiotics for a virus. Our brain is healed through human touch. It literally rewires as when we feel connected, secure, and loved. If we don’t start there, the brain lives in its basement: cold, dark, on edge, never trusting and ready to pounce when there’s a threat of attack.
What does being stripped away from your family for 3 weeks do to an already anxious child’s brain? How does it feel when mommy is always yelling at you to do better? How do you cope with all your big emotions when there’s no one strong and safe enough to hold them for you? What does a counsellor’s office look like when all you feel is there’s something “wrong with you”? How do you feel about taking meds when you feel those around you are only trying to control your behaviour?
But how does all of this look when you know you belong? When you know your family is a safe haven? I’m not stating hospitalization, counselling, and meds are wrong. I’m stating it’s not where we start.
As we connect with our children we build trust and safety. From there we do what is needed whether that be medication or counselling. And when trust is built with our children, they are more open to receiving help because the relationship has opened the neuropathways to receive help.
Parenting starts with relationship. Connection is always the first step before “fixing” behaviour.
Connie Jakab is the owner of The Jakab Co and the Senior Manager of Wellness Innovate – two companies that are all about changing home and work environments for mental health. She is also the author of Bring Them Closer and two other books. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status quo living and encouraging others to branch out. She is also the Director of National Hope Talks and the Hope Movement combatting mental health in Canada. She is a sought out speaker for her raw honestly and humour. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada.
“That’s not how we normally do it.” As a substitute teacher, I am often confronted with that phrase as I begin a task in the classroom. The teens, seem to roll with the change. The younger kids? Not so much. They thrive on routine as a framework of security.
All of us, to some extent, need regular rhythms to inform our days. They remind us of purposes outside ourselves. My kids don’t always want to take the garbage can to the curb every Monday night but they do it because it shapes their purpose in our family and contributes to the helpful rhythms and functions of a community.
However, sometimes, the routine changes. If a holiday falls on a Monday, garbage day moves from Tuesday to Wednesday. It means we adjust by writing it down and changing our routine. We recognize that the extra day benefits the garbage collectors so their work week doesn’t start until Tuesday. And we learn that flexibility is an important learned skill.
Currently, everyone around the world is grappling with flexibility. The perceived “normal” structure which frames our lives is changing. Truthfully, without a pandemic, it can happen at anytime. Nothing is guaranteed. And if we reflect on our lives, we recognize that we have encountered numerous seasons of “normal” that all look different from each other. And without realizing it, we adapted. Even when those “normal” places felt exhausting, inconvenient, and confusing. We did it because Jesus breathes life into us through all times and all places.
This “new normal” may look different for us as individuals, communities, and nations. But rather than clinging to the familiar frameworks as idols, let us instead cling to God’s mercies as we learn to adapt again. We have been there before. And so has God.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9
“Are we doing ourselves a disservice when we raise our kids in a “church bubble?,” asks Traci Rhoades in her new book All Who Wander (spiritually) are Not Lost. She throws out an interesting question. Certainly, we don’t want our children to become “church consumers” where multiple congregations repeatedly become one stop shops to meet spiritual cravings. On the other hand, what do our children miss when they do not experience the diverse traditions that make up the the Church (with a big C)?
Learning About the Church
As I read her book, I realized the ways my own encounters with multiple churches have shaped me. As a child, my family found roots in a Methodist church about 20 minutes from my home. Mostly our rhythms consisted of Sunday trips for Sunday School and worship but occasionally we attended other events. Initially, this building and it’s members were the only images I had of the Church. To me, church involved developing relationships with people who had a common goal in a confined setting.
Expanding my Narrative
The location of our church extended beyond our neighborhood. I saw no one from school there or anyone in my periphery. Several of my friends got out of school early once a week for catechism class at the local Catholic church. I felt a bit jealous that a) they got to leave school early and b) they got to be together at school and church. For me, church was a once a week destination.
But then my eyes opened up to a bigger picture. Friends invited me to a vacation bible school program at a local congregation. The language was familiar and I learned that walls do not define a church. They too spoke of God’s love and shared the same Bible stories I knew.
The Importance of Organic Connections
This new church building became a familiar place not only to attend VBS but also the location of my girl scout meetings. Though these encounters never resulted in my family changing congregations, they shaped my faith journey in ways I didn’t realize at the time.
Despite the brief “back door” interactions with this church, I experienced repetitive interactions with Pastor Andy. He was friendly, funny, and seemed well liked. I even remember him preaching one time (probably at a VBS centered Sunday service) and he talked about Bozo the clown. My understanding of God, the body of Christ, and its mission expanded through these seemingly small interactions. In addition, I felt comfortable engaging in more church settings outside my own. Church represented a safe space where I felt welcomed and where I could explore the vast and diverse Kingdom of God.
Identifying the End Goal
Often, congregations lurch toward the big gains of inviting people into their midst. How many people will be added to our number? What will be the financial benefits? When programs and building usage do not result in seeing the participants return for regular involvement, the church is discouraged. Shouldn’t fruit appear from the investment?
It depends on what kind of fruit is being sought. My experience as a child, disciple, parent and pastor informs me that any interaction with the church acts as an introduction/touch point through which Jesus is made known. Even opportunities to use space for community events. Those who cross the path may or may not result in settling at “our” church but that’s not the end goal. We as the Church are in this together.
Traci Rhoades’ question points to the need to be mindful of a bigger narrative of Christ’s church than one with which we are familiar. Her own journey through multiple traditions witnesses to the beautiful ways we can connect with God and others when we step outside of comfort zones. When I do pulpit supply, I find blessing in experiencing the breadth of the church. My children come along as well because my husband and I want to expose them to this beauty.
As we learn to embrace these differences rather than responding with fear, labels and avoidance, others will see God’s love tangibly. “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25.
Beauty radiates from this basket. And I’m not just referring to the goodies.
My nineteen year old daughter bought these gifts for me. With her own money. I told her that dad could have paid for them when they went shopping. But she resisted, stating that she specifically wanted them to be from her.
Her choice of items here represents her intimate knowledge of my likes. She knows from a lifetime of shopping trips together that I have occasionally dropped a bag of iced animal crackers into the cart. I have negotiated with her about sharing the peanut butter snickers from her Halloween bag. And, together, we have taken advantage of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Happy Hour more times than I can count. Plus we have enough syrups at home that we could open our own coffee shop.
Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. We try the best we can but inevitably words said in anger and postures of withdrawal rather than embracing wound. And guilt ensues. Questions fester. Why did I say that? How did I get to this place? The temptation is to let those moments define us and our relationship with our children. But God’s mercies abound.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
So we forge forward, securing our feet in God’s promises. Today, I am thankful for the grace offered to me through my daughter’s gift. Sometimes a healing balm looks like peanut butter snickers,a coffee cup, and iced animal crackers.
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 1:3-8)
Originating in the Garden of Eden, humanity has sought control over life this side of Heaven. Seemingly, tasting the full knowledge of good and evil promised security. But we are the created. Not the Creator. Thankfully.
Left to our own devices, our vision of “good” is skewed.
The passage from Ecclesiastes reminds us that God’s goodness may not resemble our expectations. Living in undefined territory feels uncomfortable How can something seen as “good” paradoxically become “not good” in a different context? Messy boundaries demand surrender to a greater understanding of creation. How about the Creator? (My ways are higher than your ways).
Currently, we struggle with “a time to refrain from embracing.” Knowing that scientific evidence points to the life-giving properties of touch and the sacred nature of our relationships with one another, refraining from touch seems to run contrary to God’s design.
But what about those paradoxes?
Perhaps, we can reframe them as purposes rather than paradoxes. Scripture attests to times when touch was life giving and when it was not. When it was life giving to weep and when it was better to laugh. When we hold onto one action for the sake of security, it becomes an idol. Letting go and embracing it’s alternative, allows us to trust that God is by our side in the midst of it all.
May we continue to seek the Holy Spirit as we navigate the messy parts of life. Knowing that what may seem purposeful for a neighbor may not be for us. As we do that, we recognize that God really does have the whole world in his hands.
They are everywhere. As I attempt to navigate my days around them, I wonder what I might be missing. Voice bytes of those who have descended down their openings beckon me to investigate them too.
However, delving in leads to following tunnels that may lead to nowhere. The hole morphs into a corn maze. And before I know it, I have become distracted. Large amounts of time were consumed with nothing life giving in return.
Tish Harrison Warrens’s words in her book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, whisper, “How you spend your moments is of course how you spend your days.”
I pray for wisdom and discipline to keep my eyes focused on what’s worthy of investigation. When to recognize that I have let the quest for information become my idol. I need to focus my gaze up at Jesus rather than down into empty holes.
Changing my rhythms allows me to prioritize and discern my movements. Where are my steps leading?
A. http://bipolarchild.com/ B. http://stephaniejthompson.com/home/help-that-wasnt-in-the-book/ C. http://www.tiltparenting.com/ D. https://www.drmanipavuluri.com/ E. https://childmind.org/ F. https://www.thekennedyforum.org/ G. https://www.nami.org/ H. https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/special-needs I. www.keyministry.com J. https://www.adhdchildhood.com/
A. The Bipolar Child, Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos B. What Works For Bipolar Kids: Help and Hope For Parents, Dr. Mani Pavuluri C Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, Amy Simpson D Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry, Amy Simpson E. No More Fear for Kids: A Family Devotional Jo Hannah Reardon F. The Dark Side of Innocence Terri Cheney
G. Bring Them Closer Connie Jakab
A.The stigma of raising a mentally ill child (youtube-”60 minutes”) B. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/18/you-know-that- mom-who-isnt-joining-in-the-proud-of-my-kid-conversation-yeah-ask-how-shes-doing/ C. http://mudroomblog.com/people-think-kids-apples/
D. http://www.embracingtheunexpected.com/did-god-choose-the-wrong-mom/ E. https://annvoskamp.com/2016/09/when-youre-living-a-life-you-didnt-choose/ F. https://themighty.com/2018/10/phrases-to-calm-an-angry-child/ G. https://themighty.com/2016/03/how-a-parent-can-calm-their-anxious-child/ H. https://singingthroughtherain.net/2015/10/groups-for-special-needs-families.html I.. https://thewildword.com/normal-parents-should-know/
Perspective matters. And sometimes we forget that there is more than one.
In an age of virtual non-stop, often one-way communication, the competition to win disagreements is fierce. Unfortunately, the temptation to participate in group think social clusters makes hearing other points of view limited. The trade off of comfort for knowledge results is damaging. We decrease our understanding of God’s character and weaken our connections to one another. There is beauty in diversity.
Author Michael Kimpan shares his observations on the ways he sees Christians communicating with others who think differently than us. He calls these people the “others”. He writes, “We struggle to “put skin” on the words and message of Christ with anyone who thinks differently than us. Too often, we demand conformity prior to connection. When we approach one another as brothers and sisters—image bearers of the God we claim to serve—and celebrate what we have in common, we better position ourselves to participate in helpful dialogue in the midst of disagreement. ” https://relevantmagazine.com/current16/being-holy-age-being-right/
We naturally begin discussions out of our own narratives. It’s what we know. But what if we come to conversations in a posture of listening for the unknown? How would that action not only expand our view of our world but our own identity?
Listening does not require agreement. But it does require submission to pride, presumptions, time. We may walk away with unchanged minds but we also may recognize that we only saw part of a picture.
The photo up above? What’s your first guess? It’s actually an image of snow covered pine trees captured from above. But if your view of pine trees is usually ground level and in warmer temperatures, pine trees may look differently. Both images are accurate. Yet, awareness of landscapes outside of yours is necessary to see both.
We live in a vast world, with different landscapes, cultures, and experiences. May we open ourselves up rather than shutting others out. There’s much to learn if we change perspectives.
As I scan across the byte-sized headlines filling my social media accounts, an increasingly common phrase beckons my attention. “Mental Health” is finally gaining a common place in our cultural vernacular. In the midst of strong opinions regarding the current ills of the American narrative, “Mental Health” becomes a tossed-around phrase connected to resolutions. But, as I begin to read the articles, tweets, or memes, I pause in frustration. The voice in my head screams, “Does anyone really understand the implications of those two words?” I do. Our family has encountered them.
On the one hand, I am glad that mental health is finally gaining recognition as a viable element of wholeness. On the other hand, the use of the phrase often becomes a quick way of fixing a problem. Living in uncertainty leaves us restless. If a solution to the horrifying events in our news feeds can be identified then maybe the crisis won’t hit home. It’s even easier if the solution is left to others to implement. But I know first hand that it takes a village to bring about changes that transform the lives of our neighbors. Read more here: https://redbudwritersguild.com/sacred-connections-amidst-mental-health/