Families with a child affected by a mental/neurological disorder often live a chaotic and stress filled existence. Often, the struggle is invisible to the public. Unknown to even neighbors, a series of chronic storms erupt inside the home. Furthermore, stigmas make seeking support challenging. Parents struggle to give time to all of their children as well as their marriage Siblings may resent the extra attention to the affected child. It is all too easy for fracture to take place and the results to each member can have short and long term consequences.
You want to help but how do you do it? Here is a list of suggestions that can get you started.
Food: It connects us. But good news-you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to share it. How about ordering a pizza? One of the best dinners shared with us was ham and cheese sliders that we could warm up and grab quickly on our way to the hospital. Truthfully, anything that offers a quick bit of nutrition and satisfies, feeds the stomach and the soul. Always make sure you are aware of any food restrictions (especially true if the child has a sensory issue.)
Gift cards. Medical bills quickly consume a budget. Sure, there are payment plans but when you have at least a few going, there is not much left for any extras. In addition, schedules can become packed with doctors appointments and unexpected health related crises. Furthermore, siblings often feel left behind as time and money are consumed quickly. Special family outings often disappear. Gift cards for a movie theater, McDonalds, and other “extras” are an appreciated treat. Gas cards are also beneficial.
Offer to take siblings for a few hours. Respite is necessary for all family members. Routines often become interrupted, noise levels escalate, conflict can be frequent. These factors contribute to a stressful environments. Can you offer your home as a quiet place of refuge? Renting a movie, supplying snacks, sharing skills, or even letting kids play on their electronic devices or read in a peaceful place is a gift. If you are more adventurous, try a park, ice skating or the beach.
Care for the affected child: This suggestion requires a familiarity with the child and their needs. Sometimes a new environment can be helpful. Other times, it may create further anxiety. If you can provide this option, it sends an affirming message to the child that they are capable of being loved on by those outside their family. To the parents, it sends an empathetic message.
Put together a gift basket: Parents naturally tend to invest their time, energy, and resources toward the health of their child. As a result, they are left “empty.” This affects their own emotional and physical well-being. It also leads to strained marriages. How about a gift basket filled with bubble bath, hand lotion, special treats, rental movie gift card, coffee shop gift card, teas, bottle of wine? Put on your creative hat and see what happens!
Share resources. Let’s face it, receiving money from others can be awkward. Yet, it may be the very thing that would help alleviate stress. Could you ask to pay a bill? Could you pay for a sitter? There are creative ways to share financially while not taking away dignity or creating an uncomfortable situation.
When a child fights a physical illness, it often leads to a rally of support. The visible symptoms communicate the urgency of support to others. Unfortunately, mental illness, addiction, neurological disorders do not always present in a way that draws attention. The family struggles silently. When we are aware of others’ needs, we become better advocates and neighbors. And we are transformed in the process.
As I watched my youngest graduate from Junior High School, my heart was torn. It was not for the reasons you might assume. While I felt joy in the celebration of these kids (many of whom I have known since preschool), I wrestled with the sadness coming from witnessing behaviors minutes before which have become the norm rather than the exception. And not from the kids.
My husband, my older son, my daughter and I came together to celebrate with my son. I realize that this was Jr. High graduation and some areas of the country do not even consider that event worthy of a ceremony (I didn’t experience it and don’t feel I’m less the person for it.) However, last night was about celebrating a milestone in a child’s life. As with most milestones, families play an integral part in the support given to reach it and desire to celebrate it together.
Finding four seats together became a daunting task. Although everyone needed a ticket, not everyone’s “party” arrived together. I understand the desire to include extended ticketed family with your group. However, when saved seats have morphed into rows, we need to ask ourselves what’s really at play here.
We found seats: I sat alone, my husband and daughter sat several rows back and my son sat in the back row by himself. Meanwhile, the two “saved” seats in back of me never filled.
As I sat alone, I mourned. First, for the immediate grief of not sitting together with my family. We’ve been through a lot these past few years. My son has encountered the typical Jr. High social challenges, confronted the academic rigors that come with maturity, and dealt with many difficult situations experienced by our whole family. In many ways, we’ve been stretched to our limits for a decade. Last night, it would have been nice to be woven together in our celebration.
I also mourned the small rips into humanity I witnessed earlier in the day in my own community. Two different adults looked at me and continued to cut me off in a parking lot. “Just because you can does not mean you should” has become a well known mantra in our home. My kids have learned that this world is not “all about them.” Sometimes, we sacrifice for the sake of someone else. It may involve a big act-maybe even their life. Yet, many times, the humility involves the routine moments of asking what can be done to make life better for someone else. When we cannot even give up an extra minute, who have we become?
How easy it is to explain away those behaviors. We are all stressed. Some days, we wonder how the lists for our days will be accomplished within the 24 hours we are given. Our minds are constantly multitasking; hoping that fulfillment will be found in reaching our expectations. Whatever the cost. But maybe, we need to evaluate what it is we expect: out of our days and out of our lives. Who informs your identity? How does that influence your daily expectations?
Two years ago, I lamented the division in our nation through my post. http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/11/14/the-hard-work-of-being-neighbors/ Since then, has anything really changed? The trespasses against our neighbors continue-some with loud fanfare; others in a more quiet “sin of omission” manner.
Everyday we have an opportunity to shine a collective light in the moments we have with others.
treating waitstaff (despite your frustration)
responding to the annoying neighbor kid (who ironically is perceived as a “trespasser”)
listening to a person who holds a different political view (without unfriending them or tuning them out)
tempted to financially gain from someone else’s loss (just because you can, does it mean you should?)
driving or standing in line (Is your time really more important than someone else’s)
Our natural selves will find it difficult but our transformed selves can embrace the hard. Did we not invite Jesus in to do just that?
Paul exhorts us in this way: “…Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8)
I know we can do better. Jesus made it so.
On November 9,the day after the Presidential election I woke up to a raw reality.
A tidal wave of voices-loud, vulnerable, celebratory, discouraged, respectful, disrespectful, urban, rural, old, young, male, female-washed over our shared land of Earthly citizenship. The feelings of divisiveness that had been bubbling below the surface for so long exploded. Americans of every political perspective spoke: some through words, others through actions. And running through it all was a question that lurked in the hearts of all: Does my narrative matter-to anyone?
The Pharisees challenged Jesus with this question: What is the Greatest Commandment?
Jesus gave an unexpected answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Pharisees themselves didn’t fully grasp the implications of their own question.
We don’t often grasp them either.
How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t see your neighbor as yourself?
You see, for the past year, opinions, pleas, conversations have flooded social media, workplaces, social gatherings. There are lots of voices and not all of them are audible. But does anyone really listen?
It’s much easier to reduce people to labels and perceptions that keep people at a distance.
Listening takes work. Especially when passions are at play.Many times, our passions are viewed in the context of our narratives. The problem is that our narratives are not complete. We are still living them. There are more experiences that will shape us, new information that will challenge us and people that we need to encounter-that will further expand our perceptions of what it means to be Americans; as well as fellow Creations of our God.
Investing in others’ lives takes work. Lauren Winner writes about the spiritual practice of hospitality in her book Mudhouse Sabbath. She writes, “God’s creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God’s Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes further than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives.”
Further,Winner suggests that the invitation happen in the context of our messiness; not when we think we have our “home” orderly, That, my friends, requires vulnerability. Letting go of the walls of our cause and standing in the same space. Acknowledging that at our core-we our both humans-created in the Image of God. We come bearing our imperfections and our common longings for validation.
It’s easy to love neighbors like ourselves. When we feel misunderstood, we tend to look for comfort in those who share our views. We long for someone to listen and validate our pain and hopefully our identity as we see it. But when we engage in those interactions, we must be aware that there is a bigger narrative at work. One that involves the stories of people different than us.
To love neighbors as ourselves, demands movement into places of discomfort, vulnerability, and risk. Because that is what we long for from others.
The show “Breaking Borders” (Travel Channel) brilliantly challenges us to come to the table-a symbol of community-and know your neighbor. Really. By Listening, Restraining the temptation to exert control with words. Hearing each other’s stories. Asking questions. Understanding that perspective is shaped by our personal stories.
Who would have thought that Israelite settlers and Palestinians living in the West Bank could engage in civil conversation on the politics of homeland? But it happened. Despite disagreements. Sharing stories and breaking bread together remove walls. We recognize that most of “those” people are really like us.
Loving our neighbor can only come about through recognizing that Jesus makes it happen. Even if our neighbors don’t know him. He’s the root of our love.
God ordained love. The kind that transforms the way we see each other through our Earthly lens. Love that is born out of the Holiness of God’s character. Sacrificial love as described in 1 John 4:7-9.
Navigating through these tumultuous waters is not easy, friends. Can we covenant to doing the hard work together? To venture into those sacred spaces as we are led? And to be willing to be transformed in the process?
What does the Church look like?
I’m not talking about architecture. What does it look like? In my last blog I pondered what it takes for people who don’t follow Christ to begin to take notice of the Church. I believe that the Old Testament gives us a “pre-christian” understanding of community. There is a realization that one’s actions benefit or hurt another.
Everyone’s intention is to live in a way that the whole community is built up.
The New Testament paints a broader picture because not only do we see ourselves as part of a community but it’s one that is made up of imperfect/diverse people with the common goal of following Christ and living in the constant grace that is woven through the fabric of their life together. Acts 2:42: All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer.
In 2016, communities of Christians living together do exist. I know first hand of one and, just like any group of believers, they have their places of strength and areas of struggle. The book of Acts is not requiring that all Christians must live together everyday. The point is that they share life together: a life guided by Jesus who infuses us with a desire to live in a way that may run counter cultural.
Verse 47 adds, ” 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. More and more people were added. hmmm.
Was it due to a high end audio system?
A hip pastoral staff?
Perhaps, it was watching a group of very different people(different ages, varied abilities, clashing personalities) come together to intentionally become Jesus’ Body on Earth. Not an easy task at all. Even the disciples had arguments.
Not easy, but possible.
Not easy, but transformational. In fact, despite the early persecutions and deaths, Christianity spread rapidly in the early years.
Here are just three contemporary examples of what happens when the Church IS the Church.
Ravenswood Covenant Church on Chicago’s northside began a ministry to High school mothers. They began a partnership with a local high school where the church provides resources (daycare to their children, education on various topics and mentoring) to support them. At a vulnerable time in their lives, these young women receive the help of Jesus’ hands and feet without judgement or condition. I’m sure setting this program up involved many logistics, some concerns (“what about insurance liabilities?” “we’re helping a teen who got pregnant?” ),…..But they did it because Jesus is living in them.
Christ the Servant Church in Olathe, Kansas partnered with a local prison ministry. The congregation desires to offer “unsuspecting acceptance.” to criminal offenders and their families. Each month, the Sunday worship service is led by a group of former prisoners who travel to different churches to use share their gifts with the greater church community. Afterwards, the congregation and worship team share in a meal together. A man who attends the church originally came because he supervised some of the offenders. Following his visit he told the pastor he would be “willing to attend a church that would welcome ‘men like this'” .(www.covchurch.org/news/2013/6/03). He later became a follower of Christ as did his family.
The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park (http://thebridgeteencenter.org), Illinois offers a safe space for teens to explore their identity as well as build relationships with others. My kids love it! Programs are divided into different “buckets” which expand both heart and mind: Community Connections, Mind/Body, Expressive arts, Educational Support. Best of all: the programs are all FREE! And if that wasn’t enough, bus transportation is provided to pick students up at their school and bring them to the Bridge. Walking into this place, you feel validated in every sense: the decorations and furniture themselves shout “You are worth it!” No 70’s couch and mismatched rugs here. Chic, comforting, functional for the teens who find refuge here. Want to know what it’s like to be a teacher? meet one and ask questions. Interested in honing culinary skills? cook with a local chef in the commercial grade kitchen. Need to chill after a bad day? Nap in the padded quiet zone nooks Having problems with family? vent to a trained adult leader. Although it is not promoted as a Christian venue, the center was founded by a former youth pastor-Priscilla Steinmetz. Biblical principles form the foundation and drive its mission. She and 200 volunteers work to engage the community in every possible angle to ensure that lives can be transformed here. Change lives, impact an entire community.
47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
So…..what would happen if these examples were commonplace in the Church? What are the implications for our nation; in particular? What kind of transformation would take place? How would that impact the debates about government based programs to the vulnerable? How would the Church be redefined?
When have you witnessed “The Church Being the Church?”
My heart sank.
For him. For Matt. And for me.
You see, my youngest, is in middle school. It’s a season of so many changes: adjusting to six teachers from one, expectations from school that you are now a “big” kid and must take on more responsibilities. Yet, for many, their bodies look no different than they did when they were considered “little kids” two years ago. Furthermore, social circles are in flux. Figuring out who is really by your side becomes a challenge.
My son is described by many to be kind, funny, smart. He is respectful to all but chooses friends carefully. He’s not a group friend kind of guy. He prefers a few close buddies with whom he can trust his innermost thoughts and feel comfortable being his “out of the box” self. So when he shared with me, on that day before Spring Break, that he thought it odd that Matt wasn’t at school and had turned in his science book the day before, we both faced the reality that Matt was moving. And thoughts began trickling into each of our brains and sadness crept into our hearts.
I didn’t know Matt as well as my son did, but what I did know I liked. He shared a child-like innocence in a world where kids are pressured to grow up too fast. Although they didn’t spend much time together outside school, they were part of the rhythm of each other’s day.
It’s what makes getting through those mundane moments tolerable. It’s what gives you reason to go to school or work when you wake up tired and don’t really want to forge through the day.
I grieve not only for my son, but for Matt as well. I know that this move is not the first one. He met my son when he moved here five years ago. His life involves frequent adjustment-new home, new friends, visits between his custodial parent and non-custodial parent.
I grieve because I had hoped to invite he and his mom further into our lives. And it didn’t happen soon enough.
What will happen to him now? Will he befriend kids who will challenge him to be his best self?
The experience echoes similar situations our family has experienced along the way. Several other kids who have graced our lives for a bit and then moved on. I’m not gonna lie-often these are the same kids who can push my (and my kids) buttons. My own kids do that sometimes. But often times, the brokenness in these kids that draws me to them can manifest in ways that can make relationships hard: acting out, lack of social boundaries, different value systems. Yet, somehow in the midst of those tensions, there is a yearning to let God’s deep love seep out of me. They must be reminded of their have value and purpose. Always.
Fortunately, some of those kids have crossed our paths again. Technology, can be a gift in that way. But others, have gone off the radar. I can only hope in the one who knows them far more than I.
“See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.” Isaiah 49:16
I know that my prayers for God’s intervention in their lives are not left unheard.
And that is what we do now. Knowing that my long distance desires for Matt’s well-being are heard by our God who is near him. Believing that there are others who will now walk alongside him.
But it doesn’t make me or my son miss him less.
My son has texted a couple times with Matt and of, course, my heart’s desire is that it continues. But, that’s not a given. For now, we relish the moments we had to walk life together with him and hand him over to the One who even knows the number of hairs on his head. But his name will never leave my head….or my heart.
How do those “compassions” manifest themselves to us? In my last post, I wrote about God providing an endless supply of compassions.
His compassion is never limited.
23 It is new every morning.
His faithfulness is great.”
God’s compassions extend to us in many forms
In May, Scott, Seth and I traveled to Mayo Clinic. This four day trip revealed not only medical answers but a reminder that God’s mercies are “new” every morning. I always read that verse as meaning that there is an unending supply of God’s mercies. While that is true, another truth emerges to me: God’s compassions are revealed in a multitude of forms. New forms. Forms that I didn’t expect.
In this case-mercy was granted to our family through the body of Christ. Prayers, meals, groceries, listening ears, financial support, and care for Lena and Eli during our week in Minnesota.The burden to seek out Mayo Clinic was simply a thought in October.
When answers seemed to elude us, taking him to Mayo surfaced in my mind. However, lurking in my mind were the practical questions: How would we afford it? Our medical debt was piling up by the week. Who would watch our other two kids? For a whole week? What about…….? Yet, as it turned out, the finances came together and a group of amazing friends-some who didn’t know each other- merged into a second family for Lena and Eli. I still marvel at how God’s compassions came to us in that week.
In April, Scott’s beloved grandmother passed away from a brief battle with cancer. She was 97 years old. Yet, we were stunned. I know that sounds surprising but……Granny lived independently, she drove, birthday and holiday meals were still made with love by her. And…..she still drove weekly to deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly. In fact, she was nominated by Meals on Wheels as national volunteer of the year in 2012! Everyone who knew her, experienced a taste of Heaven. Providing meals, celebrating birthdays, sacrificing time, sharing her home with family and friends of family in need of refuge, and living in such a way as to provide financially for her family after her death- God’s compassions extended through her.
As I found out at her funeral, her desire to show God’s mercy to others came from the examples of her own parents. One story, in particular, struck me. As a child, growing up in Delaware, she lived next door to a small boy born with Downs Syndrome. As we all know, people have difficulty accepting those that are different. Combine that truth with a lesser knowledge of how to care for children born with anamolies and the result usually involved sending the child “away” from society.
However, Granny’s parents consciously communicated to her that all of us were created by God and share in His likeness. Therefore, it was expected that she would treat this boy with the same respect as any other human being. The same was expected in regards to race. For individuals considered outcasts in society, Granny’s kindness toward them was countercultural. God’s compassions were extended to others through her life.
In a poignant letter written by her son-in-law, he summed it up well: “she always greeted us with hugs and kisses, done with an enthusiasm which left no doubt we were home….and loved…. She made love real.” Her ability to extend God’s compassions to others overflowed out of the supply of compassions God had extended to her.
How do you make love real to others? How do the compassions of God physically work their way out of your supply and into the lives of those who you encounter?