Maybe you remember the moment of your epiphany. That instant when you realized the severe mental illness your loved one suffers with can’t be “fixed”not by you, not by medication, not by therapy. It’s that time you understood mental illness isn’t like other illnesses that can be cured, but more like diabetes that can be managed and mitigated, but not usually healed. And, if not carefully addressed, it can also be fatal. 

It is also the moment you may have had to accept an additional relationship with your loved one. Before, you were a parent, or spouse, or partner, or child, or friend. Now you may also be a caregiver

There is both a dread and a helplessness that comes with those insights. And if we’re not careful, we can become overwhelmed with the burden and fear. However, over time, we can begin to settle into being a caregiver, learning what we can, understanding the limits of what we are able (and not able) to do and making peace with what all this means for our loved one and for us.

We can begin to know that though we have the role of caregiver, it is not our identity any more than mental illness is who our loved ones are. With that insight we are able to develop healthy boundaries. We can find a new “normal” even amid the chaos and uncertainty of their behaviors. 

Perhaps, though, the most important thing we can garner through our epiphany is the need to know, trust and depend on God in ways that we’ve never experienced before. We can learn to dive deeply into His arms. He can show us how to embrace His bigness, His power, His immeasurable love. He can teach us to watch diligently for Him to act. Our needs for direction, for hope and for endurance become His gentle call to trust Himthe one with the power to sustain the weary and direct the lost.

The Scriptures need to become our lifeline that reminds and reassures us of God’s character and promises. There we find instruction, hope and peace. Consider these few passages:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

“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)

When my epiphany came, I rediscovered the prayer most often used by Alcoholics Anonymous; but it applies to all of us. We may be familiar with the first part, but let me highlight some lines in the second part that have also been meaningful to me: 

“God, grant me the serenity  to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

“Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen.”    (by Reinhold Niebuhr)

May your initial epiphany—and others along the way—drive you into the strong, protective and gracious arms of God, who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”  (Ephesians 3:20).

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Watching over, caring for, supporting a loved one with mental health challenges has forced me to learn many new things I never thought I’d need to know—things like how to apply for SSI, how to get a mental health warrant, how to research psychotropic medications and how to recognize and mitigate “triggers.” It has also helped me to learn to pray differently, trust God in deeper ways, be more empathetic with others and, most surprising of all, how to wait.

Continue reading

Never a Prodigal

When Douglas took off after high school to attempt life as an adult, he carried with him  his “fortune”: savings bonds from grandpa, a car given by a friend, graduation monies and a promise of rent payment from us. Within months it was all gone. Squandered. Like the Prodigal Son, he had taken all the things that could have given him a successful launch and used them on “riotous living.” It’s no wonder that in those early days I often turned to the parable in Luke 15:11-32.

But that was before. Before a diagnosis. Before understanding of mental illness. Before the discernment to distinguish misdirected brain chemistry from willful foolish behavior.  Continue reading

Opposite of Fear

Some of you may have noticed that I have not posted a new blog in many months. This is because I have had some health issues that needed my full attention for a time. I’m happy to say that I am fully on the mend, and so am able to pick back up with sharing with you. As a reminder, these blogs form a collection of my reflections from the Scriptures related to caring for loved ones who live with mental illness.

Wouldn’t you know it! As if caring for our loved ones doesn’t stir up enough fear on its own, here comes COVID-19, isolation, job losses, economic uncertainty, political chaos and civil unrest. So, in addition to worrying about our loved ones’ medication compliance, suicidal ideations or agitated outbursts we also fear what kind of a future is ahead of us.

How do we get on top of such anxiety? Continue reading

God With Us

I have five grandchildren. Three live about 30 minutes away while the other two live with their parents in the apartment on the far side of my kitchen.

Other friends have grands who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away. To develop close relationships with their little ones, they have established very specific and deliberate ways of staying in touch, like regular Skype calls or recording readings of favorite children’s books. Those strategies are somewhat effective, but all ache for hugs and lap time.  Continue reading

Great AND Good

Sometimes it seems there is just little to be thankful for. When our loved ones living with mental health difficulties are going through a rough episode, when a change in treatment has caused an upheaval, when we run out of ideas on where to find help next, it’s often impossible to be grateful.

That’s when we turn our attention from our circumstances and look at our God who is great and our God who is good.  Continue reading

Pray First

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been lost in situations where we were totally helpless, completely hopeless and utterly terrified. It might have been in the midst of a loved one’s mental health crisis. Or we may have been navigating a devastating financial loss. Perhaps it was in the midst of a heart-wrenching relationship struggle. No matter the circumstances, we have found ourselves desperate and desolate and thinking, “I guess all we can do is pray.” Continue reading