Monday, April 13, 2015

A Mile in Moccasins

Recently, something came across my Facebook feed that concerned me.  Let’s be honest, things often come across my Facebook feed that concern me.  But this one is one that I feel compelled to respond to and to share my heart concerning the topic.  I have chewed on it for at least a week and it keeps returning to my mind.  So much so, that it is 6:10AM on our first day in a vacation rental and I have been awake for 45 minutes thinking on it.  Honestly, I want to sleep in tomorrow, so I am going to take time to do a bit of mind and soul dump.

What was this Facebook trigger?  It was a video urging folks to stop the psychiatric labeling of children.   I understand their concern and a few years ago, I would likely have nodded my head in affirmation of the message.  That is not true for me anymore.

For a good bit of my life, I have been a bystander to “psychiatric labels.”  I lived with a mom who loved me very much and desperately wanted to be the best mom she could be for me.  Unfortunately, she had suffered horrible abuses in her young years and she had a lot of “baggage.”  By the time my middle school years rolled around, we were living a very rocky existence in our home.  There were many times when I functioned more as a parent than a child during those years.  I am so very thankful that my mom was brave enough to get help.  I am grateful that she laid down her pride, refused to put on her happy face and pretend that everything was fine, and found the care she needed.  I am thankful for the medications that allowed my mother to get out of the bed every day and face the demons that haunted her.  I am thankful for the hours she spent with counselors unpacking her “stuff.”  I don’t pretend to be an expert on depression and anxiety, only a sideline spectator.  But I can tell you that for my mother, getting a “label” and finding the help she needed made an enormous difference in the quality of the relationship that she and I were able to have during the last 20 years of her life.  It made a difference on how she was able to invest each day that the Lord gave her.

I remember one day, on one of several occasions when my mom was in the hospital for a time of counseling and medication adjustments, I was visiting a friend.  This friend’s mom, with the very best intentions, said to me that she wished my mom had enough faith to see that God could heal her from this depression.  She wished my mom could just claim this healing.  Even in my young self, my antennas went up and I made it very clear to that kind woman that my mama was not sick because she didn’t have enough faith.   I explained to her that my mama had been begging the good Lord for years to take this cup from her and to make her whole in her spirit.  The Lord chose to work through my mama’s illness, not take it away from her.  My mama was not a weak woman, she was one of the strongest women I have ever known.  But, she had a broken past and some legitimate physical/chemical needs that needed to be dealt with.

But my mama wasn’t a child, was she?  At least not by the time she was labeled.  Dealing with children is different, it’s apples and oranges.  Right?  To a large extent, I would agree.  Again, I claim no expertise.  I’m just a mom who loves a little boy who has received a psychiatric “label."  I want him to thrive in every way possible.  I also feel burdened to speak out for all of the other non-expert moms, like me, who are tempted to put on the cloak of shame which so many other moms would gladly tie on to us. 

Here is the thing.  Are childhood psychiatric “labels” overdone?   Probably.  Are kids over-medicated?   Yes, some of them.  Do we have a parenting crisis in our days?  I believe so.  Would more effective and present parenting take care of many of the psychiatric “labels” that we’re seeing?  Likely, in some situations. 

But, I’m not here to try and impact the world or change the standard of child psychiatric care.  I’m just here to share with my little circle of friends, most of whom are active in churches and trying to “be” the body of Christ in their communities.  I have something I need to say to you concerning this issue. 

What’s the old saying, “Don’t judge a man ‘til you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins?”  I want to confess that I have been so, so guilty of judging a man in moccasins as I’ve stood gawking from my flip-flops.  I have actually watched diligent mothers wrestling children in the halls at church and thought to myself, “If they would just discipline that child better.  They need to show him who is in charge.”  I look back on my actions and attitudes and I am appalled.  I pray that God will use our experiences to change the way I respond to people in those situations.  Because I am now very experienced at being the mama who has tears in her eyes because she simply cannot “control” her child’s behavior.  I am the mama who has dreaded the pitter patter of little feet in the morning because I know that means that the exhausting day of battle is about to begin.   I have been the mama who has laid awake at night and wondered how I was going to survive until my child’s 18th birthday. 

Thank God, I am also the mama who recognized that something simply was not right with my child.  I could look at the attempts to play with others, the inability to focus, that constant talking, the outright defiance, and realize that it wasn’t because I wasn’t disciplining enough or loving enough or consistent enough…something was wrong.  I am the mama who sent the e-mail, regardless of the fear and the shame that might come by asking for help, and reached out to professionals.  You know, those “evil” professionals that would dare to label a precious child.  I am the mama who has now listened as counselors on two different continents have educated and encouraged and affirmed us in a way that I desperately needed to experience. 

I am also the mama who doesn’t want her child to be defined by a “label.”  I want to use that “label” to give him opportunities to do absolutely anything the Lord leads him to do.  I believe that recognizing the “label” can equip us to deal with the realities we live in.  I am the mama who sees how the “label” has allowed us to get the services and even the medications that are making huge gains possible in our home. I am the mama who sees a child who is moving from “I can’t do anything right” to “Look mom, I am helping!” 

So, why do I feel that I need to share this?  Because I’m also the mama that sees eyebrows raised in quiet judgement when the topic comes up in a church hallway.  I’m the mama who has heard the suggestions about diet change and discipline methods.  I’m the mama who has had other mamas whisper to me that they understand and they know their own child needs help, but they are too afraid of the reactions from __________________________ (insert any variety of relationships here.)

Can I just say something here?  Let’s come alongside these mamas.  Let’s cheer them on.  When you know there is a child in your Sunday School class or your children’s Sunday School class who is “that” child, how about we invite that mama to coffee.  How about we love them instead of judging them?  How about we have them, and their child over for a play date (I can promise you, “those” children don’t get many invitations AND what they’re dealing with isn’t contagious.)  If we can’t do that, how about we simply pray for them and speak a kind word whenever we have the opportunity?

Here’s the thing.  If the child does just need a bit of discipline, you could help to model that and help that mama find the strength to try it.   A hint here, this is usually done through actions and time together far more effectively than through lectures or words.  You could be part of the village that loves that child well.  It could be that mama has no idea what healthy parent/child relationships look like.

If that mama is worried and wonders if she needs to seek some help for that child, you could be the cheerleader who helps her navigate that scary path.  You could help her face her fears as she gathers and sifts through information.  

If that mama is facing the reality of that  “label,” you can be one of those who helps her remember that her child is valuable and precious and made in the image of God.   You can speak words of renewal and encouragement when she’s weary from the battle.  When the path is one step forward and two steps back, you can listen through her tears. 
What about that, my church friends, what about we rally around these mamas and their families?  I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that love and support and encouragement go a long way.   A whole lot farther than standing in our flip flops and critiquing other’s moccasins.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Teen #3!

March 5th, we celebrated Isaac’s 13th birthday!  It is hard to believe that I now have 3 teenagers.  THREE!  Oh time, please, please slow down! 

Anyway, his birthday came during the same week that Ryan’s final school projects were due.  Not to mention, we had some really lousy weather that week.  So, we convinced him to just do a nice dinner and cake on his birthday, with the promise of something fun the next week.  Being the easy-going kid that he is, he agreed.  We found Groupons for a local fun park that he really likes and he invited a friend to go with us for an afternoon the following week. 

Unfortunately, Lily got a bad, bad tummy bug that landed her in the ER.  Thank the Lord, it stopped with only one child.  I can’t even tell you how much Clorox and Lysol were used, but 10 days later, no one else has gotten it, thank you Jesus!

Lily’s illness, combined with our travel commitments, means that Isaac’s fun birthday excursion will not take place until almost 3 weeks after his actual birthday.   At least his birthday fun just goes on and on, right?

Here he is on his actual birthday with his cake of choice, a chocolate chip cheesecake.  I was thrilled that some soul had left a springform pan in the mission house kitchen.  It is so much easier to pull these things off in the USA!  Oh Philadelphia, how I love thee!

Fun story about the Lego box behind dad called a few days before Isaac's birthday to see what I thought he might want.  Isaac is a Lego lover and I knew that he likely had his eye on something.  When I dug around I discovered that his current wish list was anything Ultra Agent.  So, I let my dad know that was his top pick and since he didn't have any in that series yet, dad couldn't go wrong.  Now, my dad is a bargain hunter.  And he's frugal.  So, the fact that he even indulges Isaac with Legos lets you know how great of a grandpa he is.  Anyway, on the day he went to buy the set, he picked one out in the price range he was willing to pay and headed toward the register.  On the way, he noticed a clearance table with a much larger set in the same series, without a price.  He inquired and was informed that it had been opened, making it a clearance item.  Long story short, after some inquiries and checking in with the manager, Dad was able to get the 1000+ piece set, which retails for double the set he had in his hand, for the same price as the first set.  Isaac was delighted to have the much larger set... the largest he's ever had.  Pa was excited that he'd found a great deal and relieved when Isaac took it apart and confirmed that not a single one of the bags had been unsealed...the set was 100% complete.  I was just happy to see God's little blessing in something so insignificant, and yet so special.  It never ceases to amaze me how He provides blessings in the most unexpected ways.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Time Flies...

It's hard to believe we're more than 1/2 way through our stateside time.  It is flying by and at the same time, it seems like we're getting a good amount of rest and family time.  We're passing the days in a variety of ways.  Some of the things we've been up to over the first half of our time here have included:

  • Medical appointments.  I would say that we have averaged about 4 a week, during our weeks in NC.  In order to return to the field, each and every one of us has to be cleared medically.  We are very thankful for the good medical care we've received and the fact that our organization wants to make sure that we are in a place where our medical needs are met.  But, that requires following up on every issue that might be an issue of any sort.  That means seeing all sort of specialists depending on any concerns and they vary from individual to individual.  But, you can imagine, one little issue with each person, one slightly elevated blood number or asthma plan update, or unusual looking something can lead to a variety of follow-up appointments and lab checks.  It has been a bit overwhelming, but we are hopeful that we are nearing the end of those.  So far, we only have one of us officially cleared, with 6 still to go.  We're hopeful that the other clearances will come before our desired departure in mid-May
  • Ryan finished his required school!  Two eight week intensives had him working very hard, but he's done now and I think we all feel like we won a prize when he submitted the last project.  By the way, he managed to get As in both of his classes!
  • We have been homeschooling whenever we aren't traveling.  I'm gonna be really honest here and tell you that I am pushing much harder in the subjects that require heavy textbooks than the ones that don't.  It is my goal to leave all those weighty textbooks behind.   Just kidding...sort of!  But honestly, we're on track to have most of our school finished before we head back.  Although Math, our constant summer companion, will be going with us.
  • Sharing about our work.  We have had the opportunity to share with about seven groups so far and we have at least six more on the schedule.  It's great to visit with folks who have been so faithful in praying for us.  It's also a joy to get to share stories about what God has been doing in our corner of the world.  Every time we share, we get more excited about going back.  
  • Taking it all in.  When we're traveling, we're trying to give our kids as many experiences as possible.  We have hiked, bowled, biked, ridden roller coasters, shopped, picnicked, been to ball games, visited museums, and taken in every experience we can fit into our calendar and budget and we've had a blast doing it.   It's been lots of fun too. 
We are so thankful for this time of rest and renewal.  It has been a good thing for our family and I am beginning to think that at the end of our time here, we are going to be chomping at the bit to get back to work in West Africa.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Sunshine State

For years, Ryan's aunt and uncle have been inviting us to come and visit them, down in the Tampa Bay area.  We finally decided that this winter would be a good time to take them up on it, so in late February, we headed down the coast.  We have had some down time available and we were missing the West African sunshine, so a week in Florida seemed like the perfect solution.  Ryan's parents joined us and they slept in the rather large RV that his uncle has, while Ryan and I enjoyed the main house.  They were happy with the arrangement and hey, we didn't mind missing bedtime duty for a few days!

Unfortunately, the weather has not been especially cooperative for us.  We really wanted the kids to experience one good snow during our time in the States.  However, it seems that every place we've visited has had their biggest snow of the season 5-7 days AFTER we leave.  Then, we head to FL where it was rainy and foggy most of the week, while they got 7-8 inches of snow back at the mission house where we're staying.  Apparently, this wasn't our year for snow.

Fortunately, FL has fun to offer, even with less than ideal weather and we found some fun things to do.  We enjoyed visiting with Ryan's family and we did find a few sunny times to explore.  Here are some highlights of our time together:

Many, many times, we've passed the famous South of the Border establishment on I 95 without stopping.   But on this trip, our gas tank was nearly empty and we didn't want to pay the more expensive NC gas prices, so we pushed just across the SC border for a visit with Pedro.  It is a hoot how well they've themed every inch of that place!

Our first two days in FL were the finest, weather-wise.  On Saturday, they took us to the sponge docks in Tarpin Springs.  Steeped in Greek culture, we were able to see the wide variety of sponges that are harvested just off of the coast, eat Greek food, and enjoy some amazing Greek pastries.  It was a great afternoon.

That is one big sponge!

One of many boats at the docks.

Sunday we met up with some old friends we made about 8-10 years ago.  Our paths have crossed often over the last decade and they recently moved to Tampa.  We were able to share a great lunch in the Ybor City area.  It was great catching up with them.

Monday, we thought we'd go to the beach.  It was a bit cloudy, but the forecast called for a clearing later on.  Ummm, the forecast was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  The fog stayed and actually got much worse at times.  I have never seen anything like it.  We were right on the water's edge and the visibility was horrible.  The crazy thing was, it was a fairly cool Monday in February and yet Clearwater Beach was so crowded, we had to spend nearly 30 minutes looking for a parking spot.  It wasn't a very good beach day, but it made for some great laughs.  All I can say is, based on the crowd that day, you won't be seeing me down there in June or July!

Abe enjoyed the water, despite the chill and fog.

Making the best of a cloudy day!

One of the highlights of the week for us was when we drove over to Orlando and spent a night.  We had been gifted with free Universal tickets by a friend of a friend who worked there.  The crazy thing is, we didn't ask for them or anything, they just asked if we could use them.  It was such a gift as our family of 7 did not have had the budget to spend a day at the parks this year.  We had contemplated it when we knew we were going to FL and we just couldn't justify the 800+ dollars it would cost us to spend one day at any of the major parks.  What a treat when we were given the opportunity and all we had to pay was parking and food!  We had never been to Universal and we had a fabulous time.  We opened and closed the parks and still didn't get to enjoy all the fun things that were there.  But, we had a great time with all that we did get to do.

Abby had discovered a destination that she wanted to visit just about 15 miles from the house where we were staying.  We tried to make it there a few different times during the week, but the weather wouldn't  cooperate.  So, finally, at the end of our time there, we finally made our way to Weeki Wachee State Park.  It's a pretty vintage site that hosts a variety of interesting attractions, the most famous of which are the Weeki Wachee mermaids.  For 50+ years they've been entertaining crowds with their underwater show.  While it wasn't exactly "modern," it was pretty impressive and definitely very unique.  

Here are the mermaids, putting on their show.

The boys are thoroughly unimpressed with all of this mermaid business!

Watch out Ariel, the Campbell mermaids are on the loose!

The park also provided a wildlife show, which the boys found far more impressive than the mermaids!  What boy doesn't want to pet a reptile?

All in all, we had a great and relaxing week in the Sunshine State.  Our host and hostess were so kind and loving.  They spoiled the kids rotten and I'm pretty sure they had their sugar intake for the month in that one week.  But, fun was had by all and we're so thankful for the visit we were able to make.  Thanks, Uncle Jim and Aunt Sue!