08 April 2016

Who is Asher, and what else is being done for him?

Apparently Asher's quest for a service dog has raised some concern for some people that we aren't trying to "correct" Asher's condition, or that he is not receiving therapy.  I want to address those concerns, because those are valid questions.
I (Kimberly) first noticed that Asher was wired differently when he was 2, but was told repeatedly by friends, family, and medical personnel to “wait and see, it might be a phase” and “boys will be boys.”  In seeking answers on my own, I discovered SPD, and I was pretty sure that Asher fit right into that paradigm. So while Asher’s only had an official diagnosis for about 5 months, I’ve been reading research on SPD for years.  I’m still a newbie by many standards, but one thing every shred of evidence I’ve found points to is that SPD is not something one ever outgrows, and there is no way to correct or cure it.  Asher will be wired “differently” for the rest of his life.  With the right tools, however, he can learn to mitigate its effects and learn to function and even thrive.
A service dog is just one of the tools we’re seeking for Asher’s toolbox.  Just one piece of a much larger puzzle.
Asher attends one-on-one therapy every other week at Play Well Pediatric Therapy.  A few of the therapies used are a modified astronaut protocol, balance training, oral therapy, Integrated Learning Systems (iLs), bilateral coordination, and much more.  As the opportunity arises, his therapist has also offered him places in group dance and movement therapy classes and social therapy with another child.  We are blessed with good insurance through my husband’s job which helps defray this expense. 
At home, we do what’s known as a sensory diet.  I try to keep some variety so Asher doesn’t get burnt out on the same thing, but I don’t always succeed at that.  Asher has a weighted lap pad handcrafted by his loving aunt to help him sit still during school.  He has a weighted blanket that he sleeps under at night (plus several other blankets beloved for texture or sentimental reasons, no matter how hot it is in the house).  There are stretchy lycra sheets on the way to us in the mail right now.  He has a “sensory bin” in his room filled with pompoms scented with lavender and cedarwood oil, through which he can dig for dinosaurs and tiny Thomas trains by touch (sometimes I make him guess what toy he’s found with his eyes closed).  We spray his favorite stuffed animals with lavender and cedarwood, and massage him with lavender and cedarwood lotion.  We integrate heavy work into his household chores (the kid loves unloading the dryer and pushing the laundry basket across the house to the foot of the stairs).  We use the Wilbarger brushing protocol and joint compressions (he calls them “bumps”).  He drinks his applesauce through a straw at lunch.  He takes bubble baths on bad days.  Sometimes, though, I just have to pin him to the ground and pray over him to keep him from hurting himself or his baby sisters.
In public places, Asher often wears a harness.  We started with one of those cute monkey ones; it was actually his own idea.  He’s outgrown that and has a custom made one now, that tethers to a belt I wear so as to have my hands free for the girls or the shopping.  We’ve had to attach a small toy to it to keep his hands busy, or he touches everything in sight (or steals twisty ties from the produce section to play with).  Sometimes he gets over or under stimulated and bolts; sometimes he just doesn’t pay attention and wanders in the wrong direction.  This is the main reason we need a service dog for him. 
HIPAA?  What’s that?  There are no secrets anymore, there is no privacy.  When you have to chase your child into the kitchen at a restaurant, when your 5 year old is hopping like a frog toward the pastor *during* the sermon, when your 5 year old is on a leash but your toddler doesn’t even need you to hold her hand, when you have to beg strangers for help to get the resources your child needs...well, explanations are in order.

But you know...that’s just a part of who Asher is.  He’s also gifted--he tested at a 9 year old level in math, although I only teach him at a 6-7 year old level to avoid burnout or missing a foundational concept (we homeschool, by the way, largely because his disabilities and gifts would make it difficult for him to learn in a classroom with 20 some other kids).  He loves to make up songs about everything. He’s obsessed with LEGOs (and he’s quite the special Master Builder), Thomas the Tank Engine, and Lightning McQueen.  He loves superheroes, and loves the concept of Doctor Who but gets nightmares when we let him watch it.  He dotes on his baby sisters and sometimes risks injuring them by smothering them with too much affection.  He’s had a best friend since he was 9 months old and that friend was less than 24 hours old.  He carries as many of his favorite stuffed animals as many places as we let him (we try to keep it reasonable, like only one at church and none to soccer practice).  He loves Bible stories and Jesus, but hates sitting through church.  He plays with baby dolls and his biggest ambition is to be a daddy someday.  He hates princesses, but tolerates watching them for his sisters’ sake.  He can handle My Little Pony, and suggested being Spike for Halloween this year because he knew being ponies would make us girls happy.  He likes to sword fight and wrestle.  He always chooses light up sneakers when it is time to buy shoes. He hasn’t outgrown snuggles and kisses yet.  That’s my boy.  That’s the Asher that a lot of people don’t get to see because he’s still learning to navigate a society that wasn’t designed for people who are “different” like him.

09 February 2016

Family Update and 4 Paws for Ability

Where to begin? Since our last update, I survived a very difficult pregnancy (Hyperemesis Gravidarum, AGAIN), we welcomed our beautiful baby girl #2, and the Bear received a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder.  I expect I will write posts about HG and SPD in the future, because both are near to my heart and widely misunderstood.  And of course, I need to finish the series on depression someday.  Hubby Bear may even guest blog again sometime.

But today I want to share with you a wonderful cause and organization called 4 Paws for Ability.  They raise and train service dogs for a variety of disabilities, and there is no minimum age requirement to be matched with a dog.  We're in the process of being matched with an Autism Service Dog for the Bear (SPD shares many symptoms with autism, although the Bear has not been officially placed on the spectrum at this time).  Other types of dogs 4 Paws for Ability trains include Diabetic Alert and Seizure Assistance Dogs, which can literally save lives.  From birth through training, it costs at least $22,000 to place a dog with a family in need.  Families don't pay for the dogs themselves, but rather commit to volunteering as fundraisers with 4 Paws for Ability to raise a minimum of $15,000.  That's where we are in the process right now, fundraising.

This is the Bear's story:
 Asher is a brilliant, energetic five year old boy with special needs.  Currently his main diagnosis is Sensory Processing Disorder, which means that his senses (not just the 5 we learn about in school, but also his sense of balance and his sense of his body in space) don't send the same signals to his brain that other people receive from their senses. Asher falls mostly into the category of sensory "seeker", which means his brain craves more sensory input the way a baby craves milk.  As such, he struggles to sit still, remain on task, and control his impulses.  At times he has been a danger to himself and others because he doesn't take the time to think through the consequences of his actions and because he doesn't experience pain in the same way other people do.  Asher likes to crash his head into things...and people.  He doesn't actually feel if you knock on his head like a door--he only knows you're doing it if he sees your arm move. One time he gave his grandmother a huge goose egg on her forehead when he head-butted her while running in for a hug, and he never felt a thing. He has trouble focusing in school or church because his brain is craving sensory input too much to concentrate on learning. He has a bad habit of running away in public when not sufficiently stimulated, and has even run into the kitchen of a sit-down restaurant.

An Autism Service Dog will be trained to help keep Asher from running away in public places, and to calm Asher when he is having a "meltdown." From birth through training, the cost of placing such a dog in a family like ours is at least $22,000.  We are committed to raising a minimum of $15,000 to help 4 Paws for Ability continue this vital work. 

I would encourage you to check out these websites and prayerfully consider if you can support 4 Paws for Ability in their mission to provide service dogs to children whose lives will be so enriched by them.  If you feel led to do so, we would be deeply grateful for a donation made in the Bear's honor or the purchase of one of our t-shirts.  And if you know a family who could be helped by receiving a service dog, please pass this information along to them.

To learn more about 4 Paws for Ability, go to http://4pawsforability.org/

To make a donation in honor of the Bear, go to https://www.razoo.com/us/story/4pawsforashersfurryfriend OR send a check to

4 Paws for Ability
253 Dayton Ave.
Xenia, Ohio 45385
 and write "in honor of Asher Doremus" on the memo line
To purchase a really cool t-shirt (which the Bear helped design), go to https://www.booster.com/4-paws-for-ashers-furry-friend 

01 January 2015

{Guest Post by Cody Doremus, aka Hubby Bear} Biblically, Critically Thinking About Superheroes [and everything else]

I wrote the following to further a discussion started by a blog post about why a family does not do super heroes. I am not trying to directly contradict it, but to make sure there is a larger context on critically thinking how this decisions relates to different decisions and where these fall within the context of sin as presented in the Bible. Before I begin a discussion of super heroes, let’s first clarify a world view that I believe is a Biblical truth (Ecclesiastes, words of Jesus, James, passages about God not desiring sacrifices, etc.):

1) Things are not inherently bad when reduced to their simplest level

2) WHY you do something is what makes something sin or not

Examples: Sex is not bad. Abusing sex and using it selfishly (even inside marriage) is sin.

Reading bad things is not sin. If it were, we could not read the Bible since it is full of bad things. Reading/Seeing bad things is not inherently sinful. If it were, all apologists who say "I read/saw this and these are the reasons it is not Biblical" are apparently sacrificing their souls for the sake of others. Reading/watching something bad BECAUSE you get pleasure from the bad thing, now it has become sin.

On to super heroes…

Using Bible verses that say “abstain from evil” as proof for something being evil that is not specifically stated in the Bible is a misapplication. In the case of media, I can accept drawing a line that only specifically designed to honor God programming and history is acceptable (and you would have to throw out a lot of the specifically designed to honor God programming because it is almost impossible to get all the details right). If you move the line anywhere from there (Curious George, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc.) you have just moved yourself firmly into 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 concerning foods sacrificed to idols. In other words, it’s complicated. It is not about a thing that is good or evil, it is about you and the people you are around and everyone’s conscience. There can still be a black and white, but it is based on circumstances and will not necessarily be the same for everyone. If it is okay for someone (freedom in Christ) it will not necessarily be right for them based on who they are around. My pastor made a good flowchart based on this section.

Question 1) Are super heroes inherently sinful? I will break down some of the different parts of the medium.

-Is violence inherently sinful? Not necessarily because God used violence to correct or punish as documented in the Bible. Is it the ideal? No, and quite a lot of super heroes try to avoid violence whenever possible. If force is required, they try to capture, not kill the villain. Quite often there is even a moral discussion on these lines as super heroes who have a moral view will even use force against another super hero to prevent them killing a villain.

-Are super heroes morally relative? Some maybe, but most are like real life people as in “it’s complicated.” Are people with good morals perfect? Nope, we still sin. In fact, while the summation of how to live a Christ honoring life is very simple (Love God, Love others) how to put that into practice every day in every situation is very complicated and requires a lot of thought (see 1 Corinthians passage and above flow chart). Do we struggle and grow with that? I know personally I have grown in my faith and figuring out how to love people when I went through collage, when I got married, when I started having a pastor that teaches critical thinking, and when I started doing marriage counseling (if you have problems, it really does help. Just having someone there to force you to not get emotional, make sure both people listen, both sides get a fair hearing, and summarize the big picture instead of getting hung up on details). [note: I did not list having kids because my parents did such a good job I have felt very confident in how to raise mine, even though I am still learning]

Super heroes are a medium to have morality questions brought up and asked without having to screw up in real life. The Green Arrow keeps having sex with different women and it screws up his life every time. Tony Stark is a womanizer but after he finds he can do some good as Iron Man he slowly starts to get better (He’s still a jerk but I know some Christians who are jerks and need to grow some more too). I think part of why Spiderman has stayed so popular for so long is Peter constantly struggles with what is the right thing to do. Quite frequently bad things happen when he makes the wrong decision. Quite frequently different bad things happen even if he makes the best decision (bad things happen to good people in real life too). He and many other super heroes end up having an Ecclesiastes moment asking “Why? No matter what I do the people I love get hurt! What’s the point?” which is an excellent teachable moment. Occasionally they even have the right answer like in the 90’s X-Men cartoon where many of the X-Men have the exact opposite of peace and are trying to figure out their purpose. Enter Nightcrawler, the German Christian Monk who has found peace from God despite looking like a monster. He prefers not to fight and he shares Jesus with the X-Men seeking answers and consequently to a whole bunch of kids watching that may never have been to church before.

Villains range from “this person is pure evil” to “this guy is really trying to do the right thing and they just are not getting it.” In real life, according to the Bible, we are supposed to Love our Enemy (Matthew 5:44). In fact, the only real enemy is Sin (Yes Satan is a bad angel. That’s not who Jesus defeated at the cross though (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). Sin is a lot more powerful than Satan is and a lot harder to defeat. You would either have to make everyone perfect or get rid of everyone who is not perfect… See Revelations…). People are always to be loved and if possible saved. Having “grey” bad guys is actually real life. We should be rooting for the super hero to convert the villain just like we should be rooting for people to find Jesus (which means we should tell them, not just wait for someone else to do it). In the comics/shows sometimes the villain just won’t change. Just like in real life, sometimes you tell somebody about Jesus and they don’t want anything to do with Him.
Super heroes actually are one of the few mediums in modern programming that actually deals with morals. Many current Nickelodeon cartoons and Disney TV shows have characters that do absolutely whatever they want with either no consequences or good consequences for bad morals. No way are my kids (or me) watching those.

-Are super powers sin? This one again is complicated. There are super heroes with no super powers. Are these fine? There are “heroes” and “villains” that get power from Demonic forces. Does that mean these need to be completely avoided or since people try to do that in real life is it a teachable moment like the morals? (It’s a teachable moment in the Bible when Saul sought this out) There are heroes and villains who get powers from physics that don’t work in real life (I include mutants in this category because evolution in real life only breads out traits to exemplify another or is harmful [dieses, missing/distorted limbs, etc.]. Mutants can be another teachable moment: “Do people really get born with super powers from genes going wonky? No”). If an imaginary world with different physics is evil, that means Thomas (how else could Trains talk and have personalities), Curious George (sorry, monkeys don’t really act like that), and anything with talking non-people or otherworldly physics are out. The original concept for the X-Men was to have an extreme example of people born different and feeling on the outside like Jews (Stan Lee is one) or practically any teenager. Then there is a moral dichotomy about what you do if you are in that position. Do you like Professor X love people that hate you or do you take the route of Magneto who, persecuted as a Jew during World War II, essentially becomes Hitler, i.e. hate those that are different for hating you and become the thing you hate. Is using an alternate universe to get people to think about something by framing the same topic in a different light inherently wrong? I don’t think so, unless you are drawing the line I made in the first paragraph.

Question 2) Is this going to edify me? This is going to be dependent on each individual. Are you going to think critically and have teachable moments? Is it going to be like a philosophy class where you get hard moral questions? This could be edifying. Are you in it to watch the violence and laugh at everyone’s problems? Maybe you should abstain… Are you letting kids watch super heroes? You should be selective about what you pick (The 90’s cartoons are good, the current movies are probably not for under 13 or older) and watch with them so you can have teachable moments instead of giving them the opportunity to just want violence (just like you should watch most ­shows with them seemingly benign or not).

It is important to note that I believe this is where the arguments actually lie against super heroes. It is important to distinguish between an argument with Question 1 or 2 because it is the difference between anyone engaging in the thing or the thing itself being sin verses anyone abusing it being sin. Examples: Is Sex inherently bad (The Catholic Church declared this at one time) or is sex outside of marriage bad? Is the marijuana plant itself evil and from the fall or are people abusing it doing evil (are hemp crafts and diapers allowed? What constitutes abuse anyway?)? Is alcohol evil or is getting drunk evil (I don’t drink but I really don’t buy the fact that Jesus never drank fermented grapes or that Paul meant just grape juice when he told Timothy to drink some wine)? Is everyone who watches super heroes sinning or if you don’t like super heroes do you just think people can find better uses of their time?

“I don’t really want violence in my house before it comes there naturally. We are not going to watch any shows with violence. We will re-evaluate when my son starts making weapons out of his cheese.” – Completely valid

“I don’t have a problem with make believe but I don’t see anything beneficial to the super hero world.” – Valid even if I don’t agree. Don’t do them.

“I don’t have a problem with make believe but I think X aspect is bad. I don’t want it as a teachable moment, I want it out of my house.” – Valid

“I don’t want to present morally complicated situations to my kids until I feel they are old enough for us to talk about them constructively” – Valid

“X super hero is bad and has nothing good I can teach.  Any super hero eventually leads to super hero X and badness.” – I don’t agree, but if this is how you think you better not start. It is very good to know you have a personality that will make you want to get into every facet of something so you can make wiser decisions on if something is good for you or not.

“I think X about super heroes is bad. Therefore it is sin for anyone to engage in them.” – Not Valid. Now you are forcing your answer to Question 2 into Question 1.

Question 3) Is this going to make others stumble? If someone starts believing the occult and disbelieving God because of a specifically fictional world, they have a problem with almost all media and you probably need to work on that and not watch anything with them. If someone has a problem with being violent, they should not watch super heroes, history, or anything else that has violence (like a recovered alcoholic should not go to a bar). Mostly, I think you need to answer question 2 for the people with you to decide if it is going to make them stumble or not.

This is also where “You will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:18-20) I don’t think you can say watching super heroes is a fruit. You can definitely say HOW someone watches super heroes is a fruit. HOW someone plays super heroes, action figure or pretend, is a fruit. HOW someone talks about super heroes is a fruit (I just had a good conversation with someone the other day who said they thought The Punisher was under appreciated. I talked about how I did not care for The Punisher because other super heroes eventually realize revenge is wrong and do their best not to kill. I know he leads a pretty tormented life, but I have not read or seen enough of him to know if he ever starts to think twice about his methods.). If anyone is showing that all they care about is violence or they are not learning from the moral mistakes, apparently super heroes are making them stumble and you should not do super heroes around them.

As my Pastor says in parenting class, “It is better to world proof the kid then try to kid proof the world.” We selectively do super heroes in our house because we believe all of the discussion points help us start that process early. Our kids also get grounded from super heroes if they hit or do anything violent and we have a discussion about reality verses make believe and how to love people. Our son very rarely hits anymore and when he does he is usually super cranky and tired and just acting out randomly because his brain is not working. (We also had to cut out almost all spanking because us hitting him was teaching him he could hit. I think a lot of people would say spanking is not discouraged in the Bible.) We have also been able to use concepts from the imaginary world to help him start to get a grasp on deep Biblical concepts.

I understand this approach is not for every family but God has blessed us through it. I ask that you critically think about your objections to any topic and realize where they fall within the 3 questions so you know if everyone is sinning that engages in something or if it depends. Also do not use this line of reasoning as a license to sin. If you have to think critically about everything instead of following rules it is possible to butter your toast in a sinful manner. Loving correctly is complicated and takes thought.

18 December 2014

Christmas Post Link

Check out my guest blog post (and all the other great stuff) at the Doormouse House. Merry Christmas!

27 October 2014

Mental Illness, Part 2: The Red Flags I Ignored

As I mentioned before,I didn't want to admit that I might have depression. So when the symptoms began showing up, at least as early as my teen years, I ignored them.  I pretended they were normal.  I don't know, maybe some of them were...my depression is largely tied to my hormones, so a lot of those same symptoms were probably typical of the hormone fluctuation in teenagers--I just didn't outgrow them when I should have.

I had low self-esteem...I thought it was because there wasn't much to like about myself.  And I know that is a problem for a lot of teenage girls.

I had horrible mood swings.  My parents could tell you that my teenage temper could take a scary turn.

Many times I would prefer to sleep, daydream, read a book or watch TV than to interact with real people in the real world.  Some of that is just natural introversion, but a lot of it was escapism.  I didn't like myself, I didn't feel confident, I couldn't control the real world.

Maybe those things don't seem like a huge deal alone, but they took control of my life far too often.  However, there were some HUGE red flags that I ignored.  There were a few instances when I should have sought immediate professional help (probably should have been hospitalized), and I hid it for fear of being judged.

One that comes to mind in particular was the first time I dropped out of college (yes, you read that right...sad that I have to say that...).  I was having some major health issues, and fighting with my roommate a lot.  I stopped sleeping, largely due to the health, but the depression probably played a part.  I spent most of my nights in the bathroom I shared with 11 other girls, partially to avoid waking my roommate and starting another argument. I started missing or being late to classes because I waited until my roommate was up to try to sleep.  Or I would have to leave in the middle of class due to my health problems flaring up.  Eventually it became clear that I wasn't going to get the good grades that I was accustomed to, or the medical testing that I needed, unless I dropped out of school and came back after I got a diagnosis.  We did the necessary paperwork, and home I went.  Where I spent 2 weeks locked in my bedroom, eating only when my parents brought me food, leaving only to use the bathroom.  Refusing to see my friends.  Contemplating suicide.  Yes, you read that right.  I was contemplating suicide, yet I continued to deny that I might have a problem with depression.

I was eventually coaxed out of my room to go on a trip to the local apple orchard with a good friend.  That was the beginning of some healing for me.  But I never admitted the darkness with which I had wrestled, and I never got the help that I needed.  It would take several years, a tragedy, and dropping out of college AGAIN before I was forced to look at my depression honestly.

Please, please, PLEASE, if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek help immediately!  Don't wait until it is almost too late, like I did.

22 October 2014

Why I Choose to Celebrate Halloween with My Kids (and Why I Totally Respect You if You Don't)

I know I promised more posts about mental illness, and they are coming, but this is a timely subject on which I feel led to share my thoughts.

Halloween is such a controversial topic in Christian circles.  Many choose not to celebrate, some celebrate with alternatives such as "Harvest Festivals", some celebrate traditionally (with or without feeling some measure of guilt).  My extended family has fallen into all of these categories at different points in time, and it is only recently that my husband and I have chosen where we want our nuclear family to land.

I have chosen (and Hubby has been reluctantly supportive) to celebrate Halloween in a semi-traditional-but-slightly-unique manner.  We made this decision for 2 reasons:  1) Halloween is a popular holiday in our neck of the woods, and the neighborhood is out in full force.  Participating affords us the opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and let them get to know us.  This in turn has led to open doors for witnessing to at least one family, and we hope more in the future (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 3:15). 2) We don't want our kids to live in fear of any day, or to see anything as beyond the redemptive work of the God who created every day/thing and is going to redeem them all (Romans 8:19-23).

So how do we celebrate something with so many evil associations in a God-honoring way?  We must be careful not to fall into blindly going along with all of the world's traditions. (Colossians 3:17; Romans 12:2).  This is a difficult line to walk, and I have great respect for those families who choose to "run to the other side of the street" as it were.  Here are the guidelines that rule our family Halloween celebrations at this time.  We are open to changing them, or giving up Halloween altogether, if in the future we find that these guidelines no longer meet our goals for raising godly kids.

We do decorate our house for Halloween, mostly the front porch area which will be seen by trick-or-treaters.  We want our home to look festive and welcoming to our neighbors, so that they will know we are "open for business" on Halloween, and so they will want to come interact with us.  We don't do anything scary, undead, or occult, though.  Mostly we use jack-o'-lanterns, with a few kittens, bats,  leaves, and scarecrows thrown in.  More on jack-o'-lanterns...

Jack O' Lanterns
We have lots of cardboard jack-o'-lanterns for the windows, as well as real and faux lighted ones.  One specific faux lighted pumpkin (Funkin) is painted teal (more on that later), and now that Buddy Bear is old enough to help, we are starting to carve real ones each year.  Before or during carving, we read The Parable of the Pumpkin Patch by Liz Curtis Higgs--which I encourage you to read no matter what you choose to do about Halloween!  As we decorate with jack-o'-lanterns, we remind each other that Jesus cleans out our gook (Psalm 51:10, among others), and makes us a Light for Him (Matthew 5:14).

I'll be honest, there is no deep spiritual significance to our use of costumes at Halloween.  We just like cosplay for fun.  We wear Halloween-style costumes for birthday parties and our annual church New Year party as well.  We like to play dress-up.  But we have very strict rules about the nature of our costumes.  Nothing undead.  Nothing occult.  No serial killers or anything bloody like that. Nothing too sexual/revealing.  Weather appropriate.  We mostly choose cartoon characters, literary characters, superheroes.  I like to do group costumes.  Sometimes it is a struggle to get Hubby to participate, but he's coming around to it (this applies to other times of year as well, so I see it more as him being a fuddy dud that is learning to have fun).

I'm kinda not a big fan of trick-or-treating, for various reasons, but we do it as long as we are going with other families with whom we are trying to build relationships...sometimes the walk on Halloween is the only time I get to chat with the other busy neighborhood moms, and the kids bond as well.  If there is ever a time that we don't have friends to go with, we will stay home.  And there is never going to be a time when I let my kids go without me--it is a witnessing opportunity for me as well, plus a safety issue.  If they are too old to take their Mommy trick-or-treating with them, they are too old to go.  Period.

Treats That We Hand Out
Some kids have allergies.  But even kids who don't get waaaaaay too much unhealthy candy on Halloween.  So we give out allergy-friendly, non-candy items.  This year, we've added a teal pumpkin and a sign to our decoration, so that families with dietary restrictions know that it's safe to come to our house (check out this link and this link to learn more about the #TealPumpkinProject).  In striving to be a witness to our neighbors, we also make sure that these items have some sort of Christian message, or at least Christian symbolism on them.  It might be as simple as slapping a cross sticker on a cheap bottle of soap bubbles, but it lets our neighbors know that there are Christians in our home.  Especially because we make sure that what we hand out is safe for everyone, it shows that we as Christians care about our neighbors.

There are lots of good, Biblical reasons NOT to celebrate Halloween.  We have close family and dear friends who are adamantly against it, and we would never try to force our choices on them.  I consider this one of what the Apostle Paul referred to as "disputable matters" that should never be divisive within the Body.
Romans 14:5-6
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 
Colossians 2:16-17
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Keep It Kute!

23 September 2014

Mental Illness, Part 1: We Don't Talk About That

Recently, a young woman I knew in college reached out to me on Facebook.  We were in the same college/young adult ministry at church, and we got along well enough, but she was a bit younger than me and we ran in different social circles.  We've both since married, had children, found different church homes...she's even moved to another state.  So why reach out to me?

Because she had recently been diagnosed with an anxiety panic disorder, and she knew that I had been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder.

According to the CDC, 1 in 10 US adults report depression.  According to the NIMH , 18% of  Americans over 18 struggle with anxiety disorders. Since this vibrant, friendly young lady surely knows more than 10  people, why did she need to dig into the past and find a friendlyish acquaintance to ask about the condition?

Because we don't talk about mental illness.

I first met depression face to face as a teenager.  Two of my closest friends in youth group had depression.   My best friend rarely spoke of it.  I was able to, for my own comfort, ignore the fact that she had it.  But my other friend was more...vocal.  Once she was diagnosed with depression, everyone knew about it.  And we had to face it.  We had to decide what we believed about it and how to respond.

I have to say, we didn't respond well.

We attended a caring, Bible-based, church with lots of good "programs" and lots of good people.  I don't remember any sermons or Sunday School classes on the topic of depression, but I know there were a lot of people who had depression (I didn't know that at the time), and I know there were a lot of people who didn't have depression and didn't understand that it was a medical condition.  We were never explicitly taught as much, but there was an underlying vibe that "Christians don't get depressed" or "depression is a sin".

I tried to talk my friend out of being depressed.  I tried sweeping it under the rug.  I began to doubt that she was even saved...a few years later in college, I told her as much.  I failed to love her.  Because I was SCARED.

Guess what?  The Bible never says anything about a chemical or hormonal imbalance being sinful.  But it says an awful lot about being unloving, hypocritical...being afraid of anything but God Himself.

My friend may have, at times, handled her depression in a sinful way.  I don't know.  I know she is a sinner, saved by grace, just like me.  I know that I handled her depression in a sinful way.

Could it be that the young lady in the opening paragraph only knew to contact me because everyone else with mental illness keeps silent so that they won't be treated the way I treated my friend when I was a teenager?

So what is the Biblical response to depression?  How do we make the church a welcoming place for those who suffer from mental illness?  The two verses that come to mind are:

Galatians 6:Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (ESV)
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (ESV)

I also think of the story of Job.  We don't want to be "Job's Comforters" to our friends with depression.  We don't always know why God allows suffering, and in most cases we can't even come close to judging whether a suffering is the direct result of sin.  So don't try.  Just LOVE.

I'll talk more about my own journey with depression in a later post...whenever the kids give me time.  But I want to leave this one thought...I think I was so scared because I didn't want to admit that I might have depression.  And I was so scared of having depression because I was scared that people would think I wasn't saved.