Family Members With Mental Illness: What You Need to Know

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Christmas always comes with sort of mixed emotions for me. On one hand, I know it’s all about the birth of our Savior and the ultimate promise fulfilled though the arrival of the Messiah. In addition, the happiest memories from my childhood all happened at Christmas.  I was showered with presents which was a huge way that my mom specifically showed me love. Yet, it also marks a really hard time of year for me. There is a lot of energy that I spend being supportive and loving as my family struggles through darkness and uncertainty. You see both of my parents suffer from mental illness, and while they weren’t both diagnosed fully until I left home, it has always been there under the surface for as long as I can remember. Between the two of them there is a cocktail of bipolar depression, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, attempts to take their lives, and agoraphobia (the fear of crowds and basically leaving the house).

In the past few weeks, I have been really touched by the interviews and articles discussing this topic on YouthMinistry.com. (See Kay Warren on Grief and Facing Mental Illness and Mental Health Stigma: Is it an issue in your youth group?) and   That’s why I reached out and asked if I might give a voice to the student who is growing up in a home where parents are hurting in a way that no one can explain. Out of respect to honor my parents, I have asked to remain anonymous. So here I stand today an advocate for the family.  I would like to tell you some things you might like to know about a household with mental illness:

  1. You Can’t See It From The Outside Looking In

When you are growing up in a family the only normal you know is the one you experience.  So to be honest while there were nights when I cried myself to sleep, at the time I thought most teens just struggled to get along with their parents.  My parents were involved, and tried to come to almost every event in which I participated.  As a matter of fact, we worked really hard as a family to pretend we had it all together. On the outside, my parents were interested in my life, well-kept, and happy. The mask I wore was of the confident, over-achieving perfectionist at the top of my class. It was behind the closed doors that things were a mess. It was here that both my parents coped with challenges by sleeping. There were times when my parents slept entire days away. My Dad would give all he had at work, come home nap, get up eat dinner, and then go back to bed. If my father was more than 10 minutes late home from work, my Mom would turn off all of the lights in our house, stand by the window sobbing in a panic attack and repeat over and again, “I just know he’s dead.”  From the time I was at least 10-years-old, it was my job to sit next to her and tell her he was not dead, and that he was going to be fine. I heard from my Mom over the years more times than I can count that she wished she was not alive. In an effort to make me different from them there was extreme pressure to perform, be perfect, never mess up, and manipulation was used to get the desired results. There was anger that erupted into screaming, throwing things, and hitting. Then when the “fight” was done, it was if it had never happened at all. All of this came from deep reserves of not knowing why they couldn’t just feel good.

  1. No One Knows How to Respond Well

We put all mental illness in a bucket, but it means so many different things. They say hurting people hurt people, healed people bring healing, and broken people can’t be well. These people can’t “get happy” or get beyond their issues. It isn’t always someone hearing voices or rambling to them in a corner. When I was growing up, no one had a clue on how to interact when they found out there was a bandaid holding back a festering wound. One time when my parents admitted to a pastor they were falling apart the response was, “Well, maybe if you were more involved, we could be there for you. However, you get what you give.” What my parents needed was unconditional love without judgement, or at least a helping hand. This caused them to walk away from church for many years, and created a belief that faith is transactional. If things were going bad, “God was mad at them for not doing enough.” As a matter of fact so much in life had wounded them everything was a transaction: love, service, and care. You take care of me, and I will take care of you. To this day, people stare at me blankly when they find out my parents struggle. We always talk about the “stigma” of mental illness and that is what causes people to hide. More often than not, when someone finally opens up about their struggle to get help, it goes awry. Why on earth would you put yourself out there again? So, instead you become someone who can at least survive the day. If you get through today at least you accomplished something worthwhile. When you are mentally ill or living with someone who is mentally ill, you just want to talk about it. You need to ramble and tell stories. You aren’t looking for compassion or empathy. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of what hope looks like.

  1. Students From These Homes Probably Don’t Know What Normal Really Is

It wasn’t until well into my adult years and landing in counseling by accident that I began to peel back the layers of my upbringing.  I can still recall my first therapist telling me, “You are not crazy. Your parents are,” and the huge wave of relief that washed over me.  After years of trying to be perfect for Jesus, he started to show me he loved me just because he made me. I had never realized that I didn’t have to do anything to earn that love. I had never been cared for with no strings attached. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I came to learn what that felt like from a person.

It isn’t that I don’t have happy memories from when I was young, I do, like at Christmas. In our strange transactional love, my mom wanted to give to us extravagantly. Christmas and birthdays were the two times of the year I saw she was trying, genuinely doing the best with what she had to offer. However, over all my childhood was not what I would call happy. There was sadness, but more so, I would say it was strained. Through much prayer, I have come to understand and forgive my parents for the ways they could (and still can be) hurtful. I have learned how to navigate situations with them, and have come to see that it is not my job to make them happy.

When I first got married, I would tell stories from my childhood like eating Thanksgiving in our pajamas, because that’s when it finally was cooked at 10:00 p.m. (Depression does not get you out of bed for an early turkey), and my husband would just look at me with an eyebrow raised.  For many years I would smile and say, “That wasn’t normal was it?” He helped me process when the answer was, “no,” and what to do with that (Sometimes we are still doing that.).

  1. Hold Out On Passing Judgement

My upbringing has made me a radical advocate for parents. Looking back at my childhood, I just wanted healthy parents. I wish there had been a youth pastor in my life that could see past my well-kept mask, and instead let me ramble about my home life. I just wanted to process. To this day, that’s all I am looking for. I even now embrace some of the good traits I inherited from my parents like the power of generosity. I can’t stress this enough, not one person beyond those that lived in our home had any clue about our family. My mom seemed a little anxious and overbearing and my dad seemed slightly emotionally distant. There are extended family members and old friends of the family who just think my parents are a little “odd.”

I wish I could tell you this all ends like the finish of a beautiful movie where everyone is well and full of joy. Instead, my parents have gotten worse as they have gotten older. There is not as much anger, but now years of medication has led to confusion and forgetfulness on top of some physical ailments. As an only child, taking care of them has become complicated. Many people have asked me why I don’t just cut them off. Do I wish some days it could be different?  Of course I do. It can be exhausting as just five minutes ago I was convincing my mother that life is not as destitute as it might appear, and I have that conversation daily. However, she’s the only mom I have. Jesus helps me know how to forgive, navigate things, and learn how to raise my own children differently.

 

Here is the number one thing to remember: Every child loves their parent no matter who they are.

I just had to learn that loving them might look different than it does for others. Maybe this is where my tenacity comes into play to help the church genuinely forge partnerships with families, all of them, even the ones with lots of pain.

After many, many years my mom was invited to a Bible study one day by a friend that she took a chance on. By the end of the first visit, people had prayed with her, and even offered some practical help my parents needed. I have never met a group of people like this church who just embraced my parents and loved them. They didn’t ask questions or make decisions about who they should be; instead everyone accepted them as God’s beautiful children. It was the first time they ever felt “good enough” to be a part of the body of Christ.

Who can you find in your midst today that might need you to love them with the love that Christ offers? This love is powerful, offers a light in the darkness, and does whatever it takes to show itself. Can you love a family like that today? I wish someone had done that for us when I was still at home. In the end that’s all we were really looking for, and honestly all that any of us still are.

– See more at: http://youthministry.com/family-members-with-mental-illness-what-you-need-to-know/#sthash.ftw8PYXx.dpuf

Dear Parents of Teenagers, Here are 5 reasons you should keep your teens involved in youth group…

Dear Parents of Teenagers, Here are 5 reasons you should keep your teens involved in youth group…

Posted by Greg Stier

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5 Reasons You Should Keep Your Teens Involved in Youth Group

Dear Parents of Teenagers,

Thanks for all you do to invest in the life of your teenager(s). You probably feel like an uber driver (ready to pick them up/drop them off when they call), coach (helping them perfect their sport), tutor (working with them on homework), guidance counsellor (preparing them for the future) and, sometimes, a jockey (pushing them to cross the finish line…without a whip of course!)…all wrapped up in one!

That’s why, with all the insane busyness of parenting a teen, it’s easy to let youth group attendance slide off the grid. It’s tempting to think, “My kid’s just too busy for a night of hanging out with other teenagers, playing some goofy games and hearing another Bible lesson.”

Believe me when I say, I understand the temptation. As a parent of a teenager (who has tons of homework, plays football and is not yet old enough to drive) my wife and I are constantly under pressure to measure every event through the lenses of what matters most. And we have decided that youth group attendance must be a priority. Although we view ourselves as the primary spiritual influence of our kids, we also believe that a strong youth ministry plays a vital role in his overall spiritual development.

With this as a backdrop here are 5 short, yet powerful, reasons you should encourage (make?) your teenager(s) go to youth group:

1.  Teenagers need models and mentors.

“O God, You have taught me from my youth, And I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come. “  Psalm 71:17,18

In the Jewish culture it wasn’t just parents that poured into the younger folks. Older men poured into younger men and older women poured into younger women (Titus 2:1-8.)

Of course you as a parent are called to be the primary spiriutal mentor of your own teenager but he/she also needs other godly adults! It’s important for your son or daughter to see that this whole “Christianity thing” is more than just mom’s and dad’s belief system. They need to have models and mentors that reinforce all of the spiritual truth they are learning from you.

2.  Teenagers need community.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:24,25

In an age of bullying, gossip, slander and hatefulness (which can destroy a teenager’s self-identity), young people need other young people who can lift them up, encourage them and challenge them in all the right ways.

Youth group is also a place where teenagers can discover their spiritual gifting and begin to use it to serve others. This will help them have a heart to selflessly serve others for the rest of their lives!

3.  Teenagers need mission.

When Jesus challenged his most-likely teenaged disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations”, he was tapping into the activist wiring of these young men. In the same way your teenager needs challenged with the mission to reach their peers with the good news of Jesus in a loving and contagious way.

Youth group is a place where your teenager can invite their unbelieving friends to hear the gospel. But it’s also a place where they can be equipped to share the good news of Jesus with their own peers (which will help them grow in their faith!) As your youth leader continues to build a Gospel Advancing ministry the message of Jesus will advance in them and through them. This process will accelerate the disicpleship process in the life of your teen in ways you could never imagine!

4.  Teenagers need theology.

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”  Ephesians 4:14,15

Youth group is a place where teenagers can wrestle through the theology you’ve been teaching them (you’ve been teaching them right?) and have it reinforced in a powerful and personal way under the guidance of a youth leader who knows how to ask great questions and point teens to sound truth.

This should result in your teenagers knowing and owning their faith on a deeper level. Youth groups and small groups should be a place where teenagers can ask tough questions and even share doubts and struggles with their beliefs without fear of rebuke. Skilled youth leaders can take questioning teens back to God’s Word as the source of authority and help them process through all of the Biblical truth you are praying they grasp, believe and live out.

Great youth groups build on the foundation that godly moms and dads have laid. And, for those teenagers who don’t have believing parents, an effective youth ministry helps lay a solid foundation of Biblical truth for the rest of a teenager’s life.

5.  Teenagers need a safe place to confess and confide.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  James 5:16

Often teenagers who struggle with sin and temptation have nowhere to confess and confide. They feel trapped by their sins. But a healthy youth ministry can create a safe space for teenagers to open up and talk honestly about their struggles. Of course this doesn’t mean they should confess every sin to everyone. But it does mean that they should have a handful of others who know their struggles and can pray for and encourage them to walk in victory over those sins.

When my son came back from a youth retreat last year he had this opportunity. He opened up with a handful of others about some of his struggles and then he came back and opened up to me. After he confessed his struggles he told me that he felt a thousand pound weight had dropped off his back.

Here’s the thing, my son and I have a very strong and very open relationship. But there was something about his band of brother friends, under the leadership of a caring adult in a youth retreat type setting, that gave him the freedom to confess and confide.

Skilled youth leaders know how to create a context of open and honest dialogue. Teenagers who push their struggles down and never open up often struggle later on in life with addictive and destructive behavior. An effective youth ministry can help teenagers deal with these challenges now and prepare them to be victorious both now and later.

Yes, I know that teen life is busy. But it would be a shame if our teenagers graduated from high school and were catapulted into “the real world” without every opportunity to know, live, share and own their faith.

At the end of the day, our teenagers embracing and embodying the Christian faith is more important than sports and more important than academics. Getting them involved in a healthy, vibrant youth ministry is worth fitting into a crazy, busy schedule. And if it’s not quite as healthy as you think it should be then why don’t you volunteer and make it better?

There’s too much at stake for us to get this wrong. So let’s get it right!

To Reach a Generation,

Greg Stier (a fellow parent of a teenager and Founder of Dare 2 Share)

(Original Source)

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