Speak Life

BackToSchoolBluesWhen we open our mouths, we either speak death or life to those around us.

I grew up around someone who often lacerated others with his speech. He spoke the language of sarcasm, ridicule, and criticism.

Unfortunately, I learned to defend myself by speaking just like him.

Words can feel like a punch, and too often that’s our intent.

A  dose of self-righteous anger delivered to a telemarketer.

A snide comment made to a spouse or family member who hasn’t met our self-perceived “needs.”

A stinging verbal slap flung at a pestering child.

A rude comeback flipped over our shoulder to an irritating neighbor.

Every word, every conversation is an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. 

To speak peace.

To give life.

To offer hope.

To change someone’s day.

Blessed are the peacemakers…

May you commit to this calling today.

May I commit to this calling today.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Waiting

make today countIt’s been eight months since I walked through emergency room doors and asked for an MRI of my brain.

I knew something was up. It was the same old feeling I’d had in 1999 when I knew something was seriously wrong with my head. And I was right.

My MRI showed a large SOMETHING.

The problem has been figuring out what it is. My diagnoses have ranged from an aggressive and deadly form of tumor, to multiple sclerosis, and finally to a stroke or bleed in my brain stem.

Over the course of eight months, I’ve been seen by more than seven doctors in multiple hospitals. Every doctor has overturned the diagnosis of the doctor before them.

In a nutshell, I have found this experience frustrating.

Mostly because I haven’t had a treatment plan or a way of determining which of my ever-changing symptoms are important and which are simply oddities.

Illness is frustrating. And exhausting. And often stirs misunderstanding.

Over the past eight months, I’ve come to hate a lot of things about waiting.

  • Waiting can suck me into focusing on the injustices of the world (or at least my perception of injustice), Like why I’ve been billed near six figures for so many conflicting diagnoses. Pain so easily shifts our focus away from others and onto ourselves. And while it’s all right to make ourselves a priority, it’s not right to make ourselves the focal point from which all things are measured.
  • Waiting can lure me into wanting to demand my rights. After all, aren’t I entitled to my freedom? Actually, I’m entitled to nothing except to love mercy, to seek justice (which isn’t the same as demanding my rights), to walk humbly with God and people.
  • Waiting can narrow my vision. The longer I wait, the more I am tempted to see only my narrow slice of life and magnify my seeming needs. Waiting can take my eyes off God and others as I grow increasingly self-focused.
  • Waiting can pull me into isolation.Exhausted by circumstances, I may choose to withdraw or simply slip into isolation unaware.
  • Waiting can stir me to anger. The longer I look at circumstances and other people, the more easily I become convinced that I’m getting the short end of the stick. I convince myself that God doesn’t care enough to help me, and my anger feeds my attitude, which feeds my anger, in a vicious cycle.

Over the past eight months, I’ve also learned to appreciate a lot of things about waiting. 

  • Waiting can broaden my vision for the injustices of the world.If we allow it to, our pain can shift our attention to those suffering in similar situations–or in worse situations. I’ve found that ministering to others over these past months has been one of the most restorative things I’ve done for myself.
  • Waiting offers me opportunities to advocate for others, based upon what I’ve learned.Fifty percent of the U.S. population suffers with chronic illness. We often don’t take the time to understand what it takes for these people and their caregivers to manage life. I recently went to the zoo with my family for an outing. The heat and physical exertion overwhelmed me, and I pulled my scooter under a tree to rest while my husband went to get me something to drink. Hundreds of people passed me without saying a word. Except for one young father and son who stopped to see if I was all right. Why? Because they were looking past themselves and the crowd for people in need.
  • I’ve learned that waiting can enlarge my vision for God and others. Waiting can draw me toward God and others if I focus on his character and his goodness and his faithfulness. As I focus on him, other elements of my life and purpose come into focus, including the way I see others and my heart to know and serve them.Waiting can fill me with grace. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see how blessed I am, how loved I am, and how secure I am. I become increasingly convinced that I am never out of God’s care, and my gratitude explodes into a grace-filled, purpose-driven life.
  • Waiting can fill me with grace. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see how blessed I am, how loved I am, and how secure I am. I become increasingly convinced that I am never out of God’s care, and my gratitude explodes into a grace-filled, purpose-driven life.

Yes, I’ve been waiting for eight months for a diagnosis, but I get to choose where I place my eyes, my heart, and my faith.

But God’s goodness, mercy, and grace in my life haven’t dimished for a moment.

 

Caregiving: How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

          Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

My mom and dad lived with my husband and me for about five years. Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my  75 year-old father couldn’t care for Mom’s needs on his own.

One of the hardest things for Dad to understand was that he couldn’t talk to Mom the same way anymore. 

Her mental capacities were slowly regressing. And the situation was complicated by my father’s Asbergerger’s. He simply didn’t understand why talking to Mom a certain way was no longer appropriate.

Actually, many people have a hard time understanding this about dementia. So here are a few suggestions.

1. Facial expression and tone are often more important than what you say.

People with dementia are highly intuitive. They can be easily agitated if they sense frustration in others. Speak in a mediated, even tone. Smile. Think about the way a kindergarten teacher would speak to a frightened child and you’ll get the point.

I often told people that I could quote the phone book to my mother to calm her as long as I spoke kindly and calmly. For a number of years, she lived in a state of mental agitation and fear, and it was difficult to maintain a calm demeanor, but it was crucial to offer her comfort, no matter how I felt.

2. Learn how to enter into your loved one’s reality.

 

Because of my father’s Asberger’s, his responses to Mom were often literal and reality-based. But caregivers must learn to look below the surface. For instance, yes, my mother might be asking to go home to her mother, but telling Mom that her mother was dead wasn’t a good answer.

My mother needed diversion and comfort for her troubled mind. Mom lived in a state of delusion, where the real world no longer existed. Sometimes I had to respond to her there first, then draw her into a new activity.

For instance, “I’m so sorry that you can’t find your mother. Can you tell me about her?” Then I would ask her to join me folding towels or peeling boiled eggs or in some other simple task.

3. Don’t ask you loved one for information. Provide it for them.

 

For instance, when entering a room, I’d often say, “Hi, Mom, it’s Shelly, your daughter.”

Or when people came to visit, I’d always say, “Mom, this is Nathan your grandson and his wife Allison. They brought their two baby boys Gabe and Liam.” This way Mom was relieved of the pressure of having to remember people and events.

TELL them things and allow them to chime in as they feel comfortable. Don’t correct them if their responses aren’t “right.” Right and wrong no longer are important, in the same way that they wouldn’t be if a five year-old was interacting with adults.

4. Speak clearly and slowly in short sentences, and give your loved one time to respond.

Make eye contact and offer simple choices. Use body language to reassure them.

The most important thing is to help those with dementia feel loved and included, just for being themselves.

More tips are included in the appendices of Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey

Love Letters from the Edge Featured on WZZM Take Five

LoveLettersCover

 

Tomorrow, July 21, I will be talking about Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life on WZZM TV’s Take Five. The show airs from 9-10am ET.

Be sure to ask friends, educators, medical professionals, ministry workers, those who work in the justice system,and employers to listen in for valuable information on post-traumatic stress disorder and the toll it takes on those who have experienced trauma in its many forms.

New Guidepost Caregiving Resource–authored by Shelly Beach

ShellyNappingAtInfusion

The day after I returned home from the hospital following my brain surgery, I received an unexpected call.

The Director of Guideposts Magazine’s Outreach Division asked me whether or not I’d be willing to write a thirty-one day book of meditations for caregivers. I surprised even myself when I said yes. 

The one thing I wanted to do if I had the strength was to encourage people who care for others.

To me, it was a way to pay tribute to those who were caring for me in my diminished state of health. I was also grateful for the opportunity to write about a topic I’m passionate about while using my illness in a positive way. And I was excited about partnering with Guideposts to place nearly a quarter of a million encouraging, spiritually uplifting resources in the hands of caregivers across the nation.

 Strength for Helping Hearts: Reflections for Caregivers provides encouragement, counsel, and a sense of community for caregivers who often feel isolated.

If you know of an organization that would like to receive this valuable resource, contact Shelly Beach at sandscribbler55@yahoo.com Subject Line: GUIDEPOSTS BOOKLET.

PTSD AWARENESS: PTSD in the Pew

Photo Credit: photographyblog.dallasnews,com

Photo Credit: photographyblog.dallasnews,com

Most people associate PTSD with veterans returning from war. They don’t see PTSD as an issue that affects babies, children, teenagers, young adults, professionals, in fact, anyone of any age, background, race, or from any demographic region can be affected by PTSD.

PTSD is far more common than we think.

If you attend a rural church of 100 people, at least 5 adults and adolescents in your small congregation suffer from PTSD. If you attend a church of 1,000 in an urban area like Atlanta or Chicago, approximately 250 adults and adolescents in your congregation are struggling with PTSD.

According to ptsd.ne.gov, approximately 4% of U.S. adults and 5% of adolescents have PTSD in the course of a year. This statistic does not take into account younger children who also often suffer from PTSD, and much higher percentages in larger cities.

Unfortunately, rates of PTSD in urban areas are higher than for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq (from 11-20%).

PTSD is primarily a war-related condition, right? Wrong. 

 

The most common cause of PTSD among the general population is car accidents. In fact, up to 30% of people who experience car accidents will go on to develop symptoms of PTSD. 

PTSD can be caused by any event that causes paralyzing fear and overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope. PTSD can be caused by

  • natural disasters
  • technological disasters
  • pre-birth child loss
  • adoption (the child’s or mother’s experience)
  • childbirth
  • preverbal childhood medical trauma
  • childhood medical trauma
  • adult medical trauma
  • neglect and abandonment
  • domestic violence
  • sexual abuse
  • secondary trauma (first responders, social workers, spouses)
  • caregiving
  • grief
  • bullying

PTSD is a brain illness rooted in chemical and biological causes that typically require trauma-specific treatment.

Unfortunately, the church often treats mental illness as a spiritual problem. However the brain is an organ, and its function is rooted in the same created biological and chemical processes as the rest of our organs. Diabetics take insulin and other medications for their diabetes. People go for physical therapy for rehabilitation following strokes and brain injuries. Those living with PTSD also require therapy and rehabilitation. That need does not connote spiritual weakness. Unfortunately, “guilting” and counsel people away from needed PTSD treatment is too often the position of the church.

People who suffer from PTSD need compassion, patience, understanding from the church, and friends willing to listen.

Christians who suffer from PTSD feel guilty.

They feel unfixable.

They feel alienated.

They often suffer with symptoms like depression, addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, extreme anxiety, hyper vigilance, and other coping mechanisms that have helped them navigate life. These coping mechanisms begin to fail as the years pass.

People with PTSD find it enormously difficult to move past their PTSD symptoms unless they find effective trauma treatment, which the church often minimalizes or even demeans.

The church needs to provide greater understanding of and resources for those with mental illnesses like PTSD.

Mental illness is brain illness and deserves focus in the church as a stewardship issue–stewardship of body, soul, and spirit.

 

Additional information is available in our FREE ebook, “The Truth about Trauma,” which can be downloaded from the pages of this blog.

For more information and to inquire about training your church on biblical foundations in mental illness, contact Kristen Kansiewicz, author of “On Edge: Mental Illness in the Christian Context.” 

 

Observations about the Duggars, Judgment, and Human Nature

WhenAWomanCoverFew people have received more media coverage in the past weeks than Josh Duggar and the Duggar family.

The family became well-known for their television show (Fill in Ascending Large Numbers here) Kids and Counting. Josh is the oldest of the Duggar children and in recent years has become an outspoken political voice among conservatives. (Paint target on his back here from both political liberals and Christians whose feathers are ruffled by girls in dresses and home schooling, among other Duggerish practices.)

I’ve watched the show on and off, which I find preferable to reality choices such as Honey Boo-Boo, Jersey Shore, and The Real Housewives of Places I’m Glad I Don’t Live. I can say that I don’t agree with everything the Duggars are purported to believe about childrearing and theology, but I do find them charming and loveable in many ways.

Josh Duggar was barely 14 when he engaged in irresponsible sexual behavior.

The same age as four people who engaged in similar sexual activities with people in my family. Other children responsible for the same kinds of actions were a few years younger or older than Josh. No one in my family chose to stone these kids, throw them in jail, or demand adult legal action.

I find several things interest about the public’s response to Josh Duggar and his family.

1. We judge those we dislike or don’t agree with more quickly than those we love or see as like ourselves.

Take a real look at your self-talk. Be honest. Many Christians who see themselves as “liberal” are simply “reverse Pharisees,” judging those more conservative in their choices in negatve ways. We see ourselves as liberated and above them, often speaking and acting condescendingly toward Christian brothers and sisters. We judge more harshly. I know few people who would want their fifteen year old child treated as Josh Duggar has been treated.

Who of us has actually has heard the facts firsthand, unfiltered by the media? How would you like your story told by someone who didn’t know you and whose job–at least in some news outlets–was to slant the facts and tell the story in the most sensational way possible in order to engage their readership? Someone who already has drawn a conclusion about your lifestyle and values?

Who of us has or is willing to apply the same standards of judgment to their loved ones and require the same kind of treatment many are demanding of Josh?

 

2. A “killer” lurks inside all our hearts.

The truth of the matter is that we ENJOY seeing the demise of those we dislike or disagree with. Competitive sports and politics are evidence. And if that’s not enough, think back on junior high and high school.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re an adult you’ve risen above the killer motives that lurks inside all of us that likes to watch the downfall of those we hate. The creators of reality television understand this principle better than most Christians do. My heart…and yours, is deceitful and desperately wicked…so wicked, in fact, that we don’t even recognize it most of the time. (Jeremiah 17:9)

 

3. As long as Satan can keep our panties in a knot about someone else, we take our eyes off our messed-up selves.

You see, Josh sinned because he’s a sinner, and I’m pretty sure he knows it because he’s admitted it. The people who are busy throwing stones at him are probably not taking the time to see how much they’re like Josh and every other sinner on earth. I, for one, and so messed up that Jesus had to die for me. The good news is that He’s changing me. But we can only be changed when we take the time to focus on our self-talk and movtives as we interact with others in this world.

I’m reminded that Jesus was a friend of sinners. If we’re to be like Him, what should our response be in balancing accountability and love from those who act irresponsibly and hurtfully?

4. We should place focus on the long-term wellbeing of abuse survivors.

Josh’s parents did the responsible thing. His actions were reported to authorities. Law enforcement investigated. The Duggars were public in their dealings. Josh went for counseling. Reports indicate that the Duggar family has been open and forthcoming.

However, survivors of these types of events internalize their experiences differently.

Forgiveness does not replace needed trauma therapy. If the sexual experience took place in an environment of intimidation, fear, threat, etc., the survivors may need ongoing therapy. Other women may need less professional care dealing with the violation that occurred.

But according to Nancy Arnow of Safe Horizon, a New York-based victim services agency, the children who were the objects of Josh’s actions do not match the definition of sexual molestation.

“We have to distinguish between sexualized behavior that might be pretty normal — experimenting, touching each other — versus molesting, subjecting another child to harm.”

Jessa and Jill Duggar have made it clear in media interviews that this incident was forgiven and in their past. If the media and pulic truly cared about so-called “victims,” they should respect their wishes and focus, instead, on the egregious violation of the law in leaking Josh’s juvenile records and publicizing details. 

According to Dawn Scott Jones, award-winning author of When a Woman You Love Was Abused, it’s important for true abuse survivors to do a thorough and honest inventory of the losses they sustained because of their experience before trying to move on.

In the media frenzy to destroy Josh Duggar, little has been said about the needed focus on the long-term wellbeing of the survivors.

The media and the public has missed the point. Their goal has been to crucify Josh and his family. No one would want their child’s DHS records unsealed, their past made public, and exploratory behavior common to fourteen year-old boys applied to their family and friends.

And NO, it doesn’t matter if Josh Duggar is a public figure. We all deserve the right to make mistakes as kids and move on. This is what juvenile court is supposed to help accomplish. And this is the core of Christian community. (I can dream, can’t I?).

Let’s at least pretend to be consistent. And let’s pretend to be consistent.

Abuse is not over when it’s over. Forgiveness, while an important step, is just ONE step toward healing. Don’t drag out a child’s past and ask for adult judgment. The true injustice is the victimization of the children and the entire family by the individual that released Josh’s records, the media that published it, and Christians who love to sling mud instead of focusing on their own dirty hands.

 

Your thoughts?