Change the Conversation.

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I never say, “He committed suicide.” I always say, “He died of mental illness.” My dad was sick. The sickness was fatal. The sickness killed him. And the sickness is taboo and often time brings awkward feelings when I talk about it in normal every day conversations.

There are so many terrible fatal diseases in our world and mental illness is one of them. It is a sickness as serious as any other fatal illnesses that have touched your life. It is why I know, when I tell others that my dad was sick for a long time, and eventually succumbed to his illness, I know I am not lying. Mental illness is real, it is ugly, and it can be fatal if not properly treated. Your friend, your cousin, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, my dad. They didn’t just choose to stop being. Their brains were broken.

This week, I have seen mental illness shake my personal community, and the world as a whole. Mental illness induced suicide has rocked my personal world more than anyone should have to bare. I’ve been on the sidelines as friends and relatives spiraled. I’ve known it was coming and I have been shocked when I received the news. And until mental illness is treated with the same respect, perseverance, and dedication to knowledge as other illnesses, we are still going to be shocked when we lose another precious life.

 

The conversation has to change.

 

“Just pray more.”

“He must have not felt loved.”

“I wish you would just decide to be happy.”

“Don’t take those pills! When I feel sad I just hit up the gym.”

“I didn’t even know she was depressed!”

“I don’t understand why he chose to take his life.”

 

Have you ever said or heard these things when talking to others about depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or suicide? It is ok if you have. I was there too at one point in my life. But first hand experiences and education changed my tune. If you have ever been touched by mental illness (you most likely have, by the way), make a choice to be informed. Decide that you want better for this world, for your friends, your family, yourself! Be aware of friends who start to party unusually hard, family members who have pulled away, habitual canceled plans, interest that start to fizzle. Care with a fierce intensity. Use some of the many resources at our fingertips to start changing the conversation about mental illness in your circle. Because as your circle changes so will the world.

To my friends who are in deep dark places of hurting: I have been there. I have spent hours in a hot shower trying to get the sting of panic and depression to lessen. I’ve felt the weight of the world pressing on my chest. I have poured over scripture begging God to change my brain. I have spent days in bed willing the world to care. My dear friend gave me permission to use her words, words that be both deeply believe, and you can too…

“I want to remind everyone to persist. If you feel alone and disconnected from everyone in your life, maybe to the point you feel them losing interest in your struggle–persist. If you have been stuck in a rut for 5 years, even with professional help–persist. If you feel as if you’re just “done”–persist. Nothing lasts forever. Neither happiness nor sadness. Please persist. I’ve been there and I still end up there occasionally. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And life is surprising. Just keep persisting. Remain here and see where you end up. It’ll be worth it. You owe yourself as much time as possible. Persist.”

Jesus cares. And He sees you. He knows what it feels like to be hurt and betrayed. He loves you. He gave us brains to use, hearts to feel, and souls to love. He also allows doctors to use their knowledge to learn how to heal and treat this terrible sickness. Let us use our God-given brains, hearts, and souls to focus on changing the conversation surrounding mental illness.

 

Here are some fantastic resources to start and continue a healthy conversation about mental illness:

https://twloha.com/learn/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.mentalhelp.net/

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My (first) Mother’s Day.

This is not how it was supposed to be.

 

Dreams of my first Mother’s Day filled my head years ago. I’d have a snuggly little newborn baby girl with a big hair bow and a floral swaddle. I would walk into church beaming and bragging to everyone of the sleep she had blessed me with for Mother’s Day. And we would all worship as a family and celebrate what God had given us.

 

But that isn’t how it goes.

 

This Mother’s Day, the children who call me Mommy are not my own. This Mother’s Day I will see the children who call me Mommy long enough to get them dressed in play clothes and send them out the door to biological family members. This Mother’s Day my children do not even know their first mother, the woman who gave them life. This Mother’s Day I am navigating the insane emotions of loving the children who call me Mommy without abandon while also knowing next Mother’s Day they most likely will not call me Mommy anymore. There isn’t a neat bow wrapped around the package of motherhood that I’m living.

 

So tomorrow I will go to church. I will worship and celebrate all that God has given me. I will praise Him for the children who call me Mommy. But there is a hole in my heart that is bleeding open because of the brokenness that this Mother’s Day holds.

 

Please celebrate your moms with such extravagant love. Do not feel ashamed for going above and beyond, for blasting your gratefulness on social media, for being thankful for the beautiful children you have.

 

But also, remember the unconventional mothers. Those of us who don’t quite know where we stand. Who are waiting (seemingly endlessly) to feel life in our womb. Who are praying hard for our babies first moms. Who are wishing we had a relationship with our baby’s second mom. Who miss their moms extremely harder on these days. Pray for the enemy to lose and for God’s perfect plan to be revealed. Because even as we know that He wins…our hearts are still sad.

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Jesus Loves You.

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I will often sing this popular children’s Sunday school song over my children as they sleep in my arms or in their beds. As their eyelids get heavy, and I stroke their little hairs, I speak the most simple and powerful of truths over them.

 

Jesus. Loves. You.

 

If my children were to no longer live in my home tomorrow I want this to be so ingrained in their little souls.

 

Jesus. Loves. You.

 

When we have hard days and mommy doesn’t show grace and love, may they know that Jesus loves them. And when adults make choices about their lives that do not look like love, may they know Jesus loves them. When others are rude or ignorant or hurtful, may they know that Jesus loves them. Without question. The truth is so real and so evident that even in the simplest of children’s songs the scripture truth is so loud. When I sing, and sometimes absentmindedly mouth these words, may the scripture truth burrow down into their hearts. These are the not-so-simple scriptures that come to mind when I think of these simple lyrics:

 

Jesus Loves You this I know,

“…You are precious and honored in my sight, and because I LOVE YOU.” Isaiah 43:4a

 

For the Bible tells me so,

“…for they received the message with great eagerness and EXAMINED THE SCRIPTURES every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11b

 

Little Ones to Him belong,

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

 

They are weak but HE is strong,

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower.” Proverbs 18:10

 

Yes Jesus Loves you,

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

 

Yes Jesus Loves you,

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever.” Psalm 100:5

 

Yes Jesus Loves you,

“…so great is His unfailing love.” Lamentations 3:32b

 

The Bible tells me so!

“All scripture is God-breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16

 

Dear little ones,

Jesus, Loves. You.

Amen.

You’ll always be my baby.

“I may not always be your mama…but you’ll always be my baby.”

I said those words without thinking to our baby as I fed him tonight…and wept.

He has never in his life known another mama. I’m it. When the toddlers yell for mama, a part of me wonders if they have memories of their first mom. But not the baby. When he is looking for mama he’s looking for me.

But that probably won’t always be the case. Someday, our babies will go home to biological family, and quite possibly call some one else mama. It’s likely this baby will never have a memory of me.

But this mama. She will never forget.

I will never forget his chubby fingers or the way he sings loudly every time music plays. I’ll never forget that it took for-stinkin-ever to get him to sleep in anything but the rock n play. I’ll never forget how he snuggles his face into my chest when he’s ready for bed or how his face lights up when he hears my voice.

I’ll never forget how brother has to drum on everything or how sister needs to be carried around. I’ll will always smile when I think of our silly meal times or watch a video of their sweet toddler prayers.

These babies will always be mine, even when I am no longer theirs.

For every today.

Tomorrow isn’t promised.

This short quote is true for every living being. But it is so much more prevalent in the foster care world. Everything we do with our children could be our last. Our last vacation, our last holiday, our last bedtime routine.

For us, we head into the Christmas week knowing it is possible we may be childless for Christmas. The reality is that we have a court date a few days before, and court could go many different ways. Which makes this Christmas unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. It makes me want to make every activity we do “extra” magical, because we may not actually get Christmas, or I may never know how another Christmas is for them for the rest of their lives. But it also makes it harder to get fully in the spirit because heartache may be right around the corner.

Most days, our lives look exactly like any family with multiple small children. We change approximately 25 diapers, fill 492693 milk cups, and snuggle bad dreams away. But some days we are reminded of why we are here, why our children are here, and how broken our world can be. These days I take a hot baths and remind myself that Jesus is bigger than our broken system and hurting world. I cling to the truth of scripture and ask for more grace to get through the next day.

If you’ve encountered me in person, and asked about our case, you probably heard me respond with “We will love them hard for as long they are ours”…or something along those lines. While I’m saying it to you, I’m also saying it to me. Because we don’t know if we will have tomorrow…but we will love them as hard as we can for as many today’s as we have.

Grief. Two years later.

Grief.

“a. deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.”

Such a tricky word that encompasses so much, yet feels too small to cover the feeling it brings. If you are walking into the Christmas season with grief in your heart, I feel you.

Today, it has been two years since I received the word that my father was missing. Tonight, it will be two years since mental illness ended his life.  I was a thousand miles away and within minutes my life changed forever. Walking into “the most wonderful time of the year” while also feeling like I’d rather skip it is my new normal. And I know I am not alone. I know there are friends around the globe wishing they would wake up and Christmas would be over because it’s a chore to fake joy every day in December.

The strange thing about grief is that it looks so different on each hurting person. My grieving process probably looks different from your grieving process. My siblings and I all grieve the same loss differently. It is important to remember that it’s quite okay if your grief looks different from those around you. The first few months after dad left I had to figure out how to be okay with what my grief looked like. Because I despised the random outbursts of tears in the middle of coaching, the need to take hour long showers to catch my breath, or the canceling of activities. None of those things are who I am, but who grief turned me into. I am thankful for an amazing support and counseling to get me through those horrible months, but grief never really goes away, at least it hasn’t two years later. However, in the grief there is also joy. And in the hurt, there is also peace. And in the missing, there is also remembering.

 

“For everything there is a season…A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance” Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

 

My mother has used a phrase since we started this journey as suicide survivors. She reminds us often: God Wins. God wins…period. Grief is a battle. Sometimes, it is an every day battle. Sometimes, I can go a whole week without needing my dad for something. But regardless, we grieve, God wins.

I know I have many reading this who never had the opportunity to meet my loud, dry humored, Disney movie loving, sports talking, thing fixer of a father. I ask that you read my speech from his memorial service (click here). I believe it paints a clear picture of what he meant to each of us who knew him. It does not seem fair that he left this world before more people could have him in their life. It pains me that I do not get to experience him whispering to my babies or building cribs for the loves who come into our home. But when I picture my dad in heaven I imagine him holding all of my friends babies who never made it to their arms, and I am once again grateful for him.

Thankful for hope and waiting for heaven.

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(Jimmy and baby Amber. May 1991)

Third Trimester.

Third Trimester.

It’s almost time.

Nesting tons.

Crying more.

 

We have three bedrooms (mostly) ready to receive children. The paperwork is nearing the end and sooner than we know it our big house is going to get a little fuller.

Buying our home was a dream that started before we moved back to Illinois, before we were married, and before my sweet husband even had the fuzzy start to facial hair. Growing up, Chris had said plenty of times how neat it would be if someday he bought the “grey block house” down the road and fixed it up to live in. Once we were married and looking for farm homes (first in Tennessee, then in Missouri, and most recently in Illinois), we would always compare the property to the land the Reynolds have lived on since the 1800’s. Little did we know just exactly how perfect is the timing of our God. The “grey block house” is a three story stone home that sits on the county line surrounded by cornfields and pasture. It has a large barn (that Chris’ great-grandpa and grandpa built in the 40s) and several other out buildings on the property. The grounds are covered with juicy strawberries, blueberry bushes, apple trees, grapes, and many other snacks to munch on while playing outside. The home was built in 1913 and has the original wood floors, corn stoves, and many original windows. It’s the kind of place you walk into and know it is full of life and stories. And it is all ours.

One of the best features of this beautiful place is the five upstairs bedrooms. When we started the process to become foster families one of our main prayers is that we would have the ability to keep siblings together while their parents work to get them back home. Many times siblings are split up because of a shortage of beds in any given foster home. We knew with five bedrooms we would have the space to keep larger sibling groups in tact! Praise the Lord! For the past month we have worked hard to maintain the integrity of this beautiful home while also getting it prepared to take on a new mission as a safe place for the hurting. And now, in our “third trimester” of foster care prep, our prayers are stronger than ever.

Both Chris and I have seen God work mighty miracles in providing for us over the last six months as we embarked on this journey to foster care. The prayer and tangible gifts have been such a blessing to our souls. It has been such a process and at times quite stressful and disheartening…but at those moments are when we feel the village supporting us. I can literally feel the presence of prayers surrounding us. Like a barrier between us and the worry/anxiety/fear/hurt that the enemy wants us to feel.

My spiritual gifts (both to give and receive) are gifts and words of encouragement. Man, how my cup is full! Furnishing three kids rooms (five beds total) is no easy task…yet we have seen God’s had in that as friends have come together to make sure our little ones are loved before they are even known. Support is such a key part of what makes foster care tick. I challenge you to find a way to support the foster care community in your community because without the support we have, I am sure we wouldn’t feel this peace.

For us, as it does most expecting parents, the third trimester brings on a ton of waiting. We still have a decent amount of running around to grab needed items and make sure our freezers are full. And there are a million check lists on our kitchen counters. But mostly, it just feels like waiting. I’ve decided that the waiting is beautiful. Because in the waiting I find quiet and in the quiet I find Jesus.

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Join us in prayer:

-For last minute details and purchases to be finished.

-For our hearts to be quieted and softened for the days ahead.

-For our children who are loved but not yet known by us, but loved and known by God.

-For the foster families in your community who may be overwhelmed, tired, or weary from the waiting.