I don’t approach emotional and mental health from a theologically cold academic perspective – I’d like to share about my own life – what we deal with weekly and often daily, and how we maintain a healthy emotional and mental life!
From my own life
Having lived his first 24 years at home, putting Chris in a group home 10 years ago was a huge adjustment for each of us. The home we felt comfortable with and had the peace of the Lord with was about a 2 hour drive from our home. The first 5 years of him living there were horrible.
Being mentally 4 years old due to the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck in delivery, cutting off oxygen and causing brain damage, though physically 24, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t live at home anymore. He would call us on the phone and cry, sobbing loudly, apologizing through his tears, “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry I did wrong, I’ll be good, can I come home now, I want to come home!” – thinking he had done something horribly wrong to cause us to move him out of his home to live with strangers 2 hours away. Because of the distance and ministry schedule we could only have him home 1-2 nights every 4-6 weeks, though we talked on the phone often, and we tried and tried to get him to understand he did nothing wrong.
After 5 years of that, he was then 29, he gave up the will to live. He got down to a dangerous weight because he refused to eat, and soon refused to get out of bed, refused to take his medicine – he just wanted to die. The real wake-up call came when the manager of the group home told me in the spring of 2008 they needed to discharge him to a nursing home to die, for they couldn’t care for him any longer.
We knew it was because he was separated from us – if you know or have known any 4 year old, imagine telling them they can’t live at home anymore and moving them a 2 hour drive away.
We knew we had to move closer to him which would allow him to come home weekly, rather than monthly as it stood then. Once we made the move and he was able to come home weekly, he became his old self again. Here we are 5 years later, he is now 34, and we have a bit of a routine. I pick him up on Friday morning, take him to a drive-through breakfast and we park by the railroad tracks to see if the Father has arranged any trains to come through town at that moment. If an ambulance screams by Chris always grabs my hand saying, ‘We better pray.’ So we pray for the person they are rushing to help, and he adds a hearty AMEN! at the end.
Then we run errands – post office, home to use his own bathroom and change clothes out of ‘group home smelling clothes’ and see mom, then we take trash to the local dump/recycle, make the rounds of stores as we save things to do so we can do them with Chris. This week Chris got a haircut, and the lady who cuts his hair always gives him a Car and Driver magazine from the waiting area. He loves cars!
Chris keeps a running commentary on everything – we slow to a stop at an intersection out in the country and cows are grazing road-side. “Hello cows!” as he rolls down the window and sticks his arm out to wave at them. (In a low voice in response) “Hello Chris, what are you doing today?” “Oh, just shopping with dad, bye cows!” (Followed by laughing at himself and responding to himself, “Cows don’t talk, do they dad? Ha ha, no cows don’t talk, Chris. But some do! You know, when I get to heaven I’m going to talk to cows!”
Chris has never met a stranger and most clerks know him when we roll through the door, so we take our time. If he sees a man with a cowboy hat on, which is common in Grove, Oklahoma, he will say, “Hello cowboy, what are you doing today?” And if someone is taking up the whole aisle as we attempt to roll through he says, “Look out people!” and then chuckle to himself before adding, “Excuse me.” If we see a baby he has to talk to it, a dog and we have to pet it. We have fun.
We return home about 4pm (16:00) where Barb is cooking a favorite meal for him, and Chris can settle into his recliner with his drawing board, picture books, and watch some of his favorite shows or movies. Around 8 or 9pm he is ready for bed. I play a Christian children’s music CD, tell him ‘By His stripes” and he replies “I was healed!” as I turn out the light.
The next morning a bath is the first thing, no matter if he stayed dry or wet the bed (he can’t get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, so I never know what I’m going to find)…but always a bath, then a favorite breakfast while watching his favorite shows or a movie. Donut Man, Gospel Bill, Davey & Goliath, Animated Stories of the NT/OT, Team Umizoomi, Bubble Guppies, some edited Sesame Street, Barney – and for movies, Cars, Cars 2, Herbie the Love Bug, Dumbo – you name it, our house is a Disney vault of movies!
By afternoon after a short prayer over him, we get in the truck, run a couple errands, then I feed him dinner at a place of his choosing, and return to the group home about 5pm. That’s a typical routine.
Normally I am the one to drop him off week in, week out, at the group home as it is very hard emotionally on Barb. It is on me too but I process it differently. Barb tends towards guilt and feelings of how inadequate the care is, it isn’t like mom’s care of course. I accept that compromise better.
But each time I tell Chris it’s time to start towards the group home he grows silent. His energy is gone, he becomes quiet until he has processed the fact he is going back. And he always asks ‘So you’re coming to get me next week right? You’ll pick me up on Thursday?” “No Chris, on Friday I’ll get you.” “Oh, Ok.”
I remind him we both have to go to work – he goes to a workshop Monday-Thursday – and he settles into the thought. But after I return him and sign his medicines back in and talk with the residents and staff and he has transitioned quickly to ‘group home mode’, he is ‘up’, talkative, interacting with the staff and residents, yet still needing assurance, “Dad, you come get me next week, ok?”
I assure him over and over that I will – the weight of the responsibility and his expectations fully hitting me each and every week we do this. I often pray something like, “Oh Father, keep me alive and healthy so I can be there for him, and keep me from sin and anything that would shorten my life. Just take him first if before the rapture because he depends so much on me, please allow that grace, but I trust you and your plan.” Some or all of those elements are always poured out from my heart to Him as I leave Chris.
I always fight back the tears as I drive away, emotionally down, giving thanks for the provision and good people watching over Chris, for his fellow resident and closest friend Frankie who also loves the Lord, a daughter of a missionary mom who only sees her daughter a couple times a year. But I am down. I must have alone time to work through it.
When I drive I often use the time to call people who have called me or need a call, but I just can’t do it after I leave Chris, usually a Saturday. If I walked too far down that emotional path, can you imagine where Satan would take it? Satan would take it to depression, hopelessness, guilt overwhelming…
But I know better. I counter the emotions knowing this group home, and our home so far from our friends and our home church in Tulsa are what He has for now.
His grace is always present, but grace in someone’s life has ramifications in the lives of others, and those in the Tulsa churches have been gracious. So I worship, I process. Often the ride home alone I am silent other than praying in the spirit/Spirit quietly, me in my thoughts for 30 minutes, alternatively talking to the Father or just thinking. No talk radio, no song selection from my phone. Often I pull into the driveway and turn off the truck and sit a few minutes.
This time of year there is a list of things to do, but Barb knows better than to ask me to do anything after I drop Chris off. I need to have alone time, just me and the Father. Then I will myself to redirect my thoughts – the lawn needs mowed, I need to work on my Weekly Thoughts due in 2 weeks; there are Skype IM’s to answer, emails to answer, a trip to plan, but usually on Saturday nights I just can’t bring myself to do any of that, though what needs to be done weighs upon me. That evening I need time to be in ‘neutral’, maybe watch TV, play solitaire on the computer, go work on my boat.
But first, Barb and I ‘debrief’ when I finally walk through the door after dropping Chris off as we need that together time, talking about some adjustment needed at the group home, clothes Chris needs, etc. Then we shift gears and talk of other things – The emotional cycle completes itself before it begins all over again next Friday.
Being mature in Christ doesn’t mean perfection nor does it mean non-emotional spiritual robot living. It means walking through life with Him. Letting Him and His unconditional love that you are rooted and grounded in, continually be brought up before your face with every challenge, every process of emotion.
Commune in your heart with the Father, with the Lord, and always bring your emotions back to that love.