A Year in the Life...

Resurrection Sunday 2018 at our new church! 

Resurrection Sunday 2018 at our new church! 

Since it has been nearly a year since my last blog post, I will take the time catch you all up on what has been going on in our world. When I look back over the past year, we have had our fair share of challenges and triumphs, as a family and in our individual configurations. But through it all, God has shown Himself to continue to be faithful. We are still well within the critical window of recovery, so we are by no means fully healed from all we’ve been through. Scott was gone for 4.5 years, and he’s only been back with us for 2.5. I know we’re going to need at least another year to feel truly whole again. But, I know we’ve come a long way, and have much to rejoice over as we continue our journey towards wholeness!

First of all, I will talk about Scott. Since he returned home, the number one priority has been getting his mental health back on track. When he came home, he was on what I’ll call Medication #1. It seemed to be working well, but since he was coming out of a long season of not having had treatment, it needed time to work. But in early 2017, he started having side effects with this medication that his practitioner was concerned about. So, he switched to what I will call Medication #2. He started out at a very low dose, and over the course of the next 6 months, it was slowly increased. I had had some concerns about it early on, but Scott wanted to give it a chance. For a while, it was a point of contention between us, because I felt that it was not working (as evidenced by his moods and behaviors), but he didn’t want to give up on it too soon. Finally, last fall, after one last increase triggered a manic episode resulting in a quick trip to the ER to get something to calm him down, it was clear that this medication was not going to work. So to my great relief, he switched to Medication #3…the third medication he tried since having returned home in 2016. The new medication showed promise right away, in terms of bringing his brain and moods into balance. But, the physical side effects were causing Scott some issues, mainly excruciating headaches. His provider suggested trying the same medication, but in a different form. Rather than taking pills, it came in what is called a Long-acting Injectable, or LAI. Instead of taking pills every day, he would get a shot once a month, and the medication would be slowly released into his body rather than peak at different times of the day. It would also possibly reduce the physical side effects. The thought of this appealed to Scott, so he tried it.

After the first shot, it was like a miracle! This medication worked like a charm! And from Scott’s testimony, for the first time probably since he was diagnosed as a teen, he felt…normal. Not only that, but he didn’t have to remember to take a pill every day at a certain time, and he felt free. What a blessing!!! And making the deal even sweeter is the fact that our insurance covers it. Injectables for this medication do not come in generic, and they are very expensive. Since starting the new medication, Scott is a new man. It is evident to anyone who knows him and sees him on a regular basis. He has truly turned a corner in his recovery, and has done so well on this new medication, that he qualifies to move up to the 3 month injectable! So now, he will get a shot 4 times a year as opposed to 12 times a year.

He is still unable to work at this time, but he is able to fill his days with productive activities. Before this shot, he had a difficult time concentrating long enough to read, and felt his creativity was stifled. Since the shot, he has been reading more, working on creative projects, and spending more time outside of the home, and feels so much better. And this medication seems to have almost no side effects! I am so grateful!

This just goes to illustrate that when it comes to mental illness, it is not a quick journey to healing. It takes a massive amount of time, energy, and patience. My heart has broken recently to read of a California pastor who took his life after a battle with depression. From my understanding, he was in treatment, had support, and yet in spite of his best efforts and the love of those around him, he was unable to find his way out of the darkness. It’s a hidden illness, because on the outside, the person may seem healthy and “able bodied”. But there is often a battle going on inside that no one fully understands. We seem to be in an epidemic of suicide being on the rise in our country. I don’t know what the answers are. All I know is that each day is a gift, and must be given fully over into the hands of Jesus, who gives us strength to face everything this broken world and our broken bodies throws our way.

Baptized by Pastor Sam with Daddy watching

Baptized by Pastor Sam with Daddy watching

Preparing to play "Genie" in "Aladdin, Jr."

Preparing to play "Genie" in "Aladdin, Jr."

Meanwhile, while Scott is getting himself together, our teen daughter is thriving in her world. Through the ups and downs we have been through, she has been a trooper. Her life is full, busy, and blessed. She has really grown in her own faith in this past year, something that I count as a tremendous blessing. Scott and I both are the kind of parents that, when it comes to issues of God and Jesus and faith, we mainly just point the way, let Jasmyne make her own decisions, and offer support and guidance to her on her journey. She has made a conscious decision to follow Jesus, that is 100% her own, and we fully support her in her choice. She and her dad have had some good talks about God, the Bible, and what it means to follow Jesus. She has had a chance to witness first hand God’s intervention in our lives, and His provision. She and I have had a good relationship…we’ve been through a lot together, so we have a special bond that goes beyond a mother/daughter relationship, but is more like friendship and kinship. She is now a high schooler, and busies herself with all the trappings of the teen life…classes, clothes, football games, friends, social media, etc. But then she fills her life with constructive extra-curricular activities, like church, singing, musical theater, dancing, and drama. I could not be more blessed to have been chosen to raise this young woman. She is indeed my Sunshine!

As for myself, this year has not been easy for me, but it has been what I would call, satisfying. Last year’s medication issues with Scott were very difficult for me personally. Being a caregiver and support person for someone with a mental illness carries with it a set of challenges that is difficult to articulate or fully explain to someone who does not have that challenge. Especially when the person is a spouse. It can be a strain on the relationship, it can be a strain on the caregiver him/herself, and it can throw the entire family out of whack. For a while in the past year, I found myself in a place of despair that even in all our years of marriage and all the challenges we’ve been through, I had not reached. Perhaps I finally hit my own personal breaking point. Or, there could be another culprit behind my plunge into the depths of discouragement…I have found myself in the thick of what they call “perimenopause”. Yikes! My body is going through crazy changes, y’all! It’s a real thing! A visit to the doctor revealed a significant Vitamin B12 deficiency, and when I mentioned to my doctor that I felt like I had never-ending PMS and was unable to cope with life, she recommended a low dose anti-depressant to help me, along with a couple rounds of a B12 shot.

Good friends...great for self care!! 

Good friends...great for self care!! 

And now, not only is Scott a new man, but I am a new woman as well!! My ability to cope with life has improved significantly! My moods have evened out, my outlook is much more optimistic, and I am certainly more pleasant to live with. It goes to show that self-care is every bit as important as caring for others. So this is where the “satisfying” bit comes into play…I am very satisfied with the way things have turned for our family in this past year. We made it through yet another season of challenges intact, and ready for a new stage of recovery.

One thing I must mention is that, as a family, in the past year we took a huge step. We joined a church!! Time and space do not permit me to elaborate on why this is such a Big Deal for us, but suffice it to say that, for a variety of reasons, we have been without a church home for the better part of a decade. About 3 years ago, while Scott was still gone, I met a local pastor through a persistent friend, with whom I reluctantly shared our story. I say reluctantly, because I did not expect a lot from him…unfortunately, through the years, I have been conditioned to not expect much from church leadership when it comes to any kind of real help or support. And I’ll just leave it at that.

But this man was different. This man came alongside me and my child, with prayers, counsel, and support. His church came alongside me with some real practical help…gift cards, groceries, that sort of thing. When it was time to transition Scott home, this pastor and the church came alongside us during the entire transition, including financing the trips out of state in order to get Scott’s affairs in order to bring him home. And when Scott came home, this pastor took the time to get to know Scott…to take him out for coffee, to listen to him, to share with him. All of this, without us even having joined the church!! We started attending services, I went to a Bible study led by his wife…all the while, this church asked nothing from us in return. They simply loved us. Imagine that…a church that actually loved on us! They made sure we had everything we needed, and made themselves available to us.

Church membership photo...we're official!!

Church membership photo...we're official!!

Even Scott was impressed, which is saying a lot. He was so impressed, that he agreed that we should join this church! Y’all, aside from the Miracle of the Medication, and even the miracle of his return home, this is right up there with miracle of miracles! So, last fall, we joined the church.

I will tell you how I know we made the right decision. Our new Pastor happened to witness Scott in one of his not-so-finer moments, on the day we went to the ER to stave off the icky manic episode triggered by Medication #2. I was not sure what our pastor’s reaction to Scott would be after that, but he didn’t blink. Didn’t bat an eye. Especially since it took some time for Scott to get regulated. He treated Scott with dignity, with the love and patience of Jesus, and wasn’t the least bit concerned even though I felt defeated and discouraged by what felt like yet another setback. He encouraged me to just hang on, that Scott would be fine, that God didn’t bring us this far to abandon us…and do you know what he said to me? He said “When I see Scott, I see God.”

That right there sealed the deal for me! Out of all the churches that we’ve joined, and tried to connect with, we’ve not received that kind of acceptance. The irony is, this is a church I probably never would have joined before. I have always tried to avoid labels, so I’ve never been part of a denominational church. But like my Mama always said, “You never know where your help will come from”. Our help came in the form of a Baptist church…albeit, independent Baptist, but still Baptist, haha! And you know what? It’s just fine. We know this is where God wants us, and we are content. I know for a fact that this simple step of aligning ourselves with a church body has played a significant role in our ability to navigate the challenges of this past year.

Gal 69 pinterest.jpg

Now here we are, headed towards our 19th wedding anniversary in a few weeks, and all is well. If I had a life verse, it would surely be Galatians 6:9…be not weary in well doing, for in due season, you shall reap if you faint not. Remember, it takes pressure, time and patience to form a diamond…we may still be a little rough around the edges, but I am starting see the sparkle, for which I am deeply grateful!!

The adventure continues…

And...He's Home!!!!!

Photo credit: Jasmyne Simpkins

Photo credit: Jasmyne Simpkins

At long last, after nearly 5 years of praying, waiting, seeking, hoping…my husband is finally home!! To think, when I started this blog, I had no idea where he was. He had gotten lost in the pit of a bipolar fog so deep, it truly is a miracle that he got out of it. I can only attribute it to Jesus. I know that may sound like a cliché, a “pat answer”, but it is the absolute truth. If you only knew all of what has happened behind the scenes, you would know what I’m saying here!

It has been quite an adjustment!!! Thankfully, it has been a peaceful transition for all of us…him, me, and our 12 year old daughter. It has been a time of great joy, gratitude, and a profound presence of peace and providence. He is where he belongs, and all is right with the world.  We have enjoyed many gloriously mundane moments that we definitely do not take for granted!

A few highlights:

·        He has been able to attend my symphony concerts

·        We have enjoyed precious moments as a family, like meals together at home, a few outings for simple things like Starbucks and walks along the waterfront, and family movie night.

·        He got to see his daughter’s final 6th grade band concert of the year. She played percussion, just like her dad before her! For perspective: when he left, she had just started 2nd grade.

·        Through amazing, miraculous provision, he has been able to receive healthcare and medication, as well as time and space to recover from his ordeals.

·        Doors are opening and provisions has been made for him to use his gifts for music and recording

·        On the marriage front, we’ve had some deep talks, processing these past years and putting things in perspective. We have been working on understanding our separate journeys, which has been just the beginning of healing.

In a nod to the fact that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to make mention of something my husband said about his current state of mental health, that shows the sobering reality of how difficult it can be to receive proper treatment for mental illness:

My husband’s journey ultimately led him into a situation to where he was able to, at long last, receive the right kind of treatment. It was a painful process, but it was also the hand of God. He was able to spend a significant amount of time in treatment. As a result, he ended up with a combination of medications that he had never received, that have worked incredibly well for him. Ironically, the worst years of his life led to the best care he has ever received. In his words, he feels better mentally than he has ever felt in his life. He reports that he has more mental clarity than ever, and the side effects of the meds are minimal. These meds have been on the market for years, so they aren’t even the newer medications. Go figure!

Now remember, my husband was diagnosed Bipolar I when he was 16 years old. He is now one month shy of his 45th birthday. In the course of nearly 30 years, he has been through several doctors, psychiatrists, hospitalizations, and medications. And this is, by his own admission, the FIRST time in his life that he has felt normal. During those talks that I mentioned before, we’ve looked back over years of what could very well have been MISmanagement of his illness, and wrong meds. It has not always been due to noncompliance,  although that has also been a factor in some instances. But even times of noncompliance could be attributed to simply not being able to take the TIME needed to find the right combination of medication, medical supervision, and services, which could have helped circumvent times of illness or noncompliance. Time is money, and medications are expensive. Sometimes it’s so hard to know how well they are working. It’s like a game of Russian Roulette to find what works.

I say that because I want people to understand just how difficult it can be to get proper mental health care. It’s not just the complications of the illness itself…which can be difficult to diagnose…or the symptoms of the illness, that can make treatment difficult. It is also the System that makes it hard to get adequate care, even for those who are proactive in their care. It’s not just the mental health system…it’s the criminal justice system that can confuse criminality with illness. It’s families who lack resources to understand what they’re dealing with. It’s churches and other community resources who lack understanding of how to support families and patients who are dealing with severe mental health issues. It's stigma and shame. And we’re only talking about Bipolar I, which is but one of many, many other mental health conditions that can be just as debilitating.

In short, we have a crisis on our hands in this nation when it comes to mental health.

I have no answers as to how we solve this crisis. I can only testify of what God has done in our situation, and my own perspectives of my experiences.

Here’s what I can say for sure:

I don’t believe all of the answers can be found in this world. The System is broken, because our world is broken, because people are broken. You don’t even have to be a believer to see that. Anyone can look at the state of humanity and see that we as a species have some serious issues! I’m grateful for when the system works. After all, my husband was able to get meds and treatment through the same system that failed him at times.

But what about when the system doesn’t work? Where do you turn for help?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ultimately, my hope, and help, could not be in the right meds, the right doctor, the right treatment, the right diagnosis. My hope is in God. My help, and my husband’s help, came from Him. I clung to the words of Psalm 121 for dear life:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

HE is the One who ultimately led my husband to the right meds, the right doctor, the right treatment. It was not a direct shot…sometimes the journey was dark, difficult, confusing, and just plain hard. It twisted and turned, went up and down hill, and was filled with a few moments of joy and a whole lot of sorrow. It required a great deal of perseverance,  patience, and prayer. It cost me. But sometimes it’s not always about getting to the destination…the journey can be every bit as much a part of the process. But oh, how it can be so, so hard to trust God in the midst of it all.

When it seems your world is falling apart, it’s hard to hear someone say “just trust God.” It’s not that simple.

Or is it?

I think that out of all of the various experiences I’ve had in my lifetime, going through the things I have been through with my husband has been the greatest test of faith for me. When your faith is sorely tested, you can come out one of two ways: with a stronger faith, or no faith at all. A third option might be a redirected faith, when you find that the things you used to put your faith in, no longer work, or maybe were never solid to begin with.

For me, I think I went through all 3 of those phases at one time or another. Some days, I had no faith, and I wanted to give up. Other days, I felt stronger than ever. Still other days, I discovered that things…or people…that I had put my faith in had let me down, and I had to regroup.

In the end, I chose to “just trust God.” It was not easy, but I believe that it has been worth it. I love Galatians 6:9, that says “be not weary in well doing, but in DUE SEASON, you SHALL reap if you faint not.”

At long last, my family is in a season of reaping. I pray for many more days of “beauty for ashes” and the joy that comes after many nights of weeping.

I hope you continue to follow our journey! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see where it leads!

An Unfinished Marriage...

In this season of my life, I have found myself in a unique marriage situation, so I thought I’d give you the backstory  because in a sense, this blog owes its name in large part to some of the challenges I've faced in being married to my husband. This is by no means the full story, but a glimpse of what life is like in an marriage that is not quite finished...

                                                                               The "barn"

                                                                               The "barn"

Our story began in May 1998, in a dusty red barn on the grounds of a retreat center in the tiny unincorporated town of Dunlap, CA. The musical missions group I was with was having  training camp, and our team was rehearsing in the barn. When the camp started, our team was in need of a drummer…and that is when I met my future husband, who joined our team as our new drummer from Tennessee.

Fast forward about a year, and we were engaged! By this time, we had ministered together across the US, across Canada, to Turkey, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Lebanon…and in the process, we became great friends and more. We were married in 1999.

I knew of his bipolar diagnosis early on in our friendship. He was upfront with letting me know that he had a history of dealing with it. He also shared with me that deep down, he believed there was something more going on with him. He always felt that the bipolar was merely a symptom of a deeper root. When we met, he was in the process of going to counseling to try to get to that root.

We got married, with the confidence…and perhaps naiveté…that he would indeed get to that root and get the deep inner healing that we both believed would release him into his full potential. Because you see, I knew deep in my heart that this man was a diamond in the rough. There was something about him that I felt was special. He was kind, intelligent, deeply spiritual, loved the Lord, creative, innovative…I believed that he was worth whatever process we needed to go through to bring forth that priceless diamond, and go on together to accomplish great things. And yet, something was holding him back…something that presented itself as bipolar disorder, but there was something deeper going on that we couldn’t put our finger on.

After a few years of marriage, counseling for him to help him sort out his inner wounds, and many ugly battles with this unknown force that seemed to be hindering his life and causing him torment, we had our daughter.

When she was 2 years old, something happened…

My husband began to have flashbacks. It seemed that having a child of his own began to trigger long buried, severe, traumas from his own childhood, rooted in his family of origin, leading to some disturbing (yet unproven) allegations. What he had uncovered was so horrific that, as a child, in order to survive, he dissociated from it and placed it into another part of his brain, where it lay dormant for years until he had his own child. When it all came out, it came out like a flood.

Suddenly, all of his issues began to make sense…we had found the “root”.

Life has not been the same since, and things actually got more complex.

This “discovery” set off quite a firestorm in his life and in his family of origin that has yet to be fully resolved, resulting in broken relationships all the way around. The severity of the resulting stress on my husband's mental health has essentially torn him away from his marriage, his child, his home, and even himself.

Unfortunately, our daughter and I have found ourselves in the middle of something ugly, caught in the crossfire of what has turned out to be quite an epic saga, casualties of a battle between my husband and his past. However, this is something that my husband is going to have to work out, something we cannot help him with. You often hear the expression of people "battling their inner demons".  Well, my husband is, and has been for a few years now, on a sort of “journey through the wilderness”, battling those demons. That's his story, and I trust God is with him on his journey. I, along with SO many countless, wonderful people, pray continuously that his journey will lead him to victory, peace, wholeness, and eventually, home.

Even though right now my daughter and I have been on our own while my husband is “on his journey”, we are trusting the Lord to return him home to us. I firmly believe that he will be made completely whole. We pray for him continuously, and stand back in amazement as God continues to walk us down this extremely difficult road. It has been a deep, dark odyssey down a deep, dark pit of the blackest coal...but there is treasure, priceless treasure, being formed from the pressure. It has not been easy…at times it seems that these difficult years have been nothing more than a path through suffering. However, God has been beyond faithful, and has amazed me in the way He has met me and my child during this time. He has indeed given us treasures in the darkness.

This is partly why I call this blog "Mining for Diamonds"...it is a metaphor not only for my husband, but for life. Let’s face it…life can be a pit sometimes, and you have to really dig deep to find the treasure, but it's there if you're willing to get dirty, and willing to go through the pain and patience of being formed into something of great value. I believe that the pain of my marriage will one day produce a diamond. I hope I'll be able to share that joy with you one day, right here!

Until then, there is joy still to be had even in the midst of the trial, and I would like to use this blog to share with you some of the ways God has met me in the dark. If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

For now, I will leave you with a wonderful passage in Psalms to meditate on...

Psalm 71:20-24
20 You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
    but you will restore me to life again
    and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
21 You will restore me to even greater honor
    and comfort me once again.
22 Then I will praise you with music on the harp,
    because you are faithful to your promises, O my God
I will sing praises to you with a lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.
23 I will shout for joy and sing your praises,
    for you have ransomed me.
24 I will tell about your righteous deeds
    all day long,
for everyone who tried to hurt me
    has been shamed and humiliated.