Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 1

Every year I mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing by writing her a letter.  For the past two years I’ve published excerpts of those letters online to model healing and vulnerability, and hopefully to inspire others to do the same.  Those posts still rank among the most popular posts I’ve written.

JVB TributePreparing to Write

This year’s letter, written on the eve of the 4th anniversary of her passing, was just as hard to write as the few before.  I warned my family days in advance that I would need some time to myself to do this annual practice.  I had hoped to get away and work on the tribute scrapbook I started after her passing, but those plans fell through as well.

My family went out for the evening leaving me alone with my laptop and Zoe, our miniature Schnauzer and my faithful companion.  In the past I had written her about the changes I was going through internally, and the decision I made to take medication for my ADHD.  The latter decision was only possible because I had finally dealt with my fears of medication due in part to what I witnessed in her lifelong struggle with mental illness and psychiatric drugs.

What to Write About

This year, I pondered why I was writing her again.  Was it a healthy thing to do—write a letter to a deceased person?  I knew that letter writing was a good tool for healing.  I used it before in my spiritual and recovery related classes.  But what was the purpose in writing an annual letter?  I sat with that indecision briefly, prayed about what was on my heart, and proceeded to pen my longest letter yet to my mother.  (It seems I had a lot to say!)

Our happy family, before mom’s nervous breakdown, circa 1964.

Growing up without the emotional stability and attachment from my mother has left me longing in many areas of my life.  I’ve gotten some of those maternal needs met through my Sisters in Christ and my long journey to love with my stepmother as well.  Questions still linger though that are specific to my family of origin and what I didn’t get from her.

For instance, my mother spent many years seeing a psychiatrist.  She never shared what happened in those sessions.  I do know it was something that she looked forward to every week.  I’ve re-entered the therapeutic process myself to deal with the effects of my ADHD and to support my son’s similar struggles.  I too have come to look forward to those weekly visits and have more empathy for what my mother must’ve been going through.  I imagine it was her lifeline, as my counseling sometimes feels like it is for me.

Reading my Letter

I chose to read my letter to my counselor and ask her my nagging question:  “Is this healthy?”

She loved my question and enjoys watching how I am integrating the challenges I am facing as I come to terms with my ADHD.  Her response to my question was a resounding “yes!”  She went on to explain how my letters are catalysts for continued healing from my mother wound (by offering my forgiveness) and is bringing great revelation into who I am as a person (and connecting it to my mother).  Those were welcome words to someone who at times feels like I am walking around in a state of disequilibrium.

The main point I finished my letter with was how my mother’s faith changed mine as well:

“The faith steps that I took to minister to you in your final months, and to bury you, gave me such a depth of trust in the Lord.  It brought me back to Him in ways that I wouldn’t have possibly considered in the past.

It led me to Spain (and France), not just to meet Rosa and see the sights, but to pray for His people there.  He prepared me for that and met me there…

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

…If I have any legacy or fruit of righteousness that will grow in those countries, you will have it too.  Your faith planted the seeds for me.  I hope you are privy to that now and have a glimpse into what lies ahead for the Church. 

…Thank you Mom for your faith, for investing in me when I was young, and fighting the good fight until the end.  Your story is important.  I pray that in time, I can share it to a larger audience, and that it inspires others to embrace forgiveness and healing so that they too may live with the eternal Hope that comes from Above.

Love,
Ardis”

In Part 2 of this post series, I’ll address other benefits of this annual practice and introduce you to another author who has been doing this for over 30 years.

A Question of Sanity: Mental Health & the Church

A week after the sad news that actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life, the shock has worn off. His suicide has brought a lot of talk to the forefront about mental health issues. That’s about the only good that can really be said about something as tragic as this.

robin-williams-quoteQuestioning Our Sanity

It also goes to show that you never know what will drive a person to take such a drastic and irrevocable act. I’ve had moments in my own life when I’ve wondered how I was going to get through another day. I’ve also had periods of severe depression and questioning my own sanity.

In those dark moments, what has made the difference is my relationship with Jesus. I long to be with Him, but not at the expense of what it would cause my family. That is what I think in my rational moments.

When you suffer with mental illness or depression it is easy to get caught up in negative thinking and feeling like there is no way out.

Over the past few years since the healing of my mother wound, I’ve become free of a lot of the ‘demons’ and internal voices that wanted me to believe I was not sane, too different, too emotional, too whatever.

stop-the-stigma-of-mental-illnessA Change in Perspective

As I came to understand that some of my own compulsive behaviors were not necessarily defects of character, but were symptoms of my ADHD, I started to give myself more grace. And eventually I turned to medication—something I never could’ve done in the past. I watched what medication did to my mentally ill mother. It scared me and scarred me.

I’ve been on medication for my ADHD for over eight months now. It isn’t a panacea, but it has made a difference in my life. Better yet, my son’s successes with medication for his ADHD have turned his life around. Because of our experiences, I am now a believer in the need for medication. No more white-knuckling it for us.

Mental illness, depression, and yes, ADHD, are real health problems in our society. They have carried a stigma for far too long. Isn’t it time that changed?

Mental Health & the Church

I’ve been blessed to be a participant in and serve in Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program that helps people deal with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Those hang-ups are often thought of as addictions like alcohol and drugs.

depression quoteUnfortunately, the general public commonly believes that CR is a program for ‘those people.’ Being in CR has shown me that we are all ‘those people’ because we all have some sort of struggle that we need Jesus’ help to overcome—including depression, anxiety, rejection, and struggles with shame and worthiness.

Because of my passion for spiritual and emotional healing and my affiliation with CR, I was particularly pleased to hear about a bigger movement in the Church to address mental health issues. In March 2014, the Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, involving Catholic and Evangelical cooperation, was hosted at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA.

Celebrate Recovery: A Safe Place to Share

Saddleback Church is also the founding church of Celebrate Recovery, where I recently attended the annual CR Summit. Just as CR has been one of the signature issues at Saddleback, Senior Pastor Rick Warren is also taking on the role of mental health in the church as a signature issue there. And John Baker, founder of CR, is developing new teaching materials to address mental health issues.

Your struggle is not identityI’m excited to see the implementation of this new information in our teaching materials. CR leaders are not trained counselors or medical professionals. As facilitators of spiritual and emotional growth, we are also keenly aware of how emotionally empty, depressed, or alone people can feel when they enter recovery. (We’ve been there ourselves.) We are on the lookout for suicidal tendencies and refer people to the help they need. Our chief focus is to provide a safe place for people to share their struggles, to feel accepted, and to know that they are not alone.

Depression feeds on isolation.

After a personal testimony was shared at the conference in March, Pastor Rick Warren commented to the presenter: “Your chemistry in your brain is not your character and your illness is not your identity. You are a follower of Christ who struggles with mental illness, but your struggle does not define you… Jesus defines you.”

Overcoming that kind of stigma and identity struggle is just one of the ways Jesus shows up through the ministry of Celebrate Recovery. It gives hope to the hopeless.

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Looking for a Celebrate Recovery program in your area? Click here to find a meeting near you.

For more information about Celebrate Recovery or to read recovery related blog topics, check out CelebrateRecoveryOnThePlateau.org.

It Takes Courage

I finally got around to seeing the movie The Help last week.  When I saw the previews for it earlier in the summer, the thing that hit me most was the story about Skeeter’s desire to be a writer.  Even from the trailer when you hear Skeeter receiving advice on the phone from an editor, you can sense that this was going to be a gripping story.  The editor told Skeeter to write about something that disturbs her–particularily if it bothers no one else.  And for me that is the foundational plot of this movie–taking the courage to do something that no one else will do.

Skeeter’s courage is initially based on her desire to write and get a job in New York.  Throughout the movie though you sense that her courage is fueled by her desire to expose the unfair treatment of the black household help in Jackson, Mississippi around the time of the Civil Rights Movement.  Aibileen is Skeeter’s primary source for her interviews.  When Skeeter asks her why she is willing to participate, after initially declining,  Aibileen says ‘God.’

The Help is a very moving story interspersed with humor and some tearful moments.  It is a story about redemption, following our heart and not letting our desire to be accepted or belong dictate what we do or believe.  It is much like our walk with Christ–or what a walk is supposed to look like.  God gives us the Holy Spirit to take those bold steps of courage.  It is up to us whether we will follow Him down a road that may seem scary or uncertain.

As I left the movie, the line that stood out most to me was when Skeeter’s mother told her that sometimes courage skips a generation (referring to her own inability to not cave in to peer pressure).  Then she tells Skeeter that she is proud of her.  I felt a sense of God’s love for me when I heard those words.

I can’t exactly say that courage skipped a generation in my family.  After the death of my mother earlier this year, one thing I have learned is that although she was mentally ill, she did have courage.  She persevered through years of psychiatric treatment.  Unfortunately I didn’t see it in those terms until recently.  Her courage and her faith has inspired me to be courageous too.

So as I start down this path of writing that God has placed in my heart, I will cling to His voice telling me that I am His beloved Daughter and that He is proud of me.

That is where my courage comes from.  What about you?

It takes courage

  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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