The Shadow of Schizophrenia
A third counselor helped me take another step, graciously walking through symptoms of serious and chronic mental illness to assure me I wasn't ill. She helped me embrace the truth about myself: I am weak, vulnerable, and fragile. These conditions aren't incompatible with normal life, as I had thought, but definitive to normalcy. They are realities I must accept if I'm also to accept God's unconditional love.
But growing emotional health didn't soothe my sorrow over Mom's ongoing struggle with schizophrenia. In fact, as I grew in courage to face my pain, my awareness of pain intensified.
I met friends' moms at weddings, baby showers, and birthday parties. I agonized over what to tell my children about their grandmother. I wondered whether to blame or pity Mom when her choices caused trouble for herself or others. And I waited with shallow breath for the next time her medication would fail or she would stop taking it.
Then one day, Mom left home without word. Her paranoia, when mismanaged by medications, led her to believe that she couldn't trust family members and that she was safer out of the house. For more than a month, we followed clues that led us far enough to guess she had found shelter, but privacy laws blocked our efforts to confirm where. I lay in bed at night, prayers mingling with images of terrible things happening to her. After some family friends spotted her at a homeless shelter where they were serving a holiday meal, my sister went to visit. Mom barely recognized her.
Eventually she came home and crawled back toward reality. Shopping with Dad, she stood in the aisle displaying picture frames, staring at smiling families. "What's family?" she asked him. She knew the word was significant but couldn't remember what it meant.
One day I was riding with some coworkers to an offsite meeting when my husband called to tell me Mom had been arrested. Through her trial, conviction, and prison time, all we could do was write letters substantiating her health history and begging for the treatment she needed—which she eventually received.
The day I saw Mom's bewildered face on the state's department of corrections website was among my saddest. But that was when God helped me finally understand that her experience was not mine, that I needn't be ashamed or afraid to be her daughter. The truth about her was no uglier than the truth about me.
A New Day
When I sought counsel from a pastor, I hoped he could address questions about Mom's spiritual condition and why God allows mental illness. Wide-eyed and stammering, he left my questions mostly unaddressed and showed that many church leaders' silence about mental illness indicates they aren't sure what to say. So again I challenged God to answer my questions himself.
A study of Isaiah transformed my view of God himself. He's a God who challenges us as well:
"Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, the Lord, the First and the Last. I alone am he." (Isa. 41:4, all from NLT)
This same God makes clear who carries the blame for our sorry and painful condition. He also proposes a magnanimous solution:
"Come now, let's settle this," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool." (1:18)