The Shadow of Schizophrenia
He promises to love us better than even a mother can: "'Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!'" (49:15).
And he has given us a dazzling vision of a time when we will live in the kind of world we were made for:
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. (11:6)
As I wrestled with a theology of suffering, tainted by my 21st-century Western assumption that I deserve a comfortable and happy life, I stopped asking God why and how he could let schizophrenia happen to my family. I knew the answer: We are pervasively flawed and deeply altered by our sinful condition. And faith-filled or not, there is no reason such a thing shouldn't happen in this life. No reason it shouldn't have happened to my family. And someday, when we are each remade as whole and unmarred people, I imagine creation's renewal will be sweeter for people who have suffered the way Mom has. After accepting the truth and tragedy of our collective condition, I started seeing hope and redemption in our experience.
Earlier this year, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. Mom lives at home with Dad, takes her medication, sees her psychiatrist, takes care of herself, and lives relatively well. Thanks in part to conversations spurred by my book, my family talks more openly about Mom's illness than we have before. Mom reads, travels a bit, sews clothes for her grandchildren, and remembers their birthdays. She calls me and sends e-mails. She laughs when I tease her, and she understands my jokes. In some ways, the woman I knew as a child has come back.
But the people we were aren't truly gone. When we talk on the phone, I still listen for clues that Mom is ailing. When I visit her, I'm still nervous about what I'll see. I feel protective of her, careful with myself, and profoundly sad for her suffering. I know we'll never relate as most mothers and daughters do.
But God is my mother to the motherless (Ps. 68:5), and he has proven himself much stronger than me and more than trustworthy. He is the strong hand I needed as a teenager—and he was there, even when I didn't recognize him. He covers the old scars on my heart, not with a patch but with something much stronger and softer that doesn't remove the reality of my sadness but somehow makes me richer for it.
The shame is gone. I'm not embarrassed of Mom's illness; I'm proud of the way she's living with it. Schizophrenia may still do more ugly work in this woman, but my eyes will stay open; I'm no longer afraid to be like her or to take the emotional risks inherent in loving her.
I don't know what happened to that old stuffed koala. I suspect that between hospitals, shelters, and other places Mom has lived, she was misplaced. But that's okay—the mom and daughter who loved her have both outgrown her. And like everyone who makes it as far as we have, we're both missing some fur and our stuffing is a little flat. But the journey has made us softer.
Amy Simpson is author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission (InterVarsity Press). She also serves as editor of Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter @aresimpson.