In January of 2006, my husband and I were busy with our family of six kids. Even though we faced the normal crises that most families encounter, ours was an overall happy home. We felt blessed because of the direction that our kids were headed. We were looking forward to the day when they would all be on their own and we could enjoy some time alone together. We were getting close – our youngest was a senior in high school!
Then the day came that changed the rest of our life. I received a call at work telling me that our youngest son had had a psychotic break and been picked up by the police and taken to the emergency room. What did that mean? I had no clue what the word “psychotic” meant. What in the world was going on? I could barely breathe. I left work and rushed to the hospital. I’ll never forget entering that bare locked room in the emergency department. There was my precious 17- year- old son lying all alone with a look of utter terror on his face. He was staring at the ceiling in silence. I took his cold hand and began to gently talk to him. I told him how much I loved him. I prayed for him. I tried to get him to respond to me. The only response I got were the tears welling up in his eyes and spilling onto his hospital bed. That was the first and last time I have seen my son cry since he was a baby. I have never felt so utterly crushed and helpless as I did that night!
My son was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. I was in a fog. I had no clue what we were facing. I was confused and frightened. We went to visit our son every day. We were allowed to sit in the common area with him behind locked doors. He was heavily medicated and expressionless. He had a difficult time communicating to us except in ragged spurts. I began to write him notes which he would answer in long rambling notes of his own. At the end of the week, our son was released with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The boy we had known was gone, lost to an unspeakable disease. Thus began a new chapter in our family’s story.
As a counselor, I have a passion and calling to minister to those who face mental illness every day. God has blessed me with a son who suffers from schizophrenia. When he was first diagnosed, our world was turned upside down and has never been the same since. My husband and I were totally ignorant about mental illness. We were devastated and scared. We tentatively reached out for help and realized that the Christian community has no overt form of help for this issue. We felt lonely, lost, and overwhelmed. We joined a secular family-to-family support group sponsored by The National Alliance on Mental Illness. There we connected with others who were in the same boat as we were and just as frightened and confused.
As we became more educated about mental illness, I realized the long journey that lay ahead. My heart was broken as I heard the despair expressed by the other families in our group. When my husband and I offered to pray with them outside of the context of the class, we found that they jumped at the opportunity, even though many of them were not Christians. They yearned for hope. This planted the first seed of ministry in our minds. Over the following years, we have searched, researched and prayed about this struggle. We have asked God for healing for our son. We have tried various medications and secular programs. I don’t know the reason why God has allowed our son to suffer. I do know He understands. He also watched His Son suffer. Whatever the reason, we know that our Father has called us to reach out to others who are also dealing with this complex problem.
1 Corinthians 1:4 states that God comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others with that same comfort. As people are able to pray together and minister to one another, hope begins to spring up in their hearts. When we are willing to open up to God and allow Him to work through us, we are healed to become healers. When caregivers are refreshed in this way they become empowered to help their loved ones. – Lynn Schumacher