Kay's Blog


Showing items filed under “Kay Warren”

Sitting on the Edge of Hell

main image

In the last 5 years, hundreds of people have asked me how to help their loved one – particularly an adolescent or young adult child – who is living with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorder. They have a similar look in their eyes, a similar expression on their faces, a similar weariness that seems to come from their bones. Many weep – mostly against their will, because these brave mamas and dads have steeled themselves to not break down in public AGAIN over the anguish they feel for their beloved sons and daughters who are barely holding on, cycling through repeated “episodes,” relapses, jail time, rehab, hospitalizations, ODs and suicide attempts. These dear parents are doing all they know to do; have done it for years….decades…..and will do it until their last breath. They recognize that severe mental illness often leaves families with untenable choices: there are few “good” options, only “bad” and “worse.”

But some parents go even further in what they ask me. A few manage to cobble together THE question through tight lips that can barely form words, or in emotion-laden paragraphs via email. “Can you help me face the reality that my son/daughter may not survive much longer?”

My initial word to these terrified parents is “I'm honored that you asked me - and I’m so very sad that you even have to give it a thought.”

I remember the first time I allowed myself to wonder if Matthew was going to make it. I wanted to extinguish the thought as quickly and unbidden as it had come, as if somehow by my even considering the terrible thought it could make it happen. I remember the thousand times after that when fear and anxiety and the reality of his determination to die flooded my brain with utter helplessness. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t project positive outcomes. I know this place; I remember it too well. So, to any of you mamas and daddies in this terrible place of fear for your beloved son or daughter, here are my thoughts.

I call the place you find yourself "sitting on the edge of Hell."

It's the place where you as a mom stare down the enemy trying to destroy your child and know that your superpowers are not enough to guarantee your child’s survival. Your love may not be enough to save him. Your hours of anguished, fervent prayer may not be enough to save her. Your tears may not be enough. Your money may not be enough. Your carefully thought through, researched and detailed plans may not be enough. There is hardly any place worse as a parent who adores a child and yet recognizes the enemy is relentless and cruel and implacable.

Some parents are advised by professionals, family and friends to disengage emotionally - to choose "compassionate detachment" toward their loved one. I was given that advice. I rejected it out of hand. I mean, it sounds reasonable in a textbook or on paper or in a clinical setting. It's reasonable, perhaps, for a clinician who must build layers of protection against the pain of losing clients who die while in their practice. For their own well-being and ability to last as a clinician, they might need to find ways to emotionally disconnect from patients or clients so that work doesn’t follow them home. Adult children tasked with caring for mentally ill parents or siblings might need to find ways to emotionally separate themselves a bit for their own survival.

But parents?

How do parents tell their hearts to stop caring? How do you tell your heart to sit by and merely OBSERVE? How do you tell your heart "it's up to him?" How do you tell your heart to give up on hope? How do you tell your heart not to mourn over what mental illness and addiction are doing to your much-longed for, much-prayed for, much-beloved child? How do you tell your heart not to ache or be ripped apart by his illness? How do you tell your heart to let her go?

I couldn't do it.

So, I chose the path that left my heart completely defenseless to hurt, pain and anguish. I chose the path that discarded self-protection in favor of remaining soft and tender, exposed and vulnerable. I chose to suffer alongside of Matthew, feeling his hurt, feeling his anguish, feeling his despair, fighting the hopelessness that engulfed him rather than sit on the sidelines, with my heart encased in a steel-lined box. I chose to believe in the God of Angel Armies.....the God who parted the Red Sea....the God who releases prisoners from behind iron bars......the God who makes a way in the desert.....the God who is the champion of lost causes......the God who walked on water......the God who made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk......the God who rose from the dead by his own power. I knew that if I ever gave up hope, Matthew would sense the change in me and would fling himself even more earnestly into the pursuit of death. 

So I kept on believing, kept on hoping, kept on asking for a miracle, kept praying Scripture, kept begging others to pray as fervently as we were.

I knew Matthew could die. For years we lived with the knowledge that any given day could be THE day he couldn't fight any longer. I wasn't stupidly naïve or ridiculously convinced God would deliver. I just knew He could, and I would ask Him to do it until either HE delivered Matthew here on this earth or welcomed him home sooner than we expected.

So, to my fellow fearful mamas and dads - do what you're doing. Accept the excruciating possibility that your child will not live very much longer. Pray like a crazy woman on your face before God and ask everyone you meet to pray with you for a miraculous intervention of God. And keep your heart open and soft and tender so that your son or daughter never has to wonder what God is really like. Yes, it will hurt you more NOW. But if something should ever happen, you will know without a shadow of a doubt that you never withheld your heart from him. 

My heart is heavy for you as I write....for your child.....for your marriage.....for your other children. Yet I cannot give up hope. I will not give up hope. There is always hope.

Posted by Kay Warren with
in Grief

Walking Through Grief During the Holidays

main image

Christmas 2013 was our family’s first without our son Matthew. I could barely breathe. I stayed away from the grocery store and the mall, fearing I couldn’t hold it together in either. The Internet became my friend as I shopped late at night, without sentimental mall music stirring up memories of Christmases past—when all three of my children were alive.

But every day, the Christmas cards arrived.

When I opened the first batch of cards, shock washed over me. Photos of beautiful, happy, intact families cascaded onto my kitchen table. Most were accompanied by a greeting wishing me a joyous Christmas. Some had a signature and the message, “Hope you have a great Christmas.” Others included a standard family newsletter, listing the accomplishments, vacations, and delightful family moments that had filled their year. I grew astonished, then angry, as I realized that none of the cards mentioned that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier, leaving us definitely not having a joyous Christmas.

Eventually I left the card-opening to Rick. The cards remained unopened in the traditional iron sleigh that has held our cards through the years until after Christmas Day had passed. Weeks later, I tore through them, angry tears pouring down my cheeks as I separated them into three piles: ones that didn’t mention our grief, ones that did so with a short, “Praying for you,” and ones that included soothing, loving, and thoughtful words of compassion and empathy. The third stack was the smallest.

That second Christmas, I opened the first Christmas card of this season. I wondered if perhaps I had been oversensitive the previous December—so immersed in our family’s loss at the time that every expression of happiness was like scraping an open wound. I hoped that I’d feel differently this holiday season. When I opened the card—an artfully designed print on heavy paper stock, printed with a signature from a pastor I don’t even know—I threw it away.

After that, I wrote about the experience on Facebook. I asked readers to consider sending a plain card to grieving families (instead of an obligatory “happy family” photo). “Tell them in a few words that you are aware of how painful Christmas can be and that you are praying for them,” I wrote. “Yes, it’s inconvenient—it will take more time than your rushed signature, and it will require entering into someone else’s loss, mourning, grief, and anger.”

I ended the post on behalf of grieving parents everywhere: “If you aren’t willing to modify your way of sending cards for a while, please do us a favor and take us off your list.” Hundreds of folks resonated with my words and spoke of similar experiences. Others were deeply offended and let me know.

Piercing Reminder

I’m slowly learning that grief is both universal and yet as individual as each person who mourns. Psychologists note that most grief journeys include shock, denial, anger, resignation, and acceptance. But it’s not linear, as though it was a clearly marked path for everyone. The feelings come and go. Some days you think you’re doing well until something triggers a wave of emotions that make you wonder if you’ll feel like yourself again. There are better days, even good days. And then, after a couple good days, a tidal wave of sadness can knock you to the ground.

For me, grief has meant screaming and wailing and weeping and moaning and writhing. Grief is crying so hard that snot runs from my nose into my mouth. Grief is sobbing so hard that I throw up. It’s lying spent on the couch, too weary to lift my limbs up the stairs to bed.

I’m thankful there are biblical models for such raw outpourings. It was customary for God’s people to tear their clothes, cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes, and cry so loud that all could hear. Matthew 2:17–18 (NIV) tells us that the Israelite mothers whose baby boys had been killed by King Herod were in “mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” Throughout the Psalms, King David freely records his anguish, anger, confusion, and sadness. Paul said his depression was so deep, he despaired of life. And Jesus grieved so heavily in the Garden of Gethsemane that he sweated drops of blood.

By and large, Americans are uncomfortable with such raw emotions, perhaps especially coming from a pastor and his family. As a pastor’s kid (and now wife), I have learned about the “walk on water” syndrome—that pastors and their families are expected to keep doubt, struggle, grief, and anger to themselves, lest anyone think they are less than perfect. May I gently point out that we are not superhuman or above pain, as none of the biblical heroes of the faith were, either.

In traditional cultures throughout the world, the louder the mourning, the greater the love shown for the deceased. You might counter that that’s not the way Westerners handle grief. You are right, of course. But acknowledging this leaves me wondering: What are we supposed to do with our feelings when the people we love end their lives violently? How are we to feel when someone we love is murdered? When those dearest to us are ripped from our arms through an accident or illness? Are we comfortable with hard grieving at first, but less so when the grief doesn’t stop after a few weeks or months or years?

Some are hardened by grief. They lose their ability to share in other’s happiness. That’s not where I am headed. I am doing my best to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Since Matthew’s death, I’ve attended the weddings of friends, baby showers, graduation parties, birthday parties (well, most of them), because life goes on and it’s not all about me. At the same time, it’s been four years since our son took his life. There are still moments when the happiness of others is a piercing reminder of what we have lost and will never have again.

One Foot at a Time

Meanwhile, I am grateful for family and friends who keep walking with us on the path of grief. There are those who enter fully into our tears when we need to cry, who make us laugh at ourselves and at life, who gently inspire us to keep seeking beauty from these ashes, and who point us—with their lives more than their words—to our eternal hope and home. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is possible to be in deep grief and yet experience the joy of the Lord. In fact, it is the Lord's joy that enables me to keep choosing to engage life and ministry even as I live with a broken heart.

I’m praying for all who mourn today for any cause. May we find in the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the words that Zechariah prophesied long ago:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God's Sunrise will break in upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.

Luke 1:78-79 (MSG)

For additional resources on grief, please visit kaywarren.com/grief.

Posted by Kay Warren with

Previous12345678910 ... 2324