Today, do one good thing.

I was waiting to get my hair cut, and leafing through a magazine, when I came across a metal whistle.  As part of my job, I have to carry a whistle, in case of emergency.  I always find the idea funny, because if there is a true emergency, my mouth will be dry and I will be unable to breathe, so blowing a whistle is probably out of the question. But, it is part of the job, so I carry one.

So, this metal whistle caught my eye.  It is from a site called Falling Whistles.

The copy said that proceeds went to help children affected by the war in the Congo.  I don’t know much about the Congo, but I know that there are many places in the world that are war-torn … and it is the children who always suffer the most.  So, I sent myself a text message to remind me of the name.  This morning, I went to the website to see what it was about.

And it was about child soldiers.

The boys are given whistles and placed at the head of the advancing forces … they are supposed to blow the whistle to frighten off the enemy.  But mostly, they are a fragile barrier between opposing factions, there to catch bullets before they can strike more valuable targets — as disposable as a paper towel.

I have heard about child soldiers before — and I find the idea terrifying.  It is a bit of a misnomer to say that these children are soldiers, because they are cannon-fodder, nothing more.  They are treated with a cruelty that is hard to understand.  I look at those pictures and think of my sons, 16 and 8.  Either of them could be in that situation except for a happy accident of birth.

So, gather your courage and read about Falling Whistles.  If you are like me, you will feel outrage and impotence.  You will feel gratitude for the safety of your children or children that you know, and grief for those who have never had the safety yours have.

I don’t know what to do for these children.  I pray for an opportunity to help make their lives safer.  But I do know this.  I know that the evil that they suffer can only flourish because of darkness and in secret.  When I read about the boys thanking God for the food that they received, I could not help but think of John 3:19.

“This is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”

If you can do nothing else, pray for these children, and all children, who are caught in the tides of war.  They suffer greatly, and prayer is a more powerful force than we can possibly imagine.  And maybe, do one small thing today that is good, in recognition of the burden that children bear.  Because the evil that these children suffer is not specific to them.  They are at the forefront of a larger battle.  In that battle, they are valiant, and precious beyond measure.  Any good that we do is a blow against that enemy, and every blow against evil leaves its mark.

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

Good overcomes evil.  The Light of the World overcomes the darkness.  Although the war rages in the Congo, it is only a manifestation of the true conflict.  And I have read the end of that story.

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It could be worse … but it was bad enough.

I have to say that this has not been the best … what … month?  Week?  Something like that.  My sister-in-law passed away.  Which was hard.  And I lost my job.  And that was hard.  I still have A job, but I don’t have MY job.  So, I have been feeling a little overwhelmed … sad but grateful that things weren’t as bad as they could be.  Many people have it much, much, much worse.

And last night, my son was involved in an accident and got his front teeth knocked out.  Not out of his head, but damaged so badly that they had to be taken out of his head, which is damn close enough.

As a parent, you have these moments that are so awful that there are no words to describe them.  Watching your son get oral surgery is not really one of them, but you get these little brushes of what it would be like if things were really bad.  And I don’t know how parents deal with those moments.  Even on the edge of that parental abyss, you can feel what it must be like.

It feels like terror.  It feels like grief.  It feels like anxiety.  It feels like exhaustion.  It feels like vertigo and disorientation.  It feels like being physically ill.

I kept saying that it could have been worse — and the fact that it wasn’t worse makes me profoundly grateful.  My husband would agree with me and would say that yes, it could have been worse, but it was bad enough.  And I couldn’t help but think of all of the parents at the bedside of sick or injured children, and my heart went out to each of them.

So my son is short a couple of teeth.  I liked those teeth.  I liked those teeth in his mouth.  I like the way that those teeth looked when he smiled.  I will miss his teeth.  He is struggling a little with what it means to have no front teeth.  He can’t get dental implants for at least two years, as he is still growing.

So, the last month has not been an actual picnic.  Things could have been worse.  But it has been bad enough.

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Another child … another dose of Risperdal.

First, let me say that I totally believe that medication is necessary for some children with some disorders. I believe that children can have psychiatric disorders and behavioral disorders, and emotional disorders — some of which are very appropriately treated by medication. If your kid is one with a severe disorder, I am not talking to you. Well, I am, but I am not criticizing you. If your kid has something like ADHD and is taking medication intended to treat that disorder, I am also not talking to you … well, I am talking to you … never mind.

What I am talking about is the number of kids that I see on antipsychotic medications. I see a LOT of kids on a lot of medications. I do evaluations and I see a fair amount of children with behavior problems. The most common diagnosis that I see is ADHD — and I would say that more than half of those kids that are diagnosed with it are likely to have the disorder. I would not say that medication is inappropriate in those cases. I wonder, sometimes, what other behavioral strategies would be helpful for those kids, but hey — I am not their parent. I am not being called by the school every day and being told to come get Johnny or Janey out of class because the teacher cannot handle the disruption. I don’t have to attend endless conferences where the not so subtle message is that I cannot control my kid. So, I cannot speak to those parents. But I will say that for some kids, medication for ADHD is like a miracle. They will tell you themselves that they can now concentrate and aren’t getting in trouble all of the time. I am not medication-bashing.

I have been doing child evaluations for about eight years now and the thing that has been striking is the increase in the number of children that I see with relatively benign disorders (such as ADHD — and yeah, I said RELATIVELY benign) on heavy-duty medications. And I am not saying that you can’t give drugs to kids unless they have been tested on kids, because few medications are ever tested on kids. Would you sign your four year old for drug trials? Yeah. But, wow. I see a lot of kids on adult medications.

Zyprexa. Risperdal. Geodon. Abilify.

But mostly Risperdal. Risperdal is a medication to treat psychotic disorders and has been found to be useful in helping children with autism, Asperger’s and kids with some developmental delays. When I say helping them, mostly what it seems to do is to calm them down, which is not surprising, given the drug’s sedating effects.

I saw a kid the other day who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of five. He is currently diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder — and was not given medication that would be consistent with either disorder. At the age of eight, he is now on an antipsychotic and a medication that lowers blood pressure. The second medication is being prescribed more and more frequently as an adjunct to medication for ADHD. But I have never seen it prescribed for ADHD alone.

Today, I saw an eight year old on Risperdal. Again, his behavior is clearly problematic, but I really wonder why he is being prescribed the medication. Is it to help him sleep? Aren’t there better sleep medications? He doesn’t seem to have sleep problems, from what the mom says.

What I am trying to say is that I see kids ALL THE TIME who are on lots and lots of medication. And I really wonder what is going on. It just feels, sometimes, that we are drugging our children to make them less bothersome. And I stand from my lofty height of having kids who are really not bothersome at all, so I get that I am probably speaking out of turn …

But man, I see a lot of kids on a lot of drugs that were never meant for children.

Anyway. I think it is a problem. I think the mindset is a problem. Schools have never been the most forgiving of places for a kid who has trouble controlling his or her behavior, but I sometimes feel like we are using chemical straight-jackets on the kids. An adult can say that they don’t want to take meds, but a child can’t. Not that they should have that authority, but doesn’t this feel weird to anyone but me? Doesn’t this feel wrong to anyone?


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See you soon …

My sister in law just died about three weeks ago. It was stunning. She was not even 50. As I get older, 50 seems a midpoint rather than the harbinger of the end. So you don’t expect people to die at that age. At least, I don’t. I didn’t.

So, I should start this out, in deference to Debbie by telling a bit about her, as I knew her. I met Debbie when she was dating my brother and I liked her right off. She had a wicked sense of humor, silly and profane, piercing and insightful. She could give as good as she got and took crap from no one. She loved her family and she loved kids and she took people to her heart. She was a generous spirit. Down to earth and idealistic. Flawed and deeply, richly, human.

Debbie was stricken with an aneurysm and was rushed to the hospital. We were told that it was very bad and to prepare for the worst. Miraculously, she survived the trip to the hospital and miraculously, she survived brain surgery and rallied at an astonishing rate. The day after surgery, she was communicating with us and our hopes began to rise. And she took a turn for the worse, and then for the worst. Gut-wrenching and sickening. And then she died.

Since she died, I have felt adrift. I grieve for my brother. I grieve for my nieces and nephew. I grieve that her perfect new granddaughter will only know her from stories and from pictures. That is just one more tragedy, because Debbie was a vital physical presence and pictures will show very little of who she was.

I grieve, selfishly, in advance, as I see what my own children will feel in the future. And I almost cannot bear it.

As I attended her memorial, I was struck by the phrase that I heard over and over again. That God had taken Debbie from us. “We will never know why God took Debbie from us.” “God took her from us too soon.” It clanged in my head, a discordant note … true and not true. I caught my breath a little each time I heard it. I don’t pretend to have any theological understanding, but God is in charge. And I don’t pretend to know anything of theological value. But I guess I have trouble with the notion that God just yanked her away from us — that He is operating on some agenda that does not take into account how much her death would hurt.

So, as I think about it, I know a couple of things. The first is that God loves us. That God loved and adored and delighted in all things Debbie. He loved her enough to sacrifice His son for her and knew her inside and out. She was His Workmanship, created and crafted with love and attention to detail. When she was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to enough machines to monitor a small nuclear plant, I could see, literally see, His hand hovering over her. It was a gesture of love and protection. She rallied, all too briefly, but that period was a gift. Her family got to see her and tell her that they loved her. She already knew it, but it is still nice to hear.

Debbie’s death reminds me that the time that I have here is finite. And although I would want more time with the people that I love, I can’t say that I use well the time that I am given. I hadn’t seen Debbie for a while. Phone calls were few, and we didn’t see each other at recent family gatherings. Shame on me. And I feel bereft — I feel keenly the time that I didn’t share with her as I should have. Time squandered, as if there would be time enough for everything. There isn’t. For me, that is the lesson embedded in the grief of loss.

Even though my faith in Christ is firm, I have still have been struggling with questions that don’t seem to have any good answers. Did she die because she was done on this earth? It doesn’t feel like it — there is still much good to be done. Did He just let her die, as if her life had no merit? I can’t see that. Did He need her in Heaven? Well, we need her more. Wouldn’t it have been okay to hold off a little? Just a bit? Her rallying felt like such a miracle and to give celestial credit where credit is due, it really was a miracle. And I know that God was being generous to give us that much. Selfishly, I could have used a little more. And her children could have used a little more. And her husband could have used just a little more.

I am not angry, precisely, because I do know that death has no victory over Debbie. I know that she has life eternal and that I will see her again. But I am still sad. And I know that she was not carted off by an uncaring God who looked up at the clock and said, “Time’s up!”

So, maybe God did take her, but not in the sense that she was taken away from us. I think that she was His from the beginning and when her body gave out, He just … took her. Gathered her into His arms. Carefully and tenderly, so as not to startle her, and with solemn and joyful welcome. Much as I think Debbie first took her newborn granddaughter into her arms, just weeks ago.

Our loss and grief are well-known to the Lord. He is acquainted with our sorrow, He mourns for our loss, He sees each tear. That is why I always found Revelation 21:4 to be so comforting.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

He knows that we are crying, that we mourn, and that this all hurts. And He asks us to endure this for a time, but it won’t be forever.

So, sister dear, I will see you in Heaven. I will know it is your mansion because there will be a ristra or two on the walls, a glass of iced tea next to a Hopi pot, and maybe a coyote nose peeking around a corner.

You can catch me up on all of the doings when I get there. I am sure that you will have been busy.

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