When I was 10 my dad became angered over a pair of lost car keys. We had another set but for some reason he was still furious. He came in the apartment and with the power in both arms and in one quick swoop, he threw everything on the table across the room covering us in soda. We took off running. No shoes on my feet. My mom walked toward us as we yelled for her to run too. We dove into the car and my mom started driving away. My dad threw his entire body across the front of the car leaving his hand print plastered on the window as he yelled for my mom to open the door. She didn’t. We drove off. We hung out with friends for a few hours. We swam in their pool but I mostly shook in fear. After a few hours passed we met my dad for pizza. We ate like that entire scene never took place.
While I have these memories that still leave me shaking my heart has been changed toward my dad. A heart that was once filled with fear is now filled with love and forgiveness. Yet, I’m also filled with continuous grief because mental illness can feel like a never ending battle.
I’m not sure if it’s right for me to share a story so personal. I’m not in the business of hurting those I love. However, not sharing is like failing to tell the world how God can do the impossible. God truly has changed my dad. I believe that with my whole heart. He’s not perfect but he’s not the same dad I grew up afraid of. He’s struggling at this moment because bipolar schizophrenia and Lewy body dementia don’t work well together. I want to make one thing very clear. My dad’s mental disorder does not change his salvation in Jesus. He will be in heaven not because he does everything right, but because he put his faith in Christ Five years ago. He’s going to heaven because Jesus lives in His heart. I’m proud of my dad and I want nothing but a happy ending for him. I’m not ashamed of him. I’m very much proud of who he has worked to be and devastated that mental illness and dementia is hitting him this hard.
A few days ago my dad packed up everything in his room at the nursing home and sent it home with my aunt because in his mind a resident was trying to rob him. He sent his dentures in the bucket too. He is walking around with no teeth in his mouth because the voices in his head tell him that someone will take them.
This is just a glimpse of what mental illness looks like.
I can’t forget what has happened in the past. I still remember the gun pointed at my moms head. I still remember the dozens of cops in and out of our apartment. I definitely remember being threatened with eviction if we had to call the cops on my dad again. I can’t forget the fear and torment of my childhood because I literally feel it in the shaking of my bones. Still, I want to be sure to be loud about the good God has done and is still doing. I want to be loud about who my dad is in Christ today because up until five years ago he had no faith
We ironically ate pizza with my dad while visiting him the other day. It was the perfect visit. Far better than 23 years ago when we ate pizza together after running from him in fear for our lives. It was as if it were meant to be. It was an hour that made up for the years of fear. He was fully alert and calm. He was excited to see the kids. At the end of our visit he asked us to pray for him. Growing up we couldn’t talk about God without him getting so angry we would hide. Now he’s requesting prayer. Unfortunately a few hours after our visit his paranoia got the best of him and one thing led to another and he was sent to a psych ward. I don’t know what happens from here. I’m filled with an overwhelming numbness. I know we serve a good God who loves my dad. I’m at peace. My heart aches for my dad but still there is peace that I can’t quite understand. I know that God is working all things out for His good. I just can’t see it yet.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28 NLT