Toxic Stress & ADHD, What Is The Correlation? (final pt, 3)

According to studies published and peer reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD, six million children have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States alone. “Nearly two-thirds of those kids have another mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder as well. One of those conditions could be childhood traumatic stress.”

Doctors are beginning to pay attention to this connection, and a good doctor will dive deep into the case before labeling it ADHD because many of the symptoms of trauma and toxic stress (discussed in part 1 & 2) are the same as a true, clinical case of ADHD. These symptoms include:

Further explanation provided here, a study where children with trauma had an over-lapping diagnosis of ADHD:

Young children who experience trauma may have symptoms of hyperactivity and disruptive
behavior that resemble ADHD.
 Trauma can make children feel agitated, troubled, nervous, and on alert. These behaviors
can be mistaken for hyperactivity.
 What might seem like inattention in children who experience trauma might actually be
symptoms of dissociation (feelings of unreality or being outside of one’s body) or the result of
avoidance of trauma reminders.
 Among children who experience trauma, intrusive thoughts or memories of trauma (e.g.,
feeling like it is happening all over again) may lead to confused or agitated behavior which
can resemble the impulsivity of ADHD

The age old question can certainly be asked here, which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is a proven overlap of symptoms, see image below:

Trauma & ADHD overlap of symptoms.

The reality is we don’t know if trauma is the causation of ADHD, but we do know there is a correlation. The question becomes of advocates, parents, teachers, and other caretakers is this: can we alleviate some of the symptoms of trauma and toxic stress by treating trauma accordingly? Are we misdiagnosing children all together, treating their symptoms and ignoring a probable causation of behaviors?

We know trauma in children is the causation of slowed or reversed development. For example:

“Children who suffer from child traumatic stress develop reactions to trauma that linger and affect their daily lives long after the traumatic event has ended. Symptoms can vary according to developmental stage. For instance, an infant or toddler may lose previously acquired skills, such as toileting or language skills, while a teen might exhibit unusually reckless, aggressive or self destructive behavior. The figure below provides a list of some of the common symptoms of child traumatic stress and ADHD. The overlapping area shows some symptoms that are common to both.”

The tendency for pediatricians at these points is to medicate children, and at times that may be appropriate, but we are then opening them up for addiction problems later in life. We are certainly challenged in this arena as we seek the best treatment for children. There is, however, great wisdom in investigating and treating trauma and toxic stress before we immediately label a child with ADHD and medicate them. If ADHD is, in fact, present, treatment of trauma and toxic stress will only help with symptoms.

Finally, studies continue to demonstrate that children with toxic stress and trauma often present with co-occurring disorders such as Bi-Polar, Borderline Personality Disorder, body issues and a host of others including anxiety and depression.

EARLY intervention for childhood trauma gives them the best shot at a healthy, productive life. Treat the trauma and you are treating the whole child.

There is never an excuse to harm a child, but unfortunately, children are traumatized and they may or may not also live with ADHD, but the best news ever is there is hope in treatment. So, parents, don’t just accept an ADHD diagnosis, investigate.

Here is a podcast episode where we discuss co-occurring disorders in children. Special thanks to Dr. Patrice Berry for this episode!

Toxic Stress versus ADHD

She is the kid the teacher expels to the hallway, she sits in the hallway were everybody sees the disruptive kid, her head often down on the desk where she replays the night before, and feels intense sting of rejection from her teacher. She closes her eyes tightly, but the scenes still play out vividly. Dad hitting mom, and then mom finishing a bottle of wine alone as they both hid in her closet. She waited for the inevitable blackout that would result in temporary safety and maybe even some sleep. Once her intoxicated parents were both asleep, she climbed in her own bed, tears soaked her dingy pillow case. Her sobs were silent, but her pain intense, and her body stayed in full fight or flight mode, her brain unable to process any of it. She slept with trauma interrupting her brain development.

The man she called dad spent time in and out of jail, and when he wasn’t chasing the bottom of a bottle, she adored him; those times were rare. Her stomach ached because the night before was also absent of food and water. She had taken seven trips around the sun, and her lived experience affected every fiber of her being, including her ability to stay on task, refrain from outbursts, or to self regulate when she grasped an academic concept before the teacher completed instruction. No one at school intended to miss the obvious, daddy was good at covering the bruises, and mommy lied for him. Frustrated, her teacher ordered a battery of test–with confidence she had ADHD, but the results shocked everyone. She is a good academic student, and unanswered parental communication frustrated her teacher.

Test results demonstrated no indication of ADHD, and so the issue of toxic stress was considered. According to a Harvard University study, “childhood toxic stress is severe, prolonged, or repetitive adversity with a lack of the necessary nurturance or support of a caregiver to prevent an abnormal stress response.”  Suddenly, those entrusted with her academic care realized the effects of her environment mimicked ADHD in her developing brain.

The National Institute For Health published an article addressing this disturbing trend, and also delineating the difference between toxic stress and ADHD. Sadly, many children are given an ADHD diagnosis that follows them their entire lives, ensuring they are medicated improperly and the genesis of their behavioral issues are not addressed. The same study by the NIH draws a firm connection between toxic stress and lifelong physical issues. In order to help children, or surviving adults, we must dig deep into trauma work, healing toxic stress and giving the survivor the best possible outcome. A successful outcome is coupled with knowledge and understanding of children, trauma, and the developing brain. This series will address all of these things as we continue to highlight child abuse awareness month. There is no excuse for abuse, and we will never stop fighting to help survivors and those that love them heal, and live the life designed for them to live.

That little girl is here to help you understand all of it, because when you know better, you do better.

Keep it here on the blog all week as we attempt to help caregivers understand when there may be more at play than a brain that struggles to focus. We will help you understand, and pray you then either find some peace and compassion for yourself, or the much needed knowledge to help others.

In the meantime, here is a podcast episode where licensed EMDR consultants dives into brain science a little deeper.

Everywhere, Ps 139, pt 3

She was alone.  She was afraid.  She had been abandoned.

The story of Hagar is one of the most precious stories in the entire Bible.  Her story can also serve to confuse us, but not as much as it serves to encourage us.  Hagar was one of Abraham’s handmaids and she gave him something his wife Sarah could not; she gave him a son.  They, together, named their son Ishmael.  Ishmael, to this day, is mostly accepted as the “father of Arabic nations”.  He was a result of Abraham’s decision to take his life in his own hands.  He’d been promised that his descendants would be more than the stars in the sky.

But day after day, month after month, year after year, Abraham’s wife Sarah remained barren. So, in a step that was not indicative of Abraham’s signature faith, his decision led to the birth of Ishmael. The birth of this son was anti-climatic until God’s actual plan to make Abraham the Father of all of us became reality.

The birth of Isaac meant that both Hagar and Ishmael would be sent out, literally, into the wilderness. Alone.  Hot.  Hungry. She put Ishmael under the shade of a tree, but stayed close enough to hear him when he cried.

I imagine that Hagar felt alone.  She kind of was alone.  Not unlike many of us, our vision is dimmed to blindness when pain of rejection or consequence threatens to overtake us.

“Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” Psalm 139: 7-10

We know that our creator KNEW us before the foundations of the world.  We know that he MADE us exactly like He wanted us, and that the reflection in mirrors can’t begin to explain how much he values His creation. When He looks at us, He is looking at His reflection, because He made us in His image.  We don’t often reflect that image because we don’t really believe either of these two things, that he KNEW us or that He MADE us in His own image. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The last part of this beautiful Psalm is the lesson that He is EVERYWHERE with us.  We cannot hide from His presence.  This is a fact that most the time is comforting to us, but sometimes can lead to a crisis of faith.

I wonder if Hagar felt like He was there when she got sent into the wilderness with her child.  I wonder how any of you feel about His constant presence when you think about any number of horrible things that happen to either you or to somebody that you love.

It’s hard to believe and know that there isn’t anywhere I can go without Him being there.  It begs to question:

“Where WERE You?!”

This is a question I have asked so many times.  I don’t ask them out loud, in front of people, I wouldn’t want people to think my God impotent.  But when the day slows down and the voices of others are gone, this is a battle I have fought for a good portion of the last decade.

As I was fighting this battle a few months ago, I did ask that question out loud, and suddenly I knew the answer to my question:

“Right there, I was right there”

This defies logic. Hagar must have felt the same. Why would He just watch?  And suddenly I remember that He was also there when His son paid the ultimate price for our sin.  Right there, He was right there, the entire time.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus is a little easier to understand how God was there and that He did not intervene.  After all, the death of Jesus saved the whole world.

My dark moments where He seems absent aren’t world changing like the crucifixion of Jesus.  My dark moments are filled with deep fog of weight on my chest with my brain firing off questions to God as quickly as my anxiety overtakes me.

It’s hard to reconcile the truth of this part of Psalm 139 with the unconditional, precious love of God.

Hagar had to feel the same. And then it happened.

An angel appeared to Hagar and the words of the angel are some of my favorite in the entire Bible:

“I am the God who sees you”

There is no doubt that Hagar blamed herself and her poor decisions for her situation.  We are no different, even though sometimes that simply isn’t true.  Sometimes the dark times, the heavy fog happens for reasons beyond our comprehension. It’s easy to become bitter at an all -powerful God Who knew us before the foundations of the world and Who made us in His image.  If He is that powerful, why, why won’t he lift the heavy fog of pain, rejection, fear, illness, or financial hardship?  The truth of the matter is that list is endless.  If He is everywhere, then WHY, why do these things happen?

“If I say, “surely the darkness will hide me and the light become right around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you.”-Psalm 139 11-12

It’s my perception of the darkness.

It’s your perception of the darkness.

Because He is everywhere, the dark is not really dark, because it is made light to us.  I often think about the precious promise of Him being everywhere.  While it has served to discourage me from time to time, mostly I am leaning on His promise that He will never leave me; He will never forsake me.  So no matter what life throws at me, He is the God Who sees me.

Just like Hagar, He makes His presence known dark times.  Hagar didn’t live the rest of her days without pain or even in the best of circumstances.  But God showed Himself faithful that day, and He proves Himself faithful to us every single day.

It’s our perception of the dark.

It’s our perception of “good”.

And then, we spend all of our lives attempting to answer the age- old question:

“How can a loving God allow this to happen?”

Or, we could look for Him. We can look for Him in every part of life.  We can remember that while we are on this planet to enjoy His creation, our lives are about eternity.  Our lives are about the day we stand before Him.  Our decisions should be driven by our love for our Creator, Who knew us before the foundations of the world- Who created us in His image and Who is everywhere.

Because He is the God Who sees us.  And He loves you more than you can ever imagine.

I love weddings and I really love watching the groom’s face as he watches his bride walk down the aisle.

You know what?  YOU are HIS bride and He delights over you just like an expectant groom delights over his bride to be.  I struggle to accept that He can love me this much.

And then I remember…

Before the foundations of the world.

In His image.

He is with me everywhere.

He calls me his beloved. He doesn’t love any part of His creation more than He loves you.

And guess what?

There is no stain on you my child.

You are more important to Him than your comfort or your lack of emotional or physical pain.  He is creating in you a peculiar sense of glory.  Pain doesn’t make sense and cliches like “everything happens for a reason” serves little to comfort us sometimes.  But what is comforting is that He doesn’t love anything more than you.

“You are my beloved, you’re my bride to sing over you is my delight, come away with me my love.  Under my mercy come and wait til we are standing face to face.  I see no stain on you my child.  You are beautiful to me, so beautiful to me..”

“Beloved” Kari Jobe.




Photo is of the painting “Hagar” featured in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York City.



Swooping & Swirling, Psalm 139 Pt 2

Hold your hand out in front of you.  Pay close attention to your fingerprints.  Get lost in all of the swoops and swirls.  It’s easy to get lost in the intricacy of a fingerprint.  There really isn’t anything on the planet as unique as your fingerprint.

Your swoops and swirls are unlike any of the 7.2 billion people on this planet!

Your swoops and swirls are unlike any of the billions of people who have lived before you!

Did you know that even identical twins have different fingerprints?  A Great Designer Who knew you before the foundations of the world designed your swoops and He designed your swirls.   And He didn’t stop there:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” Psalm 139:13-15

Fingerprints remain a mystery to science, for the most part.  My favorite hypothesis (and the one that makes the most sense) is that our fingerprints are formed as we press our fingers against our mother’s womb.  This is the best “explanation” of identical twins having different fingerprints, as they are in different parts of their mother’s womb.  I don’t know if that is really true, as nobody “really “ understands the uniqueness of our fingerprints, or our DNA for that matter.

This causes most people to look for something bigger than themselves.  Because as much as we are unique from each other, we are made in His image, with a consciousness that there is more to life than breathing air.  And so we are either taught about God or learn about Him the hard way.  We somewhat accept that we are made in His image, but most of us walk around life letting the hits of life dim our eyes and the reflection stops being a reflection of God, but of a life we let get the best of us.

Those of us who profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior are worse than anybody.  We get dressed up nicely on Sunday’s and go to church with smiles on our faces, but the rest of the week, our lives are all about the rat race; having what others have and worse than that desires to look like others look.  This kind of thinking is an assault to the beautiful workmanship that is your body, mind and spirit, but man do we all do it.

I have struggled a good portion of my life with Psalm 139.  I struggled (and sometimes still do) because when I look in the mirror whether it is a full- length mirror or a rear view mirror, what I see does not match the Truth that is Psalm 139.  I am precious, I am unique, I am a daughter of the most high God.  My circumstances bring into question where God was/is during the horrible times; those same circumstances have taken it’s toll on my body and how I look—as the years of bad decisions (either mine or other people’s) are etched in my face.  I’ve asked God where He was when bad things have happened.  I struggle to see the swoops and the swirls.  I fail to see them as unique.  I fail to see them as amazing.  I fail (sometimes) to believe in the Great Designer.

But my unbelief doesn’t make it untrue.  The truth of Psalm 139 may never match the experiences of life.  But my swoops are awesome, and tagged for a purpose in this life.   My swirls are amazing and I hope show off the handiwork of God.

It is time that I started acting like the unique 1:7.2 billion creations of the Most High God that I am.

I can start by not believing the lies of the enemy who wants me to believe I was a mistake.  He wants me to believe that life’s circumstances have rendered me less valuable than you.  He wants me to believe that I have used up all my chips with God.   He wants me to believe that a God that formed me before the foundations of the world is not a “loving God” because bad things happen.

But what he forgets is all I have to do is look at one of my fingers.  All I have to do is look for Him in the swoops and swirls.

I can finish by thanking Him for making me exactly how He wanted me; and I can show the world the Great Designer by respecting the gift.  The best way I (we) can do that is with our words and our actions.  Say the words of truth and say them out loud. Even if you don’t believe them, know this:

Your enemy believes Psalm 139.  He believes the words of truth we should speak over ourselves.

Because you, my friends were made in His image.

Swooping & Swirling,


Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy, Psalm 139:14


Do you see it?  Would you recognize it if you did?  Has the world dimmed your vision so that you are literally unable to see the fingerprints of God on your very being? Maybe the most important question is this:

Do you believe this beautiful lyric in a very old song by Steven Curtis Chapman?

“You are a masterpiece that all of creation quietly applauds, you are covered with the fingerprints of God.”

Steven Curtis Chapman

“Fingerprints Of God” 

I will be the first to answer this question.  Most of the time, the answer to this question is a resounding, almost deafening NO! But, I learned this verse just like many of you did, or if not let me teach it to you.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

This particular Psalm is filled with promises and adorations for the creations of God. But, so many times we forget it or don’t believe it.  It is filled with all kinds of truth, but this verse is the crux of a message that we all need to hear, and more importantly believe.

I memorized it and thought I understood it, even though words like “fearfully” normally conjure a negative connotation in my mind, and “wonderfully” or any version of that word is not a word that I would use to describe myself.  Many of my close friends, if they were being honest, would tell you the same.  It is a universal struggle.  Knowing full well that His creation is wonderful is not a true statement for most of us.

The Hebrew meaning for “fearfully” left me literally blankly staring into the text. The root of this word in this verse means “reverently” and the Hebrew word for “wonderfully” means, “set apart” or “unique”.

Did you know that the human body was created with 10 anatomical systems, 206 bones, a brain that is still not fully understood and something as simple as lifting your finger requires at least 12 complicated steps of muscle contraction? Now, I fully realize that not every human body on this planet are born just as the Master Artist intended, but we have to admit the human body is pretty spectacular and it rivals even the most beautiful pieces of art.

Why don’t we see that when we look in the mirror?  What don’t we treat our bodies like they are the masterpieces that they are?

Think of the creation of your being like this.  God knew you before you were born; even before you were conceived.  He didn’t mass- produce you, he reverently created you and He created you unlike another soul on the planet!  So many times we take our queues from other people on how we should look, often comparing ourselves to other people when we KNOW that He created us UNLIKE ANYONE ELSE!  Of course we aren’t going to look like anybody except the unique, wonderful being He made us to be!  I read a quote recently that summed this up perfectly “Comparison is the thief of joy”. This is so true!  We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people because there literally is NO ONE LIKE YOU!

But, we live in the real world and we are going to inevitably compare ourselves to other people, we are going to get seek value from a number on a scale, perhaps another number that measures our intelligence and all of us are watching the years etched in the crevices of what used to be smooth skin.  And we effectively tell the Author of the universe that he epically failed during that time of reverence when He made us unlike any of the billions of other creations He calls His own.  And worse than all of that, we aren’t helpful to each other with our silent judgments and indictments.  We certainly can do better about reminding each other of the beautiful creations that are our minds, bodies and souls.

Can you imagine if you could spend some time with Picasso?  Would you sit down with him and tell him of all the defects of your favorite piece of his artwork?  Would you compare his artwork to Michelangelo?  Or would you spend your time telling him how amazing his work is and how it has stood the test of time?  Would you praise him for his talents?

Oftentimes when this verse is addressed we forget the first part of it:

“I will praise You…”

Will you? Will I?  Will I look in a mirror and praise His creation? Will I ignore a number on the scale, will I ignore the number on an IQ chart?  Will I stop spending copious hours on social media wishing I had the body, the mind or the life of another person?  Will I stand up, lift my hands and praise Him for the unique person that He made me?  Will I finally understand that His unfailing love for me means that He loves the wonderfully created human being that HE made me to me, NOT the person I think I should be, or the person that I think I should look like?

Will I? Will you?

I am going to leave this here for you to think about all week.

Because we aren’t done talking about how awesome you are.

Hiding Place


There were 4 of them ranging from ages 7-14, three beautiful boys and one gorgeous girl.  She was not at home the night their dad decided to murder their mother before turning the gun on himself. 

She was 5 years old; she went inside a gas station to go to the restroom only to find that her parents left her there.  She has lived her entire life wondering what she did wrong to make them leave her.

She told me that her husband was her everything and without any warning he was gone after a complication from surgery, a surgery that wasn’t supposed to be dangerous, it was. 

She told me that she was going to beat cancer, and even had a Bible verse that God had given her to prove it.  She didn’t beat cancer.

He told me that each hit would be the last time.  The only reason the last hit was the last time was because I left him.

All of these things leaves me wondering about God and leaves me questioning His sovereignty.    Why couldn’t He just stop any one of these things from happening?  Why didn’t He step in?  Does He not care?

These questions send me to the only place I know to go and that is the infallible, inspired Word of God. It is the only place I will find Hope. It is the only place I will find Rest.  It is easy to question God and it is particularly easy to doubt Him when the hits of life keep coming, one after the other.  Truth be told, I have mentioned here just a few circumstances that are close to me, I could easily rattle off many more as I am sure you can too.   As I look at the world around me and I look at all of the hurting people I find myself shaking my head a lot.  Involuntary tears come as prayer request flood my email, text messages and phone conversations.  It seems like everyone I know is hurting in one way or another.  I am happy to pray for them, but I find myself in awe of how any of them are walking around and functioning.  Some of the pain is so intense that I cannot even imagine how these people are surviving.

And then it hits me.

I was not given Grace to handle their problems; I am only given Grace to handle mine.

“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble” Psalm 46:1

This verse is one of my favorites and it speaks to the pure sufficiency of the Grace of God.   It is a precious promise for all of us, regardless of the heart ache you may be suffering, the loss you may have suffered, the illnesses that won’t go away—we are given our own portion of Grace, but our God is our refuge, ALWAYS.  Even when it doesn’t seem like He is listening, and especially when it seems like He isn’t speaking.  It’s so hard to trust the refuge when waves are banging up against the rocks sometimes threatening to drown us, or the wind howling fiercely that it shakes us to our core. It is hard to stay in the refuge. It is hard to not run and try to get away from the fears of this life.  Because we forget the second part of that verse:

“A very present help in trouble”

He is ALWAYS there in times of trouble.  He has me in His embrace when I am afraid of the crashing waves.  He shelters me with His wings when the wind is blowing so hard I can barely stand.  And this is my God to me, and this is your God to you.  I have spent so much of the last few months discouraged by the pain around me, fully forgetting that He is my Refuge and Strength.  And He is yours too.  If He chooses to not answer our prayers in the way we want Him to answer, He has provided an all-sufficient Grace for each of us to walk through the trials of our lives.  That Grace may look different for each of us but the Refuge is the same.  Because He never changes!

Then why are we so determined to leave the refuge?  It is a valid question and one for each of us to answer on our own.  If we could grasp for even one minute the Grace of God and how it gets us through unimaginable pain, what kind of power would we unleash to those around us who may be seeking answers for that hole in their hearts?

The old poem “Footprints” tells the story of two people walking on the beach, one of them is Jesus, and another a man. For much of the trail behind them are 2 sets of footprints.  As the man looks down on the event later he notices at times that there are only one set of footprints.  The man asked Jesus about it and Jesus simply replied:

“It was then that I carried you”

There are so many times I look back on my life and see one set of footprints.   I usually identify it when another person says something to me about the things that have occurred in my life.  I look back at those times and I can feel His refuge and His strength, the event doesn’t seem so bad to me.

And I realize it was then that He carried me. 

But yet even today I had to remind myself that He is my refuge and My strength and that I don’t have to understand Him.  The Bible many times refers to us as sheep.  Sheep are interesting creatures.  They are, perhaps, the dumbest animals on the planet.  So it is comical to me that God would compare us to these animals.  But knowing that, it is good for us to remind each other of this incredible fortress that is our God.  It is important for us to remember that His Grace is SO sufficient for all of our needs.  It is important for us to stay in the protection of the refuge.  We get into trouble and cause more pain for ourselves when we decide the refuge is not good enough for us and we feel we can protect ourselves better than He can.

That is where the comparisons to sheep are accurate.  We can’t help ourselves!  Be encouraged today that while we all could rattle off terrible things that are happening to either us or those around us—our refuge is a Strong Tower.  He will NEVER change.  And while He may not answer our cries like we wish He would, it is then that He is carrying us.

If we let Him, He will carry us.

“In the distance I can see the storm clouds coming my way, and I need to find a shelter before it starts to rain, so I turn and run to You Lord, You are the only place to go, where unfailing love surrounds me when I need it most.  You’re my hiding place safe in your embrace I am protected from the storm that rages. When the waters rise and I run to hide, Lord in You I find my hiding place”  

“Hiding Place”

Steven Curtis Chapman


The first time I saw him was a picture of him while I was on my first date with his dad.  As his dad held up his picture it was like looking at twins, he looked so much like his dad.

The first time I met him he was standing at the top of the stairs.  I was nervous, as I knew that Kevin was the most important person in his dad’s life.  I’d pulled over on the side of the road on the way home to freshen up my makeup and if you know me, well, you know that I normally don’t do things like that.  His first words to me were “you look pretty did you just come from the spa?”  I gave him a nervous laugh.  He was literally standing in my way; I couldn’t even get in the door.  They were waiting for me to go to dinner.  And Kevin figured he got the introductions out of the way and after a hug that became signature for him (as his girlfriend would say, “sometimes just a little too tight”) his next words were “ok dad she is here can we go eat now?”

It was 5 in the afternoon! That kid loved to eat!  That never changed either.  He stayed with us that entire summer since he lived with his mom and stepdad in Maryland.  I fell in love with the role that I got to play in his life that summer.  I knew from a very young age that I would not be able to have children and this felt like a shoulder tap from God, giving me something that I desired, but had no idea since I had prepared myself for no children as far back as I could remember.  Kevin and I loved to blare music in the car and act crazy.  He loved the beach, he loved movies and he loved me.

And that was everything to me.

Less than a year later, he moved to Florida.  He wasn’t with us long before he asked me if he could call me “mom”.  And of course I told him yes.  Since I was 23 and he was 12 we got lots of interesting looks in the grocery store, so much so that we did it on purpose on every single aisle in the grocery store!

Kevin had beautiful blue eyes that looked like the ocean and when his eyes were filled with tears, as they so often were, it was impossible not to feel like your heart had been ripped out of your chest.  I knew that his situation with his mom and step dad wasn’t great, but I really had no idea how bad it was until one day with those tear-filled ocean eyes he shouted at me “at least your mom didn’t sell your VCR for crack cocaine!”  That was when I knew that I had found my person and nobody will ever be able to tell me that he wasn’t just as much my son as if I had given birth to him myself.

It was important to me that he be well educated.  He came to us with all kinds of behavior issues at school and that precluded him from learning.  As an educator and at least at that time a huge proponent of Christian education, it was important to me to put him in a private school.  I fought his dad on this and the decision finally was made that if I wanted to pay his tuition that we could send him.

So, I went out and got a second job so that he could go.  One night I came home after a 14 -hour day and Kevin told me that there was a surprise waiting for me our bathroom.  Not only had he drawn me a bath (one of my favorite things in the world) he surrounded the outside of the tub with grape and cherry Now & Laters.  He left the flavors I don’t like on the bathroom counter “just in case”.  I was moved by his maturity and the fact that he realized the sacrifice for him.  That was the kind of kid he was, most of the time. And Now & Laters (especially cherry) is one of my love languages, and he knew it too.

As the years went by we had some issues with him for sure, we ended up home schooling him because of his behavior at school.  He sat outside my home office for 3 years and did his school work while I would take breaks and help him on difficult tasks.  It became clear to me that he was more than capable of passing the test for his GED when he was about 16 years old.  And he did.

September 11, 2001 hit him hard.  Because he was home schooled, he saw it all happen on live TV.  It affected him.  And the ocean eyes, again, were filled with tears.  He decided then that he wanted to do something about it.  He told us he wanted to go into the military and so we drove him to all the recruiting offices and he picked the Coast Guard. On graduation day, the boy we sent off to boot camp was a man.  I specifically remember looking over at him and thinking what an amazing opportunity he had out in front of him.  Sadly, just 6 months later he got kicked out of the Coast Guard for under aged drinking.

And the disease of addiction started then.

We spent countless amounts of dollars putting him in rehab but he was never able to stay clean.  The next several years he had run ins with the police and ultimately served a short prison sentence for stealing in order to fund his drug addiction.  He moved back to Maryland where his newborn son lived and bounced around from house to house to rehab facilities and he was never able to stay clean.

I had not seen or heard from him since the day that I left his dad.  I remember that too tight hug that day and wish I could linger there for just a few more minutes right now.   I can still see him leaning against the moving truck that held the previous 12 years of my life in it.  I was headed west, to Clearwater.  After that tight hug, he whispered in my ear that he understood why I had to leave. The truth of the matter is that he and I huddled in the closet more times than I can count waiting for his dad to pass out in an alcohol induced coma.  So, he got it.  But because of his dad’s actions, it was not safe for me to stay in touch with him. They were doing drugs together and his dad told him to rob that house for which he went to prison.

It was not until I got the phone call that his dad was found dead in a hotel room did I talk to him again. I still don’t remember how I found him, but I was the one that had to tell him that his dad was dead, found with drugs in the room, heroine mainly. He switched the call to Face Time and suddenly I saw that kid standing at the top of the stairs.  I wanted a tight hug at that moment.   We stayed in touch but then he disappeared and I knew that all of the money that he inherited was being shot into his veins.  I prayed much and just hoped I was wrong.  Months later he called me straight out of rehab.  He had nowhere to go and had burned every bridge. I knew that if he didn’t get off the street that there was no hope for him.  He ended up in a sober living facility, where I paid his first two weeks. I hoped that this time it would stick, and it did, for over a year.

That year was filled with healing conversations, video chats and text messages.  He validated my “parenting skills” from his younger years telling me that the worst thing I did to him was not let him listen to inappropriate music.  I apologized and he said “why are you apologizing, I don’t let my son listen to it either”.  He was doing well, had met the love of his life and had his rights restored for his son. He’d gotten a good job and every month he would text me a picture of the coin he’d gotten at his NA meetings.

I started to become concerned when communication became erratic.  When the Caps won the Stanley Cup, I texted him and didn’t hear back for weeks.  Then I received a text message from him telling me that he’d relapsed and had just gotten out of the hospital.  Things went back to normal until I woke up to a Facebook message from his mom.  If that message were not in black and white in front of me, I would not believe it.  Kevin Watson, age 33, dead of a drug overdose.  He had taken a lethal dosage of heroine laced with fentanyl.

It still doesn’t seem real. It is a month ago today. Ironically, this is also the day of that first date where I was introduced to Kevin Michael Watson over a diet coke and Caesar salad.

This news came during the worst possible time for me health wise.  I was literally fighting to get out of bed in the morning.  I don’t know if that is why it hit me so hard, but the light is gone from my eyes and plenty of tears have filled them.  His death has me questioning everything I ever thought was true.

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted, He rescues those who’s spirits are crushed”

Psalm 34:18

As I was thinking about what to write today, I wanted to share with you this verse that I didn’t even know existed.  As I prayed about which Psalm to pick, Psalm 34 just kept coming to my mind.  I got my Bible out and the first several verses did not speak to me, but then I got to verse 18 and about 20 minutes later I was in the same position on my couch with tears falling on the pages of my Bible.

A crushed spirit, huh? Yes.  That is exactly how it feels.  I don’t have any regrets with Kevin; I have lost too many people to leave things left undone.  My last words to him were “I Love You”, as we laughed about how impossible it was for us to have an actual phone call.  But the last month has left me asking lots of questions to my God Who can handle it. He seems silent on this subject.  In fact, He seems silent period. My mind floods with all the times I did everything I could just to keep him alive.   I rapid fire my questions to God and every time I run out of questions, I find myself begging him for Peace.  And He gives it, even if it is for a short time before another huge wave of grief hits me, again.

You see, addiction is not new to me.  While I have never used heroine, I, at one time, coped with my life through pain medication.  Honestly, I am lucky to be alive, and if there is any guilt with either his dad’s death or Kevin’s, it is the very real knowledge that any number of times that could have been me too.  Why them and not me?  We are literally in an opioid crisis in this country and since my life was spared, I would like to put a face on it for you.  Just look at my profile picture.  My life was spared despite my best efforts after taking a handful of pain pills and washing it down with wine.  I am free of that now, with no desire to go back, but I know it can happen.  The terror in the eyes of those who love me stop me, I think.  I wouldn’t want anybody to feel this pain.

I know I will have friends who think this is too real and too personal.  And while I care what those around me think, this is bigger than what any reader will think of me.

As I mourn the loss of this 33- year old beautiful disaster, I can go no other place than to God. Because when I take Him out of the equation, I still have my grief, but not God.  And so I cling to the precious promise of this verse.  He is close, he is right beside me, and His burden is light.

My load is heavy.  So tied to him on the yoke,  I give Him a little head nod and ask Him to take over.

Because I am tired.  I am sad.  I am confused.  I am crushed. I can’t carry any of this load I have to have Him carry it for me.  Otherwise, I will join them and that would be a waste of all God has healed and that He has redeemed.

This will take awhile to heal, and part of me will always be missing.  Every time I think of Kevin I find myself literally shaking my head and sometimes saying out loud “it didn’t have to be like this”.  And I am asking that question along with countless others who are losing their loved ones to this epidemic.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings or what lesson God will bring through all of this.  I do know this and that is that He is a sovereign God and we can’t explain Him.  One day we may want to ask Him the age-old question “if you are a good God, then why?” but unless He decides to reveal that to me, I have two choices the first of which is not an option for me.  I can attempt to do life without Him or I can just admit there are some things I just don’t understand.

A few people have thrown around words like brave and strong to me lately.  Many don’t understand why the death of Kevin sent me reeling into questioning God.  My answer to them is all the same and that is I just think that with all the pain, all the abuse and all the loss, losing a child is something we just aren’t wired to handle.

And so I look for Him because He promises He is close and that he will rescue those with a broken spirit.

That is me God, that is me.

As for Kevin, I am confident I will see him on the other side.  Those ocean eyes have no more tears.  He is not in withdrawals from drugs.  He is not sad about his dad or the things that happened to him as a child. No more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow.

But I will get that tight hug.

There will be that day for me too.  As it will be for anybody who understands that living this life is brutal and dare I say impossible to live without God, Who loves me more than I can ever comprehend.

And even though He is God, I don’t think He is wired to watch our pain either.  We know He grieves with us.  So, I can only conclude that I was not made for this world, and one day will see full restoration in both my body and spirit.

But for today, both are on the injured reserve.  But they will be back.

Because He promised.

Worship First, The Rest Will Come-Ps 100

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” Psalm 100:5

Beginning with the end in mind.  It is a staple business principle and a not all together bad principle for us to remember all the time.  So, with that in mind, I decided to start with the last verse of Psalm 100 because right now I am not a fan of the first verse.

Psalm 100 is a favorite of many and at times it was right up there with my favorite too.  But, as I prepare to write about this I feel the confusion creeping into my heart and into my mind.  I find that what I am commanded to do sharply conflicts with my reality at the moment.  Is He good?  Is that really true? 

I think that might depend on our definition of “good” and therein may lie our problem.

This Psalm begins with a call to worship.  As we think about the conventional definition of “worship” there are times when all of us which these verses simply did not exist in the Bible.  But they do.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness, come before Him with joyful songs” Psalm 100:2-3

It is a simple command, and it is a command given to all of us.  It is one that most of us ignore, when we do go before Him.  Mostly, we offer quick, trite “worship” to Him that we have repeated over and over to the point of vain repetition.  Instead of coming before Him in our true state, whether our season is happy or sad, in plenty or in need—we find the need to throw words that we don’t even mean.  In our pain we attempt to hide from God and that is the absolute opposite of worshipping Him.

What if coming before Him in worship meant coming to Him in our most honest state with our most honest, maybe even desperate questions?  Would true gladness come?  Would shouts of joy come?  Would we leave our time with Him in a different state than we began it?

When life is beating us up, and we are at the end of our ability to understand Him, we have two choices. We can walk away from Him and experience the absolute opposite of gladness and joy or we can believe what He has said in the next verse:

“Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture” Psalm 100:3

All of us seek those things that we can know with great certainty.  And while sometimes the sovereignty of God is of question in our minds, there is no doubt that the sovereignty of God is EVER in question. A great price was paid for Him to claim us as His own.  That price lifted the veil that separates us from Him.  That price gives us direct access to worship Him in whatever way we can, as long as that is an open and honest relationship with Him.  Because we are human beings with flawed understandings of what is best for us.  We are going to doubt Him, we are oftentimes not going to FEEL like shouting with joy, but the main thing that He asks of us is that we worship Him with our needs. After all, He is the only One that can touch those parts of our hearts and minds that are tortured by our circumstances.

The promise that I can come to Him in worship in a fashion that may not look like the church version absolutely puts us in the frame of mind to:

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name” Psalm 100:4 

Sometimes when we enter into His courts our worship is in the form of broken questions.   When we take the time to just “enter” into His presence period, joy will come, so much that He hears it as shouts, even if it takes all the breath we have.  We will find our hearts glad after time with Him even if that time is mostly tears and silent communication.  Spending time in His presence takes our minds off our circumstances and suddenly we find ourselves thanking Him and praising Him.  Because spending time with Him helps us end where we started, and that is the absolute knowledge that despite our circumstances:


His love endures forever

His faithfulness will continue to those that come behind me.

So it is with comfort that I enter into His presence understanding that I may not feel like shouting with joy or singing with gladness.  And that is ok, because worship in its purest form is admitting that I need Him.

The joy will come. The gladness will come.

He is already there.

And He will be.


My Heart & Flesh Fails

It is a beautiful campus and if you are in just the right spot, you can enjoy sweeping views of the Intercostal Waterway.  If you jump in your car, within minutes you can catch a sunrise over the Atlantic, though that might be a rumor, I am not actually sure I have ever seen a sunrise!

Inside the buildings is a much different story.  Most people are walking around with a blank stare and both they and those with them (often pushing them in wheelchairs) have terror in their eyes.  Some people wear masks, and it’s a safe assumption that they are waiting for a tragedy to happen to someone else because they are awaiting a transplant of some sort.  Almost everybody walks around with a thick “patient itinerary” outlining every appointment, every test and every procedure.  Patients smile at each other; it is a tender smile, one that says “I understand that you too are in a battle for your life”.  There are sweet volunteers, who play music, help with directions or bring a service dog that loves the attention.

The hope is that the change in subject will serve as a diversion to patients, because nobody lands at the Mayo Clinic unless there is a battle for health and life.  Every person tells a story with their eyes and sometimes their outward appearance.  Many are weak and all are battle worn.

I am one of them.

I have been under the care of the Mayo Clinic since my diagnosis of 4 autoimmune diseases in 2010. I wasn’t as weary or even at all battle worn then, but was grateful to get answers for my issues then, and it seemed like it meant just changing my diet.  That was a battle I was not happy to fight but one that I could fight nonetheless.  Don’t eat gluten.  Easy enough, I still maintain that I can fight a battle like that.  And I have fought that battle, for almost 8 years.

Over the course of those 8 years, I have refused to touch on the emotional toll that 4 autoimmune diseases have taken on me.  I have refused to pray about it, refused to talk about it and definitely refused to admit it.

My body is at war with itself.

Seems unfair.

Don’t I have enough “real” enemies, why must my body fight itself?  Haven’t I been through enough?

If I am fearfully and wonderfully made, how do we explain this?

If God is everywhere, where is He now?

These questions have made their way from the depths of my heart to my vocal chords.  I finally asked them out loud.

Because when I landed back at the Mayo Clinic, I was out of my ability to keep these questions in the shut off rooms in my heart.

I arrived back on campus in late June.  The drive from my house to my hometown is a little over 2 hours.  I made a lot of promises to God on those drives back and forth—as it would turn out I made that trek 4 weeks in a row.

I tried everything to avoid landing back there.  And while I’d been a patient there for several years, this was the first time I noticed people looking at me with compassion in their eyes.  I could tell they were trying to figure out why I was there. Even doctors looked at me differently. I managed to avoid mirrors but couldn’t avoid my friends and family who expressed concern with my continued weight loss.

As the doctor finished his exam and began throwing around words that terrified me, I felt like I couldn’t even take another breath.  The days and weeks that followed were filled with multiple test and procedures, the weeks and months of the symptoms that landed me there began to take a toll on me. Pure exhaustion gave way to closing lots of nights with tears, fear and anxiety.

The world seemed to stop spinning.  As I watched my friends and family attempt to hide the concern on their face, I became literally paralyzed with fear and there are parts of the month of July that I don’t even remember.

One of my friends requested Psalm 76 for my series “Summer In Psalms”.  I had already written on it, but writers block was in full force and I decided not to publish it.  Like everything else, I put my weekly posts on hold and focused on breathing air and keeping at least some food down.  It occurred to me that I looked like I felt.

Exhausted.  Battle worn.  All of this turned into a miniature crisis of faith.

Where is HE?!  When will He decide that I have had enough?

Then, in the middle of all of that, I got word of the tragic overdose death of my stepson.

At that point, I found myself literally on my knees for the first time in a very long time.  As words gave way to pain in my knees from the hard, cold tile floor, I realized that my heart was just as hard and just as cold.

I was done.  If my God could not meet me here, then I was done trying.

Tears dropped on the floor and they would not stop.   As I stood up this verse hit me and it hit me hard.  And suddenly, I was not a fan of my friend asked me to add to this Psalm to the series.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” Psalm 73:26  

So, I had a choice to make. Would I allow Him to be my strength and my portion forever?  I fought this.

I lost though.

Sweeping memories of all the other people walking around Mayo Clinic hit me.  And my indictment of God began.

What about them?  They are WAY more ill than I am.  Are You their strength and their portion too? Because they look like they have neither.  As a matter of fact, I look like that too.

The thing about God, he can handle my indictment.

There are times in life we all find ourselves bargaining with God.  It is at those points that most of us find no other choice than to land at his feet and fall into His arms, so that is what I did.  I found myself talking to Him a lot over the weekend while I waited for pathology to come back.  Even though the doctor told us he did not believe it to be cancer, those 72 hours were filled with angst and begging God to give me a clean report.

In all of those conversations with Him, I noticed something.

I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

I felt stronger.

I regained some fight.

He was, in fact, sustaining me.

He was carrying me.

He was, in fact, my strength and my portion.  And while I do not want another weekend like that, I want to remember the time I realized He is Everything to me.

I find this to be a precious time in my life.  I don’t understand any of it.  I don’t understand why He thinks I can handle any of this.  I am confused that He created me to handle some significant issues in this life, but has now decided to take that will to fight away from me.

But then I get it.

Because Jesus.

I realized that the lie I keep telling myself is that I can fight anything.  I can win any war or battle.  I have already proven that.

Or have I?

Familiar declarative statements like “I have to figure this out” give way to “I can’t do any of this”.

It is the evaluation of all that He has redeemed that makes me realize that He has always been my strength and my portion.  It’s never been about my stubbornness, strength or courage.

It’s always been Him.

And for whatever is next, it will continue to be Him.

And now, the only thing to remember is this precious promise as my flesh continues to fail, and my heart gets discouraged is this:

This place of surrender is exactly where He does His best work, some of which I may not know until the day I stand before Him.

Until then, I hope other patients at Mayo Clinic will see something different in my eyes.  I want them to see Hope and Peace.

Since my God is the King of both of those things.

As the deer pants towards the water, God, so my soul will worship You.














End Of Watch

“Thank you for your service Officer Smith, your brothers and sisters in blue have it from here, rest in peace.”

These are the words read by a fellow law enforcement officer in an attempt to honor her fallen comrade.  It is all too familiar in today’s society, the senseless acts of violence that rob families of their parent, child, brother, sister or friend.  Many find comfort in the traditional “last call” or “end of watch”—particularly those last words:

“Your brothers and sisters will take it from here, rest in peace”

These words resonate with me as I almost feel a sense of relief for the fallen officer who had tirelessly put himself in harms way for his fellow citizens. I think of every time he put on that uniform, kissed his wife and kids and walked out of his door.  I think of the constant sense of being on guard he must have felt.  I think of the toll that must take on a person.  While he always would have the support of his fellow officers, one thing remained a fact and turned out to come to fruition.  At any time, he could give his life in the line of duty.  My heart aches for his family and I can’t help but wonder if there is a way for us to experience said “peace” while still on this planet.  I wonder if somebody “has it from here” while I am still breathing air.

I know the answer, though tapping into that Answer is so much easier to say than it is to actually do.

We often hear or recite Psalm 23 at funerals.  But, Psalm 23 is not just for funerals; it isn’t just for people who have passed away or even their families.  Studying Psalm 23 has served to both comfort and chastise me.    While not a law enforcement officer, I am not different in that everyday brings something that threatens to steal my peace and keep my body in a constant state of being on guard.  I know that I have an amazing support system that would drop anything to come help me; yet there is always my version of walking out of the door into pure danger and the fear that danger could be the end of life as I know it. My enemy is so much greater than any assailant with a knife or gun.  He roams this planet seeking to devour us.  So, I run to His Word to find comfort and I find them in the words of the Psalmist and Psalm 23.  As I read the words and the promises therein, I realize something.

He has it from here.

I can rest in peace.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (v1)

It is a concept that returns the air into my lungs and calms my ever present nerves.  I have everything I need and that is the end of the story.   The thoughts and worries that can consume me are pointless.  They serve as nothing else other than to steal my peace.  Those things block my view of the only One that “has it from here”

“He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v2)

Our bodies were made for rest, as were our brains.  I love the words of the Psalmist here.  The visual of lying down in an open field of lush, green grass is comforting to me.  As I envision lying there, I also envision clouds.  Some of them are puffy and serve as provision when the rain comes or the sun gets too hot.  But others are dark and ominous and feed already existent fear of losing sight of Him. Those clouds terrify me and there seems to be no purpose to the dark clouds that refuse to drop provision on me.  I struggle with frustration because the clouds seem to be something that I must tolerate, when really, they are the very thing that serves to protect me while in the valley, but especially when I am on the mountain top. Clouds of uncertainty fill all of our lives; but the green pasture beneath us is a reminder, once again, of the One who “has it from here”.

“He refreshes my soul, He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (v3)

As I walk this life, I walk into battles daily.  We all do.  Every person’s battle is different—and maybe it is not in the line of fire like a police officer, but to us, the fear of losing the battle is just as present.  In some ways, perhaps we feel a little less equipped for our battle.  Seemingly, there are no uniforms, no badges, no bulletproof vests or even somebody standing by on the radio that can help us.  We are tired.  We need rest. He provides us with that rest; He refreshes our soul by giving us new mercies every morning.  He provides comfort in the way of His promises to direct our paths.  How often I forget this and wake up to the worries of the day and ill -fated strategies to win those battles.  Most days before I even get out of bed I have effectively undone the refreshment of my soul. The fear of the battles of the day often drown out the promises of the One who “has it from here”.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me” (v4)

If you haven’t walked through a difficult, dark time in your life, you are in the minority.  The truth is we will all, at some point in our lives, walk through dark alleys where assailants stand by to harm us; we will walk into burning buildings where the fire of doubt and fear can over take us.  Most of us will call out on the radio for a friend to help us.  We will all find those things futile at some point. We will all come to a place where ONLY He can comfort us in the darkest days of our lives.  We will all find that end of ourselves where we have no other choice than to trust this promise.  We will all come to a point where we chose to believe that evil is not to be feared but to be fought, not by us, because “He has it from here”.  He doesn’t need our help, only our surrender.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (v5)

One thing we all have in common is that we have enemies.  We tend to focus on the enemies of this world and forget the enemy that purely exists to destroy us.  This verse in Psalm 23 is precious.  But, I struggle to remember that Satan is no match for the God of the universe.  As I learn to constantly abide with Him, there is a certain amount of comfort that comes with knowing that Satan will lose this battle.  It is up to me to believe and act on this promise.  When I am able to remember this in the midst of battle, I no longer reach for my wimpy weapons.  I no longer hope that the bulletproof vest will protect me.  I am overjoyed by the reassurance that I am chosen; I am anointed—when I chose to remember this, I can focus on the things that matter in life—not unlike a law enforcement officer, I have the opportunity to affect change in the world.  If I just believe that Satan is already defeated and that every single day I can say with great authority: “NOT today Satan, NOT today”.  I find myself reminding my biggest enemy that I am a child of the Most High God, and He “has it from here”.

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (v 6)

This verse serves as the ultimate “end of watch” call from Him to me.  I don’t have to wait until I am in His physical presence to enjoy the peace that comes from my “end of watch” call from Him. He is constantly saying to me “I have this from here, rest in peace”.  He promises that goodness and mercy will follow me ALL the days of my life. This means ALL of them, not just the ones where I feel like this is true.  It is always true.  Without fail, He is there to watch for us.  He is honored when we take off the uniform, put down our weapons and let Him take the watch for us.

We are relieved of our duties to fight the battles; protect ourselves from evil and to play hero in the lives of others.

Because He has this from here.

May we not wait too late to claim the promises of Psalm 23.

It is the end of our watch.

Over and out.