Severe Mercy, Sovereign Hope

Colleen Swindoll Thompson

“My name is Colleen, and I am a Swindoll.” I admit that in the measured tones of a 12-step introductory cadence. The name “Swindoll” has been a source of many assumptions over the years. And others’ assumptions are often untrue. These situations are common to us all. An even greater challenge is setting aside such theories in order to personally and authentically relate to others. My great hope for this blog is together we will set aside ideas or beliefs about one another and find true healing through turbulent times.

I was raised hearing my father say, “Thoughts work themselves out through the lips and through the fingertips.” I have found that to be true over and over again. When I was faced with situations I never imagined, writing and connecting with a few wise counselors provided sustaining hope. You see, there are days when I struggle a lot. I feel pressured, stressed, irritated, angry, and I want to control what appears to be out of my control. Other days I feel elated, excited, and delighted to greet the day with confidence and joy. One of the greatest skills in life is learning to accept life on its own terms––facing the mental and emotional issues with honesty, awareness, and grace. My personal confidence in doing this rests in my sovereign Lord.

My guess is that you may be in one of the dark places I mentioned. Thoughts like, I never expected this! What on earth do I do now? How come? and Why . . . ? tumble through my mind like loose bouncing balls on a school playground. My experience with these things led to a completely unexpected spiritual journey. I doubted my faith. I felt God was an enemy. I felt isolated and lost for a period of time. Perhaps you are there today. Though I can’t imagine your pain, I understand the struggle.

If I could offer something for you to ponder, it would be this concept: such seasons are the severe mercies of God. A Severe Mercy is the story of one man’s testimony about this truth. Like mine and perhaps yours, his life was full, his dreams were many, and his relationships were fulfilling. And, like mine and perhaps like yours, a great loss bombarded his life, and everything around him seemed to fall apart for a while. He was devastated. None of it made sense––especially because he was a devout believer in Christ. In his later reflections, he came to learn that his loss was one of God’s severest mercies, for it removed the item which occupied the place in his heart Christ was meant to fill. It’s often said that a restless heart is only at peace when it’s filled with the presence of God alone. Getting there can be heartbreaking.

So, this blog is offered to you as a place to begin to ponder the reflections of someone who has had a broken heart and also found rest.

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30 thoughts on “Severe Mercy, Sovereign Hope

  1. Colleen, You words offer grace, truth, and love poured out from a merciful heart and the depth of a transformed mind.
    Lead us faithfully to faithful service to the children mercifully gifted by our God to adorn the church.

  2. Here’s my question: As a caregiver, how do I know when I need a break? I would like a break every day, but that is obviously not possible. My “special needs” person is my hubby. We have 2 babies and live modestly, so I have to find an inexpensive way to get rest. My husband isn’t fully disabled so sometimes I’m not sure if he doesn’t WANT to help me or CAN’T help. I struggle with resenting how the worse he gets the harder I work. I’m unsure how to mananage my life so I don’t die early because I’m so worn out.

  3. Pinky, your circumstances are challenging! Caring for children and disabled hubby obviously would wear anyone down. So, first you are right about your situation. Here are a few thoughts:
    1) Are there things your husband could do around the home? Sounds like you both know his limitations but may not consider what he CAN do.
    2) Most caregivers forget to care for themselves. That’s beenn one of my struggles. However, it’s essential because when you care for your needs, you are equiped to face the needs of others. Sometimes, I’ve stopped by a part to sit in the sun where it’s quiet, other times I’ve put myself in “time out” (kids like that one)and laid on my back with my legs propped up on the sofa or chair. The wonderful thing about this process, Pinky, is that your soul is changing and you will cultivate an attitude of child like wonder…appreciation for those restful moments.
    4) Lastly, the mind is a tricky little thing to deal with. When I’ve been utterly exhausted, I tend to feel more envy, jealously, anger, and resentment for my situation. In Romans ch 12-16, Paul exhorts us to not conform to this world (following their habits), but being transformed (how is this done?) by the RENEWING of your mind, thus being allowed to test and approve God’s perfect, pleasing will. Pinky, I cannot encourage you enough about the renewing ouf your mind. Take on simbple attrubute of God…his goodness, faithfulness, love, mercy, grace, and so…the for that dat only, repeat 1,000 times if needed: “Lord, I believe you are _________, thank you for renewing my mind and soul.” Thats it. No long classes or verses or even prayers. But a simple statement of truth that will sustain you for that day.
    Thanks for your vulnerability!
    Blesings to you,

  4. Tara: I’m delighted to have a blog for encouraging you. Whatever you want to read or send, I welcome that with arms open. Hope this Monday goes well for you. Colleen

  5. I just found this incredible resource and I can’t tell you what an answer to prayer this is. I’ve ordered the CD series and can hardly wait to listen. Thank you, thank you!

  6. I dont even know where to begin… I JUST ACHE. About 20 months ago, my son Zach was diagnosed as Bipolar I. To make things a little more challenging his diagnosis is “mixed bipolar”, which means he is both depressed and manic at once. That makes him very volatile to either himself or others.
    My deepest pain has often come from well meaning church members thinking this was somehow Zach’s fault or just a lack of faith or even bad parenting. Zach had been stabilized for several months, however in the past weeks, he has been slowly showing signs of destabilization. I had to admit to God that I was scared. It is so hard to adjust medication. He is 18 and is trying to get a job and needs to get enrolled into the local college…. we dont have “time” for this. I want him to be fully functional, to have a job, a wife and kids some day. While I know that this is a distinct likelihood, I feel overwhelmed at times like this. I prayed last night and God distinctly asked me “Do you give this up?” I asked “WHAT?” Again, “Do you trust me?” I answered, “Yes Lord, I do. I know you love him even more than I do”. That gave me such hope, such comfort. I also began to pray scripture for Zach. My favorite is Ro 12:2. ….”be transformed, by the renewing of your mind”. Medicine may not fix everything, but God is supremely capable of filling in the gaps that the medicine misses. Thanks for letting me purge!

  7. LOL- I guess if I had read the above blogs before I blogged, I would have realized that I’m not the only one that loves Ro 12:2… Note to self: God’s word reaches everyone, not just Michelle :0)

  8. I have three boys, the youngest is severly disabled and with lots of health issues. He is now two years old and we are just starting to come out of the fog. My husband and I feel as though he is such a gift. A gift in ways that we may never know. But in God’s sovereign plan is he a gift. I came across this through listening to a sermon on line. I am always looking for Christian resources about raising a child with disabilities. Many of the things sent our way are about grief and hard times…not to say that we don’t experience that but once we move past that, then what? I am looking forward to reading more.

  9. Michelle, I hear anguish, grief disappointment, and the crushing of your dreams. I cry with you, allowing the buckets of tears to gush out. There is no other way to face the challenges than walk through them, one by one…day by day. Some will remain, others will eventually go. I affirm your courage to continue to press on in the midst of adversity. Grief is a powerful experience, but vital to soul healing. Raising children that will not be able to experience life as we wished is an ongoing grief. Here’s my suggestion. Write them down…every wish, dream, loss…write them down. Then,speak them out to the Lord. them to the Lord. He is listening; He provides comfort, He will empower you to move forward…one step at a time. Spend time thinking on Psalm 34: 17-19. You are loved.

  10. My parents and I have been raising my nephew for about six years now, he has autism. It has been an emotional roller coaster. I love him so much and I worry all the time about him, I feel like my heart is broken. He has such a hard time at school because he has trouble getting along with the other kids. Sometimes it feels like he is getting so much better and then its like we are back at square one. I was listening to your dads radio program on my way to work one day and I heard you talking about your son. The tears just poured out of me, it was like all these feelings had just built up and they poured out. I really just wanted to thank you for doing this because I don’t feel so alone in this when I read the other stories. I have hope and I will keep trusting in God. Thank you

  11. I just want to thank you for your son he has inspired you and your family to start a very needed part of this ministry. I wish it would have been there for me and my wife years ago. We have a son with cerbral palsey he will be 13 soon and it has been a challange at times. God has seen us through so much and we have learned alot, but we still have much more to learn and God has been patient with us. I heard some of the sermon your dad did and I have never had anyone put things in that light for me. Sure we’ve had encouragement over the years but most people don’t understand the personal, emotional, and times just unexplanable disaray you feel. Well once again thank you and your family and God for using you all.

  12. Today, you may not be speaking with God; you may not know God…but God is faithful to show you His mercy, His power. Your circumstances may feel chaotic; you may not feel the presence of God. He is near to the brokenhearted, to those in pain. When seasons like this covered my soul, it was nature-trees, rain, mountains, streams, sky, air, twinkling stars at midnight, the animals, nests of birds, all around the voice of the Lord was showing me He was almighty, sovereign, intimately connected to my life. There was no ability to pray, worship, draw, kneel, journal something poetic…my soul wasn’t rested. However, God was and remains faithful to me and to you today-even if it’s by seeing life all around you, remaining fully kept by God. Take a walk without expecting some grand sweep of healing…but in need of something that promises you He is present. Have a great weekend everyone.

  13. Colleen, reading your story brought tears to my eyes as I felt every emotion come back to me through your words. I have a 16 year old daughter with severe brain damage. When she was a baby the dr.’s did not have a diagnosis for her. Which made it even harder for us. After many misdiagnosises they finally found what was causing her symptoms & delays. She was 18 mo. old. By then, the damage was already done to her brain. At that time we didn’t know this yet. After her brain surgery we hoped and prayed she would grow up “normal”. My husband and I handled our pain differently. I was never angry with God but was definitely asking why. Begging Him to heal her. Thinking, “why wasn’t He answering my desperate prayers”, “why did He leave me”. My husband was very angry at God. For a time, turned his back on Him. I look back at that time and I see how much God was there working things out for our good. Without Him, Megan would not be alive today. The Dr. said 1 more month and she would have had a massive aneurysm and died. The Lord put the right Dr. in my path at the perfect time which led to her diagnosis. Praise God! Our life is not easy having a special needs child. Sometimes I will find myself dreaming of the things people take for granted everyday such as, getting her driver’s license, going to Prom, getting married, having her own family. But then I have to remember these are “my” dreams and not God’s plans for her. She has touched the lives of so many people. She is always happy and full of laughter. She is a true blessing! You are a blessing as well! Thank you for sharing your testimony. I know that I need to be reminded (especially on the bad days)that our God loves us beyond words, He is faithful, and alway present in our lives!

  14. I have been blessed with a son with autism who is non-verbal. I know God has put him in my life for a special reason. He is 9 and its very difficult not being able to communicate with him. I am in the process of trying to potty train him which is wearing me out. I ask for you to pray that God will open up his understanding to this. If there is anyone who has advice on how to do this I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for starting this ministry because I can’t get to a support group and I know and trust that you are a woman of God.

  15. Dear Judy, How much you care for your son; such exhaustion is normal! This was my experience as well. I didn’t sleep through one night for 6 years; bathroom struggles were involved with the various other challenges. Diapers until age 6, trying everything from diet, enemas, videos, fun seats on the toilet, music, library books, juices, praise, encouragement, sticker charts, and all. Commonly, children with autism have co morbid gastrointestinal complications as well. I came to accept this may be a reality throughout life. If so, I needed to address my attitude. I came to realize many of my soul issues remain, and the Lord, in his infinite grace, accepts me, loves me, and remains intimately connected to me regardless. This is because his love is unconditional-not based on my me not based on my behaviors, accomplishments, or performance. What I am unable to do; His value of me never changes. You may continue in your responsibilities-exhausting as they are-with the perspective that you and I cannot change our broken condition just as you and I can’t change our children’s broken conditions. Ask Christ to empower you through this; I bet your struggles will slowly dissipate even if your son’s challenges don’t change. Thanks for your honesty and for pressing on. I admire you!

  16. My wife and I have a son who we adopted from Romania in 2000, who is on the autism spectrum and who is deaf. We had terrible sleep problems that caused many meltdowns during the following day. One incredible discovery for us was a simple vitamin called Melatonin which the body normally produces. For our son, it was life-changing. We just give him a few small chewable tablets 15 minutes before bed and he sleeps quite well. I hope that helps others who have struggled as our son has.

  17. Thank you for posting all the information and your life with your disabled child. My husband and I have on daughter, Sarah, who is 15 and has a seizure disorder and developmental delay. She does not walk or talk and has to be fed, bathed, clothed and diapered. As you stated we have seen a decrease in her abilities. She was able to walk on her own at one time but has regressed since. Have you found it to be typical of children with neurological problems to have ups and downs in their progress? When she was walking she was seizure free for three years and then they came back. We don’t know if it was due to medicine, seizures or both. Her seizures are much better now. I listen to your dad most every day and heard you when you were on. It is so nice to know Christians with disabled children who believe as we do, in God that is. We don’t know very many. Thank you again for your links and information.
    Angie Jones, Houston, Texas

  18. How in the world do you explain Asperger’s Syndrome to the rest of the children.I have 5 ranging from 20 to 8.The child with ASD is 8 and has a twin sister.This has been a very hard issue to deal with as the ages are the same.If not enough I have 2 sets of twins.I am not complaining as each is a special gift,but now the 20 yr old is rebelling from God.So I have to deal with his fits of anger ,which does not help the ASD child who is plagued with anxiety which causes migraines for her.I have had to look him in the face and say OUT or STAY,if you stay the next time you throw something or verbally abuse, I will call the Law.He really got mad on a road trip and threw his laptop and hit 2 others in the head.I feel like my life is so messed up with all of this.And I feel like a failure as a Christian,let alone a Christian Mom

  19. Jay (Posted June 26, 2009): Your situation very difficult. Unless the older child has a behavioral or neurological diagnosis the actions you have described must be addressed. My personal belief (and there are countless opinions) is actions chosen by a willful, determined choice to harm others vs. hurtful actions from one diagnosed with neurological challenges (not rooted in willful choices to harm others), cannot be compared. Though the behaviors appear similar, the motivations for such behavior cannot be compared. The “abusive”, and “angry” choices made by your older child are acts of his will which must be addressed immediately. Have you indeed called the law? Have you responses been respected or dismissed? Throwing a lap top is an endangering behavior to everyone, please address this directly. The “rebelling from God” doesn’t appear to be your choice which thus isn’t yours be responsible for. However, how your respond to his willful choices is your responsibility. As a parent, one must be discerning in determining the wise response. For the 8 year old diagnosed with ASD, there a numerous resources which would be extremely helpful. I suggest you seek such resources and tools to help you on the challenging path. May God guide you with all wisdom and instruction.
    If anyone has further thoughts, please contribute. Colleen

  20. Angie, such a situation is complicated and in fact, grievous. I wish I had the ability to know “why” Sarah regressed, and the ability to understand the ups and downs of it all. From age 3-7, Jonathan responded very well to most of the ASD structures I followed. However, his severe regression at age 7 ½ made no sense at all. In just 2 months, he regressed by 50% all his development. I went back to all the genetic, terminal, and possible causes via more tests then ever done prior. All his caregivers were bewildered, my family was grieved and confused…what happened? My faith was tested like never before. After 5 months of testing for every conceivable cause, Jon was diagnosed with greater, more difficult disabilities…Tourette’s, intellectual challenge (previously termed Mental Retardation), intense anxiety disorder, and co-morbid obsession, compulsions, and challenges. Angie, I don’t know the cause of my son’s added diagnosis; nor can I offer you an answer to Sarah’s. What I do know is that Jesus Christ became every thing…my soul’s fulfillment of peace. The humbling process continues, my faith deepens every day. My hope is that your testing will lead you to an intimacy and inner fortitude of hope, despite the challenges you encounter on the journey.
    If anyone would like to offer Angie additional words of grace, I think it would minister to her soul. Blessings. Colleen

  21. I have not called the Police ,but will if ANYTHING happens again.I have told him so and it hurts.He has really seemed to take this in stride.How long it will last?Who knows?He has thrown pots and pans,books,and who knows what else.Anything I gently remind him from the Bible is met with ….”that’s the way you see it…I don’t need a Bible”, he says.I just go about and try not to cross him to keep the peace,because finding my ASD child hiding in her closet or under things,just isn’t worth it.Oh help

  22. Jay, here are some tough and loving words. Expect your son to feel nothing of concern, to appear without fear or regret. Of course he doesn’t need the Bible because he wants no part of it. That has nothing to do with your beliefs, choices, convictions, and so on. Also, it is not your job to “keep the peace” necessarily; it is your job to be absolutely consistent, confident, and extremely protective of your other children. The results of dangerous behavior is loss of freedom and choices; legal action is taken against one whose behavior is illegal, if there is offense in the home, the offender must be removed or choose to follow healthy boundaries and care of others. You have taught your son that his behavior is acceptable as there have been no firm consequences or legal action. Now, you must set the standard with absolute, unchanging, unemotional, and unwavering resolve. Will you commit to that? I know this is possible through the prayers of others and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and Christ our Lord.

  23. Trust me I am committed to this.And I am and will continue to protect the other children.I am not going to back down either.When he starts in I just look at him and tell him “Go Ahead”However he continues to break rules home at a certain time.But to his surprise the door remains locked.He has to find another place to sleep for the night.This does not affect him as he stays away for another day.I am so tired of this nonsense.

  24. Thank you Colleen for your positive messages. I have two boys with autism and can’t start to tell you the challanges I face every day. I get my strength from them I know it is funny.But even tough they drain me at the same time strengthen me.
    I can not tell how much I admire your father and if not for people like him I don’t know what I would have done.
    God has done wonders in my life nothing I say will give God the credit he deservesm It is during my darkest times and they are so many I have found God the most comforting , loving, caring father I can have.
    I want to tell everyone that God might not cure all the illness but he sure will help us in an unexpected way that will leave us speechless.

  25. Dearest Salam, your words drip with authentic surrender. After Jon was diagnosed with disorders, I blamed the diagnoses for my unhappiness. I felt, “if I did not have such burdens, I would have the strength to live victoriously (whatever that means). I battled with God, felt He was mean or unconcerned; when in fact the transformation of my character was occurring through the challenges I faced. Only then, did I recognize that our earthly lives are full of toil, unmanageable, without hope. Just as I cannot alter Jon’s earthly diagnoses, my sinful condition is a terminal diagnosis as well. Once I viewed my son’s diagnosis as debilitating as all human lives, the dependence, and weakness became the pathway to strength. Salam, you and I have a visual reminder each day of God’s grace, His empowered strength as we depend on Him for life; just as our kids depend on us for life. It is an amazing gift. You are remaining true to the course, persevering in all things, accepting the cross, and walking into the arms of our faithful Lord. Blessing to you today. I appreciate your kindness in saying the ministry has meant a great deal to you. Remaining faithful in all things, Colleen

  26. Colleen thank you so much for your website and your words of encouragement. I have a 14 year old who has Aspergers and ADHD. He certainly is a challenge but has taught me so much that I didnt necessarily want to learn! I have found it very important to have a good support system and take time to take care of myself. I also do not look too far into the future, as it is unclear what he will or will not be able to do. I do specifically appreciate your thoughts on how you pray to God, as we have such unique situations with our special needs children. Thank you for your ministry!