Friday, April 8, 2016

The Widows Mite & Raising an Adult Child with Mental Illness When Only One Part of The Village is Involved.

My son has always been a bit quirky. I sloughed it off to him being a team member of special education plus he was a boy.  He'd cry when I dropped him at school mornings until he was in 5th grade, claiming monsters were after him and said terrible words. Actually, a teacher on the way to school myself, I felt the same, but meant it figuratively. I never knew, until much later, it was literal for him.

He never liked being outside. Most kids get grounded and can't play outside. I would ground him to go outside just so he'd to get sunshine. Matthew also hated Field Day. I'd try to tell him how much fun it would be without struggling inside with reading and writing and math. "You don't understand Mom. There's grass and sun and air out there."

Then at 16 years of age, we got the phone call from his high school counselor saying Matthew had plans to end his life. I immediately went into panic mode digging out insurance cards to get him help. My then-husband explained to me, "Matthew is fine. He's just wanting attention."
 "Let's give it to him!" I responded.

That was his first stint in a behavior unit.

After several years of counseling, things seemed to smooth out for Matthew. Its also when my husband and I split.

Matthew and I moved to Denton, Texas, and took an apartment, while my ex remarried and moved to Dallas; 30 minutes away.

Matthew already took a six week course to become a certified nurse's aide and he happily landed a job at a all-care facility where he worked for several years. But then the voices returned. It coincided at the same time we moved into our new house.

Change was always hard for him, but this time they brought on multiple psychotic breaks, followed by  hospitalizations.

 I'd sit all night beside him at the hospital and somehow manage to go to work the next day. When he was admitted to mental health facilities, I visited him every chance I could. I spoke to doctors, filled out endless paperwork, applied and was rejected many times for his SSI; this went on for a few years, to the point of my utter exhaustion.

I struggled with finances, as I cared for him. 

Finally, Matthew was granted food stamps. A true godsend! And now he has a lawyer for SSI. Our court date is soon.

The last time Matthew went to the ER was for high blood pressure due to anxiety attacks. It happened twice in a few days, back to back. I sat with him until he was dismissed at 3 am one time, and 2 am the next. Again I went to work.

Its a blessing to help my sweet son. I am here for him, and will be, until I no longer walk this earth.

As I told Matthew's story to help dispel the mental illness stigma, single Mothers and Fathers of mentally or physically handicapped, and mentally ill adults have contacted me. Like me, they feel it an honor to care for our children; feed, cloth, drive to appointments, take time from work, give financially, total emotional care, and so forth.

 I am certainly not the only one. Sooner or later, everyone has challenges in life.

I must admit that it is hard to go through this alone; totally alone without someone to lean my head on. Without someone to hold my hand and tell me it will be alright.

One night, not so long ago, I was praying for us single Moms and Dads who walk down this chosen path without village help. In tears I prayed for God's grace and strengthAnd, then God spoke to me about The Parable of the Widow's Mite Mark 12:42. A widow gave all she had to the Lord's work, 2 mites (pennies). It was most pleasing in the eyes of Jesus after he had witnessed others who gave a lot, but never gave their all, nor their best. I knew God was pleased with what I did to help my son. 

My heart leaped.

Suddenly, I am not alone.
Mother, Father, you are not alone.
Jesus sits with me.
 Jesus sits with you.
He holds my hand as I lean my head on his shoulder.
He holds your hand as you lean on his shoulder.

 He says, it will be alright.
He tells you that it will be alright.

When I feel I cannot take another step He holds me up.
 He holds you up when you feel you are about to fall.
When finances are tight, unexpected money arrives in the form of a low utility bill, or a restaurant gift card from a silently listening friend.

When I am awake most the night with my son, God gives me the energy to make it through the next  day.
 And he does the same for you.

 Do not despair.

Male or female, you are that widow with the two mites, and with it, you have given all you have. Jesus smiles. He sees us. He hears our prayers. He cries with us.

And best of all, sometimes,  I hear my son really laugh with happiness. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Lost Lamb and Hilde

Even as a child, I loved church. The creak of old oak pews, the scent of recently rubbed wax into the woodwork, nice people seated shoulder to shoulder, but what I loved the most were the stained glass windows illustrating Bible stories.

My favorite window has always been Jesus the Good Shepherd holding His lost, and now found, lamb.
 Doesn't Jesus look so calm here? 

How heaven rejoices when the lost gives their heart to God. That is everything. Making it home. However, something happened which caused me to take a deeper  look into the heart of Jesus and the lost.

First off, the joy of my existence is when my grandsons, Kingston and Karter, visit. I don't see them very often because they live on the East coast along with their parents. When they do arrive, we have missed time to make up.

The park is one of their favorite stops. Last summer, they asked to take Hilde, my rat terrier/chihuahua mix rescue dog, along. I hooked her leash onto the harness and once we got to the park, Hilde slipped her harness as she leaped from the car. It was a joyful moment for her as she ran and disappeared into the trees. For me it was a chilling moment, filled with fear and despair. I immediately felt ill with worry that my dog might be picked up by a stranger, or eventually run into the busy street and killed.

Not wanting to scare her, I walked toward the direction Hilde disappeared, sweetly calling her name. There she was. She stopped and looked at me from afar. I sat on the ground and beckoned her to come, but she turned and ran off again.  All kinds of scenarios played in my head, as I got to my feet, none had a happy ending. I was about to take off for Wisconsin in a few days, and one thing was for sure, if my dog was killed, I knew I couldn't leave my mentally ill son alone to grieve-not to mention my own deep grief of losing a beloved pet.

Meanwhile, Kingston and Karter waited patiently by the car. I'd turn to keep my eye on them every few seconds, needing to keep sight of them, as I searched for my lost lamb. My heart pounded, I had shortness of breath.

At long last, Hilde circled around and ran to Kingston. She rolled over and allowed the boys to rub her belly until I was able to nab her. Yes, I took her right home. I was so happy to have her well and alive that she got a few extra treats at dinnertime.

Hours later, I relived the day in my mind, thinking about how scared I was, how my heart thumped in my chest, how I couldn't catch my breath, how worried I was that I was going to lose Hilde, That's when I thought about the Good Shepherd and how He must feel trying to find his lost lamb, fearing the steep cliffs, and the hungry wolf.

In the pictures and the stained glass window, the Good Shepherd looks patient, calm, not panicky. The artist has it all wrong. We don't like attributing human traits to a sovereign God. You may not think God ever panics, but I disagree. Jesus wept when he lost his dear friend Lazarus. He wept and travailed with tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He panics over losing us. He must feel grief and fear when he imagines the death of our soul.

But, oh, the rejoicing when He safely carries us home in His arms.

"A shepherd would leave the ninety-nine sheep and search for the lost one until he found it. Then he would put it on his shoulders with joy, take it home, and tell his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him, because he had found his lost sheep."

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Ugly Christmas Tree, God's Eyes, and Tori Spelling

I spent part of last night reading an online article about Tori Spelling. Evidently, she doesn't have enough money to purchase a deluge of Christmas gifts for her four children, creating a holiday bust.

Christmas translates into holiday parties, festive decorating, and finding the perfect gift for those we love, our friends, our co-workers, family, and the list continues. The pressure is on not to disappoint.  Some find themselves uber happy. Others, deeply depressed.

Let's make a detour on this Christmas road for a personal look. I will begin with my story. Okay, two stories. They are short. We might just end up in an unexpected spot.

My first married Christmas, my then husband and I had just arrived from serving overseas as missionaries. We rented a flat in Illinois and counted our money. To my dismay there was nothing left over for a Christmas tree, nor ornaments. We were about to host a family Christmas dinner to boot. 

Then, like the Christmas miracle it was, I found a faux tree, bent over garbage bins in some alley. I pulled it out, straightened it a bit and took it home, treasuring my find. I lovingly handmade each ornament and tied it onto the limbs with red yarn. Upon completion, I stood back to admire the recreation. So lovely, it took my breath away. 

Christmas baking complete, I set the kitchen table and the card tables with my grandmother's starched linens along with my garage sale dishes. The cheery faced guests began to arrive, dusting freshly fallen snow from their coats. Festive music belted from the radio and our warm little place filled with aroma of delicious food. 

When the last guest stepped inside, I heard her shout, "OMG, that is the ugliest tree I have ever seen!" My heart tumbled along with my joy. Surely she was jesting. The sweet tree I had salvaged and decorated and loved was called ugly! I looked long and hard at the tree. There was not a bit of ugliness. There was only beauty. When I remember that moment, I still feel a bit of leftover sadness.

Fast forward thirty years to my single, online dating foray when I made an 'appointment' with a gentleman. We met at a Christian coffee house and greeted one another by shaking hands. I took a seat across from him. At first his clothing puzzled me. His clothes didn't match and looked worn, as if left over from the bottom of a Goodwill box. His hands were soiled. His hair, unkempt. 

My knee jerk reaction was to bolt. Yet, I stayed. We chatted a few minutes before someone offered a half eaten lunch. "Want this?" the college student asked the older man.

I was appalled.
 'Roy'  was excited. "Yes, I sure do. Thanks!"

He dug in with his fingers, shoving almost all of it into his mouth with one scoop. As though as an afterthought, he held out the box to me. A corner of a sandwich remained. I politely declined, doing my best to hide my surprise. It was then I realized he was homeless, and probably contacted me through one of the public computers in the room.

Roy talked about his tough divorce, how he threatened his ex with a shotgun while on drugs. In prison, he allowed Jesus into his life. Since then he slept on the streets and at times in a halfway house, picking up work here and there.

When I felt it was time to leave, he walked me outside and we said goodbye near a dumpster. I could see him eyeing it, so I told him to help himself. The lid shot up and he tore open discarded garbage bags to find food and shoved it into his backpack, stopping to offer me some at times. By now, I had decided he clearly wasn't my type, but my heart went out to him and everyone else who led this hard life. That moment changed me.

I never saw Roy again, but I think of him each time I drive past the Christian coffee house, or see a wanderer on the street. Even if there is just a few dollars in my purse, I press it into their hand and wish them God speed. Its important. On one date, I handed a homeless woman in a wheel chair my restaurant take home food. (Never saw that date again.)

Like the discarded Christmas tree I found eons ago, we all see the discarded people trudging up and down the streets. 

Have you ever wondered what  they are thinking? Feeling? How did they end up here? Are they hungry? Are they cold? Where are their parents? Is anyone trying to find the lost?

Jesus. Jesus finds the lost. He found me in high school. He found Roy in prison. He found my son on a mental ward.

And like the Christmas tree I once decorated and thought so lovely, Jesus straightens up our bent over life and decorates us with His love and mercy and joy. We are clothed in beauty.

We are Christ's hands on earth. Lets get our hands dirty by sharing our blessings with those in need. 

Can you see their beauty? 

Pictures from Denton County Homeless Coalition

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Upper Kingdom Living *Musings of a Paperback Writer

To my feeble historical knowledge, there were several Egyptian kingdoms. Although dissimilar in every way, I see my life divided into these kingdoms: Lower Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and Upper Kingdom. The Lower Kingdom years were my elementary, high school, and college years. Middle Kingdom was marriage, children,  career and un-marriage. Now, I have entered into what I refer to as my Upper Kingdom years (near retirement): wind down my career, find fascinating interests, write a best seller, buy a new dog collar for Sadie, and dust my dresser.
Gazing back on my Lower and Middle  Kingdom years, I realize, try as I may, I didn't save the world, or the Rain Forest. Nor did I ever get world peace for Christmas. Furthermore,  I wasn't able to raise much money for the Native Americans on the 24 mile walk I participated in while in college. And the Viet Nam War didn't come to a grinding halt because I marched against it. (note to guy who broke up with me eons ago because you thought I was pro-war, take note.)

Now, during my Upper Kingdom years, my dreams are simple--less complicated.  A good night's sleep is always welcome. A new book is the best gift ever. Being published is an incredible high, and I also have plans. Big plans. I imagine a lovely new chenille couch front and center in my living room. One with a lounger on one side. Raspberry in color would be so nice--or, a dove gray, even better. 

Reality check. I already have a couch. A black one. It pretends to be leather. Stitched in white, its okay. Utilitarian for holding 3 dogs, 1 adult son, and 2 small grandsons that like to sleep there when they visit, and occasionally lose bladder control during the night, due to too much apple juice after 7 pm.

Next to the black couch is a lovely antique settee from the days of splendor. Short legs, which makes standing,  after sitting, an event. But the curved lines on the wood and the small original print of the fabric is still so pretty to look at while sitting on the black couch.

My laminate is a pretender too.It wants to be wood. I just found out the flooring comes from China and used formaldehyde as a preservative. The laminate was ruined by a slow dishwasher leak,  and also by a slip and slide contest held by my little grandsons while I was on the phone. Living in the Upper Kingdom, one sometimes finds, mistakes are good. Had it not been for the water, I never would be able to get wood floors.

Water damage. Poisonous gases. dishwasher leak. Broken disposal. Slip and slide. A lump of a black couch smack in the middle of my living room ruining my design. An ill adult son who needs attention and medical care.  I realized I was allowing myself to be eaten away by the small and big stuff in life. 

Calamity and stress stole the moments of  living in the Upper Kingdom.  The act of focusing on imperfection pulled me from inner peace. Had living through turbulent Lower and Middle Kingdom years taught me nothing about overcoming,?

My life is comprised of what I hold in my heart, not in my hand. I have found freedom in letting go of stuff. I enjoy  making do with what I have (cheaper too).

 I don't dream of visiting Paris, nor living on a peninsula away from people. I dream and pray for my son to continue his walk toward wellness, for my daughter to slow her crazy work schedule, and for  my grandsons to visit me soon. 

But, I still want to slay dragons. I want Upper Kingdom living to be smart living. Tackle what matters. Do what I can to make a difference. Help the poor. Feed the hungry. Dry tears. Inspire someone. Encourage. Make someone laugh.

What does living in the Upper Life mean? I remember my mom telling me, she wanted to put what she valued the most in life into her car and drive away from the rest. (Granted she had a much larger car than I have).  

What matters to you? 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Reconstructing Me

       I was in 7th grade for the second time when I thought about boys for the first time. By 9th grade my best friend Monica and I had graduated from Barbie dolls and set our sights on guys. We doubled on my very first date, and when her date disappeared at the party,my date gladly took her place. 

 There wasn't much to forgive. She had lovely olive skin, almond shaped eyes, thick brown hair, and her teeth were very straight as a result from years of braces and retainers. Of course guys were drawn to her. 

I dreamed of finding my version of Gene Kelly spinning around on a lamp post during a rain storm as he sang to me.

After a couple of marriages gone wrong, I am single again, trying to remember who I was long before my life got tangled up. I lost a lot of years in there.

Years ago, my mother's sage advice to me was, "Do not tell men everything about you. Be a woman of mystery!" That was a most difficult thing to carry out since I felt compelled to tell them everything about me (like a job interview to be the girlfriend), even becoming someone else if that's what they wanted. As I got older, after the convincing was done, and they were staying, I became dissatisfied with the relationship and left.  I wasn't my authentic self. 

Life is a journey of finding oneself. We think we are this, or that, and live between the minutes instead of being in the moment. I hear people say all the time that they want to find themselves. I know what that means. 

Monica and I now live far part. She's in Wisconsin/Florida, I am in Texas. We are friends on Facebook. We watch one another live through pictures. Sometimes I leave comments. Sometimes she leaves comments. And she still has that thick hair and straight teeth. She even has her own company which takes her interesting places like France and Lubbock. Monica never traded herself for someone she didn't mesh with--still single, and I am single again. We took separate paths in life and ended up kinda in the same place. 

I'm getting back to my grass roots, the life I had before I allowed some of my dreams to drop by the wayside. I want to find them and breath air back into them. 

Feelings and experiences bloom in my garden alongside planted lavender. The round moon comes out and mesmerizes me. On the porch, my dog's drinking water catches my reflection.  You see, my mind wanders free as a barefooted child running through tall summer grasses eager to experience everything. 

The mirror says I am all grown up now, but my heart says its not true. 

I am reconstructing myself. 

Age is just a number. My number is high.

Talk to me.