All the World Wide Web’s A Stage

Photo of meI was pumped to the max. An IV drew a heavy-duty dose of steroids from a plastic bag and into my veins so my brain wouldn’t swell too much. I felt my thoughts levitating while my body beneath lie there, unable to move at all. But my mind…whew whoooo!  Look out world! I imagined myself on stages all over the world regaling folks with the miracle God had done.

After spending four days in ICU, I flew home with my head stapled and wrapped in gauze.  I wore a pair of glasses nurses had repurposed with a piece of frosty plastic taped over one lens to help me see one of everything instead of two. I was in a wheelchair. God’s grace was with me, and I almost enjoyed the trip. After all, I was alive!

The next few months I slept almost upright while the swelling in my brain went down. Insomnia from the steroids gave me plenty of time to think and plan my next move. But I had no idea if I would ever recover, or if I did, how much. The roaring waterfall had not left my head. I could not walk. Everything seemed weird, like I had experimented with some sort of psychedelic. I just wanted to come down, but for all I knew, there would be no end to this trip. My doctor kept warning me I would be going into a depressive episode soon, but it never came. A strong sense of purpose kept hope alive.

Six months later, not a lot had changed. I had graduated from a walker but could not walk without hanging onto my husband for support. My vision was no better and the waterfall had turned into an alarm clock buzzer that sounded off in my head many times a night. When I mentioned it to my neurosurgeon he remarked, “People commit suicide over that!” (Thanks for that, by the way).  So, I thought that as long as I was just laying there doing nothing, I might as well work on my masters degree.

I applied to Capella University, a mostly online school headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They had a three-year long CACREP accredited program (a must for state licensing) in Mental Health Counseling. Perfect. The program would require a couple of week-long residencies and both a practicum and an internship, but what the hey? I had nothing else to do.

For the first year I lay in bed with a laptop on a pillow and a pirate’s patch over my left eye. I held my textbooks about five inches from my good eye to read the tiny text. During the second year, the first week-long residency came up. I flew to Phoenix, AZ and tooled around in a power chair to get between the conference room, my hotel room and the dining room. By this time I could walk, but my balance was horrendous and my fatigue level was so bad that walking to my room would have used the next 24-hours of energy I had to spare.

I continued with my courses, and the following year I attended my second residency in Minneapolis. I ordered the power chair, but found when I got there that I didn’t need it as long as I really paced myself.  My eyesight was a little better, and I was able to wear glasses with prism lenses to correct the double vision. The tinnitus was much better too. I was really starting to enjoy my life again.

Then I had to do a 10-hour a week practicum. I chose to work for Florence Crittenton Home for Pregnant and Parenting Teens. I loved my work with teen girls and their babies. I watched a birth for the first time. But that 10 hours exhausted me. Still, I persevered.

Later that year, things stopped seeming so off-kilter to my brain and I was even able to drive again. I finished up more courses and then needed a 30-hour a week internship for four quarters.  I got a great internship in the college counseling center and had the opportunity to co-teach a college course in emotional intelligence.  I worked with students who presented with various problems and diagnoses. I also sat under a private practice therapist.

Finally I graduated, having earned a solid 4.0…twenty-two courses in counseling under my belt and many hours of practicum and internship. My energy level grew slowly, and it seemed I had just enough energy for each challenge.

After graduation, I worked for two years for a community agency working with abused, neglected, and mentally ill teens and children. I earned my 3000 hours for licensing, and then went into private practice. In the meantime, I became certified in a very specific type of therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). I now run an adult and a teen DBT group and have a full practice of individual clients.

As I write all this, I know it probably sounds as if I’m bragging about what “I” was able to accomplish. But that is not at all what is in my heart. I know that without the help of the Lord in my life, I would not have had the perseverance, the patience, the sense of purpose, or the strength to do any of it. There were many times I wanted to quit. But, as I’ve told many people, I could have no more quit as I could have stopped the process of giving birth to any of my three children. I believe I received a “gift” of perseverance.

I still have many more ideas and things I want to do. But mainly, I wanted to share my story with you, dear readers. If anyone has been tossed around by the storms of life and believes it’s too late to make a difference in this world, believe me when I say, “It’s Never Too Late to Become What You Might Have Been.”  Thank you all for sharing this journey with me.

“It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”

~ Attributed, possibly erroneously, to George Eliot

God bless,

Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg, MS, NCC, LCPC, LMFT, DBTC (I know, ridiculous, right?)

PS: My plan is to start this blog over again at the beginning. This blog has been viewed over 8000 times by folks in over 40 countries. My list is tiny but if my story changes one life or gives one person hope to keep going, the hours I have written this have been worth it to me.  Please leave a comment below and let me know if you have any questions or just to give me a quick shout out…and take advantage of the free e-book on the right. You can always cancel your subscription afterwards. ;o)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Incidental Finding?

0That last semester at college seemed the longest one of all. Senioritis hit me just as hard as it hit all the eighteen to twenty-somethings aching to be done and on their way to the next big adventure. And it seemed I had saved some of my hardest courses for last.

A professor who had received a head injury from a car accident was teaching the most difficult class I had taken so far. One day, after spending twenty minutes teaching us how to solve a formula, he turned to the class and said, “Oh, that won’t work. Well, see you Thursday.” I crumpled up twenty minutes of frantic note-taking and tossed them in the trashcan on the way out. I had pushed myself to get a 4.0, just to see if I could do it, and in that class I just couldn’t quite reach that golden ticket. I was also pushing myself to complete an honor’s thesis. I was driven, pursued by the demon of self-imposed perfectionism. Somehow, I needed to make up for getting kicked out of high school when I was fifteen-years-old.

But there was something else frustrating me. Pain was certainly no stranger. After breaking my neck six years prior, carrying books and sitting in tiny desks was not the smartest thing I could be doing for myself. But this semester had been different. My pain level ramped up to an eight on a scale of zero to ten. Nothing I did seem to help.

Finally, on May 6, 2006, I graduated Maxima cum Laude with a 3.96 GPA, and I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest. I applied to the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Montana, and I got accepted…one of twenty-five out of many applicants. I was on my way to fulfilling my dream of becoming a psychotherapist. But the pain was really bugging me.

One day, early that summer while visiting my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, my littlest grandson came running towards me while I sat on the couch. I knew if I lifted him straight up, I could get seriously hurt, so I scooped him up and swung him sideways onto the couch. I cried out as pain shot through my left shoulder, but I quickly covered it up and laughed at my grandson. My husband glanced over with a look of concern, but I shook my head and smiled, not wanting to tip him off to the pain I felt.

Once home from the visit, my summer was filled with appointments to try to help me with the pain. I began physical therapy, but the treatments seemed worse than the injury itself. Finally I had an MRI. Diagnosis: Torn rotator cuff. Need surgery to repair. Ugh.

One day, as the surgery date approached, a friend back east sent me something she had written years prior. It was written as if from the mouth of God Himself.  Titled “Through the Dark Night,” * it begins with a prayer:

“It’s OK, Jesus. Restore my soul. Oh, Lord, I submit to Your cutting away of the ‘something’ deep within me that is hurting me. I don’t even know what it is … but You do. I will ‘go to sleep’ within Your arms, knowing I am safe with you…but there are things that ‘go bump’ in the night!”

“Shhh…I am here. All is well. Don’t be afraid. Let loose your understanding and ‘go under’ in the anesthesia of my Spirit. I am at work, very deeply within you. I ferret out the offending matter swiftly and accurately. I am a skilled surgeon and you can trust My expertise. With precision I dislodge the usurper of your strength and allow the rest of you to go free. It was not a grievous thing in size, but its placement pressed upon vital organs to thwart My purposes in you. Its removal was paramount to this time and place.”

I know, crazy stuff, huh? I mean, it was only shoulder surgery!

The night before the surgery I was thinking about the writing from my friend, and it made me think of the “real” anesthesiologist, and how he could inadvertently hurt my neck. The next morning, I remembered to tell him to be careful with me while I was under. He showed me the flexible scope he would be using and promised not to move my head around too much.

“Linda…Linda!”

I opened my eyes and tried to force the double image of the anesthesiologist back into a single frame.

“I need to tell you something, Linda. I saw something in your throat. I’ve never seen anything like that in twenty-five years…a mass. You need to get a CT scan done right away!”  He walked out, leaving me shocked and anxious, half-awake and helpless on the gurney. I was alone in the recovery room. I weakly called for a nurse and asked her if I could have something to calm me down.

“Because of the news?” she said. So I wasn’t dreaming. There is a mass in my throat?

Within two days my primary care physician got me in for a scan. Soon I received a call to come into his office. Usually he would have called with the results.

“Well, we found absolutely nothing at all in your throat! I have no idea what your anesthesiologist thought he saw. There is just nothing there at all.” Relief flooded through me and I smiled. “But at the very top of the CT scan we can see something else. You have a brain tumor at the base of your brain. This is the worst place you could possibly have one. I am sending you out of town to a neurosurgeon right away.”

Just in case there was a saber-tooth tiger nearby, adrenaline rushed into my body, and blood filled the muscles in my legs to help me flee the scene, but I sat there and smiled. “Oh, good, so it’s not my throat!”

The following week found me sitting across from the relatively young, blond, and extremely blunt neurosurgeon as she picked up a plastic model of a skull and explained why an operation was impossible.

“Where would we go in…through the eyes? The nose? It’s impossible.”

“I was just about ready to start grad school,” I said.

She was quick and to the point. “Well you should not put off anything you want to do.”

We made eye contact and I looked away. I thanked her, got up, and walked out. I walked through the waiting room, out the door and down a long hallway. I passed other waiting rooms and wondered if other people were being told they were going to die. I almost made it to the truck before the sobs I had held in so tightly in the elevator gave way and echoed through the vast cavernous space of the underground parking garage.

Then I remembered my friend’s words. And I chose to believe them. And I chose not to believe the neurosurgeons, and in the following days and weeks, months, and even years, I held onto those words with everything I had.

* “Through the Dark Night” is from OH GRACIOUS LOVE by Lucy Brown, Copyright 1993, 2006 by Lucy Brown. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Just One Word

On May 5, 2000, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my neck. I wrote about that in my last post. Here is the rest of the story.

 

How many times do I have to say it?

How many times do I have to say it?

I woke with a start. My body was screaming with pain from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I moaned, and reached for the two Oxycontin tablets I had laid on my nightstand the night before so I wouldn’t have to waste time opening the bottle and digging them out. Shaking, I gulped them down with a glass of water and gingerly lay back down, holding myself as I rocked and waited for the pain to subside.

This had been my morning routine for months. I was seeing my doctor every few days and he was worried. He was sure that my body had produced pain pathways throughout my body in response to the chronic pain. But I noticed something strange and began to doubt that this was true.

One day, about four hours after taking the narcotic pain pills, I ventured out to a favorite store. It was rare I felt well enough to go out. As I walked about, trying to enjoy myself, nausea and apprehension hit me in quick succession. I felt helpless and wanted to burst into tears. I was tempted to sit down on the floor and bawl like a baby, but quickly left the store and drove home. I took another pill and soon felt much better. Was I addicted?

I put off telling the doctor my fears for a few months. I was pretty sure that going through withdrawal from an opiate was not going to be fun. Not going to be fun? I will say with all honesty that someone could offer me $1,000,000 to purposely go through this torture again. I would turn that million dollars down in a heartbeat. I don’t think I would survive opiate withdrawal again, and I wouldn’t want to test it out.

I lay on my living room floor day after day, rocking back and forth. The muscles in my legs jerked every few seconds.  The ice water running through my veins made me want to take a hot bath several times a day. I felt panicky and desperate. One day, lying in the bathtub attempting to warm up I cried out to God to take my life.

“Please Lord, just kill me off somehow, but don’t do it until after the holidays so my children will not have sad Christmases.” Needless to say, He didn’t take me up on my offer.

Within about six weeks I was doing better except for one thing. Now I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t lift my head up without feeling like my back was broken. My arms ached and went numb. I was off opiates but I still hoped God would take me out somehow. I wanted a reprieve from this life-sentence of unrelenting  pain.

I had tried many things early on after I broke my neck. I had gone to a chiropractor, and after he took my neck in his hands and quickly twisted my head back and forth, he put me into even more pain. I never went back. I had tried acupuncture, steroid injections, massage therapy, ice, heat…nothing had helped.

One day as I was wandering around the house, the word “chiropractor” popped into my mind. “I’ll never do that again,” I thought. The next day, the word popped into my mind again. It almost seemed like a whisper. I thought of my neck getting cracked and shoved the thought aside.

Over the next two weeks, the word, “chiropractor” flowed in and out of my mind at odd times during the day, sometimes more than once. I continued to ignore these thoughts, as it was the last thing I thought I would do. I hadn’t even been to my massage therapist in months as  the massages hadn’t really helped me long term either.

One day, sitting at the dark antique secretary in my living room, I poured my desperation out to God. I mean I literally sobbed and begged Him to help me. I told him I needed Him to tell me what to do about the pain because I no longer wanted to live. I didn’t expect an answer, but the tears had been a long time coming.

Then, I got up and walked over to my living room window and looked out.

Chiropractor!” This one word returned to my thoughts again, seemingly louder than ever.

“I wonder if the Lord is trying to tell me to go to a chiropractor?!” I thought. It didn’t make sense to me. I had gone to one, and he had put me in worse pain. I didn’t trust chiropractors. Huh.

Two hours later my phone rang.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Hi! This is Betsey. Remember me? I was your massage therapist? Well, you have been on my mind so much lately, and I wanted to tell you that I think you should go to a chiropractor I know.” Okay Lord, you’ve got my undivided attention now.

She gave me his name and I thanked her profusely. I called his office as soon as I hung up the phone. I was able to get in to see him the following day. I was scared to go but even more scared not to.

My fear was groundless. Bryan was a wonderful chiropractor. He was gentle and explained what he was doing and why. He understood my fears and helped me through them. Within four visits, I was out of 85% of the pain!

My level of joy went up 1000%. I was doing cartwheels in my front yard. I was stopping strangers on the street and telling them what happened to me. I felt my heart beat faster for weeks just from the sheer relief of it all. Life became precious to me again and my heart filled with gratitude for a God who would not give up.

I cannot say that I was miraculously totally healed of all pain. I have to be careful about what I do. But I have never experienced anywhere near the level of pain I had ever again. Since then, when I begin to hurt, I ask, “what should I do now, Lord?” And I try to listen to that still, small voice. Because sometimes the answer is exactly what I need to hear.

 

 

 

That Big Expanse of Sky Called Montana

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15372074

Adventure had never been a part of my life. While some of my childhood friends had come home from trips to the World’s Fair or from far away mystery places like “back east” to see their grandparents, my only claim to fame was that we had stayed at the Motel Fresno (located in farming country in Fresno, California) six years in a row.  It was a halfway point between Los Angeles, where we lived, and Oakland, where my grandmother resided, so my parents and my grandmother met there each summer. And it had a great bar.  My parents could get pleasantly drunk while hanging out at the pool, watching us kids get blistery sunburns the first day out.

So, when Tom asked me to marry him and move to Montana, you can bet I was ready for an adventure. Tom described Montana to me the weeks before he left to start a new job there.

“It’s a land full of mountains, rivers, streams, and waterfalls.  And there’s animals, almost everywhere you look.  Bears and deer, antelope and elk, moose and mountain goats, everywhere! And the sky, well you can breathe in that huge expanse of sky all day long.” So I packed up my meager belongings and flew out to Montana that June.  And he was right about Montana. I’ve seen all those animals and more, sometimes all in one day. I’ve fly-fished those rivers and streams, watched eagles dive for fish on a sunny summer day, while wearing waders in the middle of a premier trout stream, and I’ve viewed some spectacular waterfalls.

Tom had bought a house for us on a street that sounded intriguing to me…Upper Miller Creek Road. He told me to always call it “Upper Miller Crick” if anyone wanted to know where I lived. Me, being me, refused, and I’ve said “creek” when I mean “creek,” for the last nineteen years, but I digress.

Tom and I were both a little skittish about getting married. We had only dated for eight months, and I knew less about Tom than he knew about me.  I only knew that I was going to commit the rest of my life to him unless one of four things happened, and he knew what those four things were. On his part, most of what he knew about me was the stuff I told him early on when I was trying to scare him away.

Tom and I were staying in a campground for a few days until the house closed and the inhabitants moved out, which was supposed to be on Wednesday of that week.  Since Tom had to travel about four hours north for his new job, it was up to me to take some of our things over to the new house and meet Tom there in a couple of days.  I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee to tide me over, and headed over to my new home. When I arrived, I saw that boxes and furniture filled the two-car garage from floor to rafters, and people were running in and out of the house carrying lamps, boxes, and more pieces of furniture to a rental truck.

Disappointed, I drove past.  It was legally our house as of that day and it didn’t look like they were in any hurry to vacate.  I also noticed that the gorgeous ¾ acre bright green lawn was now yellow and parched. Apparently once it was sold they decided they wouldn’t bother spending any more money on water. My stomach dropped, thinking about Tom and what he would say about this. I had never seen him angry, but I figured there had to be a temper hidden down in there somewhere. All men get angry easily, right?

I didn’t have a cell phone back then, and I knew Tom would be calling me on the phone we had already hooked up in the new house. I was in a new town, two states away from my home, family, and friends. I did not know one soul there, and I felt frightened, alone, and intimidated. I could not go to that house until those people were gone.

So, several times during that long day I drove back up Upper Miller Creek Road to peek at my new home. Each time, people were still there, carrying boxes and furniture to the rental truck. I explored the town, and finally, I decided to kill some time by taking myself to the movies.

Once the movie let out, I climbed back up Upper Miller Creek Road one more time, unsure of what I would do if they were still there.  It was six o’clock at night now, getting dark, and I was sure Tom had been trying to call me all day.

As I rounded the last curve and saw the empty driveway, I let out let out a sigh of relief. I drove up my new driveway and ran up to the house, used my new key to turn the lock, and opened the door. I did a quick glance around but then headed straight to our new phone.  I saw the light was blinking on the phone telling me there were six messages. As I listened to each one, I heard Tom’s voice sounding more and more worried. The sixth message sounded frantic. “If I don’t hear from you in fifteen minutes or so I’m going to drive back to Missoula,” he said.

I dialed the phone with shaking fingers. I knew how angry he would be. Who wouldn’t be angry? I probably did something stupid. I deserved his wrath. I should have marched into “my” house and told those people to hurry up and leave! I should have demanded to use my phone and let Tom know what was going on. Of course he’ll be mad…and he should be. Leave it up to me to cause a problem.

“Hello Tom? What happened was…” I reiterated the story, hoping he wasn’t regretting trusting me with something that should have been so easy.

“Oh, I’m so sorry that happened,” he said. “You must have felt so worried that you couldn’t call me and tell me what was going on. How about if I come pick you up and you can stay up here with me. We’ll drive down to the new house together in a couple of days.”

It’s been almost nineteen years since that first day in my new home in Montana. Over and over again, Tom has proven himself to be that kind, gentle man who was willing to drive four hours to come get me just so I’d be more comfortable. He has taught me more about God’s unconditional love than anyone I have ever known. And he’s never ever done one of the four things. Ah, I can finally breathe, and that big expanse of sky is a great place to catch your breath.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19276763What does a neglectful childhood in an alcoholic family, a stint in juvenile hall, The Beatles, gang-bangers and prostitutes, teen marriage and motherhood, the state mental hospital, gang rape, life on the streets, rock and roll and a decade of drug abuse, battering, serious mental illness, the suicides of a brother and father, divorce, a broken neck, and an inoperable brain tumor all have in common? One woman. Me.

For those of you just joining me, welcome!  This is a memoir blog, which means that it details the story of one incredible life (mine!) from childhood to present.  The posts are written so that you can jump in anywhere, but to get the true gist, starting at the beginning (the bottom of the blog after you open May 2012) is the best.  Feel free to browse and see if you would like to sign up to automatically receive my complimentary e-book, “Becoming What You Might Have Been,” as well as all future additions to the story.  If you were signed in to my other WordPress blog via your WordPress account, “Light At the End,” your information didn’t transfer over to this new one (I switched to WP.org so I could offer you the free e-book).  Please sign up again and you will continue to follow and get the e-book as well.  I don’t want you getting lost in the shuffle! If you signed up with your email address before, no need to sign up again.  If you would like your own copy of the e-book, let me know in the comment section and I’ll send it to you via your email address.

Following is an excerpt from my first post:

When I awoke from brain surgery on October 16, 2006, I could hear my breath twice for each one breath I drew.  And it was loud, like the roaring of a waterfall. The first time I heard it, I was actually taking a breath. A couple of seconds later, I could hear it again…in between breaths. I thought, “That’s odd.”

My optic, auditory, and facial nerves had been damaged in surgery and everything looked and seemed weird.  For one thing, I saw two of everything, and each image seemed four feet apart and a little up to the left. The pupil of my left eye had moved over towards my nose.  My perception made everything seem strange, and it would take several years before the feeling of everything being “off-kilter” would pass.

I had steroids pumping through my IV in order to keep swelling of my brain to a minimum. I was hyped to the max. All I could think was, “I’ve got to tell people about this!!” I pictured myself before vast audiences of people, regaling them all with the story of the miracle God had wrought.  Actually, I have wanted to tell the story of my life for almost as long as I can remember. I have experienced so much sorrow, and yet I am so amazed at my own sense of joy in living. This blog is my attempt at creating hope, sharing what God has done in one life. If one person latches on to it, it is worth it to me.  Because what God would do for me, he would most certainly do for you.  Enjoy! And please comment or ask any questions you would like.

 

The Cage Door Swings

English: Monarch butterflies

English: Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With my husband gone, I had to think about options.  I had not been able to work in about twelve years.  What had started out as simple panic attacks had turned into agoraphobia and raging, suicidal depression with psychotic features, all of which had been exacerbated by grief and despair.  My condition had improved somewhat over the years, but the stress of a marriage on the skids had taken its toll, and now I had a divorce to contend with.

I had never lived alone, and I was frightened.  On top of it all, my mother had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying.  Once she was gone, I would become the professed matriarch of our tiny family.  Even at thirty-four years old, I felt like an orphan.  I went to a well-respected church counselor at my large church for guidance.

“Linda, you need to move out of that house (the house I had rented with my husband, and could no longer afford on my own).  You need to get out, even if it’s to move into the housing projects.  You need to get a job…any kind of job, right now…this week!”

My mind reeled with this information.  I pictured it all…me moving into a dangerous neighborhood, raising my children around drug addicts and thieves.  The best job I could get with no skills was at a fast food restaurant.   I knew I could end up with a crazy ever-changing work schedule.  My youngest child was four-years-old.  What would I do with my children while I worked?  How would I ever better my life?  I would never get out, never be able to get an education.  I would be trapped in poverty forever.

I woke each morning with these thoughts replaying over and over in my mind. But this advice came from the church counselor, and I believed she wouldn’t be in the position she had on staff at our church if she weren’t thought of as someone who was wise, who heard from God.  Fear gnawed at me like a dog on a meat bone.

One day I mentioned what she had told me to my pastor’s wife.

“She doesn’t have to live it, does she?” she said softly.

Shock and joy hit me simultaneously.  Simple words and it was as if a cage door just flew open and let me out.  I didn’t have to blindly obey the church counselor?  I won’t bring the wrath of God down on my life?  I can actually think for myself?  What a concept.  Simple, and yet I was forever changed.

One morning, I was staring into the bathroom mirror, hurriedly applying make-up.  I had nowhere to go, really.  I was deep in thought about my future.  Where would we be in two years?  Where would we be in five?  I had no skills, no education.  How would I provide for my children?  Where would we go?  What will we do?

As if God were standing right next to me, I sensed a strong voice interrupting my reverie.  “I’m not asking you to live five years from now.  I’m only asking you to live today.”  My mascara wand stopped mid-stroke.  My eyes widened as I stared back at my reflection.  It was as if I was having an out of body experience and I suddenly found myself once again standing in front of my bathroom mirror.  I only have to live through today?

Over the next few days, ideas danced around my head like butterflies flitting through a flower garden.  My first step was to sign myself up for six secretarial courses at the local community college.   It was challenging.  I fought through panic attacks and depression so deep I felt I was drowning, but I took a deep breath after each hour-long class and forged on.

One night I had a dream.  I lay in a huge mahogany four-poster bed with a beautiful white spread over me.  In this dream, I awoke to find my mother silently approaching.  She was wearing a long white nightgown. She sat on the edge of the bed, threw her arms around me, and began to sob.  I felt helpless, but I comforted her as best I could.  I awoke with a start, and lay there thinking about her.

Back in Los Angeles, she was very ill, having suffered several rounds of chemotherapy.  Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and a particularly large tumor in the back of her neck had twisted her face.  I spent as much time as I could running down to Los Angeles to see her, but my younger sister was there taking care of her, and she insisted I do not uproot the children, knowing her time was short.  My heart broke for her.

One weekend I drove down to be with her to spend the night in her smoke-filled bachelor apartment.  As soon as I got there, I began to have the familiar sensation of panic.  This was unknown territory.  My heart had ached for my mother’s love for as long as I could remember.  I had never reconciled many things that had happened between us.  She had never expressed her love for me, never held me, had never bought me a “Hallmark moment” card.  She was not an affectionate person.  She was emotionally closed off, and guarded herself carefully.

But I loved her desperately.  Watching her suffer was torture.  I arrived at the apartment and sat down on her couch.  Immediately she came over and sat down next to me, put her arms around me, and began to sob. It was as if someone hit the play button.   The dream I had three months before appeared in my mind as if it were playing on a movie screen.  I stiffened, but I sensed the presence of God in the room and I tried to breathe into the moment. I held my mother, patting her back softly.

“Why did God give me cancer?” my mom asked me.  I fumbled for words.

“He didn’t give you cancer, mom.  He loves you more than you could ever imagine.  We get these diseases because we live in a fallen, toxic world, and we don’t always take the best care of ourselves.”

She asked me more questions about God, about his love, about how she could know him. I asked her if I could pray for her.  I was treading very lightly.  I felt I was on holy ground but it was shaky and I was afraid I could blow it.

“Please,” she whispered.

Those next few moments were the most beautiful and pain-filled moments my mother and I ever spent together.  It was like a precious gift had been wrapped up for us and left on the doorstep of our hearts.

What happened next will surprise you.  Picture me in a black robe, holding an open book, and saying the words, “Dearly beloved…”  Stay tuned.

Broken Pickers

Broken Picker

Broken Picker

Well folks, now you know the worst of it (see post ~ In the Well With Tolstoy).  Being a creative type, I sometimes imagine something worse happening to me in the future, but thankfully, so far, nothing has come close to losing my brother and father to suicide.  Sometimes I still catch myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I console myself with the knowledge that it already has, and most of us only have one left one and one right one for each pair we own.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  After my father died, I still experienced divorce and another marriage to yet another abusive, controlling man, a divorce from said man, a broken neck, and a terminal brain tumor, and that’s just for starters.  But as horrible as all that sounds, it still did not compare to the total destruction of my family.

So, I still had a long row to hoe if I ever wanted to feel remotely “normal” again. I was beginning to understand my illness a little bit.  And I believed that the Lord was guiding me through the muddied waters rushing through the storm drains of life.  But I had a problem a lot of people suffering from serious mental illness have.  We really have no idea how much the trauma, abuse, and neglect has hindered our decision-making capability.

We have “broken pickers.”  We tend to make some of the same mistakes over and over again, and it can take awhile to figure it out.  We try, but we tend to follow certain patterns, especially in relationships.  It goes something like this.  The next time, all you need to do is pick someone at least one step up from the last one you ended up with and it’ll all work out.  For me, that meant that the next one must not beat the hell out of me.  That was the deal breaker.  But I digress.

One thing I did after my father died, after much consideration and forethought, is to get pregnant with my third child.  If there is one thing I do not regret in my life, it is my decisions to give birth to various and sundry individuals.  They are all now my best friends, and they make a mama proud.  God knew each one of them before they were even “knit together in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139) and all three of them love him dearly.  So, under ordinary circumstances, my decision to get pregnant at that time of life may have made some sense.  My fantasy of having a nice, calm Christian family life was not to be, however, and it’s possible that maybe I should have seen this coming.

To my ex-husband’s credit, he never once beat the hell out of me.  Not only that, but he was extremely helpful to me during the years I experienced the worst of suffering serious mental illness.  He took me to appointments with my therapists because I could not drive.  In the beginning, he came home early when I called, sick with fear, and he watched the children when I could not cope with the unrelenting anxiety, depression, and grief.  He attended church with me, at first as a way to support me, and eventually, he developed his own relationship with the Lord.  We were as happy as happy could be, outside of the hell I experienced in my own mind.  And having a new baby in the house helped.  He was a joy to both of us.

Then something began to change.  My husband had a problem with drugs before we married, but he had trusted God to take away his appetite for smoking a doobie before breakfast.  And God had come through…that is until my husband took a new job working with a bunch of Deadheads in the next town over.  He just could not resist the stuff and returned to it again and again like a dog returning to its vomit.  I argued and cajoled, pleaded and begged, to no avail.  The following years were filled with alcohol, drugs, lies, and infidelity.  I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more.  I waited some more.  I finally gave up.  A second failed marriage, and I was still not a well woman.  I had progressed, but the fear, anxiety, and depression were ever present, partly because my life was still a series of crises.

Driving down the street one foggy morning, tears popped into my eyes.  I had just dropped my daughter off at her middle school and watched as her friend’s father hugged his pre-teen and waved goodbye as he drove away.  As one thought led to another, an imaginary phone call with my deceased father ensued in my mind.

“Dad?  It’s Linda.  Um, I’m kinda in dire straights (again).  My husband left and I don’t have any way to support us.  Can I come home and stay for awhile?”

“Of course,” my Dad would say, wearing a blue cardigan and smoking a pipe.  “Your room is just how you left it.”

My heart ached with the thought of it.  To feel that kind of love from a father!  To be taken care of, if only for a little while!  I saw myself tucked safely away in my twin bed with the lavender ruffled spread.  I was so weary of constantly worrying about what I would do with three children, no husband, and anxiety and depression still such a huge part of my days. I had not been able to work for over ten years.

Suddenly a thought inserted itself into the middle of my reverie.   As I continued to drive on auto-pilot towards home, a Scripture I had read seemed to force its way to the forefront.

“The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 TLB).  For the first time I “saw” God as the compassionate father, one who, unlike any earthly father, can actually change circumstances and make permanent changes in my life.  Instead of band-aid fixes, he could move hearts and open closed doors.

I continued towards home, a little warm glow beginning to melt the icy grip of fear.  There were more battles to face, but it was a start.  I couldn’t quite trust enough to hand over the reigns completely.  But amazing doors were about to open.  And unbeknownst to me, I was headed on a path to healing.

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

Dazed and Confused

Further Confusion

Further Confusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was fifteen I had a couple of experiences that would shape my expectations of how God works in the lives of those who love and follow after him.  On a warm spring Sunday morning in 1967, I asked Jesus to come into my heart in the living room of a woman everybody called “Gifford.”  About ten of her followers were gathered around me, their arms lifted, their heads jerking and shaking, most of them moaning and praying in tongues.  Gifford, being the homeowner and leader of this band of exuberant worshipers, had come up with her own brand of Christianity, and to say it was a little “off” is an understatement.  In the Bible there is a little scripture that packs a powerful wallop.  Romans 3:4 proclaims “Let God be true and every man a liar.”  So, whatever Gifford’s belief system, she did love and trust God, and He tends to show up wherever he’s invited.

A little later that morning, I walked off of Gifford’s front porch and out into the California sunshine feeling light as air, as if some heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders.   I felt a deep sense of profound love for every person on the planet.  “How beautiful and wonderful people are!” I thought, wanting to hug strangers on the street.  It didn’t quite fit in with Gifford’s theology that everyone, except Catholics and African Americans, were worthy of this love, and so naturally I began to wonder about her belief that her church was one of the few that held the Truth.

A few months later I was going through a mandatory “foot check” in my physical education class at Morningside High School in Inglewood, California.  I was lucky enough to have a sore on the bottom of my foot that was alarming enough to get me sent home from school immediately.  Later, a podiatrist diagnosed it as a papilloma, and surgically cut it out.  He warned me that it could grow back, and if it did, I would have to have another surgery.

Sure enough, by my three-week post op appointment, the darn thing had reappeared.  I didn’t really care one way or the other.  It had gotten me out of school one time, and maybe it could get me out of school again.  But then Gifford got wind of it, and during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at her house church, I found myself once again in the midst of the group, rocking and rolling, shouting and moaning, and praying for my foot like my life hinged on the thing.  My foot was anointed with oil and hands touched and jerked back, fingers vibrated over my toes and one particularly fired up prayer warrior played the top of my foot like a flute.

When it was time to get myself off to the podiatrist that next Monday, my mother was, shall we say, “unavailable” to take me to the appointment, so I walked, which caused me to show up very late.  By the time I arrived, the podiatrist was irritable but I had a hard time feeling any remorse.  The guy just did not know what I dealt with.

Hurriedly, he pulled my foot up onto the stool, ready to inject Novocain into the area of concern.  He seemed puzzled as he carefully studied the bottom of my foot and glanced at my chart.  He picked up my other foot, took off my shoe and sock, and stared at that foot.  I watched as he looked from one foot to the other, several times.  Finally, he looked up at me, both feet in his hands.

“It’s gone!” he said.  He seemed stunned.

“Oh!  Well, I had my foot prayed over last Wednesday night!” I said, as if that should explain everything.

He continued to stare at me for a moment longer, and then told me he had just felt the hair on his arms rise up as if in protest.  I couldn’t wait to tell my mom.  She didn’t like me going to that “Bible thumper” group, so now I had solid proof that my participation had actually saved her some money on medical bills.

A lot happened in the eight years following my encounter with Christ within Gifford’s faithful group of followers; a lot of terrible things.  I ended up dazed, and confused, but I had not forgotten those experiences at her house church.  Because of them, I believed Jesus could do ANYTHING!  So it was not out of the realm of possibility in my mind that since I had come crawling, broken and contrite, back into the fold, I would be healed again toot sweet.  All fear, all sadness, all grief, all pain; it would all be lifted out of my brain as quickly and easily as the papilloma had disappeared from the bottom of my foot.

I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.

~ Jack Korouac

I had a plan, and that was to escape hell, both now and in the world to come, as quickly and easily as possible.  The Lord had a plan too, and upon reflection, his made a lot more sense.  He wanted healing for me more than I wanted it for myself.  But he knew an instant healing would have been a temporary fix.  I would have just “thought” myself back into the same set of symptoms.  And besides…I had more trauma and heartache coming.  Being God, he knew this, and he got very busy preparing me for what would come next.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

SPARROW

I had been pacing around the apartment for days.  Once again I walked to the window and peered through the glass, hoping I would see Robert, walking up the sidewalk.  I told myself that it was possible a mistake had been made, and that my brother, as soon as he woke from a coma in the body bag, would slip out of the morgue at the hospital, and just to be funny, come knocking on my front door.  I seriously thought this was possible.

At other moments during the long days at home alone, I sat on the floor, arms curled over my head, just rocking back and forth.  If I denied the truth of my brother’s death long enough, maybe I could somehow undo the last two months.  I felt myself losing ground, though.  My precarious handle on reality was slipping away and a part of me wanted to let it go completely.

Later that week, I sat across from the pastor who had performed the service for Robert.  “Is God real?”  I asked.  “I believe He is very real,” he answered.  “Do you think Robert is in heaven?” I ventured.  I was afraid of this question, more afraid of the answer.  My stomach was at a roiling boil, and I knew the wrong answer would feel like a blow to the gut.

“I think God cares very much about people who are mentally ill,” Wilber answered tentatively.  I didn’t push it.  Just a glimmer of hope was enough for one day.  “I need to find God,” I told him.  “I don’t know how.”  I knew instinctively, for me, in that moment of my life, that if there was no God, I was dead.  I was laying it all on this one man to guide me to Him.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he’s watching me.

-Martin and Gabriel

“Linda, there is a pastor of a church here in town that I think you would like.  I want to talk to him before I send you over there.  Give me a week, ok?”  Fear of rejection filled me as I left his office.  This was unknown territory.

I got the “go-ahead” from Wilber and entered the sanctuary of the small church in El Segundo, California on a beautiful October day in 1975.  I had brought my brother’s widow along for moral support.  Even so, I felt alone.  I grabbed onto her arm and felt myself shaking.  I was sure that the pastor was going to know whom I was and ask me to leave the building.

Everyone looked so nice in his or her Sunday best.  I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb.  At five feet, five inches tall, my eighty-two pounds barely covered my skeleton.  My hair was long and stringy, and my clothes were patched.  The Jesus Movement was going strong in this area of the country but this church was obviously not used to those like me, with my hippie garb and vacant stare.  As the pastor began to speak, my mind raced ahead.  I looked around for the exits.

The pastor was young, close to my age, I thought.  He had looked right at me a couple of times, and I quickly glanced away.  He finally closed his sermon and asked us to bow our heads and close our eyes.  I wanted to be part of this group, this faith.  I didn’t know how to begin and I really didn’t think I would be allowed to belong.  As the last hymn was being sung, the pastor walked down the center aisle and opened the front doors, letting in ocean breeze on shafts of light.  Turning, he waited to greet each parishioner, hugging each one as they said goodbye.  I made it to the door, looking for an escape route through the crowd.  Pastor Don was not about to let that happen.  He grabbed me by the shoulders, gave me a big hug and said, “We’re so happy you are here with us, Linda!”  I forced myself to look up at his face.  I saw compassion and concern. My legs felt funny, and I swallowed hard, nodding at him.

That next week I ruminated.  I feared that once Pastor Don knew more about me, he would regret being so welcoming.  I wrote him a letter.  I told him about how mentally ill I was, how messed up my life was, how I was living with my boyfriend, too ill to live on my own.  I told him about my brother, and about my broken heart. I told him I didn’t think I could come back to his church, but I wanted to.   I slipped the letter under the church doors and ran home. I wanted to get the rejection over with.

Later that afternoon, I got a phone call from Pastor Don.  He told me that he had spent the morning making phone calls and gathering the people of his little church together to fast and pray for me the following Tuesday.  He invited me to be there but told me he understood if I didn’t feel I could make it.  They would be praying for me anyway.

I felt as if someone had handed me a life raft.  I could only cling to the side right now, and attempt to hang on to the ropes.  I had no strength to climb in.   The sea was too rough, and I would be tossed about for a very long time.  But there were others now, grabbing my hands, lifting me up every time I was about to sink.  And sometimes, when I came closer to drowning than He would like, God Himself would step in and take it from there.