Been There…Done That?

I hear ya…

How many times do I have to say it?

How many times do I have to say it?

As I am working on my memoir, I have had to ask myself a very serious question. What theme threads run through the tapestry of my life? Have I experienced things that I’ve learned from? How can this help my readers in some way?

“It is never too late to become what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot

Poor Me!

I actually used to think that I had been through more than anyone I knew, and because of this, I am an authority on the matter of suffering. I wasn’t being arrogant about it, I just knew I could empathize with lots of hurting people. It was because of this belief that I became a psychotherapist. But soon I heard the stories…and then I quickly changed my stance on that subject. Nope! I wasn’t the poster child I thought I was. The world is full of hurting people…and I am just one of them.

But I also recognize that I have been through a LOT, and more importantly, I have overcome a lot…enough that I have hope for others.

My Themes

In my memoir I am going to write about:

Alcoholism

Codependency

Neglect

Juvenile Hall

Teen Marriage

Teen Motherhood

Physical Abuse

Divorce

Drug Abuse

Suicides

Mental Illness and My Experience in a Mental Hospital

Dysfunctional Relationships

Love Addiction

The Church and Bad Advice

A Broken Neck

Addiction to Narcotic Pain Medication

A Brain Tumor

Becoming a Psychotherapist

God’s Love

Healing

Forgiveness

…and a whole lot more!

My articles will discuss things I’ve learned on my own, as well as through education and experience working with others. I really hope you’ll join me. And please leave comments or questions. I will be happy to respond.

Also, for more tips on these subjects and help with challenging life circumstances and highly reactive emotions, come meet me over at http://www.changeyouremotions.com.

Stay tuned and keep updated by subscribing in the box on the upper right. And be sure to download my eBook for free, Becoming What You Might Have Been for some tips on how you can change your life and become all you can be too!

Child Bride

WeddingDespite the various and sundry crimes my fiancé perpetrated on unsuspecting friends and strangers, my parents caved in to the pressure by his parents to allow us to get married.  Apparently, being the more innocent one in the relationship afforded me a certain elevated status in the eyes of my fiancé’s parents. For them, if there was any salvation for their son, it would come from being married and settling down.

So, I was to be the one to save Ron from ruin, and they didn’t want to wait for me to grow up first. I was only sixteen-years-old. He was twenty-one.

My fiancé’s mother reminded me of what a person would be like if they were an alter ego of well-known atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare. They both carried the same domineering obnoxious, and controlling personality. But that’s where the resemblance ended. They held completely opposite views of what happens when one…uh…shall we say…passes on.

So, three times a week, during the short respites from burglary and auto-thefts, Ron insisted we attend a little gathering of believers at the home of “Gifford,” one of his mother’s friends.  There I was taught that only 144,000 of us would make it to heaven. This number included only Caucasians, and only non-Catholic Caucasians at that.  Every Scripture was in secret code too, only to be unraveled by one of the 144,000 non-Catholic Caucasians.  We all assumed that Gifford was the one with the key to the code.  She seemed to think so too.

On the infrequent nights we did not show up for Bible study at Gifford’s, my fiancés mom would get one of his sisters to drive her the fifteen miles to my neighborhood and canvas the streets until she found us low-riding in Ron’s turquoise 1956 Chevy. She would then pull us over like a highway patrolman, and lecture us on the horrors of hell until we were sufficiently contrite.  Sometimes this took a couple of hours.

She often claimed to see horrible looking gargoylian demons sitting on our shoulders.  That in itself was enough to drive me running back to the house church, begging for mercy, while the parishioners swayed and shook, jerked and moaned, danced in circles around me, and prayed for my salvation.

I knew my fiancé’s mother was calling my parents on the phone and bullying them into allowing us to marry.  I was still surprised they didn’t put up more of a fight.  It didn’t take long for them to sign the consent.  Not only did they consent, they agreed to pay for an over-the-top garden wedding extravaganza and a formal sit-down dinner at an Italian restaurant owned, by all accounts, by a couple of Italian brothers with membership in the mob. I didn’t think of the wedding plans so much a celebration of future bliss as much as my parent’s celebration of getting my future mother-in-law off their backs.

My father’s mother came for a visit at some point in the planning of this gargantuan catastrophe.  I loved her, but she was not my favorite grandma.  I was much closer to my mother’s mother, who was pretty and brought me Dentine gum every time she visited. This other grandma had bird stick legs and a sour expression. I had overheard my parents discussing her “situation” many times. It didn’t sound good. They had to supplement her income and they weren’t happy about it. It seems grandfather had left her and my dad when he was an impressionable thirteen-year-old, and left for South America to stake his fortune with his brother, who had founded a major import business.  My father never saw him again, except for one brief visit after my father almost burned his leg off in a fire at the plant, saving a young employee in the process.

I was standing in the bathroom trying on my veil, turning my head just so, slight smile on my face.  My grandmother happened by the bathroom on her way through the laundry room to the kitchen.

“Well, if it isn’t the Queen of Sheba!” she squawked.

She had never spoken to me like that before.  Shock and hurt coursed through my body in quick succession.  My mind searched for an explanation for her hostility and came up with one that seemed plausible. Obviously, my mother must have told my grandmother I had been mean to her, and my grandmother believed her. I truly believed that my mom loved my brother and sister and alcohol more than she loved me. I thought everyone saw this as I did and felt sorry for me. Even so, I had been trying to hold on to the slim chance that it might not really be true.

I had always loved all my relatives unconditionally, assuming they felt the same way about me, and I wasn’t prepared to let go of that view in such a quick flash. I thought my mother’s alcohol-fueled diatribes would appear so nonsensical to my grandma that she would empathize with me and feel a sense of concern and obligation to make sure I was all right. At least Ron’s mother cared about my eternal salvation and tried to keep my feet out of hell fire.

I thought grandmothers had to like you. It’s a law or something.

Mary E. Pearson ~ The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The wedding took place on the last Saturday of December 1967, a year and a half before I would have graduated from high school.  I had gotten kicked out earlier that year, so I didn’t have any homework that weekend anyway. Although it was right after Christmas, the Los Angeles weather could not have been more perfect for an outdoor garden wedding. I walked down a curving white staircase on the arm of my father and out into a garden surrounded with ivy covered walls. The guests turned towards me as they stood together, quieting their murmurings about the absence of my mother.

She showed up later at the reception, full of vim and vigor and a good portion of a fifth of vodka. She staggered around the tables, greeting guests in her yellow and cream brocade sheath dress with matching coat and pill box hat, laying it on thick about having had diarrhea while trying to stabilize herself with backs of chairs. I was horrified, and yet felt strangely justified. Only later would I feel a sense of shame and regret so deep it made my chest hurt. All those shoulda, coulda, woulda’s clanging around in my head.

One night several years ago I had a dream.  My mom was in heaven with her family singing a song about the holy Word of God.  She, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and two of my aunts were using sign language to illustrate it as they sang, and somehow I knew they learned it there. One day on the other side of this life my mom and I will talk again, forgiveness and love will flow, and it truly will be unconditional. I think about that often, and what it will be like. But in the meantime, I have my feet planted firmly on the soil of this side of the divide, and I spend a lot my time trying to make it all count for something good.

 

Blowing in the Wind

Windsurfing and kitesurfing on a fine summer d...

Windsurfing and kitesurfing on a fine summer day on the Columbia River at Hood River, Oregon. The Hood River bridge and Washington state across from the city are visible in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was out of my life but not yet out of my brain.  What would my ex-husband do if he knew what I was thinking?  What would he think if he knew what I was doing?  It would be months before I could kick him out of my head completely.  And then there was the rage.  How was I going to get rid of the rage?

In one month’s time, I had lost almost everything.  I had lost him, and although this was my own doing and a good thing in the long run, feelings of loss, regret, and grief still seemed to reside too close to the surface of my skin. And then, in a series of events that almost seemed orchestrated, the owner of the house I was living in decided he wanted the house back for his daughter and son-in-law.   We had to move out right away; the block on my car cracked beyond repair; and the temporary job I held at the community college suddenly ended too.  Stuff hit the fan, so to speak.

I began to attend a tiny church nearby, and I risked telling the whole sordid story to a new pastor.  He and his little flock took my children and me in and helped us to begin to heal. But I knew I had changed, and all you had to do was look at my face, see the tightness around my mouth, the flinty coldness in my eyes, and you knew it too.  But I pushed up my sleeves and figured out what to do next.

One morning I sat with the newspaper open in front of me.  We were staying with my grown son for the time being.  My two children were hanging over the back of the chair.  We were scanning the listings for an apartment of our own. I didn’t have much money, but I wanted to give them the hope and promise of a new life together.  We wrote down an address of an apartment complex not too far away and went to look at it.

The complex itself was filled with tall pine and fir trees.  Dappled shade and sunny patios with potted plants were separated with soft green lawns and beautiful landscaping.  There was a pool, a hot tub, and a billiard room. My young son and teenage daughter became excited as soon they heard kids of all ages splashing around on colorful inflatables in the large blue swimming pool.  I saw the yearning on their faces and I knew I had to make this happen as soon as possible. It felt like a peaceful and fun place to begin life again. The manager told us it could be several months before something opened up and she would put me on a waiting list.  Perfect.  I would have time to try to land a job and save for the first and last month’s rent and security deposit required to move in.

Next we went to a local chain store where my daughter and I picked out inexpensive matching floral bedspreads for the twin beds in a bedroom we would share, and a new spread for my youngest son.  We took them over to the storage unit.  I wanted my children to get a sense that this was real…we were really starting over, just the three of us.

Next, it was time for me to look for a job.  I picked up applications, took them back to the house, filled them out, and then dropped them back off at local companies the next day.  There were only two major employers in the area, and I seriously wished I had not let my ex-husband talk me into quitting my job at the courthouse.  One day I got an interview with a one of the companies, DenMat Corporation.  I arrived at the appointment, nerves jangling like the gold tone bangle bracelets I wore on my wrist.

Two people conducted the interview.  Both would be my direct supervisors.  If I got the job, I would be working as a secretary, and the executive secretary would be supervising me in that capacity.  I would also be working for the sales manager.  He asked me if I knew anything about the company or what they manufactured.  I admitted I didn’t know a thing.  They both laughed, and I felt my face redden. The company manufactured Rembrandt Whitening Toothpaste.  “Blew that one,” I thought.

Two days later I got the phone call.  I had gotten the job!  It paid little more than if I had applied for welfare, but I didn’t care.  We were on our way to independence.

I had no idea how that job would change my life.  I excelled at my duties and was soon plucked out of secretary row and given the job as the assistant to the Marketing Director.  She was glamorous, reminding me of Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind.  She had jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail and fabulous clothes.  She had directed the marketing departments for Merle Norman and Max Factor.  She gave her staff extravagant birthday gifts, often took us all out to lunch as a reward for our hard work, and invited us over to her house for dinner.  She cared about growing and challenging us to move forward in our careers, and soon she elevated me to the position of Product Manager.  It came with a nice raise and made me feel as if I had a “real” career.

One day I got a call from the manager of the apartment building.  My name had come up, and I needed the first and last month’s rent plus the deposit by the following Friday.  If I didn’t have it, she would have to move my name down and give the apartment away to the next person on the list.  I had been saving like mad, but was short $100.  With no parents, grandparents, or friends with extra cash, I had no chance of getting a loan so I figured God was going to have to provide the money.  So I asked Him.

On Wednesday, I looked up from my desk when I heard my name over the loudspeaker asking me to come to the reception area.  A friend of mine was standing there with a big grin on her face.  I hadn’t seen her for several months, so I was a little confused, but happy to see her.  She asked me if I would come outside.

“Linda, I was meeting with some ladies for prayer this morning, and I felt impressed that we needed to do something for you.”  She handed me a card.   I opened it and there was a check for $100!  I immediately called the manager of the apartment complex and told her I was coming by after work to pay for our place.

In the meantime, I had become good friends with the woman who interviewed me.  She had a picture of herself windsurfing on her desk.  Windsurfing was something I had seen at a nearby lake and fantasized about learning how to do.  I asked her to teach me.  She was reticent, as most women who try it give up.  But she agreed if I agreed to commit.

Me at windsurfing Morro Bay, California.

Me, windsurfing at Morro Bay, California.

For the next three months we were at the lake almost every weekend.   I became passionate about the sport and went every chance I got.  My son took lessons too.  As soon as I could afford it, I bought my own equipment, a truck with a camper shell and racks on the top for my board and mast, and a wetsuit.  It was the most fun I had ever had in my life.   I felt powerful, and my muscles began to get toned and strong. The wind in my face and hair as I scooted across a lake seemed to blow off all that rage I never thought I’d get rid of…at least most of it.

When the wind wasn’t up, I took my mountain bike on as many new trails on the Central Coast of California as I could find.  I had a guidebook, and I checked them off as I went.  When I wasn’t there I was at the gym, lifting free-weights.  When I wasn’t at the gym, or the lake, or on the trails riding my bike, I was body-surfing at Pismo Beach.  In fact, there were days when I did at least three of these activities before nightfall.  A neighbor, seeing me drop off my board and grab my bike, stopped my daughter and asked, “Doesn’t your mother ever stop?”  I was forty-years-old and this was the first time in my life I had been active and athletic.  And as my body changed, my mind changed as well. I felt free of anxiety and depression for the first time in a over a decade.

My children were also very happy.  My daughter entered college and moved out on her own.  My son and I moved closer to the beach and nearby lake.  When he wasn’t spending time with grandparents, we made fun plans for every weekend.  And we had our “date” for breakfast out every Friday morning before I dropped him off at school.  We had healed.  And if things would have remained just exactly like that for the rest of my life, I would have been very content indeed.  But of course, God had more surprises in store.  Stay tuned…

 

It’s Too Late – She’s Come Undone

hI could say I didn’t see it coming.  Except that I did.  I worried and fretted and tried to talk to other family members about my fears.  I saw signs, and I especially tried to warn my mother.  She didn’t even have her name on their joint checking account.  What would she do if anything happened?

No one listened so I prayed.  I prayed every morning for six months straight. Please Lord, don’t let that horrible thing happen.

I had been attending the little white church for three years, and the sense of family and my relationship with God were wonderful additions to a life shaped by fear and sadness.   I had finally left Dr. Teemis and began seeing a young masters level student counselor doing his internship.  He continued to probe into all the dark places, the hurts that weren’t healed yet, the wounds that were still fresh.   I still didn’t understand my illness and hadn’t made a lot of progress.

My mother invited us over for dinner a few days after Thanksgiving.  My dad loved chocolate cream pie, so I decided to surprise him and bring one with me.  I was baking the crust when the phone rang.

“Linda, you need to come over here!”  I heard panic in my mother’s voice and got her to calm down long enough to tell me what happened.  My dad had put his shoes on and told her he was going to the garage.  When he didn’t return she went to see what he was up to.  She peeked in and saw him lying on the cement; she ran back into the apartment and called the paramedics, then me.

My chest felt hollow, and once again I found myself holding on to the dashboard of the car as we rushed over to the apartment.  My mind filled with memories of another emergency three years earlier, in August of 1975, when my brother committed suicide.  I tried to will the thoughts away, but they seemed to force the breath from my lungs.

We pulled up to the curb outside my parent’s apartment and I noticed a small crowd gathered across the street.  A paramedic was closing the back doors of the van and I saw there was no one on the gurney.  I looked over at the garage, hoping that my dad was chatting with a police officer nearby.  The garage door was partially closed, and my heart lurched as I turned away.  I went into the apartment and stood in the center of the living room, staring at my mom.  We didn’t speak.  There was a knock at the door.

A young police officer stood with a clipboard in his hand.  “I need to ask you some questions,” he said quietly.  “Was your father right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right-handed,” I answered.  What is he getting at?  I wasn’t about to ask any questions.  Maybe Dad will come walking in the door and we can all just go home and pretend this never happened.

“How old was your father?” he continued.

How old was he?  Was?  “Fifty-one.”  I am a robot.  My mind has become separated from my body.  I’m on another plane.  I may not be able to get back this time. 

It’s too late. She’s gone too far. She’s lost the sun. She’s come undone

~The Guess Who

Once the questions were over and the front door shut against the world, I walked past my mother sitting silently on the couch and went into the bathroom.  I shut the door and locked it.  And then I did what I thought any self-respecting believer in Christ who has any faith at all should do.  I stared in the mirror and whispered a prayer.  “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus, praise you, Jesus.”  But deep in the brain that had detached from the body, another phrase was repeating itself over and over again.  You’ve destroyed me, God.  I’m done.

Another Think Coming

Walking on Water Hajdudorog

Walking on Water Hajdudorog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wrote about how I expected that asking God to take over my life would lead to instant emotional healing.  I would love to be writing about how much better life got after I made a commitment to Christ.  In some ways, life got worse, at least at first.

The church was small, and about fifty to seventy-five members attended on any given Sunday.  The atmosphere was warm and intimate. It was like an incubator of sorts, and I truly do not think I would have survived in a large, mainline denominational church.  Even the pastor who recommended I start attending did not invite me to his own church!  I’m sure he pictured how difficult it would be for the proper ladies of his congregation to reach out to this poor, wretched, emotionally scarred scarecrow of a young woman.  They may have been tempted to simply ignore me, or tell me how badly I needed to clean up my act.   And it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over the edge, to make that break between me and life on planet Earth.

The people in this little congregation cared deeply about me.  Not one word was uttered about the state I found myself in.  I was legally married to my first husband, never having bothered to file divorce papers, even though he had abandoned us many years earlier.  I was living with my boyfriend, who was smoking dope from the moment he got up in the morning.  Looking back on this, I think it’s very unusual that no one proffered his or her opinion about all this.  It was almost like someone called a meeting and they agreed to allow God Himself to do what he does best when it comes to changing people’s lives.  Like I said, very unusual.

But this was a time of great confusion for me as well.  A well-meaning parishioner would throw a Scripture my way that was supposed to take all the fear out of my brain like a vacuum cleaner sucking up sand.  All those particles making noise and then silence.  Ahhh! But when quoting these Scriptures didn’t seem to work for me, I became sure that God saw me as an imposter, attempting to squeeze by unnoticed.  To me, that meant I was rejected.  My feelings of abandonment rested on a hair trigger.  It didn’t take much.  And if God abandoned me, that meant I was going to hell…no matter what.  And if I were going to hell no matter what, I might as well go ahead and make the trip rather then knowing about it for years ahead of time.  Who can deal with that knowledge?  Like a doctor telling you you have one to three years to live.  Yikes!

So I would be on the verge…making the plan.  I wrestled with it, worrying about my children, but thinking they’d be better off without me.  I worried about the church members, feeling all guilty and everything.  And then, like clockwork, it seemed like the Lord Himself stepped in to keep me planted on this side of the veil.  Once in awhile he just stepped right in to the scene in a dream I was having during stage 4 REM.  Other times, I would be pretty close to ending things when the phone would ring and one of the church ladies asked how I was doing, or there would be a knock at the door.  I became more and more sure that God was the one doing the knocking.  “Hello!  I’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t include repeating “fear not” while pointing your finger in the air or pretending to stomp on ‘ol’ slewfoot’s’ head!”

Winter’s comin’ on and it’s twenty below. And the river’s froze over so where can he go. We’ll chase him up the gulley then we’ll run him in the well. We’ll shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell.

“Old Slewfoot,” by Johnny Horton – The Legend – 1975 Columbia House 2P-6418

And it was enough…enough to keep me coming back to the little white church with the mural of Jesus walking on the water…enough to hang in there and keep breathing long enough to live another day.  I was still grieving the death of my brother, still waking up and crying first thing.  I still couldn’t drive a car, go grocery shopping, and I was still lying on the floor all day long just trying to get my breath at least once a week.  And I was still seeing Dr. Teemis.  And Dr. Teemis was still royally screwing with my head.  But things were definitely looking up a little.

One day I was talking to the pastor about my fear-filled thoughts about the future.  “Linda,” he started, if we got a list of all the things that would happen to us at the beginning of each year, we would go crazy with fear.  But all those things take place one at a time, and God gives us the grace to handle each one as they come.”  That helped a little, alleviated some of the dread I felt inside when I had certain thoughts.  But there was one thought that produced so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that the thought of God’s grace coming in after the fact wasn’t comforting at all.  Turns out all that dread was justified.  If I thought I was done with trauma just because I had become a believer, I had another think coming.

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.

Jesus Had a British Accent

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Fear.  If I try to recall how I felt as a child, I would have to say that I felt the emotion of fear more than any other.  It was a boa constrictor that constantly attempted to squeeze the life out of me. I was afraid of adults, afraid of kids I did not know.  I remember being afraid of school.  In the records of my kindergarten year at Bennett Elementary, it’s recorded that I was so shy my teacher could not get me to play with another child the entire year.  I was afraid of the dark, afraid of the Russians, afraid of what we were going to have for dinner (it better not include peas).

One of my biggest fears was going into the garage at night.  There were rafters full of boxes filled with everything from Christmas decorations to old dishes and clothes, but I was absolutely sure there was a strange man hiding in one of them as well.  He was waiting there…waiting for me to come in the garage at night, cross the cement floor to the other side, shut the side door and turn off the light.  Then, he would jump down and strangle me or do who knows what.  He was always waiting.  And because I was afraid that he was always going to be there, my father made me the keeper of the garage at night.

Once I turned out the light and ran back into the house, fresh from my narrow escape from death, I had a hard time getting to sleep.  So I would imagine that Jesus and one of his angels was standing by my closet across the bedroom, keeping watch over me and my sister.  I wanted to go to church and find out more about Him, but my parents didn’t attend church and I didn’t know anyone else who did at that time.

When I passed my tenth birthday, I decided to take things into my own hands. I got up one Sunday morning and put on my fancy lavender dress with the white polka dots on the satin ribbon that tied in the back around my waist; the one we usually saved for eating dinner at my great-grandmother’s house.  I put on my nicest lace trimmed white socks and my black patent-leather “mary jane” shoes.

“Where do you think you’re going,” my mother asked from behind the Sunday comics.

“I’m going to church,” I answered.

My mother just gave a short laugh and told me she’d see me when I got home.

I walked four blocks up to the big white Presbyterian church on the corner near the edge of the housing tract.  I felt very important walking up the steep steps to the double doors.  I stepped into the foyer.  There was a lot of activity going on, people rushing around, towering over me.  No one seemed to notice me at all.  A table by the back of the room held carefully placed pamphlets and small Bibles.  I walked over and tried to act like I had every right to be there. I picked up one of everything.

I don’t remember much about the service, but I do remember how it made me feel.  I wanted to be “good.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, but I knew I wanted it.  Badly.  I tried to think of what I shouldn’t be doing.  Teasing my younger sister had to stop.  What else?  Maybe I should always, always believe that Jesus was really standing by my closet?  I wasn’t sure if that was enough. The minister had said something about becoming more like Him.

I thought about all this on the walk home, and by the time I arrived at our front door, I had it all figured out.  I knew that if I were to be more like Jesus, I was going to have to talk like Him.

“Hello Mother, I said, in the best English accent I could muster.  “How is your morning?”  I was sure that proper English had to be one of the things God would require if one were to become “good.”

“What?” my mother asked.  She looked rather incredulous for some reason.

“Church was simply wonderful,” I said. “The minister was extremely nice. You should really think about coming with me next Sunday morn.”

I left the kitchen and went to my bedroom, determined I should start reading my new Bible right away.  Within minutes the “thees” and “thous” had me stumped.  Oh well, so much for trying to be “good.”  I ran outside to find my sister and didn’t darken the doorway of church of any kind for another five years.  And fear continued to motivate most of what I did.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

-C.S. Lewis