When Eddie looks through your screen door

screen-door

His name was Eddie.

He stood on our front porch every day and pressed his face against the screen door.

 

While the wire mesh imprinted his skin, Eddie watched us eat, sweep the floor and listen to Dad read the Bible after supper.

Sometimes the Texas blazed so bright, the pavement burned our bare feet.

So, we stayed inside.

Eddie watched us read and draw and make up talk shows with a Panasonic tape recorder, the buttons as big as Halloween candy bars.

But, he never said much.

Even if we begged him, he wouldn’t come inside.

Mostly, he just watched.

 

At twelve years of age, I had no idea why a kid with a runny nose and dirty fingernails would monitor every move my family made. Nor, did I care.

But, my parents did.

That’s why they never shut the door when Eddie stood on the other side.

 

Now, I’m wrinkled and ancient.

And, that screen door is long gone.

But, there are plenty of Eddies still hanging around.

People too loud or too quiet to fit into normal conversation.

Some can’t figure out social cues and end up acting strange.

Others see life so differently they just don’t fit in.

 

But, they are people

working beside us,

worshiping with us at church.

Part of the neighborhood,

or our  very own family.

 

When they press against the screen door of our lives it can be irritating.

Sometimes their constant presence can be embarrassing.

 

But, before you rip out your screen door and replace it with a wall,

Imagine Jesus.

Imagine His face pressed against the screen door.

And, then decide.

Coming in from the cold-hope for troubled minds

My husband and I stared out the window at the mound in the snow. It shifted.

“I’m never coming in,” the mound shrieked, “I’ll lie here until I die.”

A few hours later the mound rose to her feet and came inside, stomped past our dormitory apartment and trudged upstairs. This shivering woman tested our love and acceptance.

Everyday.

She had been testing us from the moment she had wandered off the streets and into our lives. It was a learning experience.

We learned that she desperately needed

  • medication.
  • Social workers.
  • A faith-based community where she belonged.

Eventually, this same woman grew in her faith. She reached out to other people on the street.   In time, she  moved out on her own and worked in coffee house that ministered to people with addictions.  One day, I read a short paragraph in the local paper about a body found in a ditch. The body of a slight woman in her thirties.

And, I knew.

The woman who walked off the streets and into our hearts was gone.

Many people suffer much like the woman my family and church had learned to love.

  • Brain injuries
  • Emotional challenges
  • Cognitive disabilities

Mental distress transforms the mind into a prison with no key, a bright future into a lonly  path that disappears into the unknown. The biggest blessing for those who struggle is a family who cares. But, families  can  grow as  weary as the one they try to help. Financial and emotional strain pulls families apart.

No one wants to walk alone.

Can churches make a difference?  Dr. Diana Garland, dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work said,

“Mental illness is not only prevalent in church communities, but is accompanied by significant distress that often goes unnoticed”.

Unnoticed, even by the body of Christ.

No wonder so many families just fall apart.

I’ve felt the isolation, the gut wrenching realization that nobody really understands.

Sometimes a few people see through the fake smiles, the pretending that everything is fine. They listen.  Cry with us. Share their own journey through the mental illness maze. Still, it is never easy. It never will be.

There is no quick fix.

Garland didn’t stop with an observation that mental illness goes unnoticed in the church.

“Partnerships between mental health providers and congregations may help to raise awareness,” she continued, “in the church community and simultaneously offer assistance to struggling families.”

Just knowing you’re not alone can give hope.

That’s a start.

Raising Rude Christians

“Look mom,” my son yelled while I maneuvered the minivan through a residential area on the way to the public library, “Pets welcome.”

I glanced over to a wooden sign advertising a housing co-op.

“I’m glad,” he said before I had a chance to explain what it really meant, “lost animals have a place to go.”

His eyes shone with visions of abandoned puppies and runaway cats finding shelter from the cold, cruel world.

His comment made me think of the church.

A refuge. A haven. A shelter for all kinds of strays.

Then, I remembered.

Rude Christians.

· Cutting off other drivers on the freeway.

· Complaining in the checkout line.

· Leaving a prayer card instead of a tip when dining out.

Rude Christians did their deadliest work in the church.

On Sunday mornings.

· They saved seats for fellow believers while visitors stood awkwardly at the back of the church.

· They kept their circle of friendships tight, leaving no room for anyone who needed a friend.

· They shook their heads at noisy children running through the sanctuary, never whispering a prayer for their souls.

· They pushed and shoved their way to positions of service, never looking back to see who got hurt.

Rude Christians.

I don’t think they deliberately designed themselves to be that way.

It just happened. Like watching TV.

They became what they saw other people doing.

Good news.

There is hope for change,

If we dare to let the Spirit of truth

burrow down deep into our mind and emotions,

Until we sprout.

Tiny buds.

New leaves.

Fresh growth of goodness.

Kindness. Gentleness.

Peace and faith.

Slow. Steady.

That’s how character grows.

Raising Rude Christians–A Preview

Obsessive.

Needy.

Easily excitable.

Maybe that’s what drove me to post for twelve days in a row.

I’m taking the weekends off from now on.

But,

I’ll be back.

On Monday.

talking about cliques and “inner circles” in the church.

To the people  (family, people who might as well be family and lots and lots of imaginary friends) thanks for viewing my posts.

Keep viewing.

Comment if you dare.

I’ll keep writing. See you Monday! 

Mental Illness and the Church

Life is messy.

Trust me.

This glorious adventure can get sloppy real fast.

Consider Horatio, a song writer,

He died a mental and emotional mess.

But, he didn’t start that way.

He was smart.

In the 1860’s (beware, you hipsters, this is a long time ago) he practiced law in Chicago..

He was well connected.

D. L. Moody, one of the most famous preachers of the century, considered him a close friend.

He was tough.

Horatio lost his only son to Scarlett fever.

A year later, the real estate that he invested in burned to the ground.

He was kind.

To help his family heal from tragedy, he sent them on a trip to England. After Horatio helped a friend he planned to join his family.

And, then, the telegram came.

“Saved Alone.”

The ship traveling to England sank.

His four daughters drown. Only his wife survived.

Devastated? Beyond words.

Messed up? Not yet.

Spafford traveled to meet his wife in Wales. On the voyage, the captain called him to the bridge.

“This is the area where your daughters’ ship went down,” he said.

Spafford walked across the swaying deck to his cabin.

There he wrote a song.

“ When peace like a river attends my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll.

What ever my lot,

Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul“

This lyrics, created out of the substance of his suffering, comfort people even today.

But, Stafford was only human.

Although, he worshiped God and helped other people,

He never recovered from his loss.

Eventually his sorrow affected his mental state.

Toward the end of his life Stafford wandered through the desert,

convinced that he was the messiah.

Horatio G. Spafford.

Messed up.

Broken.

Confused.

Did he matter as much to God at the end of his life did he he did while writing a hymn of praise or helping a famous evangelist?

Sometimes the mentally ill are seen as less valuable than other people in society.

Do you have someone in your life who struggles with emotional issues?

How do you support them? Is the local church a resource for you?

When Eternity Rushes In

Every day, I

• Log onto the computer.
• Pull into a parking space.
• Load the dishwasher.
• Walk the dog.
• Change the channels.
• Bank online.

Stuff that needs to be done.
Day after day after day.

Nothing changes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     What is                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     will always be.

Although we sometimes hope things will change,                                                                                                                                                                              we expect everything to stay the same.

It’s part of being human.

Clinging to the familiar. Never exploring the unknown.

Ay, here’s the rub. Familiar is not forever.                                                                                                                                                                                           At any moment in time our shell of our existence can crack open. Eternity rushes in.

I was nine when my world first split from sky to sky.

Dad slept in the back bedroom after working the night shift. Mom cooked and cleaned and tried to keep the little kids quiet.

“That’s it,” Mom finally hissed when the youngest started to whine, “We’re going to the swimming hole.”.

I jumped in the station wagon and snagged a spot next to the window. After the rest of my siblings and a few stray neighborhood kids crammed in, we drove away.

At the swimming hole, I fell back into the water and let myself float.

I drifted away from the shore, daydreaming about my future;                                                                                                                                                         the stories I would write,                                                                                                                                                                                                                          the places I would go,                                                                                                                                                                                                                             the people I would meet.

Then, I stood up.

Water closed over my head.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I couldn’t touch bottom.

Problem was, I could float on my back but I couldn’t swim.
The weight of the water pulled me down.

I clawed my way to the surface.

My head rose above the water.

I gasped and screamed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Then, I slipped under the water again.

This time, I imagined my funeral as I drifted down.
Mom sobbing.
Dad standing awkwardly at her side.

When I broke the surface again, I barely made a sound.

The last time I went under,  I  thought,
“It’s over. I’m going to die.”

Then, something yanked my hair.
Fingers squeezed my arm.

A human chain consisting of Mom, my older siblings and kids from the neighborhood pulled me out of the deep and dragged me onto the sand.

When I got home, I crawled into bed.  Dad came to my room.

“You ok?’ he said.
I nodded.

After Dad left, I closed my eyes.

Water washed over my head.

I couldn’t breathe.

So, I opened my eyes again.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Listened to the sound of  siblings playing in the back yard.

Suddenly,

I knew what lay beneath the surface,                                                                                                                                                                                               what spread like an ocean beneath the fragile vessel of my everyday world.

Eternity.  Unsettling and unpredictable.

Magnificent and unavoidable.

Witches, towers and damsels in distress

I don’t really  believe in fairy tales.

Yet, I watched the cartoon versions over and over when I was a little kid.
The tragic ending of the fairy tale, Rapunzel, haunted me for years. A wicked witch banished Rapunzel to a tiny room at the top of a tower. The witch blinded Rapunzel’s would- be rescuer. He stumbled home in disgrace. In the last scene, Rapunzel lowered her golden hair out the window and wept.

“Laugh and the world laughs with you,” the narrator said as a lone black bird circled slowly above the tower, “cry and you cry alone.”

Another show came on.

But the words of the narrator settled into my mind.

In the middle of the night, over twenty years later, I recalled them again. Huddled in the laundry room, I wept as quietly as I could. The rest of the family slept.
It felt like the dark side of fairy tales had cursed my home. Health issues, emotional issues and parenting issues overwhelmed me. I tried to pray, but I didn’t know where to begin.

The words “Cry and you cry alone,” filled my mind.  The image of the girl in the tower haunted me all over again.

My ultimate conclusion – I was totally and completely alone.

It’s funny how we decide the way life ought to be.
What we believe often emerges from single experiences; what we see and feel, taste and hear.
One isolated incident can determine the way we respond to certain situations for years to come. Truth and distortion get stored in the brain.

Side by side.

Never questioned or compared.

Seriously.

That’s how a grown woman ended up living her life according to a fairy tale.

It took the words of Paul in Galatians to start the process, replacing a lie with the truth.

The renewing of my mind.

He simply admonished people to “carry each other‘s burdens”. No more hiding our wounded hearts or turning away from the groans of a brother in pain.

So much for wicked witches, circling birds and damsels in distress.

Theme Park Christianity

Scary thought.

Imagine Christians spinning through life on tilt-a-whirls of courage, parachute drops of faith and Farris wheels of joy.

Actually, I’ve heard a sermon or two along this line.

The magnificence of the Christian living.

  • Non-stop glory.
  • Wonder.
  • Even monetary reward.

All I know is that life can be hard.

Like today.

  •  My head ached.
  •  I got soaked in the rain.
  • My appointments fell through.
  •  I lost my temper.
  •  Had a meltdown.

(Note to self: proposed title for autobiography – “It’s a Wonderful Life” may not fit.)

Following God is challenging.

Its about living out what you believe when it hurts.

It’s about staying true to God when no one else can see Him.

It’s about faith.

I am not referring to blind resignation or some tattered flag of surrender waved in the face of hopelessness.

“It’s the substance of things hoped for,” the writer of the book of Hebrews said, “the evidence of things not seen”.

Now, that dude knew his business when it came to faith.

After a bad day,

Rough week.

Difficult year.

A spectacular meltdown,

Sometimes faith is all that remains.

Been there? Let me know.

When Mondays get you down

1950children1

Last week I wrote a blog about how to make it through a Monday.

I tried to take my own advice.

“Pause before you plunge into the craziness of the day.”

“Settle into the moment.”

 

But, somehow, I slipped into the wrong one.

 

This moment began with the sound of the windshield wipers, the rumbling of wheels on the road. .

I caught a whiff of tuna fish from the paper brown bag on my lap.

Then, the bus slowed.

As I stepped out in front of a low, brick building, I felt my stomach lurch.

 

This particular moment was all about Monday and how much I hated school.

· The kids who teased me.

· The homework assignments I never finished.

· The library books I always lost.

· The questions the teachers would ask me to answer in front of the class.

 

On weekends, I laughed and made up games for my siblings. I wrote stories and sang songs.

But, Monday when came, I headed to my doom.

 

Like I said, wrong moment.

I don’t live there anymore.

· The bullies are grown up.

· The teachers retired.

· The school building gone.

 

Tomorrow, I‘ll try again.

Pause before I plunge into the day.

Center on the present.

Not the past or the future.

I’ll savor where I am.

The Way Home

I remember the first time I watched Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard.

Now, you have to remember that I have always been a good Baptist. Not once have I ever been wasted, high, or stoned.

But, when Whitney belted out “I’ll always love you” my mind exploded.

She changed the way I saw music. It was more than timing and melody. Music had wings, strong enough to carry the heart to places ordinary words could never go.

Fact is, Whitney’s vocal talent and riveting presence took the world by storm. Nobody sang like Whitney Houston.

Then, she disappeared.

Years later, I found her found her at the grocery store. On the check-out aisle. In the tabloids.

“Drugs! Depression! Rehabilitation!” they screamed.

“Just another headline,” I said to myself as the cashier scanned my purchases, “that’s what she’s become.”

I was wrong.

Last week, Whitney Houston died.

The fans that had forsaken her began to mourn. I anticipated an elaborate farewell on television, much like the ones produced for other superstars who had died.

Instead, Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, took the lead.

The live-streamed service celebrated Whitney’s’ life as a mother, daughter, sister and friend. The people gathered were, as Kevin Costner said, the ones who “loved her first, who loved her best, and the ones who loved her the longest”.

Few of us will ever achieve the fame of Whitney Houston. I guarantee that none of us will sing quite like she did.

But, we will all follow dreams.

Pursue passions.

Give of ourselves, in one way or another, to make a better world.

Where ever our journey takes us,

We Must Never Forget The Way Home.

It’s the one place where we are never just a headline, the sum total of what we should or should not have done.

It’s the church family that embraces us while we are still broken.

Parents who believe in us  when we don’t believe in ourselves.

A God who knows us and loves us just the way we are.