Armies, Fighting, and Being Still

The White Stripes released “Seven Nation Army” in 2003. Somewhere in that era at Christmastime, my English teacher friend Erin gave me a mixtape including liner notes in the compact disc jewel case. According to Erin, “Seven Nation Army is a song that makes you feel cooler just for listening.”
I love Haley Reinhart of Postmodern Jukebox since her days on American Idol back in 2011. She just celebrated her 30th birthday, and the comments on this video crack me up. Luke Klein says, “I watched this video and ended up in a gray suit and a fedora, smoking a cigarette in the rain in 1939. Pls help.”

“I’m gonna fight ‘em all / A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.”

The White Stripes

I’ve heard the White Stripes in my head this past week, and their words convey my attitude. As I leave my house each day for my morning walk, my posture and stride seem to say, “Do not get in my way because I will kick your ass.” And that’s how I’ve been making my way through recent days. I carry this mixture of fury and hope, this “I will spit in your eye” mindset along with “God, please help me and most of all please help Drew.” My friends and prayers keep carrying me like a gondola up the mental health mountain I face.

Drew came by our house yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.

“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. Alone in the house, I decided to write this post.

If you happened to read my post about prayers and friends carrying me last week, you know my son Drew was in the behavioral health hospital. Hospitalization #6. After ten long years of battling paranoid schizophrenia. Drew still has good days. When he left with HPD for the hospital, I found crystal meth in his room. How long have I been finding meth in his room? Has it been two years? Did I ever find meth three years ago when we lived in the La Quinta after the hurricane? How many times have I thrown meth in the trash? Where does he get his money to buy? Is he selling it? Does he have a medication efficacy issue? Is meth or schizophrenia the larger problem? These questions beat me down. Who knows?

Anyway, Drew spent five good days at the hospital. I have no idea what they did for him because he is thirty years old, and HIPAA laws protect his privacy. Drew reports that nothing happened, which could be true or false. The hospital doctor determined he was good to go. No further treatment necessary. The problem is Drew’s behavior leading up to the hospitalization proved dangerous to himself and/or others. Over the past three years, his delusions have progressively worsened along with his reactions to what he hears and believes. His dad and I are not willing to have him in our home at this time, partly because of a police report filed by our neighbors that in part led to his hospitalization. His psychiatrist is aware and unhelpful. Hospitalization #6 was unhelpful. Drew agreed to stay in a group home following his discharge.

By the way in Texas, group homes are not accredited in any way. If I wanted to open a group home for mentally ill patients and feed them and oversee their medication, I could—TOMORROW. IF. If you want to make some money, or at least have someone else pay your mortgage, move to Texas, open a group home, call psychiatric hospitals, and let them know you are open for business. From what I understand, it doesn’t take much more than that. Also, Texas ranks near the bottom of our fifty states for mental health expenditures per capita. Go figure. Should we move?

A Mr. Taylor drove Drew from the hospital to the God’s People group home where Drew called an Uber and returned home to pick up clothes and his car. His car that he had been using as his personal trash can. The same car I had removed trash from little by little—four full kitchen trash bags of McDonald’s trash, two uneaten apple pies and an empty sardine can, seemingly unending soda bottles and cans, empty American Spirit cigarette packs and cigarette butts everywhere—all kinds of empty cardboard box recycling—from a Ryobi Variable Speed Drill to a floor lamp, a Kobalt Retractable Hose Reel with Hose, a DeWalt Heavy-Duty Electric Wheeled Portable Compressor, and sex toys. Oh, and laundry, lots of dirty laundry. Some of which went straight to the trash. Some of which I’m airing now. Again I ask, where in the world is Drew getting this money? Have I been burying my head in the sand? All I know is that I have done the best I can. There is NO REASONING with mental illness, and NO ONE seems to want to help. Oh, unless, we happened to be millionaires. We MIGHT get some help that way. By the way if you Google God’s People in Houston, you won’t find anything. When I type the address into Google maps, I see the location of this group home in a one-story house in a residential neighborhood, likely three bedrooms and two baths.

So—after being released on Thursday, Drew didn’t spend Thursday or Friday night at the group home. However, he had been in contact with me by phone, and he was okay. He said, “I’m at a friend’s.”

“Are you planning to go back to the home?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. Drew is good at telling me what I want to hear. Like when I say, “Will you take a shower?” or “Will you take a trashbag and clean all of the trash out of your room?” I repeat the same question for his car. His response—always the same. Years and years of yesses. How are we supposed to help? By telling him he can no long live with us? By towing and selling his trashed out, torn up, paid for 2010 Honda Accord? I’m tired, and I’m trying to live my own best life despite challenges. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to help himself?

Mr. Taylor says he will let me know if Drew shows up, and for my own mental health I drive to the beach on Saturday. Drew makes a Saturday group home appearance—forty-eight hours after his hospital release. Mr. Taylor texts me about his arrival, and stupidly we pay a pro-rated fee for September housing. I say stupidly because Drew is at home when I return from the beach. He has eaten the leftover pizza, and I am thankful for his nourishment. We have a peaceful conversation about his aquarium and the fish he has recently purchased for his bedroom, and I am thankful for the calm. Drew says, “Their names are Patches and Duke and Catfishy.”

I say, “I named them Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

“Those are terrible names,” he says, and I am thankful for the laughs. Then, he leaves for the night.

Do you remember where this started?

Drew came by yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.

“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. I would’ve thought the noise a buzz saw if I hadn’t found the cardboard box for the drill in his car. Alone in the house, husband out of town, I decided to write this post. Drew was gone within the hour.

Drew probably slept in his car last night. Possibly for the last four nights. If he’s lucky, he has a friend. Officially this means Drew is homeless. AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN THE GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (and exactly why I want to kick somebody’s ass).

Mid-rage, I stumbled onto Perth Girl’s Saturday post. It begins, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

Perth Girl wraps it up by saying, “Be still, my friend, be still. Let the Lord be your shield and your sword. Let Him be your rock and your shelter. Be still and surrender to Him, leave room for God to work, let Him fight for you.”

Then I went to church at Chase Oaks online, and the service ended with this song. Do I hear God’s voice?   

“Even when my eyes can’t see, I will trust the voice that speaks peace over me.”

And so, as I attempt to re-make my own Monday, to re-make my own week, my own life, today, I choose to let the Lord fight my battles, to be still and surrender, to let go and let God. Oh, and I do have one phone call to make—to a church that can potentially help me. That might not happen today. 🙏🏻

V is for Violoncello, Voices, and a Vision

My son Drew is a cellist. These days he doesn’t play often. His cello stands in its case next to the media console in our living room. The voices Drew hears stand in the way of his gift.

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But—I have a vision. I believe in better days and a brighter future. I decided long ago that I can choose hope or not, and I choose hope. I wouldn’t know how to do that without God, and I lean on the words of the good book:

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).

“Then [Elijah] stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the LORD, “LORD, my God, let this boy’s life return to him! The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived” (1 Kings 17:21-22).

I believe in a God who will return Drew’s life, a better life with a cello to play and the light in his eyes. And today, I have a gift for you, actually Drew does. Four years ago, Drew managed the symptoms of his schizophrenia better than he does today. He found an app on his phone that allowed him to record a four-part cello piece, and he makes it sing. It’s the gift—I hope you have a minute to listen:

A to Z Challenge

It looks as though I will make it to the end of my April A-Z blogging challenge. I had some doubts along the way, but I kept doing what I do—being grateful each day. All of this goes to show the importance of our beliefs. Life is not perfect. And now for those times when my world shakes so hard that the sky falls off my life, I have a little collection of reminders to help me carry on:

A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle and I for an I and J is for Jesus and K is for Kody and L is for the Lovely Lauren and M is for the Marvelous Misti and a Dirty Martini and N is for the Numbers and O is for the Oversized Owl and P—Prayer and My Grandmother’s Pearls and R is for Ripples Colliding and S is for Siblings and T is for the Tomlinsons and U is for Untamed

 

Lifted Lines

Last Sunday I drove southwest on 59 from my home in southwest Houston into the suburbs, almost into the country. In Richmond, I exited the freeway and turned right, down a paved road, another right into a dirt parking lot. The gravel crunched beneath my tires, and I found a spot near a chicken coop. Through the poultry netting and in addition to chickens, I discovered peacocks. On the other side of the coop, sunlight shone down on baby goats with their mothers. Beyond all of that lies a beautiful lake with ducks on the water and then River Pointe Church.

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I always say, “You can choose HOPE, or not.” And churches and cathedrals, temples and holy places, farm animals and wide open spaces give me HOPE. I find God in these places—and myself, like the me I hope to be.

Life is heavy. I don’t believe any of us are exempt from challenges, but I do believe in the power of prayer. I keep a list of friends and family in my prayers for surgeries and illnesses, dependencies and dysfunctional relationships, the trials of life and inevitable death.

I believe in the power of believing, and I believe in the power of words. Sometimes the wrong words and the wrong beliefs become trapped inside our heads. That’s when I like to have an arsenal of the right words and the right beliefs. I lifted some lines from church last week—for my arsenal—because they lifted me:

  1. Nothing has been wasted, no failure or mistake.
    When I doubt it, remind me I’m wonderfully made.
  2. When the world starts to blur and your soul feels heavy,
    know that you’re loved.
  3. It’s gonna be alright.
    It’s gonna be okay.
  4. We often believe that admitting we’ve failed makes us less Christian.
    Confession makes us more Christian.
  5. “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16)

If the words above don’t lift you, go find words that do and places that do and people who do. You don’t have to believe everything you think, especially the bad stuff. And if you find yourself dwelling in the negative, find a new place to dwell.

Sidenote: A couple of weeks ago the pastor challenged us to read Samuel 1 and 2. These books contain the history of Israel leading into the story of David, as in the chosen-by-God David, who slayed the giant Goliath with his unwavering belief and a single stone. This same David later became king and committed adultery with Bathsheba who became pregnant. King David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered to cover up the sin. The sequence of events displeased the Lord, but King David confessed, and the Lord forgave.

Now, I am no bible scholar, and I don’t understand all of the wartime killing and all of David’s wives and concubines in the context of the Ten Commandments. What truly displeased the Lord was that King David took something that didn’t belong to him amidst everything he already had. Based on this temptation, David is probably the most relatable character in the Bible. (Hello, my name is human.) If an adulterer and a murderer can be forgiven, well then, there’s hope for you and me.

Confession to God grants us forgiveness. Confession to one another makes us whole.

 

 

I Commit.

January 1, 2019. I made a commitment.

No more.

I even had a head start. Starting December 27th, no more.

And so far, so good.

Even now I hate to admit my habit, but here goes.

Goodbye, cigarettes. You comforted me for a time. Thank you for showing me that it’s time for me to work on me.  

I remember listening to one of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s audiobooks about ten years ago. He practiced saying goodbye and thanking whatever is bothering him. His daughter had some bumps, I don’t remember the details, but the bumps were a problem, a problem that went away when she spoke to them with kindness and a farewell. Together they wrote a children’s book about it. Recently, Marie Kondo reminded me of the technique in her tv show on tidying up, thanking the items you use and love as you put them away, keeping only the things that spark joy, thanking items for the joy they brought you at one time before bidding them adieu. I try to use these lessons in my life. It’s a work in progress. I believe 2019 will be a year of personal growth.

A second commitment evolved throughout the month. I like to start school each new year on a positive note. A new year. A fresh start. I know for a fact that some kids don’t get much positivity at home, and we can all use an extra dose of positive. Anyway, on January 4th, I read a blog post titled “You need to believe it’s possible.” Click the link to read. Embedded in that post was a sixteen-minute video titled “The Power of Belief.

I decided to show the video to my students on their first day back, January 7th, and have them journal about what they believe. I watched the video seven times total, once to preview and again with each class. After the third viewing, I noticed an ad at the end for Evan Carmichael’s book Your One Word with a #believe at the bottom of the front cover. I tweaked the writing assignment for my classes to reflect on their one word for 2018 and their one word for 2019 in addition to what they believe.

I didn’t journal at the time, but I thought about my two words and what I believe.

Word of 2018. Hope. When I began this self-imposed writing gig while living in a La Quinta and rebuilding our house that had been flooded by Harvey, I named my blog Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope. My dad gave me a silver bracelet engraved with HOPE for my birthday last year, and I wear it almost every day as a reminder that Hope, with a capital H, is a choice. I can choose my attitude, another gift of a lesson from dear old Dad. I’m fairly certain Dad is also a Wayne Dyer fan. Amid crisis, I have a choice. Hope or Despair? I choose hope along with the opportunity to grow.

Word of 2019. Believe. I realize Hope and Believe are practically synonyms. In my mind Belief removes all doubt and fuels the Hope. Belief reminds me to trust God in the process. I’m in a different place now. Literally. Back home and on a new couch. So what do I believe? I believe in a better, healthier future for everyone in my family. I believe in the progress of medicine and stem cells and cures for diseases like paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and addiction. I believe that together we are stronger, and our relationships are important. I believe my writing is evolving and helping others evolve. I believe one day I will publish a book. All through the grace of God. Some of these beliefs I shared with my students, and after one class a student came up to me and said, “Mrs. Byers, my grandfather has Parkinson’s, and my mom is like you. She researched and found a place right here in Bellaire that does stem cell treatments and took him.”

“So your grandfather is better now?” I asked.

She nodded, holding our eye contact with a serioussincerity, “I will find out where and let you know.”

And like that, I had a new avenue to explore. I believe it’s only a matter of time. I believe all of it with faith in God, gratitude in advance, and peace in my heart.

January 11th was our daughter Lauren’s 27th birthday, and Kody and I gave her a three-month membership to a local boxing gym, which included a three-month membership for me. We would go together. Now mind you, I had not worked out in any way for approximately a year and a half, but I believe in a healthier future. Right? So on January 13th, Lauren and I found our workout clothes, drove to the gym with over fifty suspended heavy bags, wrapped our wrists and knuckles, and started our first class—kickboxing. The fifteen minute warm-up included jumping jacks and pushups, lunges and squats. My calves started screaming after about one minute. Somehow I pushed forward. Then we pulled on our gloves and punched and kicked our way through eight, three-minute rounds with the bag before the abdominal-focused cool-down using weighted medicine balls. If that sounds hard, it is. On January 14th Kody joined us, this time for boxing, and he signed on the line for the membership. By January 15th, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs, but two weeks and five classes later, I’m feeling pretty fantastic, and Lauren has made it to at least three classes without me. And the bonus…this gym is motivational, the instructors are motivational, I am motivated, and it’s quality family time.

On the wall at the gym.

Last weekend I traveled the three-hour road to Austin to hang out with my like-minded childhood besties overnight. I am so very thankful for Denise and Pamela and our forty-ish year friendships, speaking of sparking joy. For the trip I downloaded Rachel Hollis’s audio of Girl Wash Your Face. I like this girl Rachel, and I can’t stop thinking of something she said, and I want you to read it:

“A few months ago after I was out to dinner with my closest girlfriend which was an impromptu happy hour that turned into an impromptu dinner and ended up going later than any of us anticipated, I went downstairs to the basement where our old treadmill is hidden and ran a few miles. I put the evidence of that workout on Snapchat, and later my girlfriend saw it and sent me a text. “You worked out after dinner? What in the world?”

I wrote back, “Yes, because I planned on doing it and didn’t want to cancel.”

“Couldn’t you just postpone until tomorrow?” She was genuinely perplexed.  

“No, because I made a promise to myself and I don’t break those, not ever.”

“Ugh,” she typed back. “I’m the FIRST person I break a promise to.”

She’s not the only one. I used to do that all the time until I realized how hard I was fighting to keep my word to other people while quickly canceling on myself. I’ll work out tomorrow became I’m not working out anytime soon—because honestly, if you really cared about that commitment, you’d do it when you said you would. What if you had a friend who constantly flaked on you? What if every other time you made plans she decided not to show up? Or what if a friend from work was constantly starting something new? Every three Mondays she announced a new diet or goal and then two weeks later it just ended? Y’all, would you respect her? This woman who starts and stops over and over again? Would you count on the friend who keeps blowing you off for stupid reasons? Would you trust them when they committed to something?

No. No way. And that level of distrust and apprehension applies to you too. Your subconscious knows that you, yourself, cannot be trusted after breaking so many plans and giving up on so many goals.

When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse. I know that blowing off a workout, a date, an afternoon to organize your closet, or some previous commitment to yourself doesn’t seem like a big deal—but it is. It’s a really big deal. Our words have power, but our actions shape our lives.”

Rachel Hollis

Wow, Rachel, why haven’t I realized this before? You, my young friend, are right. Okay girl, three times per week, at least. That’s my boxing commitment for the next three months.

Thursday I came home to a package in the mail—inside, a silver bangle bracelet with BELIEVE in capital letters and a note from my Denise–Believe is a powerful thing!!


What do you believe? What is your word for 2018? 2019?


Cheaters

Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com

The winter break approached, exam stress visible on the faces of the students. Of my four sections of Advanced Placement Language and Composition, one class tested Monday, one on Tuesday, one Wednesday, and one Thursday. On my white board I wrote: Happy Holidays! Do your best! Be your Best! The underlying message—Don’t Cheat! I would be naive to believe that students wouldn’t try. Yet I want to trust them, really I do.

Monday’s scores were consistent with student averages and other tests taken throughout the semester. Tuesday’s test had two paradoxically high scores, but the students missed different questions, so I didn’t think too much about it as I was still grading my brains out with essays, which would comprise 50% of test scores. By Wednesday after walking in on five girls just hanging out in my office, which connects to two other classrooms besides mine, I knew in my gut that my test had been compromised. There was nothing I could do in the minutes leading up to the test that day.  

After passing out Wednesday’s exam, I noted the darting glances from “Felicia.” Every time I looked at her, she met my gaze, and even though this test consists of reading passages and comprehension, “Felicia” failed to even fake read as she bubbled her answers. I monitored like a hawk. She wasn’t copying off of anyone. However, after tests were submitted, I discovered four more inconsistent scores including Bad Faker “Felicia” and three of her friends who had seemingly coordinated well enough to miss different answers.  

So (1) there was the situation with unsupervised students in the office where tests were not visible but also not under lock and key. And (2) I did not physically collect phones or Apple watches during this testing season though none were visible. And (3) normally I give more than one version of any test, but this time, with keys having to be entered into an unfamiliar computer system and too much to do and too little time, I did not. This time I stapled a cover sheet on top that either said Form A or Form B and copied Form A in white, Form B green. Lame, I now know.

So on Wednesday after school with one semester exam to go, I assembled a new test and made copies with the same cover sheet, Form A in white and a green Form B.

Before the test on Thursday, I made eye contact with every single student as I handed out scantrons. To each one of them, I said something like, “Good luck today” or “May the force be with you” or “I’m thinking of you as you test today.” Some of them probably thought/think I’m creepy, but most of them were amused. I added a new note to my white board next to Be Your BestNo Cheating. Before distributing tests, I didn’t mention anything about the suspected cheaters or the new test, I just said, “It’s been my pleasure to be your teacher this year.”

“What? Aren’t you coming back?” they asked.

“Of course, I mean, 2018 has been great, and I’ll see you next year. I hope you all have a wonderful break. Are you ready? Do your best! Please keep your eyes on your own test and keep your answers covered.” Then I passed out the test and proceeded to walk up and down the aisles for two hours.

Immediately I recognized two scantrons with the same bubble pattern—A, B, B, D—the answers from the original exam. These two students weren’t even trying to read and see if those answer choices made sense, and they weren’t keeping their answers covered either. However, I had left one clue that this test was different. The first test had 37 questions, and this one had 39. I kept my eyes on the two, and about an hour into the test they both exuded an air of defeat—heavy exhales, eyes rolling, corners of mouths turned inconsolably down.

Fast forward to the scantron machine that sounded off like a machine gun and left six scantrons bleeding red. Six. Six students had stuck to the familiar A, B, B, D pattern, their scores to the tune of 10-20%.

Skip ahead once more past me telling some co-workers and my dean. Our math teacher had a similar cheating scandal, and I heard many a conflicting opinion on dealing with my cheaters. If I gave these six kids zeroes, they would all fail for the semester, and six more whom I suspect also cheated, but couldn’t outright accuse, would get away with it. If I gave my little cheaters their 10-20% and averaged that score with their essay scores, they will still pass for the semester.  The math teacher and I both entered zeroes into our grade books and left the school that Friday, December 21 for a two-week respite. Grades would not be officially due until our January return.

In the meantime, I’ve reflected on the times I’ve cheated in life. I remember my freshman year, still in junior high. It was just math homework. I’m sure I was too busy with my ninth-grade life to worry about school, so I borrowed the homework of a very smart, kind, and well-respected friend who had diligently completed hers and whose name I will protect to this day. I proceeded to copy her assignment in my history class, and my teacher Mr. Watkins, also the dad of one of my classmates, walked over to my desk, picked up both papers, scrutinized the names, and handed them back to me without saying a word. And I felt ashamed of myself. That’s not to say that I didn’t find a way to cheat my way through business calculus in college, and I don’t relay my own dishonesty with pride.

I say this to illustrate the imperfection of humanity. I realize that the pot should not call the kettle black, and I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?”

I remember the story of a prostitute kissing the feet of Jesus and anointing them with perfume and her own tears and wiping them with her own hair.

I remember Simon saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would know this woman was a sinner.”

I remember Jesus saying to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven…go in peace.”

(It’s all in Luke 7:36-50 with a powerful parable in between*).

There will always be Simons who say, “Let them fail. Teach them a lesson.”

There will always be Jesuses and Mr. Watkinses who teach lessons in other ways.

There will always be people, like me, who choose wrong from time to time, but continue to try to be better than who they were before. Isn’t that what we all do in January? Resolve to be our best selves?

When I go back to school, I’ll give my students credit for their essays and say little, maybe even nothing like Mr. Watkins, and like Jesus, I’ll forgive with grace and peace for new beginnings in the new year.

Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

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*Luke 7:40-43, New International Version, biblegateway.com

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.


A Thanksgiving Episode

Sunday morning of Thanksgiving week included my parents and my sister, Philippians 4:6-8, and a blood-stained sock.

Philippians 4 6-7

After breakfast, Dad drove, and I rode shotgun to Mom’s memory care home, where she sat alone with the Christmas tree in the community living room. Dressed for church, she was ready for the day when we arrived, and her eyes lit up like the tree at the sight of us. Dad grabbed a brush from her bedroom and demonstrated his skills as a stylist. I attempted small talk. Alzheimer’s is a thief, stealing more all the time from one of the kindest people to ever walk the earth. Dad helped Mom stand up. He helped her with her coat. He helped her to the car and buckled her in, and together the three of us took a Sunday drive to kill some time before church.

In the sanctuary, Mom, Dad, and I found spots at the very back, where friends stopped by to say hello and check on my mom before the service, and my sister slipped into our row next to me. The graphic design on front of the bulletin read, “…in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” and the minister spoke on the same theme for another few verses. The words of the apostle Paul turned over in my head and resonated with me. I remembered my mother’s voice. I remembered times gone by when she spoke these same words. I realized the meaning had stuck. I realized that every meant every. Pray with a thankful heart in every situation. I heard my mother’s voice, now silent. I heard God’s voice, “Peace…which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts” and “if anything is excellent…think on such things.” Leaving the sanctuary that day, I felt thankful for the message, for my safe trip from Houston to the Oklahoma panhandle, for a week of vacation and time with family, for more time with my mother, and for the peace I carried with me.

Dad and I took Mom back to the nursing home. I helped her change tops and took off her shoes to help her change pants, and that’s when I spotted the blood stained sock. Mom’s toe had been bleeding obviously, and I’m not good at this type of thing. “Um, Dad?” I said. He was hanging up her church clothes. “I think Mom’s toe is bleeding.”

I stepped away and let Dad take over. He rolled down Mom’s compression sock and pulled it off her foot. I caught a glimpse of the horror. Dad left the room to find a nurse. Mom’s toenail stood perpendicular to her nail bed, bleeding. It seemed as if the nail had caught on the sock when they had gone on. Then the foot had been shoved into a shoe. My stomach still turns, four days later.

A nurse showed up promptly, filling a pink plastic basin with warm soapy water and submerging Mom’s foot to soak for awhile before the inevitable toenail removal. I’ll skip the details. “Now, are you her daughter?” The nurse darted a glance at me from her position on the floor before further examination of my mother’s toe.

“Yes,” I replied as my mother made a funny face and laughed with unrestrained joy. I looked back at Dad, sitting directly behind the nurse and caught him mid-face-contortion. Mom cackled some more.

“Does that tickle?” The nurse asked Mom, oblivious to the mostly silent comedic flirtation of my parents.

“No, they’re making faces at each other,” I replied for Mom.

“I love seeing them together,” the nurse said. “They really have something special. You just don’t see that very often. She looks at him with so much love.”

I always knew my dad hung my mom’s moon, but over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize that Mom hung Dad’s moon, too. And these excellent things, I will think upon.

Philippians 4 8

Word of the Month: Gratitude

A couple of years ago, before we moved to Houston, one of my favorite students gave me a gratitude journal and wrote on the inside cover, “Because you have truly taught me to appreciate the joys of life, no matter how small. Thank you.”

Gratitude Journal

Copyrighted by Chronicle Books with text by Catherine Price, the introduction speaks of our tendency as humans to be consumed by our problems and how to combat this inclination with a happiness strategy called the “three blessings” approach.

The first prompt says, “PICK OUT THREE THINGS IN YOUR DAY THAT ARE BEAUTIFUL. Take time to notice and appreciate them in the moment; then, when you get home, jot them down in your journal.”

 I completed my first entry on a day when I desperately needed to shift my focus…

 Aug. 27, 2017

In the midst of Hurricane Harvey.

Today Kody, Drew, Rain, and I were rescued by HFD on an emergency truck with sixteen people including our neighbors and first responders and seven dogs. Water shin deep flooded our house when we left. Our yard was submerged to my knees. I’m thankful for being able to communicate via cell phone and Facebook. I’m thankful for those who have prayed and continue to pray for us. I’m thankful for the La Quinta and breakfast and a room, actually a suite, and space for Drew and for a shower and dry clothes and for our next-door neighbors Boaz and Megan (also sheltered here) who brought us water and snacks and for the restaurant at the Hilton across the street that had wine!!

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Looking back, I only grabbed what I needed for an evacuation and packed what I could carry in an over-the-shoulder bag. I suppose in that moment I realized I needed God and gratitude.

Flash forward fourteen months to November 2018. We have a place to call home again, and this month I renew my commitment to gratitude and my journal. Admittedly, I’m behind, but I like the idea of focusing on the little things and journaling three a day.

The next blank page of my gratitude journal says, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”                               —Marcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist

Gratitude

 Would you like to join me in my gratitude practice? Let’s call it a happiness experiment.

Rejection Is God’s Protection

Once upon a time, I swallowed the bitter pill of rejection. Okay, probably more than once, but most recently, back in May, I interviewed for a job that seemed ideal. Said interview was a fail.

BACKSTORY:

Having taken the initiative to seek out the English department chair at a well-reputed high school three and a half miles from home, I introduced myself as a potential colleague via e-mail. After several pre-interview e-mails back and forth, I had established a rapport and had one foot through the door. I thought. The next thing I knew, I had a date for an interview. An opportunity arose to quit the job I had, so I did, effective at the end of the school year. I felt confident the new job belonged to me. Maybe I should say overconfident.

On the day of the interview, May 9, I taught. Actually, that’s not true. I monitored students. It was a standardized testing day for public schools across Texas. On this particular day, freshmen tested in my classroom, so my sophomore classes took place in an alternate location. At the time, my students were reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Instead of carrying a class set of books from my room to another, I planned a day of film clips and discussion, but the best laid plans often go awry. The technology in my room-for-the-day flopped, plus a number of students were absent due to re-testing (the Texas Education Agency says students must pass these tests to graduate), so I gave the remaining students a free-day, and I babysat. By the end of the day, I sort-of felt like I had been run over by a train.

After babysitting, I drove to my post Hurricane Harvey La Quinta home where the elevator was out of order, trudged up the three flights to room 310 where Rain greeted me with her waggity tail, hooked my dog to her leash and jogged back down the stairs and outside in the 90 ̊ sunshine for necessary doggy business, then plodded up the stairs once more to leave Rain and freshen up.  There I realized that I was feeling low and thirsty. The only beverage in my mini-fridge was an apple cider, and I may or may not have downed a cold one. I definitely tried to think positive thoughts and relax from my day, not to mention my nine months of life in a hotel. I brushed my teeth and hair then took the stairs for the fifth time that day to depart for my interview.

Other than looking presentable, I had totally neglected to prepare—no pre-thought to potential questions or answers, no extra copies of my resume, and worst of all, not even a note-pad or a pen. I thought of these things after checking in with the receptionist, and I knew going in I had made a grave mistake.

At four o’clock on the dot, the principal himself walked through the door, greeted me, shook my hand, and led me into a room with a hiring committee of nine people. Nine. Never had I interviewed with so many people at once. They started with introductions, which I abruptly forgot, and then the first question: “Tell us about yourself.”

I froze. My words conveyed little, or possibly they spoke volumes. If the interview could’ve gone worse from there, it did. At some point, maybe after, “Tell us your strategy for teaching vocabulary,” or “Tell us how you would motivate an at-risk student,” I gave up trying to impress them at all. By the way, this past year, I had over one-hundred students labeled at-risk of dropping out, and I concluded that I couldn’t reach them all. On this particular day, my attitude was like a volcanic eruption, and once the lava flow started, I couldn’t contain it. I spewed pessimism, the type of negativity that will take a person nowhere in life, and I know better.

I didn’t receive an offer, and I wasn’t surprised, but the rejection still stung.
Rejection is God_s Protection

Pamela, one of my bestest, wisest friends, offered her empathy. “I heard this one recently,” she said over the phone. “Rejection is God’s protection.” Surprised I hadn’t heard the saying before, I chose to believe. Pamela’s words reminded me of what my mother would have said, “Everything happens for a reason.” It took forty plus years, but over recent months, I had started to understand the reason. Our struggles strengthen us.

everything happens for a reason

FAST FORWARD:

All summer long, I have applied for new jobs, and I have waited. I’ve declined an interview or two based on the school’s reputation or location. Houston is huge and traffic is fierce.

Last week I landed an interview that seemed promising. The dean on the other end of the line said, “We need you to bring copies of your resume, your cover letter, and a lesson plan that you would teach for either AP Lit or AP Lang.” Clear direction from the administration. I love that. I can do this. And so I prepared—like no other interview in my life.

I looked back over ancillary materials from past Advanced Placement workshops attended. Even though I had never taught this lesson, I knew the one I wanted. It was an introduction to poetry analysis and tone, a comparison of Nina Simone’s 1965 “Feeling Good” with Michael Bublé’s 2010 version. If students misinterpret the tone of literature, they risk misinterpreting the meaning. The lesson involved student collaboration and a presentation. It was perfect. Thank you, Sandra Effinger (mseffie.com)!!

While researching the school, I discovered it to be a small 9-12 public high school, housed within a community college less than five miles from my home. Students who attend this school have to apply for the program. They want to be here. Again, I prayed for the right fit.

FAST FORWARD:

I wore my grandmother’s pearls to a very comfortable interview with a panel of four, and I heard Pamela’s words once more, “Rejection is God’s protection.” By the end of the day, after reference checks, I received a call for a second interview with the principal.

Two days later, I met with a lovely soft-spoken woman, the principal, and it was like having coffee with an old friend. She started with, “I’m sure that they bragged about our school on Monday…” She listed off the accolades, and we continued to have a conversation about teaching philosophy and what to expect in my classroom. As the interview officially concluded, she wrapped it up like a gift. “Our students are amazing. It really is teacher heaven.”

“That is so good to hear,” I said, “and I really hope you have a spot for me. Before our relocation, I came from teacher heaven, and I prayed to God I would find it again.”

She replied, “Every year I pray to God for teachers to show up for graduation.“

“I can be there,” I smiled. We shook hands. I felt at peace. Later that day, I received an offer I couldn’t refuse, and next week I will have a fresh start—year 20 in the classroom, this time in teacher heaven. It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new life, and I’m feeling good. Thank you, God!!

Our struggles strengthen us.

I’m Not an Interior Designer

I’m not an interior designer, but I play one on my phone. The game—Design Home. The object—to decorate a room with required elements to win prizes like money and diamonds, both of which can be used to purchase furniture and accessories for your room. Each day brings multiple, changing challenges: an industrial-style living room for an engineer in Krakow, Poland; a modern dining room for this new, critically-acclaimed chef in Moscow, Russia; a luxe bedroom for a tennis athlete relaxing in style after a match in Wimbledon, London. It’s a guilty pleasure. If only designing real homes could be that clean and easy, you know, with prizes involved and all.

Two weeks ago after ten months of flood displacement, we were given the okay to move back into the still incomplete but livable house. We had then and still have one completed bathroom, just missing a vanity mirror, which we have—outside—in the POD—in our driveway.

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The POD has been a sore spot for the past ten months. Our contractor had some of his guys load it, and my husband had specifically asked to be there to supervise. Instead they moved everything without a heads up. Kody had specifically asked that our wardrobe boxes be loaded last, so we could access our winter clothes. Instead the wardrobe boxes went in first, and last, barricading what I could unload myself and what I need now, is an extra refrigerator and a large garage shelving unit. Back in October, our contractor offered to have everything moved out and back in for us, but moving everything two more times than necessary screamed trouble to me, so I just shook my head and played Design Home.

At the moment, silverware and pots and pans—inaccessible in the POD—would be useful. And our newly installed lower kitchen cabinets wait for cabinet pulls—the ones we saved from the moldy cabinets that we dumped on the curb—the ones that must be in the POD. And speaking of kitchen problems, some of the white subway backsplash tiles had to be replaced, and just when I thought the kitchen was practically complete, I discovered that the newly installed wavy tiles did not match the original flat tiles. So now we have more demolition and more tiling and more construction dust everywhere, in the garage, on the street, not to mention in the unfinished kitchen, in the incomplete master bathroom, and on the souls of our shoes. First world problems, right?

So I could go on complaining, but what good does that do? I could also move forward in gratitude. I realize I have a choice, and so I will try. After the thumbs-up on the move-in, I drove to Dallas on a Tuesday and helped our daughter Lauren pack. Turns out she has missed us since our move south two summers ago, a mutual feeling. Even at age 26 1/2 , she will always be our baby girl, and we want her near. Kody joined us in Dallas that Thursday, we picked up a U-Haul on Friday, and the three of us loaded the truck bound for Houston. In return Lauren has been my super helpful sidekick, assisting me with the minutiae of moving and decision making, not to mention the building of some IKEA furniture as we refurnish our house from scratch. Lauren will live with us temporarily while adjusting to her new life in a new city, and having her here makes our house seem like home. For my family, I am MOST thankful.

After the final furniture delivery last Monday, we packed my Mazda once more and drove far, far away to the Oklahoma Panhandle for the fourth of July with family…

and then on to the mountains and the cool, clean air of New Mexico with my sister and brother and other brothers.

My nostalgia for these places and my people runs deep, the peaceful skies unforgettable. Where I grew up in Oklahoma, the waving fields of wheat and corn kiss the endless cornflower blue. Where I snow skied all my life in New Mexico, a gazillion stars sprinkle the midnight navy. Especially in these places, I realize the world is larger than one life, and I know there is a God who designed this home for us all.

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Mental Health, Being Aware: An Update and a Prayer

hope

Family and friends often ask, “How’s Drew?”

I wish I could say, “Phenomenal.” In reality, he’s okay, and I remind myself of our baby steps forward.

In 2015, we faced Hospitalization #5, and I pulled the you-can-no-longer-live-at-home-unless-you-take-medicine card. Drew now accepts that he hears voices, and I accompany him to monthly appointments with his psychiatrist for an extended-release, anti-psychotic injection. It’s not perfect, but it helps. Like clockwork the auditory hallucinations become increasingly loud and mean about a week before his shot, and they stick around for about a week afterwards. The voices within taunt Drew. They yell at him. They cuss at him. Drew responds. He taunts, yells, and cusses right back. I’ve learned not to take the outbursts personally, but I can’t shake that sensation of pressure on my breastbone and the deep piercing of my heart, so I pray—for his peace and mine and Kody’s and our dog Rain, who hides under the bed. Two good weeks. Two restless weeks. At least I don’t have to oversee the daily swallowing of a pill or worry about him cheeking it and spitting it out.

His psychiatrist, Dr. Lee, invites me in to their monthly appointment, and after chatting about music for a while, he says things like this, “Are you having any anxiety?”

Drew responds, “No.”

“Any crying spells?”

“No.”

“Any paranoia?”

“No.”

“Do you hear any voices?

I nod my yes in the background. Drew hesitates before saying, “Yeah. Sometimes.”

“But, do you feel you can manage them?”

“Yes.”

“Good. That’s good,” Dr. Lee says before wrapping up the session. “You know, Andrew, I think you are doing really well, and ten years from now, I think you’ll be doing even better. Medicines are improving. They are always researching. Who knows? You go to sleep one night, and you wake up the next morning to a cure.”

I’m thankful for this doctor. I’m thankful for our current medication that has kept us from the inside of a hospital for the past three years. I’m thankful for resources at my fingertips at the click of a button. I’m thankful for a God who keeps my perspective in check and gives me hope.

This May (Mental Health Awareness Month), I found the prayer below on another mom/mental health advocate’s Facebook page. The original author is unknown, and I searched unsuccessfully to locate the source. However, I found it posted on schizophrenia.com as early as October 2004 again on Nouwen-network.com, an Australian site solely for resources on the theme of mental illness, ministry, prayer, and spirituality. I’ve been this mom, if not all at once, at least at times along the way, and so I pass her prayer to others needing the words—to others needing hope.

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A Mother’s Prayer for Mental Illness

As I stumble from my bed this morning, help me to remember to be gentle and kind.
My child’s mind is shredding into a million pieces. He lives in a constant state of atrocious fear. I can see it in his eyes. Give him peace.

Guide me as I hold him in my arms. Help me to know what to say. What to do. Fill my heart with healing love, understanding, and empathy.

Give me the strength of a thousand angels to hold back my tears. My heart is broken and a tidal wave of grief is overwhelming me with the need to cry. Give me the strength to bear it long enough to keep it from disturbing my child. Help me find someone I can safely bring it to.

Help me answer my family’s questions with the same amount of compassion I would want for myself. Help me remember they are hurting too. This is an unwelcomed assault on an entire family. My heart is not the only heart that is broken. We all need time and each other to heal.

As my journey becomes more and more isolative and lonely, remind me that the lack of involvement on the part of family and friends is not always because of the stigma and the ignorance. For many, it is because they are hurting too. They have the privilege of turning to their own lives. This is my family’s life now. I must deal with it whether I am hurting or not.

Send me your best physicians and healers. Give me presence of mind, as I walk through the exhaustion of my grief to not settle for just any one no matter how tiresome the journey becomes.

Help me adjust to the idea, that although it appears my son is gone, there will be no goodbye. And that he is still inside somewhere waiting for us to find him.

Infuse the creative part of my mind with solution oriented thinking. Give me hope. Even if it is just a glimmer of hope. A mother can go for miles on just one tiny glimmer. Let me see just a flicker of the sparkle of joy in his eyes.

Guide my hands, calm my mind, as I fill out the multitude of forms for services. Then help me do it again over and over.

Provide me with the knowledge. Lead me to the books I need to read, the organizations I need to connect with. As you work though the people in my life, help me to recognize those that are here to help. Help me trust the right ones. Shine a light upon the right path.

Give me the courage to speak my truth; to know my son’s truth. And to speak for him when he is unable to do it for himself. Show me when to do for him what he is not capable of doing for himself. Help me to recognize the difference.

Help me to stand tall in the face of the stigma; to battle the discrimination with the mighty sword of a spiritual warrior. And to deflect the sting of blame and faultfinding from the ignorant and the cruel.

Preserve my love for my family. Shield my marriage with the wisdom of the love that brought us together.

Protect him from homelessness, loneliness, victimization, poverty, hunger, hopelessness, relapse, drugs, alcohol, suicide, cruelty and obscurity.

Lead us to the miracles of better medications, better funding, better services, safe and plentiful housing, meaningful employment, communities who care, enlightenment. Help us to find some way to replace all the greed with humanitarian work and intrinsic reward again.

Most of all, give me the strength to deliver whatever I can to the work of unmasking the man made ugliness of this disease and revealing the human and all of it’s suffering beneath.

Finally, when it is my time to leave my son behind, send a thousand angels to take my place.

*****

Can I get an amen? Thank you for reading today and especially during the month of May. Thank you for taking time to try to understand the brain as a vital, potentially malfunctioning organ. And most of all thank you for your prayers and support for Drew and others with schizophrenia, 1.1% of the population, roughly 51 million worldwide.

Hope Jeremiah