You’ll have to take my word

Last night, I had another of my listening gatherings.  Seven down, 2 or 3 more to go. People have been generous with their stories, with their time, with their willingness to start considering new possibilities for how we move into the future.  But it had been a long day. A parishioner with nothing and nobody to call her own died unexpectedly and we are scrambling to do right by her. One of the guilds had their monthly meeting and had asked me to be the presenter. I’m finishing up all the plans and preparations for Advent and Christmas, both the ones at home and the ones here at church.  And my self is catching up, still, with the emotional roller coaster of the weekend with our far-away girl.

By the time I was done with my workday, it was 8 pm and one who is scattered even on good days, I walked out without my cell phone.  I was far enough down the road when I figured that out to decide not to turn back for it, especially since it was raining cats and dogs and getting colder by the moment. I prayed for safe passage to L’boro and kept going.

For the most part, in the less than 12 hours I was phone-less, I felt liberated. When I started up my car, the thermometer said it was 31 degrees out and it sure did have that feel/smell of just-about-to snow-time. I’d heard the worst of the wet front that came through was clearing out last night so I convinced myself I was mistaken and headed out the driveway, to our street and then to Broad Street/Hwy 29.

It was when I got to Lowndesboro that I realized I’d read the weather right. It had been snowing enough that there was a very visible dusting/gathering of snow on the limbs of the trees all the way down Broad Street. I passed one tree where there were a couple of cardinals sitting on a branch. That vivid red, the insistent white of the snow that demanded to be seen, and the mossy darkness of an evergreen in winter it was all gorgeous.

Finally, I missed having my phone. If I had had it, I would have taken a picture to share. So you’ll just have to take my word. But mark the date.  On November 15 of 2018, at 7:13 in the morning, we had snow in Lowndesboro, AL. Not enough to make a whit of difference, but enough to feast the eyes on. And feel that tiny little hop and dip of anticipation in the belly because Christmas coming. It  will be a complicated and fraught time for the Mallowman and me; it always is. And sad for sure, without our girl with us to celebrate with. Nonetheless. There are moments like the one this morning when I want to stop time long enough to truly, deeply, experience the gratitude that comes as I draw one breath, and then another.

Y’all: it snowed!

My daughter

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I don’t write much about my girl any longer. It’s too hard and sad.  Luli has struggled with her behavior since April, when her visit with us went so wrong.  It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t viscious cycle.  When either of us visits her, we are with her for only a few hours, most of the time is spent traveling to ATL, then to Fort Lauderdale and back. And her behavior goes haywire when we leave. After the most recent round of issues, her behavior support team got on the phone with us yesterday.  We had a conversation that helped me put another small piece of the puzzle together.

The very first psychiatrist we ever worked with described Maria as having organic brain damage. He was the one who pushed Sherod and me to look at the situation with our precious child in terms of triage and to recognize that her little self had been so deeply broken through her infancy and before we were able to adopt her, that we had to be careful not to let our own lives be consumed by the dark and bitter realities of so much brokenness.

Those words, which I’d tried to forget, were with me when, some 10 years later, the amazing people who had gathered around our little family to help us care for Luz Maria, met us for breakfast one morning in the spring of 2012. These were people with the skills and heart we had needed to put pieces in place after we went through a rapid-fire series of placements in the adolescent psych units in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, when Maria was 13. Now, at 15, Maria was out of control again and we were going under with the stress and chaos of having a young person who had become dangerous to herself and us.  A bed was opening up in an intermediate care facility (ICF) and 6 weeks after our breakfast, on May 16, when Maria turned 16, she’d be eligible for placement there.  The two women who were having breakfast with us looked at us and said, “it is time to let go of her.  This is a place where Maria can live for the rest of her life where she will be safe and loved.”

Maria is now 22. For an 8-month stint when Sherod and I moved back to Alabama, she lived at an ICF in Tallahassee but the level of neglect we observed there was so serious we moved her back to BARC.  On and off during these past 4 years, Maria has been in good enough shape to come and visit with us. Most of those visits were glorious and then the last one was worse than a nightmare because there was no waking up from the amount of self injury and aggression she engaged in.  Since then, it’s been pretty much a roller coaster for her back in the ICF in Fort Lauderdale.

The new piece of the puzzle we’ve been given comes from the work that has been done on the impact of trauma on infants and very young children. If the trauma is severe enough and lasts long enough, a very young child’s emotional development simply stops. Dr. Hughes, that first psychiatrist, told us she had organic brain damage. It was the parts of her brain that gives rise to emotions and the regulation of her behavior that were so injured by the traumatic experiences of her infancy. We kept trusting that the plasticity of the human brain worked in our favor. There was nothing we weren’t willing to learn or do or try to help her overcome everything that went wrong for her from the moment she came into the world.  Somehow, that’s what it meant to say, “Love wins.”

For more reasons than I can enumerate, Sherod and I have never doubted that we took the most financially responsible step we could when he retired, which was to move to Alabama. We made that move trusting that with Maria in Tallahassee, we were a 3 ½ hour drive away and could do what we needed to do to take care of her.

And we hoped. Oh my God, we hoped to the core of our being, that there might come a time when she would be able to live and function in a less restrictive environment than an ICF, so she could maybe, possibly, move to Alabama.  This state systematically dismantled the safety net for people with Maria’s needs years ago, so only a significant improvement in her ability to manage her behavior would ever allow us to be near her.  Yesterday, I faced the reality that I need to let go of that hope now. I know how to do that—I’ve done it before and any loss of hope for a specific change, a specific outcome, in no way diminishes the love I have for my daughter. It simply frees me to deal with what is and keep learning how to love her in new ways.

Tonight, I got a call from the nurse on duty at BARC. Maria was running a high temperature so they’d taken her to the doctor who had then said she needed to go to the ER because she has a serious infection and the doctor couldn’t figure out the locus of that infection.  Maria has now been admitted.  She has a staff member of BARC with her and is waiting in the ER for a room to be ready for her.  As soon as she is in her room, the staff member will leave.  Tomorrow, another staff member will be back at the hospital in the morning.

If I stay very still and I work on my breathing, I get through the minutes. But I think of my woman-child, who is a 3 year old living in the body of a 22-year old, lying alone in the dark, in a hospital, and my heart fractures again, and fear seeps through the cracks.  I try to remind myself that my daughter is one of the privileged in this country; she could so easily be incarcerated in a for-profit jail instead, as so many men and women with mental health issues are in Florida. In Alabama. In so many parts of this country.  And I pray.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. BCP

End times

I have been very conscious of ‘end times’ and endings today.  Regardless of the outcome of today’s elections, they always represent as much an ending as a beginning.  Dear Lord, how I pray there is some end in sight to the fear and despair that has caught us in what feels like a death grip.

As I pulled into the parking lot at Holy Comforter this morning, the wind was whipping around, tearing leaf after leaf after leaf from the trees around me.They couldn’t even settle down to rest in peace, the wind blew too strong and stirred them up repeatedly. The air was burdened with humidity as the rain waited as long as it could to fall. Before my very eyes, autumn ushered out the growing season; soon, another liturgical year, and a month after that, yet another calendar year will end. I used to be so scared of endings. Now, I am more convinced than ever that endings make room for something new I had not even imagined possible.  May the endings we have ahead be beginnings like God plans for us, if we are to believe Jeremiah, plans for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope.