Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Can I Do?

I have a new friend, but I won’t give her name because if she’s still alive I don’t want to embarrass her.

She was raised “in the system,” meaning that the welfare folks were always in charge of her life. She was in orphanages or group homes most of her life.

When she was once enrolled in a junior high, she was only there two weeks before she was kicked out. During that time, she organized students to stuff all the toilets with paper and at an appointed time to flush all at once. What another person might fantasize about, she actually did! As I told her, it took lots of leadership skills to make that happen in just two weeks with kids she had not previously known. So much for that school experience.

The only time she was in a foster home was the best time of her life. I wonder if that foster mother ever realized that. For her last year and a half of high school, she lived with a widow who was a good cook and good gardener and who taught her many things about an ordinary life.

But she has yet to live an ordinary life. For a while, she worked at a factory and “made good money.” But when the opportunity to go to college arose, she took it. Beset by health problems, she was constantly having to drop college classes, so she didn’t graduate until she was almost 26. She registered for Steve’s class four times before she actually completed the course. That’s how we met her.

Last week she turned 27. She is holding down two lowly jobs, trying to figure out how to repay all the college debt, and desperately ill. Two months ago it was pancreatitis; she doesn’t know what it is now. A friend took her to the emergency room, and she was so sick she didn’t even know what hospital she was in.

I called her Friday night, when she was in the unknown hospital. She sounded awful—speaking in a low, strung-out kind of voice. Her voice is husky anyway, but this time she was hard to understand.

I called her back Saturday morning around10:30. I asked which hospital she was in and she said she was home.

“Did they discharge you?” I asked, unbelieving. No, she just walked out of the hospital and got a cab home. She needed to go to work because she needed the money. I reminded her that she needed to stay hospitalized long enough to get well so she could work, but she dismissed the idea.

I called her again at 2 and she said, “I just feel so bad about everything.” I asked if she was in pain or feeling bad mentally and she said mentally, feeling bad about everything that had happened (whatever that was.) She said things couldn’t get worse and I assured her they could. I reminded her that she had two jobs with people who understood when she was sick and didn’t fire her.

I called again at 3 and she was no better. I kept asking if I could come get her, or just go stay with her a while, but she said no. Now I think I should have gone anyway.

Around 5, I looked at her FB page and saw a picture of a handful of pills. A friend had commented, “Antibiotics?” and she’d answered, “Antipsychotics!” That’s her kind of humor, so I thought maybe she was regaining balance. I left a message for her.

Around 9, I went to FB to see if she’d responded and her page was GONE. Her name is there when I look it up, but the page will not show up. I texted her to ask what was going on. I texted her again this morning but no answer. I called several times this afternoon. I went to her apartment and talked to people there when I couldn’t raise her. I called her workplace but because it’s a weekend got no answer in the offices. I texted her again that I am worried about her.

I had talked to the apartment manager and gotten his number, so I called him and asked him to go to her apartment and check on her. He said he is not allowed to do that. He also said someone saw her walking down the street last night. I doubt it, but I have no proof.

Now what recourse do we have? None. We have to wait till she’s not responded for 24 hours before we call the police. At least that’s what they say in the movies and tv.

I am mainly worried that she died without Jesus. I have had ample opportunities to talk to her, and I kept trusting the Spirit to guide me as to when to speak. I didn’t want her to think I was her friend just so I could convert her. I love her for herself, but I so want her to know Jesus as her Savior and friend and God as her father. She never knew a father’s love, and I desperately want her to rest in God’s embrace. Will I get another chance?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Adult Bullies: Do You Know One?

Last week my husband and I went to see the movie “Horrible Bosses.” I can’t recommend it, but it had its moments. Any movie with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Jamie Foxx has to have some notable parts. Kevin Spacey made an absolutely repulsive, vindictive boss; actually, so did Jennifer Aniston. (Just thinking about that part might make you want to see it.) All three terrible bosses were incredible bullies, leaving terrified and furious employees in their wake.

Our newspapers are full of information about Diana Frey, the ousted president of the Cincinnati Organized and Dedicated Employees union who is accused of embezzling $757,000 from the union she led.

It seems that her most significant characteristic was being a bully. She went her own way without reprisal for so long because she intimidated everyone she worked with. Now the judgments against her are great and she’s required to get a job to start paying back what she owes. Who would hire such a person? Maybe another bully who appreciates her achievements? Either that or someone with the compassion of Christ himself.

I’m reminded of dealing with a bully in the workplace and writing a story about it for Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees, written by Cheryl Dellasega. At the time, I didn’t realize I was being bullied; I was just confused. Here’s the story with names changed to protect the guilty.

I was excited about transferring to fourth grade and looked forward to teaching with Lucy, having heard so much about what a fantastic teacher she was. I couldn't wait to collaborate with her. I thought we'd really hit it off.

My relationship dream was quickly shattered because Lucy soon made it clear she did not intend to share anything with me--ideas, equipment, space--nothing. We had to share students because the students changed classrooms for some subjects. I even tried to share what I'd read or done, hoping that if I shared ideas so would she.

The more I got to know her, the more astonished I was at the high regard in which students and parents held her. In fact, her comments and questions in faculty meetings often brought sidelong glances and even snickers from the other teachers. Unfortunately, I, too, was guilty of being amused by her responses.

"I need to talk to you in the teacher's lounge," Lucy said one afternoon, tightly.

Meekly, I followed. Closing the door, she turned to me, eyes blazing. "I cannot believe the way you treated me in the faculty meeting yesterday!" she began. "When I asked about the transparencies with that machine, you looked around and rolled your eyes! That was so hateful!

[I now admit to being guilty as charged. I guess you had to have been there…]

"I just can't take it anymore! You thrust yourself into this grade against my wishes [she had told the principal she would be delighted to teach with me] and then are so pushy and arrogant about all your ideas. Always telling me something you've read or something you're doing--and wanting to copy my ideas as well. And you're always yelling at me!

"I can tell you I've had it! You constantly humiliate me in front of the students. Even when we weren't teaching the same grade, you would rarely speak to me in the hall. I'd be leading a class down the hall and we'd meet you and I'd say, 'Hello, Mrs. Boyd!' and you'd just give that little tight-lipped smirk and go on. One day a child even asked, 'Why didn't Mrs. Boyd speak to you?' and I didn't know what to say!"

At this point, I started to say that I usually speak to people the first time I see them for the day and after that just smile as we meet--that it seemed artificial to me to speak jovially at every hall encounter, as she did. Fortunately, I sensed that it was not the time for rebuttal. I stood there in silence, trying to look humble and contrite.

As she continued her barrage, I realized that when our students were changing classrooms, her holding up the exchange for five to ten minutes each day must have been intentional--a control move!

Finally, I simply apologized. I explained that I bore her no ill will--had, in fact, looked forward to teaching with her. Trying to word it differently each time, I apologized again and again--for intruding, for being unfriendly, for being overbearing, for existing.

When we finally left, both exhausted, I had no idea what would come of our situation. As it turned out, that was only one of several similar confrontations. And with each one I learned more about the multitude of actions that offended her and how to get along without giving in to her bullying techniques. I learned to quietly make one point in each conversation and let it go at that. "I only shared ideas in hopes that you would share ideas with me--not that I thought mine were better than yours."

I also learned that sometimes Lucy was right. "I don't mean to be yelling at you,” I said. “I forget to leave my classroom voice behind." And I had to examine her accusations to be sure I wasn’t guilty of being a bully myself.

Teaching with her improved my prayer life, for I could not solve the problem alone. And my prayers were answered when our enrollment increased and God sent an angel in the guise of another teacher to join us. She was the oil for our troubled waters, for she loved us both and we loved her.

We eventually taught fourth grade together for ten years, with a better relationship each year. I understood why so many teachers had left that position, but I refused to be driven away by Lucy, the oldest fourth grade bully I'd ever known.

Which is worse, a playground bully or a psychological bully? What experiences have you had with adult bullies?

Monday, July 25, 2011

2011 Northern Kentucky Women's Outpost

Today was the last day for the 2011 Northern Kentucky Women’s Outpost at the Peace Bell in Newport. This has been an amazing series of local women giving testimony as to how God has worked in their lives.

Today’s talk was by Cathy Halloran, a breast cancer survivor who gives God the glory for her survival. She started a nonprofit, Chicks and Chucks, that serves local women who are fighting cancer. She is an incredibly funny gal who emphasizes in her talk two intensely unfunny subjects—cancer and faith in God. If you have a chance, don’t miss Cathy Halloran.

The Outpost committee is a group of women who are truly sold out for Christ. I cannot say too much about all their hard work to get together these groups of women six times each summer to hear testimonies. Coordinating singers, scripture readers, refreshments, emcees, and speakers is a huge job, and they do it extremely well. Kudos to all who made the 2011 Outpost such a success!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Mother's Daughter

My mother has been dead for over two years, but today during church I was struck suddenly with the loss of her presence, her wisdom, her humor. Steve preached on the afterlife, and my reaction had nothing to do with that. I listened, making application only to myself without lingering on our loved ones who have passed on.

Our final song was one I’d never heard or sung before: “I Want to Stroll Over Heaven with You.” Suddenly I could see my parents, my dear father who died in 1984, and my vivacious mother, strolling over heaven together. So many times around dusk in the summer, after chores and dinner were over, Mother and Daddy would stroll around the farm or the yard together, talking about their day. After his death, she often talked of how much she missed Daddy and was looking forward to being with him again in heaven.

Singing that song gave me such a vivid picture of them together, looking as they do in pictures I have of when they were first married—in the prime of life and bursting with joy.

I made such a scene—fumbling for a tissue, blowing my nose—that two dear young professional women came to me after church, hugging and wanting to know if they could help. I tried to tell them what had triggered the tears, but simply started crying again. I managed to reassure them that my tears were not of sorrow, for I am so glad my parents are reunited. But I also have times that I miss them very much. I’m sure heaven is so wonderful that there’s no concern for what’s going on down on earth, but I would dearly love for them to know Finn and him to know them.

The other reminder today was as I finished a book I thoroughly enjoyed: The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us, by Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter. She interviewed 23 prominent women “of a certain age” about their mothers and their relationships. I purchased it as part of my effort to read others’ books about mothers as I am writing about mine. As I read it, I was struck with so many similarities in mother-daughter relationships everywhere: Linda Bloodworth Thomason’s mother being unwelcome to marry into the Bloodworth family, but then becoming the favorite (that’s Steve and my mother!); Anjelica Houston living with a “constant feeling of foreboding…What’s going to happen next?” (my childhood with my mother); and Julianna Margulies statement that “if you want to have a relationship with your mother, you have to accept who she was in the past and move forward.”

I’ve been reading on this book for over a week, but the other statement that made me weep today was from Cokie Roberts: “When I am being my very best self, I am being my mother’s daughter.”

In our family we have often joked about when I am “my mother’s daughter,” and it usually deals with one of her less desirable characteristics, such as getting upset over a small matter or trying to arrange everyone’s day, week, or life. But the Cokie Roberts quote struck me as true also; my best self is also when I’m like my mother.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Signs of Finn

We all have special signs of spring or fall that we look forward to. Any visitor to my house today would see signs of Findlay.

The magazines have been pulled from the basket beside the rocker in the kitchen and strewn over the floor. In the living room is a shoe horn he got from our bedroom and tossed aside while I read to him. In the hall is a large plastic envelope that he enjoyed pulling by its string fastener. The small kitchen items from the children’s play area in the kitchen are by the door, window, and refrigerator.
These are sweet signs, showing the curiosity and short attention span of a 15-month-old. He’s wonderful at entertaining himself, so I can just go along for the ride. At times, he talks in his own sweet gibberish, and I feel compelled to answer with a series of “Really?” or “I guess you’re right” or “You don’t say!”

Play dishes in the stair well by the back door and ark animals in the rocking chair. Could putting them behind the posts of the rocking chair have anything to do with his visit to the zoo yesterday? Our zoo doesn’t have many animals behind bars, but there are a few. Of course I interpret this as brilliant and perceptive.

There’s the changing pad on the guest bed with diapers and wipes nearby—also signs of Finn’s presence. And the spilled dirt on the floor where he pulled a stem of my airplane plant a bit too firmly.

But now he’s gone home for the night with his sweet and loving daddy, and the house seems a bit lonely without his energetic little figure roaming around, investigating and commenting, squealing and laughing. I can’t get too nostalgic, though, because he’ll be back to do this all over again tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Adoption Language

Many times people who haven't adopted a child aren't familiar with the acceptable language of adoption. Sandra Glahn's post gives excellent tips for talking about adoption.

You can also read a story about our daughter Kelsey, whose adoption was always discussed openly and positively. We are grateful that her birth mother chose the gift of life for our precious daughter, now thirty and a mother herself.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Good Intentions...

“I’ll blog every couple of days on our trip,” I thought, and once again I was quite wrong! We had a lovely trip to London and Northern Ireland (and even a few hours in Ireland) but we went so hard from morning until night that the blogging never happened.

But this post is not about our trip, though being with all of our children (including their spouses, of course) and grandchildren for eight days was marvelous. I’m thinking today of good intentions. I intended to blog about my trip.

I recall once when Gina, our daughter-in-law, was asked to describe herself in one word. Her answer: “well-intentioned.” I love that, because it is true of not only Gina but everyone in our family! Our children and their spouses are people of a strong faith and we all have the best of intentions but of course don’t always follow through on them.

For example, the morning after we returned from functioning for eight days in a time zone five hours earlier than ours, Steve pulled everything out of the garage and the storage closet in order to clean and reorganize. His intentions were good, but in no way jibed with my own! Fortunately, with age I try to look at people’s intentions rather than their actions. My initial anger cooled in just a few minutes because I knew it was a task that should have been done long ago. I fumed a bit inwardly (and, I admit, slammed a couple of doors much harder than necessary) but just tried to get my part done as quickly as possible.

Of course my own life is a tribute to Randy Travis’s song, “Good Intentions.” One of the times I was most guilty was when we were selling Steve’s old reel-to-reel tape player. I offered the buyer our old tapes, then said, “Oh, and there are more upstairs!” and gave him those as well.

Those were the tapes of Steve’s high school basketball games that he was saving for posterity! He had pulled them out intentionally, so why on earth did I think cleaning out old stuff included those tapes? Forty years later, I still feel sadness and guilt over doing that. It’s a tribute to him that he never brings it up, even when his high school basketball achievements are discussed.

But the most common time that my good intentions backfire is when I finish my husband’s sentences, correct something he says, or suggest a shorter route to our destination. I don’t mean to demean him; I intend to be helpful! But my good intentions aren’t sufficient. I need to think ahead more and keep my impulsive thoughts to myself. As Archie Bunker used to say to Edith, “Button your face.”

And, from a more serious source, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6-8.)

What an indictment! James makes it clear that no human being can tame the tongue; only God has that power. I obviously need to pray more and speak less. I must take seriously James’ admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19.) Good intentions aren’t enough. As I get older, I can see improvement in being slow to become angry, but the other two are still daily challenges for me!