Saturday, July 21, 2007

Heart Bound

As you read “Heart Bound” by Rosie Hughes (first published in the Sept/Oct 2002 issue of Psychotherapy Networker), you will realize all over again that God works through people! And you will also appreciate how He has worked through people to give you His breathtaking GRACE! Breath in His love and give His Grace to all in your world!

Life lesson 101...A single relationship can change your life...

"SOME PEOPLE ARE BORN into families, and others are forced to find their own. The pathway to mine began circuitously enough in fifth grade, when my friend Barbara invited me to join Pioneer Girls, a church program similar to the Girl Scouts. “If you come three times in a row,” Barbara promised me, “you’ll get this white cross that glows in the dark.” In three weeks, I had my cross, and the ladies’ bathroom at the church where we met had my artwork of naked men on the lid of each toilet seat. I wore clothes too big and shoes too small. “Doesn’t she have a mother?” I overheard the club leader ask another mother one day. I had one, technically, but she was chronically depressed and spent most of my childhood sleeping.

The sharp Rocky Mountain winter came and I kept going to Pioneer Girls. In the darkening afternoons, I learned to shoplift. Afterward, I’d go home to my chaotic house in a poor Denver neighborhood and retreat to my bedroom, its biggest window cracked from top to bottom. I’d covered the half-inch crack with masking tape, and as winter deepened, I watched it turn to brittle brown paper that couldn’t keep out the cold. Often, too cold to sleep, I’d lie in bed watching the crack of light under my door. If Daddy was out drinking, he’d arrive home sometime before dawn, and the door crack would sway with the shadows of my parents fighting. Mother would be crying. Daddy would be slapping, swearing, snarling about the filthy house and the lack of food. He’d bang on the piano, throw up, and go to bed. On nights when Mother didn’t offer enough, he crawled in bed with me.

By the time I was 14; I was drinking, stealing, failing eighth grade, and bullying other children into giving me food from their lunchboxes. My father called me “Buzz Bomb,” his nickname for the kid who beat the cat and terrorized younger children. Yet I kept going to Pioneer Girls, and that summer; the Baptist church whose toilets I’d vandalized paid my way to a camp in the Colorado Mountains. I spent seven glorious days riding horses, hiking, singing, and learning that God was more than an angry expletive. “You have a heavenly Father who loves you and won’t harm you,” the camp director said, as she took my cigarettes away. The day I got back home, I told my father that if he continued to hurt me, I would burn down the house when he was drunk. He never touched me again.

After camp, I met a childless man Walter Ballou, the Sunday School teacher at the Presbyterian Church near my home. Each Sunday, I’d walk into the foreign territory of my newfound faith, and sit with Walter and kids my age in a circle of metal folding chairs in a basement classroom. The lessons were fascinating and everyone paid attention. There were even cute guys who had no legal charges pending against them. Amazing!

Walter was a lawyer. He wore wild-colored ties that matched his socks and handkerchiefs. I wondered why this successful, educated man would teach the Bible to kids—it seemed like something somebody’s mother would do. In time, I learned that he lived alone and trusted his bulldog more than men. He was divorced and somewhat of a misfit in the church.
Walter and I were instant pals. Once I told him that a store manager refused to refund my money for a broken hair dryer. He called the manager, calmly explained what had happened, then said, “I’m calling as a good friend of Rosie’s, but if necessary. I’ll call as her attorney.” I showed up unannounced at his law office with inappropriate boyfriends, terrible report cards, and miscellaneous problems. He’d take me to lunch and ask the questions a good father would ask — How long had my latest boyfriend been clean and sober? Why was he still living with people who used drugs? Conversation by conversation, we became family.

At 24, I married a man who was my own good choice. Walter approved. He led a weekly Bible study in our home. He taught through the noise of crying babies, ringing phones, and children giggling in the next room. He presented his well-researched lessons as though he were defending an innocent client before a jury. He challenged us to live what we believed.
Then, when I was 34, my life fell in on me, and with it, my faith. Already exhausted by a string of disappointments and losses, I suffered a devastating sexual assault and crashed headfirst into a debilitating depression. My pastor was speechless, my friends couldn’t relate, and my husband was scared. God was silent. I expected Walter to walk away in disgust. But he didn’t. Family don’t leave you!

The same year, Walter’s sister Joy, his only living relative, was diagnosed with cancer. He closed his law practice, turned his home into a hospice, and, cared for her until she died. Now I was his only family. By the time I celebrated my 40th birthday, he’d become a fixture at the head of our table for every holiday meal. Our relationship had settled into a comfortable, loving place, with a family’s inside jokes and teasing. I sent him Father’s Day cards and Mother’s Day cards. I introduced him as “my parents.”

Then we turned down the pathway that many families eventually travel. Walter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He got lost in his own home, burned pots on the stove, and gave away thousands of dollars to dubious political causes. He thought his reflection in the mirror was another man who dressed like him and smoked his brand of cigars. He reported imaginary trips on buses and entertained fantasy ladies for tea. He spun with elaborate hallucinations as he wandered at night, ringing doorbells.

Now the fatherless daughter and the childless man reversed roles. I became his caretaker, and our family became forever something beyond gratitude and sentiment. The man who had spent his entire life fighting for the legal rights of others now had none. He’d signed them over to me. I can still see him sitting on the edge of the examining table at the doctor’s office, swinging his tennis-shoed feet like a 5- year-old. I made sure his clothes weren’t too big and his shoes too small.

I held his hands and washed his face. My daughter and I sang hymns in his ear as he slept. We navigated the excruciating terrain that older members of many families travel, from dogged self-sufficiency to “no choice” dependence. And if anyone neglected or mistreated him, I declared war.

When I was 49, Walter was moved to a locked-care facility, where his brain died one neuron at a time. He forgot how to walk, swallow, smoke, and speak. Alzheimer’s took reason from his mind, flesh from his bones, and brightness from his eyes. There were times when the sadness was more than I thought I could carry. I had to learn to ask for help from others who also loved him. In the heat of the battle, Buzz Bomb whispered, “Hey! Let’s grab our cigarettes and head for the woods.” But I didn’t.

I’d had a wonderful example of “staying power” lived before me. Walter practiced what he preached, modeling acceptance, authenticity, understanding, joy, consistency, and unconditional love, He’d given me respect, and I’d learned to live with my head up. He taught me that my faith wasn’t to be thrown out when I didn’t get what I wanted. He could have hidden his light under a bushel and walked away from a desperate 15-year- old girl. But he didn’t. Walter was my father, and I was his child. Something supernatural had bound a fatherless child to a childless man." --- Rosie Hughes, LPC

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