Homelessness And The Loss of Roots

homelessnessVolunteering at a St. Martin’s Hospitality Center which is a day shelter for homeless people has given me a new perspective on rootedness.  No matter what happens to me I always know I can go home and how much this contibutes to my sense of who I am. If I had no place to go I think I would feel less a person.  Somehow my sense of myself is partly rooted in where I live.  The people who are homeless have lost this piece of their identity.  I think that a large part of our mission at St. Martin’s is to help them hang on to the whatever part of their identity they still retain

The shower station is my spot when I volunteer.  I help people sign up for a shower giving them towels and soap and shampoo.  When a shower is free I page them and they get to take a shower using the small bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo and conditioner which kind people carefully save for us when they travel and then donate to us.  They can use a hair dryer or a straightening iron if they want.  Most of all they seem to want scent to put on after their showers.  Especially the men.  I breathe a sigh of relief if when I arrive to volunteer if there is at least one bottle of fairly decent men’s cologne.  Often I buy some if I can find it on sale since I hate saying  sorry I don’t have any scent today.  The people are always kind about it but I can see the the disappointment on their faces.   Right now I can’t find any scent on sale because it is the Chistmas season.  I am planning on hitting Walmart before I go to the shelter early Monday morning and buying something decent even if I can’t find it on sale.  After all it will be Christmas Eve and a bottle of Ralph Lauren will bring big smiles to their faces.

As to rootedness,  homeless people have lost most of their  roots.  The Shelter tries to help.  It provides long term storage where with just an ID, someone can store one box with whatever is precious to them for whatever period they need.  Our clients can also receive mail at the shelter and people can leave phone messages which they can return on phones provided to them.  Since they can’t wash their clothes we give them up to 3 outfits of donated clothes a week.  I think that the hope is that these services provide a sense of belonging to people who are struggling to get from one day to the next without a disaster.

Many years ago in Los Angeles I volunteered at The Downtown Women’s Shelter on Skid Row.  It was a day shelter as well.  My job was to make lunch for the 30 or 40 women who came in each day.  There was one woman called Lydia who was obviously paranoid.  Probably schizophrenic.  She came in each day for lunch.  She took showers and got clothes.  After several month we pieced together the fact that she was sleeping in the parking lot at the Methodist Church.  Finally I talked with her one day and she told me that she was over 65 and had worked for many years before she became too mentally ill to work any longer.  She said when she went to the Social Security office they wouldn’t let her apply for social security 

The next day I came to the shelter wearing my best business suit.  Lydia and I walked to the Social Security Office and we were able to get her though the application process and within a few weeks she was receiving a check.  She didn’t want to leave Skid Row.  But we talked her into getting a room in one of the hotels there.  I will never forget the look on her face when she walked into the small dirty little room with a bed and a sink and a chair.  She felt rooted I am sure.

Lydia’s brother who had been trying to find her for over 10 years called us at the shelter.  Apparently the Social Security Office notified him as her next of kin.  He came to see her from Ohio.  He came to the shelter from the airport and Lydia would not speak to him.  We were able to tell him about her being off the streets and having enough money for a room and life’s necessities.  While he was saddened that she wouldn’t talk with him he was relieved to know where she was and that she had a base.  I think this was the most we could hope for for Lydia.  But she was satisfied in her own way.  This was probably all the rootedness she could handle.

God bless you all and I hope you have a Merry Chistmas.   Give a prayer for those on the streets on Chistmas that they too will find whatever rootedness they can handle.

Isolating: First Symptom of Depression and Suicidal Ideation

What the mental health professionals call isolating is withdrawing from contact with other people. This is often the first symptom of depression. Whenever my depression deepens I begin isolating from others. It becomes increasingly difficult to make contact with people just when I need that contact the most. There are several reasons for my withdrawal.

First, many of my friends are uncomfortable with any discussion of suicide or depression  Most of them know that my husband killed himself two years ago  but generally they find reference to it conversationally difficult.  If I admit to my depression people change the subject.  Naturally I don’t want  to cause them distress so I no longer bring it up.  I understand their feelings because most of them are older woman whose lives have been much more settled than mine.   As a result only one friend knows about this site.  I find it easier to blog than talk in person with the people I know.  From  what I have learned from other people who have depression and suicidal ideation this feeling of rejection is common problem whether real or perceived.

Second, one of my primary symptoms of depression is confusion.  I can’t explain myself coherently.  When I try to express what is going on my mind becomes mush.  Recently  the one friend that wants to help me in by discussing my condition with me and who knows of this site tried to offer some suggestions and discuss my mood.  I became so confused trying to explain myself that I fled her house.  That happened last week.  This week I apologized and explained about the confusion and we agreed that we wouldn’t try to talk about my depression in-depth when I am in the throes of confusion.  I really appreciate her understanding and sympathy.

Third,  some of my friends believe that since I am a Christian I shouldn’t be depressed.  Certainly most Christians with some life experience don’t believe this but enough do so that I am constantly on the lookout for this particular land mine.  I am not particularly cogent when depressed so instead of speaking coherently about what I am experiencing I often just become defensive which is counter productive.  The belief that a believing Christian is a happy person at every level is a common misconception.  Certainly my faith gives me happiness and joy but that is often at the deepest levels of my being when my brain goes into a depressive episode.

So what does a depressed and suicidal person need?  I can speak for myself by acknowledging that what I need most is for someone to express that they care and that they do not judge me or my faith by what is occurring during my depression.   My first priority is to keep in mind that this is a passing event.  That it is a trial by God, deserved or not.  Next,  I need to do the things which I know will help me come out of the mental fugue as quickly as possible.  So I need to pray, exercise and do my best to keep in touch with others.  That I may express doubts that I am not normally afflicted with is just part of the package.  Certainly Job questioned why God allowed him to go through his trial.

On The Death of A Spouse

Wendell Berry is a force for good in this tired country of ours.  He decries mans inhumanity to man and the desecration of the earth.

He is 75 years old and lost his wife a while back.

He wrote a poem that I keep going back to because it images the longing for a lost spouse in a way no other poem ever has for me.


After the storm and the new
stillness of the snow, he returns
to the graveyard, as though
he might lift the white coverlet,
slip in beside her as he used to do,
and again feel, beneath his hand,
her flesh quicken and turn warm.
But he is not her husband now.
To participate in resurrection, one
first must be dead.  And he goes
back into the whitened world, alive.

Our Lives Depend on the Kind of Thoughts We Nurture

Elder Thadeus

Last week, while hiking in the Sandia Mountains, my blood sugar fell to really low levels. I would guess it was under 50. I became really shaky and weak and while walking a trail that was full of small rocks, called scree, I fell several times. My feet would shoot out from under me and I fell on my tailbone and lower back. The low blood sugar was caused by eating insufficient carbohydrates before and during the hike. Normally I carry a candy bar with me and some nuts but this day I brought only the nuts.
I was so weak I didn’t know if I could walk out. I had several miles of treacherous switchbacks to go. Making it worse was that I had my dogs with me and I knew that if called for help the ambulance wouldn’t allow me to bring the dogs with me. The dogs would probably end up in the pound. I was unwilling to put them through that experience.
I started to panic as I considered all these dire outcomes. Then I thought of what Elder Thadeus said, “Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.” My mind instantly cleared as I thought of all God’s promises in his Word. I rememered that he is always with me and the panic left. I was able to continue walking out. Although what should have been an hour and a half walk turned into a very painful 4 hours walk. I kept my head. I told myself that while it was extremely unpleasant to be so weak and fall so often, I could survive it. And I did. I offered my sufferings to Christ and thought about his thirst on the cross. Certainly my ordeal was nothing in comparison.
This experience made me think about having worked with a cognitive therapist in the past. The main idea of cognitive therapy seems intuitive: Thoughts precede emotions. So to heal the emotions change the thoughts. I never understood why this process didn’t seem particularly effective for me. Over time my thoughts got no less negative.
So why was I able to change my thoughts this time where I was unable to in the past using the tools of cognitive therapy? The key seems to be that without God, fear of the world and future events is pretty realistic. Only if there is a God who is intimately involved in my life can I trust that no matter what happens God is with me. Without the knowledge of God’s love and good will toward me changing my thinking is just a form of positive thinking with no basis in reality.
I know that God works all things for the good of those who love him. It isn’t that bad things don’t happen to those who love God but knowing that no matter what happens God will use if for both my good and the good of others is what enables me to push on through. My experience in the woods was different because I knew God was with me.
Where cognitive therapy didn’t help, now I am able to turn my thoughts to the things of God. I turn to his word and to his promises and these change the negative emotions because they are founded in what God has said and promised. I believe it because whenever I trust his word and promises he comes through for me in a way I could never have foreseen. So it is reasonable to trust him because it is not presumption it is relying on his Word.
God has been teaching me that as I think so I will be. If I allow myself to feel defeated or fear the future my life becomes a boiling pot of confusion and I cannot focus my mind. If at the first moments of fear I turn my mind to the things of God then my mind calms down and lets me pray I am able to take a reasonable course of action that God gives to me.

Why am I Still Here?

My Walk With God

The outlines of why I am still here are beginning to take shape. First of all, when my husband killed himself I had lost my faith in God and in his Christ. The slow descent into madness by my husband had filled me with a sense of failure and hopelessness. It has taken almost two years for God to restore my faith and for me to realize that I wasn’t the main character in this story. Neither was my husband. This is a story about God and his goodness to us.
At 70, the age I was when my husband died I could see no reason to go on. On some days it still seems like nothing so much as surviving one day after another. But now I know that God is on this walk with me. I can worship him and call upon him and he is there. His Word has become the center of my life in a way that it never was before. The Bible is alive with God’s voice speaking to me. He shows me the way, but only one step at a time.
When I wonder about my future: Will I get Alzheimer’s disease? Will I wind up alone with no one to visit in a nursing home? I just put it in God’s hands. If these things happen then God will take care of it. He will give me the courage to face it and he will face it with me so I don’t need to worry. And if to other people I seem to have no dignity, I will know that in the eyes of God I do have dignity, the dignity of trusting him.
When I was suicidal it was because I felt I couldn’t face the future. It was so bleak. But now I know that God is pleased to tell a story with my life and my obedience pleases him. Finally I have grown up enough to know that the esteem of man means nothing and the pleasure of God in my life freely given up for him is the only dignity I care about.
In the course of my husband’s illness, I lost financial security, social standing and the respect of many. But compared with what I gained, I along with Paul can say I count it as nothing compared to pleasure of the God whom I want to please.
So, to answer the question of why I am here I can say that it is because it pleases God to have me here. Maybe he can touch the lives of others through my life. I don’t know. But I do know that for now he wants me right where I am, doing what I am doing. The important thing is why I do it. And the only valid reason is that I do it for the love of God who loved me first.
I invite your comments on my journey through suicide to meaning. Please let me know about your journeys, they encourage me.

Check Out My New Blog “Hiking in New Mexico”

Hi – Sent this out last night and didn’t give the correct address. I just started a second blog at http://www.hikingingnewmexico.wordpress.com. I posted about a hike I took today. As usual when I am down I head to the mountains. This blog is a simple account with photos about that hike.

All Alone With Our God

God is the cornerstone of life for the lonely. We must reach out to God in our aloneness for no one is near to comfort us. Loneliness gives us reason to pray, to draw closer to God. Being old and finding oneself alone is intimidating at first but finally it is known as a gift. It makes us put God at the center of our lives.
I came late to God. An atheist childhood put God out of reach. God is for the weak; they told me, for those who can’t face their contingency and final aloneness in a vast universe that is indifferent to man. Each man’s life is all there is and he can make his own rules since man is his own God. A cold comfort to a child longing for real meaning that can only come from something greater than the self.
In childhood survival and gaining the needed skills to survive occupy us. Even if we are not loved we are busy preparing for the everydayness of adult life. Survival of abusive parents suffices as a reason to exist. Puzzling out the whys of the daily indignities can occupy our minds in the quiet moments if we haven’t yet met our Savior.
Then comes early adulthood and career and perhaps a marriage or two for which we finally realize we are ill-equipped. Being raised without love leave raw burns on our soul and doesn’t give us a basis to understand the other in our lives. Finally we realize it is best to have no children for we fear that having been bitten by the vampire of cruelty in childhood that we might now be vampires ourselves. The one thing we vowed was to never hurt a child.
Finally in middle age, the unimaginable happens. For me, the glorious music of chant told me what I needed to know. That the God for whom I longed, longed for me. I had always been told that God didn’t exist, that he was the crutch of the weak. Finally I find myself weak and there he is. How right my self-sufficient parents had been, only in our sorrow and weakness did I allow my God come to me.
Now I am old. My beloved husband is gone. Friends are scattered across the land and they spend their time in the business of their own lives. Yet God is there for me. He fills my days with his voice in his Word. My prayers are my constant companion. He brings people into my life who need my help for a time and then they get on with their lives.
When I was a hospice volunteer, I found it odd that people would die when I left the room. After hours of sitting with the dying, praying for them, holding their hands I would be forced to leave the room for a brief time. It was then when they were finally alone, they chose to die. Now I understand.
Finally we are all alone with our God.