Since 1996 we have taken in more than 20 different people. Including my mother, a couple of brothers-in-law, a sister, a best friend’s son, and a family with 10 kids. We’ve picked up and safely delivered numerous teenagers who were in a bind in the middle of the night and terrified to call their parent without a trusted adult. We’ve crossed the nation at least three times for someone else’s emergency. Counseled at least a dozen couples, been responsible for two people on probation. Paid for attorneys, visited jails, hospitals and clothed people out of pocket, or directly off our feet and back.
In our twenties and thirties, we ran a youth ministry, bible study, and three services at two church locations 20 miles apart without pay, for more than 3 years. My husband has opened for a mega gospel artist as part of a group run by his best friend who never paid him nor reimbursed him. He’s been on gospel albums made by known artists and been snubbed when recognition came. We did all this while being the sole caregivers for my mother who lived with us on eleven different occasions, in various stages of physical and mental health. We fed, transported and supported all these things at our own expense not ever receiving reimbursement, always trusting God. (Especially on the several occasions my mother set some part of our home on fire.) We were asked to move multiple times as a result of my mother’s behavior over the years. Yet, we’d always take her back, until the last three years of her life; and she asked repeatedly. I still question whether if we had given in and taken her in again if she might still be here. Then I recall no one else in my family ever once offered to help us or take her into their home. No. One.
I will repeat that again. No one related to my mother ever offered to give us a break or watch my mother at their home so we could take a break since 1999. When I recall this fact, I accept that we did the best we could with the resources and knowledge we had in those situations.
We did this while taking care of a son with cancer, covering expenses for another son in college and having our own medical issues at the same time. My husband once led praise and worship hooked to a portable IV. We could have said no, and frankly, there are times we should have said no, but we didn’t and I’m not sorry.
We are not saints. In fact, my salvation has been questioned by church folks before. I don’t give a damn what church people think anymore. I was eight the first time I was physically drug from a “Christian” class for asking too many questions. When I say drug out, I mean by the arm on the floor with kids screaming and telling me to grab on to desks, doors or anything. Since then, I have been told I had nothing to offer in women’s ministries at three churches including the one I attend. I have been verbally harassed by men at church, with their wives’ approval. We have presented proposals as requested by ministries, that have been praised, approved, then given to other people who took credit for our work.
We have broken up fights between church roommates when all we wanted to do was go home after work. Then got cussed out by the same people who called us in desperation.
I have edited resumes, helped people properly fill out and obtain SSI/Disability, food stamps, medical insurance, or housing assistance. I’ve taken calls at every time of the day and night from people who had CPS at their door, were running from domestic violence or having some other problem. Through all of this we have lost and gained but never profited.
Do I regret it? No. My intention was always to make sure people did not feel as alone as I have felt most of my life. I want everyone in my influence to feel they have a person in their corner because I know what it’s like to feel outcast in your own life. What I ignored is that I still felt lonely. In all the giving, I never asked nor required anyone to return the unconditional regard. I did not insist that others help more or reciprocate. I never asked for or required love as a condition of my help, because no one should feel alone in this world. And yet. I needed that. I needed people to give me the same freedom I gave them to be angry and messy and imperfect. The problem is I had given everyone permission to drain me and none saw the need to restore. I called a friend in grief and received a link to home-based work and haven’t heard from them more than once via short text since.
There is a bitterness that lurks when grief is heavy. It peeks out when you think of the hours/days/weeks/months/years poured out into what feels like nothing. No one wants you to be angry. But it creeps in when the people who cried in your ear make fun of you for getting help. No one wants you to get help, because then your boundaries change. Your standards change. For years I kept trying not to feel lonely by helping others not feel lonely.
But I already knew where my lack of empathy for myself started.
I am a survivor.
I survived being molested by my mother’s youngest sister and my father. I watched my father drag my mother down the stairs by her leg, which had a rod and screws in it to hold it together after a car accident that nearly killed her. He put her through multiple walls and once broke a glass coffee table by throwing her across the room on it. He threatened to kill her so many times when I was a child, I used to sneak in their room and make sure she was breathing at night. I once woke up to hear my father screaming, holding a 9mm in what he called the “Trip Room” and I thought for sure she was dead and he had killed her. I was seven. Seven years old is also the age my parents first gave me alcohol and blew me charges when they smoked weed.
I was 12 or 13 when my father drove with me in the car from California to Corpus Christi, Texas in less than 12 hours and had me lay down on the floor of the passenger side, pulled out his weapon, and shot the man suspected of shooting my uncle the day before. Yep, I missed a week of school so my dad could do a cross country drive by. I was so terrified of my him, that in my twenties I took a nolo contendere plea for petty theft, on behalf of a stepmother, because my father threatened my family; his own son in law and grandsons.
None of this makes the other people I allowed in my life bad or terrible people They met the low expectations I set for our relationships. They were comfortable there and I was not, but I would never say it. Now that I have they aren’t interested, or maybe never were.
Saturday was my mother’s first birthday since her death in May. The next morning Kobe passed away. I thought of calling those friends and family members I would have called in the past, to see how they were feeling, and check if they were alright. Just to reach out.
Then I changed my mind. Not because I do not love the people who left, but because I love me now more than I need them. Their silence this year is confirmation.
Life is terribly short. In 2018, I almost ended mine on purpose.
Be consistent in telling the people you love how you feel but be urgent about the love and care you give to yourself. There is not a spouse/lover/parent/friend who can replace the love and acceptance you need to feel from inside your own soul.
I am so flawed it is terrifying most days. I do not know what it means not to feel awkward or out of place. I pop off. But I also keep my distance around people I do not trust. I can forget people exist to the point of forgetting their name and number. I will unsee a person like they are shadow because that is how I coped with abuse as a child. It’s unhealthy and I know it.
I believe in God, but not in church folks. I do not believe if I follow seven steps of prayer and giving God is going to bless me. What I know is healing is available. All the rest is extraneous babble. I no longer allow people to tell me that forgiveness means reconciliation or that I am responsible for chasing down my abusers for healing or God’s blessing over my life. I believe the Christ I read. In context. Not the Instagram clip version most churches prefer. A saint I am not. In fact, most think I’m, not even saved. I’m fine with that. It makes me smile inside now. Because when I look over my life, I’m doing the most I can in each moment.
I am forgiving myself daily and I am waking up every day and failing or succeeding all over again. I don’t know if I will ever find myself contemplating suicide as seriously as I did in 2018 again. I hope not, but none of us know what the times may bring. I do know that I now have the capacity to allow myself to feel what I need to, process and still find something I like about the woman in the mirror. That alone is a victory in love and a moment to thank God.