After I was born in Philadelphia, my mom brought me home to Elyria so we could live with her dad. The first three years of my life were spent there, just the three of us. It was there when I first heard God’s call, at the age of two or three years old. It might seem young to you, but I know that it was while I lived with my grandpa that I believed Jesus died for me and the words to the song “Jesus Loves Me” rang true in my heart.
Before I reached my fourth birthday, my Grandpa died. It was heart breaking, but I believed that he was with Jesus and I believed that I would see him again some day.
After he died, I remember we had to move out of his house. My mom and I then moved into a nearby apartment complex. I was four years old. Everything was good. I vividly remember standing in the kitchen of that apartment with my mom and thinking, “God thinks we are special. In fact, I know I’m very special to God and He’s going to use me to do great things.” (If you’re an only child, who had a doting parent, then maybe you can relate to these types of thoughts) Like Joseph from the Bible, the favorite son of his father and the only son of his mother, I had no issues with self-worth.
Little did I know that my world would soon come crashing in on me.
Before I was born, my mom had a serious motorcycle accident that left her in a coma with severe brain damage. She also spent a year in a body cast. They fixed her up so that she could walk again, but she would never be the same. As time went on, her brain became unable to manage the damage and she began to experience severe bi-polar symptoms. I remember her first mental collapse when I was in kindergarten. It was Christmas break and we had had a rough winter already. I remember the snow and I remember her packing everything up, without any planning, and then driving us to Florida.
That was the day my life turned upside down. Just like Joseph, I had been thrown into the well and sold to Egypt. I was all alone. The good days were over.
The next four years were spent traveling up and down the east coast, living in Florida for a while and then finally ending up in Cleveland. During that time we lived in over 20 different places. My mom became incapable of caring for herself or for me and I felt like a prisoner in some kind of slowly unfolding nightmare. It’s funny though, as a kid, you learn to adapt and how to deal with extreme challenges perhaps faster than you can as an adult. One thing I became extremely good at was keeping up the appearances of normal. Or at least I thought I did.
By the middle of fourth grade, at the height of her psychosis, my mom finally got the help that she needed. My uncle moved us out of Cleveland and after my mom had a psychotic episode at my new school, she was committed to a hospital. She was there for several months and when she got out she was better, though still far from perfect. The medicines kept most of her delusions at bay, but once and while they would rear their ugly head. She was still unable to provide for me and we continued to live in poverty, dependent on the government, our family, and our church for everything.
I still had to keep up the show. I was ashamed and I felt like I was constantly in the battle to appear normal. I hated handouts and other people’s pity. I hated being made fun of at school for my lack of hygiene, my dirty home, my poverty, and my crazy mom, so I tried my best to hide it. I wanted to tell everyone, “I’m o.k. There’s nothing wrong with me. Stop looking at me. There’s nothing to see here.”
As your reading this, my biggest fear is that your are starting to pity me and that you might start treating me differently. Please don’t. That’s not why I’m writing this. You see, by the time I was in high-school, I was o.k. with my life. Over the years, I came to experience the loving companionship of the greatest counselor of all time, God. He led me through the darkness in a way that no other human being could have ever done. I came to know a peace that passes all understanding. A peace not grounded in my circumstances, but in the knowledge that my loving Father still had a plan for me and that He wasn’t through with me yet.
I don’t know how old I was, maybe 15 or 16, but I remember one day sitting in church feeling worn out and envious of other people’s lives. As my pastor preached, inside my heart I cried out to God, “Why did you have to make my life so hard?” I sat there yelling at him inside my head, when all of a sudden, I got a picture of a fighter in a boxing ring. The fight was tough, but the fighter was tougher. He had obvious scars from the past, but he stood there, able to take blow after blow without falling down. It was then that I realized that I was becoming God’s Little Fighter. I was tough. I was strong—not by my own doing, but because God was my trainer and my scars were necessary in order for me to be useful to Him.
As I sat there, considering these thoughts, I said to myself, “You know, I must be very special to God indeed, and I think He’s going to use me to do great things.” Maybe Egypt isn’t such a bad place after all. . . Bring it.
As I re-read my story, I realize that I’m missing an important component. You see, as much as I didn’t want people to pity me, I pitied myself. Unfortunately, it took a long time for me to see past my own pain in order to see my mom’s pain. People with mental illness are suffering in ways we cannot understand. My mom’s mind was filled with paranoia, depression, anxiety, and horrifying voices and there was nothing she could do to stop it. So, as sad as my childhood was, it does not compare with the permanent, life-long suffering that my mom has endured. She is a beautiful woman, with a kind, compassionate heart and everyday I love her more, but her life was stolen away by this horrible disease and now she is at death’s door. There are many days when I ask God, “Why? Why did you allow this to happen to her?” My only hope, the ONLY hope that I cling to, is that I will be re-united with her someday in heaven and her mind will be restored. This hope gets me through.
My heartbeat is that we would have compassion for the mentally ill. Surround them with support and love and lead them to the medical assistance that they need. That’s what Jesus would do.