MANAGING THE GHOSTS

It was the last class I had to finish before I met all my requirements for ministerial ordination. History and Polity were two of my favorite subjects, (I know, I am a nerd.) and narrowing the focus to the denomination into which I was born, loved, and served enhanced the experience. There were five other guys taking the course, too. During one of the discussion sessions, a young minister began complaining about his predecessor and the things he did while he was pastor. I do not know if the man realized it, but that former pastor was my father.

Image result for white wood framed church in disrepairDad took a hard-scrabble church that had sunk to five members, with no money in the treasury, and in a dilapidated building with wavy floors, a broken-down chimney – in the sanctuary no less – and long strips of wallpaper hanging from the ceiling. It was a challenge to say the least. Dad was faithful and for the next 15 years the church grew. Sometimes the growth was meager, but he never had a loss. By the time my father resigned from that church, every member in it was saved or brought into the fellowship as a result of Dad’s work. Everywhere you looked – from the new ceiling, lights, walls, floors, piano, sound system, pews, and never had before off-street parking to the new addition that housed an entrance with separate men’s and women’s restrooms – Dad’s hand could be seen.

The new pastor was challenging the ghost of my dad. I thought then, and still do, that he had a very destructive strategy. Instead of making new memories and succeeding at new goals, he chose to fight the past. It did not end well. Within three years from his declared war with Dad’s memory, he had destroyed the church and it had to be closed. You cannot win a battle with good ghosts. You can only manage them.

One year, three months, and 10 days ago I married a widow. It has been a glorious ride. However, I knew coming into the relationship that I would be entertaining the ghost of the dearly departed husband for a very long time. At first there were pictures of him around the house and in our bedroom. I gently asked my beloved if she could move the ones out of the bedroom, otherwise I said nothing. About a month ago, the last picture – a refrigerator magnet – was taken down and carefully stored without another word from me.

His hats and a jacket or two hung on the hall tree just as he had left them. Again, I said nothing. Eventually, she decided the hall tree had seen better days and needed to be thrown in the trash. I dismantled it and took it out and his hats and jackets were put away.

I do not sit in the same spot as he did at the dinner table, sit in his recliner, or Image result for recliner chairuse his lap blanket. To do so would make it appear that I was replacing him, and I never want to give that impression. My wife chose to change the plates we use from the ones he liked to the pattern she likes. The decision was hers to make. I helped her make the necessary changes in the kitchen cabinets. Her children and grandchildren call me Porter and that is fine with me. I do not need a formal familial title to belong.

On Monday of this week, we returned from a three-day excursion to one of the barrier islands off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. My lovely wife enjoys going there. She went there every year with her now deceased husband and we have gone together the past two years. It is there that I see his ghost the most. He is in the condo community where they used to stay and on the beach on which we now frolic. He is at the restaurants where we eat, the shops we browse through, and the tourist traps we give a nod to. The dolphins outside one store were “ridden” by him. He walked through the belly of a shark that is displayed at another. There is no missing him, he is everywhere on the island.

Last year I decided to find something to do that she had never done before. There is no way I can replace or overcome his memories, so I decided making new experiences forImage result for st. joe island texas just the two of us was the way to go. I read about an uninhabited island that was good for beach combing, watching birds, hiking, and playing in the surf. She had never been there. Mid-morning the next day, we took the ferry and spent several hours on the island. It was fun, exciting, and best of all, an outing owned by her and me alone.

This year I found three places new to her. On the island there is a university marineImage result for port aransas marine science institute sciences program she had never visited. It has a welcome center and multiple displays related to the local environment. We explored the Eco system of the Gulf, discovered one of the few natural estuaries in the world was nearby, learned about several species of fish the students were studying, and looked through artifacts washed ashore from Central and South America and Africa. It is another memory that only we share.

Image result for padre island national seashoreNext, we went to a national seashore preserve. Seventy miles of this very long island are exactly the way God created nature to shape and reshape it. In Texas all coastal beaches are designated as highways, so we drove a few miles down the beach until the sight of humans was very distant. We combed the beach for hidden treasures, walked where the waves gently brushed our feet, watched birds running away from the water only to return when the tide went out, discovered a species of jellyfish neither of us had encountered before, fought off seagulls that tried to steal our snacks, and built an elaborate sand castle with a deep moat and a high keep protected by three layers of defensive positions. No ghosts were present with whom we had to share our venture.

The last place was a city park built along a shipping channel on one side and the localImage result for large ship in channel at port aransas harbor on the other. There were piers that jutted out into the ocean for fishing and viewing. A two-and-a-half story observation platform was a great place to watch the brown dolphins swim down the middle of one of the Gulf’s entrance ramps. A large ship went by headed out to another port. Beside it was a tourist boat filled with people enjoying the good fortune of escorting a ship to the open ocean. It was quite a contrast to see the two vessels side by side. The one looked like a horizontal skyscraper and the other like a bathtub toy. A walking path ran atop the sea wall built with massive mauve colored stone cut from solid granite and ran along the shore line following the natural contours of the island. While there my precious wife spoke about the beautiful park she had left undiscovered so long. It was another moment that went into a file reserved for only the two of us.

On the way out of the park going toward our hotel, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant for supper. A first time for her and a forth keepsake that we alone treasure.

I do not know if my observations for managing ghosts are unique to me or if the geniuses of behavioral sciences have long ago published them, but here are some thoughts I have found useful.

  • Learn to accept and respect the important ghosts elevated by others for who they were and the important roles they played.
  • Ask your new friends, co-workers, followers, and/or newly created family to open their hearts to make room for you without dislodging anyone else.
  • Build new relationships and make new and unique memories that create a strong position for you without threatening or dethroning the physically departed.
  • Be wise, compassionate, and patient. Your time will come.

The LORD be with you to bless you and give you grace.

Advertisements

The Costs and Blessings of Depression: Freedom Part IV

People diagnosed with depression are roughly three times more likely than the general population to commit violent crimes such as robbery, sexual offenses and assault.

The story continues of one such man who went to jail for committing crimes while seriously depressed and paranoid. His marriage of 33 years was essentially over. His wife announced she was going to leave him after seven months of an attempted reconciliation. He completes his story in his own words.

My paranoia took control at this moment. I overwhelmingly felt the urge to get them out of the house. It was either they leave or I would die. My walking stick was close and I opened the bedroom door with it in my hand. “O, look, he has a stick in his hand,” I heard one of them say jeeringly. Then they started taunting me and laughing at me again. I retreated to the bedroom, but with irresistible force, the paranoia pushed me to make them vacate the premises. If they did not respect me, I thought, nor my walking stick, maybe they would respect my shotgun.

It was totally and completely wrong, but I was driven to make them leave. My life was in danger, or so I thought. When I came out of the bedroom with the shotgun in hand they retreated, but not without taunting me more. Like a desperate man I followed them out the door (a felony) to make sure they left. All the way to the SUV they taunted me and laughed at me. As they drove away, or so I am told, I pointed my shotgun at them (another felony). I have no recollection of pointing the gun at them directly at any time, but there is a video that shows that I did.

I was too weak, too emotionally drained, too mentally spent, too sick to walk away. I broke one of my fundamental principles – do not fight over material things. Too tightly did I hang on to the loaves and fishes and missed the Christ passing by. It begs the question, did I own my possessions or did my possessions own me?

After they left I put away the shotgun and sat down on the front porch until the police arrived. Three police cars drove into the driveway and my estranged wife and our daughter were right behind them. I jumped off the porch, pointed my finger at the two of them, and shouted, “Get them off my property.” An officer grabbed my arm and twisting it shoved me back onto the porch. I told him he had no cause to manhandle me in that manner. Another officer joined him and asked me to sit down, which I did. I started telling him that they were violating the “status quo” order. He aggressively replied that he had been on the force for 14 years and had never heard of a “status quo” order. I said that he had better go down to the courthouse and educate himself. With a glaring eye and a stern voice he barked that if my estranged wife and daughter want to go in the house and take everything out he would make me stand aside and watch them. It seemed many of my fears were becoming reality with the blessing of the police.

I have only flashes of memory for the remainder of the incident. The police report says that I stood up from my chair and hit one of the officers in the face with my fist. It continues that during their attempt to take me down I had put both officers in headlocks, one under each arm. (Two more felonies.) An officer escaped my grip and tased me. It had the effect of having an ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatment. I regained consciousness.

After spending the night in jail I checked myself into the hospital. Besides the severe depression, I was diagnosed with an episode of dissociative amnesia, defined as “a precipitation emotional trauma charged with painful emotions and psychological conflict” (Synopsis of Psychiatry, pp. 676-678). “Depression and anxiety are common predisposing factors.” Localized amnesia is the most common type and lasts for a short time. In laymen’s terms, I had a blackout.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) some “people may lose control of their emotions or actions during a dissociative event and can do things that are otherwise quite uncharacteristic.” “Almost half of adults in the United States experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode in their lives, with only two percent meeting the full criteria for chronic episodes.” (NAMI.org) “Disassociation arises as a self-defense against trauma.” “The symptoms of dissociative amnesia usually terminate abruptly, and recovery is generally complete, with few recurrences.”

My episode lasted only a few moments during which time I did a very terrible thing by which I am horrified and have profound regrets. Without the disassociation, the assault would never have happened. The last time I had lifted my fist to hit someone, I was 10 years old. Without the paranoia, my shotgun would have never left the closet. Never had I pulled a gun on another human being. My last visit to see my psychiatrist was just a few days before the above incident. I walked into the office in a severely depressed state. The receptionist looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you need to go to the hospital?” I told her I would be all right. The psychiatric nurse practitioner asked the same question. I gave the same reply. On my way out the appointment secretary called me by name and said, “Are you sure you don’t need to go to the hospital?” You would think a long time professional clinical counselor would get the hint, but I foolishly repeated my previous statements. I missed the warning and paid the price. I was charged with seven felonies and two misdemeanors.

About four days after being released from the hospital I went back to court. I asked my lawyer to plead me not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He said that it was nearly impossible to prove in the state where I resided even if I was howling at the moon. The prosecution offered a plea deal that involved dropping all charges to misdemeanors and 360 days in county jail. Upon the advice of my lawyer I accepted the deal and started serving my time the same day. It was my first arrest and the first time to go to jail other than for a visit or to minister and/or teach.

Jail became my salvation. I used the time to be spiritually restored and grow in grace, and put behind me the demons of my past. For the first three weeks in jail I spent nearly every waking hour reading my Bible and repenting. I confessed materialism, sins of the flesh, pride, inconsistencies, wastefulness, anger, being a poor husband, being a poor father at times, tendencies to nurse my own views, resisting the good efforts of others, discourteousness, expecting too much of others, and a less than healthy relationship with God as my Creator, Savior, and Guide. At the end of those three weeks I sensed the forgiveness of God and a restoration to fellowship with Him.

Restitution was next. I wrote to the prosecutor, police officers associated with my case, and my boss asking forgiveness for my behavior and bringing a reproach on the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ. People from my church congregation came to see me; I wept and confessed my sorrow for tarnishing the name of their church. To family, friends, and whoever would listen I attempted to make things right. My oldest son came and I wept the longest and confessed the most with him. He was gentle and expressed concern for me, especially my spiritual condition.

Several days were spent forgiving people who I perceived had wronged me. In one particular writing I recorded 38 wrongs and wrote “forgiven” by each one. I was determined not to let any root of bitterness spring up in my heart. When wrongs came to mind I dismissed them with, “I forgive.” (This is a practice I continue to this day.) Someone gave an insight regarding Jesus charging Peter to forgive 70 times seven. He said it was not simply for the person who sought forgiveness, but also for the thoughts that try to take residence in our consciousness. As often as they come for forgiveness, as often as the wrong comes to mind, forgive! Lewis B. Smedes says it well, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I began a devotional routine that included reading from the New Testament, the Psalms, and Proverbs daily. Devotional readings included, “Our Daily Bread,” hymns from a Presbyterian hymnal, and whatever Christian book I could find in the jail library. Quiet time was hard to come by so I began staying up after morning meds at 4:30am until breakfast at 7:00. Before I read I prayed that I may hear, understand, remember, and practice the Word of God.

After reading one particular book I began to pray in a systematic way. My prayer list included confession of my dependence upon God; submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; that I may love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; a longing to know God as much as I was capable and in the manner He has revealed Himself in the Word. I prayed for wisdom, for strength in trials and temptations, to grow in grace, for holiness, righteousness and purity, for humility, for my anger to be controlled, and for my depression to be stabilized.

Confession of sins, faults, and shortcomings was included. I prayed for reconciliation with my daughter and youngest son. (That prayer continues.) Prayer was made for others and thanksgiving to God was given. Time was spent praising God for His character and attributes, and His works of creation and redemption through Christ Jesus.

Chapel was available every Sunday and there was a Wednesday Bible study. Rarely did I miss. The “Walk to Emmaus” organization lead us on a four day spiritual journey.

In jail I found peace with God and myself. When I emerged from jail I was healthier spiritually than I had ever been. I continue to cultivate the spiritual practices I learned in jail. To God be the glory! His grace is amazing.

The Cost and Blessings of Depression: Freedom Part III

People diagnosed with depression are roughly three times more likely than the general population to commit violent crimes such as robbery, sexual offenses and assault.

The story continues of one such man who went to jail for committing crimes while seriously depressed and paranoid. His marriage of 33 years was essentially over. His wife announced she was going to leave him after seven months of an attempted reconciliation. He continues his story in his own words.

She had caused me to be homeless three times and I was unwilling to do the same to her. I did not believe it was the Christian thing to do, consequently she moved into the basement bedroom. We shared meals together, but little else. Every night for six weeks (except for two nights) I asked if I may speak with her. She consented every time. I said the same thing each evening, “Let’s stop this madness and go to a marriage counselor.” She walked away without saying a word with but two exceptions. On those two occasions she said she would. I responded, “I have one condition – our marriage must come first.” Both times she immediately walked away. Although she did not want to live with me or have anything to do with me, she wanted us to stay married. I told her, “I’m tired of living a lie,” and filed for divorce in April.

Something else happened after she decided to leave. Either she or our daughter started calling me “sick” or “crazy” nearly every day. It was said in such a tone that caused me to fear what they might do to me if given an opportunity. I thought my life was in danger. It was unlikely that they were plotting anything against me, but that is the way paranoia works; it does not depend on rational truth to exist. There were two doors leading into my bedroom. I used an adjustable cargo strap to secure the one permanently, put a chair under the doorknob of the other every night, and slept with a walking stick beside me. It remained my routine for two months.

By April my depression was so severe I could no longer work. My supervisor told me to take some time off and not come back until I was stable. I used up all my accrued sick and vacation time, and then went on FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). At the beginning of May my wife, daughter, and grandchildren went on a cruise. While they were gone my wife and I received a “Status Quo” order. In the state in which we resided that meant our assets were frozen and neither of us could do anything without the permission of the other.

When she returned from the cruise I gave her a copy of the order. That very evening she went out and spent a significant amount of money. When she returned and I saw what she had done we argued. She was very agitated, gnashing her teeth, shoving her finger into my face, and not allowing me to finish my sentences. Staying calm and keeping my voice to a conversational tone, I told her jokingly, “If you put that finger in my face again, I’m going to bite it off.” This set her off even more. After a year’s worth of ever deepening depression, four months of being told I was “sick” and “crazy,” and two months of strong paranoia, I told her I had enough and to get out. She refused. I called the police and retreated to the back yard. An officer escorted her out of the house.

But, there was going to be no peaceful end to this drama. That evening she and our daughter started Facebook rumors that I was having an affair. It was an absurd accusation, but it spread like wildfire through her family and friends. That next day, as the rumors spread, my daughter and I were in conversation about getting her mother’s things. She insisted that I leave the house while I insisted that I stay. I was afraid if they were allowed access to our home without me everything would disappear, including the things I had inherited from my parents and grandparents. Perhaps it was not a rational fear, but it was what I believed. The day passed with us still at an impasse.

That evening my superintendent of churches called to set up a meeting for the next morning. I knew instinctively that I was going to be removed from my pastorate. The next morning it took every ounce of energy I had to make it to the 9:00AM appointment. The superintendent told me that because my wife had taken our conflict public on Facebook that I could no longer stay at my church. I was heart-sick and told him of the previous day’s events. He told me that my estranged wife tried to come see him, but he refused. He was very supportive and when I asked if I could stay until the end of the fiscal year, he agreed. Her threat, “I will destroy you!” was being fully implemented.

When I returned home I found the front door wide open. There were no cars or people around and I knew I had locked it before I left for my appointment. Cautiously, I walked into the house and heard movement in the back. With stealth and a healthy dose of trepidation I investigated. I found my estranged wife and our daughter rifling through things and loading up our daughter’s SUV, which she had parked in the back where it could not be seen. It was yet another violation of the “status quo” order and of what the officer had told my estranged wife two days prior.

The three of us walked into the kitchen. There I told my estranged wife that if she would give me a quiet divorce I would not sue her and her family for defamation of character. (A lawyer told me I had a good case.) I do not remember what was said next, but she and our daughter started in on me. I raised my voice at them and they responded by shoving a video camera in my face. They also started taunting me and laughing at me. I retreated to my bedroom and called the police.

(Watch for the end of the story next week.)

The Costs and Blessings of Depression: Freedom Part II

People diagnosed with depression are roughly three times more likely than the general population to commit violent crimes such as robbery, sexual offenses and assault.

The story continues of one such man who went to jail for committing crimes while seriously depressed and paranoid. His marriage of 29 years was in crisis. He had been asked to leave his home, beginning a separation that was to last four years. He continues his story in his own words.

Angry and moody, I was hard to live with. Although I was very sick at the time and had no place to go, I did not blame her for asking me to get out of the house. Perhaps she was right that I should leave. As if things could not deteriorate more, they did so very rapidly. She took out an emergency protective order against me (the court dropped it), turned me in to social services for non-support within the first week of separation (social services never opened a case), and started telling all who would listen that I abused her. My reputation is ruined in that part of the state.

That last accusation really stung. Therefore, I examined my behavior, sought counseling, and researched thoroughly every legal, mental health, and organizational definition of abuse I could access. If I had abused her I wanted to know it, but not one of the dozens of definitions I read or counselors I saw described my behavior as abusive. (In an effort to be completely open, there was once during a very heated argument that I intimidated her. Immediately, I felt horrible, repented, asked for forgiveness, and never did it again. Newer definitions include yelling of which I was guilty. It did not happen often, but, I came to realize, one time is too many.) Over and over again I asked her to stop spreading the charges of abuse. I walked her through definition after definition, but nothing availed. At one point she told me that unless I admitted I had been abusive toward her she would never reconcile. I responded I would not admit to a lie in order to get her back. After telling me that she did not care what the various definitions of abuse said, I gave up trying to reason with her.

In her defense this may have been her “reality.” I behaved poorly at times, but I never verbally, sexually, or physically abused her. Again, in an effort to be forthcoming, I did raise my voice at her, even to the point of yelling, but, except for the volume, I never emotionally abused her either. I neither dominated nor controlled her. She was always free to come and go as she wished, contact whom she wished, and spend as she wished. My view was that Jesus was the head of our home and we were in a partnership, not a patriarchy.

For the next four years I tried earnestly to win her back. When she told me not to call, I called daily anyway. When she told me she did not love me anymore, I kept telling her that I loved her. When she had bills, I paid them. When I never got a response from the weekly letters I wrote, I still wrote. Money was scarce, but I lived very frugally in order to send her money weekly. At one point the school where she directed the choir did not have the money to purchase a Christmas program. I told her to pick out what she wanted and I would pay for it. (On the night of the program, she told me that I never supported her.) I paid for her gas and eats in order that we could go to marriage counseling. (At the end she declared them, “worthless.”) There was no legal separation and we continued to file our taxes jointly. After one particularly large return she refused to give me my third saying, “I need it.” The next year I filed jointly with her again. When I tried to address our marriage from a biblical perspective, she said those verses did not apply to her. Not once during our four year separation did she try to reach out to me. All the effort to reconcile flowed one way – from me to her.

Divorce was not in my vocabulary. Determined to win her back I accepted the “Fireproof” challenge and began working my way through the accompanying book. About half-way through the second time I began to see her respond. I sent her a copy of the book and we began to discuss a chapter every week. After four years of separation, she agreed to reunite.

In retrospect it was not a good time for us to attempt to come back together. Along with my day job I was pastoring a small country congregation. (Lovely people!) However, my day job was becoming more and more demanding and I was getting farther and farther behind. The work load was double what I was supposed to carry. Symptoms of severe depression began to reappear. My supervisor insisted I see a therapist and a psychiatrist. I went to as many therapy sessions as my insurance approved and kept seeing the psychiatrist on a regular basis. I stopped the therapy sessions after the insurance quit paying for them. At $100 dollar an hour, I thought I could not afford them. It cost me far more to stop than it ever would have had I stuck with counseling.

Nightly, my wife and I read and discussed the “Fireproof” book in preparation for her moving in with me. I had worked hard on trying to change and address the issues about which she was most concerned. During our nightly talks, I asked her to not put all the responsibility for change on me and to address some of my worries, too. I especially asked her to do something about her borderline hoarding and get rid of two-thirds of her things before moving in.

During one weekend visit she looked at me and said if things did not work out between us, “I will destroy you!” It was not an edifying start. A recipe for disaster was brewing and it did not take long before it boiled over. She moved in in May and brought all of her things with her, doing away with nothing. Chaos returned to our home. Into my simple, frugal, ordered life a hurricane blew. I had a storage room, work room, and closed-in back porch; she filled them all nearly to the ceiling. The rooms became useless to me. She did have a garage sale, but it barely made a dent.

Her spending habits had not improved either.  Unknown to me she had run up credit card debt to the tune of $14,000 dollars and that after I had paid off her debts the year before. I was making good money and had several thousand dollars in the bank. In twelve months she went through my entire annual salary and half our savings.

The worst part to deal with was having her not believe I had changed. She expected the worst out of me. If I disagreed with her, she accused me of yelling at her, although I had not raised my voice above a conversational tone. (I did raise my voice twice during that year.) On one day trip she became angry with me when she did not get to spend as much time with her sister as she wanted. Although we were on a tight schedule, I could have been a little flexible, but she did not ask and I was not aware. She assumed I would say, “No!” For nearly the duration of the three hour trip home she screamed, yelled, and pounded on the dash saying, “I wish I could leave you!” For once, I kept my cool, lowered my voice to just above a whisper, and did not talk much. At one point I said, “In the past I may have acted like you are acting now, but never worse.” She agreed. I was no angel, but the changes I made were real, or so I thought.

By August I knew two things, I was clinically depressed and my 33 year marriage was over. I did not quit trying to save it, but it was an especially difficult climb. In January our daughter became angry with me and cussed me out in my own home. I looked at my wife and asked her, “Are you going to let her talk to me that way?” and she answered, “Yes!” Later on that day she came into our bedroom where I was in bed sick with the flu. She announced, “I’m leaving you,” in a matter-of-fact way, “You’re too sick!”

(Watch for more of the story next week.)