I met Lisa through another friend, Elysa. We were all using the same Five in a Row homeschool curriculum and Lisa connected with Elysa through the curriculum's message board. That was back when I wanted as little to do with the computer as possible. It turned out that Lisa lived in another neighborhood off of the same road my neighborhood was off of and her boys were a year older and a year younger than my boy. Elysa started a Five in a Row group and I first met Lisa the day I picked her and the boys up to take them out to Elysa's place nearly an hour away in the country. We quickly became friends and we all had a lot of fun participating in activities like a Scottish night where the boys wore kilts we made, a Passover Seder where Elysa's husband taught us all to dance to Jewish music, and many others. And Lisa started attending our church.
As our friendship grew Lisa opened up to me. Eventually, she allowed me to come into her home. It was bad. Have your kids taken away bad. She was a single mom working 2 to 3, 12 hour shifts each weekend. Her ex-husband had moved in with her to save money while he got his own business started the year prior. He did not contribute anything aside from the child support he'd been ordered to pay by the court. He looked after the boys when she was at work and she took care of everything else. She needed help so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Lisa was bipolar and also suffered from fibromyalgia. She would do what she needed to do to keep going at work but on her days off she had trouble getting out of bed. She also wanted desperately to reconcile with her ex-husband and allowed him to take advantage of her. She called me one day in tears because she had found a pair of women's panties in his overnight bag when she was doing his laundry. She sat in a chair and cried while I packed up all of his things and placed them in the driveway. It was my hope that they would reconcile as well but I knew that it couldn't happen in the situation they were in. We maintained contact with her ex-husband and he began attending our church as well.
I tried to help Lisa by holding her accountable in the mornings and made sure that she got up. She would ignore my calls so I would do obnoxious things like crow like a rooster until she picked up. She would be laughing and tell me how crazy I was. Sometimes though, even my acting like a fool wouldn't work and I'd have to drive over to her house and I'd ring her doorbell, beat on her door and one time... even her windows. We started homeschooling together in another attempt to keep her accountable. We would switch off whose house we met at and when we were at her house we would work on getting her house in order. A lot of times that meant she sat with the kids at the table to keep them on task and made us lunch while I worked on organizing her things. We also put down a pergo floor finishing it at 4 am the day she was having all of her family over for the first time in years for her son's birthday. Many from our church also came that day.
We had a lot of fun. The kids called us "Laughaholics." She had a wonderful laugh and it meant a lot to me to be able to help her and see progress. She had a big hound dog that my oldest daughter named Tinker. Oh my Lord was that dog a pain! He barked and barked. One of her neighbors took to throwing golf balls at him over the fence and she got nasty anonymous letters in her mailbox. She decided to buy one of those shock collars to see if that would work. Lisa put the collar on Tinker and then let him loose in the backyard with all of the kids. Of course, he didn't just start barking so we stood there quite awhile at the door waiting. When she got her chance she pushed the button but nothing happened... so she turned it all the way up. Tinker was bounding about and having a great time. Then he barked. She hit that button and that dog, I kid you not, flipped up and over and landed on all fours and then would not move. He looked like he hadn't a clue as to what had just happened and was afraid if he moved it would happened again. We laughed so hard my jaw and my sides hurt. He eventually shook it off and got to barking again. That time he was near the fence and threw himself up against the fence. The look on that poor dogs face! She did turn it down to a more acceptable level and Tinker caught on pretty quick. In fact, he wouldn't bark at all when that collar was on but sure would make up for it when it wasn't! He seemed to know when the batteries were running low too. He later ended up at her brother's hunting camp where he could bark all he wanted.
We went to a women's retreat with our church down in Panama City Beach, Florida. She and I drove down early in my husband's new Oldsmobile Intrigue. That car was smooooth and I loved driving it. We made it down in record time and hours before everyone else. We had a little scare at a gas station where I almost hit a pump. Kind of scared the employee a bit. She got a real kick out of that. She also got a kick out of the fact that I got a speeding ticket for going 94 miles an hour on the way home while we blasted Praise & Worship music. I had learned that things like that went over better if I told my husband right away and made sure there was some time and space between us when I did. She was really tickled when our Pastor called on my cell phone about an hour later and referred to me as "Mario Ankelly." It so happens the one and only ticket I've gotten in Colorado happened to be while I was on the cell phone with her.
Helping Lisa wasn't easy. The last year we lived in Mississippi we put our oldest in a private school for kids with learning difficulties. We were very happy with what they were able to accomplish and I talked Lisa into enrolling her boys the second semester. She only had to get the boys up and ready and my husband drove them all to school. There were times she wouldn't get out of bed and I would get frustrated. I'm not good at setting boundaries and I made a mistake with Lisa in that I allowed her to rely on me too much. She took our moving very hard. I had a heart to heart with her before we left and I told her that she needed to put her trust in God and that she needed to allow Him to work through her.
A couple of months later Lisa ran into some trouble. The boys weren't getting to school and she was very depressed. Her brother took the boys and she checked into a hospital for a month. She was released just before Christmas and her father gave her and the boys plane tickets to come see us. They came the day after Christmas and stayed until January 2nd. The boys weren't back with her long before they went back to live with her brother and his wife.
We went down to Mississippi for Thanksgiving that year. It also happened to be in the midst of a crisis of another dear friend. A nurse friend of Lisa's and I were throwing her a 40th birthday party that was originally supposed to be at that other friend's house. Things were crazy and there were some misunderstandings... and I didn't believe some things Lisa told me which hurt her. We were able to work it out but it never really was the same between us after that. The last time I saw her was the following June when we went down for a wedding, three years ago.
I hadn't had any contact with Lisa for a year when Elysa called me last week. At the time she made the call all that was known was that Lisa had died. But I knew. Within less than 24 hours I was on a plane. I needed her family to know that I cared. I needed them to know that I loved her...
Lisa's stepfather had a massive coronary in September and was in the ICU when she called her mother and told her that she needed her to come get her to check her into a hospital. As was often the case with Lisa, when someone else was going through something major she would do something to draw the attention back to herself. Her mother would not leave her husband so her friend and fellow nurse took her. Her stepfather died. She stayed in the hospital for a week and they changed up her meds. She seemed to be doing much better. She went back to work and told her friend and fellow nurse that she wasn't feeling well and needed to go home. She killed herself the next morning. After two days of not being able to reach Lisa, her friend let herself into Lisa's house with her key and found her.
As with so many areas, many Christians do not agree on what happens to those who take their own lives. I've been reading my bible and looking at what others believe and why and I just don't know for certain. But... I did know Lisa. I saw through her actions to her heart. She did not believe she was worthy of love. I knew her hopes and dreams. I knew how desperately she wanted to be different than she was. I was there many times as she cried out to God and I held her while I prayed for her. Some people carry pain that is so deep and so wide that they just cannot let it go. In my search to come to terms with this I came across Psalm 88 and I'd like to share it.
"O LORD, God of my salvation,
I have cried out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And you have afflicted me with all Your waves.
You have put away my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an abomination to them;
I am shut up, and I cannot get out;
My eye wastes away because of affliction.
LORD, I have called daily upon You;
I have stretched out my hands to You.
Will You work wonders for the dead?
Shall the dead arise and praise You?
Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
Shall Your wonders be known in the dark?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But to You I have cried out, O LORD,
And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
LORD, why do You cast off my soul?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
I suffer Your terrors;
I am distraught.
Your fierce wrath has gone over me;
Your terrors have cut me off.
They came around me all day long like water;
They engulfed me altogether.
Loved one and friend You have put far from me,
And my acquaintances into darkness."
The New King James Version
That is a pretty dark Psalm full of hopelessness. It echoed for me some of the things Lisa said to me in the past... some of the things she cried out while weeping bitterly. I myself can identify with some of the feeling behind the Psalm. There is nothing worse as a believer than to feel cut off from God... to feel that He doesn't love you. I believe Lisa was mentally ill. I believe she wanted nothing more than to not be that way.
Why? I don't understand. Part of me feels that she was incredibly selfish and that what she has put her family and friends through is unforgivable. My heart is breaking for the friend that found her. Lisa knew she would be the one to find her because she had a key. Why would she do that? She has left her brother to not only raise her children but to clean up all of her messes. The burden her brother is carrying right now as he goes through all of her financial things... figure out what to do with all of her stuff and sell her house... the emotional fall out... how can he do it?
Why? Where does God fit in in all of this? I knew her... I knew her prayers. Why did they go unanswered? Why?
If someone is mentally ill are they held responsible for it? How can they be if it is something beyond their control? Some people aren't born with boot straps to pull on.
Life is precious, is it not? At first glance Lisa's life was marked by failure. It is easy to see all that went wrong. Lisa would have been forty-four next month. When she fell down, she fell down big. All of us are broken in some way, aren't we? I've never fallen down as far as Lisa did but I do know what it has taken for me to get back up when I have. How much more did it take Lisa all those times she did get back up? How much harder was it for her when so many of her faults were out there for all to see? Will all her efforts be lost amidst her greatest failure? Is that all she will be remembered by?
Mercy does not give what is deserved. Grace gives what is not deserved. I pray God's mercy and grace are covering Lisa and that she is now whole and at peace. Even though things did not work out as I hoped they would in Lisa's life, she was worth every moment of my time and I will remember her valiant effort.