A window. THAT window. The one at the end on the second floor of a somber brick building. The one I look up at through my windshield through flooding tears as I prepare to drive home. A few short minutes ago I was on the other side of that window; then turning my back to walk down the long dim hallway, I left my 12-year-old adopted daughter there with her temporary roommates and the mental health staff in the unit.
O God, as I stare at this window, please open a window for us or at least give us a glimmer of light. We are in a black hallway with no idea where there even are windows. We cannot do this again—this cycle of ER visits and hospitalizations—and we are at the end of our rope. We can’t bring this sweet girl home for the safety of everyone, but neither do we have any good solution of where to send her that will benefit her. We have tried the options available; they did not help the situation, and actually made things worse. We can’t send her back into that. God, You have a plan for this girl. She is Yours. Somehow there must be another solution. But what? God, please, PLEASE, open a window.
This is not new to our girl, the one we have loved and raised as our own since adopting her at birth. After all, she has been at this same mental health hospital five times in the past year. It’s the better of the several hospitals and residential program she has experienced. The PTSD from her 32-day stay at a previous hospital was so intense that it took lots of therapy to work through to where she can even sleep at night. My sweet 12-year-old. The ravages of mental health struggles and the lack of resources to effectively help have taken their toll. How can this be real? She is still a baby. Why?
Before I put the car in gear to drive away from the view of that window, I pick up my phone and pull up a song list. Suddenly the words and tune enveloping me become my theme song for the foreseeable future. “All my life You have been faithful; all my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God.”
Choking, sobbing, in a voice that is more of a desperate cry, those words come out of my chest over and over and over while navigating the nearly two hours back home. Yes, God, You have been faithful. You have been so, so good. All my life. I have breath—I will sing. I will sing of Your goodness. Because right now, that is all I can do. I can’t see ahead. I can’t plan. I can’t imagine dragging myself out of bed in the morning. But I will praise You because You are faithful. Peace washes over me, a realization that God has this and that somewhere, somehow, there is a plan. There will be answers.
No Judgment Zone
I pull up in front of home in the wee hours of the morning, exhausted from the long drive and all the emotion and sleeplessness of the past several days. There’s her bedroom window, dark and empty. She should be behind that window, not the one two hours away. A broken alarm sits on the windowsill. Inside the room are motion detectors and alarms on the door, too. The things we did to keep her safe from herself and us safe from her. Her poor brain . . . so unable to process everything going on in her mind.
I walk through the front door, thinking of how it should mean protection and family and happiness. Lately this door has swung open for a steady stream of therapists and social workers, friends and neighbors, coming to give some respite and help clean and cook, and yes, ambulance workers and police and even Child Protective Services. Our home has not even felt like our own lately. This door has been the one she has run out of multiple times, the last time disappearing into the foggy, rainy woods surrounding us and reappearing in a police car. Thank God she found a police officer and not someone who would take advantage of a runaway. I turn to our master bedroom door and sigh with the realization that for right now we don’t need to sleep with all the other kids in our room and our door locked. We can breathe a little. A little. We don’t know what the future brings, because a hospital cannot keep her forever. But for now we are thankful.
I find myself at a loss to describe to people what life has been like for our family. When people say they can’t imagine, I simply shake my head and tell them that it’s true, they can’t, and for that I am truly thankful. Really. No one should have to experience this. Normalcy is evasive. Oh, to just sleep, to play, to work, without drama or fear. It’s simply impossible unless she is safely behind locked doors in a facility. We try to go hiking or biking or have movie nights as often as possible to decompress with our three younger girls who have experienced so much trauma and confusion lately. But there is always the looming knowledge that soon we will all be back in 24-hour high alert mode.
Fear lurks . . . fear of judgment. After all, we are not only Christians but also a pastoral family. Aren’t mental health issues supposed to be things we can just pray away? Aren’t pastors’ families supposed to at least appear to have it together? Well, all facades are completely crumbled, and our family dynamics are stripped and naked for the criticism of all.
I know from both experience and friends’ stories how brutal churches can be. I flinch in proverbial fetal position, waiting for the judgment to descend. All that comes is love. Support. Child care. Bills pressed into our hands for gas. Food delivered multiple times a week to our front porch. My husband’s responsibilities covered by elders. The church calling special prayer sessions specifically for our family after every church service and during the week. The blows of criticism don’t come. My head lifts a little. I attend church, but sometimes am so paralyzed I can’t even make it out of the back hallway; but I am found and brought a plate of food, a cup of hot tea, and hugs. Oh, that everyone understood how much a hug helps. And those who let me sob until their shoulders are wet with tears—bless them, God! Those of us going through unbearably hard times just need to know we are seen, our stories are valid, and we are loved.
The little snippets I begin to share on social media, the thoughts here and there or the brief and quite generic updates, start to bring private messages. We are not alone! So many read between the lines and write to say they get it. They offer support or ask for prayer. Or advice. Or to ask permission to share what I wrote with a friend going through a similar situation. Oh, God, there are so many going through what we are going through. How is this possible? What stronghold does the enemy have with our young people? This is truly a crisis. And what is the solution? There are no answers except that He hurts so much too.
With every breath I will praise. My physical breath is literally short. My husband drives me to the hospital at top speed while on the phone with the ER. They meet us at the door and take me straight back. This has never happened to me before. I can barely breathe. I can’t move. My entire body is paralyzed from the neck down. I can think, I can speak, but this is scary! Every test over the next few hours shows I am OK, thank God. The doctor comes in and asks if I’m under any stress. Hubby and I look at each other, and the realization comes crashing upon us that it’s the one-year anniversary of us first taking our girl to the ER.
The memories are intense. We spent 19 days in that medical hospital, not allowed to take her home for safety reasons but also just waiting for placement at a psych hospital for her because so many other families are going through exactly what we are going through. After a year of her being in and out of ERs and hospitals and doing intense therapy sessions and having regular state-provided home interventions, my system crashes. It won’t be the only time I struggle to physically breathe. Once the pressure is off and she is safe, my body has just no way to know how to regulate itself. No longer having to be on high alert, suddenly the mini panic attacks strike. Weeks of waking up gasping for air, of heart palpitations, of emotions everywhere. Of bursting into tears in the most random of times and places. But God, I am breathing. And because I am breathing, I will praise You because You are faithful. All my life.
God, we still stand in a pitch-black hallway and need a window opened! We need at least a glimmer of light from somewhere, but really, we need a window flung wide open. We have no leads. Where can our daughter be safe and get real help? I have no idea, so I will praise. It is all I have, this praise thing. It’s all that brings peace. Praise defeats the enemy. It’s my only weapon against the indescribable depression that constantly seems to crouch at my feet. I fall on the floor begging for answers. I reach to the sky, as though clawing to physically feel God. I need answers. I need assurance. There are no answers. But there is assurance. Assurance that God has this under control. So I praise.
A Glimmer of Hope
Once again, I find myself in a car, looking out a window. This time the car window overlooks, not the austere brick of a mental health hospital, but sparkling blue waves lapping along the shore of a tropical island. My husband is next to the taxi driver in the front seat, and sharing the back seat with me is our sweet girl.
Through the most incredible turn of events, when we literally had no solutions, we were providentially led to a very specific Christian therapeutic boarding school that was everything we had prayed for and more. Her acceptance came so fast, passports acquired in a matter of days, more-than-adequate funds raised by friends (and strangers), and we found ourselves suddenly on board a plane to the Caribbean. It was all so sudden that it couldn’t be anything but God—could it? What if we just had everything fall together? What if? Is this really the right thing to have our girl so far away? God, are we on track here? The taxi driver reaches over to turn on the radio, and the first song to fill the silent space in the car triggers instant tears in my eyes. “All my life You have been faithful; all my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God.” My theme song! That song I have clung to every single day. That has run through my head hundreds or thousands of times. That has sometimes been the only prayer I could pray. O God, You did more than send a glimmer of hope. You flung a window wide open where we couldn’t even see a window. The years of healing ahead have hope. We inhale the fresh air and praise. If you have identified with our story and are still in the dark hallway yourself, please keep holding on. We are in a much better place than a few months ago, but we are still in the shadows as we work through the healing process. I still cry many tears and often ask God where the next window is. When those windows stay closed longer than you think you can bear, know that His goodness and faithfulness will be evident.
* Annaliese’s’ daughter is flourishing in the therapeutic program described above. If you would like more detailed information about the school, please contact the Adventist Review office.