My Origin Story

Recently, I was given an opportunity to tell how I came to faith in Christ. That’s kind of a tricky story…when you come from a family where there is mental illness and domestic violence, nothing is ever simple.

As a nine year old girl, I had the privilege of going to a church camp for a week. This was probably my first time away from home that long, and I was pretty quiet (some girls tried to block the cabin door and not let me back in saying “You know, people would like you better if you talked more…”). But the Bible study part and the singing part and the part where you got asked if you wanted to “give your life to Jesus” drew me right in. I thought maybe if I put Him in control of my life, I could go home and not fight with my brother and not yell back when I was yelled at and be “really really good” and then maybe my family would not be so angry all the time. Here’s a glimpse into a little girl’s world:

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jesus loves the little children?
Oh really? Yes, I see…
He must love the other children
(This don’t look like love to me!)

In the car, while Mom hits Dad
And we sit in the back
Afraid and sad
As we drive to the church
And park in a row
Where all those nice people
That Jesus loves go…

I think of the words
Those nice ladies say,
“You can get what you want
From God if you pray.”
So I pray, and I pray,
And I pray and I pray….
(But it never makes
The pain go away).

So sometimes I wonder
Why I am so bad
That Jesus can’t love me
And neither can Dad.

After camp, I went home filled with hope that things would be different. That lasted about two days, so I kind of decided God didn’t answer my prayers, that I wasn’t good enough, and gave up on faith. It’s normal for little kids to think everything is their fault, but that’s a lot for a little kid to try to sort out!

Our family still went to church every week, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Our new Sunday School teacher when I was 14 was a young mom with a big heart and a lot of enthusiasm. She kept telling us God loved us and that He had a plan for our lives and that faith was the only reasonable response. She seemed sincere, but it still all seemed like just words.

Then, three weeks after a friend of mine hung himself, her beautiful 18 month old daughter was killed in a tragic accident. I thought surely she would give up her hope and faith. I mean, how can anyone make it through that kind of loss and still believe God is good and kind and loving or even watching!?!?! But she did.

Seeing her still cling to God and not just give up was pretty powerful. One night we prayed together and I gave faith another chance. God answered this time. Hope began to sprout from all those seeds Sunday School teachers had planted in my heart, even when the ground was still pretty hard and dry.

I am very grateful.

Hand Lotion in the Afternoon

(My mother has been gone for three years now, but as mother’s day approaches tomorrow, I am reflecting on her strength at living her whole life with mental health challenges in a society and a time where those were often neither talked about nor treated effectively. One of the times she was hospitalized, a nurse explained to me that there was nothing we could have done that would have made it easier. She said it was a biochemical malfunction and she cycled between episodes too quickly and unpredictably for medication to have been effective. I will always be grateful to that nurse.)

Tired hands
Dry from weeks in a hospital
In a coma
Heavily medicated
Restrained…
Life and death fight for preeminence
Life wins
Her eyes open
As I am rubbing lotion on those hands….
Instead of words of assault, criticism or disgust
She speaks coherent words
Words of appreciation:
“for angels like me….”
She’s back, and she is aware
Wondering what happened
Wondering where she was for “all those years”
(in a coma six weeks but “gone” so long before that)…
A new stage in her life begins
One where, for brief periods
She does not fight the universe and all that’s in it
Brief periods where we talk
Only God knows why, for her
Normal was never an option
Grateful she came back
No matter how short the time.

Teresa Norman Nov 2019

Deer Song (Poem)

Frightened eyes, face with no name.
Hope buried ‘neath the guilt and the shame
Slipping through the darkness now
Wanting to change-not knowing how.

Little girl, now woman grown.
Her restless heart seeks for a home.
She screams so quietly deep inside.
No one can see the tears that she’s cried.

How long, oh God? When will it end?
Her desperate voice cries for a friend.
Will someone ever comprehend
The damage done by selfish men?

Headlights flash in her frightened eyes
As beneath the crushing wheels she dies.
Laid to rest on a country road-
In death she can finally lay down her load.

No more running from wolves that tear,
No more wondering why no one cares.
No more hiding and running scared.
At rest with Jesus, she’s finally there.

Her passing unnoticed, ‘xcept one bloody stain.
Her body for scavengers now feels no pain.
Her mind finally emptied of all of the fear.
So is the ending of the life of a deer.

Teresa Norman 1991

Genesis (Poem)

Here in the quiet
as I kneel beside my bed
Waiting for directions,
He calms the noises in my head
And with a heart of gratitude,
I give Him thanks again
Because He gave me a new beginning
when I thought I’d reached the end.

Genesis, a beginning
When I thought I’d lost it all-
Strength for the journey
(Even though sometimes I fall)
Feet on the pathway-
I don’t have to walk alone
Because the God who loves and care for me
Has given my heart a home…

The end was the beginning
Of a brand new way of living-
He gave me back the will to live again.
Now a Higher Power I cannot see
Reminds me that He cares for me
When I spend some time with the people of Genesis.
I see His love in the people of Genesis.

Teresa Norman 1992

Seasons of Change (Poem)

The scene is sparkling white, but icy cold.
The glacial grip of seemingly endless winter
Entraps the river of life that once flowed
Through the depths of my soul.

In other seasons,
It surged freely —
A life-giving torrent.
Now layer after layer of ice
Covers the frozen wasteland —
Its emptiness and desolation
Reminders of what’s in my heart.

The glowing sun tries vainly
To shed its life-giving rays
On the icy scene.
The shadow it casts gives an eerie feel
To the bleak expanse.
Then it sinks beneath the horizon,
Waiting for another chance.

Maybe next time the meager warmth
Will make the first crack in the ice
And signal the beginning of spring.
Maybe tomorrow the thaw will come.
Lord, why not today?

Sun of Righteousness,
Risen with healing in Your wings,
Shine on me…come quickly, Lord!
I stand in need of You!
Cause my icy heart to burst forth
In the song of new beginnings.
Repair my shattered hope!
Let Your Living Water
Flood my thirsty soul.
Turn the desolate scene
Into a picture of growth,
And bountiful fruitfulness.
Melt this silent, frozen, barren place in me.

Teresa Norman 1999

Fleeing from the Shadows

Little girl, hiding in the shadows
Listening to the terrors of the night
Pillow o’er her head–wishing she was dead
Praying that the darkness doesn’t win….

Half-grown girl, living in the shadows
Trying to be “good” (not knowing how)
Afraid of what it means–the way her life has been
Afraid that she can never be made clean…

Wife and mom, still fleeing from the shadows,
While silently inside she dies each day.
Half alive at best–feeling different from the rest
But not yet understanding what it means….

There is a Light that drives away the darkness
There is a Hope that rises like the dawn!
There is a God who loves you–even though He’s seen it all.
He’s there for you and longs to be your friend….
You can begin again…..to live.

(In honor of Aunt Eleanor, who suffered greatly and is now at peace)

A tribute to my mother (reposted poem)

You taught me the power of words-
You made me a poet.
You taught me compassion-
To see and to love those who are in pain.
You taught me to value diversity-
Helped me understand how it felt to be different.
You taught me the value of community-
Helped me learn to notice the lonely and left out.
You taught me to love mercy-
To treat people how I wanted to be treated.
You taught me to love my children-
To value who God made them as individuals.
You taught me to listen with my heart-
To hear the wounds of others that were hard to express.
You taught me that you don’t always
Get to choose how the lessons come
But to keep my heart open to God
And try not to miss them.
You taught me to value humility-
And to seek to do justice.
You helped me learn to look for the “jewels in the ashes”
and light in the darkest of places.

 

(Today or tomorrow may be her last day….she was exhausted, sick and in pain this afternoon but knew we were there).  The call where I was asked to confirm it was OK to give her morphine, avatar and just keep her comfortable and let her failing heart fail came today……praying you find peace, Mom.

Afterflash (a poem)

No longer helpless, unloved or alone—
A woman with choices.
Redeemed to the bone.
I’ve come through the fire-
Felt the heat of the flame.
But I am God’s daughter,
Called by His holy name.

Empowered by His Spirit
By grace I can stand,
My face towards the future
Fulfilling His plan.
A channel of mercy,
A bearer of light
Redeemed by His goodness-
I will not fear the night.

The God of creation
Walks each day by my side.
I will trust in His mercy-
There is nothing to hide.
Though chaos surround me
And angry winds roar
I am safe, I am strengthened
For He is my Lord.

The Lamb is a Lion,
The servant, a King.
He is my shelter.
Of His grace I will sing.
He will lead me and guide me-
I have nothing to fear.
Jesus is victor.
He loves me…He’s here!

5/21/93

What I Know (ramblings)

While my currently reconfigured life seems to require a crash course education in dealing with dementia after dark with grace, faith, and gentleness, it’s not something I was ever really prepared for.  In stressed out times, I usually revert to some basics learned a long time ago….

1.  A lot of theology, people have argued about for centuries.  Do I care?  No.  There is enough of the simple things I do understand to keep me busy the rest of my life figuring out how to one day at a time love God, my family, my parents, my coworkers, and my friends/enemies/peripheral encounters.  Keep it simple. 

2.  While some people may be inspired by the beauty God created in rocks, mountains, trees, sunsets (and I love those things too), or the magnificent oratory in a good sermon, the applied grace of God that gets through my anxiety/depression/exhaustion/attitudes/questioning usually comes in a song.  Songs change me.  My soul meditates on them and it washes my brain.  I can remember scripture portrayed in a song better than 95% of a lifetime of sermons I’ve heard.  The song that has sustained me this week is on “Year of Grace” by Robin Mark, written by Johnny Parks and Claire Hamilton (check out the album…..every song on it is fantastic!!!!

“All Is Well…..He lowers us to raise us so we can sing His priases.  Whatever is His way all is well.  He makes us rich and poor that we might trust Him More.  Whatever is His way all is well.  All my changes come from Him-He who never changes.  I’m held firm in the grasp of the Rock of ages.  All is well with my soul.  He is God in control.  I know not all His plans, but I know I’m in His hands.  He clothes us now then strips us, yet with His Word equips us.  Whatever is His way all is well.  And though our seasons change, we will exalt His name.  Whatever is His way, all is well. ”

A wise friend once said, “What you magnify gets bigger-let’s magnify Jesus.”

That’s the goal.  That’s the perspective.  That’s the anchor.  Nothing else is gonna make it happen.

The Things You Learn By Listening (ramblings)

Well, it’s been almost two months since we started a new stage of life (one that includes having my 85 year old father living with us)….I am incredibly grateful to have married a man with a large enough heart and enough personal integrity to love those who need it.  He is my example.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride (including an ER visit, a visit to a small country church a lot like Dad’s old church,a couple of holidays with four generations present, lots of paperwork, some bad news, and a little good news-God bless the social worker who did what she said she would!).

Dad’s a good story teller.  If you ask the right question (and are prepared to sit and listen for a while after breakfast), you can hear “the rest of the story….” the stuff that makes parts of family history make sense.  I never knew one uncle was a medic in World War II (giving shots of morphine to guys who were dying and picking up the remains of those it was too late for). Makes him make a lot more sense now…. I knew Grandma had lived with us for a while, but I didn’t remember being a little girl sneaking out of my toddler bed and going to snuggle with her in the middle of the night in the little room off the living room.  I just knew she was always a nice, kind, loving person even to people who were sometimes pretty awful.

In the days when Dad was young, the options were different for family members who had mental illnesses (or angered the wrong person and were sent away).  Counselling, medication, understanding, love and acceptance don’t seem like they were readily available in that cultural/chronological/familial/theological context.  That sucks!  I proudly wear the wedding ring of the black sheep of the family….never knew she was actually one of the “Rosie the Riveter” ladies….the stories I had heard about her before were of the “other” kind.

Sounds like Dad’s dad was a good farmer.  Hard working, God-fearing, German immigrant…wished he had settled on the other side of the mountains where there were mile after mile of prospering farms instead of 10 acres of rocks on Whidbey Island.

I have a lot to learn about loving, listening, caring….appears a lot of opportunities have landed in my newly configured life.  I pray, with God’s help, that I get it right.

God Better Be in Control or I’m in Trouble!

I’ve always been drawn to the passage in Isaiah 58 that is copied below:

 “… this is the kind of fasting I want:
   Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
      lighten the burden of those who work for you.
   Let the oppressed go free,
      and remove the chains that bind people.
 7 Share your food with the hungry,
      and give shelter to the homeless.
   Give clothes to those who need them,
      and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

 8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
      and your wounds will quickly heal.
   Your godliness will lead you forward,
      and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
 9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
      ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

   “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
      Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
 10 Feed the hungry,
      and help those in trouble.
   Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
      and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
 11 The Lord will guide you continually,
      giving you water when you are dry
      and restoring your strength.
   You will be like a well-watered garden,
      like an ever-flowing spring.
 12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
      Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
      and a restorer of homes….”

And I’ve always thought it very wise of God to put in that line about “not hiding from relatives that need your help.”  The path ahead of me has some new “opportunities” to practice what I preach and treat other people (difficult relatives) the way I would want to be treated (even though I am the family “black sheep”) .  In the end, this will be a blessing.  Right now it just looks hard.

It looks hard to tell my father he is going to have to leave my mother and the comforts he has known in the past several years and move off of his beloved Whidbey Island and into our house in Lynnwood.  He never wanted to live in the city.  He knows no one here except us.  This sucks.  The next couple of weeks look really difficult for Mom, him and the rest of us.  Work today is paid mood altering (going and spending 8 hours doing something I have some control over!)….

God is in control.  My head knows that, my heart will catch up.  Grateful for grace yet to be revealed….but still a little bit afraid.

Betrayal and Job’s Friends (poem)

One of my favorite relatives sent me a message last night that it was her cousin whose ex-husband  killed her at a church in Federal Way this week.  A mom with three little kids….a big loving extended family in SO much pain….what can you say?

If one of the lessons in the Book of Job means anything, it might best to not say too much.  Not think there is an answer to why, or what it means, or how this could happen.   Job’s friends came to “comfort” him and ended up making him feel worse.  They talked too much.  Said things they had no right to say.  In the end of the story, God toasted them for misrepresenting His heart.  The only time they really did Job any good was when they sat in the ashes with him as he grieved.  There is a lesson there about presumption and talking way too much….there is a time to talk and a time to listen.

Years ago, I was present at court while a young friend told of her step-dad’s crimes against her humanity. Going home from that experience, I was struck silent by the depth of his betrayal of her and of her mother.  As a person of faith, I wanted to encourage, but words seemed so USELESS!  This poem was the result…..

The Betrayal

The night is dark and stormy
There’s a cold wind in my soul
Seems like I’ve been torn apart
And never will be whole.

The suffocating weight that rests
Upon my broken heart
Holds me in my silence–
Lord, when will the healing start?

I cast about in frantic hope
That there might somehow be
Someone who can reach out
To break these chains and set me free.

But who can know the torment?
Who can really comprehend
Unless they too have been betrayed
By lover or by friend?

As I cower in desperation
And in fear of what shall be,
A picture comes to mind
I know that You have given me…

I see you hanging on a cross
In agony betrayed,
Naked, torn and bleeding
So from sin we can be saved.

The one who lived and walked with You,
With whom You shared Your soul
Was the person who betrayed You—
All my agony You know!

©Teresa Norman 1988

Daffodils and Uncle David

Easter always reminds me of daffodils.  Daffodils always remind me of Uncle David. When I was about 4 or 5, Uncle David gave me a beautiful book of poetry (it had daffodils on the front and lots of pictures of beautiful flowers).  I was trying to learn to read at that point, sitting on the couch, when I asked my Mom, “What is d-o-g spelled backwards?”  She told me that was God.  I knew this was significant.

It’s even more significant that Uncle David is thus directly tied in my little kid brain to finding out about God.  Uncle David was not on everyone’s A list.  He was, in the terms of the day, “slow” or “different” (not dumb, just not quite functioning at the mental complexity his particular decade and community preferred.  He had gotten in some pretty awful spots when someone misunderstood his assessment of different situations (think “padded room”).  Uncle David spent a good part of his later life shuttled off to a halfway house on Capital Hill in Seattle.  Some of the relatives breathed a sigh of relief, and except for coming to the island to pick blackberries and thimbleberries and huckleberries once a year so I could make him a pie, we didn’t see much of him for quite a while.

Uncle David died quietly at home.  A funeral was planned for our little community, with some folks figuring immediate family would be the only ones who showed up.  Boy, were we surprised!  From David’s delightfully diverse community, carloads of people came to our small town and filled the funeral home.  After the formal part of the service was over, someone from the back spoke up and said, “We would like to say something…..”  The minister let her come to the microphone.  One by one, a parade of people came forward to speak about how David’s simple ability to love and encourage those around him, to do practical things, to serve, to help in any way he could had blessed their lives over and over again.  We sat their dumbfounded, humbled and incredibly grateful for the profound lesson unfolding in front of us. God, in typical fashion, chose the humble of the world to teach us that his ways aren’t our ways.  That we had missed the point entirely by talking more than we listened.  That there had been much to learn from a humble man with no guile who sought to love his community.  I am grateful each Easter, especially, as I think of the lessons Uncle David gave me on living in the grace of God.

The Many Voices and Choices of Christmas

Christmas brings up a lot of stuff for me this year.  We have three wonderful adult children, a brand new healthy grandson, and some Buddhist friends (a dad and two young daughters) who will be spending their first Christmas here in America.  What should I be trying to communicate to each of them as someone who loves them? How do I explain to our Buddhist friends that the American Christmas craziness doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the baby in the manger, but that the baby and the manger are really really important?

 Memories of Christmas past play in my head….my brother and I under a Christmas tree gleefully getting a bunch of stuff we may or may not need/want or use but that Mom was really excited about.  Christmas shopping leading to outbreaks of violence, name calling, threats and adult temper tantrums, robbing some of the joy from the gifts we received which seemed so grudgingly given. 

As a little kid, one of the best parts was always the Christmas program at our church.  Little old ladies dressing up us kids in weird nativity costumes to stand around a little manger and sing and recite poems about the little baby Jesus….That was always good.  The truth that Jesus came to a poor, seemingly unimportant family (not just important people), in a country where life was hard and that God was there even in less than ideal circumstances.  God noticed the oppression of His people and sent a deliverer ‘cause life was meant to be different and peace on earth was part of the plan, even if it wasn’t yet a daily reality in the lives of His people.

As a grownup and a mother, Christmas didn’t become magic to me until the year my husband’s mother passed on some of her Christmas ornaments to us.  I had no idea what the treasured strings of gold beads, some red velvet bows, and some ornaments that (part of a family’s rich history) could do to bring such joy to a little (really little) wood-warmed cabin in the woods and to three little kids watching the “twinkles”  in their daddy’s eyes when he looked at the tree and told stories.  He told us about his Christmases as a boy at his aunt’s huge house playing with her five sons and all the other extended family; about putting olives on all his fingers and making the grownups laugh.  It was like life on a different planet.  The “twinkles” in his eyes helped the magic spread to my hearts too. 

My friend, Mac, taught me years ago that one way to redeem (buy back)the memories of the holiday season was to do something nice for someone else that you WANTED to do things for–not just the ones you HAD TO do for.  That trick has always helped.  This year it meant giving a gift to Heal Africa and One 4 One  (folks that hang out with their non-housed friends in Nickelsville). 

The cute little grandson and his parents are going to Montana to totally surprise the other grandma and grandpa.  It should be pretty awesome.  I get to rejoice in how blessed I am that they live within a one hour drive from us, and in how excited his Grandma Norma is going to be!  I’ll miss them, but thinking of the joy they are spreading there makes me very happy too.

For our Buddhist friends, I’m letting those who have a better grip on Christmas cheer (and a more positive attitude) do most of the explaining and just taking them a couple of small gifts.  Open to conversation, but not sure how to proceed…. What I most hope to communicate is how thankful I am for the gift of their friendship, while each day I pray that the amazing love of God revealed in Jesus will become part of their life.  That they will come to know, as I have, that life is not a random accident, but that He has a plan for each of us.  May His kingdom come and His will be done.  Peace on earth.

A tribute to my Mom (poem)

You taught me the power of words-
You made me a poet.
You taught me compassion-
To see and to love those who are in pain.
You taught me to value diversity-
Helped me understand how it felt to be different.
You taught me the value of community-
Helped me learn to notice the lonely and left out.
You taught me to love mercy-
To treat people how I wanted to be treated.
You taught me to love my children-
To value who God made them as individuals.
You taught me to listen with my heart-
To hear the wounds of others that were hard to express.
You taught me that you don’t always
Get to choose how the lessons come
But to keep my heart open to God
And try not to miss them.
You taught me to value humility-
And to seek to do justice.
You helped me learn to look for the “jewels in the ashes”
and light in the darkest of places.

Today, I am grateful you’re still with us.
Out of CCU, still on the journey.
I love you, Mom.