Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why I KNOW My Family Will Get A Miracle This Year!

"Miracle Sunday".... how do those two words resonate with you?  Do you immediately transform into an overly-educated skeptic or a full out dreamer filled with hope?  Do the words peek your curiosity?  OR do you pity the fools who would buy into such nonsense?  

Now, to make this more interesting, for a moment, imagine what it would be like to KNOW you can show up at a given place and time to receive a real life miracle.  Anything you ask, let's say, would be given to you as long as you publicly voice your wish and then dare to believe you will receive it.   

North Cleveland Church of God began announcing their Miracle Sunday service several weeks before Christmas; the official date was set for the morning of January 25, 2015.  The first time we heard about the event,  Lydia and I instinctively grasped one another's hands tight.  We'd never heard of Miracle Sunday before, and we were totally IN!  So, in response, we began counting down the days.  And talking about it.  A lot.  Three specific things were on our list:  

1.  Hope and Charlie to begin speaking words
2.  Natalie to be set free from Reactive Attachment Disorder
3.  Hope's heart to continue to function normally

The build up was nothing short of incredible; honestly, our excitement became nearly tangible.  Electrifying.  Nothing would stand in our way of receiving a miracle.  Or so we thought.







Mid-day on Saturday, less than 24 hours before Miracle Sunday, we received a text message from the special needs class leader who teaches Hope and Charlie each week while we are in the worship service.  She was sick.  UGH!  And wasn't going to be at church.  I read the text out loud to Lydia, just before bawling like a big baby.  We tried to find a babysitter, but with such short notice, couldn't make it work.  It seemed like Miracle Sunday was out of reach, but unwilling to give up hope, I came up with an idea.  

The pastor of North Cleveland Church of God lives near us, so I wrote a letter to him, explaining our situation.  I ended the note by stating the three miracles we are believing and faithing for, adding our offering, and then asked him to lay it on the altar for us in our absence.  Caleb and Lydia insisted that they be the ones to deliver my words to the pastor's door.  How awesome is that?  This had officially become a top priority for each one of us.

Now, this came with a bit of risk.  Pastor Maloney could've peered through the peephole in his door, and upon seeing two teens who were total strangers to him....refused to answer.  Or, hiding behind a wall, he could've pretended to not be home.  But that is not what happened.  Far from it.  The pastor swung his door wide open and welcomed my children into his home with open arms.  He read my note, talked with Caleb and Lydia, prayed with them, and then his wife got on the phone and found a qualified person to lead the special needs class so we could place our miracles on the altar.  So we could be there, in person, for Miracle Sunday.  And let me tell you, even an army of one thousand angry baboons armed with baseball bats couldn't have held us back.  They might have broken a few bones, probably ALL of mine since Caleb and Lydia can both outrun me, but nothing could've broken our spirit (hahaha!) You get the picture.

At the beginning of this post, I asked you to imagine a scenario where you could be guaranteed a miracle.  A guarantee is a powerful thing to possess, isn't it?  Well, that is the opportunity I believe my family was given when Pastor Maloney swung that door wide open.  I wonder if he realized how pivotal his role would be?  But isn't life that way?  One person's faith begets another...and another...and another.  It must be amazing from heaven's point of view.  Can you see the angels looking over my shoulder as I wrote the note?  hear them cheering on Lydia and Caleb as they marched up to that door?  and then jumping up and down and shouting 'Hallelujah' as Pastor Maloney went to his door to answer?  I can see it.  But the culmination had to be when the pastor's arms were open to embrace Caleb and Lydia.  In that moment, the Lord Himself opened his arms to them....to my family....and said: "Yes, come on in and let's get started on that miracle business."  It sounds nuts, right?  But as crazy as it may seem, I believe God is ready to do something extravagant in my family this year.  That He is ready to astonish us with how wide and how long....how high and how deep....His love is for us.

This past Sunday morning, we took our requests to church and sealed our faith with God.  It wasn't a bargain...a deal...a gamble...or a trade.  We weren't naming it and claiming it...or blabbing it and grabbing it.  Placing that card on the altar, with our miracles listed, was simply an act illustrating that we were willing to dare to accept the gift offered to us by the Almighty....the Creator....the One who holds my family in His hands and Who cares for us each and every day as we trust Him.  He's gotten us this far, so why not trust Him for more?  For nothing, absolutely nothing, is impossible with God!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Hope and me seated on the floor, just outside the sanctuary at Broadstreet United Methodist Church

It came in the mail, a rather ordinary invitation probably sent to the entire city.  A mass mailer.  Those things we all hate.  The 5 X 7 card said my family was invited to attend the Christmas Eve service at Broadstreet United Methodist Church.  My perfectly imperfect family invited to what would be a perfect Christmas Eve service, one that had probably been planned and rehearsed for weeks.  I read it aloud to Lydia and actually smirked when I said:  "Oh, OUR family is definitely not invited!"  Then I tossed it in the garbage. 

The entire week, I thought about that invitation.  I couldn't get it out of my mind.  'Were we really invited?' I wondered.  Would they accept two non-verbal kiddos who make lots of random (sometimes loud) noises?  Would they show grace and mercy to a couple of little ones who are unable to sit still?  There was only one way to find out.  

We arrived at 10:45pm.  

While unloading Hope and Charlie from the car, a homeless man approached us with his arms raised, "May I approach you, Ma'am?"  I honestly didn't have any cash to give him, but I told him we were going to the church on the corner and asked if he was planning to attend.  He said something I couldn't understand and shook his head.  In response, Hope melted, likely feeling unsure about the stranger, so I ended up hauling all 50+ pounds of her down the sidewalk, up the steps, and into the church.  
'Is our family invited?'

We made our way up into the balcony (uhhhm, yes, I was still carrying Hope) and onto the back row.  Why they began the evening with a trumpet solo, I cannot fathom.  But they did.   Charlie, to everyone's surprise, immediately began to mimic the sound....and was actually louder and more shrill than the trumpeter.  After being seated for all of two or three minutes, we quickly rose to our feet, scooted at maximum speed out of the balcony with horn baby in tow, and made our way back down the steps.  
'Is our family invited?'

We decided to have a seat in the floor, just outside one of the doors leading into the sanctuary.  We literally plopped right onto the floor.  All was going fairly well, too, until the homeless guy waltzed in and made a bee line straight for us.  I still couldn't understand anything he said, only something about "the children", but he seemed nice enough.  And Hopey began making giggling noises at him.  One of the church workers eventually came and offered the man a seat in the church.  And after getting him situated, the worker returned to us, bent down on the floor, and spoke to both Hope and Charlie.  The kindness in his voice caused me to well up and nearly bawl.  
'Our family is invited.'

The message centered around the shepherds who were the first to get news about the newborn King of Kings.  They were considered the lowest of the low in that time, the poorest of the poor.  My mind immediately went to the homeless man.  The shepherds were probably a lot like him.  Sleeping outside must have made them dirty.  I bet their hair was wiry and clothes tattered.  The homeless man was seated in a pew in that church just like everyone else.  He may of been seated next to someone accomplished, well educated, or wealthy.  It didn't matter.  He was listening to the message of Good News.  The BEST news.  The news that was and is for ALL people.  
'The homeless man is invited.'

The evening ended with communion.  An usher, not forgetting us, brought communion to us....in the floor.  He didn't act like it was odd that everyone else in the church was seated in either a pew or a chair.  Honestly, he didn't seem to notice.  Following communion, candles were lit and the moment we'd all come for began.  It was finally midnight; the chimes tolled twelve times.  Christmas had officially arrived.  We gathered our two special ones and took them into the sanctuary to be engulfed by the worship of the One who came to earth so OUR family could be invited....so the homeless man could be invited....so we ALL could be invited.

Hope couldn't contain her joy.  Her arms flapped wildly as a smile took over her entire face.  "This is for you,"  I whispered in her ear, having a difficult time containing my own delight, "Jesus came and did all of this for you."

Maybe you found an invitation in your mailbox this holiday season just like I did.  Or maybe you didn't.  The true invitation is an open one that doesn't come in the form of a 5 X 7 card, but instead, comes wrapped in swaddling cloths as a baby.  God came to earth to change the world; He came because of His absolute boundless love for you!  
YOU are invited!

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 5, 2014

The Magic That Makes Christmas....Well, Christmas

We were victims of a three car bump up on the way to the Christmas Tree lighting festivities last night.  Lydia, Hope, Charlie, and I were only twelve minutes away from our destination, sitting at a stop light sharing what was left of two large orders of Chic-Fil-A waffle fries, when we felt the impact.  A car hit another car that finally hit us.  The cops came, traffic was backed up, and people were honking horns and waving fingers at us.  It wasn't pretty.  But thirty very long minutes later, we arrived on Broad Street to see the 45 foot live tree, planted back in 1960 in front of what used to be the old post office, already lit.  Standing tall and majestic.  Waiting for us.  We were twenty minutes late for the evening's festivities, but we made it.  



Noticing a very large group of people moving as one down the street, away from St. Luke's Episcopal Church, I darted off to join them, calling for Lydia to follow.  

"Where are they going?"  Lydia screeched, pushing Charlie in his stroller as I forged on ahead with Hopey.

What a crazy question.  Was it not obvious we did not have time to worry about details?  Couldn't the kid see the throng of strangers moving away from us at a fairly fast clip of speed, likely headed toward something joyful?  "I don't know where they're going,"  I pronounced, now pushing Hopey in her handicap stroller like a woman gone mad, my long black sweater flying behind me, "just hurry up and stay with me!" 

She was panting rather loudly, trying to keep up:  "Why are we running after them if we don't know where they're going?"  

"Lord, normal teenagers like to follow the crowd, right?"  For a split second I began to wonder why I was left to raise the one rebel.  "Listen, you should be thanking me for helping you burn those Chic-Fil-A waffle fries." 

"You look like Batman with a long cape,"  she snarked, trying to be funny.  It wasn't funny.  Bat woman might have been funny, but not Batman.        

How appropriate it was that we all stopped in front of what used to be my church, the former First Baptist Church building.  A quartet of men came out on the front porch to lead us in carols, and within seconds, the outdoor scene became a pseudo worship service as a mish-mashed group wondrously became one through familiar song.  "Joy To The World", "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", and "Away In A Manger" rang out through the voices of both the young and old, the rich and poor, the abled and disabled.  Then it happened.  Magic.  The Christmas magic we all anticipate each year.  The magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.     



The tempo slowed and voices softened from that of a roaring wind to the gentlest breeze, permeating the night air with the song of all songs.  However, what began as a delicate revering of the One for whom the song was written, crescendoed, without warning, into harmonies, growing louder and more powerful as each phrase of "Silent Night" was articulated....yes, what was initially a simple melody serenaded to the baby in a manger burst forth and erupted into the praise and celebration of Who that baby was.   Husbands, in response, reached for the hand of their wives, parents bent down and squeezed their children, and nearly everyone wiped a tear or two.   



Hope and Charlie are nine and six and still very much non-verbal.  Even though they couldn't physically sing last night, their spirits were rejoicing in song on a level beyond what my mind can imagine.  I felt it when they reached for me, hugging me and kissing me over and over again, smiles covering their faces, uninhibited love spilling out, covering me.  No words needed.  The Love of Christ.



You've experienced it too.  It's what keeps us all pressing forward even when times are so tough, we don't know where our next breath is going to come from.  It's what picks us up and dusts us off when we've been kicked down.  It's the filler for those empty spaces left by loved ones who have gone before us, the glue in families who are living far a part, a certain peace that settles in the midst of chaos, and the flicker of light shining in the face of darkness.  It's the baby in the manger, the cross on the hill, and the empty tomb.  And it sneaks up on us and finds us in the most unexpected places.  Last night, after a three car bump up, it found me in Cleveland, TN.



As you hurry and scurry about during the next days preparing for Christmas morning, my wish for you is that you find the magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Chubby fingers and teensy toes.
Angelic eyes above a turned up nose.
No words you speak....no songs you sing;
Yet perfect joy, to me, you bring.


Oceans of salt and grains of sand.
Become treasure in your little hand.

Your wonder is not lost on me;
Never-ending innocence, like the waves of the sea.
Funny faces and a playful whim;
The world to you is a jungle gym.


A mischievous grin...Seldom shedding a tear;
Each moment a play ground,
You know no fear!

You right my wrongs in so many ways;
Now Thanksgiving is a
gift that comes every day!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

HOW THE SHARK TANK SAVED MY DAUGHTER FROM FAT CAT BOYS:


Several months ago, my daughter, Lydia, had a friend over to spend the night.  Harmless, right? Well, think again.  When that girl left, I was asked the following question:

"Am I going to have to get married when I turn nineteen or twenty so some guy can support me?"

After feeling of her head to make sure she wasn't experiencing a raging fever and then dousing my own face with a handful of cold water from the tap at the kitchen sink, I quickly learned that Lydia's teenage friend is being taught that a woman's place is to find a husband....with cash-ola.  As a mother of both boys and girls, I can tell you, this revelation nearly gave me the dry heaves.  Let's be clear on the subject.  I don't want my son marrying a girl who has been out treasure hunting for a guy who'll support her, and absolutely will not stand idly by while my daughter goes out scouting for a big bank account.

After making her best attempt to drag me off of my soap box, she continued:  

"But I have Dyslexia which will make college a near impossibility, and let's face it, all I'm really good at is music." Obviously her "friend" had driven the point home to her.  And a mighty sharp point it was.

You see, being from Nashville, the term "all I'm really good at is music" is like the death knell, and although only sixteen, Lydia knows it's true.  There are more starving musicians playing in open mic bars around this city than you can shake a stick at. Literally, some folks around here have been known to pay the bar owner for a space on stage when only a handful of regulars are expected to show up. Truth was, I couldn't let my baby girl think for one more moment that she had to find some fat cat boy to take care of her.  And more important than that, it would be over my dead body that she'd still be singing "Delta Dawn, What's That Flower You've Got On" from a small stage in Leipers Fork at the age of forty two.  So, like all truly southern girls who have been raised on cornbread, pinto beans, and a healthy dose of redneck moxie, I decided to solve the problem. I gathered myself and spoke up:

"Lydia, I'm sorry, but your friend doesn't have the good sense God gave a goose.  The fact that you are so good at music means you are creative, so do you know what we're going to do? We're going to invent something totally new. And we're going to do it right now."

Fortunately for me, Chappy, my own fat cat (what can I say? I don't always lead by example), was out of town with Caleb on a college visit, so that day it was just Lydia, Hope, Charlie, and me.  She had no choice but to indulge me and my brand new dream. We sat around for hours cookin' up things we could get into when we finally thought up the Bowtie Backslider.


"Now, honey,"  I told her, "this project can be your husband.  If you'll really nurture the Bowtie Backslider, it will buy you a car, send you on trips around the world, and even give you a big old comfy house to sleep in.  And the best part is, it won't ever talk back to you, tell you 'no', or ask you to go parading around the bedroom wearing high heels and a tiny nightie."  Her face was still showing a bit of skepticism, so I was forced to pull out the big guns:  "And plus, we could try to pitch it to the Shark Tank."

With that, the girl was sold.  Praise the Lord she is such a huge fan of Mark Cuban, Mr. Wonderful, and Lori Greiner.  Thanks to them, I won't be planning a wedding anytime soon!

On July 24th we will be traveling to Greenville, North Carolina to audition for The Shark Tank with our Bowtie Backsliders, and you can bet we will use every bit of charm we can muster to lure those highfalutin TV producers in to bite on our new business venture.  Until then, we'd sure appreciate it if you'd check out our new website and help us pass the word along:
CLICK HERE TO VISIT www.bowtiebacksliders.com  

TENNESSEE AND BAMA BOWTIE BACKSLIDERS
And just one more thing for that friend of Lydia's: You've got a mind, so you don't need a man.  
Marry for love, because you want to,
Not for money, because you have to! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Homewrecker"

I am thrilled to announce that my first novel, "Homewrecker", is available for purchase by clicking here for a physical copy:  Purchase "Homewrecker"

And here for a Kindle version:  Order via Kindle 

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

"Many have already found a place in their hearts for the southern sweethearts, Mary and Philip Montgomery, but change is coming, threatening to destroy all they hold dear.  Miss Charity, their youngest child who has Down syndrome, faces possible health issues, while their oldest, Wills, tests boundaries related to drugs, sex, and alcohol. Meanwhile, Mary's hilarious mother, who is known for being quite a busy body, doesn't disappoint as she guides the family her way, whether they like it or not.

Featuring a lovable cast of characters most everyone can relate to, "Homewrecker" will have you laughing and crying, angry and rejoicing, and willing to fight for love above all else.  This is the first book of the Loyalty Lock Series, which denotes the common denominator all successful families share....Locking Loyalty for the long haul!"

During the next month, ALL proceeds from book sales will go to benefit 15 year old Hunter Garstin, who was left paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury in December when wrestling for a local high school team. This precious family is in need of support to get Hunter all the therapy and equipment he needs to walk again.  Here is a picture of him with Hopey and Charlie:



(To all those who asked for a book back in March, you should receive your copies in the next couple of weeks.  If you don't, email me @ melaniekhollis@gmail.com) 

  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reactive Attachment Disorder (Part Two)


When crisis mode hit in our house, it looked like a nervous break down.  I've heard the term "nervous break down" my whole life:

 "After your great grandmother lost her son and husband to unexpected heart attacks, she had a nervous break down and was never the same again" 

"If you're not careful, you're gonna have a nervous break down" 

and my favorite:  "You are so wound up, if you don't calm down, you're going to cause me to have a nervous break down".  

The term was bantered around in my upbringing as often as sweet tea was served at the dinner table....and for those who are not from the south, that is a whole lot!  I often wondered what a nervous break down was.  Did my great grandmother actually mentally break and fall to the ground?  I wasn't sure, but I knew I didn't want to have one or to see one because it sounded like a horrible thing.   

Natalie had her break down in November of 2012.  I recognized it when it happened, and it scared me half to death.  It was in our great room, in front of our fireplace, and she did literally drop to the ground.  She then pounded the floor with her fists over and over and over again while screaming:  "Please, get me some help!  I need help or I'm going to kill myself!  Why won't anyone listen to me?  Can't you see I need help?"  

I knelt by my daughter's side and tried to talk to her, but she wouldn't respond.  And when I touched her, trying to pull her to me, she didn't seem to have the ability to realize I was near her, trying to help her.  Natalie's body was stiff and wouldn't be moved, and her face was red, covered in snot and tears, as she pounded the floor with her fists, screaming with an other-worldly guttural sound I had never heard before.  Lydia, my other teenage daughter, was in the room as well, and she began to scream out in a frenzy:  "Help her mom, do something....help her!"  And all I could think to ask her was: "Lydia, oh God, what do I do?"  I was in a panic too. 

I finally gathered enough composure to think of dialing an emergency number; they immediately re-routed my call to a mental hospital in town where I was asked a series of questions.  For the record, on a side note, I was unaware at the time that we had mental hospitals in the Nashville area.  It is odd to me now to consider that I had never given mental health any thought at all until that day.  During the entire phone call, which lasted for around fifteen minutes, Natalie never stopped screaming or hitting the floor. The person on the other end of the phone call seemed unfazed by it.  Lydia, by this time, had taken her two younger siblings into a bedroom and locked the door to keep them from the scene.  

"Bring her here and we'll admit her," the female who answered the call calmly instructed.  

Meanwhile, my mind raced:  "Admission.... into a mental hospital?  Do you really think that's necessary?" 

She continued:  "Bring a few changes of clothes for her to stay for several days.  She may even need to be here for a few weeks."  

"Oh, no, that won't be necessary,"  I remember telling her while my daughter was wailing in the background, "maybe a doctor can just meet with us and get this all straightened out pretty fast."  

I was such an air brain, wasn't I?  Laughably ignorant.  The red flag was waving in my face, but I still didn't want to see it.

"Mrs. Hollis, you've just given me the details of every member of your family, correct?"  the woman asked firmly.  I detected a hint of an attitude in her voice.

"Yes,"  I answered, feeling like the elementary school girl who had just been caught with gum in her mouth.  Was I in trouble with this woman, or what?

"When you mentioned your daughter Hope and her heart condition, you said she has gone through multiple surgeries, life saving surgeries, is that correct?"  

Yes, the lady on the other end of the line was becoming notably more agitated with me. And the entire time, Natalie's screams were simultaneously getting louder.  

"That's right, Hope has had three open heart surgeries and still has an aneurysm in her heart,"  I managed.

"So, you are willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to save Hope's life, but not Natalie's.  Why is that?"  she asked.

Literally, I felt my heart sink to my feet.  After hanging up the phone, I called my husband and told him where to meet me, and a few short hours later, Natalie, my daughter, was introduced to the mental health care system.  And so was I.

When we first walked up to the electric doors, I expected them to open.  We do it all the time, right?  When entering a grocery store, Walmart, or Target, the doors automatically open.  But not here.  To my left I found a call button and pushed it:

"I'm here with my daughter, Natalie.  I think you are expecting us?"  

No answer.  I heard a buzz, and the door opened.  After an hour of questions with an intake nurse, Natalie and I were taken upstairs to the youth unit where we were surrounded by teenage boys and girls.  The doors were bolted behind us when we entered.  

The teenagers looked so normal.  Oddly normal.  They acted like friends, laughing and talking to one another, which took me off guard.  I don't know what I expected....I'm sure I didn't expect for there to be so many in number, but I also didn't expect them to appear so happy and well-adjusted in a mental hospital.  "Hello?"  I thought, "you guys do know you are in a psyche ward, don't you?"  

We were welcomed by a nurse who took us into another room to ask yet one more round of questions.  At one point, I told her:  "It's crazy how happy all these kids seem around here,"  and quickly followed my remark with:  "Oh, I shouldn't have used the word 'crazy' in a mental hospital, I am so sorry for being inconsiderate.  I'm going to have to get used to not using that word so much, because I use it all the time....."  and I rambled on nervously until she finally interrupted:  "It's OK, really, it is."  To this day, I am careful about how I use that word.

After the second round of questioning, we were ushered into a private bathroom where Natalie was made to remove her clothing so cuts and abrasions could be noted in a folder.  She was told her body would be checked on a regular basis.  

"Is that really necessary?"  I asked.  "Isn't that embarrassing for these young girls?"

"She's in a hospital, and it's for her own protection,"  the nurse assured me.  

What did I know?  At that point, I felt at a loss.  Natalie was finally acting stable, and that was a good thing.  We were given a few minutes alone before I was told to leave.

I looked Natalie straight in the face, holding her shoulders tightly with my hands:  "Are you alright?" 

She is such a beautiful girl.  A turned up nose, dark brown eyes, and a soft voice have accompanied her since the first day we met.  Although she is nearly sixteen, she looks to be about twelve or thirteen, so young and innocent:  

"I hope this place will help me; I don't want to feel like this anymore, Mom." 

We cried and hugged, said our good-byes, and I was escorted out. Again, the doors were bolted behind me.  Group visitations were to be on Sunday afternoons for thirty minutes and all other visits would be on an 'as needed' basis determined by her therapists and doctors.  Can you believe that day marked the first time Natalie spent the night away from home without me?  Throughout the years she'd been asked to sleep overs, but had always refused to be away from me.  The irony of it made me sick as I drove away and left her behind.  

The following day, after calling and checking in with one of Natalie's nurses to make sure she had done well through the night, I decided to take Lydia shopping, hoping she would open up to me and be willing to discuss how she was processing what was going on with her sister.  We entered a store and were promptly greeted by a girl who used to attend school with my older son, Caleb.  We knew who she was, but she didn't know us.  

"Can I help you?"  she asked.

"We're just looking around, but thanks," I answered.  

She followed us back to the junior section, staying right on our heels:

"You both have very pretty hair.  I hate my hair."  

"No, you're hair is pretty too,"  I smiled, "I don't have curls like you and always wished I did."

"Could I pet your hair?"  she asked.  "I mean, would you mind if I touched it?"

Lydia immediately shot me a look of shock.  Her jaw nearly hit the floor.  The girl didn't notice; thankfully, her eyes were fixated on my hair.   I don't know if it was because of the bizarre time I'd had with Natalie the day before or if it was a God-thing, but I didn't even hesitate.  I answered as if her question was one I was asked every day of the week:  "Of course you can,"  I said.

So we stood there in the back corner of the store with my hair in her hands.  Lydia was a spectator, taking in the whole scene when she was suddenly pulled in:

"Can I pet your hair too?" she asked, admiring Lydia's long hair, "you both have gorgeous hair."

Lydia wasn't as poised as I was, but she murmured an: "Uhhhhm, sure, I guess."

The experience was surreal.  

A few days later, I was allowed to take Lydia with me for a therapy visit with Natalie.  I looked up at one point and caught a glance of that same girl who had petted our hair whisking by.  I later learned from Natalie the girl had attempted suicide and daily pulled out globs of her own hair, leaving piles of blond curls hidden beneath her bed.  

After a two week stay, Natalie was sent home.  The mental hospital requested she stay longer, but insurance didn't cooperate.  She was home just over twenty four hours when she melted again, hands pounding on the floor, screaming for help.  On the second visit to the mental hospital, I was left in a holding area while Natalie was taken back to be questioned alone.  The hospital wasn't as frightening to me the second time.

A man and his teenage son came in as I sat waiting for Natalie.  They sat in the holding room with me, actually right next to me, even though there were several available chairs in the room.  For the longest time I sat next to them in silence, wondering if I should say something.  What do you say in a mental hospital, right?  The man, who I assumed was the boys' father, appeared shaken.  Bent over, his elbows rested on his knees as he rocked back and forth.  His son, however, sat upright staring straight ahead.  The difference between the two was glaring.  After debating what to say, I finally broke the silence:  

"This isn't the best place to visit, is it?"  I offered a half smile.  That simple question was all the man needed.  He immediately began telling me all about his son, who he had adopted as a baby.  

"He has always been a good student and an excellent baseball player,"  he said.  "Several months ago, he was driving home....it wasn't a rainy night and he wasn't drinking or speeding, so we don't know what happened....but when we he was found, his car had hit a tree and he was unconscious.  There wasn't a scratch on him, but it turned out he had a brain injury."  At this point, the man's face was covered in tears and his hands were trembling.  His son still sat upright, rather stoic, unmoving.  He continued:  "My wife and I could never have children, so when we adopted our son, he became the center of our world,"  he patted his son's leg, "we love him so much."  For a few seconds he cried out loud, wiping the tears as fast as they fell.  The son still showed no emotion; as for me, though, I was crying right along with my new friend.  "He started having seizures and has lost his ability to learn.  School used to be so easy for him, but not anymore.  He had been offered a scholarship to play baseball, but now has lost it because he can't play anymore.  The brain injury has taken his ability to learn and to play ball away from my boy and so he wants to die.   And he's going to do it....I'm afraid he's going to kill himself."

Then, for the first time, the boy turned to me and spoke:  "I am going to kill myself.  I've got no reason to live anymore."

After those words, the father cried like I have never seen any grown man cry in my life.  His whole body shook, and the stark room was filled with the sound of heartbreak.  

Within minutes, Natalie was brought back into the room with an intake nurse and I was asked to come join them on the journey back up to the psyche floor.  On my way out, the man rose to his feet and we gave each other an awkward hug.  I whispered in his ear:  "My daughter wants to take her life too....you pray for us and we'll be praying for you."  

I still think of that teenage girl and boy often.  Their brief time in my life has had a larger impact on me than some relationships that have lasted tens of years.  They opened my eyes to the world around me in a brand new way, helping me to see humanity in the realm of mental illness.  It was no longer a foreign subject to me, but it was three very real people now....and one of those three, was my daughter.