Thursday, March 29, 2007

What I've Learned Through the Suffering of Another

Last night Ray Thompson shared this testimony with the Rotunda class. I asked his permission to post it here. Because of the public nature of the internet, I am removing the last names.
I found particularly insightful Ray's expressing that "giving money is a crutch I've often used to show "sympathy," without the "empathy" that comes from being involved in someone's life," and that "I saw myself as the giver, not God."

What I've Learned Through the Suffering of Another

I think we are often reluctant to share our spiritual journeys and experiences with one another because we think it is sort of “patting ourselves on the back,” OK? But I know this class will not judge my words in this way tonight….

I’ve written my thoughts and will read them….so I won’t ramble…

How many of you remember Kent ----? Several of you, especially Bill & Mary, helped him directly and a number of you gave him money. Kent is a man about in his 30's who came to Dallas from California. He suffers from schizophrenia and qualifies for federal and state assistance as a mentally ill person; he also has severe asthma. He receives free medications for these conditions.

Months ago, Bill & Mary found him at the MHMR housing facility, near Skillman and Abrams, and brought him to church. Kent was raised in the church; his dad was a minister at one time but his parents have been divorced for many years. Their differing views of Kent and his problems, as well as their age and resources, have not provided any support for Kent in recent years. He attended ACU and studied Bible, Greek, and Hebrew. He has proved to be a very moral person, who tries to live as a Christian.

In his 20's, Kent married a girl and they have two children. She is from a prominent family in the Broadway Church in Lubbock, who Avalyn and I knew. However, when mental illness overtook Kent, he abandoned his wife and children, and began moving around the country. He ended up in California, where he finally received good treatment for his mental condition. Such treatment is free in California.

Although we didn't know it at first, Kent came back to Texas because he thought he could control his mental illness (with proper medication), and he wanted to try and reconciled with his wife and children, who live in Ft. Worth.

I entered Kent's life when Bill told me that Kent wanted to get on the Internet to apply for job interviews. You know me, I'm always interested in sharing my computer skills, so I invited Kent to my house one Sunday afternoon, beginning an association with Kent that was to last for many months, and is still on-going. During this time I was to learn a lot about Kent, but even more about myself and about God's will in my life.

At that time I can say that my feelings about Kent went something like this:
  • Helping him get on the Internet was easy and fun for me. I did not expect to do more than this.
  • When he began to ask for other assistance I could hardly refuse, but I didn't volunteer for anything he didn't ask.
  • I was wary of him "working me" with words of appreciation, while I really had no way to know if things were the way they appeared on the surface.
  • I was reluctant to ask the hard questions to really know what was happening in Kent's life, for that would really get me "involved" with him.
  • The money spent was not a problem for me, and I felt good about offering material help. I've come to realize that giving money is a crutch I've often used to show "sympathy," without the "empathy" that comes from being involved in someone's life.
  • Perhaps most telling, I saw myself as the giver, not God. Yes, I prayed for Kent, but mostly that he would find a job, become self-supporting, and relieve me of his support.

In the months that have followed, I've come to realize that God brought Kent into my life to teach me about real compassion and to trust in Him instead of myself.

As God began to guide me (without me realizing it), things got worse instead of better. I offered Kent advice and wise council, but he didn't always take it. From time to time Kent's mental problems worsened and I had no idea how to help him. When these episodes occurred, Kent was often angry about the minimal care available from our Texas mental health department. At times just talking to him was really scary. I discussed this with Charme and Dwight, but we concluded the Church really has no resources for helping people with mental problems.

For the first time, the thought crept into my mind that we were going to have to depend on God to help Kent...but it was scary trying to understand how and when this would happen. I began to pray in a different way.

The saga of Kent is ongoing, and it is not a happy one. It's still not clear what the Lord's plan is for him, but there have been some signs along the way that God is caring for him…Kent's six months at the MHMR apartments expired, and he decided to move to Irving and go on the streets. We didn't know what else to do, so Bill moved him and his few possessions to Irving. Kent found the MacArthur Street Church, and made friends there. This was a relief, and I lost track of Kent and his troubled life...

Months later, I had a gathering at my house of some old friends from the Tech Bible Chair, where Avalyn and I met and married. One of the couples who came, Dale and Kathy, are members at MacArthur and I asked them if they knew Kent. It turned out that Kathy had taken up where we had left off! She was taking him to his MHMR appointments, to church, etc. We shared our experiences and frustrations with Kent and pledged to stay in touch. I wondered, "Did the Lord make this connection between Kent's caregivers?" Now I know He did…

Dale and Kathy were equally perplexed about how to help Kent, and soon another crisis was brewing… In spite of our advice against it, Kent finally made a move to be with his wife, Shelley… He found her in a small apartment with her children, barely getting by. She had a part-time job but could not support her family and pay her rent. Kent contacted several at Skillman and Bill and others helped find furniture for them. Kent carried a huge load of guilt about abandoning his family, and Shelley played on this guilt to gain his financial support. Kathy reported that they were having serious troubles, financially and with their relationship. Shelley soon kicked him out on the street. We had no solution for Kent…

One day, Kathy called to say that Kent had been able to get a part-time job at Target in Arlington and finally was able to rent a small apartment of his own, within walking distance of his job. Was this part of the plan we were waiting on the Lord to show us? More and more, I was learning to wait for God to help Kent... Things seemed to be looking up.

Several months passed with no news from Kent or Kathy; I continued to pray for the Lord to watch over him and to support Dale and Kathy. One morning Kathy called to say that Kent was missing. She had not been able to contact him by phone he had not been to work, and no one answered the door at the apartment…at first. A day later she tried the apartment again and was surprised when Shelly answered the door! Shelly said that Kent had had a seizure and she had called 911 and they had taken him away in an ambulance! She had no idea where he was, and didn't seem to care.

I live in Richardson…a long way from Arlington, but the next morning I got a call from a mental health social worker at the Richardson hospital, telling me that Kent was there and had given her my name. I still have no idea how Kent ended up six blocks from my house, but I don't think it was a coincidence... I called Kathy and we gave thanks that he was OK.

The hospital was treating Kent for severe depression and they were glad to get background information that I could supply. Kent's story was a sad one, "Ray I thought that Shelley loved me and I let her move in with me when they kicked her out of her apartment. But, she has just taken over my life! I have asked her to move but she has delayed for weeks. I guess I just blacked out; I don't remember what happened or how I got here." I called Target to let them know Kent was in the hospital, took him some clothes, and Kathy and I talked about what to do about getting him back in his apartment. The doctor treating Kent said that under no circumstances was he to be with Shelley again. Kent stayed with me for a week, to avoid Shelley and so he could get back to work. Kathy came and picked him up at the start of his shift and I picked him up at 10pm to bring him home.

How did we get Shelley out of his apartment? We had no leverage, as Kent had not told the apartment manager she was there and might lose his apartment or have to pay more rent if we pursued eviction. I talked to Shelley but she was not about to move, "until I can talk to Kent!" she said. But…one morning she was gone…

Things were sort of back to normal when Kent developed a very severe toothache. I contacted my dentist, Richard ---- (they were members at Skillman years ago), Kathy brought him over, and the tooth was fixed. Thank you Lord!

However, in the past week Kent had to go to the emergency room for another mental breakdown, and our journey together continues….

At this point in our journey my feelings about our relationship are something like this:

  • I have come to really care about Kent as a person, and to appreciate the despair he deals with because of his mental illness.
  • I'm shocked at what I've learned about the plight of the mentally ill in our society, and the minimal resources our state provides.
  • Although it's still scary, I've learned something about how to "help" when you have no answers, and must wait on God and his timetable.
  • I have no idea what the Lord has in mind for Kent, but I'm sure He cares for him, and I hope I can continue to see and do His will.
  • My life has been blessed, and changed, by Kent's suffering.

Pray for Kent…thank you.

Ray Thompson

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