Too Close, Too Hurtful, Too Important

I write this not as medical person, nor a pastor, nor as disinterested third party. I write as a father, a participant, a sufferer, and in a sense a target. It is not pleasant, and there are few bright spots in this story.

The Trigger

The movie Bringing Ashley Home has been shown a few times over the past year, the latest yesterday morning (09/22/2012). It is a Lifetime Movie based on Libba Phillips. The true story follows Libba’s journey of locating her missing sister Ashley, a process that began in 1999. Prior to her disappearance Ashley had been diagnosed as Bi-Polar. When Ashley went missing, there was little help for the family. As Libba described it:

When Ashley went missing, my family did what most families would do. We appealed to authorities to file a missing persons report. It seemed simple enough. Ashley was missing. For the next four years, this report went unfiled. We searched for Ashley on our own.

No one seemed to care about a missing homeless woman who appeared to be choosing to live on the streets. And to others, she was nothing more than a drug addict whose disappearance was not deemed worthy of an official investigation.

I began to realize that if Ashley was not listed as missing, the odds of her ever being found and helped, if she indeed was still alive and lost somewhere on the streets among the homeless, were slim at best. The odds of her body being identified if she was dead were even lower.

Everywhere she turned there was no help. As she investigated, she made contact with others who ran into similar problems locating missing persons. Eventually Libba founded Outpost for Hope to help other people find the “missing missing persons” and “kids off the grid”.

The Connection

The first time I saw the movie, it was almost too close to home to watch. But I did watch, with tears streaming every ten minutes. I recognized so much of what Libba and her family went through with Ashley. The sleepless weeks, the efforts to drive the streets, not sure who or what we would find. Occasionally getting phone calls from police departments in surrounding communities, telling us that our son was arrested. Calls came at 11:00 PM, 1:00 AM, 3 AM, you name it. And fearing the next call that may have been his death notice.

In 1985 our older son (at the time 15) was diagnosed as Bi-Polar. That “official” diagnosis gave us some understanding of what had been a disastrous five years prior to that. We had experienced life with him through those five years, prior to the diagnosis—and it was not easy. Not one holiday or birthday or anniversary was enjoyable. We knew that 2-3 days prior to the event our son would go into the slide that would destroy any kind of home life or happy event. Drugs became part of his scene at age 14, and remains a problem even today.

Even the diagnosis was little help, as the intensity of his episodes increased. I remember driving the streets of the several cities near where we lived, hoping to find a glimpse of him, whether on a street corner, under a pile of cardboard boxes. Within two years it was not safe for us. Sadly I had to have him arrested in our own apartment. I still cringe when I think that I had to have my own son arrested. How could I do that? How could I not do that?

For years we had lived with guilt. Did we do something to aggravate him? Was I saying the wrong things as a father? (I still look back and wonder…)

We lived with fear. What would he do next? Would our own lives be in danger? Did I act too soon? Did I do enough?

We lived with shame. My sense of failure as a father increased to the point where it was difficult to discuss family with friends or acquaintances or even extended family, because it was always focused on this prodigal son, and his latest disruptive episodes. And that was too painful.

When he was 16, after I had him arrested, we had him put into a psychiatric hospital, eventually transferring him to a long term psychiatric facility. As long as he was on his meds, he was reasonable. We saw him only once during that 14 months. Eventually (when he was 17) he could check himself out legally, so I drove cross country to pick him up. And he lived with us for a few months before we had to ask him to leave.

From 1987 to the present he has been in prison at least four times, mixed up with drugs almost continuously, nearly died twice in accidents. We went 10 years not hearing from him, not knowing whether he was alive or dead. In the last 14 years we have spoken face-to-face with him one time, 4 1/2 years ago. And no contact since June 2011. We don’t know where he is, but we suspect he is back in prison if not dead. We pray for him, for his life, and for salvation.

Wounded Healer

This section heading comes from the book The Wounded Healer by Henri J.M. Nouwen (1979). Ministry to, for, and especially with, people means that we join people in their suffering and hurting lives. Only then can we speak to the heart and the hurt.

For me, the wounds of the past 30+ years are deep, so deep that I seldom discuss much of this even with close friends. Many did not know what to say or do, and the distance between us increased. Some friends walked with us through many years of our turmoil. We thank God for those who were close to us, even when I could not respond. It was a long, lonely walk, but these faithful people were God’s instruments with the right mix of hope, peace, and comfort when we needed it most. Often they listened and cried with us.

As one who has been wounded deeply (and I have not shared any of the bad stuff), I have found the past three decades to be difficult, painful, sobering, and many times discouraging. When I saw the movie, Bringing Ashley Home the first time last year, and again yesterday morning, I was flooded with so many memories of what we had endured, and the tears flowed again. I could so identify with Libba and her struggles with Ashley. And I can identify with all the others who have experienced similar problems. My heart goes out to any family member who walked this road or who is just beginning this road. I am so glad that Libba founded Outpost for Hope; there has been and still is a great need. If you are in this situation, contact Outpost for Hope, now!

If you see someone that might be going through such a crisis, and you ask how they are, don’t be surprised if they give a tight smile and say “Fine.” To say anything more might open a floodgate of emotions they might not contain. I know, I have lived that existence. But don’t give up on them, either. They need to talk to, cry with, hold on to, or silently sit with someone. Maybe God has placed you right there for such a time.

The Ultimate Outpost

The ultimate outpost for hope is Jesus Christ. He is not a crutch, a scapegoat, or even a helpless “friend.” He came into this world for this very reason: to endure and share in our temptations (Hebrews 4:15), suffering (Hebrews 2:18), and ultimately to die because of our sins (1 Peter 3:18), so that we might have life with God forever.

Yes, we have temporary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17), and they can be life threatening (2 Corinthians 11). But we know that because of what Jesus has done, nothing can separate us from the love of God, not life, not death, not cancer, not Bi-Polar disorders, nothing! And that is true comfort. As Paul wrote:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 HCSB)

If you have been wounded, may you find healing in Jesus Christ. No wound is too deep, no scar too hardened, that Jesus cannot touch and heal. And while it seems impossible now, you might be God’s next wounded healer.

Come, this outpost is always open for someone like you, and for your family member who is missing.

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

40 thoughts on “Too Close, Too Hurtful, Too Important”

  1. If we cannot share our deepest wounds with the Body of Christ . . . where can we share them? May there be many of us helping you and others to bear their burdens.


    1. “If we cannot share our deepest wounds with the Body of Christ . . .” Really?
      Are you kidding me? My wife and I also have a son with problems and there is no way I would want to expose myself, my wife, or my son again to the ridicule and shame that would (and have!) certainly come our way when Lutheran members of a so-called “caring, Christian community” discovered our son was in jail!


      1. Thanks for your response. I was in seminary when much of what I described took place. The dean of students was very supportive and offered much counsel. After I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor I faced that shame, guilt, and fear dilemma. After my wife and I discussed the issue of jail, I told the elders and then announced to both congregations what was happening. They appreciated the openness and were very supportive. I found that fellow (conservative) pastors were less understanding and far less supportive. I have been blessed by members in the congregation, in several places who have modeled compassion and love over past 25 years. Again this is my approach and experience.


  2. Hugs to you Rich. Thanks for sharing this story. I too, hurt very badly about the situation with my son. Your situation was long and drawn out. Mine was unexpected … I had a meltdown. There is a new group at our new church that provides support for both of our situations. I know I’ll be signing up for that, soon. Again thank you. I’m sorry that you have had this for so long. Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post. Wow.
    You moved me to prayer for your dear son, and so many like him…
    And I see in your words and in your pain, your father-love for your son. And the Father’s love for him is like that, only greater. So there is always hope.

    Thank you for sharing this piece of your heart.


  4. I’m glad that you shared this. So many people need to know they are not alone, so many others need to know how to help friends struggling with things like this.

    Prayers for your son and for you and your wife.


    1. Thanks, Joy. We each have our paths of hurt, and having read your blog for a while, I see God even in the depths for you and with you. Thanks for the prayers and encouragement.


  5. Thank you for sharing! Not too many are willing to share, much less admit these situations. As one who went through the years of searching the streets and either not finding my loved one at all or finding her so strung out that any help offered to her was taken as a threat by the other homeless and/or drug addicts and placed me in great danger. I appreciate anyone who knows, truly knows what it is like. I have and will continue to pray for your son, you and you wife. Unfortunately, my loved one, whose 44th birthday would be this Tuesday, ended with drugs winning and taking her from us ten years ago next month. However, there are so many that can be saved from the evil power of drugs. As Christians, we must use the armor of God to fight the battle against drugs because it’s grip is most times not reversible.


  6. I truly believe that no matter where he is your son is quite aware of the love of his family…he may not feel worthy of that and reject it, but he knows it is there. Just like we reject our Heavenly Father’s love through his Son Jesus; we too feel so unworthy. Keep praying; God knows the answer and is the only one who can ease the hurt and all the other emotions of a father and mother who love but can’t hold. Our prayers for you both and for your son and all the other family members who are grieving a relationship unfulfilled.


    1. As both of you walked the last years of our struggles, you know well how we suffered and you were always there. So, so important to us. Thank you.


  7. Thank you for sharing this, Rich. Although I can’t know your pain, I know how difficult it was for you to write this–as you know, I’ve been writing about very painful things from my own life a lot lately.

    I happen to work with a woman who has walked this road for many years and continues to. When I read your post, I immediately thought of her and knew I had to share this with her. I just sent her the link. I believe it is going to help her greatly.

    God bless you. Keeping you all in prayer.


    1. That is so good, Debbie. If even a small portion of what I wrote can help her it is worth it. Blessings on your ministry to and with her.


      1. Thank you. My ministry in the office isn’t easy, but it sure keeps me going. God is moving! She’s asked me to thank you for your post. It came at a perfect time for her. She came to me after she read it and was in tears but she said your words were very helpful. Blessings to you.


      2. So glad that even one person has been helped by this. May God speak to her heart and encourage her through this trial. Our God is sufficient.


  8. It’s so painful, isn’t it?, when something drags on year after year with no resolution. I ask: what am I supposed to be learning, God? And I fight to let go and live my way into His victory. God bless you this Christmas.


    1. Howdy, Brandee. Thanks for commenting. I find later (after the depths of the crisis) the question you raise comes to mind: “what am I supposed to be learning, God?” But during the (severe) crisis, I couldn’t even ask that. I asked God “help me make it through this one day.” But like you, I “fight to let go.”

      Blessings as we continue to celebrate the birth of our Savior.


  9. Wow Rich! I didn’t realize you had gone through this. I have two “bi-polar” sons. My oldest is 41 and is about to go back to jail for the ____ th time (I’ve lost count). My youngest struggles (34) and is doing better. Both have self-medicated a lot in the past. Maybe sometime we can talk together. I’ll check out this movie – not sure I will be able to watch it. I am “blessed” to still have contact with both my boys. Your Brother in Christ,
    Oly Olson


  10. I’m so very sorry for all of the heartache you have suffered. How wonderful that you have the hope of Christ, and are clinging to His wonderful promises. I sometimes wonder how those who do not know Him survive. I honestly don’t think I would make it. I love the verses you shared from 2 Corinthians. I have sensed God speaking these words to me throughout my journey of healing from abuse. I gives me a great deal of hope to know that He means to redeem my brokenness for good. That it was not all for nothing. I sincerely hope that my testimony, that I share through my blog, will inspire others to persevere through their dark valleys, that people will be pointed to Christ, and ultimately, that He would be glorified.
    Many blessings,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kaema. As I have read your blog recently I am amazed that you are writing. So helpful to many others. And God is faithful, never leaving us or forsaking us, even though in the deepest valleys it seems like it (at least for me it did).

      May God continue bless you, work in you, and through you to bring about His perfect healing.


  11. Thank you for sharing this. Your son reminds me very much of my brother who is bipolar type 1. It’s been very hard on us but even harder on him to suffer with this illness. I am type 2 and thankfully have never struggled with illegal things, so I can’t imagine how hard it is for him. He is often homeless or in jail (he just got bailed out again last week, for now we are thankful to know where he is and that he is safe.) And now…My son has been diagnosed with bipolar and it scares me so much for his future.

    I so appreciate the way you shared the gospel in this post. The salve for all wounds! Prayers for your family and for your dear son.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laura.My prayers for your brother, son, and you and the rest of the family. May God bring you comfort and hope in the midst of all this.


  12. For many years (40) I worked as a social worker, educator, ., etc Often a parent would tell me that their child,husband, relative at been diagnosed Bi-polar and I would listen and usually ask “When did you suspect that …….. was using drugs”. So many diagnosis of Bi-polar put the horse before the cart and don’t make the connection that anyone on the drugs/alcohol/combinations will exhibit behavior that is called bi polar. The Dr adds more meds e.g. antidepressants and not withdrawal and treatment from the drug and alcohol abuse. They fail to put the horse in front of the cart (and tell the family that the person is trying to self medicate which was the buzzwords of mistaken diagnosis) If you took the drugs/alcohol/combinations that the “bi-polar” person takes you would be acting the same way.


  13. Thanks, Connie. Good reminder. We knew long before he was into drugs, that something was terribly wrong, we just didn’t know the diagnosis from a medical facility/doctor. It only confirmed what we had been seeing early on.


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