Healing After Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Mother

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Healing After Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Mother

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Of course this is limited, but it is a wonderful way to make up for the shortcomings and handicaps imposed on us by the sinful world we live in. The best way I can think of to overcome the effects of unhealthy relationships is to replace them with healthy ones. Notice I did not say perfect; I just said healthy!

The Church is a spiritual family, as Jesus indicated in Matthew 12:48-50: "'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'"

I think back on my childhood and I can see that God created a very special family for me. He did this long before I ever felt like He was calling me into His Church. Psalm 68:6 says that God places the solitary in families. I was pretty solitary as a child.

I have told the story elsewhere about growing up with a mother who was a schizophrenic and the effects this had on my young life. When I was in junior high school, I made only two friends, but they became true friends. All of our parents were divorced; this was not the norm then as it seems to be now. My mom was mentally ill; Suzy's mom was dying of cancer; and Jenny's mom was the manager of a bar that employed strippers. None of us had anything resembling a normal family life or proper supervision.

Somewhere inside each of us was a desire to be part of a family. We would never have admitted that; we thought we were self-sufficient. We created our own family out of what we had been given without even realizing we were doing so. We ate lunch together, walked to and from school, spent time at each other's houses and stood together against the kids from more normal families who picked on us because we were different. (Yes, people really do pick on girls whose moms have no hair from chemotherapy.) We seldom talked about our families. We would not have been caught dead in any kind of a church youth group or school program; those people just did not understand us. We understood each other.

One saying I made up was that a real friend is someone who does not get scared when your schizophrenic mom has a fit and tries to strangle her. (Yes, she really did that, more than once.) My friends still liked me. We all saw things at each others' homes that would scare most people away.

Suzy's mom was the most normal. She was physically weak but full of wisdom about many things. We would sit at her kitchen table and talk about things like why it is a bad idea for girls to call boys and other such valuable nuggets. She was one of the anchors of our patchwork family.

The other one was my dad. He had visitation rights on Thursday evenings and Sundays. He never excluded my friends. He took us on picnics, to the beach, to museums, to the movies and even on family vacations. One of our truisms as teenagers was that Suzy's dad gave us money, and we spent it together when my dad took us places. Jenny's dad was in Texas or somewhere.

My two friends happened to be Jewish. I was invited to Passover dinners with their relatives. Passover became my favorite holiday. (Passover still is my favorite biblical festival, but now for much deeper reasons.) I learned Yiddish phrases for all sorts of interesting things. I enjoyed many Jewish traditions with them over the years, including sitting shivah when Suzy's mom died. I shared things with them as well. My family was not very ethnically oriented, but I liked books and classical music. I learned the value of an ethnic heritage from my friends. I have learned about my heritage and shared it with my children.

I cannot say that we completely kept each other out of trouble. I am talking about three teenage girls from extremely dysfunctional situations with very little supervision. We got in our share of trouble and were hurt by it, but it could have been a lot worse. When we had problems, at least we had somewhere to go. As young adults, we helped each other through some pretty serious problems.

The years moved on and the three of us stayed friends. We learned that when you love someone, there are times when you do not like the person, but you still love them. We learned about patience and forgiveness and the true meaning of commitment.

We have talked as adults about the many ways we benefitted from our patchwork family. The three of us came from circumstances that counted heavily against our chances for healthy, happy lives. All three of us have been happily married for over 15 years. We all have children who are coming out normal. Our children act like cousins. All of us are interested in what the Bible says, although I am the only one in the United Church of God at this time. I have invited them to my house for the biblical Night to Be Much Observed in years past. That has been a great privilege to me.

In the Church, we all have the opportunity to become a family. We have the ultimate role model in our Heavenly Father. We also have many fine examples of men and women who are living out their God-given roles. There are also examples in history. We truly are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

I have spent a lot of time imagining what my life would have been like if I had been raised in the homes of various people. When I have a perplexing question eating my mind, I think about how some of my favorite Christians would handle it. I have benefited greatly from this. I am not limited by the examples of the people who raised me (or did not, as the case may be). I have told some of these people that I think of them as substitute parents in the Lord (others will have to wait until the resurrection!). No one has been offended by this idea.

The Church is a spiritual family, as Jesus indicated in Matthew 12:48-50: "'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'"

I am a child in the family of God! My Parent is perfect. He has never done anything to hurt me like my physical parents did. He wants me to reach my full potential, and He has placed people in my life to help me on this road. A greater miracle than that is the idea that He has placed me in the lives of others so I may help them! How awesome is that?

After learning how a real family is supposed to work, trying to put it into practice in my own home is one of the greatest joys I have experienced in my 20 or so years in the Church. It is always an exciting adventure when I see how God teaches us about Himself using the things around us. His ways work so well that even if the ideal (an intact family) is not available, the principles still work. My adopted family keeps getting larger and larger. I truly have been re-parented!