Above All, He was Human

I have really been struggling this past week after learning of the death of my former pastor and friend, Phil Lineberger. I think all of us who knew him have. Phil was, for the most part, a happy, go-lucky kind of guy when I knew him, when he was at our church in the 80’s. He baptized my husband and married us in the church after Sunday evening church because we’d only been married at city hall. After my husband was baptized, we wanted a church wedding, but it was not practical to have a regular church wedding. Phil was more than happy to do it for us. It meant everything to us. He meant so much to our family.He meant so much to so many families.

This particular death was difficult for many because, you see, Phil struggled with depression and took his own life. I don’t know how long he struggled with it, but I have been in the throes of depression myself and I know how devastating it can be. Phil stated depression had it’s own language in a eulogy for one of his pastor friends who also died at his own hand. It does have it’s own language and it is the language of “you are worthless, hopeless, helpless.” Those messages along with others we hear when we are depressed are devastating to the soul and our self esteem, our pleasure in doing things, in living is diminished to the point of exhaustion.

At first, I couldn’t imagine a pastor, a man of God, with God-light in his face, his eyes taking his own life. My question was “if a pastor has no hope, is there hope?” The answer is yes. There is still hope. Pastors, priests, rabbis, all of them are human above all. They are not immune from mental illness, depression. Mental illness doesn’t pick and choose who it touches. It doesn’t pass over one because they do this or that for a living. I am sad that Phil is gone from this earth, but he is  not and will not be forgotten by those who love him, respect him . I am sad that he was caught in the evil arms of depression and that he could not wriggle free.

I am so sorry for Brenda, Becky, Amy and Kathy-the Linebergers and their families. No one should have to go through this. But instead of the blame game, we should say , “Above all, He was Human.

We love you Phil.

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Chris- First to Come to Baker’s Acres-First to Go

Chris, on the left, went over the rainbow bridge today. We will miss him.
This Chris, on the left, went over the rainbow bridge today. We will miss him.

My husband fell in love with the donkey who lived in this house when we bought it. We wanted to buy Festus with the house, but the owner didn’t want to sell him. They had been together for a long time. Stephen talked about that donkey quite a bit and I had decided I would get one for him when I heard hay was so expensive, folks were giving them away. I waited til I thought we could afford it and I found two donkeys being given away . I snapped them up and they were both males.

Okay, I thought , “We’ll see how it goes.”

Stephen was on the computer when the donks were delivered . He’d stayed home from work because he had pneumonia. He wasn’t to go outside anyway, and since it was a surprise, I made him promise to stay there and not look. The guy finally got to the end of the drive where we were to let them into the pasture. First, Chris descended from the trailer and was happy to get into the pasture. Even though it was the week after Valentines, there was still grass for them to munch on.

I asked the former owner of these fine badonkadonks, “What are their names- do they have names?”

“Anthony and Chris, he said drably, I named them after mah brothers.”  I felt my eyes roll into the top of my head as I chuckled to myself.

While Anthony was fairly friendly, Chris acted as if he’d been abused at one time or another. He was very shy, didn’t want to be around people, didn’t want to be touched, and went as far as to walk off if one tried to pet his face.

When they were settled into the yard, I went to get Stephen and tell him he could come out and see his new “surprise”. Livestock! We were out in the country, after all . And didn’t he just love Festus? Here were some donkeys of his very own, I beamed with pride and a sense of accomplishment. I guess that was about 6 years ago. The years have been good to us and to the donkeys. Why, the next year, they got girlfriends, when Blanch and Bambi came to join our family. We had two foals, both males, both Bambi’s. The firstborn, Gregory, was from an unknown father- she was pregnant when she got here. Thirteen, though, was Bambi’s and Chris’s child-looks just like Chris. But, it was Blanche Chris loved . Blanche loved him back. However, Blanche lost a foal a couple of years ago and has never been pregnant again.

The boys have since been gelded, so there will be no more babies. That’s okay. We were up to six donkeys- each loved greatly. Why donkeys? Well, they are great guardians of livestock. Coyotes close by? They don’t come up where donkeys are watching. They know the donkeys will kill them if they get close. Donkeys have wonderful and diverse personalities. They are sure to get a laugh out of anyone passing by.

So, this morning- when I went to feed the animals this morning, my eyes burned with tears when I saw Chris lying by the barn door. I ran around to the door of the barn where he lay and saw he had passed away . Rigor mortis had not set in , so , I knew he hadn’t been dead too long. I pet him and walked to the house where Stephen met me bringing dog food.

“I’m sad to say that Chris has died this morning,” I hollered to him.

“What? What”

“Chris has died.” Stephen walked quickly to the barn, bending over to pet him just as I did. Tears fell from Stephen’s eyes  and mine. Now, we had to get busy, find out what to do.

In the meantime, I began thinking of how scared Chris had been when he first came, how untrusting he was. I thought about a couple of days earlier when we had both petted his face, hugged him , without any fear from him. A bit later, Stephen and I figured out why we have so many animals. We take the rescued, the unloved animals, animals who are afraid and love them while they live out their last days here.

Chris, the first donkey here, the most fearful donkey we had was the most loved donkey. He left this place knowing love. That’s our job- to love these guys for the rest of their lives. Thank you, God for Chris- a great blessing. We return him to you-a donkey who knew love and loved in return.

Times-They are Emotional

A problem with folks with bipolar disorder, like me is sometimes there are just too many emotions -sometimes all at once. This past weekend was like that for me.

Friday, my cousin posted the first photo we’ve (meaning our generation)  have ever seen  of our grandfather (my mother’s dad). It was one of the most weirdly emotional things I’ve ever felt. I saw my grandaddy’s photo with his teammates- he was a pitcher for Southern Methodist University’s baseball team in 1919- and I was instantly excited and sad all at once. He died in 1955- two years before I was born. He was persona non grata in ours and my mother’s siblings’ houses. Apparently, he stayed drunk most of the time and once went on a bender and never came back. Sad , really as he was a doctor and even gave up his practice (as far as I know) for drink.  At any rate, he was never talked about and we never had any answers about him.

I found his death certificate when I was a member of ancestry.com. I felt such a weird profound sadness for this man I never knew but was a part of. He passed away from lung cancer which had metastisized to his brain and pneumonia. I began to wonder if my mother and her brothers and sisters knew when he died, if they cared or not. Then I wondered if he died alone. I was so sad to think he could  have.

Saturday, my husband found a video with my mother,sister and son in law in it. They all passed away just a couple of years after the video was made.It’s kind of funny because when someone dies, you’d give anything to see them again- to hear their voices. But, I found it to be unbelievably sad. I longed for my mother more when I saw her on the film than when I can’t see her. How odd is that? Same for my sister and son -in- law. I wonder why that is?  See what I mean about the emotions? So excited to see them and hear their voices and laughs, but so sad that I couldn’t have more. I don’t think I meant to be greedy- maybe it’s just natural to long for people who have gone on before you.

Sunday found me mad at the world. Today, I am not quite myself, but almost. I don’t really think people are built for such a range of emotions as this.

Not in Control

“He’s just going to die- there’s no cure,” a doctor told , explaining my son has cystic fibrosis.Imagine someone saying that after giving birth 9 weeks prior. Not just anyone,either, but a doctor – one who is used to delivering this kind of news and apparently finds it an easy task after all these years diagnosing children. Perhaps he had become immune. I don’t know.

Thus began my journey to keep my son from dying. Never stopped

Micah today- doing well and happily married .
Micah today- doing well and happily married .

to think it was not in my power to keep Micah from dying. It was God’s deal. Why did he choose me? Why did he choose Micah? Why did I wonder that? I was so angry with God. So angry that any child would be diagnosed with any disease and the parents having to hear what the doctor god had to say- hearing the death sentence pronounced on a helpless, innocent baby.

I call him the doctor god because he came across as if he knew everything about everything. He made pronouncements about our baby- about other’s babies. Condemning them to death, perhaps  because he really felt helpless to do anything for him. But, it was never his deal. It was God’s deal. It still is.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a disease of the lung and endocrine system . The mucous found in all of our bodies are usually thin and slippery. In a child with CF, this mucous is thick, sticky and loves hanging out in the lungs of these kids. Pneumonia is rampant and scar tissue forms. The pancreas, seemingly lazy, is just really not equipped to digests fats in the diet and digestive enzymes are needed to digest food. Breathing treatments must be employed to keep the lungs clear and mucous free. Some kids have low lung function, making it difficult to breathe and sometimes gasping instead.

My baby boy was very sick the first year of his life. I was told on his birthday the first year the doctors had not thought he would live that long. Not even a year! The life span used to be 10 years old. Then 16. Now, the life span of a child with CF may be over 35 years. I knew a man who was about 80 when he passed away. He had not been diagnosed with the disease until he was in his 30’s. CF is unpredictable. Some kids may not live long at all, some may live a long, almost symptom-free life. It’s still God’s deal.

I began to explore my thoughts about why God allows these things to happen. I believe things happen for a reason. For me, I came to the conclusion this baby was sent to teach me how to take the the spotlight off me because it’s not all about Paula. He was sent to teach me patience and acceptance and love – real, unconditional, frightening, risky love. Risky. The risk of losing my boy was all too real. I knew that the love would never be lost even though I was afraid to put my heart on the line for him. How could I not love him- he drew me in- and I couldn’t help but love him .

I am grateful God sent me this amazing young man. It’s been hard at times, but my son has lived and thrived when they said he wouldn’t.  He graduated elementary, jr. high and then high school. He’s funny and smart and funny some more. He’s taught me to loosen up, lighten up and enjoy every minute of life. Most of the time now, I can do that. I did not do that before him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- God puts people in our lives – loans them to us- to teach us things we may not otherwise bother to learn. Sometimes, it takes dire circumstances to learn the things we must, the things we should . It was so for me.

Thank you God for giving me a sweet reminder of You in my son, Micah.