Jessie Roberson, my mom….

DSCN0003

This picture is my mom, Jessie Velelia Harmon, in her twenties. The glass “frame” is cracked but I couldn’t give it up, so I had the whole thing matted and framed. The raven black hair and ruby lips remind me of Snow White. But my mother didn’t have it as magically perfect as Snow did, although I hope there has been a happy ending. She was born in 1926, and her early years were years of survival for a poor country family in Cleburne County, Arkansas. She remembers the depression and has described for me “canning kitchens” provided by the government so women could gather together and preserve the produce from their gardens and fruit trees while the children played outside. Her family’s house burned at some point and they lost everything. She told me that lids from cans of lard served as plates until they could gradually accumulate more dishes. Dresses were sewn from flour sacks and glassware was found in oatmeal boxes. The icebox was literally a box with blocks of ice in it and cooking was done on a wood stove. I have seen the remains of the one-room school that she attended and heard stories of her life on “Silver Ridge.”

DSCN0014

This photograph was made in the 1930s by Michael Disfarmer in Heber Springs, Arkansas. In our time he has achieved significant artistic recognition for his depression-era photographs. Negatives were made of glass. A picture cost thirty-five cents. My mom is on the right and stands with her sister Georgia in a classic Disfarmer pose. They walked or rode a wagon to neighborhood events, including the Old Soldiers’ Reunion, an annual event at Spring Park in Heber Springs. Her family attended every year, mostly for the music that could be heard.

In the 1940s things were looking up a bit. First her father, and then shortly thereafter, she, her mother and sister traveled to Kansas to work in an airplane factory. She was literally a “Rosie Riveter” for a short period of time. Georgia was too young to work in the factory, so she waited tables. It was in the late 1940s that Mother met my father, Lee Andrew Roberson, who had served in the Army on Guam as a sharpshooter. He had been married before going to war and had two sons, my half-brothers. However, his wife divorced him in a “dear John” moment and took the boys away from him, living in California and refusing to share his letters with them. It was only late in his life that he was reconciled to one of them after the other died of esophageal cancer.

He met my mom on a blind date. They fell in love. Here I am. But her story had just begun. For life continued to be sometimes easy but sometimes very hard. We were not well-off, probably not even middle class, in my infant years.  But shortly after my birth, my parents moved to Noblesville, Indiana. Mother loved it there. We lived in a neighborhood and they owned a home. Daddy worked for the Firestone tire factory. They had friends. A baby boy joined the family, my brother Alan. However, my dad decided he was ready to come back to Arkansas about 1959. Mother was not happy about showing the house to prospective buyers, but a buyer materialized, and we moved to Judsonia, Arkansas. I was nine years old.

Finances continued to be an issue much of the time. Dad initially worked as custodian for the Searcy Public School but then trained to operate an American gas station. Some of you may remember, back then someone pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield and checked tires and oil, all for twenty-five cents a gallon. My mother had to learn to drive because he was required to go to Memphis for several days for his training. That’s right, she was thirty-four years old and didn’t drive!

We lived in a “rent house” for about four years, and then my dad and my Uncle Truman built us a house, the house my mother lives in now. At one point my parents built another house at Pleasant Plains and lived there for several years so dad could have cattle, but as his health failed, he was wise enough to seek a place closer to family for her. God blessed with an opportunity to once again buy the house he had built. He died about eighteen months after their move to Judsonia, and my mom has lived there alone for twenty-two years now.

She has been a wonderful mother and was a phenomenal caregiver for my dad. She has a love for plants, especially flowering ones, and a true green thumb. She grieves her inability to care for her lawn herself and still is constantly undertaking little tasks of caring for her plants. (You know, I remember when we would visit my grandparents we would always take a tour of the yard to see what was growing well and what was in bloom. Guess the green thumb is an inherited trait that skipped me!)

She finished only the eighth grade but has been a great reader all her life. However, macular degeneration and “dry eyes” have slowed her reading. She loves musical theatre and bluegrass music and her family. Above all, she loves the Lord. Her severe spinal stenosis and chronic pain keep her from church now, but she was working in Bible School into her 80s. She is a faithful Bible reader and prayer warrior.

Her 93rd birthday is approaching. Her mind is beginning to fail, and I am hopeful that at some time she will yield to living with us. But for now she insists on her house, her yard, and her cat. (The psychotic cat cannot come live with us–although we do have a prospective home for “Callie” if Mom comes to be with us. Callie is a calico with the personality disorder to match.)

I feel so blessed to still have my mom with us. She is a hero to me. She has taught me so much about living for the Lord and caring for family and strong southern lady spirit. I love her with all my heart.

DSCN0009

We visited Mountain View a few years ago, when her back was still strong enough for the walk. This is one of my favorite pictures of her, in her element, questioning every plant and drinking in Arkansas history.

Happy Mother’s Day with more love than you know, Jessie Velelia Harmon Roberson, my mom!

My story in three acts . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

After a longer absence than I really planned (due to “light and momentary” issues), here goes for Act 2 of my story:

It seems to me that it corresponds in large part to my life as an advanced practice nurse, which started off rather sadly. My dad passed away in September before I completed my master’s degree in December. The passage above gave me comfort at the time of his death, for he was truly ready to go, tired of constant pain. My mom called about 3 a.m. on the day of his death (just a couple of days after Dad had told Daniel that he’d better “hurry up and get married” if he wanted his Papa to be there). He was coughing up blood. When I got there he told me, “There’s just so much a man can do.” My reply was that whatever he needed to do was fine. Six hours later he left this world to enter that unseen one, eternity with his Lord.

Jobs for nurse practitioners in small town Arkansas were not plentiful in 1997. While I was still working in administration and not yet through with my studies, a local cardiologist had asked what I planned to do with my new licensure. At that time I suggested that working as an extender in a busy medical practice appealed to me. However, after graduation I was actively recruited to work as a primary care provider in a clinic in my hometown. I was also interviewed for a position with an (at that point) unidentified physician in a multi-specialty clinic, who turned out to be the above-mentioned cardiologist. There were elements of the hometown clinic that were very appealing, including the financial aspects. But after a lot of soul searching it became apparent that the cardiology practice was where I needed to be. It was a good decision; the local clinic closed just a couple of years after its implementation. I believe that choice was a turning point in my life.

There have been many benefits to the employment choice I made. After more than 21 years in that collaborative practice, I have no regrets. Not only have I grown professionally, I have grown spiritually. Philosophical and theological discussions are not the routine in most work settings but have served as the stimulus to introspection and solidifying my beliefs. The example of true Christianity that he and his family demonstrate has influenced my walk of faith. And I needed that collegial relationship, because times were coming that seemed more than “light and momentary” troubles.

In 2004 our family was faced with the challenge of my daughter’s mental illness. It was a nightmarish year. A friend was instrumental in saving Cindy’s life, convincing her to seek care with her primary care physician. That encounter started us on the journey of a lifetime. Over the next eight months she was in and out of multiple hospitals after multiple suicide attempts. We faced a fragmented, overworked and expensive mental health system. Navigating the system would have been impossible without the support and prayers of friends and work family. I was juggling my work responsibilities with careing for her three-year-old son. I was back to single parenthood (I had not remarried at that time). A Christian friend recommended a depression workshop.  There I met the physician just finishing her psychiatric residency who would become my daughter’s lifeline and who continues to supervise her care today, fourteen years later. I think that was a “divine appointment.”

We have been blessed through Cindy’s strength and desire to be well. We involved our church family as prayer partners in our journey by openly sharing various elements of her illness and treatment. Cindy continues to demonstrate superb adherence to her medical therapy and physician visits, and she has become one of the rocks I lean on through hard times. Because more trauma would follow.

It’s no secret that August 26, 2015, changed my life as a mother. Our son’s death by suicide at the age of 41 years marked a turning point in all our lives. In my nursing career I had often encountered parents who had lost a child. I found myself frequently trying to express compassion by the comment that “that must be the worst kind of loss.” I can now attest, through my own experience, that it is a terrible grief made more terrible if that death occurs by suicide. That event led to my personal passion for increasing awareness, encouraging open conversation, and preventing suicide.

There were also brighter times. In 2005 I married the wonderful man who loves and supports me every day. And an unexpected benefit of my employment was that my physician/boss/friend,  who is also a licensed preacher, performed the ceremony! Living here on “Persimmon Ridge” (the name’s origin is meat for another story) in the home my husband designed and built for us is a priceless gift. His unremitting support and encouragement has allowed me to publish two inspirational novels, and he continues to be my biggest fan and self-appointed publicity agent as I pursue the dream of being known as an author.

However, through the experiences of Cindy’s illness and ongoing recovery and Daniel’s death one thing has remained steadfast–my faith. I believe in a loving God who is in control, who has the overarching plan for my life, who allows nothing beyond my potential to withstand with God’s help, and who offers an unending supply of hope. He has placed people in my life who have supported, encouraged, and inspired me. The troubles often don’t feel “light and momentary” but, rather, heavy and endless. But hindsight reveals the brighter hilltop experiences, those divine appointments, the heavenly discernment, and the benefits of just persevering in the walk of faith whatever the struggle.

There it is, another brief part of my story. My Act 2 is not yet finished but close enough to the ending for me to reflect on where I’ve been as I try to anticipate the next act. I trust in one truth:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9 NIV

I’ve seen the Lord’s hand in the design of my life. Have you?

My story in three acts

What if we viewed life as a three-act play with God as the author, producer, and director?

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 119: 13-16

I read the most interesting thing today. It compared God’s plan for our lives to a story. And, being the story-teller that I am, I was intrigued. Imagine, God in his infinite wisdom and love, designing the story of our lives! AND, since I just returned from a writer’s conference where all the discussion was about story structure versus “organic” writing where the story just “writes itself”, well, you can imagine how my mind is reeling with the implications of that!! Seriously, I kind of get it. My Act 1 went kind of like this:

Having always felt that there was a higher power who was “in charge” of my life, it was easy to see an unseen force at work in the course of my life. Brought up in the “Bible belt”, the daughter of parents who struggled financially but loved me greatly, and somehow always wanting to be at the top of my class, I had extraordinary opportunities–(which I didn’t take full advantage of). One event that impacted my life greatly was my father’s heart attack when I was 16. In 1966 Searcy, Arkansas, there was no specialized cardiology care. I often wonder how he survived until much later in life when he had bypass surgery.

Early in life I recognized the need for a Savior, and at age 11 “walked the aisle” and was baptized. Later, as a 16-year-old, I became convicted that I hadn’t fully made the commitment required of me, and was, once again, baptized into the small Baptist church our family attended. But in no way did my faith start maturing until I had experienced a lot more of life.

You see, I dropped out of fully-scholarship-funded college to marry and have two kids (boys). The miraculous provision of an extraordinary deal on tuition at a fine Christian university a few years later allowed me to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing (in the second nursing class to graduate from that institution). It became evident that nursing was, indeed, my calling. And divorce and single-parenting (by that time two boys and a toddler daughter) was certainly easier because I was a professional with a college degree and a reasonable income.

There were some really challenging times, though. Middle son broke his leg through the growth plate on a forbidden three-wheeler ride. He was recognized for his scholarship in sixth grade but by his high school days was selling term papers to his classmates–his fee varied according to the grade they desired (I only discovered this years later.) He broke his arm jumping from a folding chair to dunk the basketball. He didn’t finish high school–completed his GED–and presented me with my first grandchild (who is, by the way, one of God’s best gifts to my life). Older son did not neglect to cause me some worry. There was a gunshot wound (not life-threatening)–hearing that news from an ER physician as I returned home from other son’s basketball game was an experience, to say the least. I remarked to a friend that God was preparing me for something, and that, if this was prep school, I didn’t want to go to college.

Nursing became my life. Maybe too much so. Maybe it robbed my children of some of my attention. Nonetheless, I loved being at the bedside. It was what I think of as the “glory” years of nursing. There was no “nursing” a computer or struggling to meet Medicare guidelines. The registered nurse was “in charge” and knowledgeable about all the patients on the unit. Knowing that I made a difference that prolonged someone’s life, that I could start that IV when nobody else could, that I caught the clinical clue that helped the physician make a diagnosis, meant the world to me. I advanced to middle management and then taught in a junior college nursing program for a year. Returning to the hospital where I had “grown up” as a nurse, I became the nurse administrator. Oh, there were no vice president titles for nursing back then. I was a simple DON (director of nursing), but with the same responsibilities as a VP.

Those were some painful times. The me-too movement was not alive and well, and I ended up navigating a somewhat awkward work environment which became downright hostile. I didn’t like firing people. I wanted to be back at the bedside and burned the candle at both ends in order to have some clinical time. I discovered that I was not called to be an administrator, I was called to be a nurse.

Good things happened, too. A spiritual retreat called an “Emmaus Walk” reinforced my faith. I began to teach Sunday School and sing in the choir at church. The Bible and Christian studies and keeping a journal, which often contained written prayers, became more of a habit. I wonder what my kids will think of, do with, all those books after I’m gone? Some really good pastors came and went at my church, and a couple made a huge impact on my life.

You wonder why I reveal so much of my past? Because throughout every valley, every crisis, every challenge, I knew God was real. I may have questioned and argued and pleaded and resisted, but I was certain that I was in good hands. At this point in my life, I find my self looking back and evaluating where I came from and the paths I’ve traveled. It’s only natural to wonder what comes next. But Act 2 remains to be told, and Act 3 is waiting to be lived.

It’s time for intermission. But I wonder, what is the Act 1 of your story?