If you are in an abusive ‘christian’ relationship~

~then please check out this blog I just discovered.  https://www.patheos.com/blogs/catholicauthenticity/

And also please look up:

https://unholycharade.com by Pastor Jeff Crippen

and a fantastic book Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/289845/why-does-he-do-that-by-lundy-bancroft/9780425191651/

Why Does He Do That? was instrumental in clearing the confusion and fog I was in regarding abuse in my own life.

Standard marital counseling does not properly address abusive marriage situations. In fact, if your spouse is abusive, couples counseling is unwise.

Abuse is FAR MORE than physically being assaulted.  You do not have to be physically hit or assaulted to have been abused. Mental, verbal, emotional, gaslighting, narcissistic  abuse, covert abuse  IS real abuse and does long term damage.  Please avail yourself of these resources, it can be a lifesaver.  There are also many great videos on youtube that can be used to help educate yourself.  Ross Rosenberg, Lisa A. Romano, Surviving Narcissism (by Les Carter PhD),  Inner Integration ( Meredith Miller) are all great channels to look up.

Please look out for yourself and your children. There are no easy answers but recognizing that your pain is real and valid is the first step.  You matter.

God bless~~

One video that I have found very helpful~

 

 

 

 

Mother of Love

I started reading a book last week about the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It is called Our Lady Of Guadalupe~Mother Of The Civilization Of Love.  The book teaches a lot about the culture and time in which Mary appeared. In 1531, she came to the indigenous people of Mexico, leaving a miraculous image of herself on the cloak (tilma) of a humble man named Juan Diego. The Aztec civilization was centered around human sacrifice, and then the Aztecs were conquered by the Spanish army. Mary came to bring a culture of life to them, appearing as a pregnant Mother. The Aztecs’ humanity had been devalued by their own culture and then was decimated even further by the Spanish invaders. Mary’s image on the tilma of Juan Diego contains many pictorial images that the Aztecs understood. Through this picture of her and all the signs it contained, the people learned what true Life is, and who the true God is. Without words, she showed them their value and the value of human life. Not long afterward, their practice of human sacrifice was discontinued.

As I have been reading this book I have been struck by one chapter especially, called The Face Of The Hidden Christ. This chapter is all about how we are each made “for the other”. In our own time, the world tells us repeatedly that the true path to happiness lies in fulfilling your self. But so many of us are finding this doesn’t work, it doesn’t lead to any lasting happiness or peace. Only by asking God to help us can we overcome our own selfishness and learn to give. Without Him we don’t see, we don’t even see our selves truly.

Many people have been shocked by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two people who by all accounts had everything the world says we should want. But obviously, their hearts were broken. I never followed Anthony Bourdain but by the words he left behind, it seems apparent why he felt his life was too barren to continue on. Living strictly for your own happiness is a dead end. If you turn in on yourself, the results are never good.

These suicides can be seen as a wake-up call, not only to check in with each other and make sure the people we love are ok, but to examine ourselves and reorganize our own priorities. I know it’s been a challenge to me. If we measure our own lives according to what is popular, according to how the world tells us we should be, we usually come up short in our own estimation. We end up feeling less than. It’s not true. We are each worth so much more than what we own, what our jobs are, how nice our house is, how ‘perfect’ our families appear, what other people think of us. God doesn’t measure any of us by those standards.

One thing I remind myself of a lot is the words of Jesus, “not even when he has an abundance does a man’s life consist of the things he possesses.” “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?” The things we own end up kind of owning us. Despite excess, we feel driven to get even more and it never ends. You have to work longer to hold onto what you have and you have to work longer to be able to accumulate more. More than once I’ve read interviews with people who have achieved fame and success, only to find they feel trapped by these things they thought they needed. Jesus is always reaching out to all of us but too often we ignore His voice until we become deaf to it. Whenever I catch myself becoming obsessed over getting some particular new thing, I know my heart is wandering. When I know His presence with me, all the stuff loses its attraction.

This quote is included in the book about Guadalupe and it is so fitting for this time.
“The purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. Pope Benedict XVI

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Weeding and Planting

It’s finally, fully springtime where I live and things are green and growing.  Overgrowing actually!  I have been learning some things about weeds.

I feel like my particular patch of weeds is very instructive at this time in my life.  My weed-y patch is a spot that has been long neglected.  Well, obviously it’s been neglected or it wouldn’t be so full of weeds.  It’s also a spot that is very visible at my house.  You can’t miss it as it is right near the front door.

I am in a situation that, like the patch of ground I am working on, cannot be changed quickly or easily.  In my weed patch, I am finding it might be impossible now to save the good plants that the weeds have been choking out.  Jesus’ parable about the sower comes to mind and is, of course, so true.  The weeds or thorns spring up and if left unchecked, they eventually overcome the good plants, stunting their growth and crowding them out completely.  They block the sun, as my own thorns have seemingly been blocking the sun in my life, hiding the light from my eyes and my heart.

The plants I am trying to save in my garden are so intertwined with the weeds now that I can’t pull up one without uprooting the other.  As I am typing this I am seeing its application to my life, to long standing relationship difficulties.  I am seeing that at this point, I can’t address just one problem…if one problem is really brought out into the air, it will pull up everything else with it.  The weeds have choked out the good plants and none of it can really be saved.  It has to be uprooted, overturned, and other ground must be staked out.

Although I cannot transplant into new ground right now,  what I can do is disentangle my own roots from the deeply entrenched mass.   I can choose to plant new life in my own soul, in the soil of my own mind and heart.   And I can set boundaries around these new plantings and protect them from intruders who would try to eat up or otherwise destroy them.

Some time ago,  I became aware of an image of a tree stump that came unbidden to my thoughts one day.  I could see it very clearly in my mind’s eye.  From this tree stump a new green shoot was growing.  I took note of this as a message from God, from the universe, whatever you want to call it….it was clear and I didn’t forget it.  Not long after, in a magazine I was reading, I saw an illustration of this exact thing.  It was part of an article by Elizabeth Gilbert, an article titled Your Pain, Your Gain.  So fitting it stopped me in my tracks and honestly took my breath away for a few seconds.

Coincidence?  No.  Things like this are not a coincidence, they are signal graces.  I saved that article and happened upon it again last week.  I think I will cut out that picture and put it up where I can see it every day.  I will keep it as a reminder, that though my hopes and plans for my life seem to have been cut down, there Is new growth. And I will keep this new growth protected from predators, and from the weeds.   I will tend my own garden and bloom where I am planted.  This is a choice that only I can make for myself and I choose it today and all the days going forward.  And there will be flowers and beauty again.

http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/elizabeth-gilbert-how-to-transform-suffering

 

A Year of Less~ I hope

A couple of months ago I came across a book at Barnes&Noble, called The Year Of Less.  As I read the description on the dust jacket, it immediately struck a chord with me. The author had self-imposed a shopping ban on herself and then wrote about it on her blog.  Her blog eventually turned into a book.   I looked at the book couple of times before I actually bought it.  When I started reading it I couldn’t put it down.  29177450_10216074812609463_1469652574056390359_n

It helped me along with a goal I’d already been forming in my mind.  Needing to get control of my spending as well as my belongings and immediate surroundings, I had been slowly trying to organize and clean out things I no longer used, as well as get a handle on all the things I already owned so I would know for sure if there were any things I actually needed (this is especially applicable to clothing as many women know!).  As I  began to work through all of my stuff,  it created some anxiety in me as I realized how many things I had bought on impulse and for the wrong reasons.  I had indulged way too often in “retail therapy” and the results were not pretty.

Life has been stressful for a long time.  Life can be stressful for everybody at one time or another, but this major stress in my life has lasted over a decade now, with a lot of upheavals and dramatic incidents.  Very intense trials have sprung from my son’s autism and its accompanying medical issues and difficult, sometimes dangerous behaviors.  As anyone dealing with autism knows, these ongoing stresses can take a toll on your closest relationships.  It’s been that way with me.  Often feeling I had no one to turn to, I would take myself out for a break which usually involved spending money.  Sometimes I could afford to do this but many times I really couldn’t.   Most of the time when I’d shop it would be an attempt to cheer myself up, however temporarily.  And going out and getting something I wanted gave me a false sense of control and power over my life.  Even now that I am aware of this it is still a challenge not to fall back on this comfort-seeking behavior, behavior that does not serve me in the long run.  Old habits die hard.

There are so many reality shows on tv now about our material possessions, like Hoarders on the more extreme end of the spectrum, as well as others like Storage Wars about clutter control.  Seems no matter what people’s economic circumstances are, many of us are overwhelmed with things.  I am far from alone in my struggles with stuff.  But even though I know that it still bugs me that I have found so much false security in things.  And it bugs me even more that it can be so hard to break free of the anxiety that can cause us to feel a false need to accumulate, despite already being overwhelmed with too much stuff to manage.   I suppose all of the advertising we are constantly bombarded with through all types of media is partly to blame.  We have complete control over our choices but it’s hard to resist constant messages that tell us everybody has this or that, and how happy we will be if we have it too.

I have found that too often, happiness that is connected to something we just bought is very short-lived.  Most people are familiar with buyers’ remorse, the regret over having spent money on something (often an impulse buy) and then wishing we hadn’t.

This book is not something I regret buying for myself and in fact, I plan to read it again.  This is one purchase that actually has empowered me and given me hope that I am not alone in this struggle and yes there are ways to overcome it.  I recommend this book highly!  It applies to much more than shopping.  The author touches on her past struggles with drinking and indulging in unhealthy sexual relationships.  Shopping was just another type of addictive behavior.  You might find that if you zone in on one bad habit, another one can pop up and you feel like you are in a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole!  That’s because so many bad habits we find ourselves trapped in often have the same root. Until you recognize that root, the behavior will pop up in another area of your life.

I hope to write again soon about the progress that I am making. Because I am actually making progress, slowly but surely.  For once I am working on a bad habit with some knowledge of why I have done it in the first place.  That’s a good place to start.   I don’t want to give up this time.  Even if progress is slow it still has value.  And I am already learning some things about myself, about materialism, about life, just from beginning this process of changing some habits.

There is a verse in the bible that says, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.”  I remind myself of these words often since I have a tendency to get discouraged.  Every one of us can be assured of a harvest (of whatever we are trying to get to grow in our lives!) as long as we don’t give up.

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If you’re weak…. carry it yourself

Things have been tough lately.  But I am learning something in all of this stress.

A month ago I injured my back, or rather re-injured it, reigniting a long standing problem.   I know it can be boring to listen to people complain about their ailments, but I am getting to a point here, honest!

I’ve been wearing a back brace on days I need it.  The doctor who prescribed it  cautioned me to wear it no longer than 4 hours a day.  I can see why,  now that I’ve had it for awhile.

When I first put it on, it feels great….my back is held up by something other than my own tired muscles.  I get a bit of a rest.

But when I take it off, I feel so weak.  And when I am wearing it I can’t really breathe.

This is why God does not carry things For us….if He did we would only get weaker.

He carries things With us.  He is under the weight of our crosses right beside us as We carry them.  And we gradually, almost imperceptibly get stronger.

A lyric from a song I like comes to mind….”these arms go weak, if they don’t push and pull and struggle.”  We humans often wish for a stress free life.  But as science has discovered, some stress is necessary for us to grow, to live.  The trick is not let it bury us, and for me the big learning curve is to face it without being afraid of it.  Fear dries up  energy and makes us timid.  But we are stronger than we think.  It’s okay to have a brace now and then, to give ourselves a rest.  But then we have to pick it up and go a little farther down the road.  One day at a time.

“He could hold out His hand and bring peace to the sea / He could even dry every tear from your eyes

But you know these arms go weak if they don’t push and pull and struggle, with the body with the mind and the soul

Maybe God’s plan to get this rock off my back/ Is to help me pull some brother, some brother from the hole”

Climb On Up~  Wayne Watson

Mother of Our Sorrows

There is a title given to Mary called Our Lady of Sorrows.  The image depicting this title is one of Mary with tears streaming down her face, her heart exposed and pierced by seven swords.  Each sword represents one of the more prominent sorrows she experienced as she lived out her most high calling of being the Mother of Christ.

She was the most blessed and gifted human being that has ever lived.  I say “was” but she still lives in heaven, interceding for people everywhere.   Yet despite being the most blessed one, she also suffered the most of any other created person.  And in this suffering she can identify completely with the pain and sorrow we go through as we each make our own journey through this world.  I have thought a lot about Mary’s sorrows lately.  She had a perfect union with her child, her Son.  The Son of God.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  But the better the blessing, the deeper the pain when it is lost.  She endured as Jesus endured His mock trial and crucifixion.  Her heart broke as any mother’s would.  She would have taken His place if she could have.    Most of us can identify with wishing we could take the pain that a loved one is suffering and carry it for them ourselves.

This past weekend, in the days right before Christmas, on my son’s birthday, I learned he has very likely been sexually abused.    During a physical check up my son’s behavior concerned our doctor very much.  He expressed concern that someone has been abusing him at the group home he’s been living at for the past several months.  As I have written about before on this blog, my boy has autism.  He had been placed in a group setting because of outbursts that have often been dangerous.  It is ironic that he was placed in that residence for safety….yet now his safety has been severely compromised by that same residence.

I had been struggling from the beginning to accept this new way of life for him and for me.  It is very hard to accept that you cannot be the primary caregiver of your own child.  I visited the home as often as I could, and had in fact registered some complaints very soon after my son moved in there.  I was disturbed by things I witnessed.   Meetings were held and staff were disciplined. But apparently it was not enough.  Nothing I had witnessed hinted at sexual abuse, but there were other concerning issues.  After several meetings I was assured by management that things were now in hand.   And when I visited my boy, the staff seemed to be carrying things out well and treating all of the house residents cheerfully.  Of course, even the manager told me he realized no one’s going to be slacking when either of us were around.

Many homes like this, too many, have very high turnover rates.  The work is demanding and the pay is low.  Because of this revolving door of workers  I know it could be difficult for us to determine who it was that molested my child.

A lot of residential facilities of all types have to hire per diem workers to fill in staffing gaps. The problem is no one really gets to know these temporary employees.   In the past I have worked at a nursing home and also an assisted living facility.  It disturbed me to see the sloppy care that residents often received.  As anyone in the nursing and caregiving professions can tell you, a big part of the problem is too many people are assigned to individual workers.  I myself usually had ten or more people to care for in each shift.  I was admonished for not being finished on time most nights, but I didn’t care.  I was going to stay late if that’s what it took for my residents to get cared for properly.

Many times a resident would complain to me that they had to wait too long to simply be put to bed at night.  I didn’t mind their complaints, I truly didn’t.  I heartily agreed with them, and always told them to let their family members know their complaints during their visits.  Considering the very high amounts people pay to be in these places, it is just obscene that they do not get what they have paid for.  Management companies rake in the bucks while paying low wages, often employing as few staff as possible  and the patients and residents suffer.

I don’t blame God for my child being molested.  None of us are robots and He does not control our behavior.  He’s given most of us common sense.  With the highly charged sexual climate that has enveloped this world, no one is surprised to hear stories like this.  I don’t blame God but what I do blame is greed.   What I do blame is lust.  I blame selfishness.  I  blame complacency.  What I do blame are agencies like the residence my son was living in for tolerating poor staff performance and dismissing parental concerns.  When I worked at the nursing facilities there were always certain families that some of the staff would complain about…you know, the families that actually showed up and cared and made noise when they saw their loved one was not being properly cared for.   But light is never welcomed by ones who’d rather keep things in the dark. For too many such facilities, the bottom line and the profits of the owners are the most important things.  I am not a cynical person by nature but this is becoming more and more obvious to me as time goes on.

Guess what……God, the one so many people want to blame when things go wrong….God is on our side.  Mary stands beside the victims.  Her Son was One.  He endured willingly for all the victims who have had no choice in their suffering.  He chose.  And Mary chose right alongside Him.  Their hearts were broken and they remember.  And they hear us.  In fact the very day I found out about my son’s situation, I can  honestly say I had felt a strong impression from God, telling me He was providing for my boy and that He would take care of us.  It was almost without words but the ‘message’ was clear.   It seemed to come from out of nowhere and I didn’t know what this meant.  But within an hour, I knew.  I had been upset that we had to go to the doctor that day, frustrated that we couldn’t seem to find out what was wrong. Since my boy has had many health issues I chalked up his outbursts to physical illness.  It took a more objective eye to see what was going on this time.  Thank God for that doctor visit.

Our Lady of Sorrows is the Mother of OUR sorrows.    She knows what it is to not be able to stop the suffering of her child.   And I am so thankful to God that my son’s pain has been discovered, and I am thankful to know He saw it all and is with us still.  He’s with you in your pain and He is on the side of those who fight for victims.  He is on our side.

Grateful for Confession

I went to Confession this afternoon.  It reminded me, as it always does, how very thankful I feel to be able to do this.  I’ve been a Catholic officially since 2006, but my journey started a few years before that.  As a protestant Christian I  was taught that confessing to a priest was not necessary and that it was an ’empty ritual.’  But I learned that this is truly a grace and gift from God to us.

The first time I ever went to confession was a Saturday afternoon, not long after I had received my first Communion.  To be honest I almost didn’t go through with it.  As I walked up the steps of the church that day I had a fight or flight moment when I almost turned around and went home!  I had some things to confess that I was particularly dreading.   Once I was in the confessional though the priest quickly put me at ease.  And since he was an older man, he assured me that he’d heard pretty much everything over the years, and that because of his advanced age he would forget what people told him.   I appreciated this reassurance.  So yes, I spilled my guts as best as I could.

I did feel lighter as I drove home that day.  I did not expect to feel or experience anything other than the gladness of knowing I was fully forgiven, and relief that it was over!  But after a few minutes I became aware of something occurring inside.  It came on gradually and then was very strong and clear.  I can honestly say that in my heart, my soul / spirit, from deep in the middle of my body I physically felt like a baby that was brand new. I don’t know how to put it into words other than to describe it this way….I felt like a newborn child.  This surprised me so much and brought me to tears of joy in the car.  I will never forget those moments.

This meant a lot to me because becoming a catholic had been a battle for me all the way.  And I guess God knew I needed some evidence of the truth that His Grace IS present in the Sacrament of Confession and it is available almost anytime.  Yes He forgives us when we recognize our sin and confess it to Him, but it is a blessing and help to us to hear the words telling us we are forgiven.  It is a help to us to overcome our own pride, having to humble ourselves before God by actually naming our sin out loud to another human being.

As Catholics we believe this was instituted during the Last Supper….Jesus established the New Covenant in His blood, and at the same time established the new priesthood which would replace and fulfill the priesthood of the Old Covenant.  I had never seen this until I began my journey to the church but it was right there in scripture all the time.  I had begun this journey after Jesus had given me faith in His Presence in the Eucharist.  Once I saw this truth I was eager to know what else I had been mistaken about.  That’s another story for another day…..

For now, for this night, with Christmas arriving soon and Advent well under way, I am thankful for the gift of being able to go to Confession and clear my conscience.  I do not usually feel anything particular afterwards, there are not usually any signs.   But a peaceful heart is sign enough.

For anyone interested in learning about confession and the theology behind it, I recommend these resources very highly!

https://catholicrc.org/store/confession-the-spiritual-diaper-change-fr-calloway.php

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She’s Leaving Home

This time of year always reminds me of when I first gained independence as a teenager. At the age of 18 I was still living with my Dad and stepmother. It was a bad situation. Though I didn’t fully realize it until I was away, my stepmother was an alcoholic.   She had issues that for whatever reason were taken out on me and I was abused by her frequently.  One of her main drives was a strange need to control what I ate, and I was so nervous around her that I could not eat much of anything.    After meals I often had to run to the bathroom, convulsively  throwing up anything I had eaten in her presence as she glared at me across the table.  She herself was very thin, and during this time I unintentionally lost a good deal of weight because of the constant stress that living with her was causing me.   Apparently this set her against me even more as I was turning from a child into a young woman.  In her mind I was her enemy, even though I loved her and wanted her approval so much.  Acceptance and approval that would never come.

Mealtimes were a nightmare. I would sit and repeat to myself one scripture I had learned somewhere along the way…”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It was like a calming mantra to help myself as I sat trembling at the table.  The situation with my stepmother was just insane.  One memorable evening she literally tried to stuff a dessert cake in my mouth, saying “eat the whole f…ing thing.”  In that moment my anger overcame my fear of her. I grabbed her wrist and said “NO.”  As I think back on this now I think that was the beginning of the end. She could not handle her whipping boy (girl)actually getting a spine.

But even then I truly saw no way out.  My last year of living in my parents’ house I was in college. College had always been a huge deal to my family, especially my Dad.  The thought of telling him I wanted to quit seemed more than impossible to me.  I was so afraid all the time and felt I could not go against their plan for me.  And I had nowhere to go, though I daydreamed often of calling a taxi and disappearing.

I love Jesus so much now,  I have for years, but at that time I had no idea who He was.  In those days I saw Jesus as a block between me and God….I guess this was because of the people who were a block between me and my dad.  My stepmother most of all.  But I cried out to God often without words. One night in particular I remember lying in bed sobbing, and all I could do was reach up through the dark of my room, reach up to heaven and asked, “Please help me, please help me.”

He heard and He answered.  Within a couple of days, miracles occurred.  A friend I’d known from my first year at school called me to tell me she was going to be renting a place for the 2nd year, and would I like to live with her?  I was amazed!

Second miracle…my dad came to my room one night to talk with me. This was a rare event. He sat beside me on my bed, put his arm around me and told me, “If you want to leave school so you can get that apartment I understand.  It’s okay.”   Looking back I know my stepmother wanted me out of the house.  So this was an out for them too….a graceful way to get me out without literally kicking me out.  Kicking me out was one thing Dad would Not do, though he didn’t stand up to her otherwise.   The few times he tried he had paid for it. I have learned this is the way narcissists and abusers work.  They keep everyone around them under their thumb and you suffer the consequences if you try to resist their control.

I. Was. AMAZED by both of these events, these doors that were suddenly opening to my freedom.    I called my friend the next day and told her YES I would live with her in that wonderful apartment.   One additional miracle was that when I asked my employer if they could use me full time they told me yes they could!!  Immediately!!  This was a job I had applied for repeatedly…working at a veterinary clinic that I had always loved when I was growing up.  I did quit school which was a relief.  Because of my stress at home I was not sleeping and was often in a fog through my classes.  Though I liked my courses I was not in a place where I could take full advantage of them and I was failing several.

Moving day came and  I never had to lift a finger.  My parents were so eager to get rid of me that they moved me during the day while I was at work.  They gave me bunches of household items, furniture, dishes, etc. that had been sitting in the basement since being replaced after my family had moved to a brand new house.  That day stays in my memory.  I always felt like the Israelites who had escaped Egypt. In the biblical narrative, the Egyptians had literally thrown jewels and valuables at the Jews as they began their great Exodus.  Watching The Ten Commandments on tv every year had ingrained that scene in my mind and now I was living it.  To be fair I am sure my Dad was glad to be able to set me up with what I needed for my first apartment.  And my being gone would restore some measure of peace to his house, which had been a war zone through no fault of his own.

She’s Leaving Home by the Beatles was a running soundtrack in my mind during my last pain filled months in my parents’ house.  It was my secret wish though I didn’t dare let anyone know.  Looking out the window this morning at the November weather, grey morning skies, some sun peeking through the autumn leaves, the song came back to me. It always does this time of year.

Not long ago two of my children moved away, to live with their oldest sister across the country.  I wonder if they would relate to this song.  Their time growing up here was not without struggles and sadly there was often a lot of upheaval and upset.  One of them especially suffered.  I won’t share that here because it’s his story to tell.

She’s Leaving Home is a sad and melancholy song. But it brings back memories of true deliverance for me and reminds me of God’s watching over me.  It helps me honor the child I was and the young adult I was becoming…helps me to be more gentle on my weaknesses and fears, and helps me process the losses and grief of those years.  It even helps me to forgive more deeply.  I hope this post might help anyone who is enduring any form of abuse.  It does not last forever.  If you have no way out that you can see, call an abuse hotline. They can point you towards resources in your area.  I pray you will reach out.