Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Prophets, Saints, and Insanity

Please allow me to apologize for my extended absences from both the blog and the comments. I assumed that I would be able to, and have much to post on, after my ordination interviews were over. While I do have much swimming around in my soul and mind, I have been unable to sit and focus any of it.

You see, I have been somewhat preoccupied with my stepdaughter's spiral into mental illness. It has reached a crisis point recently, which, oddly, freed me up enough to spend some time thinking aloud about it.

Some background is essential here...

As my stepdaughter, M, is an adult, I will respect her privacy and not refer to her by name. She is almost 22 years old. Mr. left rev. and her mother have been divorced since she was an infant. They had a custody sharing agreement that was somewhat testy, but honored by all concerned. It was pretty equitable overall.

M's mother was Mormon, something that contributed to the break-up the marriage, as Mr. left rev. was NOT at that time (and harbored some intense resentment towards that church). She remarried a Mormon fellow and proceeded to raise M in that faith. Mr. left rev. was not thrilled, but did not interfere directly.

I joined this picture when M was six. The year we married, M was spending the school year with us, due to family pressures at her "other house." A pattern soon emerged that we would get extended custody of M whenever they were having family issues. I was able to be with her a great deal as she was growing up and could see (more clearly in hindsight, of course) the development of some of her issues. She was a poor student, she was very impulsive, she was given to strong emotional attachments to animals, but not so much to people, she had difficulty keeping friendships, she was passive aggressive. And she was a very needy, caring child who felt emotional upsets very deeply.

When M was 14, we were given full and legal custody of her, as her mother and stepdad were overwhelmed by the onset of adolescence. My daughters were 3 and 7 at the time. I was in seminary and we were living in a two bedroom apartment. Things were very tense.

The acting out began immediately...skipping school, failing grades, threats to run away or to hurt herself. She was a victim of date rape, she began using recreational drugs, she was incapable of holding a job and was arrested for stealing from her employer, a pharmacist. We tried several times to get her into therapy, but she proved extremely resistant to using any drugs she was prescribed for ADD and depression. She was ordered into therapy as a result of the arrest, and we attended the sessions faithfully with her, each time discovering how deeply our beautiful girl was hurting and feeling more and more frustrated that we could do so little about it. She would stabilize out for long periods of time, make passing grades, and seem to be at peace with herself. Then things would begin to slide again. Together, we and her began realizing when this was happening and take steps to head it off. As she got older, it was looking like she might be able to get this under control and live as normal a life as anyone could who refused to take prescription medication.

She even began going back to church. Something that occurred during one summer visit back to her mother's home made her reembrace her Mormon upbringing with all the fervor of the born again. She studied, attended faithfully, and completely embraced all aspects of Mormon doctrine in all aspects of her life as she was able and agonized when she fell from the standards she set for herself.

A friend asked me if it bothered me that M was a Mormon. My response was that I did not agree with her theology or doctrine, but that I had a 19 year old daughter who didn't drink, smoke, do drugs, eat meat, or sleep with her boyfriend and who took her responsibilities to her apostate hell-bound family only slightly less seriously than she took her responsibility to God. What the hell did I have to complain about?

I don't for a moment mean to suggest that the Mormon faith was the source of her mental instability. All it did was provide a context and a catalyst, and that could be said of any faith when embraced with utter uncritical fervor to the exclusion of all else.

While mental illness can take many forms, I was distinctly taken aback by the form it took in this case.

Religious delusions. Big time.

M would spend a great deal of time in prayer and study everyday. Sometimes she would talk about the "revelations" she had received as a result, and we would even discuss our relative understandings of Scripture. But, as she began spending more and more time locked away in her room, she spoke to me less and less. She began refusing to take calls from her boyfriend. She would occasionally talk aloud behind her closed door. Our voiced concerns about her job selling insurance and her nocturnal existence were answered with assurances that she was going to get busy again very soon. One day, a month and a half ago, she made a rare appearance out of her room during the daylight hours and paced anxiously back and forth in front of me, informing me that something very special had happened to her.

She had been taken as a bride by The Holy Spirit (an actual, physical spirit in her interpretation of Mormon pneumatology). There had been a ceremony and everything. She had physically felt his hand in hers, and as a result of their union, she would be equipped with special revelation to share in order to save the world.

How does one respond to this? I think I must have just sat there BLINKING at her for five solid minutes as she went on and on about the special relationship she shared with The Holy Spirit. Clearly, something had happened for her; to her mind, this was entirely real, exhilarating and empowering. She was hearing voices, having visions, and receiving special revelation.

Was I in the presence of a prophet? Irrational behavior, in so far as society determined that standard, was no bar to being a prophet of God. I did not immediately judge her disclosure to be that of schitzophrenic rambling; that came later. It didn't come when her own bishops told her to quit talking about her experience at church-prophetic voices are often silenced by the status quo. Her message was one of hope and peace to the world when they receive the truth of Heavenly Father, and that things weren't moving fast enough toward the second coming because even the most saintly of Heavenly Father's saints (i.e.-good Mormons) couldn't hear all the wisdom through the distractions that surrounded them. They needed to be refined in constant prayer and focus on the Scriptures.

Her church didn't appreciate being told they weren't doing a good job. This was the gist of her message, at first. And I was able to maintain as neutral a front as possible, probing gently around the edges to get as much information as I could about what was happening to her. She submitted to a "healing" and "patriarchal blessing," in order for them to receive the Spirit and know she was telling the truth. Because they didn't tell her directly that she was in need of therapy, she assumed that the Spirit was working on them.

Later, she quit talking about the elders in her church. She quit going altogether. She began taking long walks outside at night and refusing to speak to anyone for days. Then she upped the ante. It was Jesus Christ whom she married. And it wasn't simply the gnosis that would usher in the second coming, but her personally. She was pregnant with Jesus' baby.

I am not making this up. I discovered this when I rushed her to the ER after she began experiencing heavy bleeding. She thought she was miscarrying Jesus' child because she had made some mistakes, strayed from the true path. I was afraid she was pregnant, and that "Jesus" who still lived with his Mom while trying college for the third time, was going to be a tough nut to crack for child support.

Her explanation to the ER staff was confusing and contradictory. They tested her. Not pregnant. She didn't believe them and requested that they do an exam. They did just that. Not pregnant. Now she was convinced that the doctor doing the exam had tried to abort her baby because he didn't think that she wanted it. Then she was convinced that she was pregnant, that the baby was under the care of the Holy Spirit and they couldn't see it. If she became the perfect vessel, she would be privileged to bring God's kingdom to birth on earth. Now she would become a saint.

I still don't see how she got out of the ER without being held for a psyche consult. I guess they just didn't want the grief.

Being unable to convince us that she was indeed expecting Jesus' child, she pondered these things in her heart for three days, then stole the car we had just put $300 worth of work into and drove to her Mom's home, 1200 miles away with less than $100 in her pocket.

She took only her cat.

We are against her, you see. We were given the truth, but we did not hear it. We tried to get her to turn to doctors instead of listening to Heavenly Father's desires for her. Now she will not talk to us. Through her mother, she asked only for her journals, which she also accused us of destroying.

I search through her last ramblings to us-disjointed, sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes accusatory-for some sign that she hears God as she so desperately wants to. Perhaps it is sufficient that God hears her. I pray that it is so.

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