It was the summer of 1977 (“Star Wars”) that I accepted Christ Jesus as my Savior. I had been observing my sister and brother, noticing how joyful they were. I knew I was missing out on something. I had undergone back surgery the previous year to correct a spinal curvature called scoliosis. I believe God used this medical condition to prepare my heart for Him. When the surgeon opened me up, some of my waywardness to seeped out. I no longer wanted to lie to my mom or sneak out to be with bad people.
Soon after becoming a Christian, I joined the choir at Christ Temple Mission in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. We made a trip to the nearby town of York to sing for the inmates at a women’s correctional facility. I remember feeling a little strange singing in a prison, but I was glad for the opportunity to brighten their day with some gospel music. (I had no idea at the time that I would one day be ministering to inmates across the country, not with music but with the word of God.)
When I returned to Lincoln High School that fall, the kids I had been hanging out with had either graduated or dropped out. My senior year was very quiet compared to the one before. I actually passed all of my classes. There was even talk that I could go on to college. That was something I had never considered, but God was teaching me to start thinking outside the box. Anything was possible now that I was His child. Vocational Rehabilitation Services sent me to Hastings, Nebraska for some aptitude tests, where I showed an aptitude for administrative office management. At first I wanted to do like my mom had done and just take secretarial training at the Lincoln School of Commerce. I didn’t like the idea of a four-year college because I knew they would make me take a lot of electives that don’t pertain to my major. But looking back, the courses I enjoyed most were electives such as Intro to Poetry, Art History, and Survey of Criminal Justice. These are the courses that gave me a well-rounded education.
During my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, I got acquainted with a Christian classmate while taking a course called Expository Writing. Our assignment was to take a concept and write an essay about it. I chose the concept of truth and started my essay with the words, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?” Brenda’s essay was on love; she explained the three types of love (agape, fileo, and eros). After class she could tell by my comments that I was a Christian. She invited me to a meeting of the Baptist Student Union. At this time I was already involved in a college/career group through Indian Hills Community Church called LAMB (Love Attracts More Believers).
In 1982 I started attending a singles group, also through Indian Hills, which is where I met my first husband. At that time I was taking a class called Corporate Finance and was having a devilish time with the assignments. My mom tried to help, but her bookkeeping skills could only go so far. I knew Roger was a certified public accountant and would be a much greater help, but I didn’t feel comfortable calling on him. When he called asking to talk to my brother, then I found it much easier to “oh, by the way, Roger…” He came over one evening and helped me with my take-home final exam. That led to a Sunday afternoon walk in the park, which led to dinner and a play.
Although Roger shared my faith in Christ, along with the rest of his family, he was not a zealous Christian. During the course of our 20-year marriage, we both lost interest in attending church and Bible studies. Looking back, I now realize that I could have maintained my own walk with Christ without his help; I just didn’t have that much steam in my engine to begin with, so it was easy to drift off course while married to a passive Christian. Pulling away from the Lord led to drifting away from each other. Christ was our glue, but neither of us was placing much value on Him. I didn’t realize until many years later that the only thing we were doing together was slipping into depression.
I was having difficulty keeping my mind focused. The future looked grim and dismal; it was as if all the color had gone out of the picture. I was walking around in a heavy, gray fog. There were days when the depression went away only to be replaced with extreme exuberance and nervous energy that made me chatter like a madhatter. I’d go from one day feeling like there was nothing I could do that was worth anything, to the next day feeling like there was nothing I couldn’t do. One day I would be walking down the middle of the hallway with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I’d look people in the eye and say “good morning!” The next day I’d be hugging the wall with my head down. The extremes were exhausting. My sleep pattern was screwed up. It was very common for me to function on four hours of sleep. I thought it was okay because the caffiene from soft drinks helped perk me up. But the mood swings were terrible. I felt like there were two different people inside me – the happy go lucky Lisa who had a bright future and the dark Lisa who couldn’t find a reason to go on.
One day I felt so miserable I took a couple quarters out of my purse and went down the hall to the pay phone. But I couldn’t bring myself to call my doctor’s office and schedule an appointment to get help. For some reason I just couldn’t admit that I was in trouble. I wanted to deny my illness. One afternoon when the pressures of work became too much for me, I opened the phone book and looked for a motel that I could check into and commit suicide. Then I decided to leave town the next morning and just find another city to die in. When I reached Kansas City, I decided to go to the airport and board a flight to New York.
When I checked into a hotel room near Shea Stadium, I dropped to my knees and wept. Father, what have I done? The next morning a Christian radio station was somewhat comforting, but I still believed that dying was the answer to my problems. I wandered around Manhattan in a gray mist, noticing how everyone else seemed to be going about their normal business while I was trying to decide where to end my life. I noticed a Barnes & Noble bookstore, one of the places my mom and I used to frequent on our Saturdays together, and decided to do some browsing. I guess you could say I got distracted. While on the second floor, I found a couple books that looked good to me. All of a sudden I felt as if someone had opened a window and let a fresh breeze in. As I headed back downstairs, I decided not to end my life. I realized I could go back home. It wouldn’t be easy facing my family, but I knew God would help me do it. As I left the bookstore and headed to the Chase Manhattan Bank to get cash for cab fare, the gray mist had lifted. The mania I had felt while heading toward Kansas City, anticipating my death, was replaced by the calm elation of going back home. I would work things out with my family and get the professional help I needed.
I went to my mom’s house because I needed some positive reinforcement before facing Roger. Mom gave me her sweet, loving smile and said, “Welcome home, prodigal daughter.” When I entered my house, Roger was sitting on the couch. He looked up at me and said, “So what’s your story?” After telling him what had happened to make me want to run away, he said, “Well, it’s obvious you need help.” He arranged for me to see the family doctor, who referred me to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with the bi-polar disorder and prescribed lithium. Over the course of several years, I was also prescribed Zanax, Wellbutrin, Prozac, and Zyprexa.
In March 2008, after graduating from a women’s recovery program, I made my fourth and final attempt at suicide. Although lithium had me once again stable, I was now homeless because the women with whom I had been sharing a transitional house did not want me there. My doctor arranged for a caseworker to help me find a new place to live. She gave me the choice between Omaha and Fremont. I was ready for a smaller city, so I chose Fremont.
While living at CareCorps Homeless Shelter, I met two people who would play very significant roles in my life: Sandy Valdez and Robert Leonard. Sandy had been working as a correctional officer at the Dodge County Jail, and Robert had been an inmate there. Just days before I arrived in town, Sandy and another friend had asked Robert if he would like them to fix him up with a girl. It had been about a year since his girlfriend Connie has passed away, and it seemed to them that he was ready for a new relationship. Robert told them that he didn’t want anybody fixing him up with someone. He didn’t want any girl unless the Lord brought her to him. Our first three months as a married couple were spent in a boarding house. It was noisy and dirty, but the owners were good to us. When we accumulated enough money to move out, they were sorry to see us go.
Sandy had been serving as vice-president/coordinator for Gideon’s Army, a jail and prison ministry founded by the late Larry Juedes. She invited me to one of their meetings where plans were underway to open a halfway house for Dodge County. I was giving the job of taking the minutes. A few months later Robert and I were invited to become the editors of the Gideon’s Army monthly newsletter. A few months later, Larry and Sandy began the process of obtaining the 501(c)3 status for Gideon’s Army. One of the requirements was having a secretary on record. Sandy asked me if I would like to make it “official,” and I was happy to fill the position.
Early in our marriage, Robert shared with me how God had delivered him from the bondage of alcoholism, drug addiction, and the dependency on a dozen different pysch meds for depression and other conditions. As I listened to him, I realized that if the Lord can do all that, surely He can deliver me from the bondage of the bi-polar disorder. At this time I was only taking lithium, so I held up that plastic bottle and asked God to help me learn to depend less on pills and more on Him. I made the decision to overcome this illness by allowing the Holy Spirit to become my mood stabilizer and the word of God to become my medication. It was a process, but I am very pleased to report that I now take no psych meds whatsoever. Now, when I feel myself starting to become discouraged or anxious, I immediately cast all my care upon the Lord and read scripture to remind myself that God is faithful and that nothing is too hard for Him. (I had been told by a psychiatrist that I would need to take lithium for the rest of my life in order to remain stable. However, the Lord has taught me that the bi-polar disorder need not be a life sentence.)
As I began revamping the GA newsletter, I happened upon a scripture verse that seemed fitting for the column “From His Heart … to Our Hands,” in which we feature poems and essays by inmates. Psalm 45:1 reads, “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” I decided to use that verse when it came time for McLaughlin Innovations (located in Valley, NE) to develop my website. They had done such a good job with the Gideon’s Army website that I decided to have them design one for me as well. I had been wanting to become a freelance writer for quite some time, and in December I decided to start making plans in that direction.
“Concerning the King” is all about writing for the King of Kings. I would like to help people write their testimonies, memoirs, letters, and special presentations for church or other functions. I also would enjoy helping Bible-based organizations compose brochures and other promotional material. The Lord has been so good to me over the years, and now I want to pay it forward through Facebook, Twitter, and my website, “Concerning the King.” After all, my heart is overflowing with a good theme!