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Commentary : In Her Darkest Days, Irvine Mother Found Help and a New Outlook

Last Dec. 20 we ran in this space a letter received by the Rev. Jim Hale, pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Irvine, from a woman in the congregation whom he had been helping. It was a touching letter, written in anguish and anger over her need for help. Her name was withheld, but many people in the community were moved by her predicament and words, and they responded. The following was written by the same woman in response to our query asking how she is doing now.

You may recall me as last year’s poster child for Desperate and Slightly Whining Moms of Irvine. Last Christmas, some pretty dreadful personal circumstances made my life look like a combination of “MASH” and “A Christmas Carol.”

You know. Like when everything is so awful and then it gets even worse and you have the choice of screaming your head off, laughing your head off or blowing your head off.

It was like that for me last year on Dec. 10. And it wasn’t funny at the time. That’s when I turned to my pastor for help, and he urged me to let folks know what it was like to be a family in trouble in--how unlikely!--Irvine.

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It’s not so unlikely. I have come to regard this beautiful utopian community as something akin to Satan’s Magic Kingdom.

No. I take that back. It wasn’t the community at all--it was this pervasive understanding that beautiful surroundings produce (or attract) beautiful people who neither possess nor reflect human imperfection.

That’s what lit a fire under me in the dark days we faced during Christmas last year.

Last yuletide was the culmination of a real winner of a year for my family.

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Death, marital strife, two jobless parents, two blessed children, mounting debts, automotive failure and emotional problems resulted in a torn family, an almost bare Christmas tree and depression so bad that death looked like a release.

But that’s not what people see. The neighbors see an untended, unplanted, bare yard. The PTA moms see the ragged dress, chewed nails and home-cut hair. The teachers see nervous kids who try too hard to look cheerful. And the creditors see nothing in the mail, week after week.

And isn’t that just too bad! Boy, things are tough all over! And that’s what I learned when I began to reflect on my life last year. Sort of like writing “How I Spent My Summer Vacation in Hell.”

Because even a dirt yard can be tidy and weed free. Even a worn dress can be mended or spruced up. Even chewed nails can be polished and hair can be combed and neat--even when you don’t feel like it!

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And creditors can be called. Wonderful public service agencies like the Consumer Credit Counselors of Orange County can be solicited for help. A loving pastor and caring congregation can be relied on to carry you in their arms until you can walk.

But walk you will, because walk you must. And that’s the lesson I learned last year.

Last year, I learned that misery is self-serving, that attitude is everything, that no one is so perfect or so hopeless that they can’t benefit from some tough self-examination and personal change.

Because when you finally wipe your tears and moan your last moan, you will be looking in the mirror and you will be looking alone.

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Last year I truly felt like an outcast--a pariah--in a wonderful community in which I could no longer “compete” as any other “normal” citizen.

Without a job I had no identity and no dough. No way of maintaining the pretty pricey standards of living that you find around here.

But I discovered that my perceived “persecution” by the upstanding citizenry was really a lot of self-indulgent, romantic glop.

An adult, after all, still makes his choices. I discovered the degree to which I was responsible for me and my miserable life.

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Friends, I am here to tell you that, to my shame, I really hadn’t grown up until last year.

And I have several people to thank. Things did get worse before they got better, but several angels extended blessings that made it possible for me to go on. And in the selfless love of strangers, I was able to see self-worth. And then I changed.

I went from a harried mother discussing her frustration in an open letter last year to an adult suddenly aware of her need to change.

So many troubled families are truly struggling under burdens and problems not their fault nor of their doing. There really are neighbors around you who may be relying on church food to make the bills this month. They’re “good” families. Nice families. Families like yours. Mine was.

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But my family’s difficulties grew to the degree that I believed they were out of control. Luckily, I learned to stop holding stock in the belief that I could, somehow, control every aspect of my life.

I learned to rely on others enough to learn to rely on myself. And I am gradually replacing the need to ineffectually control my circumstances with the ability to handle my circumstances.

Oh, well. This was supposed to be a love letter to those folks who have cared enough to think about my family and me.

Last year, my mad daily dash of routing resumes to prospective employers was made easier thanks to the gift donation of several dollars’ worth of stamps. What an incredible, loving gift, as was that discreetly wrapped cash and encouragement from caring, yet unknown, donors!

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And there were job offers, and counseling services at no charge, thanks to Irvine Temporary Housing. And the unexpected treats provided among the food donations from the loving congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

Last year I wanted so much to give my kids a nice Christmas, but I couldn’t. And I was so ashamed. Until I rediscovered the real gifts and the strong love that had been around and are readily available all the time.

Surprise! It’s a happy ending.


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