From my front row seat

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"My Greatest Teacher Was a Meth Cook"

Laurie Anderson was the very first resident at Blue Monarch - and first graduate.  Laurie loved to boast, "There will never, ever be another FIRST graduate of Blue Monarch!"  And she was so right.

The news of Laurie's recent death from a heart attack hit me harder than I would have expected, and I believe it's because Laurie was symbolic of so many "firsts" in this Blue Monarch journey.  I had the great honor of speaking at her memorial service last week and this allowed me to really examine how deeply Laurie impacted my life.

When we first got our beautiful property in 2003, I received a frantic call from a mother of four children.  She was desperately looking for help.  At the time I was trying to run Blue Monarch as I would any other business and couldn't see a way to help her until we had our staff and program completely nailed down.  So I turned her away.

However, for two weeks this mother stayed on my mind.  I finally tried to track her down and discovered that within those two weeks this woman had surrendered all four children to others who were willing to adopt them - and disappeared.  My heart was broken.

I decided then and there that too many huge things happened very quickly to the population we were going to serve - so the next woman who called was not getting turned down, no matter how unprepared we were.

That next woman was Laurie Anderson, known as the "Betty Crocker of Meth" to some, and this reputation had landed her in jail.  She had been released and was looking for a new start. 

This is a photo of her interview at Blue Monarch and in looking back I have to wonder if I was making up the questions as I went along?  I'm not sure.  What I do remember, though, was that I had never heard such tragic stories in my entire life.  One story I remember in particular was of her being left in a ditch to die for several days after being severely beaten.  There were lots of other disturbing stories - one right after the other.  I immediately realized I was in over my head, but yes, we were taking her anyway.

The day Laurie moved in, I watched her from my office window as she strolled the beautiful grounds admiring her new home.  I got an immediate rush of "Oh my word!  I am responsible for this person!  What have I done?" 

I keep a photo of this moment on my desk because God quickly pointed out to me, "This is my plan.  Not yours."  And I've discovered the world is always less scary when I can remember this very important fact.

Truth was, even though Laurie came to Blue Monarch for help and it was exactly what she needed at that point in her life, God also knew I desperately needed a teacher.  I knew absolutely nothing about the people our organization was designed to serve and I'm sure Laurie figured that out right away.  I had a Fine Arts degree, for crying out loud!  

What I learned from Laurie, though, became the very foundation of what we do and helped to shape what we have become.  

Here are just a few of the valuable things Laurie taught me:
  • The world of drug abuse and what it does to destroy families - and especially how it impacts the children in the middle of the chaos.
  • To not make eye contact with people who are currently using meth so I don't get caught up in their crazy paranoia.
  • The world of crime and law enforcement - how to work with probation officers, judges, and how to navigate a jail interview.
  • The different kinds of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and how it causes so much damage to one's emotional health and self-worth.
  • How to protect myself from a manipulative population and to have greater discernment regarding the people around me.  In other words, she taught me "street smarts" that has really come in handy through the past thirteen years.
  • What happens when harmful destructive cycles of behavior are allowed to continue generation after generation.
I watched Laurie grieve the hideous, suspicious deaths of her mother and little brother, which taught me how injustice comes in all shapes and sizes for some and not for others.

But while I observed Laurie's steadfast courage and determination as she recovered from a life of abuse and addiction, she also taught me volumes about forgiveness, emotional healing, and most importantly, faith in God.  Her love of Christ was tangible and she gave Him the glory for her healing.

I've always thought one of life's greatest tragedies would be to get to the end of your life, look back, and see that you haven't accomplished anything significant.  That is certainly not true for Laurie.

Laurie raised two amazing children, Robbie and Becca.  Thankfully they have not repeated the cycle of drug abuse in their family and are both vibrant, wonderful young adults.  Laurie has a beautiful granddaughter who only knew her grandmother as completely wonderful.  Laurie was a devoted daughter and actually restored that relationship while she was at Blue Monarch.

But this is what Laurie probably never knew.  She impacted the lives of HUNDREDS of women who followed in her footsteps.  She paved the way for many, many women who showed up on our doorstep with the same hurts, disappointments, and tragedies that Laurie did.  But because of Laurie, we were better equipped to help them.

Through the years our residents have asked me many times, "How is your first graduate?"  They ask as if they are afraid of the answer.

I have always been very proud to say that our first graduate was successful and doing well!  Then I show them the photo on my desk of the day Laurie graduated from our program.  Laurie always said, "Miss Susan, the Holy Spirit must have been with us in this photo because just look at the incredible glow!"  I would have to agree.  It was an amazing, triumphant day - not just for Laurie, but also for the Kingdom of God.

As I visited with Robbie and Becca at the service last week, it was moving to discover the tremendous impact Blue Monarch had on their lives, even though the time Laurie was with us was very brief in her life of fifty years.

Robbie shared, "Mom's time at your program was the first time she was able to be a real mom.  Even though I was entering college at the time, it was the first time she was ever involved in my school."

One time many years ago Laurie told me that if it weren't for Blue Monarch she would probably be dead.  At the time I thought she was being a little dramatic.  But last week Becca told me, "If it weren't for Blue Monarch, we wouldn't have had all these extra years with Momma.  So thank you for what you do for families."  

And then Robbie told me, "If it weren't for Blue Monarch, I don't think our mom would have made it another year."  So maybe Laurie was not exaggerating after all.

Thank you, Lord, for taking the darkness of Laurie's life and using it to bring light to so many.  And thank you for sending the perfect teacher to partner with me on this amazing journey.