20 June 2010

How do you know?

I just finished a book of true crime about a woman in Kansas City who poisoned her husband, not killing him, and later, burned her house down with her children in it. One of the three escaped.

I hardly ever read true crime. People who know I read mysteries find this strange, but the true crimes is just too creepy because at no point can you say, "Oh, it's just a story." I was intrigued enough to read this one because it is set here.

This woman could be vivacious and witty and the life of the party, but in her personal relationships she had no coping skills and would throw intense temper tantrums when things did not go her way. Toward the end of the story several people in her life felt that somehow the system had failed that no one had called in outside intervention before death happened. (The husband had tried to have her committed to work on emotional issues but she had been released after three days, partly because she was very good at seeming congenial when necessary.

So I'm not here to rehash simply an old crime, but the question this left me with is how do you know when someone is too unstable or too far gone and something has to be done.  Off the top of my head, I can think of three unstable people in my life who can seem "the life of the party" and can be fun in social situations. These same people in other moments would terrify me if they were at my front door unexpectedly. I would probably not open it, depending on the circumstances.

So the people in this crime story didn't seem to know it was time to intervene. Everyone kept saying, "I didn't think she would hurt her children. They were so important to her." So when do you know that someone has crossed over? Do we recognize a precipitating event when we see one or only after the cataclysm has happened do we see it?

I suppose if the answer to this was clear the field of psychology and analysis would be much more straight forward. For law enforcement, the answer is easier to say but harder to live with. You can't arrest someone because they might commit a crime or are suspicious. They have to violate the law before their rights can be taken. You can't call the cops if someone in your life has been erratic or suspicious -- until they won't leave your house or something. So how do you know when to get help or intervention for someone? Don't we always think, "No, they wouldn't REALLY do anything,"?

04 June 2010


I have told this story verbally many times, but I had an occasion this week to tell it to a pastor who so enjoyed it I figured I would share it here.

Six years a go we were raising funds to go do the media missions work in Spain that we do. It was (and is) a slow process in our system of visiting various churches and sharing the vision we have to touch people with God's love.

Part of this process is calling various pastors and asking them to schedule a visit. The system we are under feels like we need to do 10 meetings a month like this (either with the pastor individually or the whole church). As a missionary phone solicitor, It's tricky to fill the schedule. Plus you have to try to meet new pastors and people all the time because you never know who is going to be the key person in a budget or a project.

We had a service scheduled further afield in Missouri last time and I called and called every church between that place and back home in KC. I got a hold of a pastor in a tiny town. He really discouraged me from coming.

"We are really small and it wouldn't really be worth your while. There's only a few of us older folks on a Sunday night."

"That's okay," I said confidently, "We're driving through on our way home anyway, so it would be a good opportunity to stop and share."

So a couple months later we show up in this town (name withheld) and set up our projector for showing our videos and a table with an assortment of printed materials.

The pastor had indeed predicted correctly. There were six people including the pastor all sporting white hair and a couple of canes. That's okay who knows who will catch the vision for what we do?

The routine was and is that Kerry speaks and shares some videos and then I get up and wrap things up with our testimony. Our total "program" is around 30 minutes usually give or take 5 minutes.

With only seven people in the seats, it was easy to make eye contact with everyone. After I'd been speaking a bit, I realized that everyone was asleep. Except Kerry. Even the little lady at the sound board. All asleep.

I was so stunned that I paused in my speaking. I looked at Kerry who didn't know that they were all asleep. I considered just saying Amen really loud and sitting down. I was contemplating what to do next when my awkward pause awoke the pastor. I decided to finish up with the short version of the talk.