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Southern born, Southern reared. It's a quirky place and we are unique folk... These are my people and these are my stories.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday's Southern-Style Faith: Our Story Continues

Losing J to the State of Florida's idea of help and to mental health issues was much like losing her to death. She was no longer accessible to us. In many ways, worse.

I have buried a few people in my lifetime. My beloved grandfather died when I was ten. I distinctly remember his funeral, my mother breaking down and into my father's arms. In our family, shortly thereafter, we buried three of our loved ones--two were an aunt and uncle who died in a car accident. Then, at the age of 14, I attended the funeral of  my "first love," a young man shot in a hunting accident.

Over the course of life, we hear the news that our loved ones have died. Their bodies live no more. We have that initial moment of shock, we cry, we grieve. In the South, we make casseroles, platters filled with deviled eggs, or decadent desserts, slip into our best funeral wear, and attend viewings, family gatherings, and funerals. I have been to my fair share.

Two of my most devastating moments in life came when my brother called from across the country to tell me our father had died. A couple hours earlier he called to say Daddy was getting better and was about to be moved out of intensive care and to his regular room. Hearing, "Daddy died!" threw a bolt of electricity through me I can still feel today.

The second call also came from my brother, only this time he was only a mile away. We were taking "shifts" over our mother's dying. His time to watch was my time to sleep, which--as exhausted as we were--came like bricks falling to the ground. That night, when I returned to our room at The Rathbun Center, I didn't even bother to undress. I simply kicked off my shoes and climbed into the narrow twin bed I'd been sleeping in for a week. An hour into my semi-comatose condition, my cell phone rang ...

Only a few months after Mother died, the words "the little girl you knew is gone," hit much in the same way as "Daddy died!" and "She's gone ..."

The difference being ... I knew she was out there, somewhere.

Stages of grief are real and, as J's therapist said to me, I would have to go through them. For me, the biggest problem was that I'd not quite made it through the stages of grief from my mother's passing. So, right in the middle of trying to experience that, which we owe to ourselves after the death of a loved one, I was hit with more than I thought I could emotionally and spiritually hold.

1. She's not mentally well.
2. You are being accused of abusing her.
3. The Powers that Be believe her even though the investigating police do not.
4. Though you are still her guardian, you cannot see her. You cannot talk to her. You cannot legally know where she is.
5. She's in the ghetto, not getting help, not doing well in school, still believing her own twisted stories

Harder still, for me, was that those who we knew as a family were seeing and speaking to her. It was as if we, and we alone, were ostracized. We--who had been there nearly every day for 12 years--were told (and I quote) to "get on with your lives and forget her."

But how do you get on with your life when the fingerprints of her life were all over my house? I stood at the doorway of her bedroom every night, unable to walk in, just staring at the bed, picturing her propped up on the pillows, laptop opened and resting on her knees, fingers flying over the keyboard. In my mind's eye, I could still see her looking up at me, smiling. I could hear her voice. "Tov you!"

Which meant, "Love you!"

Every so often I could hear her door opening, see her dashing out from "her side of the house," across the family room floor and to the kitchen where she'd get her favorite snack, pizza rolls.

"Can I have a Sunkist?"

"Have you had one today?"

"No..."

"Yes then."

I could smell her.

And I could not believe--I could not believe--she was gone. Refused to believe this was happening. Surely I could blink my eyes or nod my head or twitch my nose and this whole thing would be absolved. Surely I could go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning and discover it was all a bad dream A very bad dream.

Looking back now, I was in the first stage of grief. Amazingly, those who should have recognized that, were too oblivious in their own self-righteousness to recognize it.

I distinctly remember the morning I fell to my knees and cried out to God, "Please help us!"

This will be one year ... came the whisper to my heart. This will be one year.

And so, for me, the idea that in one year a miracle would occur, came to be. And it would be a miracle, but not the one I imagined ...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday's Recipe of the Week

Yesterday I had lunch at one of my favorite Italian eateries, Papa Tony's. So, in honor of that fabulous meal, I thought I'd share with you a recipe I used to make for my family quite often. There was never anything left on the platter, so I must have done fairly well with it.

Chicken Parmesan

1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
4 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon oregano leaves, crushed
dash garlic powder
dash pepper
2 pounds chicken parts (I always used thighs, because it was a favorite with my family, but breasts should do well, too)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
dash paprika

Combine crumbs, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic and pepper; roll chicken in mixture. Arrange in 2-quart shallow baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes . Turn chicken. Bake 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, blend soup and milk; pour over chicken. Sprinkle with paprika and remaining Parmesan. Bake 20 minutes more or until chicken is tender. Arrange chicken on platter. Pour heated sauce over chicken, served with rice. You may also pour the sauce onto the chicken during the last 20 minutes of baking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday's Southern Style Tunes

This isn't a "tune," but I would be remiss if I didn't post this VIDEO. The movie opens THIS FRIDAY! Go to UnconditionalTheMovie.com to find the theater nearest you!



One other thing: if you are on Facebook, go to Unconditional The Book page and look at the upcoming contest! :)

Eva Marie Everson
Author
Unconditional, the Novel
Novelization of the screenplay and movie by Brent McCorkle

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday's Musing on All Things Southern

How about a little Southern humor?

Let's start with Florida (although you have to go north to get south of here!)


Florida    



A Florida senior citizen drove his brand new Corvette convertible out of the dealership. Taking off down the road, he pushed it to 80 mph, enjoying the wind blowing through what little hair he had left. "Amazing," he thought as he flew down I-95, pushing the pedal even more.

Looking in his rear view mirror, he saw a Florida State Trooper, blue lights flashing and siren blaring. He floored it to 100 mph, then 110, then 120. Suddenly he thought, "What am I doing? I'm too old for this!"
and pulled over to await the trooper's arrival.

Pulling in behind him, the trooper got out of his vehicle and walked up to the Corvette. He looked at his watch, then said, "Sir, my shift ends in 30 minutes. Today is Friday. If you can give me a new reason
for speeding--a reason I've never before heard -- I'll let you go."

The old gentleman paused then said: "Three years ago, my wife ran off with a Florida State Trooper. I thought you were bringing her back.

"Have a good day, Sir," replied the trooper.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday's Southern-Style Faith: Our Story Continues

Hearing the alleged charges brought against us was nothing compared with what was to come. I think, sometimes, God is like this: He allows the smaller tragedies that come with living in a sin-filled world to fall upon us first. Before the big stuff. And then the really big stuff.

In March 2011, two months after seeing J for the last time, we were cleared of all alleged charges against us. By Child Protective Services. By Casselberry Police Department. And by Seminole County Sheriff's Office Crimes Against Children. I received an official report from each of them; the latter contained a notation that the detective had gone to the foster home to see J. The foster home address was listed. I jumped in my car and drove, anxious to know. When I saw where my child was staying, I was horrified. Shambled houses, young people as well as older ambling aimlessly, liquor stores--outside which women stood, ready to sell a different kind of intoxication. More liquor stores. Second-hand stores. Litter. Graffiti.

My husband and I were invited to a meeting at CBC of Central Florida. I looked forward to the two hours we were to be there, but I should have been forewarned. When we were greeted by the case manager, it became apparent immediately that she didn't care what the police reports said. We were guilty. Why? Because the child had said so. Her cold demeanor and "I really don't care what you have to say" attitude said it all.

J's bio-family was with us and her bio-dad was "patched in" to the meeting by speaker phone. And, when he had the chance to speak, he had the nerve, the absolute audacity, to accuse my husband of sexually abusing J.

In an act I'd never seen before or since, my husband stood, slammed his hand down on the table near the "speaker" and began his own list of accusations. We'd known for years what her bio-dad had done and hadn't done to and for his child when she was a baby. It was all documented. And he wasn't denying it. My husband--my fabulously wonderful husband--had given this child love. Pure love. Never ever touching her inappropriately. He had paid for her needs, not just her wants, because her own father had not. He had held her when she was afraid, laughed at her childhood jokes, and taught her to ride a bike. Taught her to read. How to tie her shoes. He'd made sure she had food in her tummy when she was hungry and a warm place to sleep when she was tired. He'd built playhouses for her and her friends out of palm fronds. He'd held one end of a rope so she and her friends could jump over it as it swung near the ground.

He was old enough to be her grandfather, but he gave her all the energy of young dad. And, he had always treated her bio-dad with respect. In spite of his shortcomings. In spite of what he didn't do for his daughter, my husband's attitude was always, always: he is her father.

And this was how he was being repaid?

It took everything we had to get our story across to a room of about 15 people, most of who clearly didn't want to be there. The supervisor of supervisors at CBC spent more time reading her emails off her phone than she did listening to the facts of our situation. And, finally, when the case manager's direct supervisor stood and informed us that the child had all the rights and we had none, and that J didn't want to see us or allow us to get her the help she needed, we knew we were done.

So much for Children and Families.

Still, I continued to monitor J's school progress online. Even though she was in foster care, we were still the legal guardians and I still had access to her records. She was often tardy. She was belligerent to teachers. And she was in after school suspension and suspended quite frequently.

She was taken to several facilities for testing and with each report, the news grew more grim. Still, CBC and DCF refused to see the real problem.

And, like good parents, my husband and I continued to buy her clothes and those things we thought she might need and/or want. J accepted the gifts, but not us. Totally out of character from a little girl who always "thank you thank you thank you"'d anyone who gave her even the littlest thing.

In June, the State of Florida sent a doctor to talk to J for a half hour; this women--in spite of all the medical records and history--deemed that foster care and therapy would be sufficient. After a half hour with the child and no time with family or with us.

Then came July ... and something growing out of my chest. Turned out to be a form of skin cancer, which was painfully removed. I had a check up scheduled with a specialist on August 4 (I believe it was). About that time, I also received a call from the GAL office that CBC and DCF had filed a request with the court to have my husband and me removed as J's guardians.

"Will we get a notice to come to court?" I asked.
"You should," she said. "I just wanted to give you a heads up so you wouldn't be surprised." Out of all the people involved in this case, she and the GAL volunteer, and one therapist from DCF were the only ones who had treated us with any semblance of dignity.
"When is the hearing?" I asked.
"August 4," she said.

Great.

I waited for the paperwork to come, but it never did. J's aunts went to the hearing while I went to see if the cancer was contained. They called when it was over to tell me the judge had refused the petition. I breathed a sigh of relief. We were still J's legal parents; we could still fight for the welfare of our baby girl.

But then another call came from the GAL office. J had been taken into the judge's chambers after court, I was told. She didn't know the details, only that J showed such a level of mental disturbance that the judge removed our rights. "I honestly think he is trying to protect the two of you, Eva."

Devastated, I waited for the paperwork that would prove all our work, our expenses, our love and devotion were for nothing.

But it never came.

DCF and CBC of Central Florida had our rights removed and we were never notified. Not before. Not after. Not since. The Big Bad Wolf had finally huffed and puffed and blown a child's house down.

~~~

(Note: For the third time this year, J is missing from the "care" of DCF and CBC of Central Florida. But she is not alone. Right now, this minute, there are nearly 200 children in Florida they cannot account for. 200. What if one of them was yours? Just one?)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday's Talk About a Book

Papa Joe Bradford & Me standing (and sitting) in front of
a monitor playing the trailer to Unconditional at ICRS
July 2012.
Most of you know, by now, that I wrote the novelization of Unconditional, the Movie. The book released on September 1; the movie will release on September 21.

The movie, which stars Michael Ealy (Think Like a Man, Common Law) and Lynn Collins (John Carter, 50 First Dates), is the dramatization of the real-life story of Papa Joe Bradford (Elijah's Heart Ministry).

Yesterday, I picked up Papa Joe's book, A Walk of Love. Over the next few hours, I eagerly read, unable to put the well-written book down. Here, readers get the whole story of Papa Joe. The questions raised by the movie, and only partially answered in my book, will be put to rest by A Walk of Love. 

Highly recommended.

Eva Marie Everson
Author
Unconditional, the Novel

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday's Southern Recipe of the Week

Sinful Salad

Ingredients:

2)    pkg. strawberry Jell-O
2)    10-ounce pkg frozen strawberries
2)    bananas, sliced
1)    20-ounce can of pineapple, crushed and drained
2)    cups hot water
1/2) cup sour cream

Combine Jell-O and hot water until dissolved. Add strawberries, pineapple, and bananas. Put 1/2 in casserole and chill until set. Spread sour cream over this. Add the rest of the Jell-O and chill until set.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Southern-Style Tunes

Jeannie noticed that the Southern-style tune from a few weeks back featured The Statler Brothers behind Johnny Cash singing "Daddy Sang Bass."

When I was a little girl, hearing "Flowers on the Wall" came quite frequently. Our little country station played it till the vinyl nearly wore off the record.

So, I looked it up ... and found it on YouTube!

Enjoy!



Saturday, September 1, 2012

Friday's Southern-Style Faith: Our Story Continues

I am often asked, "Why are you doing this?"

Meaning "the blog."

I thought I'd take a break from talking about various mental health issues that can claim our children ... and/or about our story in particular ... to answer that question.

I do it because, God forbid, it ever happen to any of you.

I do it because the State of Florida--in particular the Florida Department of Family and Children, and Community Based Care of Central Florida--need to stop thinking they are the do-all, be-all of child and family services and come to realize that there is a difference between:

1.  The abused child
2. The vindictive child
and
3. The mentally ill child

These agencies have the ability to know the difference. But, they don't want to know the difference. They have--and I have this on the word of those who have worked within the mental health system for decades, who have worked alongside organizations like these--spent so much time and energy on swearing that every child who claims abuse is abused, if they go back now and try to correct that untruth, they will open Pandora's Box.

There are those, right now, who are serving time for abusing children they never laid a hand on.

There are those, right now, whose reputations are destroyed because the lies or mental unrest of a child were not dealt with properly by the organizations who should have known better.

There are those, right now (my gracious, how many of you have emailed me privately) who have boxed up, packed up and moved, leaving no forwarding address, as soon as their child, foster child, or guardianship "child" ages-out of the system. Why? Because the system has done such a poor job of helping the child, they are now a dangerous adult.

Every effort I  made to help J was stopped by the work of DCF and CBC of Central Florida (if you, or anyone you know, if aiding CBC of Central Florida financially, I implore you to demand they get their act together on issues like ours before you give another dime).

DCF and CBC of Central Florida swept into our lives without ever once coming to our home to see where J lived, how J lived, or the level of love poured out on her. They hardly ever returned a phone call or an email. They spoke to us with such contempt, we knew they'd accused us, tried us, and convicted us without so much as hearing our side of the story and without full disclosure from a doctor. Or, in our case, doctors.

They gave all the power to the child. The word "parent" meant nothing to them. The word "permanent" meant nothing to them. They snatched J up, threw her in the worst possible area of one of Central Florida's towns -- a place I dare say none of them would allow their dog to stay -- and then treated us with contempt.

When this much power goes to a group of people who claim to have a child's best interest at heart, but who don't even know the child, we have a problem.

More than once, J ran away from foster care. She was gone about a week the first time, thirty-one days the second time. She lived in every whore house, crack house, and abandoned house (according to what I have been able to piece together from family and law enforcement officers and J's own friends) in Sanford, FL. My husband and I worked tirelessly during that time to find her. Her great-aunt -- my dear, sweet friend -- and I worked side-by-side. We were constantly on the phone (my phone bill doubled the month of her second leaving), in the car, on the Internet. Our friends and J's old friends "from before" did the same. We were not afraid to put out posters, knock on doors, talk to people, beg if necessary.

What did DCF and CBC do?

Notified a website. Notified family (more than 24 hours after she was missing with a three-line email essentially saying, "J is missing."). And then they went on about their business.

When J was found the first time, CBC's director issued a statement to the press (because I had gone to the press to plead for assistance) that (paraphrased slightly) "each child in our system is important. Like one of our own."

Really? I don't once remember bumping into you on the streets. I don't once remember you calling me to find out what I knew, me the one who kept her ear to the ground. I bet you never lost a second of sleep worrying about J, while her aunt and I were on the phone and on the Internet at 2 and 3 in the morning. I'd be willing to bet you don't lose sleep about J or about the hundreds of kids the State of Florida cannot account for on any given day. Hundreds. Some as old as 17. Some as young as six months.

How dare you ...

Finally, I do this because I love J. I never let a day go by that I don't pray for her. She is one of my first thoughts in the morning and my last at night. I do this because I have 11- 1/2 years of precious memories and only a few weeks worth of nightmare. I do this because, I believe, one day she will knock on my door and say,"I love you, too." I do this because I don't know what else to do. 

I am not doing this to draw any attention to myself as a writer or as a speaker. Let me make that clear. I have all the attention I need, thank you.

I do this because--for nearly 12 years--I protected and loved and adored. And I was loved and adored in return.

And then, one day, I was told by a system sworn to protect families to "back off," and get on with my life.