Shelter. Asylum.

Posted by Colleen Woods on

Youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged…

G.K. Chesterton


I was 30 years old, on the youthful side of middle age, when I got lost in the woods where the deer and the foxes play. The battle that followed often made me wonder if my soul would survive. I feared that the episode I was in the midst of wasn’t going to end well. I worried I would follow in the footsteps of my mother, even though I was desperate not to “go there.” 

On the 15-mile journey from the state park to my home, you navigated a highway that took you past one of Minnesota’s State Hospitals. An asylum for the so-called “hopeless or custodial care cases” who were destined to become lifelong wards of the state. The campus of stately brick edifices were adorned with red roofs too numerous to count while passing by. 

The hospital had a nickname in the community where it and I resided – the red roof college. I don’t remember if I chuckled the first time I heard someone call it that or not. But if your life – or the life of someone you love – was in need of the services offered there, it was no laughing matter at all. 

My decisions, both to enter and drop out of college as a young person, were made by me alone. But the “red roof college” was a place others chose for you because you were incapable of deciding for yourself. Many were admitted against their will, and I’m pretty certain that in a healthy life, you would choose freedom and independence rather than the confines of such an institution. 

When I was a child, my mother was sent away for mental health care on a number of occasions. At times she would lock herself away in her bedroom for days on end while my father was away on business. They were always such confusing times for me, the oldest daughter with three younger siblings that needed a mother even more desperately than I. 

The months that followed my getting-lost episode while exiting the forest often made me question if I was heading to a place of no return with my mental health and physical well-being. In the darkest hours, I feared becoming one of the hopeless cases needing to be institutionalized. My greatest fear associated with all of it was not so much what would happen to me if I couldn’t get through it, but what would happen to my beautiful little boy if I didn’t get well. 

It wasn’t the first time that I looked into his beautiful blue eyes, partially hidden by a lock or two of blonde curls, and felt such a desperation to be well. The first time was on the eve of my surrender to Christ at the altar. I feared what his life would end up like if I didn’t get well. 

The fear and panic that had gripped my life made me desperate to be healthy and strong. I was acutely aware that I needed to know more intimately the Savior of my soul — Jesus. I labored long over the Scriptures. 

A verse filled with hope and promise jumped from the pages of my Bible as hot tears ran down my cheeks, and in the depths of my being I believed that if I looked to Jesus, my soul would survive. 

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 

Psalm 91:4 

The wounded look to Jesus and see the healing Physician. 

Roy Lessin 

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