Author writes about overcoming poverty
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — “I grew up in a very dysfunctional family,” Ruth Skeens revealed at a Catholic Adult Fellowship Evening in Burlington, earlier this spring.. “My parents did the best they could, but they had such tremendous pain in their respective lives that they couldn’t be there for us,” said the retired director of faith formation and evangelization for parishes in Des Moines County. “The good news is that God put (generous) people in my path in life… especially at those low times.”
The revelation sent a few of Ruth’s closest friends into a state of disbelief. “Wow we would have never guessed you had a difficult childhood,” Skeens recalled the women saying. “You’re always so optimistic and upbeat. We’ve known you for 15 years and you’ve always been like that.”
Skeens admits she never had much motivation to share her story or talk about the difficult aspects of her past. Now she is a published author of two autobiographical books with a third on the way and has begun speaking about her experiences at conferences and parish events. She considers it to be the work of the Holy Spirit urging her to use her story to bring hope to others.
Ruth’s saga began in late 2014, when she woke up with childhood memories flooding her brain. She wrote down her thoughts and 1,000 words later she was done — or so she thought. The same thing happened every morning for weeks; she’d wake up with memories and write them down.
In her writing she recalled growing up as one of eight children to parents who struggled to take care of themselves, let alone the children. Skeen’s father had Paranoid Schizophrenia and undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from fighting in World War II. Her mother was “emotionally unavailable” and had the tendency to be physically and mentally abusive. The family also struggled with poverty.
Through chronicling her journey, Ruth began to articulate a sense of understanding toward her parents, recognizing that they grew up in alcoholic families and endured life experiences that made daily life as an adult a struggle. Effective mental health care was not readily available at the time, hindering her parents’ ability to get the help they needed.
Ruth also recognized the blessings that came out of her difficult childhood. Because she was a person in need, she experienced the generosity of others. Her godparents, for example, made sure she had a proper first Communion dress, veil and shoes to wear. They also gave her birthday and Christmas gifts which, sometimes, were her only gifts. Religious sisters sent the siblings home with food and church friends helped install electricity in one of her childhood homes.
“People don’t always realize that small acts can change a child’s life forever. It gives you hope where there is no hope,” she told The Catholic Messenger. Because of caring and generous people, “I had tremendous hope and gratitude. I was aware of the people God put in our paths as children.” Ruth believes that generosity is a huge reason she and her siblings became generally well-adjusted adults.
For her first book, “The Molding of Me,” Skeens focused on her childhood. It was tough to decide whether to release the book because, although her parents are now deceased, she didn’t want to hurt or embarrass her siblings.
“There was a lot of pain” in the book, she said. But she approached the book with an attitude of seeing the gifts and blessings present during hardships and showed mercy and understanding toward her parents. So the book actually proved to be a healing tool for her siblings. “My sisters say it helped them because they’d never talked about it.”
Constant prayer also gave her the peace needed to publish. Illinois-based Green Ivy Publishing offered her a book deal almost right away, she said. “The Molding of Me” came out last year, and a second book focusing on her young adult life, “Out of the Corner,” was released in April. That book expresses Ruth’s tendency for co-dependent relationships — common to children of addictive or mentally-ill parents — and how she learned to heal and break the generational pattern of dysfunction through counseling and faith. She plans to release a third book in the future.
Since the release of the books, Skeens has heard from people who went through similar experiences and found hope in the manuscripts. Others have expressed discomfort with the idea of offering charity to poor families, saying her parents should have just gotten jobs. Some of these comments have come from Christians, which saddens and surprises her.
Still, “You can’t worry about what people will think about you,” she said. “I sensed when I was writing that it was what I was supposed to do. My hope is that if one person can find hope or healing then it was well worth it.”