When We are Crushed
It has been quite some time since I posted on the blog, and my excuse is pretty typical: I had writer’s block. And although it’s basic, I promise it’s not as much of a cop out as it sounds!
Summer at home with 100 kids (or six, depending on how exact we want to be) never gives me much free time, but this summer was particularly full of hard and amazing and big things.
Ok first of all, Charlie potty trained. It’s the first time in 13 years I don’t have to change diapers. Maybe you didn’t read that and actually digest it, so I’ll repeat it just in case you missed it the first time: I have been buying and changing diapers for 13 years until this summer! And thankfully, potty training this time was actually not that hard and pretty much amazing. Alllllllllll the hallelujah hands for that small mercy!
Also, we moved Joel into his studio apartment in Albany. Until that time, maybe because he was temporarily living in an apartment in the dorms, our situation felt temporary. But once we took furniture from our own house and divvied up the skillets for him to be able to make weekday eggs and got 2 new sets of keys for our key rings, and all the other parts of setting up two households, the reality of our new life started to sink in. I’ll have to write more on that later, but suffice to say that was one of the harder and less awesome parts of the summer.
But by far the hardest thing, the event that blocked me from writing any words until now, was the debilitating stroke my father suffered at the beginning of the summer.
I’ve thought many times since May 20 about receiving the call from my aunt, explaining to me the chain of events and that they were en route to the hospital following him in the ambulance. At the time, I thought “so this is it. This is the phone call I always dreaded and anticipated.” As any child of an addict knows, you spend lots of hours throughout your life preparing yourself for how you’ll handle that call when it finally comes. And then when I did get a call—not THE call, but a bad one nevertheless—I can’t even remember much about how it went or what was said, only that it didn’t sound good.
The days that followed his stroke were, mercifully, some of the first days of summer vacation. I made trips back and forth to Savannah to visit him in the hospital almost daily at first, while the older kids took turns watching the younger ones. Eventually, though, it felt like I needed to be home more and get back to normal life and establish some mental boundaries.
So I tried that—I really did—but inwardly I felt like I had been thrown into a sea of harsh truths without knowing how to swim. I was treading water and drowning, with six kids tied around my neck. I wanted to save them from the trauma of the situation, but felt less and less able to save even myself.
Weeks after his stroke, I found myself in the hospital cafeteria eating lunch with my uncle (my dad’s brother). I wanted to ask him all the things I’d never even really considered about their childhood and hear his insights into why my dad had taken the path in life he had chosen.
At one point in our conversation, I heard myself say “I always felt abandoned by Dad.”
The words choked me; I couldn’t believe I had said them aloud. And for weeks afterwards, words and feelings and thoughts like that would emerge about growing up as his firstborn. I would suddenly blurt out that I felt like he always preferred my siblings, because they were born later and with his second wife. And that his life with them, although tumultuous, was a nuclear family life that I had never gotten to call my own. That I had always felt unnecessary; because I knew that when I left their house after those 4 weeks every summer, everything would continue on just as it did before I was there. That I had felt like I was extra.
But until this summer, at 39 years old, I had never admitted to myself or anyone else that I felt that way.
And yet still, other scenes—good and pleasant ones—would pop into my memory just as suddenly as the negative words.
Like one time on the way home from the grocery store…I suddenly had a picture of him in my mind, standing on the back deck of the bungalow on Oak Street, flipping chicken kabobs on the grill and drinking a Coors Light. In my memory, he looks like this…
…except he’s wearing Jams swimming trunks (remember those, from the 80s, with all the huge bright flowers?) and no shirt, and he’s smiling at me.
The memory startles me, because I almost forget that he ever owned a home or a business or even a grill. And when I see that scene with his young, tan, smiling face in my mind; I can actually smell the charcoal and the freshly cut grass, and I feel desperate to hold on to that moment and live in it for just a few more seconds. It’s like I’m literally reaching out into the thin air to catch it before it evaporates. But I can’t quite catch it, and it eludes me—it’s gone. And he’s gone, at least the him that I want to see.
I realized in that moment that it’s all past tense, and that I was driving and very dizzy from grief. So that particular time I pulled the car over and cried for a few minutes, and then gathered myself and continued home from the store so I could make my own kids’ dinner.
I write all of this not to grovel or naval-gaze, because after all, that’s only helpful for a minute or two at most. But I wanted to let the words that were blocking all my thoughts out. After feeling literally speechless for months, I realized I owed it to myself not to give up on writing just because my heart is broken.
I also wanted to write about it because I am thankful. I’m so thankful for the lessons God has led me through during these last painful months…how He has opened the wounds that I had self-protected into ignoring for so many years.
When He opens these wounds up, I’ve learned that if I run from them, they take much longer to heal. Because when I run, I dirty them up with my own idols. And then the result is that there’s more to clean out in the long run. I must admit that I’ve done it both ways, and most days it feels like I am only healing very, very slowly.
Many evenings this summer were spent muddying up the already murky waters of my heart: blamestorming; escaping; surfing the internet for new pets or clothes or garden ideas—basically anything that would give me some temporary comfort or feeling of control.
I was only interested in thinking about Dad if I could pinpoint where he went wrong, as though knowing some exact wrong turn would help me gain control of the situation. I felt paralyzed in the intersection of wanting to have control of what was happening and wanting to run from it.
But neither of these approaches are how God works. He does not fix infinitely deep black-holes of Daddy wounds by dropping in cute pictures of puppies or glasses of wine or new pants from Ann Taylor. Nor does he give me all the answers so I can fix it or solve all the problems.
He didn’t even let us sell our house and move, so I could wipe my hands of it all and pass it on to someone else. And believe me, we tried to sell the house!
And most disappointing to me, He didn’t let my husband fix it; because in His omniscience He knows that would be setting any human husband up for failure.
In fact, as God would have it; He moved Joel away, four days a week, so I couldn’t demand the impossible from him and try to make him my imperfect savior.
Instead, God showed me—day by day—how He met other imperfect people in the midst of their darkness.
At first, He showed me His words to Elijah when he went out into the wilderness to complain to God about his circumstances so he could give up (which sounded SUPER familiar and pretty much like the pattern I was following almost daily): I see and validate how hard this is for you, but don’t give up! Instead, let Me meet your needs so you can keep going.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat more, for the journey is too much for you.” Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:7-8
And then God showed me how to push past my immediate feelings about the situation: commit to doing what needs to be done—to doing the right thing—even though you don’t feel like it.
As cliche as it sounds, the phrase “love isn’t a feeling” took on a whole new meaning to me, as I struggled through anger and the intense desire to just turn away from my dad or stop answering calls pertaining to his care.
Instead, I’ve begun to realize that real love is the kind of love we’re only capable of with the help of the Holy Spirit: the active kind of love that serves the ones who’ve hurt you. Because so often the truth is that they didn’t mean to hurt you, but because they were choking on their own “cords of the yoke,” they didn’t care for you the way they should have.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7
THAT LAST CLAUSE…ugh. Love in action. In other words, trying to find my dad shelter and rehabilitation, even though he spent years wandering and not providing for his own shelter before his stroke. Or deciding not to sneak out of his nursing home without saying goodbye, even though he probably won’t remember it tomorrow. Or holding back the gags while I trim his food-crusted beard or wipe his mouth after a messy lunch.
There was absolutely nothing in me that wanted to serve my dad in those ways or any of the other small, tedious, sometimes gross ways. And God knows this, so at just the right time He steps in and I find my feet walking back into Dad’s room to say goodbye even though I thought I couldn’t do it. On my my own, there’s no way I would do it; but God insists that I do BECAUSE IT’S FOR MY OWN GOOD.
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” Isaiah 58:8
Praise Jesus! He literally orders my steps because I can’t do it myself, and then He promises me it will produce light and healing.
So when I am crushed, and my spirit is weary and I can’t see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, I can take comfort. I can know that He is leading me by the hand. He is writing this story that has been so hard for me to tell, and it’s not a tragedy.
My story, instead, is one of a beloved daughter. Loved by an imperfect, mostly absent father, who nevertheless felt like my person for lots of years. Who taught me good lessons like “When you start a new job and don’t know what to do, just pick up a broom and sweep the floor. It’s better than just standing around.” And not-so-good lessons, like how to bail someone out of jail. Some lessons pleasant, some unpleasant, and all of them making me into who I am.
But more than that, I’m a daughter of a perfect Father in heaven. He never leaves us waiting to be picked up or misses our school play. He grieves with us when we’re broken-hearted, and then at just the right time He takes that story and exchanges beauty for ashes.
If you’re feeling crushed today, I hope you’re able to let the words out and let the light start to come in. He promises quick healing if you do.
And thank you for reading mine. Most of my posts are not this dramatic (I think? I hope!), but I’m thankful to be able to share this space with you where I can rest in the tension of the harder parts of life. They’re real, and so are we. For other parts of real life, like talking about sex and dating with tween girls or guiding little boys into making wise choices, please read some of my other posts! And now that you know more of my story, we can both see how God reaches one generation through the lessons learned by previous generations!
Also, I’d love to chat on email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotmail does in fact still exist!! Try it out and tell me if this or another post resonates with you. I look forward to connecting with you, friend!