When an investment firm has aging clientele, death becomes inevitable. The accounts that once held their assets are disbursed to their beneficiaries or if none exist, the state treasury department will eventually collect and hold the funds. Then the account sits empty, useless without its owner. For efficiency, we delist those accounts, clean up the electronic space. As I was recently delisting deceased accounts, a thought occurred to me about my own father’s passing. His probate process, even at my naïve 16 years of age seemed off, something did not feel right. And while I tried to figure it out, I lacked the financial knowledge and understanding of estate and probate law that I now have. And while I inputted the numbers of these deceased clients, I recalled that retirement accounts and insurance policies escape the probate process if they have a named beneficiary. I knew this, but it had never occurred to me to apply my present day knowledge to the past. A lightbulb went off. My dad’s probate had shown no retirement accounts in spite of his avid and varied in nature investing, nor an insurance policy in spite of one being mentioned in his will. I had left the events surrounding his death in the past as I contended with my own life, and suddenly in a mundane task, I was transported back to nearly two decades prior. Undoubtedly, my dad would have named my siblings and I as beneficiaries. A man who collected antiques and beautiful things and had five properties in Philadelphia, was reduced to just under $100,000 in tangible and liquid assets to be split between his four children. Typically an estate attorney will want to reduce the probatable estate as much as possible to reduce fees and taxes; in which case the beneficiaries would receive the savings; this did not occur in our instance.
After work, I looked until I could find the boxes closeted away, that held the documents and final trinkets I received from my dad. I re-entered a world of morbid nostalgia. My brain fixated on the discovery of the past viewed through the lens of new understanding. I poured through the boxes and met a brilliant man who was tortured by his personal demons and did battle with them out of his love for goodness, but ultimately lost; leaving the torch on the ground, nearly snuffed out. I picked up the torch decades ago, perhaps without realizing it. Seeing inexplicable good beneath the shadows that evil dared to cast. I realized that I had returned to these boxes in practice and in spirit on many occasions. I found a secret pathway to the man who formed one half of my being; a pathway to another world I had lived in but was a passive participant in, a world so complex that each new stage of life is required to comprehend it.
I have daddy issues. The term sounds crude, but this is how I boil down my longing for something that has never been fully attained. This is how I make sense of the pain, and laugh at it with a morbid sense of humor that permeates my whole person. I would strain to hear a voice that would never speak, use my imagination to conjure up arms that would hold me tight. He was always so close, and yet out of reach, a father that I could call by name. And then a light on my reality shone with painful clarity that freed me and shook me, I have had many father figures, and they all were placed in my path to be borrowed but not held, so that I might know my one true Father. Faith tested in the fires of loss and despair would be my only anchor in the storms of longing. Faith that my Heavenly Father saw my heart and captured up my tears like precious stones, and provided tangible glimpses of him through men who were only meant to be a vision, a reassurance of who he is. Reparenting myself, redirecting my thoughts and the lies told to myself, taking the good and reframing the bad for usefulness; all this has been necessary to leave my children a different legacy than what was left me.
In my father’s closet are many boxes. I open one for every season of life and find the complexity of a world that I was born into, naïve up until each new revelation, of the depths of the human experience. The extent of my own ignorance is profound and coveted by the new season, as the growing pains of its coming splendor have not yet worn off, and the ache of reality settles into its bones. In my father’s closet are treasures to be found and demons to fight, but until the box is opened, I cannot know which might surface. And it is even in the fight with the red eyed monsters that surface, that in the victory, I find they too were a treasure. A treasure they did not know themselves, bent on destruction and ignorant to the valor that would foil their ultimate intent and spill over into a land of beautiful mystery.
How tragic for these monsters that even when they win the battle, they are foolishly blind to see that in their winning they have lost the war. They know not how to battle wits with my father who saw their plans and made a way for even their short-lived victories to become a battle plan, a strategy that I might use against them when we meet again. And we do meet again, puffed with pride they return seeking to add insult to injury, and what they find is the piercing sword of wisdom fashioned by their own pressure. Pressure that created a raging inferno of pain that would melt away the useless debris and leave only the pristine metals that would withstand the test of time and trials and direct assault. I will rob them of their purpose of destruction, as they have foolishly attempted to rob me of my purpose to build.
In my father’s closet, nothing goes to waste. Everything finds a purpose, intricately woven from season to season, so that the first box and the last have equal significance. His measure is not my own, and in my best argued efforts, his measure is always the final determination. It seems unjust that the first and the last should have equal merit, but even in the waiting for fruition, the last has been tempered by time and has found its worth.
I have made my way through half of the boxes, at first in haste and impatience, I sought answers. I carelessly neglected treasures laid out so carefully before me, tossing them to the side in pursuit of my preconceived desires. I sought only that which would enlighten my desired end and rejected that which I would come back to after a time, and see that it would have made my discoveries breathtaking. In my immaturity, I would sell my birthright for half an affirmation. In his mercy, he would return the rejected pieces in due time, and allow me to see the grandeur that was mine long before I knew to appreciate it.
These boxes are my inheritance. I treasure them like an hungry orphan whose appetite for love and connectedness cannot be quenched. I cannot touch my father’s face, or hear his delight. I seek these things and yet I find only these boxes that tell a story I long to comprehend, for in understanding their story, I might know my father fully. I will have reprieve from seeking him in the stature of another, listening for his voice calling after me. My wanderings in pursuit of the nature of him will be satisfied, and I might find relief.
These are my boxes now. In lieu of his arms that might hold me tight, and his fingers that would wipe my tears, I have only these boxes. I am offering them to you, that you might know my father, as I long to know him too.
“Get your hands into the earth, Caroline, and pull out any rocks you come across. We want the roots to have good soil so they can push through.” Dad had an insatiable eye for all things beautiful. “Why are we planting them now if they won’t grow until spring?” I had asked
“Tulips need to be in the ground while it is cold. It will help prevent fungal growth, but also give them time to put down deeper roots before blossoming.”
His eyes smiled as he explained the process. Smiling eyes, maybe that’s why people found him so charming. You couldn’t stay angry with him, no matter how egregious the act he had previously committed was, that is as long as you weren’t his child. Over my seven years, I had built a toughness against the charm. Protectionism, aware that the slightest wrong move or word could release the monster currently dormant. But in these moments, he was my dad, a lover of all things beautiful, a man hungry for more goodness than his parents left to him. I couldn’t have known it in those moments, but his hunger was spilling over into my young heart, a wonder for creation that would cause my heart to spill over in tears of joy throughout my life, whenever I was the fortunate witness to the purity of creation and life springing forth from the cold winter grounds.
Those long periods of dormancy were necessary for the bulbs that would hold my affection. See how they lay under the surface of brutal winter winds for months, doing nothing but perhaps being destroyed to the onlooker. And yet, the torrents of the first spring rains produce a hint of what lies beneath. The period of time that seemed unproductive to the ignorant was producing an effect that would shoot roots into the soil and produce a healthy plant, ready to emerge and reveal the splendor that it had worked on quietly, beneath the surface of the earth that my father’s hands had lovingly prepared.
I feared him, but I loved him with an intensity that would haunt me through the years. How could such beauty possess such brutality, and how does a child come to peace with this; even as an adult, the complexity of it still amazes me. He wanted to hear me say that I loved him and as cleverly as a child could, I evaded the question of my love for him. He terrified me, and yet I loved him. My fear, my pride, could not comprehend this nor express it to the tortured soul who fathered me. I ache for the opportunity to let him hear my words of mercy and grace, words that perhaps would have freed him had I possessed them decades prior, before it was too late. Before I would see graduations, marriage, babies born, deaths and divorce grieved without my dad by my side to wipe my tears of sadness and of joy. I have ached for the impossible opportunity to turn back the hands of time, and tell him how intensely I have loved him and have ached to heal the pain that he carried and expressed in his moments of rage.
I have laid dormant. I have remained beneath the surface, learning, observing, growing quiet roots that seem to have no end nor purpose. Year upon year of dormancy, tears watering to no avail, what lay beneath. I have been trod upon by those who knew I was beneath the surface, and those who were oblivious to my existence, my hurts and my glories. I feel the spring sun coming, its warmth piercing the winter bite. The dawn of spring is coming and I see now that which prepared me for bloom. I see now the careless passersby, who stole from my life giving earth and the Divine provision from my Heavenly Father feeding the depths of these roots faithfully and mysteriously.
These thoughts flood my mind as I tenderly guard the remaining flowers in my small garden. I had not planted any bulbs since my dad had taught me while kneeling beneath the dogwood trees. I didn’t know that squirrels liked to eat the bulbs, and only a handful survived their winter’s appetite. Bastards, I thought to myself with a chuckle. I found my flower beds ravaged like the shores of Normandy, months prior. Pieces of bulb strewn about with maniacal precision. I had been kind to these cuter than average rodents, unaware of their destructive tendencies. I’ve learned now, and so had the siding of my house, my grill, patio furniture, and now my precious flowers. It was war; but only the mild kind where one party only feigns interest in total annihilation of their opponent.
As I pluck the weeds from the earth, a picture of you haunts me. I don’t need to look at it, to see your eyes. They are not empty, but filled with intense sadness, locked behind bars of hopelessness. Dad, I want to pull those bars back with all my might and set you free. Calling to you through the murky waters that separate your soul from its potential, I long to see you meet that fruitful land.
“Dad”, a word that my heart has yearned to hear spring from my lips, but forbade fraudulence. I know you wanted to hear it too. You prodded, “who is your favorite dad?”. I would say that it was God, knowing what you wanted to hear and I kept it from you. I kept it from you, as you kept snuggles and tenderness from me. I knew, even then, that you wanted to hear me say that I loved you and I refused. Did I love you? I am not sure that I knew. I feared you more than anything, and yet as an adult today, I yearn for you and what should have been.
Did I ever say, “I love you, daddy”? I cannot recall. Did I ever snuggle under your chin and feel your arms hold me in a protective embrace? My mind fails to see the image and my flesh has no memory of your tender embrace. Oh, but the fear, the fear lives on. Like a life drum, beating a rhythm to questioning upwards and downwards and to the left and to the right, every decision I have ever made since you.
Did you ever tell me that I was beautiful? I am certain that you did not. The sound of such words would have been like water in a parched desert, flowing over the hot fury of self-deprecation that spans miles and miles of arid self-worth. Did you ever tell me that I was smart? Did you even speak to me and listen long enough, to discover that I am? No memory comes to me.
Had you seen that my heart was oh so tender? That under the weight of your expectations and starving it of nourishment, it atrophied and bruised- did you see? Nearly two decades since your passing, and only now do I realize that through tears, I cannot recall you valuing me. I recall that I should have been more slender and should have read more books. I know that you saw beauty in nature and in art, but did you ever see it in me?
And yet, those dammed bars holding back the man that ought to have been, mock me in my yearning for you. Daddy, I wished you had been well. I wish that I could look into those eyes and see a different story. Perhaps you had wished something similar of your parents.
I have three children now. One from a sister whose eyes bore the same torment as yours. I pretend that you would have delighted in them had you gotten well. If only. If only. If only. You would sit them on your lap and tell them silly jokes that would make my eyes roll in dramatic flair. I would call you and cry as I tell you of the recent heartache. You would tell me of some childhood experience where I exhibited courage, and tell me that I am precious and strong. We would laugh and spend hours catching up while we planted beautiful things in the garden. You would correct my landscaping mistakes with love.
But that is not our story. There are no warm fuzzy feelings, only sadness. It is not a story that I want for my children. So I must shed you. Like old flesh that has played its role, protecting and keeping out not just the bad but the good. I must shed the damaged layers that take no more nourishment and rob the new layers of oxygen.
I do love you, Dad. Oh how I wish our story had been different. The tears, they still come like piercing darts that cannot flee fast enough. I want to be free. I must be, if I am to complete my legacy, which is to overturn the legacy left to me. To pour out courage, love, strength, and unwavering commitment to guard and nurture that which is good. My Heavenly Father will water this soil, and I will till it and guard it, and the blessings will overflow into an abundance that demands to be shared and start into motion the renewing of many others. I love you, Dad, and I know you were blessed to have me as your daughter; whether you knew it or not.
My flesh betrays my conviction to be okay. In the quiet nights when my children sleep and the heart aches, I long to be held, to feel safe. I had a glimpse of a kind father. No, it was an immersion, but it was not mine to keep; it never has been. Men, good men. Good men who were kind to me when the world wouldn’t have blamed them for looking away and not seeing my sorrow, my need. God has dipped his hand down below and orchestrated my path to a few good men who would never call me daughter, but whose goodness made me certain I missed out on one of the greatest treasures of life; to be loved by a father.
One unassuming night, while my dad was away at work, a caravan of aunts and uncles showed up at our beautiful farm on Harmonyville Road. Harmony was not to be had but by the splendor of nature there. Weeping willows watched sunsets, blossoming dogwoods welcomed the spring kittens and chicks, peacocks and swans would strut around in all their regal glory. Flowers lined the cobble paths and peonies flooded the grassy landing near the stone spring house where little frogs and salamanders made the nose of small children crinkle in disgusted delight. It all hid a deep secret, a secret that would break my mom’s will to live. A secret that lead her to the second floor of the barn where a bottle of pills would fail to take her life fast enough, and she would be saved; but the cry for help would be heard from Pennsylvania to New York, where this caravan descended with urgency and duty.
I could see myself standing before him amidst the physical beauty that made our hell seem unreal. He’d been raging at my brother and my only defense were tears. Like a hungry lion he would rear his head towards me, and scream “why are you crying Caroline!” His demands would continue, and the cogs in my brain would refuse to move. I could see a miniature version of myself inside my brain, pushing and willing for the machine to come back alive, to say something, anything. “Say something Caroline, anything, just say something”, I would plead with my inner self; the desperate attempts to put the gears into motion would be in vain. I would remain mute and the insanity would continue until the monster tired and found himself in tears. But I had won, his hands had ceased against my brother. This was how I fought, an offered sacrifice that would play dead like an opossum to distract and exhaust the rage. It would take me decades to find my voice.
This caravan, under the cloak of night whisked us away from our beautiful torment, to hide amidst the orchards of Milton, N.Y. We fled with little more than the clothes on our backs. It felt like an adventure, exciting and uncertain.
“You can call me Aunt Millie, and this here is Uncle Hart, and we’re family now.” A short round woman with short white hair permed into ringlets and pink cheeks greeted us on the top of Old Indian Hill Road. They would be taking us in while Mom healed her heart, body, and mind. Uncle Hart was a large man who wore red suspenders, a worn flannel shirt, wired glasses, and a knit hat for his bare head. He had served in the Korean War, and wore the evidence of his less domestic days in the form of a once bosomy woman on his left arm. “Don’t get tattoos, they don’t age well”, he would later tell us. His hands were mangled from all his engineering and woodwork. They were hands that would become beautiful to me. Hands that showed me they didn’t need to raise to incite fear, but could pick up broken pieces and make them into a new work of art.
We lived with this God-fearing couple for four glorious years. Uncle Hart would sit an eight year old version of myself on his lap and we would spend hours pouring through flower and seed catalogs. He smelled of shaved wood and pure masculinity; a force that could have crushed any foe, with the confidence and control to have no desire to do so. I was awkward, chubby, uncomfortable in my own skin, afraid to speak, afraid to have an opinion. And yet, Uncle Hart loved me. I didn’t understand it, love that had no criteria.
Every day, a bear hug was mandatory. Arms meant for loving, not for hitting. A man who showed up. Always. A man who hurt with those who hurt, and rejoiced with those who rejoiced; who was this anomaly? This man who chose to love me like family. A man who showed me that my Heavenly Father was good, compassionate, never failing. His love opened the eyes of my heart, to a reality of goodness that my soul had longed to be true, but had no evidence of prior.
One day, when my dad had canceled a visit last minute, I overheard Uncle Hart tell Aunt Millie that our dad was an asshole. What kind of man cancels on their children, he’d said before seeing me there and apologizing. I was not offended, my heart soared. He was hurt for us. He wanted to protect us and cared if we hurt; I hadn’t known this kind of care before.
Aunt Millie and Uncle Hart were a power couple in the most humble sense. They showed me what audacious, unhindered, consistent love was. Migrant workers would come every fall to help pick the harvest of apples, cherries, and peaches. Rail thin men from Jamaica with enchanting accents and kind hearts. Millie and Hart would have them to lunch after Sunday church. Steve McCogg would gladly share stories of his family, wife and children that he ached to leave but with a government fraught with corruption, he saw no other option to financially support his loved ones. He never took seconds, even though food was abundant. Aunt Millie would later tell me that it was because he knew his family at home in Jamaica were going hungry, so it was an act of solidarity for him to never eat more than absolutely necessary for survival. A thoughtful father and husband, how fortunate I was to have shared meals with so great a man.
One Christmas, John came to eat with us. All that I knew was that he didn't have a home, and he'd heard about my siblings and I, and was bringing gifts that we were to be grateful for. I wasn't sure what kind of Christmas gifts a homeless man gave, but at the ripe age of nine, gifts still meant gifts!
After the meal, we huddled in the living room with the wood stove piping in loads of heat that our winter clothes felt excessive. John wasn't what I had expected. He had a white groomed beard, and wore a ribbed turtleneck sweater and rather looked like a refined professor of philosophy. John was elaborate in his gift giving. Everything had a story, and it was to be experienced...and in my youthful narrow-mindedness, I only had eyes on what gift he had for me. His talking was tedious, while my greedy little hands wanted to tear open the wrapping paper to my gift.
And then it was my turn. A flat rectangular piece, no thicker than a centimeter; whatever it was, I was beginning to lose excitement. He stopped me before I tore it open, and told me there was a note that he wanted me to read inside of it; "I want you to read all of it". Hesitantly, I peeled the paper back, eagerness turning into the dread of what was beginning to sound like a homework assignment on Christmas break.
It was a composition notebook, the black and white marbled kind that most of us who've gone through school probably have a selection of, full of big sloppy letters and sentences that our teachers made us write in over and over again. I struggle to hide anything; usually my eyebrows give me away and this was at a time prior to my grooming the forests that topped my blue eyes; so there was more to express! Begrudgingly, I read the letter. A letter that I wish I had kept, a gift that I wish I had cherished. This man didn't know me, and it was clear that he had little of his own. In my foolishness, I didn't appreciate the gift, the words written with care and thoughtfulness; intended to improve my view of life, to pour blessing onto me, a stranger. I don't recall all that the letter said, it was lengthy. But I recall this request, he said "Caroline, I want you to write down everything. Words are important. They shape us, and they grow us. Write down everything."
My siblings had gotten toys from this intriguing man without a home. I got a notebook. And I can't help but wonder if he was an angel who knew me better than I knew myself. Because of the childhood abuse I experienced, I spoke very little, measuring my words with precision; which wrong word would set off a rage, and which would soothe a seething monster. Writing was my outlet. Writing is where I would take my soul, the aches and crippling pains, and the joys so great that my heart might explode, and I would find a release as something deep within demanded to be expressed. I wrote poems of adoration, broken dreams, and simply letters to those I loved, or words that without understanding needed to be put to paper. My private writings were somewhere that I could speak without fear of violent repercussion. Perhaps John knew something that I didn't know, something about a little girl whose thoughts although measured would be fast and furious; thoughts that until pen was put to paper would feel like an aimless buzzing. He taught me something about thoughtfulness. The effort he put into writing those pages of encouragement to a stranger, was no small feat. In a world where things are fast, he encouraged me to slow down. He taught me that extravagance isn't tied to a price tag, but flows from the heart.
At the top of Old Indian Road, extravagant love was cultivated amidst the orchards of the Hudson Valley. Neighbors would wake up to bushels of fresh picked apples, peaches, and cherries sitting on their doorstep. Aunt Millie and Uncle Hart, would somehow find the hurting and broken, the downtrodden, and bring them into their oasis to heal. We lived there four years, and those years would take all the trauma that I had experienced prior and even years later; and they would fuel hope, that there is a better way. I know there is, because I have seen it, I have lived it, experienced it, felt it reach down to the deepest parts of my soul and pull out the muck and rot to reveal something new; something whittled and pieced together with the care of a thoughtful craftsman.
As the years would pass, Mom finished her nursing program, won custody of my siblings and I, and regained her sanity although not all of her confidence, that had been stolen from her. We moved. And still, Uncle Hart and Aunt Millie loved us as fiercely as if we had been born to their family. They showed up to graduations and baby showers. Uncle Hart would swap out his knit had for his special occasion wide rimmed brown suede hat, but still the overalls and the big arms that smelled of hard work, shaved wood, and the most glorious aroma of goodness and love.
Mom would remarry. It was not him, but his parents where the goodness that I once knew in Aunt Millie and Uncle Hart was once again exhibited. They didn’t have to, the world would not have condemned them if they treated this motley crew of children with polite indifference, but they chose to love us. Grandma and Grandpa Massey. Grandpa was an Irishman who had retained some of his childhood lilt, and could speak with the fluidity and passion of a people who knew how to feel and express deeply. We would sit and talk for hours about politics, religion, and character. He would sit back and wait for me to stop speaking and say, “how many times Caroline?” I was confused at first, until I began to understand. He’d been counting the number of times I used the word “like” in my speech, unnecessarily. I would laugh with embarrassment and try to be more aware of my spoken word. The spoken word, something that terrified me as it pulled me from my comfortable realm of being unnoticed. He pressed me to apply the care I took with the written word, to the spoken word; to find an audible voice. A voice that I would employ one day when dad called.
Dad called and had my big brother on the phone. I don’t know what he was saying, but this large young man was turning into a weeping puddle of tears before my eyes. Something woke inside of me, something that had been dormant all my life, and only through the watering of goodness and love had found some solid ground on which to train its sea legs to trust themselves. A carnal force that I had never known before welled up within me, and I grabbed the phone from the tear-soaked hands of my brother. With force and with certainty of my convictions of what was right and what was good, I spoke words to my father I would never have dared utter before. I spoke them with force and told him that he was done terrorizing and breaking us down, to get help. He never did get the help.
Those would be the last words I would ever speak to my biological father; the most courageous words. In his own despair and torment, he would spiral. The autopsy report read alcohol and narcotics. He had been a registered nurse, a serial entrepreneur and investor. A broken man lost in his own childhood torment, without the gift of goodness my Heavenly Father had bestowed on me through the hands and feet of men and women who poured into this broken child with the depths of sacrificial love. I believe that he longed to be free but hadn’t the strength or knowledge of how to become free. He hadn’t had love shown to him, as had been shown to me in the mysterious unexpected ways that only God can weave a story of redemption and of hope.
The years would pass and growth continue. I was working through college when I would meet a handsome Marine. His chiseled chin, sky blue eyes, and goodness left me no escape. He would be a good father. He would be an Uncle Hart. And he was, for a few years. He did not hesitate to adopt my niece with me, when my sister, lost in her own torment, died as a result of driving while heavily intoxicated. He held me together as we witnessed her death on an operating table that held the failed efforts of a surgeon who could not piece back together this brokenness. He would get on the ground and play with her and our own daughter, with such tenderness that I could not contain my good fortune of having found him and become the fortunate recipient of his love. He was my rock, in my desperation for love, for finding my person. My good man who would not be someone else’s borrowed father, but a man that was for me and only me, til death do us part. I had shifted my confidence from God’s mysterious ceaseless provision, to this man who held my dreams in his hands.
Hands that were careless. Hands that sought to be the hero, but not to be the foundation of what makes a true hero; a man shaped in the furnace of doing what is right at all costs, of showing up to the thankless work of daily life. It took four years for his lack of foundation to be revealed. Four years for my heart to begin to feel unsettled, for my gut to scream out loud truths that I could not bear to accept. It took illness, it took the fear of my baby boy possibly having HIV, for me to wake up again.
Sometimes God allows bad things to happen, to save us from further detriment. He allowed my son and I to become inexplicably ill, so that the fear for my nursing son’s life would give me the courage to accept that my hero was a wolf. “My husband has been sleeping with a stripper.” I heard myself tell the nurse. Words I knew somewhere in the recesses of my soul, but could not have given voice to before this moment. “Oh honey, HIV can be transmitted through breastmilk. We need to get you in for testing and prophylactic antibiotics today.” Her words were tender and crushing.
He had been good for a time. Kind. Tender. Generous. I had loved him more than I thought was humanly possibly to love anyone. My years of pain and stumbling for steady ground had come to an end with him, until his own sinful desires unchecked took my world and that of my children and impaled it with the gruesome reality of a life fraught with lies and faithlessness. The Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi (always faithful), became a mockery of my marriage, of our vows. There was always another woman, always another story of missing money.
And now, I was like my mom. Alone with children and a husband chasing a thirst that would never be quenched. I went back to the only place I knew to find comfort, guidance, wisdom. I went to my knees and watered the floors of my closet with the tears of desperation. I had no human to turn to. Aunt Millie and Uncle Hart had long passed away. Grandpa had lived just long enough to make sure the adoption of his great grandbaby was final, before he let the cancer take him. I went to my Heavenly Father. I found myself at his feet, a place that I have now lived most of my life, needy and hungry for more of him. Teach me. Guide me. Fill me. And oh how he has. In magnificent ways, he would write a story of agony turned beautiful. Of the sins of man turned to his consistent and persistent goodness. His joy giving restoration made all the more beautiful in contrast to the brokenness born of misguided wanderings. He writes with the pen of a master author, understanding fully the ways of man; the needs, the longings. With fear, I have tried to wrench the pen from his hands, insisting I knew how to write my story better. With tender strength, he resisted my prying hands and continued to write, steadfast, until in exhaustion I relented. And when I relented, I could then look up and see the inexplicable beauty he poured over the wrongs done, over the careless mistakes.
I begged God for a Millie and Hart for my children, people who would show them love and how a healthy marriage ought to look; something I could no longer give them. I prayed them into being. They found us over a meal at church. They say the only requirement for being a Baptist is that you have a Bible and a casserole dish. Baptists love any reason to fellowship, which is code for eating. We have now shared countless meals together. My children, myself, Debbie and David. We have gone on family vacations, and enjoyed the quietness of knowing one another without bars on hearts. They will introduce me to new friends as their adopted daughter. And when I completed my Masters degree and none of my family came, they brought my children to see me walk across the stage and accept the diploma that was earned with late nights of study and sacrificed snuggles. It was as much my children’s as mine, an achievement that hopefully affirmed the belief that they too can do what once felt impossible. This couple have loved on me as if I were their own daughter, and my children as if they were grandchildren.
I have a picture of David half underneath my kitchen sink, repairing a faucet which my over eager three-year-old son, Simon, had broken. Simon sat on David’s stomach, reclined against his legs, tool in hand, waiting for his glorious part where he would hand the tool to David. It is a picture that pierces my heart with pain, that this most precious boy of mine will never have those memories with his own father. And yet, it fills me with joy, to think that my children have a front row seat in the lessons of loving others that the world does not expect us to love. To learn to love with a big extravagant kind of love that does not see blood lines, that shows up in the mundane, rolls up its sleeves, looks the discarded ones straight in the eyes and says, “we’re family now”.
It has been six years since I left Camp Lejeune, broken, alone, with three children and a dog who would walk with us through our slow journey to healing. Our dog is aging rapidly, making me aware of how far we have come, how the nights have spilled over into days and into weeks and then years. The pain he moves with reminds me of the days we started off together, the four of us, me as their broken yet determined leader. I was not meant to be a leader. I am content to assist and watch others climb heights they never once thought imaginable. That is my thrill, my quiet joy. And yet I have lead these little ones alone for nearly a decade. A decade, that seems so long to be alone. To have no hand to hold or lips to kiss on a whim. I moved through life slowly, as he now moves, cautious that any wrong move could inflict more pain. I was timid, suspicious of motives; a protective lioness pacing the fields, anticipating even the slightest threat to her young, ready to ravage anything that threatened the goodness that remained.
Time and love have tempered me. My Heavenly Father has taken my wounds of rejection, abuse, and neglect, and pursued me all along. He has poured into my life, love that came from unassuming places. People who understood the extravagant love of a good father, and how to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken hurting world, for a broken hurting girl, it was their delight.
I took a damp towel and wiped the stains of six years of tears on the wood floor in my closet and my gut lurched as the sweet stains of pain and perseverance disappeared. My children's shower had a leak, and it butts up against my closet, so the plumber had to cut a hole in my closet to make the repair. The result was sheetrock debris all over my closet floor that previously had never had the need for a wet cleaning. Dust outlined the tear stains.
I am sitting here now, on this small space of floor that feels sacred. Here, is where I moved with three small children and quite literally through blood, sweat, and tears, tried to build a home for them; a reprieve from the tyranny that had shaken us for the previous several years. We had been through deaths, adoption, three moves, deployment, months long hospital stays, infidelity, abandonment and divorce, all in a few short years.
It is here, this sacred ground of mine, where I would hide when the weight of parenting alone, these three precious souls, would come crushing down on me, and I had nothing left but to cry out to my Heavenly Father. I would weep, and if I believed them to be asleep, I would sometimes pray and weep for hours, until I had been spent and would repeat this refrain, "let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you." Sometimes peace did not come right away, but I don't believe it should be easy to heal from something we love deeply when it is lost. We tell ourselves that God will not give us more than we can bear. But I now believe that God does give us more than we bear, so that we can learn to lean on him, so that we can learn the compassionate, persistent, never changing, never failing nature of God. Each heartache, each triumph, a new revelation, a new gift to open and to see his faithfulness all along.
I chose to wipe away the stains, that to me were beautiful, evidence of a heart unafraid to feel. I wiped them away, yes, because while I am not Susie Homemaker, I do try and maintain a certain standard of moderate cleanliness. I also wiped them away, because I know that I will water these floors again, and other floors with my tears, because God has taken this broken heart and given it the capacity to feel greatly, to carry the burdens of others with the strength of Atlas's shoulders. I will pour out my tears, and he will hand me a box and tell me to look inside and know him more.
Even though I have wiped away the tears of these past years, my Heavenly Father still holds them in his alabaster jar, cherishing the heart from which they came. Cherish. He cherishes me like no other, and in him I am truly known and truly loved; a love that perhaps I would not have known so deeply, had these times of suffering not been entrusted to me.