In the afterglow of my childhood betrothal to God, I walked around positively smitten. My love for Him knew no bounds. At Sunday School I absorbed the compelling stories of Jesus and His love for little children–oh, to have climbed up on His lap, leaning into the warmth of His strong embrace! My eyes stung with tears for the wanting of it. Something inside of me began blossoming. My love for Him was like a locket secreted away, not under my shirt but inside my chest next to my heart. If one were to open it, there would be a miniature portrait of my Beloved. This was my own best treasure, not meant for prying eyes. The visible proof of my new-found love was that long walk down the sawdust floor of the revival tent, all the way up front where the preacher stood with outstretched arms, beckoning my little soul. Kneeling reverently, letting my entire body and mind fill up with the sweet strains of Just As I Am, bowing my head in the face of such sacrificial love–oh all of these were visible for all the universe to see. The intangible went much deeper. It pierced my heart and sensibilities, at one and the same time evoking intense pleasure and nearly intolerable pain. For who, when struck with unconditional love, does not at times suffer from the its very weight and breadth?
This interlude between having and not having, embraced and not embraced, cherished and not cherished, oh this interlude is too bittersweet for words. My little world may not be perfect, but it’s golden. I walk around oblivious to the precariousness of life. All the while that mother is perfecting her pin curls while Dad plays his drum-set in the living room with wild abandon, and my brothers tear through the house in some made up game, I observe and absorb this coziness of being with those I love most, never knowing it can be lost in a split second. The earth revolves as it always has, lulling me into a false sense of security. This world must always offer a false sense of security, how could it not? The trouble is not so much that this is so but that we choose to think otherwise. Even those of us who call ourselves pilgrims are easily lured into the seductive magical thinking of life is good and I am beloved, and this must always be so.
Behind the scenes while I slept snug in my bed, adult decisions were being made which would prove catastrophic to my siblings and I–and to our father who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (known as Shell Shock back then) from his years of active duty in WWII. In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed at the time, my mother chose to take up with another man. And thus was set in motion a cycle of abandonment, loss and grief to those she’d brought into the world.
Suddenly, during my 7th year, my little world exploded without warning. Mom packed us off to a friend’s house, sat us down and informed us that she was divorcing Dad. This meant nothing to me, having never heard of the word divorce. When I asked a brother what it meant, I was stupefied by his explanation of, “It means Dad won’t be living with us any more.” Not live with us! The thought was incomprehensible to me. Where would he live, if not with us? How could a father not live with his kids? Too stunned to cry I began what would become a lifelong habit of stifling emotion.
Oh, but it got so much worse. My little heart ached for Dad who, arriving home the evening of our hasty departure, found nothing but a note in Mom’s handwriting propped up on the dining room table. How the rooms of that big house must have echoed as he paced through them, trying to take in this new loss. And his offspring didn’t fare any better, for we were soon hit with more news: we were gaining a new stepdad who would soon be moving in with us.
The cramped rental we moved into offended every sensibility I possessed. The floors were warped, the walls damp and clammy. At night, before we kids could go to bed, we had to pry slugs off our bedroom walls with a stick, flinging them out a window into the carport. There was no bathtub, just a cement shower stall which was moldy, with mushrooms growing in the corners. Most offensive of all was the absence of the one who had always made our house a home. Gone was his larger than life personae and his gift of humor. His talent for filling a room with color and life, and his ability to show us children how much we were loved. To go from that to this, oh the horror of it! For here there was no love, not here where the very air seemed curdled and sour with the stepdad’s disapproval, and mother’s passive acceptance of his crude dominance. No love here where punishment was meted out for the slightest lift of an eyebrow, the softest sigh. My brothers fought against this tyranny until, exasperated, Mom made the decision to let us choose who we wanted to live with.
Though I was loathe to hurt her feelings, I sided with my brothers in choosing Dad. This little scenario took place on Christmas Eve, and our stepdad made sure to use the holidays as a means of inducing guilt and shame.
“How could you!” he roared, looking pointedly at our over-sized stockings hung on the wall. “Shame on you! How can you upset your mother on Christmas Eve?”
We glanced from him to her to our stockings, and were unmoved. It’s not that we wanted to hurt her, we just didn’t want to be around him. Receiving permission to call Dad and ask him to come get us, we kids tried to stifle our glee so as not to further wound Mom or bring down the stepdad’s wrath. Oh, we must tread lightly lest permission be withdrawn. But our hearts were light as feathers as a graceful snow began to fall outside our window, and we shoved our pitifully few belongings into wrinkled brown grocery bags, awaiting the arrival of our rescuer–our very own Knight in Shining Armor.
In the events about to unfold in my life, my child’s faith would be tested to an extreme, though I don’t for one second believe that I was put into that situation purposely for the testing of my faith. What was about to transpire–the events awaiting around the next corner–surely made the angels weep in holy sympathy.