Late yesterday afternoon I took the children to visit a friend who recently moved across the country. She’s in town for a brief visit, and I was eager to see her. There is a long ago family connection, so she really gets where I come from and how I ended up here. My feelings about her and our friendship go deep. Very deep. I trust her. The entire day felt like an inconvenience standing in the way of our planned chat.
We were greeted by a chicken taking a dust bath and their old yellow lab as we turned the walkway toward the immense green yard. We instantly settled in. The children ran and played and screamed outside in the sunshine while we ate homemade bread and caught up. A gentle, cool breeze blew through the open screen door as her parents joined us for awhile.
A friend of hers, a fellow survivor, arrived before long, and we spent the evening sharing wounds and laughing. The din of children’s play increased, and it was evident these eleven children were getting along famously hour after hour. As the sun faded into darkness the children wandered inside to eat and gather in front of the TV, so we three moms retreated to a bedroom where the last of our evening together felt more like a junior high slumber party. I even shared the circumstances surrounding my oldest son’s conception, a secret I just don’t tell. It wasn’t met with any judgment or condemnation at all, only acceptance and recognition.
I received a recipe for “sleeping dust” so was able to sleep fairly sound last night for the first time in months. I couldn’t wait to share it with my survivor sister, whom I’ve never met in person but view as my mentor. I love her dearly. She, too, has issues with sleep, and I hoped desperately this “dust” could be the answer for us both.
In between the inconveniences of yesterday that stood between me and my highly anticipated visit with my out of town friend, I texted with my best friend. I met her twenty years ago at that church where I was treated so horribly by that ex-fiancee and his mother. Frequently, I hesitate to share things with her or bounce ideas off of her because I don’t entirely trust her to tell me painful truth about myself. She is my encourager, my defender; she always seems to see the best in me. She doesn’t treat me in accordance with the reality of who I am. She speaks to me as though I’m the best me I could possibly be. She views my potential as the real me. I’d go through the pain of the experience of that church again just to find her and have her in my life.
In between those texts I received one from my oldest son’s girlfriend. “Mama, how are you doing? Alright? We love you!….It struck me suddenly that I should check in with you.” She’d had a strange and sudden feeling something might be wrong, and she was worried. On the contrary, it was a beautiful day in many ways.
As I’ve taken on a number of extra jobs lately, empty rentals and houses for sale, I’ve had a lot of time to myself to think…..sometimes nine, ten hours a day alone in a silent house with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company. Naturally, with the two year anniversary of my dad’s death approaching, I’ve been thinking about him and that horrible day a lot in those long silent hours.
I’ve thought about how cruel my brother was to my dad in his last years, especially in the last few months when Daddy was weak. I’ve felt guilty for not cooking for my dad his last Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was my first without R, and I couldn’t bear the idea of spending the holidays with my brother. Daddy wouldn’t come without my brother, or, rather, my brother wouldn’t let Daddy come without him. I just couldn’t do it and instead spent Thanksgiving with my half-brother and his family. I have felt a little guilty for robbing my dad of his last holidays, for forcing him to spend them alone.
As I’ve mulled that over during hours of scrubbing and washing, I’ve accepted that I didn’t force that lonely holiday on my dad. My brother did. He created the scenario. I merely responded in the only way I felt I could and maintain my sanity in a dark season.
I’ve recalled my dad’s first words to me in three weeks after R left, “Well, you answered your phone! [Your brother] and I were just talking this morning, we wondered if you were divorcing us along with R since we haven’t heard from you!” R left here in a fit of rage, taking the money and provision with him, and headed straight to my brother’s house. My brother and dad were the first ones to know of R’s departure, the only ones to know that he was headed north. And yet, I’d received no calls or visits to check on the kids and me. There had been no concern from my family that I was ill and had just been abandoned by my abuser. Those words of blame my dad threw at me were directed from his conversation with my brother that morning. As the funeral director told me when Dad died, “Old people sometimes get a soft mind. They are easily swayed by others and can easily be manipulated.” The wise director had witnessed how my brother manipulated my half-brother and me, and he could imagine what he’d done to a weak, old man who loved and needed him.
In an ideal world my family would have surrounded me in my moment of need, and I would have put on a lovely holiday, as I always had, none of us knowing it would be my dad’s last. And, we’d have had wonderful memories together of his last days on earth.
But, this isn’t an ideal world, and I didn’t come from an ideal family. I’ve finally been able to absolve myself of that guilt while scraping years of grease from a twenty year old stove in an empty rental unit.
It’s late here. Eleven o’clock. The sun is shining brightly again today. The kids are still asleep, apparently exhausted from playing so hard yesterday. The only sounds I’ve heard today are the occasional truck on the highway, the cacophony of returning geese, and my own thoughts swirling in my head.
Each of my random, silent thoughts this morning is swirled in gratitude. Gratitude!
I’m actually thankful this morning that I have suffered as I have. I am thankful for my suffering! Otherwise, I’d have had no occasion to meet the hilarious, gifted woman I met last night. I’d have had no reason to connect with my mentor. I would not share a certain kinship and intimacy with other amazing women I’ve met here in town (whom I never would have guessed shared a similar painful past but have opened up to me because I’ve been so open about my own experiences) and the incredible women I’ve yet to meet but without whom I could not do this. If I could have possibly avoided the pain of that church all of those years ago, I would have missed out on my best friend. If I had not met and married R and suffered so horribly at his hand, I’d have never faced those ghosts of my past and never would have recognized my family’s abuse for what it was. I would have lived and died a wretched, drama filled life always believing that there was just something wrong with me. If I had not been manipulated by that youth pastor who abused girl after girl after girl, I would not have my best and my brightest, my first born son. Nor would I have his girlfriend who is like a sweet daughter to me, fulfilling all the things I longed for with my own daughter but have been denied because of my mother’s hatred for me that my daughter still carries.
How fricken weird is that? To be thankful to the point of tears? Tears of gratitude for abuse? Abandonment? Neglect? Rejection? GRATITUDE.
The beauty of my current life–the relationships that bring me such deep joy–would not have existed or been possible without the shit in which it is planted! So, this morning, as I relish the bright mind of a good night’s sleep and I anticipate a day in the sunshine with the incredible children I bore of an abusive marriage, I thank God for the horrors I endured. And, I thank Him for the blessings I’ve collected along the way.
If I could say one thing to my mother, my paternal grandfather, my brother, my former youth pastor, my ex-fiancee and his mother, and my ex-husband, it would be:
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. Genesis 50:20
And, to God Himself I say:
Thank you for being faithful when I was not. Thank you for preserving me through my darkest trials. Thank you for bringing about blessing out of cruelty.