My earliest memories are not unique, but many of them involve being left by someone I loved. People who were designed to model what God’s love is like-all consuming, unconditional, unchanging. Picture if you will a chubby cheeked, two year old girl with brown hair and green eyes. She is crying for her mother from the confines of her crib in a Pepto Bismol pink bedroom. The little girl is overwhelmed with terror because it feels as though she has been crying for hours and no one is coming for her. She is very hungry and she can’t see her big brother who must also be in his crib. What the little girl doesn’t know is that her mother has walked away and isn’t coming back, not even to visit.**
After my mother left, my father sent us to live with my grandmother while he finished medical school. She lived on 258 acres outside of Asheville, North Carolina. I awoke every morning to the sound of the crows cawing in protest as the Smoky Mountains awoke and began to shake off her blanket of fog. My grandmother’s motto was that ‘nothing in the wild can hurt you’ (she never mentioned bears and copperheads for some silly reason) and she sent us outside every day to play. My happiest memories from that time in my life include wearing my Hee Haw overalls and tagging along after my older brother. We would cross the creek which seemed like crossing the Hoover Dam but which was really a board with a six inch span over a rivulet of water. There was a tire swing under an enormous old walnut tree and we used to push each other as hard as we could. My stomach felt like I’d been launched from an aircraft carrier and we would bellow in exhilaration. We fed the ducks each morning, and sometimes in the afternoon just because I liked to try to catch them. I loved the feeling of their beaks as they scrabbled for the corn in my cupped hands. Best of all, I can recall the comfort of being enfolded in the squish of my grandmother’s plush body. She smelled like smoke from the wood stove she lit every morning at 5:30 am to heat the house and hints of earth from all of the gardening and canning she did. Each day, she would start a loaf of bread and take a nap while the bread would rise. Scotty and I never managed to nap although we ‘tried’ really hard. Instead we danced in anticipation of a lunch that we knew would include the best bread ever! We became ‘foodies’ during this period of our lives even though the term had not yet been invented. When we were a little older and after we were living with my father and stepmother, my grandmother walked away. She surrendered to despair and chose suicide over hope.
My father was a good daddy to me and he is a brilliant at his job, but he’s not so good at picking wives. At that time, he was married to a woman who, at best, had a ‘borderline personality disorder,’ which is particularly disturbing since she later achieved a Master’s in Counseling. At any rate, nothing was ever good enough in that house, especially me. I was too fat (anything over a size 4 is absolutely unacceptable) and she drove me to weight loss clinics to take care of my problem. Of course, since she’d had liposuction, breast implants, nose jobs, and other cosmetic procedures the ‘playing field’ wasn’t particularly level. She also augmented her beauty regimen by engaging in frequent ‘spiritual’ three day fasts and a lot of intentional barfing when she actually bothered to ingest something. These are things I can laugh at now, but it sure made me feel like the worst, ugliest kid in the world. She was explosive beyond description often waking me up to scream at me in the middle of the night; 2 a.m. was her favorite time for some unknown reason. Those 17 years were full of comings and goings and they almost always occurred on or near a holiday. We would literally drive 14 hours to her family’s house only to have her get out with my little sister and tell us she was leaving us. We weren’t even admitted into the house to go to the bathroom. My dad, brother, and I would turn the car around and drive back ‘home,’ whatever the heck that was and cobble together some sort meal. One Christmas I came home from college and was promptly shown the door for standing up for myself. I spent the vacation anxiously waiting for the dorms to open again so I could get back to some semblance of normalcy.
Fortunately my brother and I were born with a sense of humor; in fact we are hilarious! We managed to joke our way through most of these situations because it was either laugh or cry, joke or die. (I’m sure we could write a movie a la Little Miss Sunshine to describe our experiences.) When my stepmother finally walked away for the last time, there was a sense of profound relief as though we’d just vomited for the last time after a three day bout of food poisoning. We were so exhausted by all of the threats that in spite of the terror and in spite of all the times we tried to be ‘good enough’ so that she would stay, the day she left I felt a relief in knowing that the worst had finally happened.
As a friend of mine says regarding a certain experience in her life, “I went out different than I came in.” I can honestly say that in regards to my life. Not only did I come out different than I went in, but, as they say in the South, “I ain’t been right yet.” To state the obvious, fear has been a formative force in my life. Just as water carved out the Grand Canyon, so fear has carved out a chasm between the boundary of my mind and soul. Thankfully, God isn’t finished with me yet and I am a work in progress. Over the years, He has reminded me that He NEVER leaves me and that he has not forsaken me. I have been gently loved by him in so many ways. As I have continued to seek him while attempting to reconcile how a loving God allows a little girl, now a grown woman to feel so unloved by the very people who were supposed to demonstrate love, he has brought people into my life to LIVE His love.
I’m one of the lucky ones! I have an amazing husband, and yes I know I’m supposed to ‘say’ that but I really mean it. He’s smart as heck, laughs at ALL my jokes, understands me in ways that I don’t, and lets me show the weakness I try to hide. He loves all that I am and even all that I am not. We also have two amazing children. Thankfully, they are smarter than I was at their age and they have two parents rooting for them. Fortunately, they have inherited their mother’s sense of humor and (hopefully) their father’s height. They are God’s redemptive opportunity to me; a chance to be the mother I never had. I pray I get it right. That’s one of my biggest fears, of course.
Two years ago I got a phone call that nearly changed it all. My guy has flown fighters in combat situations and has three operational assignments under his belt. I had always felt that if he were going to have a safety incident, it would be in an operational (real world training or combat) scenario. The call that every wife fears is the one that a plane has gone down. When such an event occurs, bits of information spread like wildfire. We like to say that the wives’ network is faster than the official network and a downed aircraft is a commonly known fact within 20 minutes, easy. Typically every husband will check in with his wife but WILL NOT release the name of the pilot involved. Usually, all of the women hold their breath waiting for their phone call from their husband. The worst case scenario is either a call from the commander in the event of an accident not involving an immediate fatality or a knock on the door with a trio of uniformed officers to officially notify a spouse that their husband died in an accident. I’m a woman of prayer and deep faith. For some reason, I always assumed that if my husband experienced trouble in the air God would tell me so that I could pray. One afternoon my phone rang and it was the group commander. I was making dinner at the time and was blithely unaware of anything. I guess because I was the commander’s wife at the time, no one was going to call me to let me know there had been an ‘incident.’ At any rate, when he called I assumed he was trying to reach my husband, but it immediately became evident that this was not the case. He had called to let me know that there was a plane crash on landing, but that my husband and the student were okay. My world stopped. Literally. Somehow, God gave me a supernatural strength. When a pilot has an ‘event,’ he or she is not permitted to leave until urine and blood samples are collected. The crew, in this case the pilot and student, are separated and exhaustively interviewed so that there is no opportunity to ‘get stories straight’ in the event that someone was not following proper protocols and safety procedures. My phone rang at 5:30 in the evening. I managed to finish dinner for the kids (I think). We huddled up together and I told them that daddy had been in an airplane accident but that Jesus had protected both him and the student and that there were no injuries. I was calm and assured when my husband walked in at 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. and able to give God’s comfort to him from a well of strength that was not mine. In fact, I held it all together for 48 hours until I was able to get my husband back to work and the kids back to school at which point I promptly fell apart and sobbed inconsolably. I felt as though I needed to curl up in the corner and suck my thumb!
Guess What?! HE WALKED AWAY!!!!!! For the first time in my life, God helped me to see the difference between ‘leaving’ and ‘walking away.’ Walking away can be a good thing; it can be a miracle. God also showed me that Jesus himself walked away….FROM THE GRAVE! (So take that Satan!) Additionally, He showed me that my perception of ‘leaving’ is one where someone disappears never to return. But guess what? That’s NOT who God is and it’s NOT how he works. I learned that leaving isn’t always harmful, even when it hurts. Jesus says in John 14:2 that He is leaving to prepare a place for us but that he isn’t leaving us alone. vs 16. “I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper who will be with you forever.” And Jesus isn’t just leaving never to return either. vs. 18 Jesus promises, “I will not leave you all alone. I will come back to you.” It turns out that I’ve been believing a lie that I’ll be left alone. But I am learning that God’s promises are stronger and more real than the ground on which we stand. I will probably continue to battle fear always (I guess everybody has something) but I can have confidence in God, who has brought me this far, to remain with me. Not only that, I can trust him to come back for me too because he loves me more than I can imagine and more than anyone else in this world can. Amen.
**Please note that I met my mother when I was 26. Her reasons for leaving are her own and I would not betray her trust by writing about them. We have a deep affection for one another and talk on a regular basis. I don’t have any resentment towards her as I know that she too is wounded in her own way. I pray that she experiences Christs’ healing as well and I am confident that He is working in her life.