My parents were very young: my father 17, my mother only 16. Four months after my birth she left. She left my father, and she left me. In my crib. At home. Alone. My grandparents, my father’s parents, found me.
In those days, a father receiving sole custody of a baby, especially a baby girl so young, and he so young as well, was virtually unheard of. But he did, and my grandparents got guardianship. It wasn’t long, perhaps a month or two, before Dad was gone as well. In those first few weeks with my grandparents they discovered much: scars on my body, malnutrition, an incredible intolerance for my crib, and sleeping only when laid across my grandfather’s chest.
My grandmother was thrilled to have me. She’d always wanted a little girl, and now she had one. She referred to me as her “little Orphan Annie”. I realize now it was her term of endearment for me, but back then, I hated it, and hated her for it. It was a daily reminder of my orphan-ness, my parents leaving me.
But I saw my mother everywhere. She was the kind lady at the deli, the beautiful woman telling the evening news, the girl on the street who smiled at me, the lady behind me in the grocery line. I knew she was out there, some where, and it was only a matter of time before she found me.
Little did I know my mother really did want me back. One late night the phone rang. I heard my grandmother crying, screaming into the phone, “No! You gave her up! You can not have her back! She’s mine!” Then she burst into my room and held me so tight I could barely breathe, telling me not to worry. I was not going anywhere.
This made my mind wonder. Non-stop. Finally I grew brave enough to ask Grandma about my mother, why I couldn’t see her. Grandma left the room, returning with a baby book, my baby book. It was soiled and stained and smelled horrible. She told me she pulled it from the trash the day they found me alone in my crib. She told me my mother threw it away, just as she had thrown me away. I screamed at my grandma, telling her it wasn’t true. She then pulled a letter from the book. It had been torn into pieces and taped back together. She handed it to me. There was my mother’s writing, my mother’s words. “I’m leaving [my father], and my baby too. I love [the new guy] and she’d only come between us. It’s what we both want.”
My grandparents had enrolled me in a Lutheran school. God was part of my life. I couldn’t imagine a world without Him in it. I still have my Bible from that time; “God is love” and “Jesus loves me” written inside its covers. I remember singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.” But that day with my mother’s letter, something inside me shifted. Changed. I grew bitter. Angry. God did NOT love all the little children. Certainly not this little child.
My father had come in and out of my life from time to time, but when I was 10 he decided he wanted me back. And I wanted him. I broke Grandma’s heart leaving, but it seemed to me the “normal” thing to do. However, I soon discovered who my father really was: an unstable, violent, alcoholic tyrant. Between drugs and drinking and his own foul temper, I never knew whether to smile and hug him, or stay still and hide away. Whichever it was it was never the right thing and he let me know by shouting, breaking things, his fists flying, landing where ever they may.
After one terrible encounter with him I could stand it no longer and shouted, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I ruined your life! I wish I were dead!” He left the room then returned with a handgun. I still recall the slow-motion way he approached me, lifted the gun to my temple. Right here, right now I can still feel the cold steel against my skull, hear the sharp snap resounding as he pulled the trigger. For a moment I wasn’t sure what had happened. Was I dead? Then I hear his voice. He tells me from now on to keep my mouth shut or he just might load the chamber.
Again, something inside me shifted. Hardened. I cursed God.
After episodes like that my father always tried to make it up to me, buying me gifts, becoming quite loving. Often much too loving. Inappropriate. Violating.
Not long after this there was another episode. Things were escalating. This time when I went to school the following day there were questions to answer, pictures taken. I never went back to my father.
Instead I was placed in foster care. For four years I moved from home to home, one usually worse than the one prior. I did find God again with one set of foster parents. And I cursed Him. Also during this time my behavior became quite hard, volatile, erratic. I would NOT be hurt again, so I’d hurt you before you had a chance to hurt me. I became a bird of prey. Then the next day I wouldn’t be able to control my laughter, the glee I felt inside. Back and forth, up and down. Finally, after several evaluations, I was told I had Manic-Depressive Disorder, or Bi Polar Disorder as we know it today.
Again, I raised my fist and cursed God. Why? Why so much?
In time I learned to tell the doctors what they wanted to hear. I wanted out. On my own. I’d surely be better then. By 17 I was emancipated, a legal adult. Free.
At 18 I met my husband, married at 19, a mom at 20. Things were starting to turn around. I had a family, my own family. The only problem: my husband drank. A lot. Between that and my own instability it wasn’t long before things imploded. I attempted suicide.
While in the hospital I came undone. I fell apart. I spewed each and every hurt that had accumulated over the years. A doctor’s response to me was this: “You’re a biological accident, Brenda. Plain and simple. Learn to live with it.” And I shattered. Into a thousand tiny pieces. When I gathered myself together again, I was hard as steel. And I hated God with all my heart.
The marriage was manageable for 16 years, but then I met a man, a married man. When his wife filed for divorce, I left my family as well. I’d become what I’d always hated. Just like my dad: hard and cold. Just like my mother: a child abandoner. But in the bliss of the new relationship, it mattered little. Soon however, his drinking became an issue as well. This time, I decided that if I couldn’t beat them, I’d join them. Rum became my new best friend.
Soon into the relationship we got pregnant. For a multitude of reasons we decided to abort. Up on the doctor’s table I learned I was in the midst of a miscarriage. Whew. I wasn’t a murderer after all. Or so I told myself.
My drinking became worse, more often. Daily, in fact. I couldn’t wait to black out, to feel nothing, to know nothing, to be nothing. After another suicide attempt, I entered rehab. With all good intentions.
I worked the program, attended AA, spoke with counselors and chaplains. Like years before in the hospital I learned the program well. Learned all the right words. Learned what they wanted to hear.
I lasted four months sober out of rehab. When I began drinking again it was far worse than before. At this point shame, guilt, regret, hurt, anger… they were consuming me. The only way I could tolerate existence, tolerate myself, was disconnected from it all. But soon enough I just couldn’t drink enough. I ached; a deep gnawing ache that never went away. It was eating me alive.
Early one morning I gathered every pill I could find, grabbed a new gallon of vodka, and climbed the attic stairs. I settled myself down and started swallowing, first a handful of pills, then a long deep pull of vodka. I cried. Then I bawled. I began to shake and shiver. From somewhere deep inside I began to moan, deep, guttural, raw. I was so desperately miserable, but amid it all, I didn’t really want to die. I simply didn’t want to exist as I had been. As I had all along.
Amid my sobs I called His name. Actually, I screamed His name. “God! God, please forgive me. My words. Cursing you. Blaming you.” I told Him I was done, that I couldn’t go on any longer. I was much too tired. There was nothing left in me. I begged Him to please do something, anything. Please, with all my heart, fix me. Save me. I can’t do this alone. Not anymore.
When a woman shakes out a sheet over a bed, that sheet floats down softly, slowly, settling oh so gently. That’s exactly how calm fell over me. I felt it above me, then I felt it touch the top of my head, then it entered me, filled me; first my mind, then my heart, then down through my gut, the rest of my body. It enveloped me. Consumed me. I was in awe. My sobs and shaking subsided. My eyes were open but I couldn’t clearly see. My ears faintly heard birds outside, but as if through a big ball of cotton. It was as if He’d paused the world. (I truly believe He did.) Then that calm changed, turned to something else. Where I held despair, joy took it’s place. Where I held pain, peace entered. And all around me, clinging like air, was love. Not love as I’d ever known it, or heard it described, but a love so intense, so real and full I can’t begin to articulate it to you. It wrapped around me like a blanket. Soothed me. Filled me.
I’ve never felt a mother’s embrace, but it was like I’d always imagined one to be. Then it occurred to me, “This is my Father’s embrace. This is a heavenly hug.”
I had never before nor have I since felt such total and utter peace. Joy. Love. It was invigorating and breathtaking all at once. I never wanted to leave it. To leave that moment. I would have gladly stayed there forever.
But in time the embrace slowly dissolved. I almost cried for its return, but then realized I was changed. Inside. Some how, some way. It was deeply profound. I was simply yet vastly different.
I looked at the bottle of booze, the pills and was disgusted. Repulsed. I drained the bottle down the sink, and put the pills away. That was August of 2009. I’ve been sober since. Now, understand, that’s not MY doing, but His. He took it out of me. He wiped it away. It’s almost as if He deleted it completely. Plain and simply put, undeserving as I was, as I am, God gave me a miracle.
To be completely honest there are times when I’m down or worried about something and I think of a drink. I do. But it’s simply a thought. And that thought tip toes right across my mind and off into nothing. And that is ME, my flesh, my sin nature looking for an easy out. The addiction, the constant thoughts of drinking, the ache for it, the taste of it on my tongue simply at the thought of it; that’s all gone. I’ve never again experienced such deep longings for booze since that day up in the attic.
Also, the Bi Polar Disorder has been in remission for the most part since that time. Yes, I still get racy and talkative. And yes, I still get down. But the intensity of the mood swings, the duration has changed. Diminished. I don’t live weeks so high I can’t sleep, or so low I forget to breathe. Those days are over as well. The doctors have tried to tell me that perhaps I’d been misdiagnosed. That perhaps the symptoms were merely a by-product of the chaos and dysfunction in my life. But I know better.
More importantly in what’s changed is WHO and HOW I am. That aching, angry girl is gone. I don’t care to lash out at anyone anymore. In fact, I avoid conflict like the plague. For the most part I’m very calm, serene. I enjoy my solitude from time to time. I’m no longer afraid of my own company. I find smiles come easier, tears less often. My boys and I are reconciled. In fact, they’re not quite sure who their mom is these days. We’re learning to like each other again. To love. I’ve made friends. For the first time in my life I have female friends. I’ve learned to trust, to accept, and to give. Yes, I still have my hang-ups. I still gossip and find forgiveness difficult. I smoke cigarettes and curse from time to time. But that hard-hearted girl is long gone. It was like a dirty, stinking old coat He allowed me to take off, lay down, then walk away from. He turned that heart of stone to this heart of flesh.
Mostly what’s changed is the Pull. You know how sometimes you know you’ve forgotten something, but you just can’t quite remember what? It gnaws at you, unsettles you, wakes you in the night? That’s the kind of feeling I’m referring to, only I haven’t forgotten. I know just exactly what it is. Who it is. It’s Him, calling, “remember me?”
My most difficult times these days are the times I walk away from Him, avoid church, avoid my bible, prayer. In those times, when I’m caught up in myself, in the world, I find my old ways trying to creep back in. My heart becomes heavier, my mood darker, my patience little. I find life becomes just a bit more troublesome. Sometimes a lot more troublesome. I’m learning a flower can’t ever unbloom. Once you know the power of His embrace, there’s no going back. He gives miracles, but He asks for you- all of you- in return.
I’ve often been asked how and why God did what He did for me. And I’ve thought a lot about it. All I can say is that for me, in my experience, I had to come completely undone. I had to break. I had to be so completely outside myself that there was no pulling myself back together again. I had to be completely empty, so empty that only He could fill me.
And only He could.
And He did.
Now, there is much more to my story, so many things left out. It would take too long, too many pages, too many words. And, quite frankly, it just may overwhelm. It just may make some shake their heads and claim, “unbelievable”. Truly, it is. But it’s my life. My truth. My story.
Because He’s asked for me, because He tells me “speak”, I do…
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.
Psalm 34: 4-8 (NIV)