Darkness shrouded the bedroom, lit only with a faint glow from the street light. She couldn’t see the Cinderella in chenille on her twin bed, with fuzzy tufts in all her favorite colors. Or her toy box. After sleeping for a while, it seemed hours since she first slipped under the covers—the middle of the night to a five-year-old. Her younger brother slept in a bed on the other side of the room. On a quiet street in a two-bedroom brick Cape Cod.
Waking after awhile with a full bladder, she could hear voices from the tv. Her parents were still up.
She tip-toed to the door, and opened it, slow and silent. Her daddy’s recliner was positioned in the living room straight down the hallway. Even at this time of night he looked angry. Standing with her bedroom door open, she glanced at the bathroom, then peeked down the dark length to her dad—back and forth… wishing she had the courage to walk across the hall to take care of things without a care. But as brave as she dared to be on the inside, her feet remained fixed.
How many minutes passed, she didn’t know. But soon the tears came, as her bladder hurt more from the pressure. Why couldn’t she just go?
In the daytime when he was at work, life was simple. No torments, no tears. Just playtime, and breakfast and lunch on vinyl-covered chairs in the kitchen with the radio playing, and her mama dancing with their black lab in between household chores. And an occasional trip down the same hallway to the bathroom. Without a care.
But every night this became the routine. And every night her heart pounded the closer she moved toward her door, the wider she opened it… then looking around, hoping the chair was empty, so she could pad her way the few feet across the great divide and into the bathroom.
But the chair was never empty.
After how many minutes, her mom would eventually walk down the hallway to find out what was wrong. And every night the answer was the same. I have to go potty. Her mom didn’t understood where the fear came from, and told her to go. You don’t have to be afraid.
But it didn’t make the fear go away. Not for a long time.
She lived most of her childhood years, her teen years, and too many of her adult years, under the shadow of that fear, feeling his anger over little things, big things, unimportant things.
What made him so difficult to please? Would she never look in his eyes and find favor? Or feel valued?
She loved to hear him laugh, something he only did with a few people, and on rare days in the worried military years of raising kids during the Cold War, with leaving the family behind to go to overseas. Then there were teens to raise, and more bills, more worries, unwanted pressures for this angry, difficult man whose life perhaps hadn’t met his expectations.
Why does he have to yell so much?
When he wasn’t yelling, he ignored her.
She found solace in her bedroom, her friends, her books, her daydreams, her radio… and she determined to be a kinder parent, to never let her children cry themselves to sleep at night, from feeling unloved.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When those years came of raising her own kids—juggling tasks, paying bills, meeting demands, dealing with stresses—she saw pieces of him in her. She didn’t like it, didn’t understand it. But it pressed her to her knees. Still determined, she rarely yelled, and refused to voice undeserved criticism, false accusations, hurtful words…
If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.
In her tongue is the law of kindness… – Proverbs 31
In remembering past hurts, she wrapped her arms tighter around her own offspring, assuring and reassuring them of her love. And God’s love. Yes, she could be difficult, too. And she’d get mad—sometimes even silent. But the Spirit poked and prodded, not allowing her moods to last. And if any fault was hers, she found the grace to admit it. And always, always loved them. And worked through the difficulties. And she talked to them, and listened when they talked to her. Even when she was tired, or worried, or afraid, or struggling… even when it was hard. No matter what they did or didn’t do, always, she kept the door open to relationship.
It took years to accept the estrangement between her and her dad. To find forgiveness in the face of never pleasing him. To wrestle day after day with fears and doubts she longed to shake off. She knew some of her own inadequacies were a result of what lacked in her upbringing. She also knew this brittle connection with her earthly father shaped her image of God the Father for too long.
To be continued…