What Have You Been Saved From? – Part One

by Maile on May 29, 2013

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This week while snuggled in a cozy white chair in my bedroom I got a hankering to leaf through some old journals of mine. That’s one of the glories of writing down your days: years later you have the privilege of revisiting them. These particular entries dated back through the past 3 ½ years of my life, some of the most painful and glorious days of my existence.

Depression claimed a significant stake of almost two years of that time, agonizing days when I simply couldn’t imagine having the strength to breathe and think and move for 24 more hours, let alone 24 more years. I read lines like these, written while tears dripped like a leaky faucet off the tip of my nose, my head bent over the empty pages of my prayer journal:

“There are times when I’d just like to be done with it all…I’m losing hope.”

“My joy is completely zapped. Today, I actually felt tired of life, all the little niggly bits we have to do like run to the store for diapers and fold-clothes and feed ourselves. I honestly thought, ‘that will be a nice part of being dead.’”

“I feel weak and pitiful, jealous and lustful, nit-picky and pathetically offendable.”

In the Fall of 2011, I began seeing a counselor who helped me to allow the pain and anger that I had buried under layers of self-hatred and perfectionism to come to the surface. As that agony tore through my soul, I sensed God holding his steady hand in front of me, open to receive my grasp. I had a choice: I could struggle through this pain on my own or I could wrap my weak little fingers around His.

After years of following the faith of my parents, of doing the “right” thing because I was told to, of trying to perform perfectly so I would be accepted, I finally decided to get honest. I wrote:

“God, I’m just not sure what to do about you. My thoughts about you are so jumbled, so confused. I don’t know how to perceive you: as loving or harsh, as having grace or having the bar so high that I can’t afford to stray to the left or right…Your standards are too high: hate your family, give up all you own, devote your life to preaching the gospel, be sinless…The list goes on and on and on. I simply cannot be all those things. But yet I want to be. I want you to accept me. So I live this life of guilt and worry and sizing up. There’s no joy here. There’s fear.

“So what I’m gonna do is start living. I’m going to strive for joy. I’m going to attempt to embrace what I have. I’m going to praise rather than criticize in false humility. Then I’m going to meet with You and try to get to know You and hopefully it will create a life worth living.”

With that, I put my hand in His.

*          *          *

Abra stood at the edge of the bed while I slowly pulled a broken-handled brush through the fine white silk of her hair.

“Ouch!” she shouted half-heartedly as she lifted the hem of her dress and then released it, letting it float and dance back to her legs, smiling at the effect. “Mama, are you gonna be done soon?”

I chuckled. “Yes, Abra. We’re almost there.”

Beside me my oldest daughter, Lucy, sat and watched each stroke slide down. “Mama?” she asked. “Did you used to cry when you got your hair brushed as a little girl?” I smiled. Lucy is my little historian.

“Oh, Lu,” I said. “I would cry and cry when Meme Silva would brush my hair. And do you know what PawPaw Silva would do? He would say, ‘Baby, give me your hand and just squeeze my hand as hard as you can. Give Daddy all the pain. I’ll take all the pain for you.’ And I would squeeze his hand as hard as I could.”

As the last words tumbled from my lips, I felt my throat grow heavy with the effort of holding back tears; my voice quivered ever so slightly.  The girls didn’t notice: Lucy sat hypnotized by the back and forth motion of my hand working the brush while Abra’s fingers bent and twisted the pleats of her skirt.

“Alright, Baby, you’re done,” I announced to Abra, and she swiftly put her headband in place and scurried out of the room, while Lucy galloped behind her. But I lingered.

In my mind, I saw my dad’s scrunched and red face, as my 6-year old self squeezed his hand with what little might I had. Meticulously, my mom worked through each and every tangle while I clenched his rough fingers and whimpered, and my dad overdramatized his aching hand with sputtered breaths and high-pitched squeals. I can only imagine my mom rolling and rerolling her eyes at our duet.

I shook my head, smiling at the memory, and followed my girls out of their room.

Later in the day I would tell Shawn the story of my dad and the hairbrushing and I would stop mid-story and cry, elbows on my desk and face cupped in my hands. Oh, the tenderness of a father’s compassion reaching out to share in the pain of his daughter…and she, with childlike faith, taking his hand.

To be continued…

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