She was only a child, surrounded by a big family, but in it, she felt alone. She was the “quiet one” and often referred to as such, but her mind was a flood of words wanting to be said, but never being heard. Her gifts and strengths were overlooked by more ambitious efforts, nevertheless, she had many if someone would stop and listen to her. Praises were few, although maybe those memories are stifled by the overwhelming amount of criticism received for not adding up or being good enough, or by the angered faces of people she disappointed by not being “good”.
Shame is a board, with a handle, and the words written, “Spare not the rod” across the front, used to ingrain in her this sense of the terrible person that she had become. As if somehow you can beat the monster out of a person. It wasn’t the “rod” that scared her, but the person who angrily grabbed the board, leaving bruises on an already broken person. It’s as if these marks were bleeding through the skin to show what she already felt inside. The person possessing all the power, her mother, could have chosen to love her, but at that time, she had nothing to give but angry punishments and critical words with no hope.
She waited for him to come and when he did, her joy was short-lived. How does one love a thief, an adulterer, and an alcoholic? Her Father wore happiness through his own pain and in the moment, he was there. He listened. He held her close. And then he was gone. Gone to find the things in the world that continued to make him happy. Gone to chase women, booze, and money. It was only a moment of joy, but that would remain her hope until he returned. To escape whatever kind of life this was. He would return, but death came with him and hope would die once more.
What prayers can be said to a God that thinks of her as terrible? Constant prayers where she bargained with God, hoping if she did something good, he would give her something in return. It’s all she had left in her arsenal of works. So she prayed these prayers hoping to save her Father from the disease that would destroy him. But even this proved to her she was not “good enough”: I can’t even pray a prayer. I am a failure.
She learned to keep her head down. If she stayed low, no one would find fault in her. She learned in school and at home this important lesson. In school, the criticism and sometimes abuse continued. “Do not let them see you cry” was her motto by the time she was a teenager. She had spent many years trying to be heard, crying and emotional, and what good did it do her? Her tears were a megaphone to people who had fallen deaf. I will be invisible.
Depression was her companion and poetry her friend. One tormented her. The other saved her. As a child, she spent hours by herself, imagining the world was not ugly. She’d wander the woods behind her house and pretend she was living the life she imagined. The tree was her home and the clearing was her back yard in the castle of hope she had built for herself, when she escaped the misery of this life; when she was gone from here. And poetry became the escape when she had no back yard, no tree “house” to run to. Paper and pen do not speak back. They only understand what you lay before them, without criticism, without duplicity.
He was the brother she grew up with, shared a womb with, loved despite their differences. Was there a reason he chose a tree as his last place of breath? She had pen and paper. What did he have? Was the criticism too much to take? Was the loss, the punishment, the anger too much for his soul to carry? What would his life had been if there was love? She did not know, but it seemed as if love did not live in her world. Her kingdom of hope was just a fairy tale.
How does hope die? It dies when rules are more important than hearts. It dies when anger is more important than love. It dies when feelings mean nothing and facts mean everything. It dies when results are king. She feels these words, wearing her unworthiness: “They leave because of me.”
But hope can rise up in the face of evil. It can survive it. It says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.“(Genesis 50:20). It cries out, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?“Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (Ps. 77)
Hope is weeping over what was lost, but seeing what is good. Hope is that she is here. Hope is that she survived. Hope is that God was on her side, despite the evil done to her. Hope is seeing for the first time.
Hope is in this story because it’s my story–the one that was written for me before the world began. Hope lingers in the darkness, exposing the evil, and holding it’s hand to something better. Hope is sometimes a slow crawl through the landmine of other people’s sin while carrying your own and then holding up a mirror and realizing you are the same. The difference is not that you are better, not that you are worthy, and not that you are good. Hope is that this lost soul is found, this worthless life is redeemed, this hated sinner is loved. Hope is Jesus.
There is much I did not explain–the ones who stayed, the ones who loved, the ones who continue to be in my life when I’m ugly. This is only part of the story–with much more pain and much more grace than I’ve mentioned here. I did not mention how much the soul battles against it’s own evil when evil has been done to it. The point is that this is not the end. Evil does not win. Death does not prevail. Until then, there is hope.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all.