I awoke that morning in September with just the corner of comfort in my hand. I had slept the entire night, which shocked me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept without a big waking hole piercing my slumber.
I did know that the gates to sleeplessness had been unlocked that previous summer—June 13th to be exact—and ironically approaching high noon. That was the day the hatchet dropped, forever severing the thorny family ties that had wound themselves around my soul, obliterating any light or inkling of my existence for decades. Like a mouse cornered by cats, I was left breathless and panicked after every interaction with what remained of my immediate family. And while I always escaped, I fled with crushing anxiety in my chest and a million tiny fish thrashing in my stomach.
I knew God was there. I knew he loved me. But I couldn’t quiet my thoughts long enough to hear any “word” he might have for me. None the less, I prayed constantly, desperate for truth, clarity, peace…and sleep. Over and over, I’d try to restrain my runaway emotions and silence the swirling conversations in my head, repeating as my mantra, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)
Still, I’d awake nightly in a sweat, heart pounding and mid-sentence…reliving the same verbal exchanges. I was consumed. I was exhausted. My brain was like a blender stuck on puree as I recalled, rewound and reviewed every conversation, feeling the pain each time anew. Their words trapped me in vortex of circular discourse that I had to fight my way out of with sheer will and occasionally a stiff drink. And, after too many countless nights, I acknowledged that their words were winning—well, actually her words were winning.
The sad fact was, that the sister I wanted and deserved did not exist…could not exist. There was only another broken child who was lashing out in her own pain. She was another damaged soul, but one who somehow still needed the protection of her father and the comfort of his steady funds…even though she was nearly fifty.
But now, three months had passed. I was headed back to the island for the first time since “the end.” The difference being I would, for the first time in my life, not be staying with them.
Children bounced up and down in backseats. Dogs poked their heads out of open windows, their tongues out--drooling. All the while, hoards of people buzzed about. Some hurried from their cars to the main offices of the Steamship Authority only to returned with steaming cups of coffee and waxed paper bags stuffed with donuts. The wharf was alive with people, undulating like a hive of multi-colored pinheads.
Why? Why did I care? I sat with that for a moment and then looked up. “Because they are my family. These are the people who are supposed to love me…and they don’t. I’ve tried to make them love me. Maybe it’s habit. I’ve always just wanted their approval.”
At that moment, hearing my own words, I finally got the “why” of it. So simple really, but for some reason it took all these years to see. Even today, I don’t know where that clarity came from…perhaps it was God bestowing a kernel of divine wisdom. Finally, I was at the heart of it.
The evening ended. I went upstairs, checked in on the baby and tucked her back in before doing the same. I laid there in the dark with that undeniable “truth” seeping into my heart. Why did I care?
There was only one reason. They were my family and I was supposed to care. It was not because I admired them…or really even liked them. They were not people who I’d publically want to be associated with…or people I would have chosen as friends. They did not fill me with love. They did not lift me up. And, I certainly was not better off having known them—and neither were my daughters. They were my blood family and that blood was poison.
That night when I prayed, I asked God to keep me bathed in his love and light. I asked God to help me live a life that would make him proud. And I fell asleep knowing that if I my actions reflected my values on a daily basis, and more importantly reflected the values God set forth for me, no man’s judgment mattered.
I resolved that the only opinion that mattered was God’s. And then I slept—uninterrupted—until the autumn sun peeked around the edges of my bedroom shades.
By ten that morning, I was in the ferry parking lot waiting for the boat to round the shoreline and sound its horn to announce its arrival in the harbor. As it did, travelers who’d been milling about quickly gathered their belongings and scurried back to their cars.
I pulled my seat back into upright position, took a sip of my water and put the keys into the ignition. Others did the same. We were ready. I took a deep breath and sighed happily. It was good to be going.
As I waited, I noticed two young girls making their way up along my row. They were noticeably sisters, one a few inches taller than the other, both with long blonde hair whipped by the wind. They were not aware of their appearance, not unkempt, but not meticulously coiffed like the older teenagers. Perhaps they were twelve and thirteen, just below the age that most fall victim to the agony wrought from obsessing over their personal appearance.
Each of the girls wore a pair of plain, untailored shorts, flip-flops and a baggy t-shirt. Their gait, their height, their coloring…it struck me how similar they appeared to my sister and me so many years ago. How many summers had the two of us hurried up between the rows of cars, heading back to our own and readying to board that ferry?
As they drew nearer, I became mesmerized by the younger one, most likely because she reminded me so much of my younger self. The closer she came, the more I became absorbed in every detail of her until my gaze settled on the design displayed on the front of her dark green t-shirt.
I squinted, struggling to make out the image. Ah, they were words. As they approached the car in front of me, the three silk-screened words popped into focus.
“Sticks & Stones”
As we are all painfully aware, we cannot choose our biological family. However, we can choose the family we want to belong in our lifetime and into eternity. And when we make that choice, when we actively decide and purposefully build a family of our choosing, our life becomes so full, so meaningful, so grounded that the strongest army cannot penetrate its protective walls.
Today, I have more “sisters” than any one woman could ever dream of having. They have given me more love, acceptance, care and guidance than any blood sister ever did.
Back when I lived in the land of sleeplessness, I could not hear my Father voice. So he sent me a message I could see.
Today, I carry no anger...no resentment. I have peace, and when I do need an extra dose of encouragement, I seek another "word"...
Isaiah 43:18-19 (TNIV)