It is the Lord who goes before you.
He will be with you;
he will not leave you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.
– Deuteronomy 31:8
We hardly had time to process the huge adjustment of leaving all we had ever known, and our new life started in what seemed like the blink of an eye. My mom was now on her own and needed to financially support herself and both of her daughters – one in kindergarten, and one in high school. She got a job at the front desk of a local hotel and worked her way up to eventually become the Director of Marketing. We rented a two-bedroom apartment in town and despite the shell shock of what we had been through, the sun kept rising every morning.
These years were a strange time of triumph and turmoil; we escaped the daily distress of life with my dad, but we didn’t have the energy or the capacity to process what we had experienced. While my mom was working overtime to make ends meet, I was going about my days as most elementary-aged kids would have been. My mom would slide in and out of depression, coming up against so many questions that continued to haunt her: Was her choice to get divorced a death-sentence for her and her children? Would we all be condemned to Hell for her sins? Was there any hope for joy? Would we defy the odds and survive another day just to be defeated tomorrow?
Was there any hope for joy?
More than I ever knew at the time and probably still more than I understand, my sister fought fervently to protect me from our dad throughout my childhood. The biggest point of tension between my mom and sister was that I was still allowed to spend time with him; she couldn’t understand why he was permitted in our lives at all. I remember one day he came over to the apartment and my mom didn’t want to let him in. She had opened the door to find him agitated and under the influence, but as she attempted to close the door and lock him out, he stuck his foot in the doorway and started to force his way inside.
I remember being confused because I didn’t know why he wasn’t being allowed inside, but my most vivid memory is of the look on his face when my sister came out from the back bedroom. I have never seen a force quite like what I witnessed that day. My sister stormed into the living room with a strength and confidence like I had never before seen. At sixteen years old, her words and presence made my dad shrink back and cower like a pitiful lost child. My sister left home a year later right before her high-school graduation.
The chaos at home translated into me thriving in the classroom. The adults in my life were in constant and various states of despair, and I latched on to the idea of receiving praise and feedback from my teachers. I was an excellent student and a teacher’s pet, and I decided early that I wanted to do everything in my power to be “good.” I ended up having to move to a new school halfway through 2nd grade when the district finally found out we were now living on the other side of the city and no longer with my dad on the outskirts of town. Due to several upcoming moves, I would ultimately end up being the “new kid” 3 more times before I started high school. In every new place, I worked to be the most well-rounded and successful student I could be. I would not accept anything less than an “A,” tried very hard to be the nicest friend, and would get involved with extra-curricular sports and activities as much as possible.
I decided early that I wanted to do everything in my power to be ‘good.’
When I was in the 5th grade, my mom got remarried. We moved from our apartment to a house, and got cable and all new furniture. She was working more than ever, but it seemed like we were starting to create a better life with my new step-dad. We had a Christmas tree for the first time that year, and I thought we were becoming what I would have deemed a more “normal” family. Prior to this, we were never allowed to partake in any holiday festivities. The church had proclaimed Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and the like, as pagan celebrations and we were forbidden from participating. I still had no idea who Jesus was or what the tree meant, but I liked that we had one in our house like every one else.
The marriage lasted a little less than a year, and my mom and I packed up and moved from Texas to Oregon as soon as I finished the 5th grade. My mom’s oldest brother had been diagnosed with a severe and rare blood disease, and we headed west to stay with him and help him as he faced surgery and ongoing treatment. He was single at the time and living alone, so the arrangement was mutually beneficial: my mom would care for him during his recovery, and we had a place to live far away from the painful memories of our past. I didn’t know this at the time, but my step-dad had completely drained my mom financially. Everything was in her name, and he had used credit cards to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. My mom had also gotten pregnant and suffered a miscarriage that year, and I couldn’t even begin to understand the magnitude of that loss until I became an adult.
We were truly bankrupt, in every sense of the word. The following year in Oregon would prove to be one of the most pivotal times in my life: I lost my dad, and I was introduced to my Father.
I lost my dad, and I was introduced to my Father.