I'm a squisher. I don't like to feel hurt, and I don't like to feel vulnerable, and I certainly don't like to deal with the nasties that try to rear their head in my heart from time to time. Given my druthers, I avoid confrontation. I have to work hard at intimacy. Like I said, I squish. Keep it inside. Fight the genie back into the bottle and slap a cork on top before he can escape.
Lately, I'm having to squish harder and harder. It's eating up energy that I don't have to spare and costing me far more emotionally than my stretched Momma self can afford to pay.
What I've been squishing down is this: twenty years ago, my mother unceremoniously grabbed fistfuls of my belongings (a Smiths shirt, a pair of boots, my pillow, whatever was at hand) and shoved them into two black trash bags she had ripped from a roll under our kitchen sink. Then, screaming and raving like a manic djinn, she stabbed the heel of her hand into my back and forced me out of her house, into the street.
I was 17--a senior in high school.
My sin was not playing along during one of the episodes of mania that kept-- no, keeps-- my mother from living a normal, healthy life and having normal, healthy relationships. See, my mother follows the tides of rise and fall that are usually indicative of mental imbalance. And while she (and most of her family) refuses to acknowledge her inability to function, I can tell you that as one of those who lived with her day in and day out for 17 years that she is not well. No, not well at all.
Today, we have a strained, cautious relationship in which I don't ask pointed questions and refuse to rise to certain bait thrown out from time to time. My role is to listen from my post nearly 3,000 miles away as she catalogs how woefully inept everyone in her life is and how unfair their expectations of her are. Then I swerve the conversation 'round to how my kids are faring, and she gets off the phone. This is the extent of our interaction.
It's not exactly fulfilling, but it isn't damaging, either.
Twenty years ago, however, it was damaging. It was ravaging. It was being awakened at 3 a.m. to be summoned to her bedroom, where she would smoke cigarette after cigarette until the air was hazy and I could barely see her wild eyes as she told me over and over how despicable a man my father was. It was taking my baby brother to see a doctor because my mother's fanatical fear of steroids made her unwilling to treat the poison ivy that had covered the lower half of her son's body. It was calling her boss--again-- to say that she was sick and couldn't come into work for the fifth day in a row, then missing school so that I could keep an eye on her so that she didn't make good on her promise of killing herself.
I wonder from time to time what I looked like, how I appeared, to the people who knew me 20 years ago. I lied to cover up the crazy that went on in my home. I did stupid things to be liked by people and feel like part of the crowd. I clung to friends who weren't good for me. I was irrational and angry and all the things that look like surliness on the outside but are often little more than a crying, scared heart begging for love on the inside.
I had no idea what God had in store for my life the night that I walked in the rain to the nearest gas station dragging my belongings behind me. As I bummed money for a pay phone from a guy pumping fuel, I had no idea that some day I'd meet the Jesus who was keeping me safe that night, or worship the God who softened the heart of a friend's parents to allow me to live with them until I went to college. I had no idea that He'd bring my future husband into my life just 8 months later, or that one day I would be called Momma by children whose backgrounds range from my own genes to horrific abuse to shared abandonment.
I didn't know any of this. All I knew was that I was homeless, hurt, and without hope.
Today I'm battling through all of this again, wondering why my heart is so raw even when my hands are so full. I have no doubt that God has a lesson for me here, that He's working some miracle in my heart even as I strain to keep my head above the current of old fears that threatens to drown me. In desperation today, I reached out to friends who have been His voice in my ear, reminding me of His love and His ability to hold my hand as I grow. So I'm plunging in, not squishing ... waiting to see what the lesson is.
I don't know where this emotional tide is going, but I trust in this: the same God who saw me through the events of that awful night and led me through the weeks and months that followed is still with me, twenty years on.