Simple Journey

I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life... --Mike Donehey, 10th Ave. N.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kaleidoscopic Living

This has been my life since November 30, 2011, when I walked away from my marriage and my home.

Each day I face a kaleidoscope of choices and decisions. My life has begun to look very much like the pieces of a kaleidoscope, instead of the patchwork quilt I saw it as in the past. The patches have come unsewn, torn, ripped from their neighbors stitches to lie strewn around me in tatters. They present a colorful walk, sometimes, but usually they just present a mess.

I spend all day everyday trying to pull them back together. I try to make sense of the messes I stumble over. Sometimes the wind blows the pieces in my lap and I seem to be required, alone, to judge whether they are fit to keep, or to be purged from my life forever. This is a weighty responsibility when you learn that these pieces I speak of are actually people and career steps.

Long ago my kaleidoscope was filled with beautiful threads of all different shades of color. It was my job to put them together in a design that was pleasing. But some of the pieces I could never quite place. They just seemed to drift around in the viewer on the periphery of the ones I'd fitted into the design of my life. But they didn't go away.

Then one day, I decided it was time to make sense of ALL of the pieces. Only, that meant I'd have to undo the ones I'd already fit together in the center of the picture. I fell to ripping and shredding, and eventually was rewarded with a blank space once again and lots of little, colorful pieces, though ragged edged, lying around the outside from which to choose for my design.

I stared at the blank space a long time, trying to get an image in my mind of what the design should look like, with ALL of the shreds included. I stared and stared. The longer I stared, the less certain I was of my decisions; and the less certain I was of my decisions, the fewer pieces I began to see on the periphery; and the fewer pieces I began to see, the more I began to realize I was still left with those I'd had all along in the middle.

And when I looked again in the middle of my blank space, I realized that the only pattern that made sense there, with the colors that were left on the periphery, was the pattern I'd had all along.

Then someone shook the kaleidoscope, I woke up the next day and found a completely different view , all the pieces lying on the sides, and the blank space waiting.  Once again I was being required to make decisions I had never had to make on my own, deal with problems that had not been only mine in the making, but now seemed were only mine in the solving. Then again, the kaleidoscope was shaken, and the view changed.

This happened over and over and over, for months. Each day I found a new pattern in the kaleidoscope, confusing, yet if I stared long enough I could see it made some sense, somehow. But the next day I'd wake up to a new arrangement of the pieces, and I'd have to come up with a solution to the puzzle.

This is my life now: a kaleidoscope of problems and solutions that don't often match up into a picture that makes sense. But when it does, most often a day passes and the entire picture changes, so that I am constantly on my toes, waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering what the next day will bring, knowing it probably won't be good. I never move, but the view constantly changes day by day.

I turn daily to my God, his Word, my faith experiences of a lifetime, my fellow pilgrims in The Way. Seldom do I find answers in any of those places.

Lately I've had a block between me and a choir anthem. "Children of the Heavenly Father" has been a lifetime favorite of mine ever since I first heard it and sang it with the Bethany Church choir in Sierra Madre, California, way back in the 70's. It must have been Father's Day. That's when churches use that hymn, it seems, as pastors and music directors search for hymns and songs to accompany the perennial "God of our Fathers". That's when our church is using it this year. And I can't sing it. I even signed out for that Sunday, and don't plan to attend.

I have no father of my children to sit beside that day. I no father of my own to celebrate that day. And most of all, I have no children of their father to show him honor that day. This is a part of the kaleidoscope. My daughter ran away with a con man a year and some ago, my son has moved out away from both parents and will not speak to us because he didn't like the way we tried to get help for his emotional disturbances. And there is no hope that either one will ever be with us again, at this point in time. They have written off their parents entirely as evil beings who want only to harm them. And friends and would-be counselors have reinforced this perception, it seems.

So can't I be forgiven for my unwillingness to mouth these words that one day of the year?

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

How can this be true?? With my once zealously Christian daughter claiming to be a Pagan, my son refusing to think of anything else at all except where he will live when he has to leave my friend's home, so that he is failing school. And he refuses to go to church at all or be in any way involved with God's people, like his earthly father. How can I believe that God protects them, when my daughter was scooped up by the Pied Piper of Manzanita last year, and saw fit to take out restraining orders on her parents so that we had to go to court against her to get them lifted? How can I believe God is watching my two sparrows when my son's anguished wailing over his uncertainties, even in the high school in front of girls, reaches my ears and I know that the only thing I can do, since my presence seems to cause him fits, is simply walk away and let my friend take him home to her place? How?? Where?? Where is this so-called loving Father God now? I mean, is there ANY Scriptural basis for this outrageous claim???

Worse, where was He when millions, MILLIONS of children died of hunger in West Africa, and when so many die of war, or basic inhumanity??! Totally innocent!!!

I thought I had laid all these questions long, long ago. But when it's your own children hurting, you realize they will always recur. I thought I had put on the full armor of God early on so that I would be able to withstand these onslaughts. But I find I am caving under them. Sure, I know the right answers. But what good do they do really? Aren't they just a balm we throw over the fires of people's confusion and pain to make it easier for ourselves to endure? Aren't they just lovely words that soothe and calm and pacify long enough to get through this miserable life, after all?

Oh, this is heresy!! Especially on a blog that purports to be encouraging, right?

Yeah, I know. I agree. That's why, before I came here to write my confusion, I first took a minute to check in with the "heavenly Father" of the poem by Kar­oli­na W. San­dell-Berg. And what I found, when I sat alone in my room, listening for the answer, was an answer that worked for me.

It might not work for you, but it works for me. Does it make me able to sing that hymn this Father's Day. Not at this time. But it does help me make sense of this kaleidoscope for today, at least.

Here's the answer I was given:

*I* am a child of the heavenly Father. I can review my own experiences:

1. Has he been there for me all my life? Yes, he has.
2. Has he tended and nourished me? Yes, and I can list ways he's done that.
3. Has he spared me from evil things? Yes, I can name some evil things that should have come my way and didn't, by his grace, and some that did and I was spared from, ditto.
4. Though I can't tell about death yet, I can certainly say that life has not been able to sever me from him, and even when I turn my back, he has been there for me, providing for me, making sure what I need is always attainable, always within reach.
5. He has shown me his grace, and he sure seems to have known my sorrows, at least at some very poignant times, and he most definitely has given me jewel-like gifts at key points in my life along the The Way.
6. Has he ever really forsaken me? Apparently not, as I find these answers here today just because I sat down and asked for them. I have felt his presence like a warm, heavy comforter in the cold night, and like a vibrant joyful electric surge hanging in the air around me, just because I asked and decided to believe the answer.

He has never forsaken me, even when I could not feel his presence, even when evil seemed to be all there was in the room, fear and terror and death. I know that he was there with me, because his words rang in my ear the next day, and do still. When I asked the question, "I needed him, but I couldn't feel his presence, why?" The answer came: "But he was there." And that's all the answer needed, really. That was the promise. That is the answer. And that's the answer now.

I can't sing that last verse right now, because I can't see how it's "his loving purpose solely to preserve them, pure and holy" when he allows my sweet little girl to grow up in him and then lets her run off into the sunset with a bad man more than 20 years her senior, an adulterer who's made this little one to stumble. I can't see that as part of his "loving purpose". But I don't have to understand (as I was reminded only yesterday by a close friend). I just have to keep on walking, keep on walking, keep on walking, walking, walking. This was his word to me a year ago, just after my daughter left, while I waited, ridden with fear for her safety; and that is still his word to me. "What is that to you, you follow me," he says when I ask about my children's lives and his purpose.

Looking up the words to the hymn, I found the story of the poem's author.  Look it up, perhaps it will surprise you as it did me. I also found the Scripture that it appears to be based on:

" See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."
1 John 3:1a

And the last two verses, usually left out, just illustrate further how intimately involved our heavenly Father wants to be in our lives:

Lo, their very hairs He numbers,
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev’ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing.

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers:
Your Protector never slumbers.
At the will of your Defender
Ev’ry foeman must surrender.

Someday I will be able to sing this hymn again, I know now. And when I do, I will be sure to include these last two verses. How I love the imagery of the Defender making every "foeman" of mine surrender! I believe it will be so. And the first will be my own human intellect, requiring visible evidence; requiring that life go pleasingly for me if I'm to believe all my heavenly Father has promised.
 My question last evening during rehearsal, as I stared at the statue of Jesus with the child in our courtyard, was this: Even if they push you away, heavenly Father, you are strong enough to stay in their lives for their own good, and you have promised to never leave us nor forsake us, so where are you now???

His answer is: "I am there. And what is that to you? You follow me."

In my mind's eye, I see Him smiling as He says these words to me. He has a place for me, and it's only myself I am to be accountable for now that my children are grown and making their own decisions. They will always have him to turn to. I will pray that they turn to him. That's my job. And I intend to do it.

Simply Patty


  1. I am sorry I didn't proof this after writing it out. I sometimes feel if I keep working at something, or leave it till later, it will never get published. And I felt there is something in this nice, overly-long blog post that wants to be out there, and I didn't want to hinder it. So please forgive the repeats and redundancies, as I don't plan to go back and "fix" it till it's perfect. 6:)

  2. My friend Elise Eslinger sent this comment via email:

    ....I thought your evolving kaleidiscopic images (no longer patchwork quilt) were brilliant in describing your experience during these tough, tough times.

    ....I wanted to observe to you how extremely honest and amazing your writing was ... and, in the end, I suggested that the Holy Presence whom we trust as Father, is indeed with the children and you (and us all) in whatever state we find ourselves...the acknowledgement of that presence and care and participation in the abounding grace is another matter...and very unevenly experienced in seasons of our lives as humans...and evil does have its way.

    Dark nights and terrors (Dick used to call them "blue demons") can seek to overtake. My steadfast belief and hope in Christ is that the Shalom intended is always at work, even in the midst of suffering, evil and death-dealing blows. Praise God for that steadfast, abiding love. And praise God for your daring witness and continuing trust. You are a living Psalmist, you know...honest pray-er.

    Love, E.

    (Elise is a Consultant in Worship, Music and Spiritual Formation for the United Methodist Church, and author of the Upper Room Worshipbook. She is also my daughter's Godmother and namesake, my adopted big sister and long-time mentor. Look her up on LinkedIn and Facebook.)