I have not wanted to write this for a long time. I mean, I have really really really NOT wanted to write this. But, it will not go away. I feel words and emotions dancing on the tip of my tongue, creating an itch that just will not subside. This morning, I woke up with the courage to tackle this topic, and friends, I have done every single thing I could to “busy myself” in the hopes that I will run out of time and energy. Sisters, I even did a “Jillian: Killer Buns and Thighs” video (ok, I only did 13 minutes, but it took a lot longer because of all the post workout recovery time). But, I am all out of excuses – the house is quiet – the kids are playing outside like little angels (grrr), my phone is not ringing, and I have done all the housework that I care to accomplish in a day (very little). So here goes. Bear with me as I bare my soul.
When I was eighteen, I did everything in my power to be a guest on the Gordon Elliot Show.
Don’t remember him? Well, you totally should. He was like the knock-off Maury Povich; the second string Sally; the vanilla Montel Williams – and he was my chance.
I remember watching his show late one evening while I was all alone in my dorm room. The room was dark, and messy, and full of emptiness. Now that I think about it, I was a lot like my room – dark, messy, and empty. I sat there staring straight ahead, wallowing in my emptiness, with tears welling up in my eyes. I watched intently as he reunited family after family – finding long lost loved- ones. The episode ended with a plea for anyone who was desperate to find a long lost loved one to contact the show immediately to get Gordon’s help. The loneliness of that room was a painful reminder that I was desperate. So, I picked up the phone right then and called. I was so caught up in hopefulness that it didn’t even occur to me that the likelihood of a real human answering the phone in the middle of the night was pretty slim. I was only slightly saddened when an answering machine fielded my call. Undaunted, I left a long, rambling, sob-soaked plea… begging them to find my father.
I remember waking up the next morning, totally excited to tell my roommate all about it. She was a bit weirded out and almost completely unimpressed. But, it didn’t phase me. I was certain that Gordon himself would hear my message, find my father, and surprise me with a Hallmark movie ending to my heartache.
Gordon didn’t call that day.
He didn’t call the next day.
He didn’t even call the next day…. but one of his staffers did. And, I almost wet my pants.
They were planning to help me…. In fact, they had already found some promising information about the whereabouts of my father. All they needed from me was some information. They asked me approximately 137 questions (most of which I could not answer), and then they said that they would need to contact my mother. My heart sank. For as long as I could remember, my mother had protected me from my father. Something horrible had happened, and like any good mother, her desire was for my safety. Though, I knew it would likely go quite poorly, I gave the show’s rep my mother’s phone number…. and waited.
It didn’t take long for my mother to call me to let me know that I would not be appearing on the Gordon Elliott show. I will never forget the hurt in her voice when she called. I never meant to hurt her, but y’all… I just couldn’t shake the emptiness of not knowing my father. No Hallmark movie ending for me.
Most people don’t know this, but my mother and father divorced when I was really young – maybe 2 or 3 years old. The only real memory I have of him is him driving up in a red convertible. I don’t remember hugs or bedtime stories or vacations or snuggles or birthdays. I can’t remember his face or his smell or his voice. And, I don’t remember his love.
That has plagued me my entire life. Without warning, hopes of some evidence of my father’s love would destroy seemingly happy moments. Every birthday brought the hope that a special card might show up in the mailbox, but no cards ever arrived. Every Christmas, I watched the mail to see if any mysterious packages arrived, but none ever did. Every major life event was tainted with a secret hope that I would look up and notice someone in the crowd who resembled me, but no one ever came.
I spent my entire life desperate to find someone who I thought would love me. Though my mother was very present, her love didn’t seem to be enough. I craved my father’s love. I wanted him to want me – and I could not understand why he didn’t.
The Lunch Date:
This longing never went away. My desire to see my father never subsided. Off and on through the years, I would seek him out – unsuccessfully. Until a couple of years ago. Feeling empty and longingly nostalgic, I mentioned my desire to see my father’s face to my husband, Vance. For those of you who know Vance, you will not be shocked to discover that Vance made it his mission to find my father… and he did.
But, I did not get the happy ending that I had dreamed about. Instead of seeing his face, hearing his voice, or feeling the warmth of his embrace, I had to settle for meeting a half brother that I had never known. Unbeknownst to me, my father had passed away in 1998. Four years after my Gordon Elliott escapade.
I was terrifically nervous about meeting my brother, but Vance and I scheduled a lunch date with him anyway. He was charming and kind and compassionate – and our eyes matched… that was so very comforting to me. With pain in his voice, he carefully answered my questions, and told me stories from my time with my father. My father was everything I had ever hoped he wasn’t. And, truthfully, I simply cannot bear to elaborate any more than that today. Our lunch was devastating simply because I left just as empty as I had been when I arrived. And, I was sad – heartbroken, actually.
Vance and I drove away from the lunch date in a silent car. Neither of us knew exactly how to process all of the emotions that were filling our thoughts. We haven’t really talked much about it since then, but a realization about that day has been welling up inside me.
Here is the reality: I have struggled with feelings of worthlessness and insignificance all of my life. Though I have had people who loved me, I never really felt loved. Does that even make sense? Many of the most foolish things I have done, the most blatant sins in my life, the deepest darkest shames that I carry, many of the hardest moments have all stemmed from feeling unloved. As I reflect on my past, I am almost too embarrassed to even allow my history to play out in my memories – because it is so hard to see myself crying out to be loved – to be chosen – to be cherished – to be the most important thing in someone’s life.
For years, I thought that finding my father would fix that void. I was certain that he would run to me with open arms and tell me stories of how he cried every year on my birthday because he missed me; stories of piles of letters lovingly written to me — waiting to be delivered; stories of years spent searching for me- of near misses…. And, I thought that he would love me with reckless abandon.
But, he didn’t. He just lived and died. Without me.
For a long time, I have been trying to figure out why the Lord would allow such pain and emptiness and loneliness in my life. I’ve wondered why I had to walk through life feeling so very unloved. And, I’ve wondered how someone like me ended up in a ministry based on love. It just hasn’t made any sense to me. How in the world could a Holy God , a sovereign God, a perfect God, ask someone like me- someone who has felt so stinking unloved- to love others. Why? Why? Why? Doesn’t He know how much it hurts me to even think about these emotions?
Why would God call someone who feels so unloved to love others? What was He thinking?
Perhaps He was thinking something like this: “You’ll be able to relate. You’ve felt the hurt. You’ve experienced the pain. You’ve been there. Go use it. Reach out. Relate. Respond. React. Recover. Then, Rejoice.”
Y’all. I see it now. That hurt that I just didn’t understand, those times that were just so so painful, those moments that I wanted to just forget – all of them – ALL. OF. THEM. were blessings from God. Long before I ever knew that I would be called to put Love to Work, He knew. Long before I could begin preparations for ministry, He prepared me. Long before I knew I was loved, He loved me.
Perhaps my story is a lot like yours (or nothing like yours at all). Perhaps that ache in your spirit, that painful thing, that thing you wish you could change – perhaps THAT thing is THE thing that the Lord is calling you to use for His glory. Give it to Him.