On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Ancestory.com made their database available to the public to research World War II veterans. That is how I found out that my father had been dead for over ten years.
If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you'll be aware that my father was absent for most of my life. He and my mother separated when I was three years old and divorced when I was four, in an era when divorce was not common. When I was a young adult, my mother told me he had visited once, when I was around six. She had asked him not to tell me he was my father because she feared (rightly so, it turned out) that he would never visit again.
It must have been a good visit, because at one point I put my arms around his neck and said to her, “I really like this man.” Try as I might, I cannot dredge up that memory, nor do I have any photos of him. He's a complete stranger to me.
Since he had nothing to do with my upbringing (on top of all his other sins, he was a deadbeat as well), you would think that learning about his death would have little impact. You would be wrong.
There's something deep inside us that longs to know who we belong to. Even though I was a middle aged adult, there was a faint hope in my heart that someday – someday – I would get a change to meet him. What I hoped to get out of that meeting, I couldn't tell you.
The pragmatic side of me figured he'd probably hit me up for money I didn't have, or perhaps an organ donation after a lifetime of dissipation. Was this a road I really wanted to go down? But the abandoned child in me was hoping for a daddy. I grew up with an orphaned spirit.
Please understand that I am not comparing myself to children in third world countries who are completely destitute. I am well aware I was blessed to have a grandmother who cared for me. I was fed and clothed. Nor am I saying that I am a victim; I am not playing the fatherless card. But I had been abandoned by the most important figures in my life – my parents. Because of that, the idea of relating to God as a Father has been a challenge throughout my life.
It’s not that God hasn’t been demonstrating or speaking of His love to me. Rather, it’s that I haven’t been able to receive it. Trust was damaged, and once broken it is very difficult to repair. Nonetheless, God is persistent. Over the years, through countless situations, He has revealed Himself to really care about even the smallest areas of my life. Proving that someone, indeed, claimed me for His own. I wasn’t orphaned, I was adopted…by the best Dad in the world.
Healing has been slow. It’s taken decades and I’m not completely whole even now. There have been powerful Divine encounters that completely blew the lid off of everything I thought I knew. There have been quiet moments that affirmed His love. It begs the question – why doesn’t He just do one big healing, set me straight and get it all over with?
I really don’t know.
Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. - Mother Teresa
My earliest memory is one of being alone...of course. I never really thought much about it, but a friend once shared with me her earliest memory of being a toddler. She was approaching a swimming pool and she was unafraid because she knew her mother and grandmother were behind her and wouldn't let anything happen to her.
When she shared this with me, my first memory hit me in the face like a cold, wet and somewhat dirty sock. I was also a toddler. My mother had brought me to the farm. She wanted to visit her mother to unburden her heart. Marriage and motherhood weren't living up to her expectations. She and Grandma wanted time to be together and I was in the way. The way I remember it was that Mom was not prepared for the cold snap and I didn't have anything to wear that was suitable for outside. Grandma had something from another child that had visited and left it behind, so I was dressed in a hand-me-down snowsuit to go outside to play. The snowsuit was a shiny fabric that was reddish purple and quilted...funny how those kind of details can stick in your memory.
I was told to go to the barnyard. The ground was frozen and rock hard. Ice was skimming the top of puddles. For some reason, I was given a balloon that was tied to my wrist. It was not filled with helium, so it just dragged along the ground behind me as I stomped out to the barnyard to see if Grandpa was there. I hadn't gone very far when a sharp rock introduced itself to my balloon and there was a loud 'pop' behind me. I turned and stared at the colorful shreds of rubber at the end of my string. I wanted to cry but then I remembered that no one would comfort me. As a two-year-old, I made a conscious decision to not seek solace. I knew – I already knew as a toddler – that I was utterly alone. I turned and continued to trudge to the barnyard.
Internalizing that moment at such a tender age has deeply affected me in ways that even more than 50 years later I can't completely comprehend. Believing that I'm not cared for means that I often just do things on my own because I don't think I can find anyone who cares enough to help. I confess that sometimes, I conclude that's why my husband appreciates me so much – I'm very low maintenance. There have been times I have asked for help or fellowship from friends or family and none has been forthcoming, which only reinforces the feeling that I am truly alone.
But apparently, that is not the face I present to the world. When sharing with an artist friend one time that I often felt lonely, she laughed in disbelief and said that I was a one person party. Her view of me was of a good time girl, because in the circle that we were in (artists that joined together weekly to paint from a model) I was confident and amusing. Confidence in a craft or having a sense of humor, though, does not mean a person does not have deeper feelings of pain. That particular interaction made me feel that, once again, I was truly on my own.
So how does one break that sort of emotional bondage? I can only answer that question from a base of faith. I really don't know how someone who doesn't know the love of a very personal God heals from that. It has been through the context of faith that I have found healing. Emotional, spiritual and physical healing. That is the context that I operate out of and that I can speak from. It starts with a prayer. And here's the thing...it doesn't have to be a prayer of faith. It starts with just calling out to the One Who can help. It can be an angry prayer, a doubtful prayer, a passionate prayer or a quiet prayer. It doesn't have to be long, it doesn't have to follow a formula. It can simply be one word. Help. But it's enough to start the journey into wholeness.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.