My father died of cirrhosis of the liver in San Francisco in 1985 and was buried at sea a year later, the authorities having failed to locate any next of kin. My mother informed me of his death in a postscript to a letter she wrote to me as I was working in Togo, West Africa, as a Bible translator and literacy program facilitator for the Lama people.
A responsible and well-behaved daughter and eldest of five children, I nevertheless accumulated a lot of baggage in my childhood. I carried that baggage onto a Greyhound bus in which my mother and we five children escaped one night, abandoning my father. We traveled from southern California to Syracuse, New York. I lugged that heavy baggage through Houghton College. It accompanied me to France for French study and then to Africa. Photographs from those years show a smile on my lips but anger and sadness in my eyes. Strangely enough, I thought God had let me escape the trauma unscathed. I had given my life to Him as a child and never let go of His hand.
My path crossed my husband’s in Paris in 1971 at a Christmas party, and again in 1974 and 1978. Neal and I married in June 1979 in Côte d’Ivoire. Ill-equipped to cope with the demands of marriage, I knew counseling would help, but the right person and the right opportunity never came. In 1985 chronic fatigue syndrome took over my life. The name for my debilitating state was revealed four years later. Soon after falling ill, I heard of my father’s death; that whole day was spent sobbing and mourning this man I had not seen since 1962. In the ensuing years, I periodically spent evenings crying and recounting painful memories to Neal.
We moved to the technical headquarters of our mission in Waxhaw, N.C. in 1994, where finding a counselor topped my list. My ducks were not in a row and I had waited far too long to arrange them. A willing ear and solid advice helped me to begin to understand myself. The goal of my recovery was clear, but the road there was mystifying.
On a walk one day, I asked God to direct my pilgrimage to emotional healing. “Lord, give me a ‘method’ or a ‘handle’ to grab to get me there; something…I don’t know what.” As I walked in the forest, He asked me to describe my dream house in detail. I imagined a large, sun-filled home on a tropical coastline. Its décor, with French impressionist paintings adorning the walls, astonished visitors. Numerous bedrooms allowed me to graciously invite guests. The kitchen staff laid delectable dishes on the table. Maids assured a clean and orderly retreat. Gardens softened the many walks and corners outside. A shimmering pool bid us come. Finally, a special suite upstairs served as a “prophet’s chamber” where Jesus stayed. Always available, always blessing the home, He was available for my every need.
I recounted all these details to the Lord. “That’s good,” He said, “because that home is where you are living right now—spiritually. In your heart, you are seated with me in the heavenlies and all I have is yours. I love you. I am caring for you. I am at your disposal day and night. Carol, you need to stay in that beautiful place of peace and rest.”
He continued, “Instead of staying in your home, you often go down the road of the past to a tumbledown one-room shack. The walls are nothing but wide, black boards, shrunken and twisted. Cold winds pass easily through them. This is no place for shelter, but you keep going there to crouch in a corner. You suck your thumb, clutch your blanket of memories and sob your heart out. You stare out into that haunted darkness only to face emptiness, cobwebs, and ghosts of the past. You do not live there anymore! Don’t go there again! Stay here with me in this beautiful dwelling I have prepared for you.”
It took discipline. Tempted to trot down to that shack and dwell on the sadness of my past, I repeatedly said, “No, I refuse to go there.” I resolved to stay in the present, in God’s love and care. After seven years of grieving over my father and other events of my life, I stopped crying. I decided to unpack my bags for good and settle down in God’s dwelling place for me.
I shared this vision with some lady friends with similar issues. One of them, in her quick-witted way, asked me then, “Carol, I have one question. Have you taken a match and burnt that shack down yet?”
The promises of God are my present reality, the foundations of my home:
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John 1:14a
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You.
My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Ezekiel 37:27
A father to the fatherless…is God in His holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5