At least three days a week, the kids would hang out in the strip mall parking lot, the hardware store parking lot, the bus station, the park, wherever they could, playing their guitars. Sometimes, E and M would sing. They made very little money but they had a great time.
Every once in a while, someone would stop by who had seen the three of them there day after day, and the kids would be offered an odd job – putting a mast up on a sail boat, painting a ceiling, removing weeds from a private beach, washing windows, mowing a lawn. M was adamant that B keep an equal portion of the compensation since he did an equal amount of work. B would smile, accept the money and then use it to buy ice cream for the three of them.
This went on nearly a month, a time during which my husband spent more and more time on the phone and away from home; a time in which my husband stopped being entirely committed to his recovery from an internet-based addiction that involved a fair amount of infidelity and resulted in extremely serious financial consequences. At this point, we’d been trying to put things back together for nearly a year.
This was not the first time in our marriage he’d struggled with these types of issues; however, this time was different in that, he admitted to me that in our twenty years together he had never stopped acting out, never stopped engaging in these behaviors. It was simply a matter of him getting sloppy, forgetting to cover all his tracks and me finding out. I was devastated and prayed for healing and repentance – true 180-degree-live-a-completely-new-life sort of repentance. Instead, he started to become more sneaky. He started to tell half-truths. His memory became selective, his thinking distorted.
Me: ‘Can you please take out the garbage while I wash the dishes?’
Him: >insert pouting, slammed doors, grumbling, a kicked dog<
Me: “What is going on with you? Are you busy? Can you not carry the garbage outside?’
Him: ‘You’re always calling me names! Always!!’
Me: ‘What???’ >confused<
Him: ‘Once again you just told me I was a piece of garbage. Well… I won’t take that anymore!!’
Me: ‘Did you not hear me? I just asked you to take the garbage outside. I didn’t call you…
Him: Oh, I know what you said but I also know what you meant. I will not be spoken to like that. Not in my own home. Take out your own damn garbage’ >slams door as he leaves the house. He returns in 2 – 3 hours.<.
However, that story is not this story. It is enough to know that, three-and-a-half weeks into the summer, the father of my children moved out of our home and (mostly) out of our lives.
A few days after his departure, my son asked if we could talk.
Inwardly, I cringed but prefaced my acquiescence with a speech. “Of course we can. I will answer your questions the best I can. I think it is really important that we are honest with each other. But, he is still your dad. I know he is important to you. I know he loves you. And, even though there were problems with the two of us, he has been a great dad to you. You deserve to have a relationship with him and I will do whatever I can to facilitate that. Clearly, I don’t want details plastered all over the place but you need to take care of yourself. You need to be able to process your feelings. So, while I am always, always happy to talk with you, if you’d rather talk with your uncle, your grandpa, a teacher, the pastor, one of your mentors, that is fine. This isn’t about you or about anything you or your sister did but it definitely affects you. You have every right to talk about that with people you trust.”
“Okay. Well… um… good to know. >silence< Um… The thing is, I’ve been praying and… I kind of think God wants us to help M and E.”
Thrown completely off-balance I responded, “What? What do you mean? They don’t need our help. They live at the boarding house.” (He doesn’t have questions about his dad and our marriage? I don’t get it. Does he already know what his dad did? Did his dad involve him in that mess? Did he find…? What is he saying?!?!)
“I don’t know what I mean, mom. We are supposed to help them. We are. It’s just that He didn’t show me how. That’s why I’m talking to you. Do you have any ideas?”
“Wait. What? God told you to help M and E?”
“But, you are. We are. We bring them groceries. You hang out with them. You listen to them talk about their struggles. You help them find odd jobs…”
“No, Mom. That isn’t it. I mean, well, yeah. We do those things but… we’re supposed to do something more.”
“You want us to do more? Well… we can’t do more. I don’t have any money to give them. I don’t have a job in my back pocket. Your dad just moved out. I can’t, I don’t…”
“I know! That’s why I’m talking with you. I was hoping you had also heard from God. I was hoping that you had ideas.”
The same night, my daughter confronted me after supper. “Mom. I don’t know how but I think we are supposed to help M and E.”
“Have you been talking about this with B?”
“No. Why? Oh! Are M and B in a fight or something?”
“Never mind… The thing is, M. and E. are staying at the boarding house, okay? They are looking for jobs. I know you feel bad for them. I know you want to give them a break but we already are doing a lot. There isn’t anything we can do.”
“I don’t know, mom. I disagree. God told me we need to help them. You have always said we need to be open and listen for and to God. So I am. This isn’t just something I think we should do. God told me we need to help more and I think we need to obey Him.”
“Well, how do you know it was God? How do you know it isn’t just an idea you are thinking of on your own? We can’t fix people, you know. They have to make their own choices.” (Perhaps I was thinking too much about her father.)
“Mom, I know they are at the boarding house but … I was thinking maybe we should move them here for a bit.”
B had walked into the room and caught the tail end of the conversation. “Yes! That is it! You’re amazing. That is how we’re supposed to help. They need to move in here. M can stay in my room and E can bunk with K.”
“Or, Dad moved out and mom doesn’t even go into that room.” K interjected. “Why don’t we clean it out and let them stay there like a boarding room at our house?”
“No. No. No. Absolutely not,” I countered. “Housing is not one of their needs. They are staying at the boarding house. Your dad just moved out. I don’t have any idea what that means or how we are going to handle finances. I don’t know if we can even stay here. We can not possibly…”
“I think you’re wrong, mom” my daughter parried. “I think you can. We can. When are we going to invite them to move in?
“No and no. They are not moving in. End of story. Help me make dinner.”