That’s completely impossible.
You don’t understand what it’s like to be who I am. I have four babies. They are all young. We need that change, but that’s just too much. It’s too big. It’s too impossible. I won’t be able to feed them.
What will happen if you don’t?
I know, I know. But still. Can you ask me for something more… doable?
No. If you want my help, I ask hard things.
Keith was my psychologist during the worst months of my life. He asked me questions I could not answer and demanded change that was greater than I thought I was capable of. He did not need to be there for me. I could not afford him. I had no money. But he chose to help me – a total stranger – just for the sake of being help. He was, as I’ve said many times, the one man who made all the difference for me.
How much time do I have?
THIRTY DAYS??? First you ask me to do the impossible. Then you ask me to do it in thirty days. I haven’t had a job since before my oldest was born and my youngest is barely past newborn stage. I don’t have support anywhere. Friends, family, church. Nothing. I’m on my own in this. Once the kids are all in school, I can maybe try my hardest to do this, but now? Totally can’t make it happen.
Heather, your house is on fire. Everyone is asleep in their beds. You smell the fire. You see the fire. Does this not cause you alarm? Does this not waken some ferocity inside of you? If you can’t find the courage to do what you need to do to hopefully save Brian’s life by causing such a stir that he is forced into some positive action, do it for your children. They are down to one parent now. You must not, you cannot fail them. And if you plan to, the most loving thing you could do for them would be to walk them right in to social services tomorrow and give them up so that someone else can do for them what you two won’t.
It might not be the rightest thing, but do something.
Get a job.
Find a way.
A new home.
A new life.
A new community.
Dedicate yourself to getting them and yourself as far from the poisonous world of alcoholism as you can.
But I love him.
You don’t really love him if you aren’t willing to risk losing him to keep him from an early casket. He is drinking himself to death in front of your eyes. Your house is on fire, and all you’re doing is throwing buckets of water at it. Wake the sleeping people and move them out. If Brian will come, it will save his life. If he won’t, so be it. Those children need you.
I have no money.
Oh Heather, money is the least of your concerns. What you need will come to you. What you want, you’ll need to go out and get. But money you will have. Courage. Courage is what you don’t have that you will need.
Can I have more time?
No you can’t. Because if you can’t do what you need to do in thirty days – if you can’t move heaven and earth to pull your babies from a burning house – no amount of time will be enough. You have thirty days. I will continue to help you and guide you and show you were to walk and how to keep pushing forward but only if I see outrageous courage from you.
Step off the cliff.
He will catch you.
I have discovered that great things only happen for people who are willing to take great risks. Once I found my “happy ever after”, people tried to tell me that I had it easy, and that if their “impossible” would have been as doable as mine, they too would have left. They too would have done what they needed to do.
But they saw only the finished clips where all the edits had been made and the end of the story was only three paragraphs away. They never saw the sheer terror of stepping off the side of a cliff with absolutely nothing to catch me. They never saw that every step was totally unlit. They only heard me recount the story when it was over.
If my roller coaster were that safe, of course I’d have taken a ride.
I found the house. In thirty days. Less actually. The move was awful as all moves are. This one was worse because I did it alone. Not one box was moved by arms other than my own. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. I was still living on Brian’s income, but his decline was happening fast, so I knew the clock was ticking.
There are many ways to tell the story of these months. There are many gems I scooped out of the dirty earth as I made my way through the worst journey of my life. I could never tell them all in one telling of the story. The gem on my mind today is the remembrance of the people who showed up for me.
Mostly strangers, some distant friends. Never the people you would have expected. The people you would have expected to show up actually disappeared. I’ve often wondered if that was something God intentionally did so that I’d have to find the courage that I did. It would not have been a very scary road if I’d had someone to lean on. But there was no one. It took months to still that scream inside of me for someone else to walk this road with, but when it came – the surrender and acceptance – it was sweet and calm.
The pain was literally intolerable. Before then, I had no idea that enough emotional trauma can actually cause your body to physically ache. I know now that I was going through a nervous breakdown, but then, all I knew was that every moment of my life felt like I was set on fire. Every tiny inch of my being throbbed in pain. Inside and out.
There were times when I faced situations that, with just the smallest bit of help, would have been completely surmountable. But with only me, my resources, and my efforts, they quickly became Mt Everests.
Three stories sit in my mind with more prominence than the rest. Moments of desperate need. Moments when some unexpected person showed up and made all the difference.
One of those situations was when I desperately needed a vehicle. I finished the move to my new house over Christmas break and had four days into the New Year to find a way to get my son to school across town. We were out of the bussing territory, and it was too far to walk in a cold Minooka, IL winter. I offered to pay people, but no one would help. It was too far. Too much wear and tear on their car. Not enough free time to help.
That night, I lay in bed alone talking to God as had become my moment-by-moment constant. Angry tears slid down my face.
Didn’t You tell me You’d do this with me? That if father, mother, friend, and everyone turned away, You’d be there? Didn’t You say You’d be the Father to the fatherless and the Husband to the one who’d been abandoned by her husband? Then where the heck are You? It’s so small. I just need to get my boy to school. In the scope of what I’m trying to accomplish here – saving their lives – this is so insignificant and petty. Yet no one will help. Do You not hear me? Do You not see me? Will You not help?
I hear you.
I see you.
I fell asleep and was woken many times that night with the calm assurance that my plight had been made known. I did not have any idea how this little “impossible” was going to work out, but I made the conscious choice that I would not give up on my first battle. I’d find a way. I’d find resources I did not know I had.
I dug down deep and found that little tiny spark that said, “I can. I don’t know how, but I can.”
I refused to believe I was alone. Because I was not. He was with me.
The next morning, a friend I’d met only once told me that a group of her friends had chipped in together to make a car fund for me. It wasn’t going to be enough for the whole thing, but it would make a really good down payment. Another acquaintance that I barely knew called from Arizona to help me search online for the right vehicle.
Many small favors all piled into one life enabling event.
Someone showed up.
And it made all the difference.
I went to bed the next night with a new mini van in my driveway. The next morning, I drove my son to school. Not a person in Minooka, IL had any idea of any greater story other than that yesterday Heather Dyer had no car and today she did. But I knew. I knew that someone decided to show up. Somewhere, somehow, my little cry in the silence of the night made its way to the ears of One who loves me much more than I can still comprehend. And He answered. He did not use the people that were right there. The people that would have made perfect sense. The people that should have showed up. But someone showed up just the same. What was a small act of kindness to them fixed my second “impossible”.
That car meant more to me than wheels to take my son to school. It meant that I was not alone. Sure, the familiar faces that I so desperately wanted to trust and lean on were pitifully failing their duty, but I was not totally alone. My plea had been heard. His eyes were upon me. He’d taken pity on me. And if that was the only thing I had, that was more than enough.
The minivan that brought with it so much hope and so much proof of Help had sat in my driveway for about four months now. My feet were quite dirty from the journey I was on. Caked in mud and sadness, depression was spreading its ugly spell over me. Every day seemed like the one before. As a person who is waiting for death, everything blended into everything else leaving no clear distinction of days and movement and life.
On my son’s 8th birthday, his dad walked out halfway through his birthday party. I knew something was wrong this time. I mean, wronger than usual. I barely made it through the party. When the last guest left, I locked my front door and put the kids to bed instinctively knowing that a tornado was directly in my path and there was no way around it.
I called and asked him to come talk. He told me that night that he did not love us anymore and that, though he didn’t want to hurt us, he was moving out and not coming back. Truthfully, the moving out part wasn’t as painful as the sentence that lead to it. He was already gone. Often staying with friends from the bar who were strangers to me, I barely saw him anyway. It was the finality in his decision to stop loving us that brought the house down with it.
What I feared most was indeed going to happen. I feared that by causing such a stir, rather than rousing him into purposeful action, it would only help him plunge further into his deep darkness.
The alcohol had turned to drugs and young bartenders were his closest friends. He made a point to let me know he’d joined a gym. He lost weight. He changed his hair and his clothes. He called when he got arrested with his third DUI, but other than that, I was not something he thought about nor were the children.
The desperation I felt made my hands shake twenty four, seven. A constant jitter. A constant nausea. I read books about how to get your husband to come home. I played the games just right and did everything I was supposed to do. It worked five times. Fives times he came back home and moved in with us. Five times, he confessed and stopped and ended bad relationships. Five times, he gave me the hope that all would be well.
But each time he came home, he left again. Five times he left. Five times he took my fragmented mind and heart and shook them till the pieces flew.
Eventually, he cut me off financially.
I had discovered new levels of heartache since the incident with the minivan, but I had forgotten the feeling of wondering how to feed them.
I was already midway through an angry eviction of the house I was renting, selling appliances, clothing, and anything of value to keep food in the pantry. I’ve made the solid observation that life as a single mom is set up for sure doom. When childcare costs three times more than what you can possibly earn, there is a certain inefficiency in any strides toward self sufficiency that you make.
I knew I was going to need to move again, but I did not know where. I was behind on my car payment, so I kept it hidden in the garage and tried to keep the door shut all the time. A girl that broke and desperate does all she can to keep the one thing she needs most safe from repossession.
I really needed someone to show up again. I really needed some help. Nothing earth shattering, but this time, my needs were even greater than the time before.
And once again, I found my daily talks with God turning into pleas of desperation. A place to live. A job. To find a way to keep my car. A new world. A new life. To make it to the other side in one piece. As I came more and more to terms with Brian’s choice to remove me from his life, it was as though the more that light turned off, the stronger a different one blazed. I was hungry for safety. I was thirsty for health. I wanted to give those things to my kids more than I wanted to be alive. But there were always little mountains laying in my path, keeping me anchored to my “impossibles”.
The list of things I would need to make it through grew and grew as my list of resources continually shrunk.
By now, I’d already been “graciously” asked to find another church home. And by “gracious”, of course, I mean “politically correct”, because that sort of request is anything but gracious.
The day she showed up for me, I was sitting in the living room I’d recently painted a bright whimsical blue. I found out later that when people use bright whimsical colors in their house painting, it often means they are fighting off death. How accidentally apropos of me.
I sat in an IKEA chair that was the color of blood when it comes into contact with oxygen. The stack of papers in front of me were home listings from many different parts of the country. I knew it was time to leave, but I did not know where to go.
Back to Georgia
Anywhere but here was fair game.
And I was looking everywhere. I had several job leads and several home leads, but none of them in the same place.
My rope has always been a long one, but when it has been mostly used up, and I’m nearing the end of it, I can become a fairly explosive bundle of nerves.
I dropped my head back in exasperation and let the tears fall. Learning to cry freely was a new talent of mine. It was a talent forced upon me by painful circumstance, but it was healing and freeing nonetheless. I’d spent the first three decades of my life suppressing those tears, so I had plenty to let loose.
The phone in my hand began to ring. I looked at it. The blasted thing that was still hot from use, but not as hot as my ear. To answer or to not?
The voice on the other end of the line told me that she wasn’t fully aware of all the details of my situation, but she knew enough to know I needed help. She and her husband happened to be buying a house much bigger than what they would need until they had children, and if I wanted a place to lay my head and house my children for a year while I tried to become gainfully employed enough to stand on my own two feet, they’d be ready for me in three months.
When she hung up, I distinctly remember that the phone fell out of my hand and smashed on the ground. I can still hear the sound of the plastic battery holder falling off.
That was all I needed. Someone showed up.
And that made all the difference.
To them, it seemed like the natural thing to do. Nothing overwhelming. Nothing even worth blogging about.
But to me, it was as though someone built a bridge across my most impossible ravine, allowing me to continue on my journey.
But that wasn’t the only problem knocking at my door.
Later that week, I received the other knock. Literally. It was a towing company who’d come to take the car. I was woefully behind on my payments, and they’d given me more time than they usually would.
I begged for their patience.
They demanded that I open the garage door.
Knowing at least enough to be dangerous, I told them that they’d have to come back with a warrant from the Sheriff.
“No problem, lady. We do this all time time.” told me that they meant business.
I walked to the family room. The kids were already in bed for the night. I laid down on the floor with my face in the carpet.
How completely awful.
How completely ridiculous.
How completely ironic.
You give me a place to go, but then I lose the thing that will take me there.
I can’t exactly walk to Minnesota, ya know.
I see you.
I hear you.
These words spoken to me had become familiar ones. They did not always bring with them the promise that my obstacle would be removed or that my husband would come home or that my shattered world would suddenly be fixed. They were not words of promise that everything would be ok. Just words that when the worst happened, it would not happen to me alone. When the waters went over my head, He’d be there with me. When life consumed me and ate me alive, He would endure the pain with me.
They brought no promise that I would not lose my car, but they did bring stillness. The reminder that He saw and He knew. That He was still on the Throne no matter what happened. Because, you see, it is better that way. It is better that He could and doesn’t. People normally see it the other way. Fists to the sky, they scream bloody murder asking why these bad things happened to good people and how a God who says He loves them could let this awful thing happen to them. Or they are of the other variety who refuse to face reality. They live in a Sunday School world filled with Sunday School answers meant to satisfy Sunday School minds of children in adult bodies who are not big enough to face the hard questions of life.
I’d seen enough to know that the “why” doesn’t always get answered, sometimes the good guy doesn’t even get to finish, and life is pretty damn unfair if you want to know the truth. But reducing those events to an equation that says either God must not care or He must be impotent is shortsighted and driven by fear not by real experience of Him. It really is better that He can and doesn’t than that He be a benign spectator cheering us on when things are going well and sitting helplessly by in the bleachers when things have gone awry.
I woke several hours later to realize that I’d cried myself to sleep again. The carpet beneath my face was wet and stunk like wet carpet does. I peeled myself off the floor and made my way to bed. I paused as I walked past the front door.
They didn’t come back. I wonder if they forgot or got called somewhere else. But for one more night, I still have wheels. I hope something amazing will happen tomorrow.
The heart of an indomitable person says things like that.
The worst is knocking at my door, but I’ll find a way. I won’t take it laying down. I might be beaten to a bloody pulp already, but gosh darn it, there’s still some ferocity left in me. It might be deep down, but I’m willing to dig.
The next morning, I walked to the mail to find a one thousand dollar check waiting for me. I’d never met the girl. She knew me online and that was all. Said she meant to send it weeks ago.
I don’t think I can adequately tell you what it feels like to have your back pressed so hard against the wall that you can feel pieces of your spine starting to separate, and then, ever so suddenly – in an instant – feel something pull you up and away from it. I suppose it would be like having already taken your last breath as you are drowning, feeling your lungs already begin to fill, and knowing that the intense pain you are going to need to feel for the next minute or two is so awful that it will kill you – and then suddenly being jerked to the surface by a stranger’s hand.
Someone showed up.
Someone saw me drowning.
It wasn’t my best friend. It wasn’t my parent. It wasn’t my pastor or anyone who really knew me. But she saw enough and did what she could.
I cashed that check. I kept my car. That car drove me to Minnesota a few short months later and was the thing that made it all possible. It was one of a thousand stepping stones precariously placed along my journey to help me step over my impossibles and keep moving forward.
If even one of those stones had not been there, if even one person who showed up had decided not to, I could not have made it. Sometimes, they showed up and solved a real problem like a house or a car or a job. And sometimes, they showed up to remind me that though I felt alone, I never was. My Companion was not a person. My Companion was the One who saw me. Who heard me. The people He used were fairly removed from my life, but for an instant, He told them to show up for me. And they did.
And it made all the difference.
Yesterday, I was in line at the grocery store with a cart of groceries, a growling belly, and an earache. My line was moving slowly, so I slid down a few to a shorter one. The woman in front of me was one I’d run into several times while making my way through the aisles. I was a bit annoyed with her because her kids were all over the place and noisy and always blocking the way. And I was hungry and my ear hurt. Not ideal conditions for me to be especially compassionate.
As I pulled my cart up behind her, I saw in her face that she regretted needing to see me again. I gave her a soft smile hoping she would forgive me for being impatient with her little spawn while trying to sack up some broccoli.
I could see she was tired. Her baby was crying. The other two were begging incessantly for candy.
Why do grocers do that to us? Is it a conspiracy against mothers? They put the candy and pop at their eye level at the very end of your shopping trip. When you’re most tired, most aggravated, and most ready to sell your children to the first person on the street who would promise them a happy home.
The mere sight of this poisonous confection turns them into even more demonic shopping partners.
The candy sometimes taunts them into screaming fits and full body tantrums.
All four of them were sorta pudgy. From her groceries, I could tell that mom was making a valiant effort for eating better. The pop was all diet and the chips were the “fat free” kind. I felt bad for her for a minute. There’s nothing worse than spinning your wheels when you’re trying to do good for your family but your information is lacking.
“Now honey, you know that we are trying to only have candy once a week. I am buying you this flavored water drink instead. Remember how much you liked it last time?”
I saw it happen in my mind before it actually happened. And when it did, I realized that I must indeed have telepathy because it happened exactly as I imagined it was going to.
Uh oh. Here it comes.
And come it did.
Yells and screams. Body on the floor. The baby in the cart who had just cried herself to sleep is jolted awake by big brother’s tantrum and now trying to be an even decibel match to his volume.
Her face was flushed. She was both mad and embarrassed and trying to hide it all with sugar sweet words to her son. I knew full well the boy’s hide was in some serious danger once they were in the privacy of their own car.
Which one of us hasn’t been there?
I fear many children have met ill-fated deaths after such grocery shopping trips. I’ve managed to keep mine alive, but only barely.
I wished for a moment that I’d been kinder to her when her kids were driving me crazy in the store. Would it have been too much to slow down and let them be annoying? Would it have been too much to just smile?
I was softened a bit.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but these drinks aren’t covered by your food stamps.”
My ears went on fire. I scanned the cashier’s head for horns. Surely this person is devil born. How dare they say something like that loud enough for others to hear? Do they not know? They should be put to death. Immediately.
I know this situation.
I know what it’s like to stand in the grocery line with the last bit of your dignity hanging on by the tiniest of threads when some idiotic teenage cashier utters the words “food stamps” loud enough for the whole line of people to hear.
The shame is unmistakable.
She wasn’t one of those people who swipe their free money card for necessitates with a second set of groceries that included smokes, booze, and fun stuff that all betray the fact that they needed my free tax dollars about as much as they needed a hole in their heads. No. She was me. The me from a few years ago.
And it only got worse.
As I feigned interest in the latest news about Kate Middleton blaring from the pages of People magazine, I overheard her speaking in hushed tones to the cashier about how to properly use the formula coupons.
“Please scan the coupons first before you scan the formula. That’s how it has to be done.”
But did the clueless individual listen to her? No. Not so much.
I wanted to buy the umbrella that was hanging right there by the candy pleading for a last minute purchase and put it over her head. I thought we could both hide out under there while the cashier announced over the intercom that WIC assistance was needed at Aisle 9. I thought maybe she’d feel better if the whole world did not need to see her blushing face. I mean, they were already judging her for her pudgy, temper-tantrum-throwing children. It’s just insult to injury that they now get to judge her for being poor too. I mean, you wouldn’t have known otherwise. She clearly took care of herself and her kids. They were clean and dressed nice. Her hair was neat and put in its proper place. Other than this naughty little bit of condemning plastic in her wallet, she would be completely socially acceptable. Well, except her kids. But most moms know what that’s all about.
Maybe I was overreacting for her. I wanted to cry for her. I could feel it. The other people in the line looking at her. I guess society has very little love and patience for someone who is down and out and leaning on some assistance while they get their feet back under them.
After the kerfuffle was over, her flavored water drinks sat there like sad little puppies that almost got a new home, unclaimed. Her kids were throwing even bigger fits than they were when they found out they could not have candy.
Maybe she was not in as dire of need as my mind immediately imagined her to be. Maybe I was just acting out of a sense of wanting to right some of the times when it would have meant the world if someone would have showed up for me.
I slid a gift card to the cashier and asked her to load some money on it as quickly as possible. As she finished bagging the last of her groceries, I zipped over and slid it into her hands. She was already crying before I got there. She paused for a moment and sorta hid behind me, which is kinda hard to do because I’m only 5’2”. After a rush of unabashed tears found their way to her blouse, I gave her a quick promise that times will get better and one day this will all be a memory. She gave me a half hug and a tight hand squeeze and said, “Wow thanks. That made all the difference.”
Will you be there for someone?
Will you show up?
Be the one that made all the difference for someone at least once in your life.
Or maybe many times in your life.
Maybe you’ll be asked to share your house like my friend Johanna did.
Maybe you’ll be asked to share your thousand dollars like my friend Christy did.
Maybe you’ll be asked to slide a gift card into the hand of a single mom so that for just one time, she can buy groceries without the anxious dread of wondering whether the cashier will screw up her order and need to shout those yucky words over the intercom.
Maybe you offer your time and love to someone who would otherwise be alone.
Maybe you stand up for someone who is being spoken ill of behind their back.
Maybe you help someone who has back-stabbed you once upon a time.
Showing up does not always cost money.
But it does makes all the difference.