The Gentle Giant

Standing over 6 feet tall, the man could have been mistaken for the childhood Green Giant hero of the Television Age.  He let his hair grow long, beard get kind of scruffy, and middle section pudge just enough to make his bear hug just right.  The children squealed when he growled and chased them back up the basement stairs when he had enough of their antics and needed to get back to work in that mysterious and yet wonderful business within those concrete walls.  More on that story another time.

The man was as conflicted as any could be in this life.  I’ll call him the Gentle Giant or GG for short.  My knowledge of him is pieced together from some vague memories, his hand-written journal, a few newspaper clippings, internet searches, and the stories from family members. Call it a great tragedy or perhaps work of satire as he never reached his full potential in this world.  Lord knows, he tried.

GG grew up in the blue collar suburbs of Detroit, Michigan as the son of an auto mechanic and never-quite-satisfied mother.  His dad let his mother rule the household including harsh discipline for the boys of the family.  Beatings, torture, destruction of their few prized possessions, restriction of food, verbal abuse, and lying about it all to suspicious outsiders comprised his private hell.  She destroyed his model airplanes, locked him in the closet, and made him sit at the meal table all day and all night as abusive punishment for just being alive.  The next generation (grandchildren) would be treated differently as would the girly middle child; the oldest brother would turn gay and befriend his mother and father in a strange twist of survival-perhaps-denial until he died of AIDS in his forties.   The baby of the family barely made it out alive when the older siblings were no longer around to protect him.  GG, the second oldest of the four children, had finally found his way to break free.

GG made a plan to marry the first woman who would accept his hand in marriage.  It took a few years after high school to find a suitable mate who was willing to marry him, perhaps in an attempt to escape her own abusive and alcoholic father.  They quickly had 3 children and a relationship burdened by his physical abuse of the mother.  The oldest took an overdose of her mother’s thyroid medication requiring having her stomach pumped at only 3 years old; the middle child developed a life-long inferiority complex from being told by his dad that he resembled his mother’s family more than his.  And this was only the beginning of things that went wrong in that household.  By the time the five of them had moved from the trailer park to their new home, GG was having periodic psychiatric breakdowns.  Experts have determined later that these were likely the psychotic breaks of paranoid schizophrenia.

GG struggled with the adult responsibilities of work, raising a family, relating to his wife, and managing the internal chaos of his mental illness.  He came into the realities of adulthood with too much brokenness to overcome; he was a brilliant inventor and draftsman yet could not control his own mind to ever find true happiness or success.  GG defied the counselling offered and declined the psychiatric medication newly developed that could help control his thought disorder.  He took an extended leave of absence from work and, instead of getting well, used the time to build a business in the unfinished basement of their home.  It became wildly successful in the hobby world of the 1960’s. How his employer never found out is another mystery.

Unfortunately the same ingenuity that brought him initial success 1) as a non-degreed draftsman for a major automaker and 2) in the home business, did not work when he applied it to his mental illness.  He experimented in psycho-cybernetics, hand writing analysis, the occult, various activities of the hippie crowd, drinking alcohol, and more.   Eventually he left town on his motorcycle with some blonde chick for California with all the profits from the business . . .  The children saw his father come and go in a myriad of painful and confusing scenes over the next few years until finally their parents divorced. Their dad lived in another suburb across town thereafter but the holiday visits and false hopes for things to be right never fully materialized.  Eventually GG left town for good and had no direct contact with his family for the next 27 years.

GG sent threatening letters to his mother for several decades, perhaps wrestling with her years of abusing him and what to do with it.  Sadly he hurt his own children as well in other ways. Over the years, the oldest daughter had witnessed satanic rituals, was abused by some women in the course of some psychedelic mayhem at his house across town during a visitation weekend, and was then tortured herself by GG in an attempt to help her “forget” what had happened to her.  The middle child witnessed his father’s domestic abuse of his mother and personal self-degradation as his father used mind control techniques on him in a misguided attempt to try and help his son.  The taped messages he recorded ended up having an opposite effect!  And the spirited youngest boy got as far as he could in life then, as a young adult, tried to find his dad who had left the family when he was barely past kindergarten. His dad’s letter of rejection was found by loved ones in his wallet after the young man died of alcoholism.  The surviving family grieved deeply.

GG’s experimentation with mind control techniques inadvertently opened himself up to the demonic realm.  The darkness in his eyes reflected this in particularly frightening scenes recounted by his children.  Knowing this, understanding his abusive upbringing and resulting mental illness then their own coming to faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, has helped the two surviving siblings forgive their father.  They have found peace with their past and with their dad. The man was simply lost.  He had no idea the dark world he had incited nor the abuse he ended up carrying from one generation to the next.  It took the daughter in particular, many decades to understand this and break free from the trauma and demonic influences.  How that happened is yet another story.  The miracle of overcoming such hell gives testimony to the incredible power of the gospel through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thirty years after the oldest sibling last saw her father and two months before he died, she got to meet with him at his retirement/trailer park in Florida.  They had slowly developed a new relationship by phone before he eventually agreed to a visit in person. The Gentle Giant was frail yet charmingly engaging.  He told her tender stories of her days as a little girl and of how proud he was of her.  He told her that he loved her and by the time of their visit had shared how he had to leave their family to protect them from further harm.  More psychological breakdowns had occurred over the years.  His isolation from family and most of society became part of how he managed his illness in addition to long sabbaticals from work. He jointly held over 27 patents with a major manufacturer of automotive parts and would say that was why they “put up with him” and his leaves of absence.  The woman would see how creative her father was in crafting his life with the fragments he had been given . . . how incredibly her Heavenly Father would sustain her own life until those sweet moments of reconcilliation with her dad could bring closure, bring healing, bring some sweetness too.

Our earthly fathers have incredible importance in how we turn out in our lives.  They are the first authority figures in our lives who initially influence how we relate to our heavenly Father who is exceedingly greater and perfect;  ways that our earthly father can never be.  A loving relationship with both are critical for grounding us in this life on earth.  Even in the absence of a good dad the yearning of our hearts can lead us to the One Who will never leave us, never forsake us.  I do pray that in this story you will see how the “seeking” of one young girl as she became one older woman led her to overcome the failings of her father by filling those empty and hurting places with the unfailing love of Jesus Christ.  Graciously she did get to feel at last, the love of her real father before he died.  Not everyone will have this kind of opportunity; others will experience it their entire lives.  Regardless, we all can be whole no matter what darkness has fallen on our journey through this life.

I understand these experiences very well nurtured with truth from the Words of our Lord in His scripture and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Further, the Gentle Giant in each of us can be transformed from sorrow to joy if we but believe in His holy name, Jesus Christ. Healing and fullness of life will follow us all of our days into eternity.  I love that.  Oh Heavenly Father, I thank you for this story and for Your story of redemption too.  May you speak to the heart of the Gentle Reader who finds these words this day, filling him or her with your goodness. Bring them into the best of relationships found only with You.  Bring hope beyond what we all can see.  For your glory I pray in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.  JJ

 

The Dad that never left

Perhaps it is more of a blessing than anything else that I have more time for reflection these days.  After the double-loads of laundry, medical management, treatment-and-recovery, self care, and various household duties are completed, there are generally more hours than in my past to think about the stuff of life.  On Father’s Day yesterday, I started to notice some new parallels between my past and present.  It went something like this.

I was posting a picture of my Dad and me on Facebook when I realized how his generosity when he stepped back into my life has become an important part of my current recovery from serious illness.  His gift about 6 years ago allowed me to create a garden oasis in our backyard.  Here are two of my favorite areas:

Creating the flagstone patio area required graph paper, a ruler, tape measure, and endless gazing from all angles to make the kidney-bean shaped layout meet the vision the Lord had given me.  In the next 2 years the process continued with a pair of 8-foot custom steel trellises then a “secret garden” area (basically a re-purposed dog pen!).  The planting beds came later as I decided that we needed more privacy from our neighbors behind us and that I wanted to have a garden-view beyond each room of the house.  The bed on the right in the 2nd picture is largely of native plants and a key component in earning a Sustainable Garden designation from our local cooperative extension office.  The aqua custom shade sail was an incredible find from the “sale” page of a company by the same name.  Now that the design is complete the plants have matured and my heart is home.

Dontcha know that my mom was a gardener?  She would hunt down the groundskeeper at the local zoo if needed to obtain a plant start of a specimen she just needed to have in her yard.  Composting, vegetables, a mounded hill, hanging baskets around the hot tub spa . . . she had all the elements that made her heart happy out there in her suburban back

Mom in Spa

yard.  Her creation came together because of the generosity of her parents too.  Some may call it an inheritance.  I call it the chance to create something beautiful from the sorrow of a lost family member.  And I think it’s o.k. to spend some of it to make the process of going on without him or her a little nicer.  Do something that makes your heart happy!

Flash forward 4 years from when the “bones” of our own garden were installed and I am exceedingly grateful for what the Lord has allowed me to design, to create.  Lying sickly on that chaise lounge last summer when it looked like there would be little hope for recovery, brought solace of sorts.  Lying sickly on that same chair this summer after taking treatments that are slowly giving me my life back is bringing hope and the flow of some new creative juices.  My husband, Steve, just smiles a bit when I talk like this.  He knows that could mean a little more trimming around a new garden bed or hauling of something heavy to make it happen.  Oh how he loves me so!  Well I’ll let ya all know how it turns out for sure!

Steve brought me to see this home on our fourth date.  He wanted to know, “if things worked out between us could you see yourself living here?”  Talk about pressure!  I was visiting him in Indiana for the first time from the Chicago suburbs and certainly was not about to make a decision on the spot.  At least out loud, that is!  But I knew that the bush in the front-and-center of the bay window was a Miss Kim Lilac and just like the one I had lost with the townhome when my former spouse left me.  I also knew that the bush next to it was a burning bush that gets a magnificent, fiery shade of red in the Fall and just like the one I . . . well you can see where this is going.  It’s like when I viewed Steve’s profile on Yahoo Personals and saw a picture of him with a radio-controlled airplane that reminded me of the flying competitions in which my dad and brothers flew line-control planes when we were kids.  Of course I knew that the house was a great idea; I just wasn’t going to tell Steve anything just yet.  The home he purchased before we were married became a blank slate for me in remaking so many years that the locusts had eaten . . . . (Joel 2:25)

So I hope you can see how a simple thingy like some flower and vegetable gardens can be so meaningful to someone like me.  The draftsman in my Dad has become the designer in me.  His surprise generosity allowed me to create a living oasis that was an interest I shared with my mom when I became an adult.  Finding a loving place to realize these gifts would come in a way like never before when I found my intended beloved in the arms of my Stevers.  Solace, restoration, and hope were all set in motion regardless of my life’s circumstances according the plans of my Heavenly Dad, my Heavenly Husband; He knew all along the seeds He had planted in my heart long before I could ever dig in the dirt of life myself.  And just as life on this green earth began in the Garden of Eden, so do our own lives thrive in the planted spaces in which we are tilled and turned, watered, pruned, and nurtured until beauty bursts forth in scented color, in hope beyond that which we can see.

How can I be sad about the losses in my life when my Heavenly Dad has always been there with me?  From my garden bench I bid you a “Happy Father’s Day,” Gentle Reader.  I pray that you, too, will live in the fullness of life that grows more grand with each passing day:  a garden oasis in your soul where the One Who knows us so well can make everything meaningful, anything beautiful in the noon day sun or under the shade tree too.  JJ

Dad & me at his trailer