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The Restlessness Begins
Can you tell me where Martha Amanda Ward Smith is buried?" Had I ever spoken her whole name out loud?
"She's my mother; she was buried here in 1961. Martha Ward Smith." The attendant came back with a map on which he'd circled her grave and marked it with a yellow highlighter. I walked to the car feeling as if I'd just come from AAA with a map to a distant destination. How tacky: a map to my mother's grave. My eyes were already damp, my heart pregnant with embarrassment and anticipation.
Within two minutes, our car arrived at the designated spot. My wife, Darlene, and I walked to her grave. With my arm around Darlene, I looked down at the matured green grass. I eyed the dates of the marker: September 10, 1923-October 10, 1961. What a short life — barely thirty-eight years. Stunned by the math, I said, "Honey, she's been dead longer than she lived." By then, I was leaning on Darlene, my knees buckling beneath me. This was the first time I'd been to Mom's grave since the day we buried her.
My mind drifted back to a day thirty-nine years ago. It had been a crisp, fall day in Graham, North Carolina. I rode my bike home from school as fast as I could with the hope of catching some big bream or maybe a bass or two out of Johnson's Pond about a half a mile from our home. I remember thinking it strange that my mother's car wasn't in the driveway. But it was Friday — the day Mom usually got her hair done in Greensboro — so I figured that maybe she'd stayed a little longer to visit friends. With a handful of cookies and a milk mustache, I grabbed my Zebco 33 Spinner and made a dash for my favorite fishing hole.
Within twenty minutes my rod bent double under the weight of some hungry aquatic creature. It felt huge! With my heart pumping, I had visions of a ten-pound bass, while simply hoping it wasn't one of those ugly snapping turtles that had taken up residence in our neighborhood pond.
After a hearty struggle, my afternoon catch relented and surfaced. I had caught the biggest catfish of my life. I didn't even know there were catfish in Johnson's Pond. Escaping harm from my whiskered friend's barbs, I unhooked him and ran a stick through his gills so I could take him home and show the spoils of my afternoon adventure to Mom.
But as I got closer to the house with my rod in one hand and my slimy, big fish in the other, I could see that Mom's 1960 white Rambler American still wasn't in the driveway. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mrs. Peters walking across her yard into ours. She was our pastor's wife, and the church's manse was just across the street from us. She didn't look her normal cheerful self.
"Scotty, something bad has happened today."
Immediately — I don't know why — I asked, "Is it Mom? Is she OK?"
"No, Scotty, she's not. Your mother was killed in a car wreck late this morning as she was driving home from Greensboro. I am so sorry. Why don't you come on home with me?"
How does an eleven-year-old absorb such news? I remember the feeling of shock. I couldn't cry. I didn't want to ask questions. I just went numb.
Before long, my only sibling, Moose (legally Steve, but nicknamed after the Archie's comic-book character since the eighth grade), came to the Peters' home after junior varsity football practice. Though as close as sixth grade and ninth grade brothers can be, we just kind of looked at each other. No tears, no words; we just sat there in silent aloneness.
The sun went down, and Mrs. Peters made us supper while we waited for our dad to get home. As we sat at the kitchen table, the screen door opened and in walked Pop. "Boys, do you know what has happened?"
We nodded yes. And then he walked right by us into his own paralyzing grief. We never touched, we never talked, we never teared — at least, not together. Never.
To this day I have no idea what happened to my fish or to my Zebco 33 Spinner — but I do know what happened to my heart. That cool fall day, late in October 1961, represents the beginning of a journey the three of us took into denial, isolation, and survival. Nothing shaped each of us relationally more than the day Mom died. Nothing.
Reverend Peters tried his best to pastor me through the process. I wasn't a Christian at the time, so his religious words offered little more than sentimental and superstitious comfort to me. "Scotty, your mother is in a better place. I know it's hard, so hard. We will gather at the funeral home and..."
As soon as he said the words "funeral home," I got rigid. Nothing and no one could make me go to that eerie facility with people I didn't want to be around to see my mother lying in a satin-lined box with her eyes closed. I simply refused to go to the funeral home — not even once.
As we climbed into the black limousine on the day of the funeral, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be anywhere other than sitting on the front row of my own mother's funeral service, but I had no choice. I can remember repeating to myself, "Don't look at the casket. Don't look at the casket."
It felt so awful to be stared at and pitied by all those people as we walked into the church. I sat down, set my gaze on the floor, rocked my feet, and filled my mind with loud nonsense. Anything to survive the moment, anything to drown out the sounds and deny the sight of death.
When you are eleven and pushing early adolescence, crying is just about the most uncool thing in the world. When you are eleven and your mom is dead, crying is what you need to do most.
I remember nothing about the service except the color red, the bright red of the carpet that covered the floor of our stately old sanctuary. Another limo ride — this time to the cemetery. I dreaded this more than the funeral itself. From that day on, I have hated and avoided all good-byes. Sitting pensively in my designated graveside chair, I simply "went somewhere else" during the burial service, defiantly ignoring the canvas-covered pile of dirt that would soon be shoveled upon my mom's lifeless body. I tried my best to detach from the proceedings until I made it home and got out of those dreadful, uncomfortable "church clothes." At home, I immediately shifted to another form of detachment: I busied myself with something. With what, I couldn't tell you. It doesn't really matter.
As the day of the funeral came to a reprieveless end, each of us simply went to bed — not to sleep, but to bed. Once again, no talk, no touch, no tears were shared between us. I remember hearing the wails of my father and being afraid.
From that day on, all three of us stayed busy, and we became increasingly restless. For the next thirty-nine years, Dad and I would not have a single conversation about Mom. Not one.
I share with you, dear reader, the journey of my restless heart because I know that you, too — if not consumed with restlessness to the degree I was — hold restlessness in certain chambers of your heart.
Eight years after Mom's death, the phone rang. "Scotty, are you sitting down? I hate to be the one to tell you, but Debbie is dead. She rolled her Austin Healey going back to school last night. One of her friends also died in the wreck, and another is hurt really bad. Her folks want to know if you will be a pallbearer for the funeral."
All the dark feelings of Mom's death came rushing right back in, even though they hadn't gone very far away. Another car wreck. Someone else ripped out of my life to whom I had given a large part of my heart. Debbie was more a girl friend than a girlfriend, if you know what I mean. And really, that made the loss all the greater. Though we dated all through high school, marriage would not have been in our future, but a lifelong friendship, yes. I didn't have a closer friend in the world. Our kisses were more practice than romantic.
"Uh, uh, I don't know. I'll have to check my schedule." Check my schedule? Check my schedule? Since when does anyone check his schedule to determine whether or not to be a pallbearer at his best friend's funeral? I visited her parents one time at their home, but just as with my mom, I refused to go to the funeral home to see Debbie's body. And, much to my shame, I lied, making up some lame excuse about a college exam and bailed out on being a pallbearer or even attending her funeral. To this day, I don't even know where Debbie is buried.
Two people had been torn from my life through untimely deaths. (What is a timely death, anyway?) I was quickly developing the relational skills of a lizard or a desert monk. Having never even begun to process my mom's death and its effect on me, I had no clue what to do with Debbie's. Though I became a Christian a year before Debbie died, my early years in the Lord were all about acquiring biblical information, instruction on the duties of the Christian life, and learning how to defend the faith against late sixties' atheists and agnostics.
A wall of self-protection, a commitment to controlling my world, and a lifestyle of staying busy took over. For the next season of life, theological knowledge and ministry became a substitute for learning how to relate to people and to love well. But how long can such a veneer of spiritual respectability supplant the very reason for which the knowledge of God has been given? Apparently, I wasn't ready to face the truth of me quite yet.
A Noisy Heart
"Two things define you more than the love of God: your busy, noisy heart and the fact that you have yet to deal with your mom's death." Dr. Dan Allender offered these words as an invitation — not as an indictment — in the context of a counseling training seminar in January 1983. Three of my buddies who are involved in vocational ministry and I invested a week with Dan, seeking to sharpen our skills as listeners and caregivers.
A woman from the local community had volunteered to be Dan's counselee each evening and allow us "trainees" to watch the sessions through a mirrored window. The plan was to watch Dan counsel and then process the session together over coffee, after the counselee was dismissed. When it became obvious the first night that she wasn't going to show up, Dan asked, "Any one of you guys want to take her place?" Impulsively, my hand shot straight up. "Yeah, I'll go for it."
Dan and I had met at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1975 as fellow students. I admired his work and personality and didn't sense I had anything to fear from one I considered a friend. Boy, was I wrong! Only later did one of my three friends confide to me that no sooner had Dan and I entered the observation counseling room than they looked at one another and agreed, "Scotty's going down!"
The truth is, I wish I had "gone down." If I hadn't believed in a prophetic gift before, that day should have been enough to convince me. Dan saw right into the core of my heart, and he gave me the perfect opportunity to submit to the pursuing heart of God. Instead I deflected the opportunity and simply congratulated him on his incredible talents as a counselor. He was neither flattered nor impressed. Though the whole week proved to be a pivotal time for each of us, I will never forget the taste of sadness that I felt from Dan as we drove to the airport. He had watched me squirm and engage in verbal gymnastics the whole week in a vain attempt to deny the profound restlessness in my heart.
How many times had I quoted St. Augustine through the years: "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee." And how often had I thought of Augustine's words as only applicable to the heart of a nonbeliever? Yet restlessness has pretty well defined my inner life. How ironic that the very setting in which I became a Christian in March 1968 was at a showing of the Billy Graham movie The Restless Ones. I have been such a bound man — I've been a pastor proclaiming freedom for the prisoners while I lay buried under the jail.
God, Closing In
I could hide behind my respectability only so long. My resources, self-sufficiency, and survival skills finally began to fail me. God was closing in. So in March 2000, I sat with my two friends, Scott and Mike, in Franklin, Tennessee, and the floodgates of my heart finally burst open.
"Guys, I haven't been to my mother's grave in the thirty-nine years since she's been dead." The words just jumped out there with absolutely no premeditation. I could hardly believe what I was saying. I felt incredulous — exposed, naked, and very ashamed. Immediately I started sobbing. I cried tears that had aged like fine wine deep in the cellar of my soul. I couldn't stop. I didn't want to.
The Holy Spirit chose this moment to throw open the mile-thick curtain behind which I had been hiding for nearly forty years. Dorothy threw open the curtain, revealing the bumbling "wizard" of Oz. Overwhelmingly vulnerable, nevertheless, I began to feel an emerging sense of relief. Scott began to weep, and he and Mike came around me, knelt down, and simply put their hands on me. For a moment I wanted to recoil out of embarrassment, but my two friends were giving me permission to begin a process I had been running from for way too long. I don't remember how long we were together. Thank heavens, not too many words were offered.
As we sat in Scott's office, I was exhausted by my own tears and still shaking in the aftershock of so much emotion. Yet I felt...well, peaceful, or at least a little bit so.
Some fugitives actually long to be caught, some addicts want desperately to get busted, and some Christians, especially Christian leaders, crave to be freed from the disparity between their words and their hearts. Maybe this is what the prodigal son felt in the far country when he finally came to his senses and started his journey back to his father's house.
After somewhat gathering myself, I called Darlene from my cell phone as I began the drive home from Scott's office. "Honey, we've got to talk when I get there. I hope you're not planning on going anywhere for a while. My time with Mike and Scott undid me. It was really emotional, much more than I expected."
She had been glad the three of us had finally decided to start talking about the strain in our relationship with each other. The three of us had been walking together for twenty years; we had shared so much life together, yet a significant disconnection had grown up between us in the previous couple of years. The purpose of our meeting was to find out why. Neither Darlene nor I could have anticipated the intensity of that visit.
As I pulled into our driveway and then walked in the back door, more feelings of incredulity swept over me. Darlene kissed and hugged me, and then I told her about the afternoon. "Honey, I feel so stupid, like such a coward. I thought we were simply going to talk about friendship and our junk, and then all of a sudden I tell them I had never visited Mom's grave since she died. I've driven by that cemetery dozens of times and have never stopped, not even once. What's with that? Why do you suppose it was with Mike and Scott that such a thing came out?"
Her gift of mercy took the edge off my self-contempt. It was as though Darlene had been waiting for this day, for this moment. She put her arms around me and held me without trying to rescue me. She spoke simple words without any attempt to fix me. "Scotty, I am so sorry. That must have been devastating. I love you and am proud of you." Her touch felt like an invitation to explore my feelings more. Shame began to give way to stirring and stirring to hope.
Far more than Mike and Scott, Darlene had lived with the painful effects of my secret throughout our marriage — the detachment, the busyness, the withdrawal, the passivity, and the fear — along with the arrogant, wordy spirituality. I deserved her anger for the many ways I had loved her so poorly, but she gave me her embrace. The heart of my wife of nearly twenty-eight years longed for her husband to be set free. In that moment, the God of all grace showed up. That moment with Darlene has become for me a concrete and treasured expression of God's love.
It was then that my noisy heart took its first wobbly step away from the restlessness that had plagued me all those thirty-nine years. Though at the time of this writing it's only been a brief nine months since my "day of revelation" with my two friends, my heart continues to come more and more alive to the compelling love of God with each passing day. My realization of his love and the joy that is imbedded in relationship with him has plunged me into a swiftly flowing river that brings me closer and closer to his heart.
Dear God of Grace and Mercy,
Please help me sort though my emotions. Like Scotty, I, too, have wounds, hurts, and disappointments that at times have more power over my heart than does your love. I need to know that you will not despise me in my weakness or reject me for my foolishness.
I confess — I am afraid of getting stuck in the past. Isn't it best just to leave some things alone? God, shouldn't we just move ahead in life and try harder to be good? I do not want to live my life as a prisoner to victimization. But my own prayer mocks me; for I see in the eyes of those I love a reflection of a prisoner.
Lord, I love so haphazardly, so selectively, so poorly.
Please give me courage to face the pain of my story honestly and to identify the matters of my heart. And please give me a hope that will enable me to enter the freedom you have promised through your Son. And God, please lead me to some of your children who can help me in this journey. In the name of Jesus, amen.
Prologue: Game Boy in Paradise
Introduction: Coming Alive to the Love of God
Chapter One: The Restlessness Begins
Chapter Two: God's Great Delight
Chapter Three: Blind Men Seeing
Chapter Four: The Power of Life and Death
Chapter Five: The Longings of a Thirsty Soul
Chapter Six: The Severity of God's Mercy
Chapter Seven: Your Story of God's Love
Chapter Eight: The Love of Suffering
Chapter Nine: Obstacles to Intimacy
Chapter Ten: Life as the Beloved
Epilogue: Thanks, Mom
Posted January 8, 2002
Object of His Affection is a compelling romantic thriller that I got carried away in. Loved the characters, loved the suspense and I love this author!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.