Monday, January 18, 2010

Slippers

Dad went missing on December 29, and we had been planning to leave for home on December 30. It wasn't new for Dad to leave unexpectedly and take some time away by himself. We thought he would come back. He had always come back before. So we left on the morning of the 30th, as we had planned.

Weather in western Oregon kept us from getting all the way home. We got stuck in The Dalles, where we spent the night of the 30th. By the time we had checked into our hotel, Mom had already filed a missing person report, and my brothers had set a time to go out searching the next morning.

We were understandably alarmed. Dad had left many times before, but he was out of pattern. Three things were wrong. He had not called my mom, he had been gone longer than 24 hours, and he had missed worked. Three things he had never done before.

On the morning of New Year's Eve, it began to snow in The Dalles. Within an hour, God had dumped four inches onto our piece of the world. It became clear to us that we weren't going anywhere that day. So Jeff put chains on the tires, and we piled into the van and headed across town to Fred Meyer to get some microwave meals and supplies to last until the next morning.

James and I meandered through the clothing section while Jeff took Jonathan to another part of the store. I love God's timing on this. The call could have come while we were all separated, spread out across the store. But it did not. Jeff and Jonathan found James and me by the slippers. They were all marked down, and the boys had each been wanting a pair, so we dug through the racks until we found their sizes.

The soles of my old slippers were ripping away from the uppers, so I decided I should take advantage of the after-Christmas sale too. I didn't see any that I *really* loved, so it was while I was standing, frowning at the slipper rack, trying to choose the lesser of two uglies, that Jeff's phone rang.

It was my brother.

He said, "Becky, he's not alive anymore. He hung himself out Wolftone. We just found the body about forty-five minutes ago."

After I finished talking to my brother, I remember handing the phone back to Jeff, unable to articulate anything. I think I collided with a clothing rack or two. The world spun. I clutched my stomach, my mouth went completely dry, I wanted to vomit, but I couldn't. I doubled over, found the aisle, and dropped to my knees.

A sales clerk came to see if she could help, but she was at a loss. Jeff was nearby, but the boys weren't. I couldn't see them. I managed to croak out, between gasps, "Go to the boys. They need you."

Jeff went.

The tile floor felt cool as I touched it with my hands, and I pressed my face into it and stretched out on my stomach. Putting my arms over my head, I focused on the cool solidity of the tile against my forehead, nose, and chin.

After a minute or so, my breathing slowed and my brain registered other sounds. Voices mumbling. I heard Jeff say sharply, "Please leave her alone."

I wanted to stay there forever, on that cold, hard floor.

When I got up and looked around, there were five Fred Meyer employees huddled nearby, one toting an enormous red First Aid bag. After they were sure I was physically okay, they dispersed, and only the store manager remained.

She escorted me to a conference room, where she let me sit in a corner of the floor with the light off. She brought me a bottle of water, and she let me talk. I really don't remember what I said, but she listened silently for at least ten minutes.

Then she gave me the best advice. Very practical. She said, "You need to make sure you drink a lot of water over the next few days."

I don't know why that was so comforting, but it was. She knew what she was talking about, too. While she led me to the bathroom, firmly gripping my elbow and murmuring to me that I needed to walk slowly because I was in shock, I asked her if she had ever lost anyone close to her. She said her daughter's father had taken his own life eight years previously. For the first time in my life, I was able to say, with actual understanding, "I'm sorry for your loss."

What a horrible thing to understand.

Somehow, we made it back to our hotel. I spent the rest of the day trembling on the bed, or pacing up and down the hallway outside our room, talking on the phone to various family members and friends. Jeff microwaved my dinner, and I was able to choke down some steamed broccoli. Mainly, I took the store manager's advice and drank water.

But in my shocked stupor, I noticed one thing. The boys' slippers. They loved them, and wore them all that day. Somehow, the slippers seemed to be trying to connect two realities that would forever be broken. I couldn't look at them. Whenever a slippered foot flashed by, my stomach dropped into my own, non-slippered feet, and I shuddered.

Apparently, I had developed a slipper aversion.

Understandable.

But also ridiculous, I decided.

I announced to Jeff, "I want to go back to Fred Meyer and get some slippers."

He looked at me blankly.

"The boys' slippers are making me nauseated, and I'm just not going to have a slipper aversion for the rest of my life. I want to go back tomorrow morning before we leave town, and I want to buy some slippers, and I want to wear them."

Jeff nodded slowly, perfectly amenable to saying, at that juncture, "Whatever floats your boat."

Well, we didn't go back to that Fred Meyer on New Year's Day. It was west of us, and we were heading east, back to Idaho. But mostly, of course, I wasn't ready to go back to that Fred Meyer. I don't know if I will ever be ready for that.

We stopped at Wal-Mart in Pendleton.

Again, I love God's timing on this. My sister called as we pulled into the parking lot. I told her we were buying slippers, and why. Standing in the slipper aisle, even in another store, still made me horribly nauseated. But my sister talked me through it.

Should I buy fuzzy slippers with no heal? No, my sister said they would slip off when I walked. Big slippers that hugged my ankles? No, too much like my old slippers. Moccasin style? Didn't seem cozy enough.

Ah. There. Dearfoam. Little ballet-lookin', girly things. With a little bow. Something entirely new.

Like my life.

I remember thinking, last February, when Daddy had his heart attack, that it was a defining moment. I thought that for the next several years, we would refer to things as having happened before Dad's heart attack, or after Dad's heart attack.

I did not think Dad's heart attack was the beginning of the end of his life. I had no idea the defining moment was yet to come, and would be so much more definitive. Or earth-shattering. Or the life before it so completely irretrievable.

But there was no denying it, there in the Wal-Mart slipper aisle. Old life? Gone. New, horrific reality? Very present, and totally inescapable.

Staring at the slippers, I couldn't bring myself to take a pair off the rack. I closed my eyes and trembled.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that God chose that stark moment to whisper to my mind, "Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on..."

Right. How could I possibly forget what lay behind? Preposterous. Who would want to? Not me. I wanted to clutch fiercely at every memory of my dad that I could possibly bring to mind -- the good and the bad. I didn't want to lose one, single ounce of his essence. The essence that now existed only in my memory.

"...reaching forward to what lies ahead..."

Well, that was the whole point of the slipper purchase, right? To choose not to become slipper-phobic? To keep slippers from being a constant reminder of the worst moment of my life to date? To press on?

"Help me, Abba..."

He did. Help me, that is. Still talking to my sister, I did it. I pulled my chosen slippers off the rack and walked out of the slipper aisle. We exited the store and climbed into the van. I took my shoes off, and I put on my new slippers, praying for strength the entire time.

And then, finally, they were on my feet.

And I didn't puke.

Yes!

Originally, my intention had been for the slippers to symbolize conquering the nightmare Dad's death is. I've got my slippers, I'm not scared of them, and I'm ready to press on.

But in the end, that independent, pioneering spirit gave out. I couldn't make it through the slipper purchase on my own. I needed my sister. And I needed Abba. Pressing on was a group effort.

Now, my slippers don't symbolize my own determination to persevere. They represent, instead, my need.

My need for Group Effort. My need for moral support. My need for my family and friends. My need to say yes when help is offered.

Mostly, though, they represent my need for Christ. It is by His strength and power alone that I will, someday, be able to forget what lies behind (or at least let go of the raw, searing pain of it), and reach forward to what lies ahead.

I'm not looking very far forward yet, as I process the recent past, but every time I put on my new slippers, I am reminded that Abba took what initially caused intense nausea and turned it into my greatest tactile comfort. And I hear again God's promise to hold me, help me, protect me, sustain me, shepherd me, comfort me, and heal me.

"Behold, I am making all things new." ~Revelation 21:5

I believe you, Abba. See? I've got my slippers on.