Here’s a snippet from my dad John King’s memoir Can You See God in This Picture. This is part of the story of our life in Butler, PA. At the time, I was just a few years old, so I don’t really remember these stories first-hand.
I’m glad Dad wrote them down before he ran out of time.
Letting our children in on the bad times of our lives requires vulnerability. And that’s what I saw most reading my dad’s memoir, vulnerability. He told me that of all the people he mentions in the memoir, no one really comes out looking bad, except for him. After reading it, I agree. But as a writer, let me tell you, vulnerability is where passion and poignancy come from.
And I’m thinking now that maybe it’s also where wisdom comes from. What if you had to reach down into your soul and explain to your kids why you quit your job to pursue your dream? Or why you work at a job that keeps you away from them? I’m not saying that either A or B is the right or wrong choice. I’m only asking: What if I had to reach down deep into my soul and explain my choices to my kids? What wisdom would I end up imparting to them?
I’m not sure I know the answers. But I do know, I’m glad my dad imparted that wisdom to me before he ran out of time, because it’s at least nice to know that he didn’t know what he was doing back then any better than I do now.
About three weeks later I brought mom and Tim back into Butler. I left Buffalo simply because I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t think that was where we were supposed to be living. I came to Butler to teach Greek, so I was determined to try again. We rolled into town in a car packed with blankets, towels, clothes, and some kitchen stuff, everything we owned. When we came down route 422, I had a terrible headache, no clue where to live, and no money. I drove through Butler and headed south on Route 8, when we saw a little rather run-down looking motel, a dozen or so apartments in a row, plain-looking on the outside, and on the inside one-room with a double bed, a TV set with rabbit ears that didn’t work well, a shower, and a little kitchen area with a small stove and refrigerator.
The manager of the motel would let us go week to week for the rent. We paid 25 dollars at the end of each week. I made a phone call to Sarver, my old boss and he, taking sympathy, lined up a couple inside paint jobs that paid the rent week after week until an apartment in Lyndora opened up for us. In natural terms, the only good thing was that spring was just around the corner.
I was too wrapped up in my own challenges to realize that I had left my young wife of 3 years and my two-year-old with nothing to do day after day, except maybe worry about what brilliant idea I would dream up next. No wonder at all that she didn’t have that much to say to me. About all I had were mini-messages on faith and trust, and they might not have been working for me, but trust was what I was learning. I wasn’t sure why we were in this situation. Did God have any real thing to do with it? Was this totally my own doing or undoing?
Regardless, our ship didn’t sink. We took in some water, but I was too busy bailing to think of much else. Every phone call from McElheny, my boss, was one more phone call that gave us one more week’s rent and groceries. Meanwhile, I was in communication with the school, and they promised us soon that a rent-free two rooms would open up at the school itself in Lyndora.
So we moved to Lyndora. We took two back rooms at the school, connected directly to two classrooms. Mom had to keep Tim quiet to avoid disturbing the students. Fun life! Going from kitchen to bedroom reading books, playing with toys, whatever, while waiting for classes to end so they could get out of this human cage.
When classes ended for the day, we could use the shower in the basement. The water source came from a pipe protruding five-plus feet off the ground from the wall. There was plenty of shivering while I, dripping wet, ran upstairs to get dressed.
One might say that the three weeks at the motel was in preparation for this step up. One might say so, if one wants to get slapped. There was no way to clean up the mess, unless it were to become clear to both of us that God was directing us, not just bailing us out of our self-made prison.
Honesty is good. Fake humility or fake praise, even toward God, benefits no one. I didn’t want to tidy up what was turning into a real mess, but I also fault no one. The benefit of reflecting on the hard times is two-fold. Learn from it to avoid the stupid parts in the future, and learn to empathize with those who made the journey with you and may not have found it to be so wonderful. As I relate this, I am beginning not to like me. But my only mistake was jumping out of the frying pan. Who knew?
There had to be some good times, right? Yes, of course. We made some life-long friendships with the Thompsons and the Davises. Denny and Amy Thompson and Gary and Jan Davis were students, and they had their own problems – or “faith walk” as we called it. We learned to join them for a time to reflect on reality, to pray together, and just to laugh over a game of Trouble. Who chose that one, I wonder.
The best thing was learning to trust God. When someone now enters my life who is fearful that things are not going to work out favorably, they get no sympathy from me. Empathy, yes, because Mom and I were there. Sympathy, no, because it is impossible for me to think that God might ignore the plight of someone who is trusting in Him to do something. I kept thinking of Isaiah 43. Sorry for the mini-sermon, but when you’ve run the rapids, still water is a splash.