A deep desire to live joyfully
Part of my restlessness and dogged determination to do what I love—to live joyfully—is to be the arms and legs of my Grandmother Lillian, so she can dance. I read her story from my father’s pen. Pencil, rather, as he wrote his story in pencil much like an obedient grade school student assigned to an essay. Pencil in hand, he reflected on his childhood at the age of seventy-something. As much as my dad wanted to run from it, the story followed close behind. Writing became a medicine—great healing for Dad and all who read my father’s words.
A little boy describing depression
It is simple in its presentation, yet profound in its honesty. At some point in the dozen pages written on a dime-store tablet, my father becomes the little boy who had no control over his circumstances. At the fragile age of ten, his father dies and his mother—Granny Lily—breaks apart. Granny became a sudden widow in 1928, with six children—the youngest, a sixteen-day-old infant. My dad wrote as a child of ten might write to describe clinical depression without even knowing such an illness existed: “Mother worked all day and got nothing done.” They owned nothing. What they had—their family—was torn apart by county officials doing what they deemed best. The family was scattered and their infrequent reunions were spent “crying all day” according to the penciled record.
Broken into a million pieces
Granny and the baby went to the county “poor farm”. According to a little research, Poorhouses (or farms) were tax-supported residential institutions to which people were required to go if they could not support themselves. Granny went without a say. The older children were sent to an orphanage, Boys Town, or foster care. In an imaginable blink, Granny lost her husband, her home, her children, and, for a time, her sanity. Along with her mental health, her dreams slipped through her exhausted fingers. With no strength left to hold onto anything, her life plate fell from her grip and broke into a million pieces. The county officials swept up the pieces with no plan of putting the plate back together. No intention of taking the broken and making something beautiful, still.
What haunts me
My dad’s story didn’t end with a shattered family and it helps as I read the words of heartbreak to keep in mind that this was a story of my dad—a man of integrity, success, courage, and faith. As I reminisce, I see a life included much laughter, much love, and many blessings. It is Granny’s story that haunts me. Through my father’s eyes, her life seems deprived of any reason to dance.
Those who knew her, recollect a fragile woman, a woman of many sorrows, yet a woman who never lost her faith. I scarcely can imagine the weight of the cross she was forced to bear. I wonder, among her prayers, did she include a request as frivolous and yet as essential as, “May I please have a reason to dance?” Did she find joy intact amid the wreckage after all was stripped away? Can you lose everything except a thread of faith and still keep joy? If the veil that separates us could be drawn for one exchange, I would ask her this, “Granny, did you know joy—somehow still—when circumstances took everything away? Did God give you some precious gifts when tragedy laid bare your soul? Did He take your brokenness and make it beautiful? Oh, Granny Lily, did you find some joy in life? Tell me, please, that you danced!”
I can’t forget
Interestingly, my dad’s last line of his penciled purging was, “I have bared my soul and now I want to forget it.” But I can’t forget it. I can’t shake off the shadows that tug at my coattails, begging me to dance. I don’t make resolutions but I am in hot pursuit of joy. Not something measurable in terms of dollars or accomplishments. Rather, something secured in my soul that cannot be discarded. I seek joy. To dance with life even if life gives me a simple dirt floor and only the wind for music.
No missing pieces
God’s divine calling of purpose for life has all the parts included. There are no missing pieces. God didn’t fail to give us something we might need in order to live with joy and on purpose. He settles the argument with the promise that he has provided extra parts; not simply enough, but more than enough. Not simply joy but joy to the fullest.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10
Granny’s spirit nudging me
Perhaps the diamonds that shine within Granny’s heritage would be no more than lumps of coal had she not endured the pressure. Still, I hope when she was younger that she danced, sang, and laughed. I choose to believe that a lasting amount of happiness was woven safely in her soul to sustain the years that stole the music.
Could this persistent nudging of my spirit be from Granny? Granny whispering, “Do what I didn’t have time or tool to do. Don’t let my perceived lack cause you to fear your own abundance. Don’t not do it because I didn’t. And yes, dear granddaughter, I kept the joy. Jesus’ abundance is all that, and more. I dance! Oh, my goodness, how I dance!”