My husband picked up my brother after breakfast on the day of Christmas Eve. He arrived, cigarettes in hand - no additional clothes although he was staying for three days. His first words to me were, "Why did you have to put me in there - are you mentally ill, trying to kill me or something?"
I prayed silently to the Lord for the right words, a humble attitude, a heart of love for my only sibling, a brother 19 mos. older than myself.
"Hi Stephen,It's good to see you." I said gently coming from the kitchen. He didn't meet my eyes but looked down. He muttered, "I'm going out for a cigarette."
I returned to the kitchen acknowledging that Stephen is in rough shape. The peace of our Heavenly Father settled upon me - I received it. My heart was grieved somewhat.I don't always know how to respond to Stephen and the dance that happens when my Dad and Mom, he and I are all together - my family of origin.
I sighed...a mixture of different emotions descending quickly...fear, sadness, and a resignation to the crazy time that may come. These new emotions were crowding the joyous, excited, light heart that had me singing Christmas carols moments before.
I sighed and laid all my expectations on the altar and asked the Lord for His grace, His love, and His wisdom. Lord this is where I am, where you've called me to serve, where you've called me to love. Let me be your hands, your heart. Lord, you came to heal, you came for the sick, for the broken.
Although I knew in my core, this was a journey I must entrust to Him, I also felt the muscles in my neck tighten and the sadness settle in like a fog. In my flesh, my pride, and in my heart I still longed for things to be more "normal" - no crazy talk, no conflict, strife, and no 'walking on eggshells'.
Most times...I no longer feel shame for them...for me...raw humanity...the frailty of the human condition...the broken.
I know now that peace comes from within, from the root of faith where He dwells in me...where no circumstance, nor person, nor hate, nor barbed words can penetrate.
...I also know how hard it is to stay there...to centre in that very faith...to draw from the well of living water that never runs dry...
This is what I've learned from my dear husband...in his peace, his outer calm, his humour, he who isn't as easily ruffled by the "now" as am I. I needed to draw on that strength. I felt so vulnerable...so needy...I felt I was at the very cusp...the precipice...
I momentarily stopped preparing the Egg Estrada for Christmas morn to stir the macaroni soup that was warming on the stove for our lunch. Two-year old Jeremiah was waiting for me to undo his coat and Josiah was also tugging on his zipper. I smiled from the heart. The twins grounded me to the present, drew me from the intense mental space I was in.
"Mommee...Mommee", tiny arms embraced my neck. They were home, I was home. We were a family and we would get through the next three days, come what may.
All 5 children were now at the door, greeting Stephen and Daddy and the twins and life was vibrant once more. Josh went out to get the tin from recycling for Uncle Stephen's cigarette butts.
Aunt Betty and Uncle Duncan had phoned at 10:00 a.m. to say they were just leaving London...my Aunt was nervous of driving conditions and said, "The damn snow and wind was bad through Listowel." I assured her that it was clear here and we would pray that it would be clear and she would have a safe journey.
Immediately, I gathered the girls to pray. Both my Uncle and my Dad were in their 80's and mom and her sister 76 (twins). I know how nervous they are of winter driving.
Jason dashed upstairs to finish cleaning the ensuite for my Aunt and Uncle and to gather his belongings for the next 3 days. My brother had returned from the front porch and was going upstairs. I heard him saying, "You gotta put up with my sister and she's doing all this..." before I consciously closed my ears.
Hannah came into the kitchen with Olivia at her heels. "Why is he saying those things...it's not true, is it Mom?"
I put down my measuring cup and the whisk. I looked at both of them. "You know Uncle Stephen lives in a group home. He is mentally ill. He has a sickness called Schizophrenia. It affects his mind and his senses. He thinks, sees, smells, hears, and tastes things that aren't real...but they are to him."
Hannah was indignant, "Why is he like this? Why does he say those awful things about you?"
"I don't know. It's hard to understand. We have to love him, Hannah and Olivia. People need love when they are most unlovable."
"But he's being mean and he's lying", six year old Olivia protested.
I spoke softly, "It seems like that to you but I'm not sure Uncle Stephen sees it that way."
Hannah said, "Why hasn't he been like this before?"
I was silent for a few moments. I needed to be honest but help her to understand. Girls, Uncle Stephen has always had these times but you haven't always seen them. We've tried to protect you somewhat by drawing you away and now you're older. You are seeing and hearing things as they really are. You're growing up and now you are just seeing Uncle Stephen through 'growing up eyes'".
I gave them both a quick hug and said, "Let's all ask God to help us love him this Christmas because he's having a real rough time. Only with God's help, can we love him through this."
The girls took off after Uncle Stephen and I knew accomplishing tasks was going to be more tedious. Jason or I would always have to be present with the children and Uncle Stephen. Right now I knew it would have to be Jason because I wasn't as strong on the inside as I appeared to the girls. I thought I was going to cry.
"Why Lord do my girls have to understand this? Why do I have to always be strong? I want to quit right now. I'm not up to this."
Was I angry?
... Yes I was that...and a lot of other things. Overwhelmed...topped my list of emotions.
Lunch happened. I chose not to sit at the table with Jason, the children, and Uncle Stephen. I wondered if Jason knew I was having a hard time coping. I wondered if what I was feeling on the inside, showed on the outside. I wasn't shaking and my hands continued to prepare for Christmas day. I was thankful so much was already prepared for and also thankful my hands had many tasks yet to do.
He dumped his water cup...thought that I put bugs in it. I caught the children's eyes and winked. He argued with the kids when they were repeating a story Grandpa told them, I caught their eyes again and mouthed the words, "Let it go." I wondered if the kids were up for this. I wondered if I was. Jason and I exchanged a look. I drew strength from him and said another prayer.
Aunt Betty and Uncle Duncan arrived around 1:30 p.m. and Dad and Mom shortly after. I was glad to have them. Initial greetings behind us and all presents downstairs...all personal belongings taken upstairs...we settled down to...well...Christmas...
and so it went...many tense moments, harsh words,...a frustrated 'shut up' to my mom over Christmas supper...but an apology...efforts made for peace...
My aunt and dad decided on a truce for their 48 year war...laughter...smiles... relief...joy...love...peace...hearts shared...wisdom spoken...conversation...more laughter...seekers...each of us in our own right...for our own truth...young and old...sick and well...learning to love....
So I look back and I am physically sick, mentally tired, emotionally exhausted but truly I found peace in the broken...perhaps because of it.
I realize all of us are broken...some of us, like my brother, more apparently so. We all need grace, we all need mercy, and a touch from our Father's hand. I thank Stephen this Christmas because God used Him to remind me of why He came.
His love is so perfect, holy, complete. Ours, however well-meaning, so flawed. Yet we die to self and love more. More of Him, less of ourselves.
Thank you Lord for this Christmas, for the opportunity to love.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NASV