Monday, August 12, 2013

Facing My Biggest Fear--Part 1

In a blog post of mine from last November (2012) entitled, "Shine His Light," I hint at some personal journeys on which God has been taking me this past year to enable me to let go of some personal fears and obstacles.  I promised to write about one key journey at a later date, and well, that date has arrived.  One of those journeys was hands-down, my biggest fear and largest personal demon~that of finding my biological father.  So in celebration of reaching the one year milestone of writing this blog (as of July 31, 2013), I will begin the next year by sharing this story of my life with you, my dear readers and friends.  I will share it in a three part series to hopefully make it more easily readable. 

As I've blogged previously, I grew up in a single-parent home for the bulk of my young life.  My mother was married to my biological father for three years and divorced him when I was an infant.  She remarried when I was four years old and divorced that man when I was six.  After that, she remained single until I was 19 years old.  She then remarried again, and has been married to the same wonderful, Godly man for the past 24 years.  I am proud to have always called this man, "Dad."  Until recently, he has been the only father I've ever truly had or known.  Years ago, I wrote a devotional about my dad that I will more than likely re-post here in the future.  He has been one of the biggest answers to prayer that God has ever given me.  I have shared more details of my personal life-testimony with smaller, more intimate groups in church settings.  But for the sake of brevity, and in honor and respect to my mother, I will not divulge all the history and "whys" of the family-brokenness in my young life.  Life happens--we'll leave it at that.

Growing up in a single-parent home brings many hardships and obstacles for a youngster.  There is the obvious one--you have no father, and every kid needs a father.  You don't always feel "safe."  As a girl, you also grow-up a bit afraid or unsure of men.  Oddly enough, you overly strive to seek their approval, as little girls typically try to do even when they have a loving father present.  You also grow up with a messed-up idea of, "God as Father," when you have never had one of your own.  When there is no one to compare God to as, "father-figure" in your life, you are uncertain of the validity of God, as well as His trustworthiness in the provisions of your life.  In my young years, I watched my mother struggle and cry tears of fear and uncertainty over many things--bills, car repairs, medical costs, broken down water-heaters, household maintenance, child-care, aloneness, and the like.  Money was so tight that the stress of it posed significant strain on me.  I remember being made fun of at school for my limited clothing and shoe attire.  I was lucky if I got a new pair of tennis shoes, a pair of loafers, and one other pair of dress shoes per school year--and those three pairs of shoes looked pretty rough by the end of the school year.  Eating a bowl of cereal for supper was a regular occurrence, and this was due to necessity, not choice (this is probably why I tend to overeat and excessively love food to this day).  I recall being overly concerned that we wouldn't have enough to eat--and many nights my mother would encourage me not to eat seconds so that we would have enough to eat the same meal the next night.  When you have to use your own babysitting money just to buy a new hairbrush and toothpaste at the ripe old age of 13, you just don't always feel God's provision, especially when you have friends whose parents are buying them cars and taking lavish vacations.  Looking back now, I realize that God ALWAYS provided.  It may not be in the way we want it, but He is there and He does meet our needs--even when we go without.

But sadly, I have many times resorted back to that little-girl mentality and carried it into adulthood fearing things such as:  being alone and having to make it on my own; fearing that God isn't going to come through for me; fearing that my husband, Matt, will leave me or fail me (as the other men in my life did); worrying that someone is going to break-in and harm me; etc.  I've previously blogged in more detail about some of these fears in a blog post entitled, "Modern Take on Psalm 23."  While I was growing up, my mother and I suffered numerous break-ins to our home and it left some pretty big scars of fear.  Instead of realizing and appreciating that God protected us from any physical harm through those experiences, I sadly focused on the fact that we'd been violated.  Regardless of that, you grow up pretty fast when faced with these kinds of dilemmas and stresses.  At the same time, you grow up with some thought processes of God that need serious correcting.  Just as I struggle at times with the fear that someone is going to break into my home, I also have a tendency to worry about money and to perhaps even be overly frugal due to that fear.  To this day I still at times battle the doubts of whether God is there for me and whether He will provide for my needs whenever I am faced with serious hardship.  Worrying that I may need to stand on my own two feet one day, I scrimp on things and at times have struggled with generosity due to my desire to save (okay, hoard) money.  Saving money is a great and wonderful trait when it doesn't affect what God asks of us with regard to giving and showing charity toward those less fortunate.  It is an area I have worked to improve in recent years, but it boils down to a trust issue with God.  The bottom line is, I can't put my faith and security in my pocketbook.  If it isn't in God and God alone, it is founded on a faulty foundation.  It doesn't matter how many CDs, investments, mutual funds, or IRAs you have--it can all be stripped away from you.  God is showing me this and teaching me to just trust Him with everything I have.  It is a hard lesson for a control-freak like me.

Funny how many of our adult fears stem from childhood. I know that many of mine come from living in a single-parent home.  I firmly believe that God designed the family unit the way He did for a reason.  Children need both a mother and a father because each has unique roles, abilities, and important, balancing values for the family that all kids need in order to thrive.  Fathers and mothers also need each other.  Women aren't meant or suited to play both roles, and neither are men.  My mother did the best she could and did a great job in so many ways.  She astounds me to this day and is definitely one of the biggest heroes in my life.  But she wasn't all I needed, and I am convinced that single-parent homes were not God's design for many obvious reasons. 

My mother rarely spoke of my biological father.  When she did, I could tell it evoked feelings of great anguish and pain, and that she was not comfortable with the discussion.  As I got older and braver, my line of questioning became more in depth, and this again would create tension.  So I grew-up knowing very little about my real father other than that he was Mexican and a musician.  To my knowledge, my father had only called once to ask my mother to see me when I was 10 years old.  I recall that evening distinctly.  The tears my mother shed that night arguing on the phone with him upset me greatly.  In my loyalty to her, I refused to talk to him and yelled passionately, "Tell him to go away and leave us alone!"  I carried the guilt of that with me until last October--so for about 32 years.  Yes...I know...I was only 10.  But this is what we do to ourselves in life, isn't it?  We can guilt ourselves for everything--even things that don't make sense.  Some of us are better at it than others. 

Since I knew at that point that my father did care to see me and he hadn't fallen off the face of the earth in total disinterest, I secretly carried all the blame that I didn't know him from age 10 on up.  This created a great deal of pain and tension in my teen years for me.  At the same time, I would oddly find myself fantasizing that I found my father and that all was well.  I envisioned myself singing alongside him as he played guitar.  I imagined sitting at his table feasting on homemade Mexican dishes prepared by my great aunt, Socorro (my great aunt Dorothy).  I had actually met and seen Aunt Dorothy several times during my young years.  She was a wonderful, loving woman.  My mother stayed in touch with her for quite a while without my father knowing (Aunt Dorothy respected my mother's wishes on this).  She spoke little English, but was so kind and hospitable.  The last time I saw her was the summer before my senior year in high school.  My mother had not taken me to see her for a few years, and though Aunt Dorothy was very loving and delighted to see me, I recall it was an extremely uncomfortable visit for me--internally speaking.  At that time, I was not in a place in my life where I wanted to face all the unknowns of my life. The visit was a fairly short one. I recall sharing the basics of my life with Aunt Dorothy--the fact that I was a lifeguard, a singer, and I told her all about the boy I was dating (my husband).  Then while my mother was using the ladies room, Aunt Dorothy gave me some contact information for my biological father (her nephew).  I thanked her, but at the time, it was nothing I wanted to face.  I felt ill just thinking about meeting him.  I saved that contact information though.  I still have it.

Throughout my adulthood, I dreamed of truly knowing my aunt and being a part of her life, as well as that of my father and my entire biological family.  But life gets busy and we don't always know how to make dreams realities.  I carried this dream, along with the guilt I had for telling my father to, "go away," in a painful dichotomy my entire adult life.  Every time I have seen a Mexican family anywhere near the town from where I know my family resides, I have wondered if they are my relatives.  Each time I have seen a Mexican or Hispanic-looking man around the age of my father, I have wondered if he is my father.

It is amazing to me how important "blood" is to us.  As I have already stated, the man my mother married when I was 19 has been the only father I've ever really known or had.  He is all that a girl could ever hope for in a father.  But for some reason, the wonderful love I have received from him for nearly 25 years still did not trump my curiosity and desire to find my biological father.  I will never fully understand why that is but I believe it is just innate in most of us to desire a full understanding of our roots and past.  It isn't just a desire--it can become a need.  When we have missing puzzle pieces in our own history it can be quite enticing and troubling all at once.  Though those voids aren't perhaps making or breaking our current existence, they do shape our identity in deeply hidden places we don't even like to talk about, let alone face. 

Not knowing my "real" father has not been a major secret in my life though.  Once I get to know people and feel reasonably "safe" to share, I'm pretty much an open-book.  So I have shared openly of it in my personal testimony with various church families, ministry groups, and close friends all throughout my adulthood (and have done so pretty fearlessly).  When I've used this part of my life-story for Godly purpose, it has at times felt "healed," or as if it can be neatly placed back into a box and left on a shelf for safe-keeping.  Sharing with others about the things through which God has brought me, and helping others handle their own broken family issues, has given me great strength and joy in my life.  But it has never seemed to fully heal it, as much as I always wanted to think it did.  When something is "undone," it's just undone.

Last March, I was sitting backstage in my church resting and preparing to lead worship for the next church service.  One of my dear worship band-mates and friends, John, (JB, as I call him--and yes, I've blogged about him recently), casually plopped down beside me and began jokingly harassing me in true JB-form.  Then out of nowhere he asked me a very blunt and random question:  "So Steph, have you ever found your real father?"  I was extremely caught off-guard by this question, but not surprised due to the source--JB rolls this way in his discussions (and I actually love him for it)!  He is one of those brutally honest, very open conversationalists that keep you on your toes.  Very few people could be so forward and yet never make you feel the least bit nervous.  But JB sincerely cares about his friends and it is a gift to have such a friend.  So I replied that, no, I had not ever really looked for my father, other than one time long ago.  I then shared that when I was 24 years old, I found my father and drove up his driveway to spy on him or perhaps even knock on his door.  But I saw him outside (or who I believed to be him), panicked, and fled.  JB replied, "Well, Gina (his wife, who happens to also be Mexican) and I were out on the patio the other night talking.  We got to thinking about your story and wondering if you'd ever looked for your dad.  We haven't asked you about this in a while and were just wondering."  I said, "Oh, guess I'm avoiding it."  He questioned further with, "Why?"  I said, "I guess fear."  JB said, "Fear of what?"  So I explained, "Well...fear that he won't want to know me...that he won't be all I've envisioned...that he'll be unimpressed with me...that he'll mess up my life or expect me to take care of him in his old age when he has never done anything for me...fear of a LOT of stuff.  It's all the unknowns, and I guess I'm just not sure it's worth 'upsetting the apple-cart.'"  JB said he understood my fears--he even validated them all.  Then he said with that typical little twinkle in his eye and the love of Christ in his face, "Well, I just think people change.  I think your dad is a sixty-something-year-old man and I doubt he's the same person he was 42 years ago.  I think it is a cryin' shame he doesn't know you."  Then he said the part that still makes me warm and fuzzy inside, "All I know is, if I knew I had a daughter that looked like you and was the person you are, and a granddaughter that looked like Allie and was the person she is, and I didn't get a chance to know you both, I'd feel like I had lost the lottery." This hit me like lead.  What a great compliment--as precious as they have ever come.  But there was an immense amount of truth in what he had said about the likelihood of my father being different now.  Perhaps my father needed the same healing I did.  I pondered all this daily for a few months.  Actually, it tortured me.

As I stated, I have only had a handful of conversations about my biological father with my mother throughout adulthood.  In those discussions, I have received bits and pieces of new information about my father, my half-brother, and other blood relatives--some grand and some painful.  Those talks have always been brief and awkward for both of us, and they typically send me into a spiraling down effect that spurs both my curiosity and pain even more.  To the contrary, my only child and daughter, Alexandria ("Allie"), and I, have had many conversations about my father (her grandfather). Her curiosity and desire to find him and know our family roots or "blood-line" have become increasingly heightened throughout her life.  Last summer while meeting Allie for dinner one night, she expressed through tears her strong desire to find her grandfather.  She shared from her heart that she was growing ever more concerned about his age and posed two tough but poignant questions to me.  The first question was, "Mom, you have recently declared that you are sick and tired of being afraid of everything in life, and that you are going to take steps to remove all fear from your life.  So why are you afraid in THIS case?" The second was, "Mom, are you going to be okay if he dies and you never meet him?"  At that moment, my conversation with JB from a few months prior came strongly to mind, yet again.  I shared of it with Allie, and she agreed that John's remarks were no accident.  I already knew this, but in my typical, "avoid-rocking-the-boat-in-life-at-all-cost" mentality, I'd just been personally burying it.  My answer to Allie was an easy, "no"--I wasn't going to be okay if I never got to meet my father. We shed some tears and made the decision to begin the search.  The last real fear that I had been burying and reburying in life was getting unearthed...and I would be facing it soon.