fair warning this is an article, a devotion of sorts and it's longer than a typical blog post.
I twisted and rolled over taking as much of the sheet with me as I could. Sleeping with my baby brother on the floor between my folks was not my idea of a fabulous Friday night. My dad slept on the couch, mom on the loveseat.
Earlier in the day our air conditioning breathed it’s finally burst of cool air and died. July in the Midwest is hot and humid. The nights bring little relief and this particular stretch that summer was especially miserable.
My parents had fought bitterly about the air. I hear heat makes me people experience stress more acutely. Acute stress was not what my family needed. Dad was about half way through the Police Academy. All my life we had lived hand to mouth. Finally, dad made a connection in his dog training business with someone who could help him, the Chief of Police. He had decided his department needed a K-9 unit. He had begun to work with dad to create it, look for the right dogs and begin training them. As their work had progressed it became obvious to the Chief that instead of having dad train his officers, the most efficient way to get the unit up and running was to make dad an officer, a K-9 officer, in charge of the unit. Politics in Southern Indiana operates to this day on the good ol’ boy system. Dad was the Chief’s pick and the Chief had the people he wanted on the town council so, it was done.
The pressure shifted to my dad. A smart guy, he had never found his way in the world really. Switching jobs and having no idea about what he might be when he grew up had added up to a man in his early thirties barely treading water. Married, divorced and remarried to his high school sweetheart, with two kids, and a broken A/C in late in July. He had reached the point in his training where he could come home on the weekends but weekends were spent studying. Not terribly studious in school, learning at such an accelerated pace with so much on the line was all very new to him. He rose to the challenge but not without considerable emotional strain.
I didn’t understand when the fight erupted, I was witnessing the collision of so many broken things in my family. The air being down was a fresh reminder of what life was like without any means to fix our home. It brought up memories of utilities being turned off, going without basics, not being able seek medical help and generally life as a working-poor family. For my mom it was fear. Fear we would never have anything different than what we had always known. Fear that the pressure would overwhelm dad and he would leave us again. Fear that she would never know what it was like to feel safe and secure. The responsibility that closes in on a parent cannot be explained. You just have to walk in those responsibilities. Until you know what it feels like to watch your child go to the bus stop in a light jacket when a heavy winter coat is what is needed, you don’t know. When your child needs to see a doctor, a dentist, a specialist and you can’t even think about taking them, you don’t know. My parents had been there, done it and it had taken it's toll on them.
This job however offered them a fresh start, a completely new direction. Dad had to do well. He had to graduate. Everything depended on it. Losing a day of studying to tinkering on a dinosaur of an air conditioning unit, fighting all while suffocating in the heat with whining children and an angry wife is not productive. I suppose now, as I write this, it was hardly my parents idea of a fabulous Friday night either.
Dad was ready to take some money and stay in a motel, anything with air. Mom was adamant that we couldn’t possibly afford it and after all it was no real solution. What about us after he went back to the Academy on Sunday? Were we to just sweat it out? Was he just to good to be hot at night? On and on.
As they settled in their respective corners to lick their wounds before the next round my mom did what she was always doing, trying to fix it. She gathered sheets and soaked them in cool water in the tub. She rung them out and hung them in the doorway to the living room closing off the room from the rest of the house. She took the two fans and had them going. She made a pallet on the floor between the couch and loveseat for my brother and I. The small space was easy to cool. The damp sheets helped to circulate cool air, the open window with the second fan brought in the cooler night air. Even my dad had to admit that it was more than comfortable. After a cool bath we were almost cold when she tucked us in.
Sometime in the night I heard my mother say my dad’s name, “Norman? Norman!” What followed happened so quickly I couldn’t have recalled it clearly at the time. There was a startle, a scuffle, and shouting. I saw my dad grab his jeans and pull them on. He grabbed his holster, which he always kept close now, with his loaded gun and he ran out the door.
He chased a man through the woods. The intruder met others as he ran, they jumped into a car and sped away. Meanwhile my mother had called the police. Another new fixture in our home was the police scanner. We had learned all the codes and call signs for the officers we knew. Within moments of my dad leaping from the front porch in pursuit of our intruder the dispatcher, used the codes for armed break-in, she said: multiple suspects, officer’s home, officer in pursuit, need backup. I sat in the floor holding my 4-year-old brother, as sirens seem to descend from everywhere. Police were upon us in mere moments. Literally a minute didn’t pass.
The would-be burglars had gotten away. The police were searching for them. They wouldn’t find them. I listened to it all unfold on the scanner. I remember just wanting to see my dad, and know that he was okay. It was a long time before he came back into the house, longer still for reports, and the house to be checked. I gathered from my expert eaves dropping skills that a group of 3 men had attempted to break-in to our home. Two from the back, one from the front and another man parked in the getaway car across the woods.
The men in the back had gotten in and were making their way through our home. The man coming in the front door had opened it to find my entire family sleeping together. The tiny house was only 600 square feet. The front door was not 12 feet from where my dad laid on the couch. Mom had heard him working the lock, called to dad and then it all just exploded.
Finally after a couple hours the police left and we were expected to go back to sleep. All I could think was how glad I was that the air conditioning had broken. If it hadn’t, we would have been in different rooms, me in the front, alone, my brother in the back, alone and my parents in the middle, of our shotgun house.
Would we have been robbed? Would they have hurt me? Would they have shot my dad if he hadn’t gotten the jump on them first? I was thankful and I was angry. I was angry that my parents had been so mean to one another about the temperature all day, that they couldn’t have any faith that it might have happened for a reason. Were they ever going to see the big picture and cope differently with their struggles? The answer to that question is no. They never would. When bad things happen they curse them. They do not know how to be thankful for the things that seem "bad" and even their ability to see the good in the eventual outcome is horribly diminished. More often than not they chalk off those instances as luck.
13 years later having battled one another into exhaustion, they would divorce again, and it would stick. They had lived a marriage without God, without faith, without knowing the Creator of all things. They call their god, luck. That summer I had began to call my God, Jesus. It changed everything about how I saw the world.
Holding my little brother and telling him everything was okay and we were safe I knew we were safe because God was in control. Not mom or dad, or the entire police department that was combing my neighborhood would protect us, God alone would. God had provided a means for our safety by breaking that ac unit. I stopped assuming things were a blessings or a curse and instead decided to wait and see what God was doing. For all things are used by God, for His good work. Count it all joy, even when it doesn’t make any sense.
Yes, I’m saying when something terrible happens, thank God. When something annoying happens, thank God. When something expensive breaks, or someone comes or goes or even passes away unexpectedly, thank God and above all else, when things don’t go according to your plan, thank God.