When I was four years old, I remember my dad looking up at me often from his black and purple bong, his cheeks puffed out, letting the smoke out slowly and saying, "What?" or "I don't do drugs." Shrugging.
This was the 1970s, people. Not 2017 in Portland, Oregon, where there are more weed dispensaries in business than Starbucks and McDonald's put together. No. This was central Illinois in the late 1970s and it was very clear to my 4 year old self that the shit going down in our house was SECRET and that, beyond that, it was ILLEGAL and that HE COULD GO TO JAIL. Do you hear me? My dad, MY FUCKING DAD, my beloved, Jovan-Musk-smelling dad, the one who told me ghost stories on long drives through the country, the one who took me for corndogs before going in to the night shift at the factory, this dad, THIS BELOVED DAD, could go to JAIL.
What. The. Fuck.
So I learned to keep secrets. The thing about growing up in a family like mine is that you learn to keep secrets about everything. And you're not sure what all needs to be kept secret, but there is an ache in your gut that tells you just don't tell anyone anything and maybe you'll be all right.
So I kept secrets.
Now I know that my dad probably wouldn't have gone to jail (thanks to white privilege, mostly), but the point is I was STRESSED OUT by the sketchy guys who were always in our living room and I was SCARED and I felt, all the time, in my own little 4 year old/5 year old/6 year old way, like WTF, GOD? W.T.F.
Because where was God for me back then, when my dad was blacking out and my parents were fighting and I was sleeping on my brother's bedroom floor because some friend of a friend of my parents’ had moved in and taken over my bedroom?
I still don't know exactly. I still don't know.
This has been one of the primary questions of my life -- Where is God? And what is God doing while we are here floundering and drowning in this sometimes wreck of a world? Is God even paying attention to us? And if God is paying attention, then it seems like we are fucked, because God must not be good, because look at what's going on down here.
In other words: WTF, God? WTF?
Me, I'm the same girl now, and I've got the same question, but I've come a long way since that 4 year old girl eating a corn dog with her dad, wondering if he's going to jail, or if she can find a way to get her and her brother into foster care or find a different family to live with. I have built an awesome life. And I find I cannot live in the world with this bastard God I grew up with. So I had to find a new God.
Many of us find that, despite our discomfort with the whole idea of God, that we need something like God anyway. Spirit, Higher Power, Universe, Whatever Works. And when I looked, I found that I was already relating to an idea of God. It just wasn’t a good God. He or It wasn’t nice. It didn’t care too much about us, or about me. It certainly wasn’t going to help anyone.
This is an easy belief to come to when you grow up without a base line of security, but it’s also an also an easy conclusion to come to when you just look around at the world. Because there is a lot of terrible stuff going on in this world. That's a fact. And while I love the Secret and tarot cards and astrology and new age stuff as much as anyone, I just can't sign on to the idea that life is entirely of your own making or that you drew to you everything that's happening so good luck with all that. Like: oh well, your soul decided to reincarnate as a baby who dies of child abuse so good luck with that. I just can't accept that premise.
And I don't understand why any of that is happening. A lot of the time I can't believe in an interventionist God, a puppet-master (but I will if I have to, if I’m desperate). But mostly I believe that God can help us anyway. Or God can help me, anyway. And I think your God can help you.
Here's how: Outside my house, this tiny, beautiful, messy little, too expensive apartment in an annoyingly rich "middle class" neighborhood in Portland, I can look out my window right now and see this brilliant hot pink tree COVERED IN FLOWERS, right in front of my dusty blue Honda Fit that my husband bought on a car loan despite my EXPRESS OPPOSITION to car payments, this same car that has 3 hubcaps because this husband -- beloved man, smells so good, is so funny, the truest true-blue friend I have ever had and the absolute foundation of my ability to emotionally connect with anyone -- this man, this husband, has a weird driving quirk wherein he somehow always manages to hit things -- a retaining wall, a toll booth post, a drive through speaker, and one of our hubcaps goes off flying and this motherfucker just keeps right on driving. He doesn't give a fuck and he doesn't even pause. He just keeps right on going.
But I love him, all of him, INCLUDING this weird quirk, and while it does make me feel sort of EMBARRASSED to be driving around with my 3 hubcaps, like, IT'S NOT THE BEST, but I know I could get another one and I just haven’t made the time (it’s only been 3 years now) because I DON'T REALLY CARE THAT MUCH and I like this about myself. I like that I don't care about the hubcaps too much or what people think of them and of me WITH THE 3 HUBCAPS and that I'd rather play checkers with my son, or try an new recipe for dinner, or walk to the little free library around the block than go to the hubcap place all the way up by the river and wait around while they find a hubcap that matches my other three. I don't care that much. And I like the hubcap-losing thing about my husband. It’s like I never know what's going to happen with him. It's exciting.
The point is, I can look right outside my window, and in relief against my psychic background of a war-torn, Holocaust, child abuse world, in stark relief, in vivid color, I see God's love -- in this absolute profusion of hot pink flowers, and in my dusty 3-hubcap car-payment car, with my son's name scrawled in his 6-year old handwriting into the dust on the door, and I think of my beloved husband and his crazy driving and how there are a million things wrong with this world, but there are a million things right, too. And that is part of God, I think. It’s God who turns my gaze to that stuff. Who helps me feel that love, in the midst of all the wreckage of the world, or in the wreckage of my past, or in the wreckage that can just feel like ME.
The sun is bright this morning and I walked my son to school wearing fancy stockings and a cute skirt, but I was cold, so I came home and changed into my sneakers and a hoodie and leg warmers and I'm gonna go meet up with my friend and if I listen right now, in the refrigerator hum and the lawnmower down the street, and the stray cat meowing at my door, I can hear God whispering, "I've got you, Melissa. I've got you." And he has. I'm not sure how, but for now at least, he has.