In 5 weeks, my new book, “In The Middle Of The Mess” releases. It’s a book I almost didn’t write because facing the pain felt overwhelming, even all these years later. The truth is…. I still struggle. I’m not fixed. But I know now that when you speak the truth out loud in the safety and loving embrace of God our Father,
He becomes the hero of our story.
Below are the first few pages of the book. I wanted to share them with you, hoping they resonate with you, right where you are today.
“I have a black-and-white photo of my father on my desk. He’s smiling, face turned upward to the sun. He’s clearly posing for my mum, looking very Rudolph Valentino. Sometimes, I talk to him. I know it’s a strange confession, but I don’t suppose I’ve been one to shy away from confession. When I talk to him, I tell him I wish things could have turned out differently. I wish I could have shared the truths I’ve learned, the truths of this book. Maybe it would have saved his life.
He’s been gone so many years now, but even still, I’m dedicating this book to him. If I could see him today—just one last time—if I could slip him these pages and a letter, I think I’d tell him the whole truth, and here’s what that letter might say.
Most days I’m okay, but the messy days, and then the even darker days, still scare me. You knew this feeling. Didn’t you?
I used to have a nightmare after you died. I was falling down a deep, dark hole, and no one could hear me crying for help. Only five years old, I’d wake in the middle of the night in a panic, sweat pouring down my back and face, my Deputy Dawg pajamas soaked through. I didn’t want to wake anyone, so I’d just open the toy closet and climb in. I’d stay there until the morning, holding Big Billy, my bear, until I fell asleep. I never told anyone.
It was strange how Mum and the rest of the family never talked about how you died. I tried to broach the topic once when I was about eight years old. We were sitting around the kitchen table, and when I said how sad she must be when she thinks about you, she left the table and went upstairs. If I hadn’t felt so responsible for how you died, I’d have forced that conversation open. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, just as I couldn’t force myself out of the toy closet where I felt safe from my nightmares.
After your funeral, Mum took all your pictures down and put them away in a safe place—a small, locked suitcase under her bed. Memories of you were mostly off-limits. We moved back to her hometown, distanced ourselves from your memory. She cried sometimes but always behind closed doors. We had to grieve and question in our own ways. I think we were all lonely. I know I was.
When I was ten years old, I came home early from school one day when I wasn’t feeling well. Mum tucked me up in bed, and after she brought me a cup of tea, she sat on the edge of the bed beside me. Since we were alone, I asked her how you died.
She said that you fell into the river. She said the coroner wrote “death by drowning.” She’d said it as if you’d lost your way in the dark and stumbled into the water. I think part of what she believed was true. You did lose your way in the dark, didn’t you? But it wasn’t the moonless country-dark of Ayrshire. It was the dark inside you that made life unbearable, wasn’t it?
You were so young—only thirty-four—and you were trapped inside a body that had turned against you. Your mind didn’t even have the decency to endure the dark, to stay secreted away in it. In those moments when the red clouds inside your brain cleared, you saw your future, the shape of it, and it wasn’t pretty. I don’t know that for certain, but somehow, I believe it’s true.
I know Mum visited you after you went to live in that place, but I never got to come. I wish I had. Perhaps if you saw that I could handle your shadow side, you might have been able to hold on a bit longer. I don’t know. I just wish I could have told you that I still loved you, that I always had and always would.
I’d like you to know the truth: People don’t understand that what children imagine is so much worse than what’s true. Now I know. You were broken. Just like me. I know there were days when you were my dad and other days when you became that scary monster lashing out, raging inside and out, lost, alone. The last time you ever looked at me, you weren’t yourself and you must have seen how terrified I was. The look in your eyes stayed with me for years, and I wondered if the look in mine pushed you over the edge. But now I understand that’s not true: I know your death wasn’t my fault.
I live with dark despair too. I have seen how it takes over. And knowing that aching loneliness, knowing the ways it haunts, I wish I could go back and hold your hand. I wish I could fight it with you, wish I could smile at you one last time. Just one. Maybe that would have given you the strength to hold on a little longer.
When I was fifteen, a woman in our church was talking to my best friend about the place where you died. Perhaps she’d forgotten that you had been there. She worked there and said the place was a “house of horrors”—not a place for children. She smelled of mothballs and Youth Dew. The Ayrshire Lunatic Asylum, she said, and I couldn’t help but wonder: Asylum? Isn’t that supposed to be a safe place with safe rooms? Don’t people leave their war-torn countries and beg for asylum in countries where they know they’ll be protected? Why couldn’t they protect you? And now, I’m left with only questions, unanswered.
When you escaped that night, did you have a plan?
Did you know where you were going, or did you just want to get away?
Were you trying to find your way home?
In my adult years I willed myself to visit that river. Shadows and silence had nearly killed me. They had dropped me into a place similar to one where you’d last lived. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it until I was thirty-six years old; that’s when the compulsion to see the water finally became too great. I had to go. I wanted to understand.
When you last saw me, I was five, but I’m now sixty.
Mum died last month, and I find myself adrift.
I have a caring husband and a darling son, and I’m on the best medication out there, but there are days when it’s not enough. Some days I feel as if I live on the edge of a razor and could fall off at any moment. It’s hard to say that out loud, because I know how this works: People will want to fix me. The truth is, I don’t think “fixed” is what I’m looking for. What I want is what I wish we’d been able to do a long time ago—to tell the truth, first to God, and then among friends, in a community of understanding, for as long as it takes to heal. I wish you could have done this too.
I’m not afraid of pain; I’m afraid of the silence that leaves us all alone. I’m afraid of the secrets that left you all alone. Amid the silence and secrets, it’s easy to believe every desperate lie inside our heads, every monster that hunts us. I know you understand that.
So, for my sake and in your memory,
I’m going to speak up.
I’m hoping, I’m praying, that it might give another person the space and the grace to see that it’s okay not to be okay. I want to show others how to find strength in the middle of the mess. I think knowing how to do that is a gift, a beautiful miracle straight from God.
So I’m punching a hole in the silence. I’m kicking in the door of secrets that keeps us cold and lonely. We need a place to show up in our brokenness and still be loved, a safe place where we can come as we are. I’m committed to that now, for myself and everyone who hurts. It’s time to tell the truth. We don’t have to hide anymore.
I used to believe that I was alone in the darkness. I never was. On the days when I couldn’t hold on by myself, Jesus held onto me. I see it now. He always was my safe place. Now, when I feel as if I’m falling, I hold onto Him, and I wish you could have learned to hold on that way. I know, in eternity, that you have.
I love you always,
If you’d like to get a copy of the book when it releases,
go to www.amazon.com and enter the title In The Middle Of The Mess.