The sheet billowed upwards into a perfect tent. The king-sized sheet was fastened to a regular-sized foam topper with clothes pens. A box fan kept it elevated all night. How proud my girls, Ann, Lyn, and Lanette, were to bring their friends to a campout in our den.
During my childhood, my parents allowed friends full access to our house. I wanted my girls to know this joy. My childhood campouts were made special because my parents not only allowed friends to come, but encouraged them.
Only the “elephant” in the house disturbed my children’s joy. The elephant, my husband, their father, never told his girls their friends could not come, but when they came, he must make them uncomfortable, but not with words. Their father spoke eloquent body language that left no doubt of his disapproval.
“Mama, why does he do that?” they moaned.
How does a struggling mom explain emotional abuse to young girls? Their father’s father died when he was two, and he grew up with no clue of how to be a loving father, any kind of a father at all. His abuse, never physical, hit us only in our hearts.
To survive, we lived ignoring the elephant as much as possible. Sometimes the elephant was easy to ignore; at other times, he was so huge that he filled the room, and smothered us with his anger and disapproval. The elephant’s anger, a palpable thing, could almost be felt physically.
Amazingly, his anger was nonverbal, no yelling or screaming. A course from Gary Smalley taught me that most of the communication a woman gets from a man is body language. When rarely I let him know he upset me, he’d respond, “What did I say?”
How that question stumped me! What had he said? Nothing! It wasn’t until Mr. Smalley taught me that words count for 7% of communication man to woman, with tone of voice and body language 93%. Then I understood my husband’s loud, but silent, communication. His body language and tone screamed louder that his voice ever could have.
He wounded Lyn and Lanette, but devastated Ann. In Junior High, she voiced her father’s view of her. “If a man came into our house and said, ‘Give me your daughter,’ he would point to me and say, ‘Take her.’” She never lost that view!
Ann, promiscuous in her teen years, was told by a counselor she was looking for a father’s love. Pregnant at 19, she wanted to keep her child, but bowed to the knowledge that for her child’s sake, she had to give him up. Three abortions followed and one more pregnancy. She could not give up another child or end its life. This child she’d keep, come hell or the elephant.
Her father’s comment about my precious Shane was, “This is a dirty child, not worthy of life.” Ann, in such father-created chaos, found life a struggle for her and Shane. Slowly she realized she was hurting her child, and becoming like the man she abhorred. She purposefully turned her life around, giving Shane a better quality of life, in spite of his grandfather’s hatefulness.
What goes around comes around. My husband developed the diabetes his brothers died of. He had degenerative back; heart trouble, with three heart attacks, one he died of, only to be shocked back to life; Parkinson’s disease; and aggressive, terminal cancer.
So, how do I care for the elephant that so damaged my family? I wanted no regrets, in spite of the temptation to make his life a living hell. I couldn’t care for him out of love; for he had killed all love by his treatment of my girls and my grandkids.
My gracious Lord gave me His answer, care with no regrets. I treated him like Jesus. I knew I would not get angry at Jesus, resent Him, or lash out at Him in frustration. It worked beautifully. I gave him the undeserved care he required.
Finally, he developed congestive heart failure with loud breathing heard all over the house. While spooning pudding into his unaware mouth, suddenly there was an eerie silence!
We gave him the funeral that you would give a beloved husband and father, but no one mourned him, not for one second. What is the legacy of a man unable to love? It is this: “Thank God, the elephant is dead!”
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