by Ginnie Horst Burkholder
It’s the “bottom of the barrel” time of year. The cold, grey days and long evenings stretch ahead. Keeping in good health is hardest during these long winter months. On some days outdoor walks are impossible, and gradually my body succumbs to stiffness, new aches, chronic sinusitis, and general fatigue. I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to keep me going.
In a chance encounter an acquaintance says, “I’m praying for you.” I grope for words that will reflect the sense of what I feel. Is it defeat? Is it acceptance? Is it cynicism or numbness? I’m not sure. I say, “Thank you.” I’ve truly appreciated the countless people who have volunteered their prayers for us over the years. But this time I want more, though I can’t say what. Her words that were meant to encourage, fall outside of me.
Prayers don't get me what I want
Lots of people pray for me. But the prayers don’t get me what I want: the companionship of the husband who knew me better than anyone else. The prayers don’t bring him back. He doesn’t know that my favorite movie is “Mamma Mia.” Sometimes he thinks I’m my sister. Sometimes he turns his head to the wrong side to find my voice. Sometimes his eyes are so glazed I think he has left me completely. But then the next moment or the next day, he is back with some degree of focus and attention.
The prayers don’t get me that easy exchange of conversation with Nelson that my hungry memory calls up from long ago. Now, often the words are soundless puffs of air moving across his lips. His eyes engage me. He believes he is communicating. I don’t have the heart to say, “I can’t understand you,” one more time. I say, “Hmm,” and turn on the TV for another evening of hollow company.
The prayers don’t bring back the person who would remove a splinter from my dominant hand, rub out a tight muscle in my shoulder, open a stubborn jar, find my lost book, reach a high shelf, keep track of car maintenance, or lend a hand in our adult children’s remodeling projects.
That should-have-been life is now unimaginable. Instead, I continue to interpret sounds for him, shadow him, rescue him, feed him, dress him, entertain him, manage life for him, and mold my life to his needs.
And I read. Right now it’s nonfiction only. Memoirs drop me for a time into the aches and traumas of someone else’s life. Someone else’s resilience reaches up from the pages and shores up my crumbling resolve. They have survived. I can too. Or, when I have lost God in my story, he shows up in someone else’s. There my vision is not so clouded. It fosters belief that I can find him in mine.
'You are more than this'
It happened as I read Shattered Silence by Melissa G. Moore. As a fifteen-year-old girl, she was doing her very best to survive. Then she was raped, resulting in pregnancy. Her home life was a shambles. Her father, a serial killer, was in prison.
When I realized I was contemplating the end of my life, I snapped out of it ...only long enough to pray to the God who was such a mystery to me.
Dear God, please help me, I have nowhere to turn except to you. If you know who I am, if I’m supposed to be here for any reason, please let me know.
Exhausted I fell back to sleep. When I awoke, I felt like I had been in the most delicious dream. It was filled with so much joy – like I had never known before. I felt peace and comfort and the most amazing, unconditional love I had ever experienced. I reveled in the feeling, half awake, half asleep... When I finally woke fully, still in my darkened basement corner, I felt the humiliation; shame and despair begin crashing in on me again.
You are better than this…You are more than this… It was a lovely, deep and wide voice that brought with it the feelings and beautiful knowings of love that I had experienced in my dream.
“You know me?” I whispered – afraid to ask. Afraid not to ask.
I lay in my cot and basked in the healing warmth. I was loved. *
Melissa’s prayer, “If you know who I am,” mirrors my longing to be known. I have watched Nelson’s knowing of me slowly fade away. Saying goodbye to his “knowing” requires an evolving adjustment as I search for bits and pieces in other places. That supportive, “I’m praying for you,” left me listless because it just didn’t stack up alongside my longing to be known. Don’t just pray for me: know me. Know me, and then pray that I can receive the mystery of God’s knowing – that I can hear God’s, “I know you,” as clearly as I once heard Nelson’s.
© 2010 Ginnie Horst Burkholder
* Excerpted from Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter, p. 160, published Cedar Fort, Inc., Springville, Utah, Copyright © 2009 by M. Bridget Cook and Melissa G. Moore. Used with permission.
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