There I stood alone in a room full of boxes. Panic morphed into tears as the reality of leaving our home of thirteen years sunk deeper into my bones. It was hopeless. Foreclosure was on the horizon and the December days were trickling by. I knew by no means we could now keep what we had. Four bullets from a semi-automatic had ensure that the past was gone and we were now secured in a new horrid present-one that would supersede every nightmare I had ever had. I listened to the bickering between my younger siblings in the next room and the only questions I could ask started with why. Why was this house now my responsibility? Why had God allowed my mother to shoot my father?
The banter between my thoughts was never-ending. I felt like every day I was drawing nearer to the fringes of insanity. My uncle would call to remind me that insanity wasn’t an option. I was the oldest and I had responsibility. There were lawyers to be called, detectives to convince, and surgeons to meet as my father wavered between life and death. Insanity is not an option for you especially when everyone else has chosen it. So there I stood alone in a room full of boxes, not knowing when drowning would turn into floating. It was as if I had pulled the trigger.
None of the News reporters mentioned that the tragedy of Brenda and Harry Bartee had been survived by four children. Not one. Our home was the front page of every local paper and our parent’s lives broadcasted over the news of two major cities. Some called it the “mediation massacre”, a rightful title as the shooting had occurred in a public square during divorce mediation proceedings, but yet not one person mentioned one name of their four children. I waited for pounding knocks on the door. I waited for the doorbell to release multiple rings. I waited for warm embraces from relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers. No one came. So there I stood alone in a room full of boxes with my three siblings in the next room.
I felt like a book flipping back and forth between pages. I wanted my mind to focus on one sentence at a time, but the pages would flip before the sentence would end. I cringed in the corners of our home filled with relocated furniture. Some pieces I love. Other pieces I hated because the memories loaded behind it. Some mornings were perfectly still. Other mornings spun like a merry-go-round. Throughout my life, I had never felt like a sane person. In those moments, those deep tormenting moments, I didn’t even feel like a person. I was just this thing affected by everything. This new thing answered calls and took orders. This new twenty-three-year-old thing spoke the language of a fifty-year old. It knew terms like “divorce decree”, “short sale”, “thrift-savings”, “power of attorney”. This new thing knew to constantly worry about money. This new thing no longer slept at night. This new thing stood alone in room full of boxes.
I thought we were orphans, abandoned and thrown away. I thought we were doomed, having lost everything. I thought we were outsiders to God’s will and plan. Yet, these were just thoughts and not our reality. Since the day I became a Christian, I was taught one verse, “all things work for good for those who love him.” I looked around at my room full of boxes. I listened to the phone calls from my mother. I heard the cries from my siblings, and I asked, “God where was the good in this place where evil had clearly prevailed?” My world had publicly shattered, and we had publicly been put to shame. It was a punishment worthy for the greatest of sin, but hadn’t my sin been nailed to the cross? Wasn’t there no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus? Why did I feel condemned? Did God consider me His child?
I wandered aimlessly in faith. Repenting wherever and whenever I could, hoping each day for a better future. They told me to surrender, so I surrendered. They told me to pray so I prayed. They told me to read so I read. I followed every Christian formula there was to follow, yet my depression worsened. The calls from my mother grew more frequent. My sanity wavered. Every day I said one line, “God today is supposed to be better.” It wasn’t. Days turned into months, and months turned into years, and within the walls of this tragedy, I grew. I witnessed my mother’s trial and saw her condemned to twenty-two years in prison and watched my father survive the shooting and then make the decision to walk out of my life for good. My responsibility grew as the siblings grew older and graduated for graduate school programs and more. Over time, I learned to become a functioning parent. In the back of mind year after year, I asked myself, did it all work for good? It did.
In my reading, I came across multitudes of biblical narratives, but one story I came across that I strongly related to this situation was the story of Israelites in the first five books of the bible. The Israelites had a special connection with God in the beginning before the Exodus while in Egypt. How? They lived in the reality that they needed something bigger than themselves to rescue them from bondage. My reality before the shooting was the same. We lived in a home that wasn’t friendly and very much abusive. It was our Egypt. Everyday my heart would yearn for a miraculous change and this would be my prayer. Then suddenly, similar to the ten plagues that occurred over Egypt, four bullets erupted from a gun, and like the Israelites I found myself migrating from a bad situation to a wilderness that felt like forty years. Like the Israelites, there were times where I imagined us being better off in Egypt out of fear that God’s promise didn’t exist. Then I experience something that one can only find in the wilderness; a complete dependence on the Lord.
I regained a strength I never knew existed. I lived in the reality that in my weakness He is strong. I became a better servant when I thought I could no longer serve. When I thought I was nothing more than a rejected thing, he showed me in the desert that I was His accepted daughter. My situation told me that hope, love, and joy no longer existed, but my God showed me It existed in Him in abundance. I look around and my reality is I never stood alone in a room full of boxes. He was there beside me and in the next room with my siblings for years to come.