“Thou Shalt Not Piss On Thy Neighbors Board Fence”
~ Thelma Brakstad – And Jesus Christ for a brief time in my youth ~
My Grandmother told me that she never liked going to church, but what she really meant was that she had little use for church-going folks in her small town. She had been judged harshly at one point because she was just the cleaning lady for many of them, not an equal. They weren’t good company is what her message boiled down to once all the cuss words were crossed out. She felt they were self-righteous, judgmental, and were “nothin’ but a pack of lyin’, cheatin’ sons-a-bitches themselves” she would say. She had been hurt and never got past it. Granny only went to church for weddings and funerals; the last time was her own. But her faith in God never wavered.
She wasn’t perfect, and she knew it, none of us are, but she loved me and looked after me when my mother wouldn’t, and that made her perfect in my eyes. She didn’t talk much about God with others as far as I know, but she wanted me to know him and was determined to teach me about him in a way she knew would work. One day while I was playing, her golden opportunity presented itself, and she laid that verse on me knowing that a curious boy like me would chase that rabbit until it was caught.
With my hands in my jean pockets and chin in the air, I challenged her fantastic claim. “There’s no way they’d put piss in the Bible,” I said. But she was sure as the cold in winter it was there. She figured it was in the book of Matthew. She also knew I was more comic book sized than Bible-sized then, but the perfect age to scour the book of Matthew hunting for forbidden treasure, even if it was just the word piss.
It took a week or so to work my way through the whole book of Matthew, but the verse wasn’t there. I reported that fact, somewhat annoyed, to my Granny. She apologized, then citing her aging mind, she rubbed her chin with her thumb and forefinger, stared off into the distance, and after what I figured had been long enough to conjure up a good memory, told me she thought it might have been in the book of John. I didn’t doubt her for a second at this point; she was in her 40’s after all, and ancient folks like her likely had a lot of memories to sort through.
I started mowing through the book of John. I was reading with less intent to prove her wrong and more to help her find this lost verse of hers. I had only read one book in the Bible and she had already taught me to serve others.
And so it went. I read book after book that summer, looking for Granny’s lost verse. By the end of summer, I had read the entire new testament. I kept on reading, and Granny would talk with me about what I had read. She taught me about God, and about faith.
I’m still reading my Bible today, over 50 years later, although I never did find my Granny’s lost verse. She passed away at 97 years old a couple of years ago. What I did find was the thing she wanted me to have all along. A father that would never leave me, never hurt me, and would always be there for me clearing the path and showing me the hidden lessons and opportunities for growth in the discomforts he would allow me.
He kept me alive through my fathers drinking and violence, and my mother’s drug problems. Through repeated sexual abuse and physical abuse, neglect, bullying and beatings by native kids because I was white, beatings by other kids because I had long curly hair, so they deemed me a “fag”. He kept me alive when my appendix burst and I was sent to bed because my mother had more important things to do. A random friend of hers came by and took me to the hospital, I would not have lived long had she not. He kept me alive through meningitis, being shot at, knife fights, being jumped by groups of men on the street, and being surrounded and grossly outnumbered during more than one street riot as a Police Officer. I survived being a cop and a SWAT cop and the constant risks cops face every shift. He kept me alive in numerous car wrecks no person should walk away from. He kept me alive when I was dumped in the middle of an icy lake by someone that was pissed at me, and the time my canoe capsized and almost drowned in a storm. He was with me when I was a little kid hunting on my own in the wilderness for food because if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be anything on the table that week. He was there when I had a drug problem and an alcohol problem in grade nine and ten in high school. He knows about my three marriages that fell apart. And he knows about the period in my life when violence was how I solved all of my problems on the street. I was brutal and I was very good at it. I’ve wanted to die since I was a little boy up to a few years ago. Something always got in the way.
I’ve been hospitalized a total of 6 times with heart problems. I’ve been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Fifteen years ago I was given a death sentence when I was told by a doctor after five days of testing that I would survive ten years, fifteen max and that I would never qualify for a heart transplant.
Three days ago, after extensive testing, my cardiologist told me that my heart is normal, my ejection fraction (how much blood volume a heart pumps) which was down to 35 at one time is now normal and strong at 65. And after 30 years of dealing with atrial fibrillation, it’s gone.
I’ve never taken medication for any of these issues.
You can’t convince me there is no God. Just because someone else can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. God allowed all of this so I could be who I am and where I am today. And while my life has been very difficult at times, I have opened my mind to look for the good in every experience, and I have found far more good than bad. I am strong, wise, and where there once was hurt and bitterness, I have a heart filled with compassion and understanding for others. I have a wife that I love and loves me unconditionally. I have two incredible children and four equally amazing grandchildren. I found art and photography to express my emotions, and although I could not pass a grade 9 grammar class, I am a writer so I can tell stories like these. That’s all because of God.
Because of the turns my life has taken, I have been able to help many others that have had similar experiences and didn’t fare as well as I did. The first time I was able to see past my own tragedies and count them as blessings, then help someone else, well, that feeling was indescribable. It still is. We are getting licensed so we can foster and adopt children and in a few weeks and God willing, our family will grow very soon. Many of the kids in foster care have been through some of the same stuff I have. I feel confident that I will be able to understand them and know exactly what to do for them because of the life God gave me and because he will be there navigating the way. Another good reason for all of it.
Like my Granny, I’m not perfect. I’ve done so many bad things and made so many mistakes that at one point I couldn’t imagine how God could love or accept me. Then I remembered that the disciples were a motley group of sinners of almost every kind, and Moses himself had murdered a man. I was reminded about God’s grace. Jesus died on the cross so our sins could be forgiven. He did that because we are all sinners.
God is not for perfect people, because there are no perfect people. No matter how broken, bad or beaten up you are, he loves you. I am living proof of that truth.
I choose to walk through life with him, and I am far from perfect, but he is with me every breath I take.