I was in my room feverishly working on my 7th-grade science project when I heard him come in the back door. Having developed keen hypervigilance at an early age I could determine my father's level of his intoxication simply by listening to him come into the house. When I heard his lunchbox scrape against the wall as he maneuvered the three-step landing leading to the kitchen I braced myself for a long night.
After eating his supper alone, all the while blaming my mother that his food was cold, he stumbled into the bedroom and shut the door. I prayed that this would be one of those nights when he slept until morning. I had to concentrate on my schoolwork.
But as was often the case, my prayers, no matter how fervent, seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Dad got up every hour or so to drink more beer and to make sure my mom and I knew what worthless human beings we were. He would sit in the dark with his seemingly endless supply of of Stroh's and irately lecture us long into the night. Best I could tell, the reason he got drunk all the time was because my mom was a nag who didn't appreciate all he did for her and I was a lazy kid who would never amount to anything. It's funny how our brain tells us something is utter nonsense yet our heart believes it anyway.
I put together my school project as best I could, all the while trying to ward off the unrelenting barrage of hurtful attacks and accusations coming from the kitchen. I really wanted to do well on this assignment. But the end result wasn't close to what I wanted it to be. It was a maddening metaphor of my life: not good enough no matter how hard I try. It wasn't fair.
I could feel the anger stirring in the pit of my stomach as I ate breakfast the next morning. Usually, that's where my anger remained. But on that particular morning, I let it out.
Without looking up from my bowl of cereal, I said to my mom who was tidying up the kitchen, "He can ruin his life if he wants to. But he's dragging you and me down with him. You need to get a divorce."
Her response was immediate, as if she had rehearsed it a thousand times. Honestly, I was taken aback by the force of her words. Decades later I can still hear them in my mind, with the same intense inflection. With her hands on her hips she said emphatically, "I made a vow to him and to God and I'm not going to break it."
I had always viewed my mom as stubborn. And while that assessment was right on the money, these words weren't born out of hardheadedness. They emanated from a deep sense of conviction.
My mom was committed to husband. She made a promise to him in the presence of God that she would be his wife, for better or worse, till death did them part. Granted, she couldn't have known what worse was going to look like when she made that vow. But, to her, it didn't matter. A promise was a promise.
As a kid, I didn't appreciate her firmness. All I knew was I wasn't happy living with an alcoholic father and I was quite sure she wasn't too thrilled to have had an alcoholic husband. But my mother's response made me realize something at age twelve that many adults still haven't figured out. God doesn't want us to be happy. God wants us to be holy.
We live in an age in which personal preference often takes precedence over God's principles. Driven by our own desires, we are quick to disregard the will of God if we deem that it might make our lives unpleasant. The stark truth is, the Christian life is often unpleasant. Sometimes it's downright unfair.
But we bring honor to God when we, through good times and bad, in sickness and in health, remain devoted to Him.
This is not to judge those who chosen divorce. I understand that all circumstances are different. But I also know that God is in the business of fixing broken things. He is truly able to do "immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)." And He most certainly came through for our family.
Some twelve years after my mom's declaration to me, God miraculously delivered my dad from his addiction. I was blessed beyond words to see my parents enjoy several years of life together, free from the effects of alcohol. I was able to reconcile with my dad and grow to love him for the gentle and kind man he really was. I came to understand that he was a good man who had a bad problem.
Before God took him home, I received Dad's permission to share our story with others who have experienced the horrors of alcoholism so that they, too, could discover hope and healing in the arms of a Heavenly Father who cares deeply for His kids. I have a sense that both of my fathers are proud.
I still find myself wondering, what if? What if my mom took the advice of her adolescent son? What if she decided to bail on her marriage? What if experiencing happiness in life was her primary motivator? And whenever my mind goes there I am overcome with gratitude for giving my mother the spiritual gift of stubbornness. Her uncompromising commitment to holiness has led to immeasurably more happiness than we could have asked or imagined.