So last month, I earnestly prayed that my heart would begin to break. That I would become soft again to the heart of God, that I would see my children and others in a different light and learn to love again. Fully love. Well, God has been at work. Many, many of these stories are for another time, as they are still developing and transforming me. But I'd like to share a story from today, one that, as I continue to process my day and the events that happened, I'm finding it hard to not cry and just sit, mulling it over. Instead, I will write. It's what I do.
I'm not sure how much of someone else's story I should share, but I've realized that my level of deep, sometimes severe, transparency comes from my dad's side of the family. My half-siblings and I don't seem to hide much. So I will share, and if I offend, I'm sure they will tell me. :)
I have 4 half-siblings. Travis is 38 and his parents are Jan and Gary. I am 36 and my parents are Faye and Gary. Earlydawn is 35, Brandy is 33, and Willie is 31 and their parents are Renee and Gary. We also recently found out that we may have a new sister, Howi, who falls somewhere in between Earlydawn and Brandy. I met Early, Brandy and Willie when I was in 3rd grade. We went to school together. They knew I was their sister, but I had no clue who they were. I actually lived 2 blocks from my dad, and had interactions with the "crazy Indian guy down the street" a few times prior to meeting him...but never knew he was my dad. He knew me though.
When I was 8, I was introduced to my dad and siblings. The emotions that have accompanied that over the years are, once again, not a post for today. But I loved those siblings from day one, although I didn't always know what to do with them or how to "be" a sister. As we grew up, I was very close to Earlydawn since we were the same age and grade and kind of felt like twins (we're 9 months apart), and to Willie since he was the only boy and the baby (I have only met Travis 2 times, so he didn't really count growing up). Brandy and I haven't always been as connected but I have always loved her just the same, and love so much about her. In the past year, we've really started to talk more and I love that.
So, fast forward a bit. Willie is 16, I'm 21. He's moving out of Dad's house. I never really talked a lot to my dad. I was never really comfortable doing it, uneasy about the different lives we lived and his "issues" he had. Oh yeah, I was also a bit self-righteous and persnickety. If he was alive, and I could do things differently, I would love him where he's at in his life journey, and accept his love even though it didn't come packaged exactly as I thought it should. Again, post for later times. Anyway, Willie is planning to go live with our Aunt and Uncle, but spends a week with me. It was one of the best weeks I remember ever having. I had a little brother to drag around with me. We laughed, he played softball with my boyfriend and our church team, we ate out and saw movies, he got to have family dinners at my house (which was dysfunctional in it's own way, but not a lot of people ever saw that. I know, save it for another post). At the end of that week, I was able to use one whole paycheck to buy him school clothes before I took him down to Salem. After that week, we didn't really see much of each other. He came back a few months later for my wedding, then years would go by. We'd run into each other here and there, but really...nothing. I heard about him, but I wasn't really talking to any of the siblings.
Then my dad got very ill, and after about 2 weeks, he died. I saw the siblings, but they were all in a very different place in life than I was. I had a baby and was a good, law abiding, prissy, church lady type girl. (I say this very sarcastically--I was uptight and rigid in my beliefs and lifestyle). Way different lives. Their journey through dad's death was not the same as mine. I'm grateful for my support system, but devastated that they understood and experienced Dad's love in a way I never will. I'm elated that I do not have the challenges and baggage they've accumulated since his death, but my heart breaks over those challenges and baggage. Enter my heartbreak (you knew I'd get around to the point of this at some point this year, right?)
Today, my younger brother Willie, who has always, always had a different kind of hold on my heart (all of us girls' hearts, I think) was released from prison after 2 years. He's not the only convict in our group, so don't think too badly of him. :) Just so it's clear, he was imprisoned for theft. He had a very serious drug problem (he's not the only Hopkins to struggle with addiction)...his problem led to choices that weren't so smart. What's still undecided is if his drug problem preceded his mental problems, or if the drugs CAUSED the mental problems. But he has some severe mental problems as well. So today, us 3 sisters drove to Olympia, all of us contributing in different ways to clothes, underclothes, suitcase, hygiene items, junk food, and the best thing...an mp3 player. Could you imagine 2 years without music?
Anyway, us sisters set him up as best we could, with our limited resources. Did you know that most prisoners get released with NOTHING? Just a small box of they're personal stuff and some prison issued clothes (which at the end of the night, he gave his prison issued coat to Brandy since we got him a new one, and he left his prison shoes there...guess who walked away with those shoes? That's right, I'm not about to let only Brandy have some cool prison garb!!) We fed him a bit, spent some time with him, and laughed with him...then got him on the bus on his way to live with our other brother, the kind of absent one, in another state.
It was so great to see Willie again, to help him, to love on him. But I'm so scared for him too. I saw the mental illness, although I DID see "my" Willy in there still too. I also saw the pain in his eyes, the determination to succeed this time, the tiredness, the desire for hope, the need for survival but maybe a lack of faith that he could...I wanted so badly to transfer my faith to him. The faith that he could do this, that life will not always be hard, that things CAN be better. But how do you tell that to someone who has never, ever, ever had an easy life?
He has never lived a life that he wasn't expected to be, at some level, self-sufficient. Both his parents are dead, they were both addicts of some kind, one was a convict as well...does anyone ever really stop and think that our comfortable lives, our nice clothes and cars, our kids' music lessons and CYT classes and sports teams, our warm churches and food on the table and reliable job...that there are hurting people out there who DO NOT know what that is? I'm so struck by the canyon between his life and mine, that we could be from the same gene pool (well, 50% shared) yet have such different lives.
My heart is just breaking for him, because I love him and I want to make his life better. But I can't. It has to come from his resolve and his decisions. It's also breaking because of the stupid mental illness. There are parts of Willie that will never, ever come back because of it. I miss those parts. I don't want to see what's left of him disappear into the illness. I don't know what his future holds and I find myself so scared. But I'm also so grateful to have seen him, and don't want 11 years to go by before I see him again. And I need to look around at my comfortable life and see why I find so much to whine about?
William Earl Hopkins, I love you. Earlydawn and Brandy love you. Madeleine loved meeting you and seeing us all together. You CAN do this. You have so much inside you that is fantastic, and you CAN survive this road you've been placed on and persevere over the darkness.
Anyway, that's how God is breaking my heart today, on this journey to better loving. I also really saw today how I used humor to deal with life. My motto is if you can't laugh at the lemons life hands you, then why bother living? There's really so much that happened that was hilarious that wouldn't have happened if my brother wasn't a convict with mental illness...so I'll take it. I'll be grateful that there was a reason to laugh, and that he's alive for me to love. I'll just take it.