Hope is a necessity where I come from by Brenda Chand
My earliest memory began when I was about two years old. I woke up and couldn’t find my mother. I asked my dad: “Where is Mommy?”
“She’s gone.” That’s all I remember him saying.
We lived in a one-bedroom trailer in Michigan, and snow covered the ground. I got dressed and went outside to look for her. I found her headscarf on the porch railing. She had run away in the middle of the night. Even in my two-year-old mind I knew she had not abandoned my sister and me. That wasn’t her nature.
Mom came back, and only years later did I learn what had happened. Dad frequently got drunk and abused her. That time, she had run out of the trailer in such a hurry that she didn’t put on her shoes and dropped her scarf on the railing. She had run into the Michigan snow and spent the night in a little shed. There she found some old books and used their pages to wrap around her feet.
For most of my childhood, we lived in terrible poverty. There were five children, and at times, all seven of us lived in one room. Dad never stopped drinking, at least not for long. It became a predictable pattern. We would move, Dad would get a good job, everything would seem fine, and then he’d get fired for drinking on the job or fighting with someone.
Childhood, of course, wasn’t happy. He didn’t beat us the way he did Mom. For us, it was mostly verbal and emotional abuse with occasional physical abuse. We begged her to leave him. “We’ll do anything we have to do. Just leave him. Let’s get out of here.”
She wouldn’t do that. She stayed with him until the day he died.
Dad would never let my mom go to church. If she did, she had a high price to pay. He insisted she was only going there to meet a man. I heard that accusation for years. But she often went anyway, and she made sure we went with her.
In time I went forward in church to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. I was afraid of what dad would say about it. Surprisingly he gave me a hug and then said, “You’re not at the age of accountability. Don’t worry about this stuff too much.”
That was the only hug I remember receiving from him in my life.
Dramatic scenes of violence, poverty and fearfulness dominated my childhood and teenage years. Hard physical labor was required by my dad of the entire family. Many times, like the opening scene of a movie, my mom would flee from the house in the middle of the night with the threat of a loaded gun or knife staring her in the face with five children in tow. At the age of roughly five and six my sister and I worked long hours preparing fields, maintaining and harvesting crops. All of the proceeds went to support the family. We were robbed of the spontaneity and wonderment that comes with being children. I became extremely self-conscience and feared that if I opened myself up in any way, it would result in more embarrassment and hurt. From my developmental years emerged a shy, introverted, serious adult trapped in a child’s body. My only escape was my imagination. I resorted to dreaming often since I could control the outcome of my fantasies.
It wasn’t until much later—after my husband, Sam, had been pastoring at my home church for eight years—that things changed with my father. He had never come to his own kids’ church plays or programs. But with the birth of grandchildren, he acted differently. He loved the kids and showered them with attention in ways he had never shown us. It was during that time that I realized (with my husband’s help) that my dad was a good man. The monsters in his growing up years were even more scary than mine.
Dad’s lifestyle began to take its toll. One Sunday night he was really sick, and he knew it. He said to my mother, “I think I’m going to church tonight.”
“Well, I think I’m going, too,” Mama said.
When Dad walked into the back of the church, our eyes met. Tears filled both our eyes, and I knew—even though we had not said a word—that he was a changed person.
Something was different and it showed. He prayed and read his Bible often. Many times, he asked Sam to come over and pray with him. Yes, he was a changed man.
One Sunday afternoon, I sensed that Dad was nearing the end of his life. As a pastor’s wife, I had done everything in the church that day from teaching Sunday School to visiting the nursing home. I never missed a service. But I felt I needed to miss church that evening and go to see my father.
I had a mission, a very simple one.
I had never heard my dad say, “I love you.” And I had never said, “I love you” to him. My mission that night—and it had to be that night—was to tell him that I loved him. Although I didn’t expect to hear him say the words to me, I hoped he would.
At the hospital we were alone in his room, but we wouldn’t have much time together because Mom and my sister were on the way.
As I looked down at him, I thought, It’s now or never. Several times I opened my mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. I prayed silently, pleading with God to help me. I had to say the words to him while he was alive to hear them.
I took a deep breath and said, “Dad, do you know that I love you?”
“Well, I’d whip you if you didn’t.”
“But do you know that I love you?”
“Well, that’s all any of us have.”
It wasn’t much of an answer, but it was all he was able to give, and I knew it. I also realized then that he’d never speak the words I wanted most to hear.
As I continued to stare at him, I began to feel foolish. He’s going to get better tomorrow, I thought, and when he does, he’ll laugh at me. This will become a big joke to him.
Dad didn’t laugh at me.
He died the next day.
Even as the tears flowed, I realized how close I had come to never telling him that I loved him. Though I’d never hear those three words from him, I had done the right thing.
For many of my monsters growing up I just fled from the scene, but that night I faced the monster of vulnerability. For my life’s story I have borrowed a phrase from Russell Crowe in the movie “The Water Diviner.” I say as he did, “Hope is a necessity where I come from.” So it is in most of our lives at some point.
Looking globally today, so many people are either fleeing monsters or facing up to monsters. Many are making choices and being judged and condemned for them. How can we do that without having any knowledge of another’s monster nor how long and hard their battle has been? Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the mind set of “casting hope and not stones?” I am convinced that “hope” is the single most important need of the world today. Be a hope leader!
This article was extracted from issue 8 of Thrive Today! Journal (Winter 2023).