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Has anyone surprised you after their death, e.g. receiving an organ from a donor, a sizeable inheritance, or a visit from a friendly ghost?
This answer may contain sensitive images. Click on an image to unblur it.My father died when I was 11. I hated him — not for dying, but for the way he lived.The last time I saw him, I was 7 years old. That was the day he abandoned my mother and me after they had had another fight. He stole the family truck, which my mother had bought, and private investigators had to find it and bring it back. He was on his way home to Oklahoma after moving the whole family to Austin, Texas, where he swore he would get an education at the University of Texas. In reality, he just drank on the couch watching TV and going to play golf. This was after he and my mother married a few months earlier. She wanted her son to have a real father, but instead, she got him.When he took off, the divorce was obvious. It must have been humiliating to my mother, but she pushed through, even when the truck died on us halfway home from Austin to our family home in Oklahoma. He had apparently sabotaged the vehicle, leaving my mother and me, his 7 year old son, stranded in the middle of nowhere Texas. We were fortunate enough to be near a truck stop somewhere outside of Waco a few miles from where the truck broke. My uncle came some time around three in the morning to tow us back to my grandmother’s home. It was disgraceful. I hated him, and when she asked if he had ever physically hurt me, I lied. He had never touched me, with malice or caress for that matter, but the point was no crime had been committed. She saw through the lie, and I told the truth at the point I realized that she would be held responsible if I lied to get him in trouble.Still, she abandoned all rights to child support just so he had no part in raising me. It would make it hard, but it was probably the best choice she ever made for me. He wasn’t a good man. And so it passed that I never saw him again.As my memory serves, four years later, we were notified of his death when Social Security informed us by way of a letter to our home that we would be receiving SS benefits for the passing of my father. He had died of cirrhosis of the liver. He had drunk himself to death at 45.When my Mom explained what the letter meant, I cried. It doesn’t really matter how much a child can loathe his parents. When one finds out that one dies, it is an existential crisis, the first realization that we are mortal creatures and that nothing is timeless. Furthermore, a significant relationship has ended. There is no hope for a happier ending, no matter how happy, or in my case — tragic, it was. I mourned him, right there, sobbing on the table that still sits in our living room. I did this for about 5 minutes. Then I was done. My mourning process for my father lasted less than the average commercial break for my cartoons. I asked mom if I could go back to what I was doing. I wasn't all right of course, but I would manage. I probably went on for the rest of that day, played video games and checked out mentally to not deal with what was going on.I, of course, was curious about what killed my father and started asking my mom (a nurse, and for all intents and purposes, the knower of all things knowable about the human body) about what cirrhosis of the liver was. She explained to me that it was when the liver filters beyond the limit it was capable of doing. Cirrhosis of the liver isn’t something that surprises you. You don’t die of it in the way you die of a heart attack. There are no “liver attacks” that take a man’s life within the dance of a minute hand. It slowly just shuts down. He knew it was coming and said nothing to either of us. He didn’t even reach out knowing that we lived only 20 minutes away. We weren’t present when he died. We weren’t extended an invitation to the the funeral. We didn’t even know, not until Social Security informed us.Slowly? So he had time to see me before he died and didn't come see me? He didn't even try? How could he not even want to see me when he is going to die? How could he hate me so much?These are not questions an 11 year old handles very well.I remember that after that I hated even the idea of fathers. I was horribly jealous of the kids who had good dads and angry at mine for everything, even dying. I remember once when I was 13, I stayed the night at a friend's house. He told me about how his dad took the blade out of a Bic razor and showed him how to shave. I saw the bladeless razor and thought about my friend and his dad. The next night at my house I decided that I was going to shave myself. I took one of the razors and tried to figure it out. I got a few strokes and then cut my chin pretty badly. I jerked from the pain and a few drops of blood fell on the sink. It hurt a bit and I started to tear up. I started to think about Chris and how I wished his dad could just show me how to do it. I started wishing that I just had a dad to show me how not to cut myself shaving. I just wished so hard that I had a good dad. I wished my dad was good and was here to help me. I ran to my room and cried into my pillow. I think in that moment I felt such emptiness and resentment. I never hated my dad more than in those early years as I transitioned into manhood without anyone to show me how.But this isn't a story about hate. It is about forgiveness.I stayed very angry when I thought about my father, or really anyone lucky enough to have one. Progress the story forward to one night, when I was 16. My mother and I went for a drive around the lake. I don't really think that she had any plan to have some deep talk, just to spend time with me and perhaps to take advantage of teachable moments that may arise as we drove around the water. We talked a lot that night, and eventually it made its way to my father. I said that I hated him. I said that I know it makes no sense to hate someone after they were dead, but I did."Jon. There are some things you need to know..."She told me then that my father was a man who couldn't love.I didn’t understand how a person couldn’t love. I was cynical of even hearing the suggestion. I’d grown up in a loving household with my mother and Gan, my grandmother. I’d been raised in a loving church just down the street from my house. My teachers were caring and attentive, and brought out the best of me. Even my martial arts instructor had been like a father to me, teaching me lessons that often involved me dragging myself off the mat. The sole source of non-love in my life was the man I expected the most from. How could a person not love?As she explained, I was very different from my father.When he was a child he wasn't as fortunate as I was. His father was around. His father was an alcoholic, like mine, but unlike my father, his father beat him and his brothers as well as my paternal grandmother and from what mom was alluding to, more as well which remained ever unspoken.“To be funny,” she said, “he would get your dad drunk when he was 4. It was funny to see a child stumbling around, and slurring words he’d only just learned. Because of this your dad was an alcoholic before he was 14.” Among my uncles I think that my dad probably turned out all right by comparison. I believe two went to prison and one was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong or criminal assassination of some sort. I had another, Uncle Ed. He died of cancer. I’d like the record to show that though my memories of him are few, I remember I really liked him. He was apparently a very decent man in a family that tried its hardest to produce only bad ones.After a screwed up childhood, my father joined the military during Vietnam. I hadn’t known that. Even less, I had no idea he was a Green Beret, a member of the Army’s Special Forces. I don't know if he was ever deployed, but he trained others in knife fighting and other forms of hand to hand combat. From my time in the service with the Marines, I know that the uniform can greatly improve a man, but in the case of my dad and many others, I am afraid that the ideas of service and care for your country would likely get lost. The military's philosophies and training might only feed violent and hurtful tendencies towards others who lack the sense of honorable purpose and loyalty to country that drew me to joining after 9/11.I don’t blame the Army in the slightest. I’m very critical of people who say things like “The Army will be good for him. It will really set his life in order.” Contrary to the stereotype, the military isn’t a reform school. It doesn’t fix broken people. It can draw out the good in many, often amplifying already present greatness like a well honed sword made of good metal. For others, such as my dad, you just can’t hammer something which is broken into something that is fixed. My military experience made me into something I love being, but I just don’t think they could have done much for a person like that.It was many years after the Army that he met my mom. He told her often that he couldn't love, and to his credit, she didn’t listen. Thinking of his childhood, and how important the relationships I had were to who I am, I understand now what he meant. He couldn't love her, or me, or anyone — and certainly not himself. By the time I came around he was probably just a very broken man whom my mom was unfortunate enough to love.That night and the insight it brought was one of the life changing moments in my life. I’m not saying, “it was important.” I’m saying that if you had to narrow down your life to 10 moments that changed who you are, that was one of them. I had lived my whole life hating my father, a man who had done nothing worthwhile and now to see another side... a part he couldn't change and that he wasn't responsible for. He was born into a world he couldn't control, with people who didn't protect him or nurture him, or try to make him a good man. He was broken before he could have a chance to be good. I really don't know if Mom knew how important that night was to me, but it was perhaps the most important moment in my life where my relationship with my father was concerned.From here I went on for a few years. Every now and then I would have a quiet moment and my father would come up in my thoughts. Some time ago, I realized I didn't hate the man any more. I pitied him. How could you hate someone like that? Living the existence he did was punishment enough, let alone to be eternally resented by your offspring. And once I made that realization I looked at my life. I am kind and fair. I try to do good things and help others. I value intelligence and morality. I am a good husband who loves his wife very much. My family is proud of the things I do and how I treat them. Now I am a father and I look forward very much to teaching my daughter and her future siblings the things that make people good. I want my sons to be good men and my daughters to know what type of men to look for.This couldn't have happened if my father had been an active part of my life. I wonder if he knew that. I like to think that he always avoided me for that reason, but in any case, I am thankful that he wasn't there. It made me a better man. Of course, I still regret not having a dad in my life. It will always be a void that can't be filled, but when I think about what it was like growing up, hating a man who in so many ways forced me to be the individual I am today, I have to say this is better. I am glad that I now know what it should mean to be a father, and even though I have to invent how to do it myself, the ideal I always wanted growing up is serving as a decent compass and my father’s mistakes the lighthouse guiding me from the rocks.I am glad that I can tell my children about their grandfather, who served honorably during a very trying time in our nation’s history. He was an elite warrior, far greater than their daddy ever was and that is something our family can always be proud of. He can also serve as an example that there are people in this world who are truly suffering. They are broken and scarred and won't treat us the way we treat them. They won't love us back. We don't have to keep these people close, but hate won't get us anything. Hating my dad was something I did when I was a scarred, hurt, and very resentful little boy. But when I learned to understand and forgive him was probably the moment when I started being a man. In some small way, I like to think that was his only way to help me do that.I never learned any of this until after he died, but because of that knowledge I’m now a man who can give his daughter more hugs and kisses in a day than I ever received from my father in a lifetime, and who can read “Love Monster and the Perfect Present” in the funny voice to a tiny girl who is elated every time I smile at her.Thank you for reading. If you liked this answer, please upvote and follow The War Elephant. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to learn how. All donations greatly appreciated!
The Bible says to feed the hungry and give shelter to those who don’t have a shelter. Why is it that most churches don’t allow poor, homeless, street people to sleep in their church?
I have been homeless. I know what it is like to have no place to go for warmth or comfort. There was a time where many people gathered in certain areas for whatever enlightment, utopian dream, or just plain hedonistic pursuit caused them to migrate almost like lemmings over a cliff into the sea. During this time, some churches really did open their doors to accommodate people. I was a recipient of some of that. One church allowed people like us to sleep on the floor in their activity centers. Mind you, this was an age when people picked up hitchhikers with far less worry than now, and huge numbers of mentally ill and low-level criminals were not among the throngs of young “seekers”. Even then the churches that tried to help these people brought unsavory, unkempt and disrespectful people into their towns and neighborhoods, and put their own communities at risk. Even though I appreciated that it was there at the time, I could not help but think “they won’t be able to keep this up for long”. And, they did not. Those places all stopped doing what they were doing. It was not working. All that it did was encourage a form of itinerant tourism taking advantage of the generosity of others but never really availing themselves of the offer of help to change their life circumstances in a meaningful way.Now I have been on the other side of this situation for decades. Here is what I have learned.Churches, charities and missions exist that offer aid and comfort. It is quite demanding, in terms of fixed assets, utilities, food, clothing and manpower. We can’t just leave the light on and the door unlocked for people to “crash” there at will. In these homeless communities people prey upon each other. We don’t want to set up a place where people are wandering in off the streets, urinating anywhere they want, defecating in the corners, puking up their White Port, and having sex with each other, sometimes with unwilling partners. The homeless don’t really want to leave when the sun comes up either. They don’t clean the place, and they often don’t appreciate that decent people have really put out for them. Most of all, they don’t improve. What they do is tell all the people they meet where all the “free stuff” is, so your kindness is soon taxed out of existence by the loads of people who want something for nothing. However, dedicated places do exist with rules and people there to enforce them. If a person thinks “someone” should do “something”, how about you roll up your sleeves and volunteer, if you care so much. Or, give us some money. I guarantee you the Salvation Army does it right. They offer emergency assistance, have at least some shelters, places to eat, places to get counselling, even some live-in facilities for a bit longer term therapy and help. They do a lot with a little, and they will make your charity dollar stretch a long, long way, so get out that checkbook and give like you gave a damn, since you were so kind as to bring up the need.Maintaining a house of worship as a house of worship is no cheap affair in and of itself. Even a well behaved congregation with jobs puts a lot of wear and tear on a place. Add in an undisciplined group of mentally ill people, alcoholics and drug addicts to an empty church building and youare forced to spend money, and a lot of it, for upkeep, forcing a congregation, many of whom do not feel like they signed up for this, to foot the bill.provide a place for people who are up to no good to congregate, sell drugs, recruit prostitutes, or prey on others, putting your own volunteers in danger as you do it.incur problems with city and county officials because of health, safety and zoning restrictions. Damage to neighboring properties could generate lawsuits for operating a public nuisance.create a problem with insurance. Premiums would indeed go up, and go up a lot. Really, the pastor who thought this would be a great idea would probably be voted out at after the next Treasurer’s report.At the end of the day, the mandate to be generous and helpful is given to individuals, not organizations. Even then the Bible tells us that we must first take care of our own households. “He that fails to provide for his own household is worse than an infidel…” the Apostle Paul declares. In another place, he tells people (while exhorting them to give generously to famine relief) that the giving is gauged by what you can afford. He said “I do not mean for you to be burdened so that others may be eased”. Churches give to a great many things, including helping people like this. Just because you do not see a sign on the auditorium saying “Open 24/7 - byo sleeping bag” does not mean we do not do meaningful things for people who are hurting.When is the last time you donated to help the Muslims in Myanmar? We are Christians here, and we have sent money to people of a faith not even our own. Our people here sent money to New Zealand after a madman shot up a mosque. We support both the Salvation Army and St. Vincents (it is Catholic, and don’t get me started about how much Catholics do to relieve suffering around the world. They get a bad rap, but they do incredible things, thanklessly and tirelessly). Go ahead. Get involved.Homelessness is not the fault of the church. Jesus said “The poor you have with you always, and when you will, you may do good unto them”. We do not have a gun to our heads to give. It is always voluntary. If Jesus says even He is not going to force us to live up to some impossible standard, we sure as heaven are not going to let some critics out in the world push us into it. We just say “Put your money where your mouth is”. We do.
Why do so many people have bad memories of church as a kid?
Church of people that… (Childhood and Sissy Series)My parents were not religious by any means, so exposure to church was a hit or miss event that happened during my childhood. My mother’s side of the family was Latter-Day Saint, Mormon, and my father’s father was Seventh Day Adventist. These two theological beliefs were not in alignment; this did not matter because neither cared about religious premises. The church that they prayed to was one of drugs and alcohol. My dad’s older sister was a churchgoer and that is where my first exposure to church came from in my life.In the fall of 1982, we moved to Greeley, not too far from my aunt. Her church had a little bus the came around our trailer court and pick-up children to attend Sunday school. She had convinced my parents to let my sister and I ride the little bus on Sundays to church. I am sure the allure of having both my sister and me out of their hair was the element that cemented the deal. Sissy was too little to attend Sunday school but she would sit with my aunt throughout church service; I went with the other children my age. I enjoyed the adventure of getting to go to church. I would color pictures, they would tell us children stories about this Jesus guy, then before we would get on the bus to go home, everyone would gather in this huge kitchen area and have snacks and Kool-aid. When you are six years old that equaled a good time. I remember sitting on my aunt's lap eating my snacks and melting into her softness. My Aunt Janie was kind and sweet. She was always gentle and quick to laugh. The fact that I was guaranteed to see her once a week, was the icing on the cake about going to church.It was Christmas of 1982, the church was having their annual pageant. The older children were auditioning for roles of various things. The smaller children, my group, were going to sing a song. There was a role that the pageant director wanted a small child for in the play: the star of Bethlehem. The “stars” role was to sit on a swing above the manger and declare the birth of Jesus. The problem was finding a child who could memorize the large stanza of information. My aunt asked me if I would like to try to be the pageant “star.” I agreed not knowing what it meant only that I would be in the play and my aunt would be proud. She read me the lines, having me recite them back to her. I had them memorized by the time I was finished with my snack. I stayed after the bus this day with my aunt, waiting for my turn to say my lines. The lines were beautiful like a song I remember thinking. There were a lot of other children in front of me who had people prompting them with words or they were speaking weird and choppy. My mom called that talking like a robot; she would beat the snot out of me for speaking like a robot. It was my turn to say my lines.I remember standing on the stage, smiling at my aunt’s big happy smile, then I recited my lines almost lyrically. My aunt was so proud she shared a candy bar out of her purse with me. My aunt took me home and gushed over how proud she was of me. Later that week, my aunt came over to the house to say I will play the “star” in the Christmas pageant. I practiced my lines faithfully, my costume was fitted. The day came for the pageant, my mother would not allow me to go because I had a black eye, courtesy of her. When I went to church after the Christmas pageant, that I was already heartbroken to have missed, I was treated terribly by the adults. I had ruined their play by not showing up the evening of the pageant. (They didn’t say these things in front of my aunt.) The children even began to treat me bad because their parents did. I then quit going on the little bus to church.I had a few other fragmented exposures to church before a different church bus was coming through our trailer court to pick-up children for Vacation Bible School. The other kids in the neighborhood were going and my mom would have looked like a bad mother if she didn’t allow my sister and me to attend. This was the Salvation Army Church that collected all of us poor children to find Jesus. We would listen to stories about Jesus, sing some songs, and be fed a snack. We were told that we needed to bring money to donate to the church, that we could be blessed. Our blessing would return our money back to us, in the form of blessings. I didn’t understand that when I gave my donation I wouldn’t be getting it back. The way the donation and blessing circle sounded to my young naive ears was: put into donation container to get blessings and then you get your money back. It was a temporary loan to God.“Sissy and I could sure use some blessings,” I can remember thinking. I had been saving pennies in my little red coin purse. I had just shy of a dollar. A dollar was enough money to buy five full-size candy bars. A dollar was a fortune to a kid like me who went hungry on a regular basis and lived in extreme poverty. I had been saving coins so Sissy and I could have a new notebook each plus some pencils when school started in the fall. I thought about the change in my coin purse and the blessing it could get Sissy and me; the next day I would loan God my money. The next night at church, when the preacher called for donations I proudly walked to the front of the church and emptied my whole content of my coin purse onto the drum face that served as a collection plate. I can still hear the thudding of the drum as the pennies rained down. That thudding was announcing to God to bless Sissy and me. I half skipped back to my seat and listen to the rest of the church service.The service ended, I raced up to the front to collect my pennies before the bus would take us home. I had just started counting my pennies when the preacher came up and smacked my hand for stealing from God. I did some yelling about the church stealing my money. The preacher and some other adults were yelling at me about stealing from God. I was in tears explaining why I needed that money back that I loaned to God. It was no good; I went home without a penny and all the adults at church were mad at me. The next day the bus came to pick up the children in the neighborhood, the bus pulled up everyone got on the bus. I was hanging back still a little upset about the day prior. The bus driver stopped me before I got on saying, “It would be best if you didn’t come to church anymore.” I was embarrassed all the kids were going and I got kicked out of the church, all because I wanted blessings. I was out my money and going to church because I was greedy and wanted blessings, on top of everything else.We moved to a new town; our neighborhood was dotted with little churches of varying faiths. In our more closely networked community, my mother decided that Sissy and I should not go to church because she didn't attend and it would make her look like a bad mother. We would sneak and go to church sometimes because there would be something interesting going on at one of the churches. When we did attend we got the same cold treatment. We were not welcome. Mom found out about half the time when we went to church and there was Hell to pay. I got enough beatings without adding the church beatings.Church as a child left me disgusted with people. The message that was being preached, wasn’t what was being modeled. I decided the best church was just being outside. When I was outside alone I could converse with God freely without judgment.I can look back and see how I was treated at church as a child, visualizing the moments that crushed my relationship with church attendance. There are many more incidences that are not written here but were painful in their own right. If your feelings are hurt why would you want to attend?
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