So now what?
Two weeks ago, I released my newest book; “Nowhere to lay my Head: The True Story of a Homeless Dad.” I feel like I let out a giant breath. In a way, this book was a nine-year process. I spent six years living it, three years trying not to think about it much while I recovered from it, and six months reliving every painful moment as I wrote about it, formatted it, edited it, and finally published it.
There were times while I wrote about the painful situations I faced, that I cried harder in the remembrance than I did when it happened in the first place. Thinking about my daughter, and what she was enduring at the hand of her mother’s husband, was heart-rending. I’d forgotten that I’d been hired three times by companies that all eventually went out of business. I’d forgotten how it felt when my former pastor broke my heart by telling me I wasn’t handling my homelessness the way he thought I should have, and that I was betraying my faith by crying out in pain.
I’d forgotten how many nights it was cold beyond belief, and how I never quite got used to that. I’d forgotten how stifling hot it would get in the summers, when it would rain on those hot steamy nights and I couldn’t open the windows because the rain would get in, so I sweltered in my car. I’d forgotten how much trauma it caused to my daughter to have a homeless dad who wanted to help her, but couldn’t offer very much help.
I say I’d forgotten those things but I don’t think I did…I think I buried them. I denied their existence because it hurt too much, and I was too busy trying to survive it all. Then, when I finally found work and moved with my daughter, to Virginia and began the slow process of rebuilding; I just didn’t want to remember it for a while.
When it was finally time to write the book, it changed my behavior for a while. Each morning, as I rose at 4 a.m. to write before work and then each evening as I wrote before bed, I traveled back through shuttered rooms and behind locked doors in my heart. I had compartmentalized the entire six years and I only allowed myself to look at –and to feel- those parts that were “safe” to talk about.
I could feel myself turning darker as the months of writing passed. It was hard enough living through that for six years, now I was retracing every single, painful step and trying to recall, in exhausting detail, how it felt and how it affected me and what it did to my daughter. It overpowered me much of the time. My coworkers noticed. My daughter noticed. Eventually I noticed. Thankfully, the process ended right before everyone grew weary of me and friendships were damaged.
Everything about this book was hard. Everything. Even the title was a topic of debate and turmoil. I originally intended to call it: “A dad never quits” but a friend of mine reminded me that many dads do quit. A lot of dads would go through what I did for my family, but many would not, and the title seemed unfair to the families of the men who were quitters. I realized this and I explained to my friend that within the first few chapters, I defined what a real dad is, and that a real dad never quits, and if a man quits…he’s not a dad. But after we discussed it further, I realized she was right. Besides that, as I completed more and more of the book, I saw it morph from just a simple story of my homelessness, to an analogous tale of Christ’s homelessness. For a long time, I labored under the delusion that my faith was weak. That I had failed Jesus in my handling of this six-year walk through the desert of homelessness. I guess my former pastor’s harsh words had done more soul damage than I knew. I saw myself as something of a failure because I hadn’t smiled through my heartache and sung songs in my prison of homelessness, as Paul and Sylas did in jail. I thought I wasn’t much of a believer anymore because I hadn’t always handled my situation with an endless barrage of bible verses and modern worship songs.
I had cried. A lot. I had questioned God. I had tasted more failure in that six years than ever in my life and I hadn’t always liked the way it felt as it went down. I saw the damage done to my daughter and I was disillusioned by it all.
As I got deeper and deeper into the Faith aspect of the book, and as I wrote more and more about where my heart was in all this, I realized that I hadn’t done that badly after all. I didn’t smile sweetly while the whole world took a giant poo on me and then collapsed, but I didn’t quit either. I didn’t crawl inside a bottle, I didn’t turn to drugs, I didn’t rob a bank to survive.
I didn’t quit.
I didn’t stop trying. I didn’t stop believing. I didn’t get so exasperated that I just refused to take all the small, ignoble odd jobs I was working, in order to just put gas in my car.
I might not have had a faith that others wanted to emulate, but I hadn’t abandoned what faith I did have, either. It got stripped down to its core and burnished in the fires I was trapped in. But, by-God it was still standing.
Writing the book brought me face-to-face with the unsettled nature of my own soul. The “who am I and who does God want me to be?” questions that had already been nagging my heart long before I became a vagabond dad. Suddenly, “Nowhere to lay my Head” became the only possible title for this book. It made sense. It tied the ends together.
And so, two weeks ago this morning, I clicked a button and the baby was given life. So far I’ve given two interviews and people have responded positively. People are intrigued by the story. They are challenged and encouraged.
But now what?
What’s funny to me is that I still feel homeless. I have a home. Or at least a place to live. But I am a turbulent, brooding ocean inside. I have a job and a bed and a kitchen, something I did without for six years. In my heart, though, I am still walking those endless miles in Pinkerton Park in Franklin, TN…trying to find my way home.
More and more I feel that this story isn’t over yet. More and more I look to the horizon, wondering what is out there.
When I began this journey, my daughter was ten. Next week she’ll be nineteen.
I lost six very important years and I can never get them back. Those years were the most valuable thing I had and to be quite honest…I don’t feel that I’ve gotten a fair value in return for them. Not yet anyway.
Now what? What becomes of a man who turns 54 this fall and who’s heart still longs to dream, and battle, and accomplish, and conquer, but who has tasted far more defeat than he has victory, and whose hourglass has far more sand in the bottom than it does at the top? Where is my home?
I’m restless again. Which means –in some ways- I’m homeless again. The title of my book comes from Luke 9:58: “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Jesus said that to a man who claimed he would follow Him anywhere he asked. Brennan Manning calls it “the loneliest verse in the bible.” It’s lonely because, in the original language, it reads this way: “The Son of man has no place to lay His head, and take His rest.” It wasn’t just about a bed and a place to sleep. It was about a home. Home base. A safe spot in the world. Your turf.
I don’t know where mine is anymore. I don’t know where I go from here. My compass spins erratically sometimes and I can’t seem to find True North.
What now? What do I do with a story like this? What do I get for six years of struggle?
I’m no hero…I just did something heroic.
The truth is that I still have a heart full of regret. I would give anything to go back and have those six years with my little girl again. Only this time, to still have my home and my career. I am not yet at a place where I say “Yes…it was for something better.”
I know God had a plan and there was a purpose, I just don’t see it yet.
I have a job, and a place to live. But my soul…is still homeless. When I was living in my car, I’d often look into the night sky and angrily ask “What do you want from me?”
I’m not angry anymore, but sometimes I still look into the night sky. But these days I ask “What now?”