Picking Up the Pieces
by Penny Ann Rice
1986, for the New Life Zoa Free Paper
This article is especially for those who have felt the powerful effects of being in a broken home. It is the story of how God can pick up the scattered pieces of our lives and restore the joy of being who we are. It is a challenge to know the emotional healing that comes from forgiving and loving those in our families who have hurt us.
My parents, especially my father, had planned not to have children. World War II had ended only a few years before; and it would take time and money to build the lifestyle that Gertrude and Harrison Bean dreamed of. “Gertie”, an attractive brunette, had put off marriage until age 31. She had become bitterly tired of growing up “without” during the Great Depression and wanted to make sure she would have a better life when she married. She and “Hal” were working toward that goal when Gertie became pregnant with me in 1949. Although both of my parents were proud and happy when I was born on February 15, 1950, their dream became more unrealistic as the years went by. My mother devoted her time to raising me, and Daddy went from job to job. Arguments heated up to physical abuse and separation, an attempt at reconciliation, and then finally Daddy left for good. I can still remember seeing—through three year old eyes—Daddy slamming the front door behind him, the chenille door curtains swaying from the impact, and my mother bursting into tears on the sofa.
Life remained fairly secure for me, however, even though Mom had to go back to work to support us. Her parents lived on the other side of the duplex house and were my babysitters during the day. Every weekday in the late afternoon I would sit on the porch steps and watch the heavy traffic go by on First Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, until my mother would come home from her secretarial job at the veteran’s hospital. We were very close and she worked so hard to make sure our lives were pleasant—too hard. Shortly after I entered the first grade, cancer began its two-year rampage in her body.
By the time she went to a doctor, it was too late. A month after my eighth birthday, she was gone. Her death was not published in the papers, because my mother’s family did not want my father to claim custody of me. And so grandparents, aunts, and uncles all pitched in to take care of me for the next ten years.
I often wondered what happened to my father, but it was not until after I was married and had three children that I really made a serious attempt at finding him. Since yielding my life to Jesus Christ and letting His love saturate the lonely, hurting areas of my heart, I had forgiven my father for abandoning us; and I wanted him to come to know Jesus too. This became my prayer since 1980. For six years I have made sporadic and unsuccessful attempts to find my father. The biggest problem in doing this was not knowing his birth date, place of birth, or social security number. In fact, all I knew was that he had been in World War II in the Army Air Corps.
But the Word of God promises that if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. This year God unlocked the mystery of what happened to my father after he disappeared out of my life thirty-three years ago!
It all began on a very ordinary Saturday when I was training one of our office workers on mailing list correction word down at the New Life Evangelistic Center headquarters in St. Louis. We were “knee-deep” in paperwork, when a woman came in the office to volunteer her time. Normally she worked up in the Channel 24 television department, but that day there was no one to supervise her, so she decided to help in our office. Now, I am quite used to the Lord sending in people to help when we are knee-deep in work, but I didn’t know that He sent this woman to also help answer my prayer about my father.
As I talked with her, the thought kept rattling around in my brain: “Ask here where she works!” Finally I asked her and what she told me sent chills up and down my spine. She said, “The National Archives for the US Armed Forces.” Immediately I told her about my father and she explained that, with everything now on computer, she could search his records just by his name! The information she gave me three days later sent me on a tailspin for three months as I tried to determine if, indeed, the records she found were those of my father. In a way I wanted to believe that they weren’t. . . . the records revealed death by heart attack on June 24, 1983!
The records also stated he was born in 1902, meaning he was forty-seven when I was born—instead of forty as it appeared on my birth certificate. I tried several other sources of information, including my mother’s work records from the VA hospital, but could not determine if this were really my father. Then the Lord gave me the idea of calling the hospital in North Chicago where this man had died in 1983. I prayed specifically that God would have me talk to the right person. . . and sure enough, a very understanding social worker read me everything she could over the phone from his medical records.
Then she got the adrenalin flowing in my veins by informing me of his two daughters who both lived in Illinois! She did not know if they were natural or step-daughters, but one of them was “incompetent” in a nursing home. The other was named Judy and she did not know her age or anything about her, except that she was married and working. I almost flipped when this kind social worker gave me Judy’s home phone number!
After praying for about a week, I called the number. It took several tries before we finally caught each other at home, but on July 21, 1986 at around 7:45pm my mind was finally at rest! This man born in 1902 was my father, and Judy and I are half-sisters! She was born in August of 1960—when Daddy was 57! He had never told her about me or my mother, although he did tell her about his first daughter, Dorothy (born in 1923!) who is in the nursing home.
As Judy and I have corresponded since that night in July, we’ve discovered that our father was married four and possibly five times and live a life of much deceit and instability. But I also saw in him real kindness and loyalty in some of the remembrances that Judy has of him. Her mother also died of cancer when she was eight, and Daddy placed her in foster care after that. It is amazing how much we had in common as we grew up victims of the vicious cycle of our father’s instability. But we have both learned the joy of forgiving and even loving him, in spite of the rough times.
I do not know if Daddy is in heaven. . . but I do think it’s exciting to realize that God put it on my heart to begin praying for his salvation three years before he died!
In the meantime, it is so wonderful to see God picking up the scattered pieces of Harrison Bean’s children’s lives and bringing us together in a unique way. Judy and her husband Mark plan to come to St. Louis during the Thanksgiving holidays. How good it will be to hold my very own sister in my arms and spend time getting to know her! And I haven’t forgotten our sixty-three year old sister Dorothy. She suffers much from dabetes, but she can communicate to a certain extent. So my desire is to love her through letters and, of course, in my prayers.
In the midst of all my search for the truth about my father, I discovered an exciting and almost ironic fact: my father was the son of a minister—Rev. James Madison Bean of St. Clair, Tennessee! In spite of a wayward son, God did not forget the grandchildren of His servant, James Bean! Truly, God is a God of the fatherless. He watched over Judy and Dorothy and me all these years and. . . only He could bring us together in spite of all the odds against it! And I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us girls in the future!