Monday, March 19, 2018

FIRST PLACE: A Hoarder’s Heart by Mari LaVell

December 22, 2015 by  
Filed under 2015 Christmas, HGIM, Monthly Articles

Place-1On Christmas Eve I pulled my SUV into the virgin snow of my dad’s driveway. Everything appeared exactly how I expected. No sign of life and stacks of newspapers, empty Folger’s cans, boxes and junk cluttered the front porch and appeared to be holding the dilapidated house erect.

Dad wasn’t always a hoarder, but he certainly became a classic case the past fifteen years.

I noticed a faint light through the blinds and whispered a quick prayer before I trudged through the snow. “God, give me one more chance to reason with him.”

With his hoarder hermit lifestyle, Dad refused to have contact with his three kids and probably didn’t even realize he had seven grandchildren.

My hand trembled when I pushed the key into the deadbolt. The stench of rotting food and urine assaulted my nostrils. Dad was slumped in his chair, wrapped in a wool blanket. My chest tightened and I saw my breath-fog when I exhaled.

I closed my eyes and the previous night’s dream was etched like a black silhouette against a bright light. I could see Dad’s cluttered house with a bright star shining over and behind it. I knew it was time to come to him.

“Dad?” I eyed my potential path through the piles of junk.

No response. I poked my way across the room to where he sat in the faint light of a table lamp. Inches away from checking for a pulse, I saw his eyes flutter.

“Teddy?” His voice cracked from lack of use.

“Yeah, Dad, it’s me.”

He tried to lick his dry lips and struggled to speak. “Why… What…”

Sh-h-h. Let’s get you to the hospital.”

I cleared a maneuverable path from his chair all the way to my car, started the engine, cranked up the heat and turned on the seat warmer. Back in the house, I scooped up the shell of what once was an organized, dignified engineer.

Christmas music played on the radio and Dad hummed along. I smiled as his toe tapped gently on the floorboard.

Once we arrived at the hospital they scooted Dad off on a gurney to check him out while I spoke to the doctor. I told him about Dad’s decline and obsessive hoarding. I stared at the floor trying to find the words to sum it all up. All I could do was shrug my shoulders.

The doc placed a hand on my back. “Let’s go see what the nurses have for starters.”

We walked in to find Dad hooked up to all sorts of beeping and blinking things. Color began to tint his cheeks and it appeared his dry blistered lips were even cared for. After a bazillion tests, they moved Dad to a room and the doc pulled me aside to chat.

“Here’s the bottom line, Ted. He’s undernourished, dehydrated, anemic and not taking his meds. His heart is very weak and his will to live is even weaker. His hoarder lifestyle is not a safe environment to send him home to. I can make an appointment for you to meet with a social worker within the hospital to discuss your options, but I think you need to prepare to say goodbye to your father.”

“I understand.”

I ran my hand over my goatee and my eye caught the hospital’s nativity scene in the lobby. In the distance, from the angle I was sitting, the chapel’s crucifix some twenty yards away, appeared to hover over the stable’s roof.

“I need to talk to him. I need to be sure he’s ready.”

Dad was asleep when I found his room. I used my phone to play Christmas music in the background so he would hear it when he woke up. Two hours later I awakened to him humming Silent Night.

“You know Teddy…my daddy was a preacher man.” His words were slow and quiet.

“Yep, I’m aware of that fact.”

“And you’re a preacher man.”

I chuckled. “True that.”

“I was supposed to be a preacher man,” he glanced sideways at me.

“I figured as much.”

After a long stretch of silence I finally asked the question that all three of us kids wondered. “What stopped you from the call of ministry?”

“The call of money,” Dad answered; flat and simple. “I was tired of being poor and leaving all my possessions behind every time my daddy felt ‘God called him onward’. I wanted stability and money.”

I thought he had drifted off again until I saw the tear trickle down his wrinkled skin. I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, my face a mere inches from his.

“Here’s how I see it, Dad,” I cleared my throat and scooted even closer. “You went without material goods as a poor preacher’s kid. You lived without a loving relationship from a self-righteous, driven, old-time preacher. Emptiness was all you knew.”

Tears flowed silently, creating a tiny stream with a final destination on the pillow behind his ear.

“When all of us kids moved on as adults, you began to feel the familiar pangs of emptiness. That’s when you started to ‘collect things’. Then you lost your life’s work when that low-life business partner stole your ideas. But the final blow was when Mom died. You not only cluttered your home, but you cluttered your heart.”

His lip began to quiver.

“I noticed when I walked into the house, a narrow path that led to your chair. I had to clear that path to prepare room for me to carry you out to the car.”

I paused to let that image sear into his brain. “I believe you also have a path, be it narrow as can be, that leads to your heart. Can I help you prepare that path to let Jesus back in?”

Dad’s face contorted as he fought the threatening sobs.

“What’s cluttering the path, Dad? Stop hoarding bitterness.”

The dam busted. Dad’s full-on bawling, prepared a wide path for the Savior.

And heaven and nature sang.


ThelanderMari lives life wrapped in her husband’s arms; latte in one hand, chocolate in the other, and frequently a mischievous smile. Married 34 years to her pastor, she has three adult children and 6 grandchildren. In everything she does, she longs to please her Abba-daddy, but often thinks He is amused with her when she struggles to get her ADD, middle-aged, mind to focus long enough to accomplish what He whispers in her ear.  


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