I jokingly tell my younger brother that, of the two of us, I am the perfect one–while he was the troublesome child, I was a model of decorum. We joke that if he’d been born first, my parents would have been so dismayed they never would have had a second child. Unlike many children, including my brother Berry, I actually liked to follow rules. When I started school, I enjoyed homework, so getting it finished before watching TV wasn’t a difficult choice. At bedtime, I might have asked for five more minutes, but if Mom and Dad said no, I wasn’t one to argue.
My brother was an entirely different matter. He infuriated teachers in elementary school when he never turned in homework and fell asleep in class, but when asked a question, he could amaze them with his intellect. And bedtime was a constant battle. Frequently, he’d sneak out his bedroom into the hallway and peer around the bookshelf where he had a perfect view of the TV. Often, my parents would find him curled up on the floor asleep when they finally went to bed.
My mother likes to tell an anecdote about the two of us. As an infant, if I were upset or tired, my parents needed only to put me into my crib. Being confined in that safe, enclosed space was enough to calm me down and put me to sleep. My brother, born three years later, was never satisfied with being enclosed. He was the child who climbed out of the crib and balanced on top of the bars. He was the one to take risks in order to escape.
Looking back at my life, I can see that this desire for safety, and the necessity of being in control, ruled my life. One day, when I was perhaps three or four years old, I was walking down the sidewalk back home from my best friend’s house next door. A strange man was walking across the street and moved to cross it. All I knew was that he was a stranger, and strangers were bad. As I walked up the driveway to my house, I could see my father through the latticed fence, but that fence separated me from him. And I knew that fence needed to separate me from the stranger.
I screamed. I ran. I struggled to get the gate open, and I felt the strange man walking closer to me. Finally, the latch released, and I was able to get inside, to safety. I still remember the immense feeling of relief as the gate slammed shut behind me. I remember running inside, running to safety. Just running.
My brother and I are both in our twenties now. Berry’s a firefighter. Not much has changed for him. Safety actually dominates his life and his profession, but he still must be that risk-taker he was as a child.
Not much has changed for me either, actually. I’m still bound by safety. I want guidelines. My life is frequently dominated by control. And often, I find that I’m still running. Searching for safety. Grasping for control.
* * *
I imagine that a major goal of every sixteen-year-old girl is to discover something about herself. She may not state that explicity, but each day as a teenager seems to be marked by a quest to discover one’s identity. I was certainly no different.
August 2001 was a culmination of a year of soul-searching and decision-making. In September 2000, I had received an invitation to apply to the Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics, a two-year residential high school for gifted students. As an awkward, intelligent student in my very rural, small-town high school, I saw my chance to escape. I grasped an opportunity that I knew I could not let pass me by.
The day in February that I received my acceptance letter was the happiest day of my life, to that point. I took a week to decide, but I knew what my choice would be the moment I read the word “Congratulations” on that letter. I was getting out of my hick town. I was running . . . towards something better. Towards the future.
When August arrived, I was a basket case. Excitement. Nervousness. Extreme fear. All of it was there, battling it out inside my heart. Leaving home must be the right decision. The Governor’s School could offer me so much more than would ever be possible in my small town.
I lasted six days. Six days, marked by the most intense roller coaster of emotions I’ve ever experienced. Six days of working diligently to convince myself I’d made the right decision, followed by moments of terrible heartache at knowing that it had instead been the wrong decision.
So I ran again, back home, to the place that was familiar, even though, less than a week before, I had run away from that very same place. I was only six days older, chronologically. But my life had taken a dramatic turn down an entirely new path. I had been intelligent before, but now that intelligence was accompanied by something else: a fierce motivation to be better than my circumstances, a desire to prove to the world that good things can come from a dying town.
I was running again, albeit in a different direction. This time, instead of running away, as I had so often before, I was running towards the dream of finding a place where I truly belonged. It had not been in Hartsville, at the Governor’s School; it wasn’t in North, my dying little town. But I knew I would find that elusive location eventually; I just needed to work really hard to get myself to that point. And so I pushed myself, and I kept running.
* * *
After dropping my friend Nicole off at North Greenville, I drove back home to my little house in Travelers Rest. As I drove down the darkened highway, admiring the Christmas lights that were starting to appear on various houses, I thought about the conversation we had just had.
I was twenty-two years old, a college graduate, and utterly dissatisfied with the state of my life. I disliked my job and dreamed of moving home, saving money, and starting graduate school, with the hopes that being back in school would make me feel as though my life were actually going somewhere. I was also angry, bitter, and single at a time when seemingly every girl I knew was getting married. God and I were not on speaking terms, although no one knew that. I had built a wall around my heart, and I struggled everyday to maintain some semblance of control.
Somehow, in the course of our lengthy conversation, Nicole had seen through a crack in that wall. She peered into my heart and honestly and lovingly rebuked me. “I’m going to pray for you to be broken, Haley.”
I nodded through the tears in my eyes. I let pieces of that wall crumble in front of me that night, and I knew she was right. I also knew it would be painful, and I wasn’t ready to take that step on my own. So I kept running for the moment, holding that facade in place, not knowing that just a few weeks later, something would happen to shake me to my very core. Brokenness was coming.
* * *
January 1, 2008
It seemed like a cruel joke. No one should start the new year off in ICU, strapped to machines and unable to move because of all the needles emerging from her arms. At 12:04 a.m., the nurse woke me up to give me yet another pill. She wished me happy new year, and I wondered where my friends were. How they were celebrating. If any of them knew that my life had changed completely and irrevocably.
Diabetes is the fastest-spreading disease in America, and I had just joined the ranks. But reality had not set in yet, and I was so relieved to just be feeling better (thanks to the shots of insulin and the continuous fluids being pumped into my severely dehydrated body).
Nearly twenty-four hours later, I had nearly made it through the first day of the new year, and my first full day as an official diabetic. I was moved out of ICU, and I spent a relatively uninterrupted night in a lonely hospital room. The relief had begun to fade, only to be replaced by a desolation I had never known.
The tears ran down the sides of my face to my pillow, as I wondered what would happen next. Could I be diabetic? I knew enough about the disease to know that everything had changed. Syringes and vials of insulin would be my constant companions. I would never be able to touch another Mountain Dew. And who knew what else? It seemed too much to handle.
I marveled at what I imagined to be God’s sick, twisted sense of humor. I knew that my lack of trust, my tight reign on control in my life, was a sin. I imagined that God was punishing me for this sin. I had suddenly, it seemed, been stricken with a disease that required absolute control over every aspect of my life. It seemed that God had given me exactly what I desired. In the midst of my tears, I laughed bitterly at the irony of it all.
My anger, fortunately, didn’t last long. It couldn’t. In the midst of all my pain and fear, I realized that I had very little strength. I also knew that I would soon be leaving my family, to return to Greenville, and I could not rely on their strength, either. God was all I had, and I realized I finally had to stop running.
* * *
It’s been a long journey, these eleven months. But it’s been so worth it. I’ve learned more about myself than would ever have been possible had I not been tested and stretched. I’ve also learned a great deal about God’s love and strength and how He provides for me. I’ve come a long way, and while I still fight to let go of control, and I still try to run on occasion, more and more, I find that I’m running towards something now.
“Give me a home inside Your open arms, the only place I ever will belong.”
-Jon Foreman, “I Am Still Running”