The Hardest Thing

Borrowing a phrase from a previous story, “It’s never too late,”  I write this wishing the timing of this story would have been different – but unfortunately no one can change the course of events.  Explaining that statement is something that will come later in the story, but for now let me introduce you to the person this story is about.  Her name is Candy and this is a story about overcoming the hardest things.  If there is anyone out there who needs to hear that it’s possible to change your life, this is the person who has shown it can be done.

Candy was in her early thirties when she and I first met.  My phone had rung and there she was at the other end.  Candy was serious about escaping the nightmare that alcohol and drugs had caused in her life and was interested in coming to a study I was teaching.  Over the next nine years, Candy and I have come to know each other well.  The word that comes to mind when I think of Candy is strong.  This is not just because she is physically bigger and stronger than I, but because she is a strong personality in almost every way.  When she walks in the room, just her presence demands attention.  This woman is straight forward and blunt.  If she says something, she backs it up.  I know a phone conversation with Candy will be brief, to the point and purposeful.  There is no just chit-chatting with Candy.  In fact, if I were in a dark alley, there would be no other person that I would rather have by my side.  She is fiercely loyal and very protective.  Although all these characteristics are quite powerful, nothing is more impressive to me than her courage.  Without hesitation or fear, Candy faces things head-on with no holds barred.  Having watched her live life has made me want to be brave.

When I told Candy I was going to write a story about her, I said that there was one question that had kept coming to mind.  The question I needed for her to answer that day was this, “What is the hardest thing you have ever done?”  There was no pause or hesitation over her answer.  It was quick and short.  But before I tell you the answer, I want you to know the incredibly difficult things Candy has overcome in her life.  Perhaps you may be able to identify with something from her life and be encouraged with the hope that it is possible to not just survive through adversity but to triumph over it.

My friend grew up in a home that was filled with abuse.  As we all know, abuse destroys.  It destroys relationships, individuals and circumstances.  Candy grew up knowing the full extent of the destruction of abuse.  A man who assumed a father figure role in her family was sentenced to prison for 68 years for the abuse he inflicted on her.  She carried that pain with her every day.  Everyone tries to bury pain in different ways but in the end it still lies there covered up until we bring it to the surface and face it.  Every few years the parole board had a meeting to discuss releasing the man who had abused her.  Each time this occurred, the parole board asked Candy to give her opinion of an early release.  Over the last nine years, I have watched my friend as she had to bring the memories back to the surface and sift through them as she prepared a response to the parole board.  Her abuser had previously threatened that, if ever released, he would kill her for testifying against him.  The first time I remember Candy going through this, it was heart wrenching.  When we were in private, she quietly told me she had decided to talk with her mother.  This was not a statement made lightly or easily.  The relationship with her mother had been broken and the two had not spoken in quite some time.  Yet Candy was changing and she felt the need to address things from her past and try to resolve them.  She had come to believe that sometimes relationships could be mended and she wanted to try.  And try she did.  After reaching out to her mother, what Candy found was a woman who loved her and very much wanted to be part of her life.  Over the last few years, the two have become incredibly close and Candy has come to rely on her mother deeply.  They are living proof that relationships can be reconciled and restored.  Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.  As for the man who abused Candy, he is being released any time now.  Candy reconciled herself to that fact when the news was released.  She put things in place to protect herself from his threats but she will no longer live in fear of the one who wrecked her childhood.  After years of reliving the past, she was ready and able to move on.  Abuse does not have to have the last word.

As a teenager and young adult, Candy chose alcohol and violence as a means of escaping the pain and shame of abuse.  By the time I met her, Candy had been in and out of jail numerous times as well as spending a period of time in prison.  She later told me it was in prison that she finally decided to make a change.  Candy said sometimes to hit the bottom it takes going to prison – at least for her that was the case.  When she was released, she began navigating life without alcohol. The rooms of AA (Alcohols Anonymous) provided the help, stability, and encouragement she needed. One day at a time she moved forward.  That’s because alcoholism doesn’t have to have the last word.

One of the things I noticed about Candy when I first met her, was that she liked to learn.  Although Candy had never graduated from high school, she was very bright and definitely determined.  During the course of our first year together, several of the women in our group studied hard and passed their GED exams.  And several decided to go back to school.  Candy was one of those people.  After receiving her GED, she enrolled at Vatterot College and launched full scale into college.  Never doing anything half-way, she made straight As and soon graduated with an associates degree in business.  She immediately enrolled at Missouri Southern State University, and later Kansas City University of Medicine and BioSciences, taking numerous courses over the last four years.  All the while, Candy was still working, still managing a family and still involved in a host of other things. Oh, and by the way, still rocking a 4.0 all the way.  She had hoped to graduate with a doctorate degree in pharmacy last May, but Candy developed health problems and made the decision to graduate in May 2018.  For those thinking it’s too late to go back to school or pursue your career goals, Candy is living proof that it is not.  She not only overcame, she excelled.  Lack of an education doesn’t have to have the last word.

Type 1 diabetes, which many call early onset diabetes, is a medical diagnosis that Candy carried as well.  Her illness presented in childhood as diabetic ketoacidosis and she almost died at the time.  Candy grew up with a chronic illness effecting almost every area of her life.  As insulin dependent diabetics know, managing this condition is no small thing.  What you eat, when you eat it, and when you take your insulin is immensely important.  Exercise, stress and so much else enter into the insulin equation as well.   As she grew older, Candy developed some of the long term sequela of her poorly controlled disease – high blood pressure, glaucoma and peripheral neuropathy.  In addition to diabetes, she was plagued by recurrent kidney stones.  But as they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.  Candy has never let any medical issue keep her from fulfilling the goals she has set for herself.  Chronic illness doesn’t have to have the last word.

Often when I spoke with my friend on the phone, her conversations included issues with her family and friends.  Her family life was chaotic and seeing them make so many of the poor choices she herself had made, broke her heart.  Several of her step-children became addicts.  They have been in and out of jail and involved with social services for various reasons.  Candy was always there, making visits to jails and speaking with probation officers.  She expected her kids to be accountable but never gave up on them.  And she never stopped loving them.  She visited family often and took care of grandkids when needed.  How she had time to do all this and still go to school and work, I’ll never know.  And added to this, she volunteered freely.  It was a joy for her to help at the Lafayette House where she could come along side women who were making their way free from the chains of addiction and abuse.  Not only that, but she went to the local jails as well.  Since she knew the jails and personnel well, she was able to have access to the women inmates and went almost once a week to teach a Bible study there.  As the women were released, she often continued to keep in touch to help if needed.  But the biggest blessing she has had over the last couple of years, was the addition of Tosia and Harmon to her family.  These two precious kids found themselves without a mother or father able to care for them and Candy took them into her home.  My friend readily went back to the days of school meetings, class parties, helping with homework, reading books, Walt Disney movies, and navigating both elementary and middle school.  She considered it a gift.  Business and chaos can try to wreck our lives, but we don’t have to let it.  Chaos doesn’t have to have the last word.

For this woman who had endured so much, what was her answer when I asked the hardest thing she had ever done?  Without hesitation, without a second thought, her answer was getting off parole.  She viewed that as her greatest achievement.  Why would someone who had endured jail time and even prison time feel that it was harder to make it through the parole phase?  Every time she was in reach of completing her parole, it seemed the state would find more service hours for her to do, or one more class she needed to take, or one more fine she needed to pay or, heaven forbid, threaten a new violation.  She often felt that she might never make it to the end, might never really achieve forgiveness from the state for what she had done.  Actually making it off parole is what she viewed as her greatest accomplishment.  Perhaps that is why she took such an active role in helping others coming out of jail.  We all should.  Because in a way, hasn’t everyone been locked in a place we couldn’t escape?  If we are willing, we will all admit that we have done some things to other people which puts us in a place where we need to be forgiven.  Sometimes it may seem as though we work and work but can’t ever get off parole.  We’re always threatened with the possibility of one more violation or one more thing we need to do to make up for the past.  How about thinking of someone right now that you have on parole and forgive them?  Or maybe go to someone you hurt and ask them to forgive you.  It may be the hardest things you’ve ever done.  Do it, because both forgiving and being forgiven bring freedom.  Prison doesn’t have to have the last word.

Candy also understood loss.  Over the course of her lifetime she suffered through the loss of numerous friends and family.  Her own father died when she was seven.  At the beginning of the story, I mentioned how I wished the timing of this story were different.  How true that is.  My precious friend, Candy, died unexpectedly January 25th of this year.  After developing another kidney stone, catching the flu, and fighting high blood sugars, she died in her sleep.  What was meant to be a graduation present will be a memorial story instead.  But Candy knew, death doesn’t have to have the last word.

No one can change the past, but we can rise above it.   What is it that you need to overcome…. lack of schooling, dependency, alcoholism, abuse, severed relationships, shame, inadequacies, family chaos, health issues, imprisonment – whether it is your own self made prison or the state’s?  Candy would say, it’s possible to overcome them all.  Not only would her words say it was possible to overcome those things, but her actions show that you can.  Her life is living proof.  How did Candy rise above the devastating circumstances of her life?  The one word answer is Jesus.  Jesus is the one who had the last word over how her story ended.  But perhaps I’ll let my friend tell you herself.  Below are two of the posts she made on her Facebook page about five months ago.  I am so very proud of the person she became and so thankful I was fortunate enough to be her friend.  She taught me things that I could never have learned otherwise and changed my life in so many beautiful ways.   May each one of you, just like Candy, find the strength to rise above your circumstances.  And may you find the place where peace, joy and healing are found.

Candyce Patterson  November 2, 2017   “I am thankful for the relationship I have with my mom today.  Anyone out there who thinks they have a relationship that cannot be repaired is wrong.  We are living proof.”

Candyce Patterson  November 6, 2017  “Thankful that God woke me up today and that he saved me from myself many years ago.  I am so thankful for the life he has given me today.  For many years I allowed alcoholism to consume me.  Sometimes when I look back it is hard to even fathom the train wreck I was.  The woman I was then versus the woman I am today are so completely opposite.  I used alcohol because I didn’t want to face my past.  I was running from something that wasn’t even my doing….torturing and punishing myself.  Thank you Jesus for never giving up on me and bringing God-fearing Christians into my life.  That was almost 11 years ago.  I have been given a life I never imagined possible.”

But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise!  A whole, healed put-together life right now, with more of life on the way!  Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death.  But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.    Romans 6:22-23 Msg

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule.  And not just for the time being, but forever.  He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.  Ephesians 1:21-22 Msg