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Inspired Living: A roundabout way to Easter

by Roxanne Henke


Full disclosure: This column ran previously in North Dakota Living. Requests to read it again, comments over the years, and our current uncertain spring situation made this Easter message timely for those needing an extra dose of “hope” this season.

I’m going to be blunt: Easter has always felt a bit cold and hollow to me.

There, I said it. Now, let me explain. My dad passed away the day after Easter in April 1971. I remember our minister coming to the house and making what I’m sure he felt would be a comforting analogy that there was something “fitting” about my dad passing away at Easter, the time of resurrection. Even though I was only 17, intellectually I “got it,” but that thought didn’t fill the hole that felt as if my heart had quit beating in its usual rhythm.

They say when something traumatic happens to you when you’re young, you “get stuck” emotionally at that age. And, I’ve learned there is truth in that.

I went to college that fall, still trying to hide the fact I missed my dad something awful. I jumped into college life. Made friends. Pledged a sorority. Went to Bison sporting events. Even studied enough to get decent grades. But, I hated college. It was just too “social” for me. My dad had died five months earlier and the whole college scene felt “fake.” And I felt lost.

In my family, we were raised with the idea that the only thing to do after high school was to go to college, so I did. Until I dropped out at the end of the first semester. I felt like a failure, as I packed my car and drove back to my small town and moved back in with my mom and sisters. I worked in our family business, knowing this wasn’t a permanent option.

The next fall, I signed up to attend a business college in the big city of Minneapolis, Minn. My mom drove me there and helped me haul my meager belongings into the YWCA where I’d be living and going to school downtown. She told me later that my cement-block room looked so desolate that she cried most of the way home. I didn’t tell her, but I cried myself to sleep just about every night, muffling my sobs in my pillow so I wouldn’t wake my roommate.

I didn’t last long there, either. I didn’t fit in socially, and it didn’t take me long to discover I wasn’t cut out to take shorthand, either. So, I moved in with an aunt and hooked a rug for three months, while I tried to make sense of what seemed like a major life-fail.

For lack of any brilliant plans, I re-registered for college in the fall. The only things I really liked about my classes were the research papers we were assigned to write. (Don’t roll your eyes. This may have been a “sign” of my future, but I couldn’t see it quite then.) I fell in love and dropped out of college (again). Frankly, the “love” part got me off track and my grades would have been abominable had I stayed. I got married. Had a baby. Then a miscarriage. Then another baby. On the surface, life looked “OK.” But, inside I felt as if I’d failed the college dreams my dad had set for me.

I’m going to fast-forward this story about 15 years. I could no longer fight off the grief I’d never dealt with at my dad’s death (and other losses in my life) and I spiraled into a deep, deep depression. All I could think about was the failure my life felt like. (Even though I had a wonderful husband and two great kids. Depression can do that to you.)

It took a while, and a couple counselors and a couple doctors, and some medication, and t-i-m-e, but eventually, the darkness lifted and I emerged with a purpose. I was going to graduate from college (even though I lived 100 miles from the nearest one). I commuted. I did independent study courses. I got some credits transferred from my 20-year-ago failed attempt at college. And, I graduated!

I walked across that college stage and had a diploma put in my hand. I transferred my tassel to the other side of my cap, and I smiled as I heard my two daughters in the auditorium let out a “whoop” for their mom, the graduate. I wasn’t sure what I was going to “do” with that degree in psychology, but just having it felt like the second-to-last piece of a puzzle falling into place.

The final piece was writing the novel I’d always dreamed about. It didn’t happen overnight. It took me another 10 years before I wrote that first book and found a publisher. Seven more novels followed. And in some uncanny way, I felt as if my dad (who loved to read) was mighty proud of me.

What’s the moral of this tale that started as nothing but a series of failures? I learned resurrection is real. God doesn’t waste a thing. My degree gave me confidence. My failures gave me stories to write.

Easter still feels a bit “empty” to me. But, maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. After all, so was the tomb. Empty! And that’s the good news. Resurrection is real! Rejoice.

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke lives in rural North Dakota with her husband, and their dog. She keeps her college tassel by her computer, where she can see it every day. You can contact her at roxannehenke@yahoo.com.