The man's name is Rev. Michael Turriff, a WELS Lutheran pastor in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The story starts in July of 1984. It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and somehow or another I got myself signed up with a friend of mine to go to a Lutheran Youth Rally in Waukesha (which, inaccurately speaking, is suburban Milwaukee). The theme of the Rally was Acts 1:8, "You will receive power". I was having a pretty good time. As an aside, one of the presentation topics was all about why charismatic teaching and practice was wrong. I remember leaving that presentation, having heard tapes of groups of people speaking and singing in tongues, knowing I had just encountered something real. I don't think that is where the Rally organizers were going with the topic, but I'm sure they did pray for God's will to be done!
One of the other presentations, as I had sort of noticed beforehand, was to be about alcoholism in the family. My being had a reflex that kicked in whenever the word "alcoholism" appeared before me. I ignored it. It was so intense that age 16 I still could not spell the word. I simply would not think about it long enough to learn to spell it. I refused. I figured this talk would be during the workshop times when there were lots of options and obviously I would just pick a different option.
Alcoholism was a huge, bulging, red-hot, ragingly-infected sore in my life that was sucking down my vital energy and threatened to eat my soul alive. Only, I didn't realize it, because I refused to.
When the presentation started, I remember it being easy enough at first. A man named Chuck Englehart was the speaker. I don't remember much of anything he said, but I remember that I liked him. He won my trust, my admiration.
But I do remember, vividly, one line of his talk. He pointed out that even though it was a hot day, he was wearing a very nice suit. He said he always liked to dress up nicely when he went out to speak, so that people could see how good an alcoholic could look. Because he was an alcoholic.
I don't remember much else he said after that point, because my soul was erupting. How could he, this decent, normal looking man, who I was trusting and liking, be one of those hideous monsters like my father who had messed up my entire life and stomped on my childhood and smashed it into a million pieces and ripped my family apart and made my mom cry and yell and make me so afraid and my siblings not talk to each other when I just wanted my normal daddy who loved music and who loved me but instead I had this weird man that I didn't understand or like or want to see even though I was forced to EVER SINCE I WAS 5!!
Chuck kept talking... all about the pain kids face growing up with alcoholic parents. He showed a short movie depicting young kids in an alcoholic home. It was all swirling around me, and I was sobbing. Almost like screaming I think. It was the first time I had ever opened up that very painful part of my heart -- or rather -- the first time another tapped the wound which now gushed forth its yuck unstoppably. The friend whom I'd come with sat next to me, looking very helpless. But sitting immediately behind me was Pastor Turriff, who couldn't help but notice my sobs. I recall he was sitting with at least one other pastor, and I kind of wonder whether they conferred about who would try to go help. But as the talk ended, and I was still sobbing, Pastor Turriff came and put his arm around me. He said "It hurts, doesn't it." Producing any words at that point was way beyond me. After a time he asked if I wanted to talk about it. I kept sobbing. Finally he asked if I wanted to talk about it later. I desperately shook my head yes.
I imagine he probably felt as helpless as my friend. But that act of him simply being present to this awful, dreadful, life-changing moment with me was an encounter with Divinity beyond words. I knew that God was real, that God loved, that God was good, and that I had a stake in all of that. I knew that God in all His goodness was for me.
I don't think I had any idea who he was at the time. But when I realized that he was a pastor, and that he was a songwriter and musician, and I started bumping into him in the music workshops, and heard him in concert, I saw more of God's hand. I don't think I ever actually had a conversation with him about my tears, but I wrote several letters to him over the next 2 years, very dark years for me. Having a human being to address the letters to helped me to work through some very painful events and stages of realization. The memory of the grace of that day (which is still deeply moving to me 23 years later) was the only beacon of hope I could relate to during those dark years.
It was in 1986 that he and an employee at the Lutheran college I was then attending wrote this beautiful song called Daughter (which I also mentioned in my previous post). Somewhere, I have a recording of a performance of the duet. If I can find it, I will find a way to get it on this blog. The two voices in the song are of Jesus and the woman healed from the issue of blood in Luke 8:42-48). Here are the words:
Woman: Standing in the dust, the crowd surrounding her/ Reaching to touch the Saviour/ If I could only touch his hem, my pain, my heart, my tears, my soul/my life would be set free forever
Woman/Jesus: Standing in the dust, the crowd surrounding her/Touching his hem with her finger/ her pain is gone the Saviour turns and looks around with questioning eyes
Jesus: Who touched my hem, who felt my power?
Woman/Jesus: Standing in the dust, the crowd surrounding her/With trembling eyes she saw her Saviour
Woman: Oh Lord, it's me/I only wanted to be free from all this pain/I knew that only you could heal me
Jesus: Daughter/ Oh daughter/Your faith has made you well/Go in peace (Woman, harmonizes on "ah") Daughter/Oh daughter/ Your faith has made you well/Go in peace
Woman/Jesus: Kneeling in the dust, the crowd now gone from her/Stunned the joy that's all around her
Woman: My Lord, My God/He heard my heart cry out and pain/and touched my soul/My life, my love are His forever
Woman: Daughter, He called me Daughter/my life, my love are his
Jesus: Go in peace
Woman/Jesus: Daughter, (he called me) Daughter/my life, my love are his
Jesus: Go in peace
It is a truly powerful song, and it too played a big role in my healing.
When I was 19 I suddenly snapped into the realization of what alcoholism actually is, and that my father did not "choose" to become an alcoholic because he wanted to destroy my life. I forgave him and took steps to create an adult relationship with him, as well as many other needed steps towards my healing. I was so happy (and so was he, I believe) to have him give me away at my wedding in 1999. In 2001, he died of cancer at the age of 73.
I have not been in communication with Pastor Turriff for several years. I think it would be only fitting to email him this post, though, don't you think?
If we could only see the impact our seemingly small actions might have in the lives of others...