As the time approached for Arrow to return home from prison, to begin his life again, we rearranged bedrooms, we got rid of all the alcohol we had massed, we installed a landline again for his ankle monitoring system. We discussed rules and boundaries and set a plan to get him back to independence. We filled our days with hopes and tasks and considered each step carefully, knowing full well that his success and our sanity depended on creating a safe place, one that included support as well as accountability. I am reminded of all the hours spent on the phone with him as the days grew closer to his freedom, each of us considering that while prison had been horrific, the real work lay ahead. Even with all the intentionality that process held, we made mistakes, we blew it and we all lost. I take comfort in knowing not that while we were not perfect, we didn’t prevent his relapse, we did give our best efforts, we did the best we could at the time. My regrets often feel like a debt I can never touch, a steady reminder of how I fell short.
Every day I see the scribbled card that hangs on the refrigerator, the one where we recorded his debt. Like a talisman, it has hung there for years now, showing not only the money we offered him that he insisted he would pay back, the money he hoped always to pay back as a show that he had become a responsible man and not a child getting an allowance, not a dependent kid. We paid to have a tooth implanted to replace the one lost in a prison fight, we paid to have his driver’s license reinstated, we paid for a gym membership. The truth is that I would have willingly gifted all of this to him but understood my need to rescue him could be the very thing that undermined his success. My boy went to prison, I struggled to see the man who had returned. He grew confident each time he offered up $20 and marked it on the card, understanding that the thousands we had spent while he was locked up were certainly forever out of his reach but he could stop the slide further. Of course not everything made the list, the cost of new clothes and shoes and a winter coat and meals out and the pantry stocked with food we wouldn’t normally purchase, these were considered the cost of parenting.
The card remains on the fridge, a reminder of debt that has been abandoned. Mostly I view it with great sadness, not that we won’t recoup the funds, (we spent equally on Stella but that is a very different blog post) but rather the reminder that we will never have a chance to see him to restoration, to redemption, not on this side of the heavens. No , I look at this list of money owed and know that maybe, just maybe, if he had stuck to the plan, we would be celebrating him rather than mourning him. Maybe if we had written everything down, he would have recognized how much we had to offer and he would have felt humility and respect rather than noting the loopholes and means to manipulate. But I think this card reminds me of more, brings sadness t my own shortcomings rather than just Arrow’s. More than what this card says about us and our failed attempts to keep him sober, I see that I also carry a list of debts and know that I will never pay them off.
Pastor Pat once told me and probably many others in the congregation, (was it a sermon, the words echoed so loudly with me that it is hard to remember he surely was speaking to us all) that God has my picture on his fridge. A simple deep message, that I am honored and cherished by my creator. He didn’t say that God has a list of my transgressions, not a quid pro quo of my blessings and what I need to do to get us even. My picture. I can never repay my debts, I daily even scoff at my blessings as I want more and different ones. I forget that God has already provided, that He sent His son to pay for it all. What if I chose to face daily not the list that outlines how my son fell short but the one that I carry with me, the tattered card full of scribbles that describe how I fell short? Would I notice the ways I did work on the debt, the ways I have held myself accountable and sought to be better or only the ways I didn’t? Indeed, it is a choice, to look at a life and see the losses or to celebrate the gains. Does God celebrate each time I offer up $20 to pay for the groceries of the person in front of me who is silently, embarrassedly putting items aside because the total is too high, the wallet is too empty? Does God rejoice when I notice the least of His, when I recognize another broken soul? Do these count as my offerings, accepted with the same sense of delight as I pocketed that $20 from Arrow? I think He does, I think I have missed the point of being indebted all this time.
My birthday is approaching, days away now. It has almost never been a happy day for me, not something I wanted to share. Vivid memories of childhood horrors when I experienced the conflicting messages that I was to be simultaneously feted and molested have created deep ruts where I find myself stuck, year after year. I hate surprise parties, recalling the year my father took me away from home while friends gathered, away to pick up my birthday cake and to a country road where he violated my body and my soul and then returned me to the party, shell shocked and unable to find sanctuary. No, my birthday has never been cause for celebration for me, one met with trepidation and hyper vigilance. Yet something strange happened this year, as January brought a relief from the intense grief of the holidays and I began to breathe. I felt God nudging me to accept the present of my birthday, to accept life and see that those who have celebrated with me through the years were not just showing up for cake. While my picture may not be on any of their fridges, I hold a place in the hearts of many and that is good. The danger has passed and I am being invited into life. Ever mindful that I not seem proud or boastful, I wondered, what if? What if I looked not at how I fall short but rather on the ways I thrive and survive and say that is enough, just for one day, that is worthy, I am worthy?
Before you wonder why you weren’t invited to my own celebration of me, know that my plan didn’t come to be. While I am not this year throwing a party for me, cooking food I want to share with you and opening the door of this closed off home to your laughter and your friendship, maybe one year soon. I am getting closer to acknowledging my debt to God and also the ways in which He rejoices at my birth. I am removing the card that lists my son’s debts and instead am remembering all the ways he lived. My gift to me this year is to intentionally begin living, growing into me. I hope you will forgive my debts and yours as well, that you will destroy the accounting of wrongs and embrace the fresh start we have been given. I think that counts as another payment to our creator who keeps cleaning up our messes and offering a fresh start.