Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

Could I Survive A Zombie Attack?

I have a friend who teases me sometimes about riding out a zombie apocalypse, she questions my ability to survive. As an extremely non-violent person, I have little chance apparently, fortunately she has offered to protect me. What I have come to understand though is that I am already a survivor, I have the skill set needed to withstand all that comes at me, I have been practicing nearly my entire life. Every day up to this one has prepared me for the worst that could happen, the loss of my child and the darkness that would ensue. I found my safe space not in a bunker filled with bottled water and canned goods but in a family of faith, open and light-filled, the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit breezing through the open windows of my soul. those who freely offer grace and forgiveness, who have listened to my fears, my shame, my heartaches and still usher me into their sanctuary, these light-bringers invited me into the Kingdom and asked me to call it home.

An advantage of making as many public mistakes as I have is that you cannot run from the truth, it is all out there. The choice is to live in shame and the judgement of others or rise up.  Accountability and atonement are my guiding principals, seeking the next right thing and making hard choices that are not in my best interests or even what my heart yearns for, these skills have served me well and are leading me back into the fold. Beyond what I would desire, I will survive this grief and the pain because I have been preparing for this my whole life. I am a survivor. In fact for many years I merely survived, I existed. I eased through each day making as few waves as possible, standing in the shadows, silent and grateful for the crumbs of joy that entered my soul, I was a zombie. Then God said, “Enough.” I was washed of shame and offered transformation and a full life in the Light. I accepted, not realizing that very act would prepare me for the greatest loss of my life. That building of trust with others who share my faith and guide me to restoration are all I need to withstand attacks from evil worse than any zombie.

This spat that I have been having with God changed over the course of a weekend, when I lost a filling in a tooth and then caught the stomach bug that has been circling around our community and then found a comment on this blog that was absolutely cruel.  Physical agony that compounded my soul ache, utter helpless that sent me to my knees pushed me where I was meant to go with my broken heart. I had time to think, no puzzles and crocheting and feverish house cleaning to keep me distracted. Finally it occurred to me that I couldn’t blame God for not saving Arrow, He had done so too many times before, Arrow had been protected and rescued countless times, I know of those exact moments that God interceded on this child’s behalf. Arrow chose not to cherish that intervention, to see what more he was and stay in the Light. As clarity came about fault and blame and accountability, I found God hovering patiently, waiting for my confession for doubting HIs love. I needed more though, to allow God to be off the hook. It came in the form of insight from my daughter, from Stella, shared cruelly from one who wished to cause harm. Yes, you read that correctly.

As I read the words of my daughter, the first insight into this estrangement, the first communication that gave insight into her thinking, I became free. That which was meant for harm God turned into good.  Of course the missive was ugly yet it brought total clarity as I realized just like my son, my daughter is choosing to use and others are supporting her destructive habit. Rather than substances, she is consumed with hate and distortions and twisting of truth in order to maintain this estrangement. I recognized for the first time, IT IS NOT ME! Just as I couldn’t stop Arrow from sliding back into the darkness but provided him with every resource to choose a different life, so I am not responsible for my daughter’s  graceless existence even as I recall that she was raised in the faith where forgiveness, atonement and grace are practiced. Genesis 50:20 comes to mind: 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. Yes, I am going to survive this and continue seeking what direction God is leading me, I certainly cannot do that and maintain my fight with him.

As the chains broke loose, as I realized evil was trying to push me away from God, I chose instead to live, to more than survive, to reenter a lasting full relationship with the One who had been mourning the loss of me, who was hurt by our separation. As a friend prayed with me, I heard her speak of God mourning and the last brick in my wall crumbled. I had hurt God by turning my back and He was mourning my loss. How could I as a mother awash in grief inflict that on anyone, especially the One who had interceded before, who was with my child in the final moments, who lost His own son and who cried at the wasted life of mine son? Who would ever choose to add to another’s pain, who would intentionally bring dissension and hurtful words to one already aching? I cannot be that person, I cannot treat God this way. I am called to seek reconciliation. Thus I confessed to God my sin and my sorrow. And I began to rise. In accepting that God was mourning me, I couldn’t deny that I was WORTH mourning, that my life holds value and meaning. Mind blowing stuff that destroys the evil that has attempted to overtake me. The ugly words, at the attacks on my right to grieve the loss of my son, the horror of how my son’s death was handled, all banished as the dirty work of the evil one. The Truth and the Light prevailed.

The distractions of evil that have swirled around the loss of my son are gone, I am left with the freedom to mourn, to grieve, to celebrate Arrow’s life and to ache over the death of my child. I have survived the plague of iniquity, the zombies are banished. No special weapons, no stockpiles of blankets and flashlights, I did it with my first-aid kit, one filled with the Holy Spirit and the Truth.  Love and grace from the children of God who battled alongside me showed me the relentlessness of God as they tended my wounds and shared their oxygen. Indeed, I am a survivor and I am even more. I don’t really know what zombies could bring but my heart isn’t troubled by that worry.  God and I are on speaking terms again, together we are in mourning and we are healing, one breath at a time.

Reflecting Our Truth

Having determinedly pushed God away, refusing His comfort during this time of grieving, casting blame at this Savior who forsake my son during his most desperate time, I recognize that I am choosing this trial separation. What is making it extraordinarily difficult to maintain are all of the people who radiate grace and just keep showing up. The word “blessing” has snuck back into my vocabulary, it slips out while I am talking before I realize it. Even as I search for a different word, a petulant child trying to dig into my position, I see that I absolutely cannot deny what is happening. More and more I find myself inching closer to the One who knows my shattered heart, who seems to want to hold me as I sob, all because I cannot keep Him away while accepting the care of his obedient children. I know what moves their hearts to such gentleness with ours, what compels them to exhibit kindness and to create safe places for our grief. The hands and feet of God, these people and I whisper that we are blessed even in the depth of our loss.

The most precious gift I have received during this last month is not the meals, so many meals that have nourished us and prompted us to take in sustenance. I can’t keep track of all the food that has shown up at our home and at church while I am there quietly stepping back into ministries. These full dinners and small containers of soup for lunch tell me more than just that we are loved. There is a deeper message in them, though, one that is filling me with each bite: we are worthy, those who know and love us want us to continue living. We are valued. As critical as these gifts are, they are not what has touched me most.

The cards and texts and messages are easing words of comfort beyond the walls of pain I was erecting. While I first rejected the snippets of scripture and the encouragements to draw near to God, I felt the tug with each envelope I opened. But more than the physical cards, I have accepted the thoughts behind them: that we are being held up by those around us and our grief is real, is palpable and that our loss is recognized. Slowly I will read and reread each piece of mail we have received but the essential message is the same as from those who brought us and continue to bring us meals.  Our loss and pain and worth are validated.

One day I will tell you about a framed picture that we received, a gift so thoughtful and touching I am still struggling for the words to describe what it means to us. I will tell you about those who came from others states for the purpose of hugging us while we cried. The stories of kindnesses we have been blessed with (see how that word is entering my vocabulary again?) are too numerous to list here but they all add up to the same message. Even as we continue to hear that folks don’t know what to say, their actions are shouting that we are sheltered by their faith, that we are cushioned by their desire to continue relationship with us even as we have little to give back. Yet there is more.

Losing a child, even an adult child, has pushed me to reflect even more than I normally do, on what mistakes I have made. I can list those easily, I have paid dearly for my sins and for many years I lived in shame. Breaking free of that existence with the help of dear friends, pastor’s and my therapist more recently, I recognize I am created not to be tormented with my past or even my daily life, but to be cherished as well. Thus the most vile poison that has been directed at me by those who supported my son’s use hurt, like a fun house mirror that distorts reality, I see what they are trying to create and wonder about the sheer meanness and evil that resides within them.  Yet their words do not stick, they cannot take root in my soul. That ground has been nurtured and fertilized for many years now, the seeds of faith and the redemptive love of God have readied this soul for the attacks that would come, for the evil that lives in the hearts of some, to find no resting place within me. I thought I had to live a guarded tiny life, what I have learned now is that by opening myself to the grace of God, I truly could withstand this onslaught. I have no secrets and ugly words still hurt but I do not accept them as indications of my worth.  I already know who I am. That is the gift that I continue to receive from all those who have chosen to enter our grieving space. A mirror, reflecting back who I truly am to God and to those who love me and have known me for decades and months alike.  The most precious offering of all, this telling of who I am as I stumble about in the fog, losing the ability to see clearly.

We have history, these truth tellers. We share a faith that requires us to do and be better and offers grace when we fall short. We live our days and weeks and months and years together, we show each other who we are and who God wants us to be. We take off our masks and expose tender vulnerabilities. And when horrific events transpire, we take the shattered shards of each other’s mirrors and reflect God and grace and Light without ever thinking to use those broken pieces of life to cause harm. These are my people, I am blessed to have them all around me.  I didn’t choke on that word this time, I can admit that even in the midst of this, God is with us. No greater gift can be given than leading someone back to the truth.  Yes, we are blessed by you all.

Finding the Courage to Hope

Pulling all the totes down from the attic, the three boxes holding artificial trees, I mindlessly began my task of decorating for the season. Normally music fills the air as I transform my home into a welcoming place for Santa, a reminder of the birth of our Savior, yet on this day, I lugged, I hauled, I assembled and then stopped. The totes sat, the garland left hanging out, ornaments, with hooks ready left neglected. It took me three days to finish what I usually do in a number of hours. Finally I closed the totes with much left inside and hauled them back upstairs. As if I were doing laundry or mopping the floors, my mind was not on my work, my heart was elsewhere. Then yesterday, the first Sunday of advent happened and my attention was snapped back to the point of it all.

I watched the most courageous woman I know lead her granddaughters up to the altar to light the first candle of the season, to tell the story of hope. She shared of another advent season when her heart was shattered, her hope was buried with her murdered son. Yet on this day she was standing before us, lighting the candle of faith of things to come, with the children of her children, reminding us that hope comes not of the events of this world but the life of the babe born thousands of years ago. She believes, she gets up each day and she keeps breathing. How can I wallow with such an example?

My soul has been bruised and battered and dented and banged up these last few years, the pain of estrangement and then the horror of a the election, hearing the voice of an admitted abuser played daily on the news, today he endorsed another of his kind to win the Alabama senate seat. My hope has grown so dim, lost in the shadows of twitter rants and more and more men I once respected being uncovered as harasses of women. As if the loss of my children wasn’t enough, I now find the loss of my country looming, even escapism of television or movies or NPR is no longer a refuge, I can’t find a safe place for retreat. Then comes a lesson in hope.

Hope is not in the now, not right this minute relief, not an Ambien or a bottle of wine or a really good book to forget the pain. Hope is seeing through the trauma and the chaos to what is coming, trusting that what is going will be joy and peace and love. That is a pretty big leap, one for fools, I think. Fools who believe that the Christmas decorations are more than the red suited guy, more than the maxed-out credit cards, more than the elf who visits my Plum. Hope is listening to the story of a pregnant woman and her husband traveling to a far land to be counted, to determine the taxes, to find they had no place to safely give birth to God. I remember being in labor with Stella, telling the nurse to make it stop, the pain was too much, I wanted to go home and forget the whole thing. Then it was time to push and they told me to stop, to wait for the doctor. Yet there was no stopping, she was coming, it was time. Can you stop a freight train as it is rushing towards you? So she came into the world and the doctor barely caught her. God came into our world with this timing as well, as if to show us we cannot stop His presence, we cannot determine His timing. That is where the hope begins, in that moment of His showing up in unexpected places, in all the wrong times for us, those inconvenient and pain filled moments when we are least prepared and cleaned up and wearing our best clothes to meet our Savior. No, I think God brought us hope in the that baby in a smelly stall to two people who were sweaty and hungry and exhausted, terrified and alone.

My Christmas tress are lit, the bulbs reflecting light around the room. I know now that each sparkle is meant to cast out distrust, to illuminate the promise of what is coming. I have been reminded of hope, what began thousands of years ago. As I sit with my coffee and gaze at the trees, I am thanking my friend for her story and my God for showing up in my rubble and my mess. My hopes and dreams won’t be fulfilled anytime I soon, I suspect, but we are playing the long game here. Looking both back and ahead, we can find what was breaking through the shadows all along, Jesus was born in fulfillment of the scriptures and that is enough for today.

 Sparkle

Runaway Legos and Packs of Gum

The tiny yellow Lego kept rolling off the table as we sorted the newest set he received for his birthday into colors, preparing to build. I generally am given the sorting task while he supervises, he checks my work for errors with a running commentary on my inability to see the difference between dark gray and black, the fact that I often choose to make an “all the rest” pile which he corrects for me, and his delight in a particularly interesting piece. He surveys the blocks like all the presents under a Christmas tree, taking in the joy of bright colors and multiple shapes, knowing everything there was waiting just for him. Yet this one piece kept escaping the pile, I was distracted and didn’t lay it flat. As it landed on the floor after many near misses, I remarked that this one piece was trying to get away from us. My Plum asked why, why is it trying to escape? I think it doesn’t want to connect with any other pieces, it just wants to be free, I replied as I moved another red piece into the corresponding pile. “Oh, yeah, I get that,” he told me. “We all feel that way sometimes.”

My joy bringer hands me snippets of wisdom at least as often as I offer him the opportunity to brush his teeth. Neither of us are particularly grateful for these gifts when we get them but maybe we both know they are in our long term best interests. While I am convinced that he is a genius guru joy bringer, the truth is probably that most children have words of wisdom to share, if only we listen to them. The beauty of a grandparent relationship with a child is we have the time, we can take the time, we can hear the snippets and remember to record them. I know my own children were quite verbal about feelings and were astute in ways of the world, surely they shared their views with me and I should have recorded them. Yet dishes and work and laundry and the other sibling and stress and stress and stress caused me to hurry and rush and miss what they could offer. Certainly I sought to atone for being gone during their early years, I listened attentively and cared deeply. Still, I was mom. When we are blessed, our true adoration comes from our grandparents. I know I am atoning with Plum for all the missed chances with Arrow and Stella. Yet ours isn’t a clear “grand” relationship either. Chef and I have stepped in far too often as parents, our roles with this child are cemented by age 7, he knows we are important caregivers in his life, we are his safe place. He can connect and still wish to roll away from some places in his life. I get it.

Accepting his wisdom does not mean I forget that he is still a child and needs us to help shape his character, to enforce rules and structure and consequences. His heart is so sweet and pure that when he strays into the dark side, my reaction is swift. I respond with immediacy and hopefully most often, natural consequences. During his birthday party, an overwhelming affair for anyone but certainly a boy who really just wanted to get to the present part and then the playing with the present part, sitting through a game of unwrap a ball of saran wrap looked tedious and horrible and mostly like torture. He chose not to play, instead he watched as his friends took turns unwrapping little toys or packages of gum.  Later as friends were leaving, one little girl couldn’t find her treat bag, which contained her circle of gum “tape,” a top prize. We searched but couldn’t find it so hurriedly created a new treat bag and wondered if someone picked hers up accidentally. This little girl is a neighbor to Plum at mama’s, a child who looks out for him, runs to get mama when he falls and gets a scrape, has a problem on the bus, needs his shoes tied. I felt horrible that this child especially had lost her prizes.

The next day, her equivalent in our own neighborhood, A, came to play with Plum. As they ran about the ever less haunted house while Chef and I dismantled it, A said she had something she had to tell, that Plum had done something bad at his party. He watched her share his secret, that he had hidden the other little girls bag, he wanted that gum. Plum and I moved upstairs to talk, after we supported A for telling the truth and following her conscience. My first question to Plum, did you know that was wrong? Everything that came after was merely faulty judgement, impulsive desires, selfishness overruling his heart, take your pick. We wondered if God had any rules about taking what isn’t ours, if we have been given any pathway to correct our mistakes, and finally if once we atone, we are meant to live in shame. He decided he needed to use his piggy bank money and buy new gum for his friend. We emptied out his pennies, took them to the bank inside the grocery store and the good folks there helped him count out what he needed. He selected the gum, rang it up, put his money inside the machine, bagged his gum and walked out with a lighter heart. That my sweet, I told him, is getting right with God. His friend hugged him as he delivered her gum, he ran to tell me how happy she was. He was clearly happier as well.

My Plum turned 7 this week and I know he will have ever more opportunities to bring me joy and share his wisdom. I know more and more though that our chances to cement his character, to have the foundation laid that will carry him into a safe and healthy future, those days are waning. We know that he will choose to be free of his connections someday, that he will test out his boundaries and push the rules. I feel the importance of each and every moment now, the inability to let something slide. This child is absolutely too precious to risk. That is my own atonement. For now, we are building Lego sets, we are giggling at runaway pieces, we are delighting in his friends who support his good choices as well, we are loving on this child who every day, brings us joy.

 

 

We Forgot To Limp

Plum stubbed his toe this weekend, not the terrible first stubbing of spring that draws blood on tender flesh cushioned for months under socks and slippers and boots, but really more of a bumping of his little foot against the cement porch, a foot that has spent the entire summer roughening on the gravel road alongside our home. A closer inspection showed not a single drop of blood, not a tear in his skin, no mark of the injury that he felt. Hours of barefoot play in the summer sun and the steadfast refusal to keep shoes on brought about a tough exterior, one that belied the pain he was experiencing. We have extra bandaids for just such an injury, one that is more inside than out. He asked me how one limps, such was his determination in milking this event as well as the disappointment that nothing outward pointed to the level of pain he was knew. I showed him and he managed a limp for all of two steps before he was distracted and the pain receded. I understood his concern, though, I had worn my own bandaids all weekend.

Our church moved 10 years ago to a brand new building, one that fit the dreams we all shared for more ministry options. This weekend was the celebration of that move and our 3 services would be combined into one but our church couldn’t hold us all at one time, thus the high school just down the road was chosen to be our worship site. The auditorium and cafeteria were large enough for us all, a perfect choice. Except that building held memories of my children, of Stella’s art exhibits, of decorating their lockers every year for their birthdays, of graduation ceremonies as I watched them cross the stage and look to their future. I walked those hallways as I registered them for classes each year and bought new sweatshirts and yearbooks, I met with teachers their for conferences. This was their high school, the place I drove Stella to early each morning when she missed the bus and picked them both up to drive to orthodontist appointments.  This building held memories that I had ignored. Yet walking though with Plum, I began to mentally limp, I felt the injury and knew no one could see me bleeding. Then it happened, I was distracted. Plum wanted to explore the stage, a friend tripped and fell, the food was plentiful and the friends were all around, I forgot that I had stubbed some memories. As we left the event, I realized I had survived without real damage to my psyche. Now in thinking about the school, I would also remember singing praise songs and would always consider that the students who sit in those chairs for assemblies will be covered in the prayers of our congregation.

Later Chef and I attended a wedding of a young woman from church, a woman who oozes grace and light. She sings with our praise team and sends me notes that lift me at exactly the moments I think I am sinking, she lives out faith actively. Chef and I had not been to a wedding since the civil ceremony of our daughter, the estrangement occurred one month after that and we were not invited to her actual wedding, the one with the dress and cake and music. I knew this would be a stubbing crashing smashing of memories, a bashing of hopes and dreams but I so respect this young woman we couldn’t not go. Bandaiding my heart, we entered the event hall and found that many other friends from church were there as well, we sat with some who kept us occupied and laughing and covered with joy such that we forgot to limp, we forgot to check for bleeding. This wedding was the perfect one to ease us back into life, to invite us to participate in joy and distract us from our pain.

I know it would be safer to avoid the gravel, to always wear shoes, to stay away from places that trigger memories that will break through to my bruised soul. Yet I am not called to be safe and protected, to hide and to be cushioned. I am asked to rely on the strength of God, who will guide me and keep me from harm. Running away rom those events that might possibly touch on my sore spots means I would miss the chance to heal ever so slightly, to replace some memories of what hasn’t been with an evening of laughter and new jokes to share and delight with friends instead of nursing wounds on my couch. Paul says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, he doesn’t say we should stop doing the things that might rough us up. Today I trusted in God to protect my soul, and found his grace was indeed sufficient. Step by step, that is how I move ever closer to the light.

 

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

(photo credit to http://www.sweetsugarbelle.com/2013/01/that-funky-bandaid-color/ )

 

 

Deeper Breaths as I Inhale Hope

I began smoking again after close to two decades of not on the day of my daughter’s wedding, when my Chef and I along with my brother and sister-in-law were doing a pub crawl to drown our broken hearts at not being invited. I didn’t intend to add that horrible habit back into my list of vices, it just happened as most tumbles off the wagon do, with an offer for one, just to be crazy for the day, to be utterly rebellious, to illustrate just how deeply we devastated we were and maybe to scream at the God we were striving to find, even in our drunkenness. That first cigarette led to another as the day wore on and my sobriety returned. Serenity in the routine, lighting one up, slow deep breaths, as I sat alone, exiled, who wants to sit with a smoker? The habit returned and for a long time, for many many packs of those Kool Blue shorts, I welcomed it as an indicator of my brokenness. Could God find me if I lit this torch in the wilderness, would God seek me out again and bridge the divide between my daughter and I if I was covered in this ash of repentance? I sat alone on my porch day after day, waiting.

The practice of repentance smoking grew with my loneliness and ache. While I didn’t really want to smoke, I didn’t really not want to either. Lost in limbo, unable to garner enough concern to quit, I allowed my routines to become enmeshed with the craving, first thing in the morning with my coffee, after every meal, before bed. Many nights I would rise out of a deep sleep and go outside again, just to smoke and wonder what I could possibly do to change my relationship with Stella as I gazed at the stars she used to identify for me. As I continued to smoke and she didn’t reach out, I accepted the horrid breath and the smoky clothes and the coughing and the harm to my body as penance. I witnessed the disgust in my Chef’s eyes, I listened as he walked away from me, further and further. I accepted my punishment. I imagined scenarios of her returning home and me throwing away the coveted pack of Kool’s, tossing out my lighter. I experienced plenty of alone time to think and imagine as no one wanted to be around me during my puffing sessions, I didn’t want them there either. Fifteen minute retreats into despair spread throughout the day, moments for me to indulge in smoking and sulking.

After two and a half years though, I knew the punishment phase of my grieving had to stop. Just as laying in bed and letting the world continue without me hadn’t brought her back, no amount of nicotine would either. Finally, embracing my health for me, I chose to stop. I am edgy and twitchy and wishing for my vice and yet I am freer. I see the sad woman sitting alone, and I don’t want to be that sad anymore. I see how smoking was a slow suicide, a jumper on the edge of the bridge, begging someone to stop them, give them a reason to live. I recognize I have reasons other than my children, yet being their mom was my core identity. That portion sliced away left me too empty, the space filled up only with deep inhalations of smoke and then each slowed release of my devastation into the air, polluting my body and my surroundings, creating synchronicity.

Still I quit, the latest act of acceptance that I have no impact on this child ever walking across the bridge I have built. Filling my days with all those 15 minute retreats left me shamed and isolated, filling that spare time now is daunting. Attempting to break the habit of missing her, of wondering what I haven’t done that might work, imagining scenarios of her car in front of the house every time I turn the corner, dreaming of running into her at the store, always always  seeking her face, I now have to take deep breaths and recognize that I cannot break that addiction. My craving for relationships to be rebuilt, to be rejoined with those who have walked away, I cannot kick this one. No big cosmic reward for avoiding the gas station, not picking up the spare pack this time, not searching the trash for a butt and feeling that momentary aliveness, even as it escaped my lungs, no now I am left with truth as any addict finds, that my problems are still my problems, just without the high to carry me through.

My Plum was ecstatic, the few friends that I have told grew tearful and celebrated with me. Still, I seek something to fill the void, to remind me to take those deep breaths and release my toxins. If smoking was the symbol of the cancer within my relationship, how will anyone know I am in pieces still, that I have not closed this chapter even as I crumpled the last box of cigarettes and tossed them away, that the tumor still resides within my heart? Each burnt offering I lit and consumed, the incense of filth I blew around my altar to a God who is not taking my calls, has blocked me on social media, is too busy with hurricanes to check His voicemail, the ashtray and lighter, my addiction paraphernalia evidence of past sins and secret desperate wishes for a Savior.  I no longer attend the church of self punishment, I don’t tithe my pack a day as the offering plate of an overflowing ashtray sits waiting on the table, but what should I worship now? I gave  up smoking and still no Stella.

I know that my friends and pastors would tell me that God is near, that Jesus is walking this horrible time with me and mostly I know it is true. Maybe I all the way know but I think most days now I don’t want to search for God, I want a miracle. I am out of offerings and apologies, I grow cold and old and wasted as I wait to be rediscovered as worthy by those who have snubbed me out of their worlds like each cigarettes I smoked down to the filter, looking at it with a mix of surprise and disgust that I had allowed that habit to form. My patience has diminished with my lung capacity, I no longer wait in faith, I don’t walk with the assurance of one who is supported by a loving God. I gave God an ultimatum I think, bring her back or I slowly commit suicide. I blinked, I gave in, God doesn’t pay up on debts I create. So God and my daughter stay silent and I have extra time now to not be smoking and alone and still I wait for a sign that I made the right choice.

I quit smoking. I shed a bit more shame and stopped polluting me. Yet even as I discard all evidence of these toxic 2 and a half years, I know that healing will take longer. Damaged bodies and broken spirits must be handled with care, to minimize suffering and reduce further devastation. My soul is seeking a response from my Creator. Maybe once the smoke clears, I will see Him again, will notice that He cries along with me and aches at my brokenness, that He sits in anger at a child who refuses to forgive, who accepts grace but offers none.  I want to see that God but more, I just want Him to save us both from this hell. I believe He can do it, just as I finally trusted that I could get through the day without smoking. I did it, I quit smoking, a stumble of faith. Now I want to hear Him say I chose wisely, to embrace life over death.  I want my daughter to call, text, email, walk over the bridge and give up her addiction to righteousness.  My offer of grace remains, without limits or scorecards. Alone still on the porch, I wait.

And notice the leaves begin to tumble to the earth. And crickets singing as the night disappears. And remember that hope as tiny as the hummingbird that flits around the last blooms of summer still resides within me.