Forever Altered

Several months ago a wind storm blew in, not entirely unusual during the fall but this one was different, more powerful. I listened from inside while the howling increased then settled, again and again. The sky looked normal, no threat of a tornado, merely ferocious gusts that erupted and abated. Trees older than me bent sideways, lost leaves but stood each time as the calm returned. Venturing out to take a look, I heard a crack, a splintering and watched in disbelief as a huge branch of our old maple fell right at my feet. Later when I took Chef outside to survey the damage, he struggled to see amidst the fullness of the remaining leaves, the mighty branches, just where the tree had broken. Walking amidst the fallen branches, I pointed out just where the tree had separated, glaring once he could spot the emptiness. 

As time has passed, with the ground covered in leaves and the winter sky above, the tree is marked forever by the part that is missing. Just as the weather folks warned of the potential for danger with this wind storm, so we were warned many years ago that addiction could take our son. We heeded the warnings, we sought treatment and interventions and prayer. Still, in the same way I couldn’t protect this beautiful strong tree, I was helpless to save my child. Every morning I look out at this tree and recognize that it is still standing, still providing shelter for birds and squirrels and probably raccoons, but it is broken, forever marred by forces stronger, more dangerous than  the strong root system or age. 

I wonder each morning if I am the tree, if I am still strong and mighty and able to continue a purposeful life, able to shelter others and experience joy as little ones gather around me, playing and laughing and watering more storms. Instead am I the broken branches which still lay in the yard, our grief robbing us of motivation to care, of the ability to do basic maintenance like shower and eat, never mind tend to our home? Most days I feel like those decaying logs, laying cast aside and neglected. I know that even those pieces do some good for the earth, for the smaller critters who burrow inside. Yet is that enough, to merely lay around and passively let live exist in my presence? 

Some days I can even claim to be the wind, to be strong and angry and forceful, seeking weak places and blasting my wrath. Mostly my anger has left me, the good work of the grief group I attended bringing me back into relationship with the God who created that tree and me and my son. All that remains is sadness. Big and deep and pervasive SADNESS. I look at the tree each morning and know that others may see just a tree, see that it has survived this latest storm and countless others. My eye though is drawn to the splintered spot, to the gaping hole where once a significant member lived. The tree will never be the same as before, that moment, that snap that forever altered it, is now part of the tree’s story, it’s history. 

I am broken, stuck in that moment just after a phone call that brought my nightmare, all of my fears into fruition. I hear the wailing, the keening, the screaming and know it was me, a howling wind that may have quieted for others but never leaves my soul. The branch of my tree that was my son lays in ruins at my feet, a promise of a life full and rich and joyful separated from the rest, from the strength of our family, from me. It is true that he is restored in heaven, that he is no longer haunted by his demons, his life may be characterized by all that I wanted for him here, now that he is there. Yet I am left looking at the missing parts, at the emptiness, at the destruction of hope. 

The wind came howling and broke my tree, opioids slid silently back into my son and broke him. I knew the power, the potential but we had weathered so very many storms before, I thought we could survive more, I thought our roots would protect us. Wrong, I was wrong. I could not protect him or us or stop the drugs from reaching him, anymore than I could brace the tree from a power so much greater than I.

Gentle breezes move the smaller branches, I take little notice. The damage is already done. 

Arrow Graduated

The first Sunday in November our church recognizes those who have passed on to be with God during the previous 12 months. A picture appears on the screen, a chime rings out as the name is spoken with reverence. This year was personal, this year my son would appear on the screen, just another reminder of what I was missing, how my heart was crushed by this grief. I knew it would be impossible to endure the service without tears, I didn’t expect the sobs that overtook me. More than the memorial services, this was the evidence that he is no longer with us. Yet something unexpected has happened since that chime rang out, since my smiling boy graced the screen. I saw not only what I have lost but what he has gained.

Most of these 11 months I have been angry at God, questioning why He didn’t save Arrow one more time. I felt tricked into believing in His power, I felt abandoned in my love for this child. When my pastor spoke about those people who all appeared on the screen, he opened my soul to a different perspective. Like a group of high school seniors, receiving their diplomas, ready to enter into the next phase of their journey, all those people on the screen, this class of saints, had entered into heaven. I saw the pictures of those my Arrow had joined, there were some real rock stars of the faith in his class. He is in amazing company. Further, my pastor reminded me that Arrow is no longer hindered by the demon of addiction, he is living his best life whole, without misery and pain and sorrow. He is finally who I knew he could be.

I heard a whisper this morning, a question from God, asking if I could see that He had had saved my boy. I realized that God had truly ached alongside us as we worried and cried and prayed for Arrow’s safety, for his freedom from drugs and alcohol. I heard God say, “Lisa, we tried everything and I knew it was time to bring him home, bring him closer to me. I will protect him for eternity. He is safe now.  You will one day see his smile, hear his laughter and you will rejoice as well.”  I know it sounds crazy, I rely on others to hear from our God, my hearing loss has been acute when it comes to the voice of God. Yet, still… today I heard the reassurance from the one who has suffered my anger and nudged others to comfort me in His place. I found a truth so deep in my soul that even I couldn’t ignore it, rebuff the knowledge. My arrow is safe and I no longer have anxiety bout the next phone call, about who might hurt him or who may be in the way of his drug-clouded choices. I know where my son is, I know who he is with.

His graduating class is one of true honor, some friends who I know are welcoming him and letting him know how much I miss him, they watched me grieve as well. I know he will be also be on the welcoming committee for those who come after.  He is safe.  He is whole.  He is watching his children grow, able to give his full attention to them finally. And I am able to forgive God and ask for forgiveness for my hardened heart. I get it. I finally see that he is indeed in a better place and he is a better man now.

I will surely still shed tears, I will spend some days sobbing over what I have lost. I will look at his son and see all the promise that Arrow once held as well. The anger though, that has surely evaporated, replaced with the breath of hope and unexplainable love that  entered my soul this morning.

On The Bridge

Growing up, I didn’t hear much about evil in church.  The focus was more on gaining a relationship with Jesus, accepting God as the foundation for our lives. Yet more and more I realize that light cannot be appreciated without darkness. I’ve read tons of quotes about the stars shining brightest in the dark of night, I get the concept. What I didn’t realize though was the role of evil, how much the hard times in my life have been the devil attacking me when I am the reaching out to God, when my faith was getting stronger. I have to admit it feels weird to even type that, such is my discomfort with “devil talk”.  What has seemed like a foreign way for me to understand and practice my faith, an attitude more fitting for those other kinds of churches is now becoming a clear concept of how this world works. It certainly has aided me in recognizing the role of shame and insecurity and even depression, removing my sense that I have brought this stuff on myself, furthering the need for self-punishment. I’m not suggesting I don’t have personal responsibility for my actions but understanding the goal of magnifying and distorting and oppressing me is strictly that of the evil one, I begin to find the power of choice, of turning to the Light.

When it became clear that the abuse I experienced as a child was deeply impacting my relationships and I needed help to right my thinking again, I entered therapy. This time though, I didn’t search for a counselor who had years of experience dealing with sexual abuse, although she does. I sought out a faith-based therapist who could help me resolve the questions of how could God have allowed this to happen. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t have that answer but what she did offer was a bridge to God that encouraged me to cross over into trust, where I could see not a God who shares responsibility for my suffering but a God who ached with me and wants more of my life. She has also exposed the role of the evil one, something I had always discounted, pooh-poohed as more hocus pocus than spirituality. Opening my mind to the dangers of darkness, the way my heart and soul have been pursued not just by a relentless God but also a sneaky destructive evil, I have become empowered to make different choices. I can not only desire the light, I can choose it.

When bad things happen, we instinctively wonder where God is, how can these horrible events occur, much like the admonishing Jesus endured on the cross: if you are who you said you were, why can’t you stop this, prevent this, make it all better. What I am finally grasping all these years later is that the two are not mutually exclusive. God is indeed who He says he is and bad things happen as evil seeks to rule this world. It comes down to choice, when we have the option to magnify hurtful words and promote violence through bullying we have turned away from the light that seeks to shine through it all. We give power to the oppressor, we abandon the One who aches to accompany us even when all is horrible, maybe especially when our hearts are broken and we are frightened and when we begin to feel blanketed by sadness.

I was almost to the surrender part, the place where I could see with clarity that God had not left me alone in the room with my father, that God had not left me to sit in prison with a shattered soul, that He had been right with me and gave me tools to survive, then unexpectedly my son died. Rocked, shocked, shattered, I almost gave in to the darkness, allowed the loss of my son to turn me away from God. Seriously, could there be a better time to question the faithfulness of a God who didn’t save my son? Yet over and over, in spite of what felt like the ultimate betrayal of God’s love, I found countless ways that He was shining through. His disciples have walked with me, guided me back to the bridge, bringing dinner and sending cards and asking me again and agin how I am, listening to me cry and giving me opportunities to serve in the midst of it all. God spoke to a friend who was herself feeling darkness of fear and hopeless descend and she offered me the opportunity to sit daily with her mother, a beautiful woman who is losing herself to Alzheimers. In the midst of my sorrow, I was given hours each day to step outside of my pain and stay just in the present moment as I guided her through daily living tasks and listened as her snippets of past memories replayed on a continuous loop. Each time she told me about her time as a bus driver, we spoke as if I was hearing it for the first time and I felt delight. Each time. Because I was with a woman who was living out her joys over and over, not one who sat in bitterness and shame and sorrow. She was not reliving the hardest times, those she had already released from her memory. I saw the power of looking always towards the Light.

Turning my perspective away from a personal character flaws and into realization that evil is afoot, hardening hearts and sowing discord, I am free to see the real person, the true struggle and feel compelled to share more of my light, more of my hope and certainly more of my prayers. For too many years, I internalized the darkness, accepting the blame for circumstances, doubting my own worth. Bad things happened, I must be bad. God must not extend His promises to the likes of me, why else would all this keep occurring? These days, I am leaning into the complexities of words like because, in spite of, even though. When taken into context of relationships, causation and blame and responsibility are highlighted. Heartbreaks don’t find us BECAUSE of God, He remains present IN SPITE OF our circumstances and the evil we face, He will bring good and joy EVEN THOUGH we may not see it or even want it. It all changes how I see our Father.

More clearly I perceive how evil breaks up marriages, how children are led into estrangement, how we accept others as lesser because of color or bank accounts or political beliefs. Giving into the darkness of judgement and division, of depression and resentment, satan wins and we all lose. Conversely, where the Light shines, we live out   grace and forgiveness and compassion and a deep desire to right wrongs. The Light is always there, waiting to warm us and show us joy and purpose. A bridge has been built and I am stepping onto it, trusting that I will be held securely even when I stumble, even when I fall.

Will you join me on the bridge? The view is amazing.

 

 

On This Day

Early each morning, I grab my phone and search Facebook, not for the latest pictures of a friend’s dinner or the promoting I receive to go to the same events as all my friends, but to look at the compilation of pictures and posts that Facebook offers through the “On This Day” generator. Still, I have been dreading this one, my son’s birthday. It has been barely 3 months since he died, since I learned we will celebrate no more birthdays, hear his laugh and watch him with his son never again. His birthday is so close to Easter each year, my faith is refreshed or challenged even greater every year, depending on how much he has struggled with addiction, how long he lived in sobriety. Today, as I looked over all the previous posts and prayers and pictures I had posted, I was reminded of the faithfulness of friends who have joined us, not just yearly but daily as we prayed for our son. I am reminded of how hard we fought to give him a chance. I am reminded reminded reminded but I will not get lost in all the memories. Still seeking the promises of Easter, I am looking to the Light. This child’s birthday was no accident even if his death was. Long ago God knew that I would need to be surrounded by purple, the color of resurrection and Arrow’s favorite when the hurt and worry and fear would be threatening to destroy me.  The knowledge that I will see him again soothes a mama’s aching heart on this day, my son’s birthday.

Until we celebrate together again, happy birthday Nick. My love will follow you everywhere.

April 5, 2016

“I am thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength” Alex Elle

April 5, 2015 

Happy Birthday to my favorite son! I know you no longer share my faith yet how amazing that your day, the day of your miraculous birth falls this year on the greatest day in the life of a Christian.  You see, you were a miracle to me, always have been.  My mother struggled with fertility, lost many babies before uncle Joe was born and then several more between he and I.  When your father and I wanted a family, I couldn’t get pregnant right away and began to freak.  what if I did the same as my mom?  it took a long time before sis came a long and then I lost one between you.  I was so very sick and on steroids and lots of antibiotics during the pregnancy with you, i was terrified you wouldn’t be ok.  and then my grandfather died right before you were born.  I just felt it was an omen.  but you came and were perfect and always so very sweet and healthy and your heart was the biggest part of you.

Scott feels like my life has been a test of my faith and a chance to say i still believe in the midst of the storm.  I have had too many storms, I am growing so incredibly weary, yet I still believe.  My faith in God isn’t gone, just my faith in my ability to weather all of this.  The story of Easter is that Good Friday is the worst day ever, the day Jesus was killed for me.  a horrific death where he was separated from His Father.  then Saturday comes and it is all about the waiting and the confusion for the followers, wondering now what.  because we know that on sunday, they roll the rock away and the tomb is empty, that God had fulfilled His promises.  Pure Joy on Sunday.

But for me, at this point in my life, I am stuck on Saturday.  I am waiting for the pure joy of reconciliation with Alex and the joy of seeing my granddaughter.  The confusion and worry and frustration are non stop.  But in the midst of this, God reminded me about your birth.  It comes on this most special sunday.  And you are still alive.  and you are amazingly mature and full of thoughts of the future and taking ownership of the past.  This is the miracle of Easter for us this year, the promises kept.  it was a long 9 years of saturday.

So whether you believe or not, God is using you in many ways to pick me up off the floor and get me back in the game.  Happy birthday my miracle.  I love you.  thanks for growing up and not just getting older.  you mean the world to me. I cant wait to celebrate so many more birthdays with you.  mom

April 5, 2014 

“Sometimes God makes better choices for us than we could have ever made for ourselves.”
― Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 

April 5, 2013 

It’s just a phase it’s just a phase it’s just a phase it’s just a phase

April 5, 2012  

today i am so very very grateful for the chance to say it is my son’s 21st birthday and he is safe and sober, i can trust he will be alive to see the next one.

 

April 5, 2012 

blessed with friends who take me for coffee and lunch, who listen to me blather on about my woes and hug me when it is over. blessed to walk in to church and share a story, a smile, a tear and communion. blessed to spend the evening with Plum who helps heal an aching heart with his joy

April 5, 2011 

20 years ago i met an incredible boy, one who has great wit and intelligence, charm that should be spread among many, and a smile that will melt your heart. i praise God that we get to celebrate this day and i thank so many friends for all the diligent prayers. what a blessing today is!

April 5, 2010 

okay prayer warriors.. today is Nick’s birthday and I want to thank you all for your dedication to getting him here! he turns 19 today but we can’t let up now, he is really in a battle and some days I fear we have lost him for good and other days I see my son shining through. so if you have a moment, please lift him up, that he might find a way out of this hell of addiction.

 

My Whale of Grief

The story of Jonah and the whale has been reverberating these last few days, bouncing around my mind as I vacillate between trying to string thoughts together and shutting down any thoughts at all. Why is this bit of scripture pestering me, what have I to learn or gather from the story of a man who avoided his calling, who went to extremes to push his own agenda and allow his anger and hate to fester? What I am sure of is this relentless pursuit of my soul is not of my prayers, rather those of all who are surrounding us in these dark days. I just want to be left alone, allowed to nurture my resentments and give way to the grief that is telling me to give up, to become bitter and even to explain to the God who is supposed to bring me comfort that He has failed me miserably. Yet the whale and this man are hounding me.

I can barely type the words that share I have lost my son. I cannot find motivation to live in this world without the hope of reconciliation, without the knowledge that my baby is out there somewhere, smiling and laughing and being so silly. No, I have been swallowed by the whale of heartache, unlike Jonah I haven’t found a way to pray to this God who seems to love others, to cherish them and allows a mother’s heart to be shredded again and again. I wish I were stronger, more faithful, to rest in the truth of God’s ever presence, even within a sea serpent’s belly of soul crushing devastation. But maybe if I allow a bit, a tiny thread of connection to this far away God, I can admit that even while Jonah was disobeying God, questioning the direction God was asking him to go, still He saved this man and allowed him sanctuary within the whale, a place of darkness, room to mourn for the ideas and hopes he had while preparing for the next step in his journey.

The rest of Jonah’s story is seemingly not for me, a future of proclaiming God’s faithfulness and even then resurrecting anger and hate. I am stuck in hopelessness, filled with the horror of seeing my son for the final time in such a horrible state, days after he had taken his last breath, after an autopsy that only brings insult to the baby I held, the child I nurtured and cuddled and bathed. Desecration, disrespect as the crematorium owner placed a box of tissues on top my son as he laid cold and bare, swollen and discolored, a simple act of treating him like a bench forever etched within my soul. The belly of the whale will hold me for longer than Jonah’s three days, I am comfortable there where no light shines. I have no great testimony to lead others to truths that seem empty as each night comes and then the morning, the sheer insult of time continuing for me when it has stopped for my boy.

Maybe one day I will emerge, asked to be thrust back into the world where I can find purpose and shout that God held me during my exile. Until then, I can feel the prayers of those who surround us, those who tell me that they are talking to God because they understand that I cannot, that I will not. The problem is that I do not want to loosen the binds of my grief, what is left if I allow myself to fall fully into this horror, will I someday come to laugh and smile again? How could I want to carry on, to do the work of this God who seems to care so little for me? No, Jonah,  I will sit within the belly of my grief, you can pray to God all you want, I prefer to stay in the darkness, secluded from joy.  God and I have some things to work through, words I must speak that are not fit for those who wait on the shore. I have been angry at God before but this time, this is just a bridge too far, a brokenness that will never be healed.

As raw as the fish that were swallowed with Jonah, my grief is foul and writhing. As I claim my time within it, I can hear the whispers of you all. Thank you for your belief, for lifting me and telling me to breathe. Someday I may tell you a story of my healing. That day is not today.

When You Parent an Addict

I know there are stages of grief, I haven’t bothered to research where anger falls, should I have already been depressed or shocked or is the anger that is consuming me right on time? I lost my son last friday morning, the truth is that he was lost to me when he began using again and we had to make him leave our home, again again again after all the years of prison visits and commissary money and daily phone calls. We welcomed our sober son back into our home, took him to get his license reinstated, got his teeth fixed, got a car for him and a job. We bought new clothes for the new man he wanted to be. We welcomed home this humble, grateful young man who so deeply desired a relationship with his son, who wanted to do projects around the house and lift anything even slightly heavy for me, he sought ways to repay us for our steadfast support. He was surrounded by those who loved him to health, loved him always enough to say no.

My beautiful son who wore a tattoo proclaiming, “mama’s boy” met a girl who brought him a bottle of wine for dinner, he wanted to impress that girl, he wanted to be the guy who could have a drink and not lose himself. Yet he quickly disappeared, became the secret-keeping, bottle hiding, angry addict who neglected his child and forgot that he was so much more without substances clouding his beautiful blue eyes. We lost our 26 year old son Friday morning and have been dealt indignity after indignity by those who are clinging to the fantasy that young men die naturally at home with pill bottles around them. That is was normal for an opioid addict to get a prescription for Oxy and take it with no issues. My friend reminded me that successful addicts require equally determined enablers to practice the dance with their demons. My son was nothing if not a skilled manipulator of those who wanted to believe his lies, wanted to drink and use, some able to walk away, go back to work, leave him in his misery.

Parenting an addict means you dread that phone call, you beg God to protect him when you no longer can. Parents of addicts rarely get to say yes, we have to say stop, no, you cannot do that here.  We have to drop them off at rehabs and call the police and then pay for lawyers when they finally get arrested, a desperate last hope to save them. We too had a dream for our son, one that included his reality, that he needed to be held accountable, that one slip up could be his last one. We dreamt of his reconciliation with his son, for his silly goofy laugh to fill our home again. Staying strict to the plan we were given 11 years ago during his first stint in rehab, the one that said we cannot enable or we will contribute to his death, we had to say no. Yet his charm allowed him to find others who would say yes, others who would hasten what we sought desperately to avoid.

My son lost his battle, one last high after a night of using and shopping for gifts for his son, spending an hour on the phone with Plum’s mom who could hear him slurring more and more as the call progressed. He wasn’t planning to die, he just wasn’t planning to live. The truths that I will carry with me always is that my son loved his family, he adored his son. He loved his mama, he had the deepest gratitude and respect for Chef. His heart was the biggest part of him and he was big.  He was a forgiver, his sensitivity was unmatched. He would be appalled knowing I walked into a ghetto store front crematorium to identify him, days and days later, my final goodbye too horrific and callous to comprehend. He would be furious that his son has been relegated as an after thought, he would hate that Chef wasn’t included in the obituary and I came after the dog. Yet it all makes perfect sense, knowing that addicts have to keep the parts of their life separate, telling one story to one person, another to someone else, building a sandcastle of lies. He died using, but he was more than those final moments.

My son died Friday morning and I am angry. We owe him no less in death than we gave him in life, the truth. We owe the truth to all those who are struggling with their own children, with their own addiction. None are guaranteed one more high. To all who are living out the anguish, remember, you can choose the hardest road and find it is filled with laughter and raindrops and starry nights and the sweet smell of your child’s hair. My son chose wrong. We didn’t. I would do it all over again, because when you are the parent of addict, what else can you do? While we will never heal from the loss our son, we will wake each morning with no regrets. His demons won out Friday morning yet now he will smile his beautiful without agony or fear or shame, he is safe back with the One who shared him with us 26 years ago.

What I Want vs. What Is Right

I didn’t stay for the entire sermon, too many details and tasks in the kitchen beckoning me out of the sanctuary and into the kitchen. I was chomping at the bit, a luncheon for 40 and then dinner for around 300 to prepare. I was distracted but heard some of the words my pastor was sayings something about wanting to do good but getting tripped up. Yeah, yeah, I thought, that is me as I eased out of a side door and got busy laying out trays of meats, bowls of fruit. The week only got busier and I barely gave it a thought even though I vowed to myself to go back and listen online to the entire sermon. He may have been speaking directly to me as I snuck away, a warning that I was ignoring. Still the Word of God is not be denied and my bumbling through the days with less sleep and more activity caught up with me, my walls of emotional protection slipped and 3 days late, the message hit.

Busyness of meal planning and prep and directing kitchen volunteers and serving all the families who come to dinner before leaving their children at Vacation Bible School was distracting me from missing my Plum who is gone on a 2 1/2 week vacation with mama in an area that is so remote we cannot even speak regularly by phone. We haven’t been away from each other this long in years, not since I was the one gone and then fully occupied as well. It was creeping into my heart each day more and more how sad I was that he was missing this huge life altering event at our church, how deeply he loved it last year. He sang all the songs for weeks, he truly bonded to his friends and the other adults at church. That was the week the church fully became his family, his home. Now he was missing it. While knowing this time was good for him with his family, I wanted him at church too. When they had a good signal and we could truly catch up, I didn’t hear the voice of a child begging to come home to his Gran. Instead, this boy and his mama and sister are in wonderful hands, fishing, swimming, exploring, and bonding with each other in the most meaningful ways. This time will be looked back on as sacred in life of the family, I am sure. I hung up the phone and celebrated the good that was happening and still, STILL, I longed for him to be here at church. I want to do good and then I do wrong.

Flash forward to late in the evening as the director of this years craziness at VBS finally snuck into the kitchen for her plate of food we had set aside for her. I shared with her how much I missed having Plum there and how wonderful his vacation was turning out to be for his family. She said, he is having his own sanctuary. If my huge beast had knocked me to the ground again, I couldn’t have been shocked more. Exactly, yes. That one word preached to me, reminded me that my desires were getting in the way of the God who was handling it all, who sees the whole picture and was caring for the whole life of my sweet little boy. He may not learn the message this year with the other children that God is always with you but he is living it out. I would do well to remember that message myself.

I am not even getting into the Facebook memory from years ago that popped up where I was claiming pride because my son finally owned his stuff, showed humility and gratitude and was ready to accept his consequences. My heart ached as we are so far from that reality, addiction does that, steals our loved ones and turns them into hate-filled selfish blaming monsters. Then a friend who has walked and sobbed and only with the grace of God is still standing through times worse than ours, who is helping on our kitchen crew, with a twinkle in her eye told me her son came for dinner. My tears couldn’t be controlled, I celebrated with her, this tiny achievement for anyone else, something not many would even recognize. She and I know what it means: hope. Hope for him, for my son, for all those lost and not found yet.

So I left the sermon early because I was just too busy and God found me anyway, on a Wednesday when I needed to hear that HE is bigger and I am often my own worst enemy. I skipped the offering plate as well, so I offer this now: I am a willful child who keeps doing wrong, even for what I think are the right reasons. Still, I keep showing up and God lights the way. I give all of me, sometimes and most of me more of the time. He works with that and is sorting me out All Of The Time, even when I hang out in the kitchen. I suspect this week was about schooling Gran and not my Plum.  Well played, God, well played.

 

Romans 7:14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. The Message.

Thank you Eugene Peterson, for making the language accessible.

Empty Tomb No More

Recently I wrote about Being Stuck at the Empty Tomb, New Perspective hopelessly out of reach. Rarely have I gotten what I asked for so quickly. Maybe it was my utter devastation, my complete lack of direction. Maybe I was just empty enough to listen finally, to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit tell me to open my Bible to the book of Romans. I did and what I found was perspective, the exact thing I was seeking. I don’t have easy answers but I have a new outlook, sometimes that is all it takes to start the day anew, to find the energy for a shower , to make lunch, to go smell the flowers.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How many times have I heard that haunting call of Jesus at the cross, always considering the agony of Jesus dying to humanity, the burden of our meanness and judgments and horrible behavior requiring that he suffer the worst that we may experience the best? I haven’t ever stopped to imagine what God must have felt, to be separated from His Son in that moment. Yes, He knew the outcome, He knew how long it would last, but He also knew that in the deepest darkest moment when His child needed Him, He could only remain close but not fix it all, make it better, stop the destruction. I am horrified to realize that my sinfulness caused God to be separated, even for an instant, from His Son.  I also realize that God fully understands the agony of an estranged parent. He gets that pain of one left alone while sin runs rampant and destroys the family. He knows the only way to restoration and redemption is to be rejoined with Him. All this time while I thought I was suffering alone, begging God to return these children to me, He was saying, “Lisa, I want them to come home to me as well.”

I was drawn to the book of Romans today and as scripture so often does, the words jumped off the screen to me, they were alive.  I read the first chapter and was shocked to see that this new estrangement epidemic was not so new after all. Paul wrote about it: “They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way.” Romans 1:30 I have wondered how my Stella could reconcile such a hard heart with what is preached in church each Sunday, I know my Arrow has stepped far away from his Christian faith. Before either of them can be returned to me, they must return to God. After all, they were His first. His agony must be horrific, to see His children so far away from knowing Him, believing and trusting in Him. In my weakest moments, I thought God had left me in this misery, I missed that we were suffering together.

My new perspective changes nothing in my relationship with my children, or lack of one. What has altered though is my closeness with God. No longer battling with Him, feeling lost in questions about why spring can come again but not my daughter, I understand now that the flowers bloom and the birds chirp as we together look for hope that they too will see those and hear those and remember that He is the creator of all. As my daughter shows the buds of new life to her daughter, surely she is explaining about the God who delivers anew our second chances and forgives us. As my son prepares to welcome into the world his daughter, can there ever be a more spiritual moment than that? Surely they are facing opportunities to find Him again and then they can find me. Perspective, I see you.

I know now that my prayers are not that God might hear me, that He might see my pain and my worry and that He might bring about the change NOW!!! How many times have I moaned that I cannot go on? How many times have I called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He has been with me all along, the separation only in my mind. No longer helpless or powerless, I am united with a mighty God who can bring these children home, home to Him. Restoration to the greater family of Christ, then to ours. Together then we will smell flowers and feed birds and laugh and go to church and praise a God who loves us enough to give us the hope of spring days during dark winter moments. Now I join with God to pray that they grab hold of the faith of their youth, that they turn back to Him.

My new perspective, not from a bottle or the store but waiting for me in scripture all along. Psalm 62 reminds me: 5Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 6Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

Do you see the lilacs bursting on the bushes, the breeze bringing the sweetness of spring into every open window, filling our homes with soul lifting hope? Can you hear the songbirds, as they busily seek twigs and strings, preparing to build nests and lay eggs and carry on with life, fulfilling their purpose? We won’t be shaken today friends, if we stay steadfast in our unity in the Creator of all. My new perspective is quite an old one, sometimes I misplace it in the dark. Blessedly, God shines some light and doesn’t let me get too lost. I trust He will do the same for those I love.

Bursting

I got smacked in the face with my wealth yesterday. I thought I was helping her out, giving her a ride to see her son in prison. I hadn’t spent much time considering why she couldn’t drive herself. I hadn’t spent much time wondering what all separated her experience from mine. I could only see how we were sisters, how we were united in the terrible experience of motherhood from afar, behind razor wire and across county lines, accessible only when the bureaucracy that contains our children determines. I saw our connectedness. I didn’t know that string was a barely visible thread. My earnest heart was blind to all, my desire so great to help that I missed all the needs I could have been fulfilling.

I picked up Mom and Grandma to drive them to the prison an hour and a half away. We stowed Grandma’s walker in the trunk and began to know each other. I discovered that this was a surprise visit, the son didn’t know we were coming as I had assumed. I remember all the visits with Arrow, carefully planned. He would call the morning of the visit to see if we had left yet, he would call when he thought we were getting close. His anxiety was so great, his ability to wait in short supply. He always knew we were coming for a visit. Many times he would call just as we were turning into the prison grounds or were half way there to alert us to a change: a lockdown in the entire prison, visits canceled for all due to a shortage of staff, a holiday that was changing the regular schedule. We would all share our disappointment as we turned around, sought a park or play place for Plum, headed home. Still, he always knew. Because we had money to send to keep his phone account funded, I couldn’t survive otherwise. I couldn’t. Even when the $20 I sent was the last that I had, it was in my mind a necessity. Now I see that is a luxury. I knew it somewhere back then but that is how I survived my son being incarcerated. We talked almost daily, for 2 1/2 years. This mom and grandmother did not have that luxury. The $20 would have been spent a hundred times over on other necessities. Real necessities.  So no, her son did not know we were driving there for a visit and maybe could have saved us a trip but was surely saved the excruciating disappointment of knowing his mother was just that close, only to be denied.

As we drove we talked about the all the hurdles one must jump in order to actually make it inside to visit. We were celebrating that we were finally making the drive. I mentioned guards telling us our clothing didn’t meet the criteria for the visiting room, even after we had carefully checked and rechecked before leaving home. Mom asked me if her skirt would be okay. A quick glance to the backseat told me I had missed that detail in the loading of the walker, in the rush to go. No, no, I think that will be an issue. Let’s stop at the closest dollar store and just grab some pants. No worries, we have had to do it several times. I assured her not to be concerned, it doesn’t have to be the prettiest thing, just do the job. I am an ass sometimes. She picked out a pair of pants that had a matching tank top she would save for later, I pulled out my card to pay as she promised to pay me when she got a check again (I declined the offer) and she went to change. She raved about her new pants. She called her boyfriend. She told her mom she has a new matching top. Stopping to buy throw away clothes just to get in to see my son is a luxury. Stopping to buy clothes to see hers was a bonus gift, something that made her feel special and excited and new. Later I realized that stop made the day more bearable, she at least got a new outfit. From the dollar store. A luxury.

The day was a bust, we were denied the visit even though the hours are given on the website and on the answering machine. We will try again. But more than that, I was given a chance to have my wounds examined, aired bit, determine just how fresh or healed they were. I realized that while my Arrow is mad at me now for boundaries set after his release, I know I supported him to my utmost ability while he was experiencing the worst of what the justice system has to offer addicts. I know that he and I are outliers. I know that while we suffered, our suffering was still in luxury. He had a continual flow of pictures of his home and his son. He had Amazon deliveries of books and newspaper subscriptions. His commissary account was never empty. His visits were as often as allowed. We never were unable to see him due to our own economic hardships: lack of transportation, inability to purchase clothing to meet fuzzy standards, basic reading skills that allowed us to complete the tricky forms. We live richly and he did so while in prison.

They asked if we could stop at the local quick mart to grab a gallon of milk, they had enough food stamps to cover it. I wanted to take them to the larger grocery store but they had arranged a ride for that later, to do bigger shopping. They just needed milk for now. Shopping at the quick mart is how people in poverty are drained of their money. I hated sitting in the car while Mom went into buy milk. We don’t ever buy milk there, we know it is way too costly. That is luxury, the ability to save money by shopping wisely. She bought 2 gallons to save a trip. My heart sank as I watched her lug them to the car. She could have gotten 3 at the grocery store in my end of town.

Many of my bubbles were burst yesterday and I am sitting in the mess of it. I am newly wounded, newly convicted that I have much I don’t need or even want and others survive on so little. Of course I knew that already but when smacked in the face with it as I drove my car and carried passengers who ask how much I will charge to pick up their son when he is finally released.  I know I have more to do in showing I am giving of me, not holding out my hand to take from them. When Mom asked if we could maybe text each other sometimes, now that I have her number, I agreed. She asked if maybe I would send her a prayer sometimes. This seems like a starting place. Where I can redeem myself from my rich girl preconceptions and remember that we are actually still sisters. We are united in hurting over our children. We share a Father. This Father wants me to see His hurting children and get my wounds reopened and get hurting alongside them because I have given all of me. One ride to a prison is just not going to be enough. That would be a luxury.

Blindly

Rude Pants

I am horrified and dismayed to report that my sweet little Plum woke this morning in a rather foul mood. Actually he woke me up and then things turned foul. It was too early, not by much but I have been too tired lately for our extra early rises, I needed that 15 minutes more. I said go back to bed, he said I was a rude pants. I said go back to bed, he went downstairs and turned on the tv. Now I was facing a choice, a really terrible choice where I lost no matter what. I could stay in my very warm bed and try to go back to sleep for a few minutes and know that I had given in to a 6 year old. Or, I could get up and send him right back up to his bedroom thereby getting the beasts roused and my blood pressure roused and him further roused. If you are guessing I stayed in bed to avoid being more than a rude pants gran, well, you know my heart’s desire. But I got up. Thus you should know I am the rudest pants of them all. The very angry child went back to his room and the beasts and I made coffee.

See we have a rule in our home, the best boy ever cannot get up until 6 am. He has a digital clock in his room to let him know if it is time yet to wake the grandparents. Because he is such an early riser, this has saved us from 4:30 starts to our day on many occasions. This has allowed him to exercise some control over his morning, to understand the boundaries and not be in a position to ask without all the information at his disposal. So waking me too early was an out of bounds request and had to be addressed. An attempt to push the clock rule just a bit. With summer coming, I knew I had to tighten up. With it being Sunday and his return to Mama, I knew I had to be sure he was well rested and anyway I could nap later. All this made my choice of getting up to be the enforcer easier, to be crowned the rudest pants of all somewhat palatable.

Later, as we discussed the need for rules, like was it okay for his 3 year old cousin to race across the street yesterday even though I was shouting her name and telling her to stop (the other children watched in horror having already internalized that rule) or like if cars don’t choose to stop at red lights or drive on their side, he understood people have made those regulations to keep us safe. We talked about bigger statues like no killing and being kind, who’s rules are those? Those are God’s he knew. But still, guidelines that keep him in bed when he wants to get up, hard to take. I get it. Accountability is for the other people. All the other people who are not me. We addressed that idea as well. Dear Lord, this is a large mug of coffee day, a bit more sugar added, if we have to hit on all this before 6:30 am.

As a parent with some truly complicated relationships with her children, I analyze and inspect every choice I make with Plum. I look at how I raised my two and am determined to not make any of the same mistakes and to keep doing what I think I did right with them. One child graduated from college, taught in a foreign country, seemed to be such an independent thinking young woman. The other has chosen a different path, took a detour through years of drug use and the ensuing addiction facilities before a stint in jails and prisons slowed him down. He now is out, has completed secondary education and is gainfully employed. He is, I believe, helping to support the new family he is creating although he has not yet caught up to supporting the child he left behind. Still they both began their lives wrapped in love and books and songs and full knowledge that I meant what I said and followed through. I did the hard stuff, but not enough hard stuff. I tried to save them from too much. I intervened too often. I didn’t let them learn to be accountable. Until it was too late and I wondered why they didn’t just know.  Why did they feel so entitled? They aren’t alone, regardless of their unique situations. An entire generation has lost it’s footing, feels completely justified in breaking away when they don’t like what they hear, don’t like the rules, don’t like being told to go back to bed or to work or to the table to talk. More than rude pants, those of us who try to enforce some rules or boundaries are labeled toxic.  I like rude pants better.

As I have scoured the internet for information regarding estrangement, I am flabbergasted at the plethora of memes and Pinterest quote pages devoted to each person’s right to cut off those who just don’t make us feel good. There are days I spend so lost in all that I did wrong that I can’t imagine any other result than to be cut out of my daughter’s life. I replay the conversations and the conflicts that arose when she became involved with her now husband, issues we never had before. It is easy to say it is all his fault but maybe she always felt that way and just didn’t have an escape route. Then I wake up to a new day and remember all that I did right, I replay how deeply we laughed and how long we talked and know she escaped to another continent and we were still good. But still, it isn’t his fault. It is ultimately her choice, she is accountable and that breaks me further. What I am sure of is this, I didn’t teach either of them to discard me. I didn’t teach them to find no value in me, I didn’t teach them that people have no worth and that we throw them away if they don’t make us feel good all the time. This I am sure of. Sometimes people hold us accountable, we have rules to follow. It rarely feels good to be the enforcer, if you are a mercy kind of person or one who just wants to stay in your warm bed. It likewise doesn’t feel good to be reminded of the rules, regardless of our age. Reminded of family norms and customs and fitting a new spouse into those, making room for different ways, that is a place rife for conflict and misunderstanding. It may require much time at the table talking. Accountability for all.  A review of the rules, an adjustment of some, relaxing of others. Family meetings, we used to have those, where we hashed out issues and practiced conflict resolution. I know we modeled that. I think she has forgotten.

Most of my research shows adult children who describe choosing estrangement from “toxic” parents who were abusive, who suffered serious psychological disorders, who held them back from their dreams and stunted their growth. I am either so blind or lack any insight at all but I just can’t find myself in these descriptors. I search for nuggets of truths, because she hasn’t told me. I look for our story because I only know my half. I can only be accountable for what I know and it is missing the pertinent pieces. I beg God daily for a chance to hear my wrongs and atone. How can I ever do better, how can I possibly not mess up with Plum if I just don’t know? He is angry with me, I am quite honestly not all that pleased with him when he wakes me too early and starts our day with a battle. But I hold him accountable and I require that he discuss the problem with me. I allow him to be mad at me but not disrespectful. I am the rudest of all the rude pants but I am trying to be a better parent. We sing, we read books, we laugh deeply and we have long talks. Please please God let this story end differently. Show me how to live it out so that my heart is not thrown away just when it all gets so good, when all the hard stuff is done.

Just in case, I teach Plum about mercy and forgiveness also. I am sure I taught Stella and Arrow about this as well, but I work extra hard on these lessons. We practice second chances and fresh starts, we give out apologies and we learn to accept them. We allow anger and frustration and real feelings to roam throughout our home and then we figure out how to bring joy back in to the mix. Some days I miss Stella so much that I don’t even want to get out of bed, I resent the fact that anyone else does. Why are we even starting another day? Maybe that is why I didn’t want to rise this morning, maybe that is why I am a rude pants today. Still, I rise, in the great horrible words of Maya Angelou. Because maybe today will be the day. If not, I am accountable to another child and a merciful God who gave me a fresh start. I am accountable for this air that fills my lungs, that I not waste it moaning in agony but singing praises in church. I am accountable for these eyes, that I not fill them only with tears of agony but with utter gladness that the lilacs are beginning to bloom. Today I have a second chance, I rise up, drink my coffee and know this is the day.  The day the rudest pants of all will rejoice and be glad in it anyway.