The Long Saturday

Many years ago, our family watched a movie together that struck the children deeply, The Passion of Christ. None of us have been able to attend a second showing, the images of Jesus nailed to the cross, suffering and mourning so clear, we got the message and haven’t been able to shake it, even during difficult times. I remember Arrow being especially moved and vocal, he was angry at how Jesus was treated, he couldn’t grasp the cruelty. During later years as he moved away from believing, when he resisted going to church and he began to play with other religions during his incarceration, I trusted that the child who once read every book in the Left Behind for Kids series and who ached over this movie still had the seeds of faith within him. No one was witness to his last moments, we cannot say for sure that he called out to God or begged for forgiveness or even rejected it all as he took his last breath. I can only continue to believe that the Holy Spirit was with my son, given to us by God’s Son during his last breaths.

I attended the Good Friday service this week at our church, or part of it. I made it through the beginning songs but when members stood on the altar and portrayed those who witnessed Jesus’s death with an authenticity I could feel and get lost in, I found I couldn’t witness this murder. One young man gave insight into the soldiers who carried out the job of crucifixion, a horrible job that becomes doable when only with detachment, the separation of one’s heart and one’s body. I have been that guy, witnessing horror, participating in the destruction of others by mocking and questioning and above all, not stepping in to say no. Plum asked me the other day if there was ever any kids I didn’t like when I went to school. As I struggled to answer his question, memories of one particular little girl came to mind. She was different, annoying, she was too skinny and wore odd clothes. She had no friends so the day she decided to sit with me at lunch, to join my group, what to me was an implication that I accepted her and maybe could be like her, my fragile identity and need for acceptance from the larger group resulted in a shameful bullying incident that has haunted me for 45 years. When she refused to move even after we told her to, I dumped my tray of spaghetti on her. I cringe as I write this, unable to fathom the cruelty I lived out. When I was disciplined, it was not with suspension or spanking, instead a favorite teacher took me into his room and said the worst thing possible, that he was disappointed in me. That moment solidified for me that I had a choice about how I was going to grow into my character. I could follow the group, I could seek acceptance by behaving horrifically, or I could see the humanity in all around me and choose kindness. I evaluated the popular group I so wanted to be in with and found that I really didn’t have anything in common with them, I really was more like the girl on the fringe. I cannot say that she and I became great friends but I never again rejected her, I did eat lunch with her and I found she had gifts I had previously overlook and discounted. As that respected teacher spoke to me, I lost the ability to detach my heart and crucify others. I didn’t share the whole story with Plum who is kind to the odd kids and would be shocked that his grandma once behaved so poorly. One day though, he will hear this truth and will know that kindness is always our best choice.

Our pastor gave a moving portrayal of the man who hung on the cross next to Jesus, his gasping breaths and last minute acceptance of the offer of salvation, so real and true and horrific, I wanted to bolt from the room. I have been that guy, living a life of deception, suffering the consequences of mistakes that have taken away any dignity or hope, only to turn my soul over to the only One who continued to hang with me, the One who has offered me forgiveness again and again. When I was first imprisoned, when I sat in the jail cell in shock trying to absorb my reality of two and a half years away from my children, I too was gasping for air, only to find it stale, piped in, rife with desolation as others struggled to breathe as well. I begged God to let me die, I sought some means to end it all, the agony of it all wracked my body. Yet in the darkest moments, when I couldn’t escape my horror, I was flooded with the presence of the Holy Spirit, the reminder of the Footprints poem would not leave me, I found a peace I didn’t want, didn’t believe I deserved, as I knew Jesus would carry me when I couldn’t walk. I survived, I healed, I returned a stronger, surer woman who was determined never to be used by a man again, who would seek out God for my redemption always. Unlike the man on the cross, my conversion moment has been stretched over decades, a constant need to turn my eyes away from the harsh realities of this world and focus on God.

Next came the sounds of Jesus’s mother, wailing as she watched her son die. During the last three months as I have sought out God to make sense of my son’s death, I forgot about another mother who lost her son. Alternating between finding comfort knowing God fully knew my pain and being angry that He didn’t stop the loss, I never imagined how Mary must have felt. Yet her son offered comfort even to her in that moment, He instructed another to be her child. He assigned her another son, he solidified that even if she was childless through His death, she would continue to be a mom. He knew they would need each other as they grieved, as mourning threatened to destroy all hope. My wounds are too raw, too fresh, my other child is not joining with me to mourn. Mary’s sorrow was too real to me, I had to leave. As she proclaimed that she didn’t want Him to be Jesus, savior of the world, but just her son, I knew in that moment her mother’s heart just wanted her son back, not this man who made His own choices and suffered the consequences. She couldn’t rescue the baby she had carried, bereft, she cried out at the injustice, at the death of her joy. I have truly been Mary, my son  imperfect but loved by so many,  he too left way too young, he had much left to do on this earth.

Listening from outside the sanctuary, I heard bits and pieces of the witness of others. I considered that Jesus was someone different to each, multiple levels of mourning and relationship were evident during His execution. Friends and followers watched, confused and searching for answers. Left wondering how it all could go so wrong so swiftly, dreams of a better future shattered, swept away as the crowd celebrated. Considering how my son died as suddenly, warning signs clear just as Jesus foresaw His own death, yet ignored, discounted. Still those around my son mourn in shock. His friends, his family, co workers, teachers, all  replaying what happened, searching for answers, desperate to find a different truth than the reality that this was inevitable, that the choices Arrow made led him to his own destruction. Our sins led to the death of Jesus, we are complicit, our very nature made it necessary for the sacrificial lamb to die. Is the same true for my son? What did we miss, what wrongs were committed that encouraged his substance abuse? What more could we have done over the 11 years of his addiction to help him chose life over this disease? Yes, the witnesses to his death are left wondering, wishing for an answer to explain this loss, knowing none will ever bring him back. Hopes for a better future died that morning as they both took their last breaths. The long waiting through Saturday, after that horrific Friday, filled with confusion and seeking ends with the joyous discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday, for the followers of Jesus. My Saturday blanketed Sunday and Monday and all the days after. I’m struggling to get to Sunday, the day of restoration and affirmation.

My son’s birthday falls close to Easter each year. I know there is a story in that, preparation during 26 years to remember the promises of God at the end of the story, to not get stuck in the desolate Saturday of a hard life. As I look back on each year with him, as we baked cakes and blew out candles and sent cards to prison and rejoiced that he was among us for another chance of a bright future, I was being trained, conditioned. Don’t look merely at the emptiness of my heart, rejoice in the transformation of a life. Watch as my sins as a bully in elementary school and his drug use are opportunities to turn toward the light, see grace scatter shame like bits of colored egg shells swept into the trash. The good stuff is inside of us, the flashy colors and decorations an enticement to us to go deeper, find the prize within, to gain nourishment for our souls. Still I am stuck on Saturday, a seemingly endless wait to discover joy again and accept all the grace that Easter brings. I replay the voices from the sanctuary, listening to the witness of believers and doubters alike and know that Sunday will come, one day I too will delight in the empty tomb. Spring is late this year, vacillating between sunny 70 degree days and late snow showers and I find comfort in that. I’m easing into this slow spring season, beginning to notice the birds excitedly chirping, allowing the rain to fall onto my head and sprouting shoots of early flowers to remind that Sunday is around the corner. Embracing the humanity of those who witnessed the execution of my Savior, of those who missed signs to save my son, I realize there is hope enough for me.

 

 

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.

 

Something is Rising

We celebrated Palm Sunday, the day Christians everywhere rejoice in the One who came to save us, paraded into town as we grabbed onto the hope He brought. I have heard the story related countless times, always a bit reluctant to join in the chorus, knowing much more would be asked of me through the church calendar in just days. Yet I can admit here that I am a much better Palm Sunday Christian than a Good Friday one. I am most comfortable following this man, this God among us, when things are going well. I can raise my hands and proclaim He is my king when I am filled with blessings and the mortgage is paid and the children are safe and happy. Yeah, party! Who doesn’t like a chance to see greatness, to snap a picture along the parade route of the biggest celebrity around? I am most fond of this humble man who sends out invitations to join His way of thinking, to be in relationship with His Father.  I can celebrate with the best sideline believers, waving my palms and singing praises. The real test comes on Friday, the symbolism not lost on me as I mark that day each week, remembering the phone call that came to tell me my son had died on an otherwise unremarkable Friday morning. Can I be a real follower even on Friday?

The progression from Sunday to Friday offers me countless opportunities to live as if I believe even when my heart is broken, even when I am fumbling around in the darkness. I wish I could say I seize those chances, that I trust the Light will always shine. I wish I could say that I once did at least, until my son died and my faith was severely tested. The truth is that I struggle to see Him when the parade is over, when I am alone and faced with the choice to believe. I continue to look for others who also joined the parade but have kept waving their palms, those who know and speak the truth to me as disciples, who don’t shout out for persecution when life is at its hardest. No, I am definitely a second wave believer at best, one who gets converted through the life and walk of those who understood the first time around. When Jesus was carrying the burden of my judgements and anger and shame on that cross, even then I was focused on Him not being who I wanted, not fulfilling all of my immediate needs. I miss the truth over and over, rejecting grace in favor of misery.

I wonder what it will take for me to go all in, to just lay down my doubts and stop hiding behind the waving palms of others. How many times will I be shown through the example of those sitting next to me in church, those who refuse to let me sob alone as the praise team fills the sanctuary with music and all I can feel is sorrow? How many times do I have to experience the grace that overflows when I share frustrations and anger and faulty perspectives with a friend and find I am still accepted even as I am gently nudged into kinder thoughts? Coming to accept that maybe I will always need the witness and example of those more firmly rooted in their faith to keep me walking towards the promised land, I can stop blaming and shaming myself for not being good enough, strong enough to walk in a way that leads others as well. Offering grace and compassion to myself, finding space to be good enough, that is the first step in accepting Him and his unconditional love for me. The steps over the last few years have been leading me here, to this day when I can say, “Oh Honey, you did the best you could.” I realize now Jesus was walking with me, asking to carry my cross the whole time.

As I inch forward and stumble and start again, the relentlessness of God is undeniable. He sends folks to walk with me, to share their struggles and how He has answered their prayers while they reach out a hand and help me up. When I am confused and questioning, clarity comes in the shape of truth speakers sprinkling bits of wisdom and hope like glitter that sparkles and sticks to me even as I try to brush it away.  He sends me out to care for a woman who has lost most of her identity and memories to Alzheimers, maybe the most unlikely of disciples solar, yet I find healing in recounting my own stories to someone completely unable to judge, someone who cannot take sides or evaluate my choices. She is forcing me to stay in the moment, in the conversation happening between us, to find niblets of joy without any self-consciousness. When she laughs, when she tosses her head back and her eyes sparkle with a memory, I forget about all the memories that hold pain and see that I can reorder my own to include ones that bring smiles. In the end, resurrecting every wrong or disappointment or humiliation  is just too much work and adds weight tot he cross I keep trying to carry alone.

We are heading into Friday, days where I can chose to see who God really is, the fullness of His love, or I can chant persecute and wonder why He didn’t live up to His promises. Fridays are hard for me these days, yet I sense something rising within me. I may be becoming one of the disciples, after all. I am being offered another chance to be a believer even when all goes wrong, when my soul is crushed under the weight of mourning. As I watched the children at church parade up to the altar, waving their palm fronds, I felt pulled to let it all go and join them, to unabashedly trust with them that while Fridays are horrible, Sunday does come. Another witness, sent to show me the way, these faith-filled children may have been the last straw. As I gave the thumbs up to my Plum as he stood before the church, I realized I wasn’t just saying good job to him but also affirming with he was doing was good and right and beautiful. And I was agreeing to stay course, to keep walking towards the altar myself. Sunday is coming.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus and Broken and New Life

Today marks the first day of spring, bringing the promise of warm breezes and bursts of color, of longer days and more sunshine according to the calendar if not yet evident in my yard. I’ve always welcomed the changing seasons, arranging my concept of time along 3 month chunks, knowing whatever was going on around me whether bright like summer or dark as winter, only required my celebration or dread for a short time. Cold winter days and frigid nights were manageable for me, always the promise of Spring ahead as I crossed off days and looked for crocus to break through the snow. Fall brings the last invitations to stay outside more comfortably, bonfires keep us engaged in nature and breathing crisp air as it chills, the sun setting before we have even had dinner. I lived in California for a year, experiencing the slight changes the calendar brought, I was out of step and confused when leaves didn’t change color and the sun kept shining. I moved back home to Indiana where endless summers don’t exist and time is clearly marked for me. Now though, I want to stop the clock, stay in winter bundled under covers, wearing thick socks and heavy sweaters. I don’t want the calendar to move forward to a new season of hope and short sleeves, of children running through the yards and riding bikes. I’m not ready.

With each day, I wake to find the calendar is moving me further from the time when my son breathed and laughed and made silly faces. The moment he stopped doing any of those things brought a different invitation, a choice for me to keep marking calendar days or to stop seeing promises of new days entirely. I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle, rising each morning but dreading the move into a new season that my son will never experience. I’m dragging my feet into spring, leaving my heart in winter, choosing not to notice that I don’t need a coat as often, cursing the sounds of children playing outside games filled with running and shouts that carry through the air to my back porch. Losing a child has taught me that everything is now flipped, I don’t want anything that I used to relish. Spinning, tumbling through the days, I don’t seek out stability and security and warmth, signs of newness. I want my dark cave of winter where I can wail and moan, maintain my stuckness alone, less noticeable as others cocoon during the winter months. And what does it mean if I move into the next season, cross that line into the living without my son? It is clearly marked for me, I have to choose now more than ever to embrace the next promise or wallow in the one that was broken. Front porch wind chimes insist I hear even in my cave that the winds of a new season create beauty. I curse them too.

I heard my pastor pray over the congregation this weekend, saying words like Jesus and broken and new life that I have heard most of my life. Yet this man on this day said it and what I can only assume was the Holy Spirit who must have really wanted me to experience those words in a new way, shook me and woke me and altered me. Rather than focusing on the new life given through death, I really heard how He was broken. How He hung on that cross with a destroyed body and yet resurrection was just on the other side. Remembering that this God does know about mourning and breaking and so does His Son, I knew I wasn’t alone. I heard the story of wheat that had to be crushed and planted to bring more to life, I know about crushing and breaking and being buried under the weight of loss. I picture God in that in between time, when hope was just a breath away but the darkness was all around. He too knew that good would come but it didn’t change the sorrow of the moment. Newness couldn’t come without the breaking.

I have resisted the hint of anything good coming from my son’s death, a price too high for any joy that could come after to a mama’s heart. When news thatch of my son’s children received a Social Security check, I was filled with a deep nausea that has only mildly dissipated. While logic says this is good and ensures the children have college funds and a sure supply of food, I can’t help thinking that he was worth more dead than alive based on the checks. I want him instead of the money. I want him instead of a new day. I want him instead of anything and accepting the anything feels like I have turned my back on him, been bought off with daffodils and college tuition and trips to museums. The truth is that it was never either/or. It wasn’t a segment on the Price Is Right, trade in my child for a better future for his. Still, it feels as if accepting the calendar moving and one season siding into the next separates me further from the baby I carried, the child I nurtured, the young man I fought for, the man who left his earth too soon.

I’m with God in the dark days of mourning, He is with me, as I struggle to hold on to winter, as I celebrate that even if the calendar says spring it is cold outside and I need a coat. I’m not ready yet to move forward, each step into the future separating me from a past that holds my child. Time continues without consulting me, never asking if I am prepared for resurrection and buds on the trees. I’m not yet celebrating restoration and sun rays filling my front room. No Easter decorations adorn my front door, no bunnies or eggs grace my dining room table. I’m holding onto winter for a bit longer, even as it lets go of me. My son left us, he didn’t ask if we were ready to release him.  Still he is gone and I am left knowing just how little control I have, unable to save him or stop the warm air from coming. It must be the Holy Spirit whispering to me that it is okay to be broken, to be mourning and lost. One day I may again embrace the fresh scent of lilacs sweeping in open windows. Not today. Just as I cannot see through the fury of a snowstorm, I cannot find my path into sunshine with tear filled eyes. The seed that was planted all those years ago as I heard other prayers about Jesus and broken and new life, that was nurtured and fertilized with stories of others survival through broken times, that seed is pushing upward toward the light, willing spring to come anyway.

I hear you pastor, and Holy Spirit and wind chimes. I’m just not ready.