Changing Time

The wonder of waking to see that my phone and the clock that has rested on the table on my Chef’s side of the bed are an hour apart, understanding that someone somewhere created a program to automatically adjust time while I slept on my device, leaving me with the chore of adjusting all the other clocks around the house to accuracy as time change Sunday arrives. Mentally considering each one that must be pulled from the wall, manually turned back to give an extra hour today, I can’t help but question why I should stop at just one hour, why not go back days, weeks, months. I was given an extra hour to sleep today but what if I had an extra year, 4 years, to go back and redo all the wrongs and the angry words and the missed calls and and and.  Where would I stop?

Ten and a half months have now passed since my son died, 7,665 hours that continuing to accrue and yet I am given this one extra? I want more, I want to go back years. I want to travel to the days of relationship with my daughter, I want to return to when her laughter filled my soul. I want to go back to the days before Arrow’s addiction charted a course we couldn’t alter, back to when he was silly and safe.  How many times must I twist the dial to get back to when life felt sweeter and full of possibility? Each day now brings me closer to the anniversary, December 29, which means all the first times so far have been preparation for this big event, the milestone that shows I have survived without him against what I have often desired. I made it through his birthday, his son’s, mine, Chef’s. Through holidays and spring flowers and starry nights and full moons, through little days and every damn Friday since I got that call that will always mark the before and after of my life. I could go back to before that, but really to set things right, I would have to go much further.

We must be careful with adjusting time, taking only that one hour. If I go back 9 years, I could mess up the sequence and never know my Plum, never hold that tiny baby and sing him to sleep, never teach him to drink from a cup and drop the bottle, never potty train this little boy or help him learn to sleep in the knowledge that he was safe and secure.  I wouldn’t hear his giggles and find Lego everywhere in my home. No, I must only take the 1 hour given, there is still too much to lose by going back which means I must have a reason to go forward. Just as I taught him to tie his shoes and step into the world with confidence, I take the next step and the next, stumbling and tripping and resting often, but moving ever forward.

Looking back is risky. My breathing slows, my thoughts create an impenetrable fog, I miss the sunlight on the leaves. Trusting that timing is above my station, that I cannot return to former days and cannot rush forward to a place where it doesn’t  hurt, I am left with today. One extra hour to wallow, to wonder, to wish, yet still the same 24. A fresh start, a chance to not make the same mistakes and seek forgiveness for those already committed. An opportunity to live into trust, that someone is programming the time to be exactly what I need. I’ll take that extra hour to be gentle with myself, I’ll offer kind words to someone who needs them, I’ll go to bed a bit early tonight and pray to visit with my children at least in my dreams.

How will you spend your extra hour today? May it bring you a sliver of peace and an offering of grace, a chance to tell someone you are sorry and you love them and you delight in their presence in your life. As we move the clocks back, we still must go forward awash in the grace of the Ultimate Timekeeper who understands every minute counts.

 

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.

 

 

Back on the Steps

I sat on the steps in the jail pod and silently begged God to let me die. All means of doing so myself had been removed. I huddled in anguish,  shrouded in the utter devastation that had become my life. I was told my case would never go beyond the investigation, then never beyond the initial charges. When a plea deal was offered, I was advised to reject it, no way would a jury convict. But they did and I sat in jail, awaiting transfer to prison, the nightmare that had begun almost 2 years before culminating in separation from my children for 2 1/2 years. I was told I would be able to see them immediately, another falsehood. It would be six months before the prosecutor completed the paperwork allowing my transfer, a vengeful act to increase my punishment. I sat on those steps and begged God to let me die. Excruciating heartache suffocating me, I could no longer breathe on my own. I didn’t want air to fill my lungs. I rejected food, I wanted no nourishment, my soul felt already dead. I just wanted my body to follow suit. Alone on the steps when all of the other women housed in the pod with me had left for the one hour recreation time, beseeching a God that had surely already forsaken me, I cried out.

My children were 2 1/2 and 5 at the time. I had sang them to sleep each night. I never wanted anything more than to be a mother. No longer able to smell their sweet breath, to feel silky hair glide through my fingers, hear the tinkling melody of little voices, know the weight of a lap immediately filled when I finally sat down, I wanted to escape my body. My senses were empty without children to give them meaning. I had no use for me, without the role of mom. I wanted out. I knew my suffering, I could only allow in tiny fragments of thought about those of my babies before I struggled to hold onto my sanity. What if I just let go?  A God who would allow this all to go so horribly wrong surely could just help me finish the job, just end this now. But He didn’t. He met me on the steps, the lowest place I have ever been and lifted me up. He broke through my anguished pleadings with intrusive images of the footsteps poem. I sought to push it away, arguing with God that I was done, there was nothing left in me, I couldn’t stand, let alone walk. The story kept pushing through, remembering how Jesus carried the person when they couldn’t walk. God told me I was still worth carrying. He was carrying my babies as well.

I don’t remember rising from the steps. There was no miraculous healing. I struggled minute by minute to survive. Somehow I did survive, I took the next bit of air in. I read the Bible that was given by some church group that visits prisoners.  I cherished the time an older woman from the community was allowed into the pod to do a study with anyone willing. She was a reminder of kindness and hope, she was the face of Jesus when I couldn’t find Him anywhere around me. Other bits of light began to appear as community members wrote to me, holding my family in prayers. I never had a day without mail, faith in action as strangers made time to tell me I had value still, I wasn’t forgotten and I wasn’t being judged by all, negating the message I received outside of mail call.  I was a lightening rod for many guards who favored the punishment aspect of incarceration. I didn’t fit in with the general demographic of the other women, I had a Master’s degree, I was married, had a home, other inmates didn’t like outsiders.   Yet angels appeared in the form of correctional officers as well. Intervention by CO’s allowed me to have a job that kept me away from the fray and moved to housing that fit my temperament but not my classification, both actions that protected my time and person. These angels were sent by God, they were Jesus carrying me when I couldn’t walk.

Finally I was freed, we rebuilt our life. Reunified, our time was more precious, never taken for granted. We loved deeply, openly. I gave up all of me to be mom again, the sweetest name ever I was called. I thought our horror was behind us, we still had struggles ahead. Addiction and pregnancy during Arrow’s teen years challenged us all, but we battled and united together. We stayed together. Hours and hours of laughter filled our home, if not riches, if not fancy belongings. A high school trip abroad, college, an extra car all found a place in a budget that barely covered the house. I thanked God faithfully for my blessings, these children, and for picking me up from those steps. We no longer had to subsist minute by minute, we were fully alive.

I didn’t expect to ever be separated from my children again. I knew they would grow up, go out into the world but I imagined we would stay connected as they moved into their own lives. Arrow and I have mostly managed this, never out of touch for long, the string between us stretches rather thin sometimes but has not yet snapped in two. My sweet Stella though, gone. I feel many days like I am back on those steps, aching for my girl. I no longer am begging God to die, yet I plead with Him to intercede. How can we have survived that horrific time only now to be ripped apart, by choice.  Once again, I can’t get to her. I am locked away from her or she is locked away from me. I dream of her, I wake with a longing so deep I know Jesus will have to carry me through the day if I am to rise from my bed. I know angels appear in the form of friends who ask me to walk or give me nuggets of news they have gleaned. Minute by minute I survive until one day I can live fully again. I know Jesus will carry me today. I just wish He didn’t have to.