A Return to our Love books

“If you’re still my small babe or you’re all the way grown,
my promise to you is you’re never alone.

You are my angel, my darling, my star…
and my love will find you, wherever you are.”  Nancy Tillman


Each night as we settle in, PJ’s on and snack at the ready, we read books from Plum’s ever growing library. Three to six downstairs, then as sleepiness begins to overtake him, we move up to his bed and read a couple more as he eases into the night. For many years, our routine was strict, we read our “love books,” a beautiful collection by Nancy Tillman. Rolling over, snuggling in, he would drift off to sleep as I quietly read, moderating my pace and volume until his eyes closed. Completely conditioned, the words that expressed how deeply and widely he was loved were the last he heard each night. Deep peace filled me as well, I cherished the opportunity to speak words of love, knowing the last that he heard each night was how special he is to me.

Sadly, this routine got destroyed when he began to read by himself, he chose books about battles and Pokemon and ninjas and resisted the “love books” enough that they sat neglected on his shelf.  He preferred to chatter and tell some deep truths and horse around with grandpa, fighting sleep and too many cuddles. I often revisited the books, suggesting we read those, at least one but was unceremoniously told no. The child was growing into his boyhood and didn’t want the mushy stuff. Recently though, I won the book selection choice and I read words of love to my grandson and also to myself. I heard not my voice as I read but the relentlessness of God, who loves me on good days and bad, when I am playing and sleeping and think I’ve been bad. Pease entered my soul again, I realized how much I had missed our nightly routine of centering ourselves on unconditional love. As I reached the point in the book that says, “If you are still my small babe or all the way grown, my promise to you is you are never alone,” I found I was speaking to Nick. That I had spoken this to Nick, when he sat on the bed and listened to me read these books to Plum, back when he joined our home again. When he first came home from prison, he eased into our routines first by watching. Then he took over reading the books to Plum as I sat on the bed, listening to the sound of his voice speak love to his child. The circle was complete.

This night when I read the words aloud I was reminded that I needn’t fear that my son doubted my love, that he was alone as he died. My love has followed him everywhere, through the misery of his drug use to the fear and anxiety of imprisonment to the glory of his recovery. He knew my love was ever present, even on days he knew he had been bad. Plum and I speak often about the difference between accepting bad behavior and unconditional love. Plum, just like his father, knows that I love him at his worst and at his farthest away. Peace filled my lungs with each breath, each word I spoke. Grief can bring doubts and fears and regrets that rob us of the joys that abound. This night, I was offered a sweet memory that settled the raging worries, offering truth and perspective, highlighting forgotten joys.

Sneaking the books in to our routine several times since, I can admit that I have picked this particular book up several times to read just to myself, even though the words are etched into my memory. God’s love will find us wherever we are, when we are grieving and broken and filled with sadness.




Cleaning Out Soul Space

When I had nothing, my very survival depended on my relationship with Jesus. In prison, surrounded by strangers who neither cared about my brokenness or my sanity, separated from my babies in the most cruel of all punishments, I could only breathe and walk and put food into my body because I trusted God with my life and the lives of those I loved. It became simple, minimalistic, when all my possessions fit into a tiny foot locker and my material wealth consisted of Little Debbie snacks and Ramen noodles. Powerless in every aspect of my life, clothing, visits, schedules, I could only control whether to believe or not. I relied with the full force of my body and soul on Paul’s words to the Philippians,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. Not just those words, though, I read the bible completely over and over, I underlined and made notes, I consumed it. God’s Word saved me, when I could not save me. I promised myself I would not let go of that dependence when freedom came again, when the gates opened. Twenty-five years later, I realize I have broken my promise.

These days and weeks and now years of estrangement from my daughter have become a new prison, gates invisible, guards non-existent but a prison no less. I am locked away from her again, the excruciating pain of old resurrected as I watch the clock and long for a visit. The intervening years of memories accrued are meaningless as she evaluates my worth and determines my sentence, will I ever be granted release? Yet, more than adding a home and furnishing and clothing and trips to schools and a prom and even around the world, I have added material goods and a self-reliance that separate me from my promise, from my utter dependence on He who gives my breath, gives me life, gives me hope and the grace of forgiveness that is so absent with my daughter. How could I have added so much and left what was crucial behind?

I sat on the steps in the jail pod after realizing I would have no visits with my children until transferred to the larger prison, a promise from my lawyer, the reality of my situation fully settling on my soul. I wanted to die, I begged to die, I would have died had the means been available. Instead I had to pray that my Creator take me. A desperate prayer to end unspeakable horror, a pain that I knew I could not bear, that would drive me to insanity. Jesus met me there on those steps and lifted me up, brought the “Footsteps” poem to me with a promise to carry me through what was ahead. A year later when my sentence modification was denied, another promise my lawyer had given but couldn’t keep, I gave up again. I laid on the prison bunk and refused to move for meals or activities, risking further punishments. I no longer cared. An angel in the guise of a correctional officer visited and spoke words I no longer remember but pulled me out of my depression and gave me the strength to keep going. I do remember she spoke gently of Jesus and light and a world outside of my current existence. She told me to get up and I did.

When my pain overwhelmed me, Jesus  brought relief. When I couldn’t breathe, wouldn’t breathe, Jesus brought me air. When I had nothing, Jesus was enough. Now, I have more. A husband, a home, pets, cars, fully stocked pantry and I no longer call on Jesus with desperation. Maybe I never did really but I made room for Him. Now I allow a corner, a smidge, a bit but rely too heavily on myself, on my own ability to affect change and the stir the universe to my liking. Having lost it all and found Jesus, must I really find myself there again to discover what is truly at the heart of my existence? Noticing my own prison gates again, I see that only God can bring me through this estrangement, only God can rebuild the bridges I want to erect today. Scripture floods my mind this morning as I find comfort in words of hope and past longing, as I remember that I have survived events I will never share and I will survive this as well.

I grow impatient, I teeter on bitterness, anger erupts. I am too fully me and not enough Jesus. Today I am opening the gates of my soul once again to the One who saved me, time and again, saved me for more than a life of hurt and struggle and time behind bars. Just as we celebrated my release with joy and thanksgiving long ago, one day we will again. Until then, I am cleaning out my soul space, removing extra furnishings of self-dependence and importance. Truly, today I remember He is the air I breathe. Freedom has come.



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.