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.


19 Years Ago

My brother gave up 19 years ago on this day. He had actually given in many years before, given in to alcohol and drug use, given in to stealing from family and abandoning his child, given in to a selfish life that promises everything and delivers nothing. He didn’t begin with those goals, no one does. He also didn’t grab the help that was offered, he didn’t fight for himself, for a life that included the ability to look others in the eye. He gave up on this day 19 years ago but it all began with his first beer, the first time he smoked a joint. I am not convinced how much choosing he did after that, I understand the genetic component. Sometimes it works that way for kids. Others can try it out and walk away. Some kids try it once, not believing the warnings, and find themselves on a path not glamorous or exciting, rather it includes such disillusionment that they themselves become the warnings. They are the mugshots, they are the newspaper obituaries.

When my Arrow was in rehab we heard the mantra that addiction leads to one or all of these three places: jails, institutions, death. We are thankful that we have only experienced the first two with our son, my brother lived out all three. I have many friends who visit the gravesite of their children, not so lucky as us. The substances my brother chose back then were not so lethal immediately, more of a slow destroyer. Today a first dabble can be the last. Terrifying.

I heard a story this week of a young man who dabbled and lost. A young man who did not fit any addiction profile, a guy with everything ahead of him. Well-loved, highly educated, active in sports, he made the choice to experiment. One time. That one attempt led to a bad trip which escalated quickly, he grabbed a gun from the family home and now his community mourns the loss of all that he could have been. They mourn the suddenness, they grieve the finality.  My heart is aching for this family and so many families across our nation. I wish I had some answers, some way to break the spell that drugs and alcohol have on our young people. I have nothing.

Nineteen years ago my brother closed himself in a garage and stopped fighting the demons that had taken over his life. He couldn’t find a way back to the person he wanted to be, he couldn’t find any way to transform his soul into something good when the last 2 and half decades had been so ugly. I can’t honestly say I would have been able to guide him back, I had taken his calls too many times and was too angry myself. Yet I still mourn the loss of him, the him he could have been if he hadn’t started using at age 12, the potential he never saw. I think that part is just a dream for me, wisps of fantasy that surround the memories of my brother. I no longer really know who he was, the real stories are just so horrible.

My Arrow sent me a picture this week of the rehab center he attended several times, said he drives by it everyday on his way to work. Today I am grateful for that, the gift of a route that takes him by what could be, what has been. Today I am beyond thankful that he is still  able to send me pictures. I am praying for all those who are not so blessed. I am praying for all those who are still in the struggle. I am praying especially for all those who think it is worth their lives to give any of it a try. I also am beseeching our God to show us a way out of this. To help us support those on the front lines, the counselors and providers, and to unite our country around the goal of saving our children.

What used to be a nasty little family secret now is so prevalent that it no longer shocks. That is shocking in itself.  I don’t have any other answers, I only have memories. I know that 19 years ago my brother gave up. There are many others that still have a chance.

Collection of the Broken

Slogans flood my newsfeed, suggesting I not get tripped up on my past. I have only to look forward, not re-read that chapter. Don’t let others define me, let history be just that. I’m not sure who these cliches and little seeds of “wisdom” help, it isn’t me. Anger and frustration are generally my response, rarely do I find encouragement or comfort, certainly I have never felt empowered. This high speed digital age doesn’t let mistakes of the past stay there. Real stories reduced to sound bites in order to garner clicks, generate traffic, the lives involved hardly matter. This world does not forgive well, it certainly does not forget.

Last night I read of a young woman in Italy who took her life after a scandal surrounding a sex tape she made willingly with her partner. She shared it with an ex-boyfiend and two others who decided the world needed to see this. What in God’s name was she thinking, right? Except she clearly wasn’t thinking that it would go viral, that her face would stare out from t-shirts, phone covers, magazines. She couldn’t escape even though she fought legally to have the video removed from the internet. Once it was out, it was out of her control. A mistake made became too big, never to be forgotten. One year after the video was shared, this 31 year old woman gave up trying to forget, to ask the world to not define her by this one lapse in judgement. I am sickened by the world’s loss of God’s child, another one we just couldn’t help exploiting simply because we could hit that share button. We are all complicit in her death. Should she have know better? She wasn’t a child, she was old enough to understand what could happen if she let anyone into her privacy, it was no longer hers. Yet at what point do we say, “Oh honey, I get it. I have made mistakes too. I will pledge to delete this thing anytime it pops up and ask my friends to do the same. I will write messages to any organization that tries to slip this into a news clip, telling them to stop, I don’t want it. I am with you honey. Will you do the same for me?”

We are all broken, make no mistake. For years I thought my mistakes were bigger, worse than anyone else. I allowed shame to rule me, keep me in the shadows. I thought if I tried hard enough to be someone else, maybe those cliches would work. I was wrong, so very wrong. Wasted years of God’s child sitting on the sidelines, afraid of exposure, unsure when the next judgement would hit or from where. A horrible time in my life, over 2 decades ago, still tries to follow me now. Somehow I have weathered the judgments, the lost jobs and relationships. I created my own world removed from clicks and cliques, from whispers and wonderings. I don’t need cliches to tell me how to deal with my past. I am my past but I am more than that. I am my today and hope for my tomorrow. I am strong enough now to have created a village, a community that rejects shaming, that doesn’t share hurtful videos or gossip. They know we could all be the target so easily, We all have secrets, some haven’t been exposed, yet.

My heart aches for this young woman, for the thousands of others out there who are breaking apart in shame. God wants so much more for them, from us. As I have shared my broken life, I have collected more and more broken souls, people who rejoice in being authentic and know there is no room for shame in our community. We don’t have space here for judgement, no time for digging in the past. I don’t care about anyone else’s junk, mine is enough to carry. I wake every morning reminding myself that I am worthy, I am now. God how I wish this woman could have gotten to her now on the other side of shame. The old AA adage “secrets keep us sick” just doesn’t apply here, sometimes sharing makes us sicker, called viral for a reason.

I didn’t know of her story until it was too late. There is still time for others. For all my broken sisters and brothers, I am with you. I know shame. I have made mistakes. Stay with us, get to the other side. I promise to never share your secrets. Come and sit with us, our little collection of the broken. No one will ask you questions, no platitudes or suggestions it will be easy. Come and rest child, you aren’t alone. God is here among us. You are worthy. The only thing we will share is grace.