From my front row seat

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Break Gone Way Bad...

Occasionally there were vivid reminders that I was an unconventional single mom, and my daughter was living an unconventional childhood.  Plus, I didn't always make the wisest choices.  For instance, there was the time she and I were coming back from Thanksgiving in Peavine, Georgia, when I discovered a tattoo parlor that was open.  Imagine.  Tattoos on Thanksgiving Day.  I whipped into the parking lot and the two of us went in the door.  At the time I was a full-time artist, selling my work at a highly esteemed gallery in Nashville.  My work was mixed media construction and people were always my subject matter.  I was working on a piece for an upcoming show that had a person with a tattoo and I needed to research some different designs.

So Mary Susan and I took our seats in the seedy, crowded waiting room so I could peruse the catalogues of tattoos.  There seemed to be a guy in charge so I asked him a question but he quickly interrupted me and said, "Lady, I don't know nothing about nothing.  They just pay me to sit here and make sure there ain't no trouble."  Okay, well, if they have to pay someone to do that, perhaps we shouldn't be here.  So we left.  I decided the tattoo parlor was probably not a good idea.

For most of Mary Susan's young life it was just the two of us on our horse farm.  I wore fringe way too much, and for a brief time I seriously considered living in a tee-pee (which I didn't realize at the time had my daughter completely mortified.)  We had a zebra named, Zelvis (Elvis with a "Z"), a couple of llamas, and the Budweiser Clydesdales stayed with us when they traveled through the area.  So yeah, it probably wasn't the most normal childhood.

This was never so apparent, though, as when I came up with an idea for Mary Susan's spring break one year.  I thought it was an excellent educational field trip for a first-grader.  This time I was working on a piece of art about women in a holding cell, and I wanted to see the inside of an actual jail cell to study how it was constructed.

Since my brother was a game warden, he offered to take me to his local county jail.  Great.  I would turn that trip into a spring break outing for Mary Susan and kill two birds with one stone.  Being a small county jail, I made jokes about going to visit the "Mayberry jail" - confident it was perfectly harmless.  

After being shown a small empty cell, I asked the captain if I could see the larger holding cell instead.  "Well, there are some men in there, but if it's okay with you, it's okay with me."

What could possibly go wrong?  After all, Mary Susan and I were with two guys carrying guns.  So sure, let's go see it.

With drawing pad and pencil in hand, we approached the holding cell and there were five men sitting on the floor with their backs against the wall.  I turned to the captain and asked, "So, if you have women in here, are they allowed to keep their jewelry on?"

"Absolutely not.  They aren't allowed to keep anything they can use to hurt themselves or anybody else."  I quickly learned this was wrong.

At that very moment, Guy Number One said, "Hey, aren't you going to do something about this guy?"  He motioned toward Guy Number Two sitting next to him, who had a blanket across his lap and was looking a little pale.  The first guy then reached over and yanked the blanket off his neighbor's lap.  The inmate had slit both wrists and was sitting in a pool of blood.  Holy cow.

Our little trip to the Mayberry jail immediately turned into a nightmarish scene.  The captain rushed us to his office, jerked some towels from a filing cabinet, and ran back to the cell while yelling for someone to call an ambulance.  The place was turned upside down and our spring break field trip was over.  Surprisingly, Mary Susan didn't seem particularly moved by the incident so I was hopeful she wouldn't be scarred for life.  Again - probably wasn't a good idea.

The following Monday, I was concerned whether Mary Susan would share this terrible story with her teacher and classmates.  Asking her not to would just make it seem worse than it already was.  She typically used good judgement even as a small child - she'd know to keep it to herself.

That afternoon when I picked her up, I hurriedly asked, "Did you happen to tell anyone what happened at the jail?"

"Oh, yeah!  And they LOVED it!"

I immediately turned the car around and knew I'd have to somehow explain it to her teacher.  When I found her, I expressed how I really didn't expect anything like that to happen, how I actually thought the trip would be harmless - but I could tell by the look on her face I wasn't ever going to win her over.  She was completely disgusted with me as a mother and I was beginning to agree with her.

"Well, this is the problem.  She didn't just tell us about it.  She explained to the class that if you are serious about killing yourself, you do it like this (and she motioned a cutting motion on her wrist), and not like this."  (She motioned a perpendicular cutting motion.)  And then I remembered that's what the captain had said as he rushed us to the office, so even amidst the chaos Mary Susan had taken it all in.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I replayed all the teacher's critical remarks in my head and suddenly it hit me.  Was she going to call the Department of Children's Services and have my precious child removed?  I went into a complete and total panic.  I realize now that this was probably not even a possibility.  But at the time, it felt like a real one and I can't describe the level of fear I felt.  I immediately imagined a total stranger showing up at my home and taking Mary Susan away to someplace I wouldn't know where.  I imagined the fear she would feel - the trauma it would cause for both of us.  I could go on and on as my imagination ran wide open down that dark trail.  For weeks I feared I would lose my child who meant more to me than anyone on the planet.

Whereas my own experience gave me just a tiny, little glimpse into what our moms must feel, this is something many of our mothers have actually experienced firsthand.  They saw their children pulled from them, they saw the frightened looks on their faces, they felt their fear and uncertainty, and then they lived the lingering, devastating loss as they blamed themselves for all of it.

This is where we cross over into some touchy territory.  Most of our mothers have lost custody of their children because of their own actions.  Their own poor choices.  Maybe it was drug abuse, perhaps even neglect.  So even though many people won't say this out loud, they often wonder, "How could they have done those things if they truly loved their children?"

Well, if there's one thing I've learned over the past fourteen years, it's that you can't measure someone else's love for another.  I can tell you from what I've seen with my own two eyes, these mothers DO love their children.  Addiction makes people do things that many of us can't ever understand.  Sometimes it takes getting clean before the enormity of their actions really hit home.  But that's where Blue Monarch comes in.

I have seen women weep, wail, and appear to be in complete physical pain over the separation from their children.  These mothers go to bed each night wondering how their children are doing.  Are they safe?  Are they happy?  Will they remember me?  Are they ever going to forgive me?  Are they calling someone else "Mommy"?

Have you ever missed someone so badly that your heart literally hurt in your chest?  Has the pain been so extreme that you walk around just looking for a spot that will make you feel better and you can't find one?  Well, that's something we see almost daily here.

Blue Monarch has a reputation for being a place where families are reunited and restored.  That's a tedious and lengthy process but over 250 children have reestablished a relationship with their mothers through our program and God's tremendous grace.  We have seen absolute miracles take place!  I remember one mother who was just inches away from losing her parental rights forever, but we actually left the meeting with her child.  We had totally underestimated God's grace and power because we had to run to Wal-Mart for a car seat.  

But sadly, not all stories like this have a happy ending.  Occasionally we have a mother who does all the right things, jumps through all the same hoops, and is still not reunited with her child.  I can't imagine how difficult that must be to return to Blue Monarch and continue living in community with other moms who did get their children back and have the wonderful privilege of loving on them any time they want.

There's a song playing on the radio right now by Hillary Scott.  The name of it is "Thy Will".  The first time I heard it, I immediately recognized the pain in her voice and lyrics.  I thought, "That's got to be the pain of losing a child."  Sure enough, I later learned that the artist was referring to the loss of a child through miscarriage and was desperately trying to understand God's will in her painful situation, yet continue to pray, "Thy will be done."

We are accustomed to celebrating stories with happy endings around here.  We blast them on Facebook and love to share reunions of mothers and children.  But today I want to lift up the amazing women whose stories don't end like that. And this is why.

I think the bravest prayer of all is, "Thy will be done."  Think about it.  It means that you are willing to accept whatever the outcome is because you trust God to do what's best - even when it's not what you want.  And this is what we see some of our hurting mothers have the courage to do.  Quite frankly, when it comes to my child, I have to wonder if I would have the courage to do the same.  Even in their greatest pain and deepest disappointment, these courageous mothers lift up their hands in praise, and with tears streaming down their faces, they offer their children to God and pray, "Thy will be done."

These are the very mothers who are the easiest to judge.  Despite their best efforts, they are still not able to reunite with their children.  But in many ways, they should be our greatest examples because their ability to turn their children completely over to God shows faith that is beautiful and supernatural.

Lord, I ask you to abundantly bless the mothers who have the courage to pray the bravest prayer of all, "Thy will be done."  Please show them there is light ahead even though it feels so dark at the moment.  I pray that you will bless them for their tremendous faith in the midst of their greatest pain and loss.  Amen