My life felt like ashes, ashes. I wondered if I could ever laugh or smile again. The ashes for me came from my experiences as the mom of a former prodigal daughter, Renee (now 23).
Renee kept me on my knees much of her young life as a stubborn, strong-willed child. Even as a toddler there were many moments I found myself on my knees by my bed crying and praying desperately for wisdom and strength. Many times I told the Lord He’d made a mistake – I wasn’t smart enough, strong enough or wise enough to know how to parent her!
Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful times and most of her childhood she appeared to be very happy. Out of our three children, having genuinely received Christ when she was 4, she was the one who had the greatest spiritual depth and insight at a young age. However, puberty brought a great sense of angst, an identity crisis and an irresistible desire to rebel. Today Renee says she always knew “I was going to have to learn things the hard way and sometimes I would even cry over that”. I was completely clueless about the storm that was brewing.
A glimmer of the nightmare ahead began when she was just 12 and cut herself for the first time. She was upset about something we’d discovered that she had done, knowing she would be disciplined for. She said the idea literally came to her out of nowhere. She’d never heard of it before and knew of no one who did this to themselves. She struggled secretly with extreme self-condemnation, feeling she had to be perfect. Unknown to us, she had also been plagued with a sense of evil and darkness all around her for years. We now know it was a combination of depression and spiritual battle. She thought this was “normal” so she kept it all to herself. Even today, this still causes me pain.
Renee has suffered the ravages of alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm (cutting), rape, suicide attempts, hospitalizations in the psych ward, several near overdoses, and several stays in residential rehab programs. She has also been diagnosed with depression, bi-polar, an anxiety disorder and an obsessive compulsive disorder.
All of this is quite depressing to hear, I realize. I share these things to give you an idea of what God has brought me through. Things I never, ever dreamed or imagined could happen to our family. Not my little girl! How could it be possible? The pain so deep, so immobilizing and crushing. My children had been my ministry, my mission, my focus. I had given her my whole self. I had done my very best to be the most godly, Spirit-filled mom I could be. To love her unconditionally, without reservation, to teach her God’s Word and model living a purposeful, meaningful life for Christ, with great passion and enthusiasm. So how could this happen?
I was full of so much guilt and self-blame. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? How could God let this happen to my child? I don’t understand! I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from the world. I just wanted it all to go away, to have my sweet little girl back!
My journey as the mom of a child with these severe problems was typical of a person coping with severe loss, like a death. For this was indeed a death of sorts, the death of my hopes and dreams for my child. Much of what I experienced felt worse than if she had died, since it included rejection (when she left home at 18, 6 weeks before high school graduation, to pursue her destructive lifestyle) and my worst nightmares coming true. It was a living death for me that I thought I would never, ever recover from. I certainly felt like I aged rapidly during some of these episodes. Shock, embarrassment, shame, anger, resentment, fear, denial, grief and bargaining with God were my constant companions. What good could come of this?
BEAUTY FROM ASHES
So, how has God brought beauty out of these ashes? In ways I never dreamed possible. “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.” (Isaiah 45:3) I would never have sought these treasures, but I am far richer today than before this trial began. I have made many discoveries – about myself, about God, my relationship with Him and all my significant relationships. This terrible experience brought me many gifts. Author Sharon Hersch says (in her book, The Last Addiction), “I discovered the gifts of addiction.” So have I. God’s gifts often come to us wrapped in mysterious ways. Here are just a few that I have been given:
1 ) I have come to know my Creator on a much deeper and more intimate level than I knew was possible. Pressing in closer for survival brought a greater sweetness to our fellowship. I was amazed at the nearness of His presence through many sleepless nights and pain-filled days of uncertainty. Sometimes His nearness was almost palpable. While at other times He felt far away. I had to walk by faith and not by sight. Often numb, He had to be enough, even if no other prayer I prayed was ever answered again. Could I be content and rest in Him even if my prodigal never came home?
2) Scripture became even more valuable and precious. Knowing I couldn’t make it without strength from God forced me to spend much time in the Scriptures until I received what I needed. I was constantly amazed at how God would give just the right thing each day! Some days I read a few verses before I would come upon “bread” for my soul. During these years I discovered many “golden nuggets” that will always be precious to me for how they met my needs and gave me such hope – the Holy Spirit assisted me in “mining” them out of the deep, dark caverns of my affliction. Here are a three of my favorites:
Isaiah 55:8-13 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord….. my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…..instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”
2 Timothy 2:25b-26 “…in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do is will.”
Isaiah 45:3 “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.”
3) I experienced greater spiritual and personal growth. I am the kind of person who does not like conflict. I previously avoided it, but I learned to face it. Instead of run from it I am now able to be more honest about my feelings (though, I won’t fool you, it is still hard!). I realized I was a rather fearful person. Going through this trial I learned to face my worst fears, to accept unthinkable possible outcomes and find peace with an unknown future. My prayer life deepened and I learned to pray more effectively. In short, I grew a lot.
4) I’ve grown closer to my husband and other children. Today we have a richer, deeper appreciation for each other and are able to discuss hard things a little more easily. When you share so much heartache and pain together it can bring you much closer or it can tear you apart. So, my husband and I chose to protect our relationship and make it a priority, being careful not to neglect it. During one of our most difficult times he surprised me by whisking me away on a 3 day cruise, to celebrate our anniversary! We also put out extra effort to be sure our other children were not neglected and knew how loved they are.
In my next blog I will share 4 more “gifts” I feel I was given from being the mom of a self-destructive daughter.