I sat in my car outside the building, this Saturday in December.
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Wondering if the time would ever come, when I wouldn’t have to pick him up from yet another institution in a town far away
“This isn’t about you. Remember, this isn’t about you.”
I closed my eyes for a minute or two. My mind, re-finding its center. Holding my key chain tightly in my hands
“Just for today, Mom” He’d always remind me. “It’s all we really have anyway.”
But what about all the hurt? What about the years of addiction? What about the ripple effects it’s had on every .. aspect .. of .. my .. life? Of the lives of everyone in our family, for that matter
“You need to put it away, now is not the time. This isn’t about you.”
I opened the flap of his Christmas present and took out my pen. One of my favorite passages, God’s call to Abram. God’s promises of incredible blessings, and a reminder that through him (Abram), so many others will also be blessed as well
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and though shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12: 2-3)
I hope one day he’s able to experience the incredible love a parent has for their child. My hand kept writing
“Blessed (you are) to be a blessing (never forget to be). I love you more than you can ever know.”
I slowly tied the string around his new bible
Took a deep breath, and made my way toward the front door
After seven years of practice, the drill is all too familiar. I wait to be buzzed in, my name recorded on a sheet of paper below the other visitors of the day, and wait in the hallway
To the casual observer, the facility wasn’t anything special. A nondescript building in a part of town that certainly wouldn’t be described as affluent. The fabric on the visitor’s chairs was faded and fraying, the twenty-year-old carpet could have stood a good vacuuming, and the walls a shinier coat of paint
This was a place where lives were being rebuilt, and just like the building’s facade, it wasn’t always pretty to look on the outside. But if you looked a little closer, if you looked with your heart, on the inside something beautiful was underway
Smiles from people passing by, along with a bit of small talk. “How could I have forgotten people are always so nice?”
A huge Christmas tree full of sparkly ornaments. “Sometimes I wish we put up a tree during the holidays.”
Smells of dinner cooking wafted my way. “That sure smells good.”
Music played in another room. “Will I ever tire of Christmas jazz?”
A father played a game with his two young children. “What courage to exercise visitation while staying at a homeless shelter.”
A man stopping for a few nights on his way through town, over the past months, he’d walked 1500 (!) miles. I hear he’s originally from Alaska; I sure hope he set out in the summertime.
Stories ran the gamut, always beginning with something lost, and the promise of a new beginning. “Could I do it? I mean, would I have what it took to start my life over with literally nothing? I’m not so sure I’d do it with this level of grace.”
We shared coffee and a tasty treat
“Does he know I could sit and talk to him for hours? One of the very few people I can really be myself with.”
I’ve often wondered how we navigated those dark years, he and I. They weren’t the kind that comes along, make a quick exit, and let you recover with relative ease. No, these were instead a special darkness unto themselves, the kind hell that pulls up a chair in your home, offers you a drink, and asks are you happy? Are you comfortable? How long do you want me to stay? Should I unpack? Should I forward the mail? The kind from which you’ll never be the same.
We talked of sobriety
Him: “I’m not using, learning how to managing my emotions in other ways.”
Me: “I haven’t been eating cookies at the co-op every day.”
How we’re spending our days
Him: “I’m learning, reading, and working next week. Trying to be the best person I can be”
Me: “I’ve taken on a new project at work and a leadership role. A next class is beginning soon. Oh, and I’m writing, lots of writing lately, and trying to be a better me.”
How’s your heart? Are you happy?
Him: “I’m happy, and so thankful for everything I have.”
Me: “I’m happy, and guarding it with everything I’ve got.”
Rebuilding a life
Him: “What can I do to have other people to see me differently? How do I prove I’m not the same person I was a year ago? Five years ago? They won’t answer my messages, take my calls, or reciprocate if I reach out.”
Me: “No way am I the same as I was at 20, 30, or 40 for that matter. There are a few people from those seasons that turn the other way if they see me at the grocery. I want to run to them and say ‘but look; I’ve changed, everything is different now.’
But somehow it’s not that easy; sadly, it’s never that easy. You just build a different life, without them in it, it’s all you can do. Besides, miss them like crazy.”
I drove home that night in the dark, no radio, just my thoughts
I’ve spent more time with him in homeless shelters and addiction centers than I’d ever care to know. No doubt, it’s life unedited, at times raw and very real. People struggling at what is often their bottom. It’s always true that it’s not until we’re at our lowest of places, that there can be a shift in our spirit, and we emerge changed.
Every time and I mean every time I walk away, I’m in awe of their gratitude, their bravery, and how very fortunate I truly am for the life I have
I can’t help but wonder
What if all of us could put aside all of our hang-ups? Offering the same grace to others that we’d want to be extended toward ourselves? What if we realized we too aren’t the same people today that we were at 18 years old? And thank someone who, along the way, chose to see us in a different light.
What if all of us gave the nod to our own hang-ups and addictions? The things that help get us through, our glass(es) of wine in the evenings, shopping, sugar? Living under the world’s definition of social acceptability doesn’t mean we’re any better.
What if all of us really realized how fragile this life really can be? The safety of the bubbles we live in can just as easily be broken? And we just may need some help to pull ourselves up again one day
What if all of us truly took it to heart? Pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones, and really went out into the world to make a difference? Realizing efforts don’t have to be grandiose to touch a life
What if we returned that friend’s call? You know the one? S he was in a less than idyllic marriage for a very long time, something she wasn’t proud of. Eventually, she left him, rebuilt her life, and is completely different now
I’m positive you’d enjoy her company over a cup of coffee
What if we took a minute to ask someone how their day was? Do you know the one? He used everything and everyone he could for several years, something he wasn’t proud of. Eventually, he decided to rebuild his life and is different now
Guaranteed, there would be some wisdom to impart, in both directions
As the evening drew to a close, we parted ways with a hug
“When was the last time I got to hug him? When he hugged me back? I wish I could remember”
Two kindred spirits who’ve been to the brink, together, and also alone; saying good-by on the front stoop of a place offering a sanctuary of peace for those brave enough to rebuild their lives. I can’t help but wonder if we ever stop rebuilding.
It went unspoken, the reverence for how incredibly blessed we truly are, no matter the place we lay our head at the end of the day. Each having experienced life’s gentle pull on their heart, and the willingness to follow wherever it may lead (messy though it may be)
Each hoping to be a blessing to someone else along the way
As I pulled into the driveway that evening, I couldn’t help but smile. Kitties and puppies greeted me at the door, my husband and I caught up on the day over a glass of wine, and a bit of chocolate pudding
I’ve done chocolate pudding many, many ways over the years. Especially when the kids were little, and it’s nearly always good. But from this day forward, if I’m lucky enough to have you come over for dinner and something chocolatey seems like a fitting dessert, this is the recipe I’ll be using
It from the whimsical Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook by Mollie Katzen. The text and the drawings by Mollie herself. The pudding completely caught me off guard, in the best way possible
The key here is good chocolate, then a gentle touch bringing a short list of common ingredients together. Along with a bit of patience required to let the pudding cool and set. The last piece makes all the difference. Time in the refrigerator allows the pudding to set into the most wonderful chocolate cloud imaginable; the consistency of whipped frosting.
You’ll want to use good-quality chocolate in the 60-80% range: semi-sweet to bittersweet. Aside from the chocolate, you’re only adding a milk, cornstarch, a few tablespoons of natural sugar, and a drizzle of vanilla. So don’t skimp on the quality of ingredients here, there’s really no place to hide.
~ Adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen
Simple, Perfect Chocolate Pudding
- 6 oz chocolate, shaved (see notes above)
- 2 - 3 Tbsp natural sugar (Sugar in the Raw or Turbinado)
- 2 cups milk (low-fat, nut milk, coconut, or soy all work great)
- fine grain sea salt
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, add the chocolate, sugar, and milk.
- Heat gently, whisking frequently, until all of the chocolate has melted and the mix is uniform
- Remove from heat
- In a bowl, pour in about half of the hot mix, along with the cornstarch and a pinch of fine-grain sea salt
- Whisk vigorously until all of the cornstarch has dissolved, then whisk this mixture back into the saucepan
- Keep stirring as you cook the pudding over very low heat for 8-10 minutes more, or until the pudding is thick and glossy
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla
- Transfer the hot pudding to a serving bowl or to individual cups
- (Note: to avoid a skin forming along gate top, lay a sheet of waxed paper over the surface
- Chill completely before serving