Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you
I get up five times a night to make sure her shoes are still here. I watch her sleep like I did when she was a baby, with her fist curled under her cheek and her lips pursed as if she’s making tough decisions. Her few belongings are nearby in boxes and baskets in this makeshift bedroom. It isn’t the most comfortable place but it’s better than where she’s been and safety lies over her on top of the blankets, keeping her warm.
This face and body houses the soul of my oldest child. The baby I grew up alongside, as a young mother making a million mistakes at the expense of both of us. She’s two years older than I was when I brought her into this world on the floor of a birth center down the street from our tiny house. She was the strongest thing I’ve ever done. This child is made of the bones of my ancestors, covered in grace and wrapped in faith, carrying a stubborn streak with the size and fury of a wide, holy river.
My baby’s been living in dark places. Somewhere along the way, a bad turn was made and she lost her way. When I attempted to go after her, the forest was too dark and full of monsters for me to follow without losing the hands of my other children. The answer to my million prayers was always the same, it wasn’t my time to even try and save her. Be still. Wait. It is not time. Her journey is her own… Left to sit on the sidelines, all I could do was pray and keep one ear to the ground as I listened for her heartbeat, making sure it stayed steady and strong.
There are always so many people giving opinions when skies turn gray. “You MUST follow her!” they said. “You must save her!” Everyone always thinks they know what is best for other people’s lives. But I’m the bear that is her mama, and I knew with my whole being that the only person who could save my child is herself. She must find that thin silver line inside and use it to climb out of the hell she fell into. I could hold the rope but mustn’t try and climb it for her. I never ever left her but instead carried an immense amount of sureness that she had everything she needed to come home to herself and to us. My girl is little but she is fierce. There’s no demon that is a match for her sheer force of will. She is, like her mother and grandmothers, made of fire.
A few Sundays ago, my ear that always listened for my girl, still pressed to the ground, heard her small voice. “I’m ready, mom. I want to come home”. Finally, after five billion years, it’s time to bring my sweet girl home again. I rounded up my tribe, shamans and lovers and healers and warriors of God, and with everything in us we bombarded my girl with oceans of clarity and focus and redemption. Bit by bit, the lights inside her glowed more and more brightly. I accepted the kindness of strangers who held us up and fed our spirits, making all things possible. She wasn’t just coming home to me, she was coming home to herself.
And then, I bought my daughter’s freedom and made plans for recovery. While we wait for those careful plans to unfold, she sleeps deeply and I wake often. I go to her room on soft feet with a prayer on my lips. My heart falls from my throat a little each time I see her breathing softly, still under my roof in this home where Bad Things are banished and angels stand guard. What I want to say to her but still haven’t found the voice is this:
Sweet girl, when you thought your mama left you, I never did. I let go and trusted you to walk your path, no matter how dark it was. I could taste my fear for you on so many heavy days, but I’m your mama. I know your soul and it’s promise. That life you lived is not who you are. You carry the light in you and you are a precious child of God and he has plans to give you a hope and a future. Always, always I believe in the gift that is you. I am proud of you, you are strong. I will help you pick up the pieces and glue them back in place. You will forever be my precious one, no matter what. I see your heart and all the possibilities it holds. I see you, I see you, I see you.
We can never know all of our future, but if we listen the Holy Spirit whispers in a million different ways. I believe now that our job as mothers and fathers is to listen to the individual drumbeat of each child’s heart. In that rhythm, you will find the cadence of your son’s and daughter’s journeys, and you will learn to dance alongside them. Each of our children is not just a blessing, they are also their own prayer. They are butterflies and sometimes coming out of a chrysalis is a violent, yet still stunningly beautiful, process. We are all being born into ourselves, in every glorious moment.
I don’t expect my girl to choose her path the way I would choose it. I don’t assume all days will stream sunshine into the windows of our lives from now on. She will stumble and fall, as we all do. As Anne Lamott says, life can get terribly lifelike sometimes. What I do know is my child is home in her bed, and her shoes are staying where she put them, and soon I will be able to rest deeply all night, safe in the knowledge that this part of our journey is complete. For right now, this is enough.