By the time Paul got to the hospital, he’d had some time to think about what had happened. He was the one who found Grace in the bathroom trying to throw up, and he asked her if she was alright. She told him that she just felt sick. Paul woke me from a dead sleep, and asked me to help Grace since she was nauseated. Grace told me she overdosed and everything unraveled into chaos and a beautiful, frightening healing began. If Paul hadn’t asked me to check, she would have died silently in the bathroom. We would have found her frail, thin, bald, cold body in the morning.
Paul’s anger was palpable. He is that Daddy who would do anything, from the benign, buying new Converse sneakers for Lauren’s ever growing feet, to sticking his fingers down Grace’s throat to make her throw up those damn pills. But she didn’t give him the chance. He asked and she sent him away, and I’m guessing he hesitated before waking Momma up. That’s how close it came. Paul’s real-time reality was that someone wanted to murder his daughter, and he was pissed. What muddied his anger was that Grace herself was the would-be murderer. How do you handle that? I can tell you from experience, you can’t handle that the right way this side of Heaven. If we could have, we would have. But Paul’s scream running down the stairs “JESUS CHRIST” was more a cry of unbelievable terror and an announcement of a nightmare, and less a declaration of perfect love.
I rode in the ambulance with Grace. From the front seat, I looked over my left shoulder and watched her drink activated charcoal. And I texted some of you asking for prayer. And if there were typos in those texts, it’s because I couldn’t see the keyboard through my tears. And there’s that stretch of Reynolda Road just past the church with all the trees on both sides of the road. Like a canopy. That road has never seemed more cavernous and dark and terrifying and deathly than that night. Paul stayed at the house with a neighbor until Laura could get there to stay with Lauren since Emily was away. And I wonder if Paul had any perfect love to spare when calling my sister to tell her we needed her. HERE! NOW!
And I crawled into the gurney beside Grace and covered us with blankets, and I held her while we waited for her heart to decide what it was going to do. I didn’t care at the time, and I don’t really care now, but I wonder if the ER staff thought I was just selfishly trying to alleviate my own exhaustion by crowding Grace’s bed. I wasn’t. I was trying to stay close enough to her body to feel her heart beat and to feel her breath. Her breath and her skin were warm, and that was enough to let me know that the overdose hadn’t stopped her heart.
Future. Before that night, I was sure she would have a long future of indeterminate length. Although I know now that it wasn’t a realistic fear, in that moment I was certain Grace was going to die within minutes. Call 911. All I have to do is keep her alive until the ambulance comes because they can keep her alive until we get to the hospital. Then, instead of assuming her future was a given, all of a sudden my thoughts were just to keep her alive until the next beep of the heart monitor.
I’m her mom. I thought I would have had perfect love for Grace in those moments. But I didn’t. Just like Paul, I was too afraid. If you’ve ever known what it’s like to be truly terrified for a loved one’s life, not afraid that something might happen, but terrified because something has happened, you know. Some of you know better than I do, and I’m so sorry. But listening to the beepy things and watching her IV drip, I cried beside her and prayed that prayer I prayed before when Lauren’s skull was smashed and when Emily had her first seizure. “Whatever it takes Lord, as long as you get her, even if I don’t get to have her anymore.” And it sounds like that ought to be full of selfless, perfect love. But it wasn’t. All the “fear not,” and “do not be afraid,” and “do not be anxious for anything” in the Bible seemed like cerebral exercises my heart wasn’t strong enough to withstand because now the nurse is here again and it’s time for another EKG. What if this one day in Grace’s life changes absolutely everything forever. But all I could do in the midst of imperfect love and paralyzing fear was to pray.
“You shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:19-21 ESV
And the nurse stuck the EKG leads on Grace’s torso. Her skin was moist or oily and some of them fell off. Grace chuckled (thank you God for that) and said “it’s just like that story when the stickers fell off.” She was remembering Max Lucado’s story You Are Special. It’s about a town full of wooden creatures, the Wemmicks, who spend their time shaming and praising people by giving each other black dot stickers or gold star stickers. Punchinello had all black dot stickers because he never did anything right. Never a gold star sticker. One day, Punchinello met a girl with no stickers. She told him that she spends time everyday with Eli, the wood carver, the maker. As she listens to Eli each day, the stickers don’t matter, so they don’t stick. Punchinello went to see Eli, who loved the little creature he had carved. Eli told Punchinello that if they spent time together each day, Punchinello would begin to understand that it matters more what Eli thinks and less what everybody else thinks. Punchinello heard from Eli what he had never heard from anyone. “You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.” And as those words settled into Punchinello, one of his black dot stickers fell off.
I went home from the hospital to get clothes for Grace. She wanted some of her art supplies. She said the stuff she wanted was in the Grace Cave near the tv. I took a pic of what I found right on the floor in that spot. The book You Are Special. I hadn’t seen that book anywhere in our house in probably 5 years since Emily was little. I grabbed the book, her art supplies, and clothes, and headed back to the hospital. Everything gets checked by the psych nurses, so no metal staples, no mirrors, no sharp items, no clothes with drawstrings. But You Are Special was allowed.
Grace and Paul had some time alone one evening during family visitation. He pulled out that book and read it to her just he used to do when she was a little girl. That little board book meant so much to Grace in that moment, she told Paul that when she would get out of the psych ward someday, she wanted a tattoo of Punchinello. And in his closest attempt at perfect love, Daddy rolled up his sleeve with Grace on her 18th birthday, and together they got matching Punchinello tattoos. The dots are falling as Punchinello walks out of Eli’s wood shop.
And over the last year, that tattoo artist has seen some of Grace’s artwork online, and he asked her to intern at the tattoo shop. So now My Gorgeous will use her art to learn how to tattoo. Well, she’s an intern, so she’s doing whatever they tell her to do. But isn’t that just like God and Grace? From wigs to tattoos, it’s all part of the redemption. In His perfect time God, the Teacher, Eli, The Maker, is buying back the cavernous and dark and terrifying and deathly night.