January 14, 2018
Grace was home from college for the Christmas break. College is right here in town, so she is home often. The neighbors can look out their windows and see when she is here, and it’s often. I’ve wondered why of all places, Winston-Salem would be home to The School of the Arts. Of all the students and stories and testimonies that have come out of that school, the one that matters most to me is Grace. She needed this school and this experience, but why is it here so close to home, of all places? We have friends with kids in school across the state and across the country. We would have sent Grace to Hawaii if that’s where her story needed to take place. So why here, so close to home?
I have come to understand that Grace’s story is my story, Paul’s, Lauren’s and Oh Emily’s. God’s calling to each of us fits perfectly with the calling to all of us. God’s plan for Grace’s present and future will never contradict His plan for the future of our family. So if God needs Grace here in town for now before he flings her to LA or NYC, then we will enjoy her now and miss her later. She will tell us stories about celebrities and movie sets and beauty and award shows, and we will remind her of the night she chased an opossum off the deck and how she could open her bedroom window and catch a frog. And I will never let her forget when I took her to the hospital for her very expensive, not-covered-by-insurance series of rabies shots because capturing a bat seemed like a good idea.
And beauty was not what I ever thought would be Grace’s future. I didn’t know you could major in wig and makeup, but there’s this crazy school here in Winston-Salem…I always thought that visiting Grace at her work would mean going on safari in Africa, and not riding the subway or fighting LA traffic. And maybe she won’t be far away, but I’ve mentally prepared for that. What I expected for Grace’s future took a turn because of so many things that have happened, and now instead of living in what I expected, we are living in redemption. The redemption is the reality I live with Grace when so many of my expectations for her didn’t come true. And it is the most beautiful reality I could ever dream.
When the struggle with mental illness with depression and cutting and trichotillomania started, or when we became aware of it, Paul and I wanted to understand why life was so hard and painful for Grace. There were many reasons, but we learned that Grace had put so much pressure on herself to perform at the A level, and it was too much. She was smart enough to make A’s but she became terrified of slipping even just a little. When the work got harder, she panicked and was putting too much pressure on herself. That’s not all of it, but that was some of it. What if she didn’t have the perfect grades or what if she didn’t seem perfectly together? Paul and I had to tell her grades less than an A would not be the worst thing in the world. It would be ok to work her hardest and not be perfect. It’s really ok. But she felt like she had to be the perfect good girl. Paul tried to take some of the good girl pressure off her. He asked her what she thought would happen if she just dropped an F-bomb (not talking about her school grades here; he meant The F-bomb). Grace’s face turned red, and my head whipped around and I gave Paul the death stare. “Go ahead, Grace. Just say it. You don’t have to be the good girl all the time.” Grace needed to know it’s ok to be rough around the edges. I don’t want her to cuss like a sailor, but I knew what Paul was trying to help Grace release herself from, and it was necessary. Please don’t message me telling me that was the biggest parenting fail of all time. I promise you, it wasn’t. Paul was trying to help Grace be ok with imperfection. You save your kid your way; we will save our kid our way.
It has taken time, but my tattood and pierced girl has learned to embrace imperfections in her most perfect way. I don’t want to eradicate Grace’s many flaws. They are who she is. She hid them so well until she just couldn’t anymore. We found them hidden in drawstring bags and treasure boxes, stockpiled, stashed, and hoarded. Real and virtual secrets poisoning her mind and body. All those imperfections made her feel unworthy. And the reckoning came home in a late night flood of tears and denials and excuses and apologies on the living room rug, and we loved her anyway.
I have a list of teens and 20-somethings I pray for because their moms have asked me to. I have never had a mom ask me to pray that her kid could maintain perfection. It’s always more complicated and painful than that. They ask for prayer that their child can release control of their flaws to God, and that God can heal their wounds into beautiful, useful, powerful , storytelling scars. And I’ve heard through these moms that God is winning and the proof comes in a smile or laugh or successful semester or trip abroad. And I have seen it in Grace. God’s win is having Grace home on a Friday night after babysitting instead of going back to her dorm. There will be plenty of time for Grace to be at her dorm, but for now, being home is winning.
We never had the rebellious teen counting down the days until she could escape home. I’m thankful for that. But home was Ground Zero for so much of her deep pain. Home is where she cut herself and pulled out her hair. Home is where she isolated herself. Home is where she wasted away by not eating. Home is where she overdosed. That isn’t lost on me or on Paul. But then the redemption is that home is also the place that she asked for help saving her life. Home is where she healed. Home is where she feels safe. And home is where she will leave when she is ready, and home is where she will come back. Home will always be open to her. Some kids go away for college. Grace came home.
Sometimes I wish my happiness wasn’t tempered by remembering pain. I wish I could focus on just the beauty of life. Nature and seasons, laughter, family, friends. But life isn’t just full of beauty. Life is full of sadness and loss and regret and disappointment. They are all meant to be felt. Felt deeply. I thought about that at New Years when messaging a friend. I told her that during the time of such deep emptiness when Grace was in the hospital, God had been so faithful to fill us with prayers and help from others. But as I’ve thought about that more and more lately, I’ve realized that none of those prayers or people made any of the pain go away. Y’all just made it bearable for us. I thank you deeply for that. Watching our child hurt and want to die was worthy of the deepest sadness and grief. God treasures life, and Grace’s attempt to end her life grieved God deeply, and she struggled mightily to come out of that dark place. The Mauks were grateful beyond words for the meals and messages and the free parking pass for the hospital, and I’d encourage you all to show those kindnesses again when someone else is hurting. Those kindnesses matter more deeply than you know, but the pain has to be felt. I had to hold Lauren as she rocked back and forth crying, and I had to let Emily cling tight to me after telling her what Grace had done, and Paul had to drive away from the hospital leaving Grace alone in the psych ward. Starbucks and meatloaf can’t fix that, but by all means, please don’t ever hold back the Starbucks or meatloaf. They meant the world to us.
And home is now that place of redemption. Home has been the place of the deepest, most painful family hurts of my time. Home is where we have all deeply felt those pains. Home is where so many expectations were shattered. But home is where I look out my kitchen window and see Grace’s car parked by the storage unit. Home is where I look out back and see Lauren walking home from Sara’s house. Home is where I look out my bedroom window and see the fairy garden Emily has set up in the yard. Home is where Paul makes my coffee every morning. Home is where I swing in the hammock. Home is where every single pain we have felt has somehow been redeemed in the deepest most profound ways. Home is where Grace showed us her newest tattoo on her bicep. A few years ago, a tat of trichotillomania would have terrified me. The wide-eyed, dark monster ripping out hair. But now it’s just part of her story. And home is where we tell our stories.