There’s a story in this picture that only I can see. It’s evident in the calmness of the sea and the clarity of the sky. It’s in the peace shown in the child’s steady gaze. This was a story that almost wasn’t, and one of which the child is almost wholly unaware. Many deny the power the power of how this story came to be, but I’ll never deny its truth.
The ocean in this picture could have been choppy. The home the boy lives in began in turbulence. Crashing waves of alcohol and drugs relentlessly churned up mud and silt, so that most often the atmosphere felt murky and brown.
The sky could have been full of storm clouds, for the boy’s parent’s sins were generational. Growing up in a home with such turbulence would have put him at high risk for the same behaviors: anger, depression, and a wealth of poor judgement. Even if he could somehow make it out of the house free from addiction, he would still always be followed by the cloud of emotional pain.
The look on his face could have been one of uncertainty and anger. He could have woke every day wondering, what kind of mom would meet in the morning? The one who makes pancakes, with exaggerated cheer, like everything was better than normal? Or the one who’s still a bit drunk, but mostly hungover? The one with a pillow over her head, letting him know he needs to pour his own cereal and peel his own banana. On those days he would fume and wonder, why was this his lot? What did he do to be born to such broken parents?
This was how the boys story was almost written. In the years before his existence, his mom was in the worst kind of denial. The kind that had given up on dreams, joy, and the possibility of God. His dad was covered in a cloud of depression, and would do anything he could to escape its existence, only it followed too closely to ever be free for long. Somehow, in their pain they found each other, and made their own home, a shelter from those who had hurt and disappointed them. Their own safe place, just the two of them, together. But a shelter is not secure when there’s a door open to drugs. One day meth walked in and quickly chipped away at the little hope they had left.
In a last attempt at peace, they went to her aunt’s house for Christmas. The mom missed her relatives, but more than that she missed the hope and joy their house was always full of. She wanted to be near those things, but she was worried they would see through her charade. There might be lectures about behavior and the choices she had made. They would maybe break out gospel tracts and embarrass her with the offer of salvation, but they did no such thing. In fact, nothing happened at all and if she hadn’t been seeking peace, it may have even seemed boring.
When they came home, the dad said it was the happiest he had ever been. She was shocked. Which part made him happy? The sitting around for hours playing board games? Or the women chatting endlessly about their kids and other people he didn’t know? It was so typical to her, the fact that it amazed him was probably the most depressing thing she ever heard.
“That was the happiest you’ve ever been?” she asked aloud, filled with doubt. After all the epic parties and surreal, all-night adventures, that was it?
“Yes.” He said. “That. And also that time I was young and went to church.”
Suddenly she was felt dismay. She knew what he was aksing, and was also desperate for joy, but didn’t he know that church was what she had been running from all along? Despite the rage, and the fighting and the drama, she loved him still. If that was what it would take to make them happy again, she would do it. It was the only one of the 12 sober steps she actually knew, and she knew that’s what they needed. She knew church well and for their sake, she could fake it. At the very least, she thought it might be better than the awfulness that they’d been stuck in lately. She even kind of missed having friends weren’t all slowly dying. She agreed, and they googled ‘church,’ and went to the first one on the list.
As they rode their bikes up the hill that first Sunday, she expected stability, a new community, some new hope, maybe. But she didn’t expect Jesus. She didn’t expect that she’d be sitting there, crying in the pew, letting go of pain. She didn’t to expect to meet any misfits like her, or people who loved Jesus more than anything, or anyone who would pray for her in the hallways or be willing to talk about God even after the sermon was over. Sitting there in a pew, paging through the bible, she was disappointed to realize that she had read it for years without ever really listening to what was said. Truth came blasting through. Every page she flipped to spoke directly to her soul. She could feel something entirely new being formed in her. She expected stability, but she didn’t expect Jesus.
The people sang about new mornings, life and mercy, but she had no idea that it would be literal. Suddenly everything was new. New friends, jobs, passions and tastes. There were baptisms, a wedding, a baby, a new home and then more 3 more babies. Before she could stop and fully marvel, they were a family of 6 living miles away on a literal rock atop a quiet mountain.
In His last week on earth, surrounded by people, Jesus yelled up at the sky. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Then the voice came from heaven saying, “I have both glorified it and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)
Her trouble is that someday she’ll have to explain this story to the boy. It would be nicer to tell him that she was always as responsible as she is trying to train him to be. He adores and respects her now, but like all children, someday he will have to understand and forgive her weakness and imperfections. What will she say? That it would have been better to been spared seeing the bottom in all of its ugliness? But then she would not be able to talk about all the things she’d seen. The evil things working together for good. The tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword being powerless against the bond His love.
What scares me is that even after people heard the voice, and testified that it sounded like thunder, or that maybe an angel has spoken to him…Even after that they still denied. “… although he had done so many signs before them, they did not believe Him.” (John 12:37)
It’s the most disturbing part of Holy Week. That even after everything that’s happened- after all the the signs, all the miracles, and even a voice from heaven, they still can walk away. How could He be the Son of Man? He doesn’t fit the expectation, so they make excuses. He’s just a prophet. He’s a man possessed. Even after hearing her testimony, and knowing God’s hand in their story, will her children do the same? Will they think it was by her own might strength? That rock bottom will push people up regardless of the power pulling from above?
Some people may, but I will not deny. I witnessed a man lifted from the abyss of crystal meth to become a loving husband and dad. I witnessed a woman bound by alcohol walk away from her endless party without a second thought. For one purpose we survived, to testify. I will not look at this picture and deny the voice that came from heaven, and the authority with which it spoke.
After a decade of constant growth and change, the people who meet me no longer sense that booze once flowed freely through my veins, or that my husband would stay awake for weeks at a time. Now we look like ordinary people, with stable, ordinary stories. Raiding a child looking out at a calm ocean, ignorant of the fact that it used to be choppy. Standing under a blue sky, unaware of the storm that has been calmed. With peace, and a hope, and a future radiating from his face. The power of our testimony demands that His name be glorified. We cry out for Him to do so, and He shouts back to us that it has been, and that it will be again.