April and May were a whirlwind. Our daughter, Faith, was soon graduating from high school, and all that comes with that right of passage was swirling around our home. In the midst of our times of celebration, our son James was stagnating. Never in my life have I lived with such conflicting emotions. My heart was bursting with joy over Faith. How I wanted with full abandon to celebrate with her yet, I was weighed down with the heaviness of James’ struggle. After his suicide attempt last November, he had settled into a life of existing instead of living life to the full. His apathy crushed me. In the quiet moments of my days, I found myself curled up on my bed with tears softly sliding down my face. Though I knew God had not forsaken us, the stretching and shaping process our family has been travailing over the past several years had me constantly on my knees before the Lord.
Everything peaked with James in April. Even though he is on an IEP and has significant modifications to help him with his disabilities, he was failing all of his 10th-grade classes. He wasn’t failing because his teachers weren’t trying or because we weren’t intervening. He was failing because he just stopped working. The depression that gripped him back in November was taking root again just in a different form. Though he wasn’t attempting to take his life – he just wasn’t living either. Desperate, Phillip and I decided we had to make a move and contacted the school he attends.
The Mercy of God
The following week as James and I sat in his principal’s office I saw the mercy of God unfold. While his principal is short in stature, she is strong in spirit. A powerful whirlwind herself, she began with a hardline approach and laid out all the reasons why she could have him removed from the school. Stunned, James’ eyes turned to saucers as he realized he was about to lose a school he deeply loved. At just the right moment though, his principal shifted her tone. She recognized the deep pit of darkness James was in and instead of relegating him to a life in that darkness, she dove into that pit with him and fought hard to pull him out.
“James, I could send you to court for truancy. But I’m not going to do that. I know you’re depressed and I know you’re not feeling like yourself. I remember the James who used to come in here and say hello to everyone. I miss that James. We love that James. We love you. This school – and all the people in it love you. And, we are willing to help you but you are going to have to do the work. You have six weeks left before the school year is over. I’m willing and all of your teachers are willing to help you get your grades up. You’re going to have to work hard. But you can earn your right to stay here….”
That moment was the first spark of light and living I had seen in James in months. In those six weeks, with the help of his principal and amazing teachers, he passed all of his classes, earned the right to stay at his school and advanced into the 11th grade. God’s mercy – in the darkest of pits. I am so thankful for these incredible people in his life.
The Tenderness of God
Even though things were improving academically, James still struggled with loneliness. Loneliness is a dark vortex of hopelessness that consumes him when not kept in check. That’s when God’s tenderness unfolded for my James. Last summer James had the opportunity to work on a ranch, and he loved it. We weren’t sure if the same opportunity would be available — even though he wanted to go back this year. Just as the angst of loneliness was beginning to rise, a message came inviting him to come back. James’ heart soared. Not only was he wanted and loved at his school, but he was also wanted at the ranch too! With great excitement, he put on his cowboy boots and headed to the ranch where he groomed the horses and experienced a lot of TLC from Brenda, Mrs. Couchman as well as the other kids who work on the ranch too. The tenderness of God – expressed through the loving hearts of people. Such a gift. Love you, Brenda! Deeply thankful Mrs. Couchman!
The Grace of God
As Faith’s graduation day approached, it seemed we had gained a little bit of altitude. While James still struggled and by no means was out of the woods, he was doing better. Faith was almost done with school – she could see the light at the end of the tunnel and was charging towards it full steam. And then, it all stopped. Our sweet dog Daisy managed to get out of the house and came home with a limp. Almost eight years ago Faith and I had picked her out together when she was just a few weeks old. She had been a beloved member of our family ever since. Her limp didn’t seem too bad, and nothing else seemed wrong, so we made a critical error believing she had just tweaked her knee. As things unfolded, however, it became clear something much more horrific had happened. Something catastrophic in fact. Perhaps she had been struck by a car. I guess we will never know for sure. The whirlwind picked up speed again the morning of Faith’s graduation, as we drove our sweet Daisy to our Vets (and friends) clinic and together wept as we said good-bye.
I must admit, in those moments my dialogue was not all that impressive with the Lord.
“How do you expect me to recover this one Lord? How am I supposed to pull these two kids together enough so we can celebrate Faith’s graduation? We’re devastated. Did this have to happen today of all days??? What are you trying to do to us?????”
When I got to the car and spoke with the kids, I found the Lord was with us in our grief. Faith mentioned how comforting it was to have our family friend Mrs. Dowden as our vet. James continually said he knew Daisy wasn’t in pain anymore. I managed to pull together some hokey Brady Bunch like speech, and somehow it resonated with the kids. God’s grace abounded — even when I stumbled mightily in my faith. Thank you, Kim, for carrying us through such a gut-wrenchingly painful time. Your love, compassion, and care helped to carry us through.
Where Are We Today?
It’s been seven months since James went into his room, wrapped a belt three times around his neck and attempted to hang himself. Seven months since I ran upstairs, opened his door and found him limp and blue. Since then, we’ve been spinning in a whirlwind of ups and downs, darkness and light, successes and failures, heartaches, and joys. James is still healing. We all are. He is doing better though. He is beginning to choose to live more than just exist. He is attending youth group and making new friends. He loves going to the ranch on Mondays and spending a lot of time with a new addition to our family, Lexi, who he will begin agility training with soon. She has a particular affinity for James and keeps him outside, laughing and is becoming a constant companion that he loves.
Faith did graduate with distinction and my oh my the joy we all experienced when she did. She will soon head down soon to ASU to attend the Barrett, The Honors College. She will be living only a few miles away from my parents, studying Criminal Justice Reform and Spanish. We can only imagine the plans the Lord has for her and can hardly wait to see them unfold!
It has been a long, hard whirlwind seven months filled with tears, confusion, laughter and joy. The only steady and reliable thing through it all has been the Lord’s faithfulness. Every day, every step of the way, He has been – Immanuel – which in Hebrew means – God is with us. He is faithful – and I am utterly humbled by His love!
My love always,