there is hope for your future

One month ago, the sun rose and never melted frost.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-016026-E
Grandmother of twenty-two children living in Kern County migrant camp. California, Dorthea Lange, 1936

* * * * *

The morning drains of sunlight, every mother listening, watching. Praying for her babies. For this wretched world.

I delay as long as I can, uneasy that I must leave before my youngest is home safe. But I have to catch a ferry to the city. There is a party, and I am to go.

The afternoon wanes. Silhouettes skip across the paper in my lap. The words seem so strange.  Hours of preparation so pointless now.

I am to ask questions of mothers.

Mothers who nursed their babies, changed their diapers, bent low and shuffled feet behind them as they learned to walk. Mommies who kissed their little ones, waved them out the door, hollared after backs about rejected jackets, shook heads over homework left on the table. Mommas who worked hard to keep food on that table, refereed arguments over whose team was better, cheered at ball games. Moms who held onto their tall, strong boys, whispered I’m praying for you, and make good choices, and watched them jump in cars and drive away.

Mothers whose babies grew up and walked down terrible paths. Who shook heads over things found in jacket pockets. Who watched their boys make the worst kind of choices.

And now, there is shame.

Oh, God, I don’t want to see that shame. Not today.

Not today when radio, TV, internet are so full of alleged and suspected and possible motive. When words of blame are attached to a dead mother whose son has done the unthinkable.

I cannot ask about the precious toddler who became a man and drove jagged spikes through the soul, tearing flesh, shattering bones and leaving alive to bleed pain until she breaks.

I can’t know how recent the wound is. Is there callous or scab? Oh, God, I hate picking fresh scabs.

* * * * *

We step into the starry cold, greeted by bright eyes and laughter. Happy, wrestling, anxious little boys, dragging grandma and mommy clutching little sister along in the dark. We wait together at the door.

So many stupid, ignorant, unconscionable questions from reporters on this day. Ridiculous — disgusting — the things they ask children.

I search for questions that won’t hurt. “How old are you?”

Six. Seven. And a hand.

“Five?” Yes. When do we get to go in?

The door opens, brushes past my thoughts of school children . . .

The hall glows in warm light. Music. Crafts. Candy. Snacks. Games. The boys chase off like puppies, bounding, scampering.

I search the faces of grown-ups on my side of the room, a strange quiet rests on us. My eye catches the associate pastor, a man of retirement age.

I ask. And notice his eyes, filled with tears. Follow his gaze. Now there are more than a dozen children across the room, noisy, carefree.

“It’s too much,” he says, “to see little ones like this.”

Would this celebration have been so hard, if not for the day? I would not have wept the day away. Would they? Daddy in prison . . . I test the thought. No. Still difficult. Ugh.  

God, help me do this. I have to do this. I sit down at the table full of  women, paper and pen in hand. And breathe.

“His daddy’s been in prison all his life . . . my son. He’s got ten more years.” So soft, articulate and sweet. And sad. I never ask why. Never pick the scab. I ask if I can talk to her grandson. “He doesn’t know,” she tells me. “He thinks daddy’s at a camp.”

Out of the room for another breath. This time, to wipe away tears of remembering the weeks, so glaringly insignificant in comparison, of telling my own babies words to soothe the questions — how to explain to tiny souls drug rehab without diminishing Daddy in their eyes .

Another table. Another grandma. This time, it’s her daughter. And son-in-law. Leaving her with three boys, all two years apart, just like mine. Her face is full of gratitude, relief and total exhaustion. She seems my own mom’s age a decade ago when grandchildren demanded stories, cuddles, chases, hide-and-seek, swinging, lifting . . . and were handed back to mommy and daddy so grandma and grandpa could recover for a week.

I think of my own tired. I can’t imagine hers. A baby, a toddler and a five year old. I was thirty when I got that assignment. I’m sure this grandma is nearing twice that. She’s been raising them alone for three years.

Our conversation is comfortable. She is enjoying just sitting. Letting someone else entertain her boys. Her gratitude for the barely-not-a-child-himself children’s pastor who arranged this party, who called her home to tell her Your son-in-law signed the boys up for Angel Tree and would they like to come to a party and get some gifts from daddy? Grateful tears flow free.

She’d put off half the electric bill this month to get some simple gifts for her little boys, to give them a little Christmas. I’ll have to make it up somehow next month, I know, she says. But I try to give them a little joy. I nod. I remember.

“I told the boys, ‘Your daddy told Santa what you want for Christmas, and Santa dropped your gifts off down at a church,'” we giggle together.

But Mommy is far. Another prison in another state. I can barely hear, the voice drops so low. But it begins. Blaming self. Husband left. Raised two kids on her own.  If I had just . . .

I shake my head. I know this thing I didn’t know when they were babies. You teach, you train, you love, you sacrifice, you pray. And in the end, they make choices. And your prayers become pleas.

* * * * *

“Fear not.” The pastor says.

The message of the Angels to the shepherds is the message he has for us. He treads lightly over the horror of the day and reaches out his hand to offer hope.

Good tidings. Great joy. To all people.  A Savior, Christ the Lord. Born to reconcile a broken world to God.

All this deep winter day I’ve remembered a verse. The cries of anguish. Herod’s murderous rampage.

This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15

But there is more.

This is what the Lord says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord.
“They will return from the land of the enemy.
So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord.
“Your children will return to their own land.

“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return, because you are the Lord my God.
After I strayed, I repented ;after I came to understand, I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
Is not Ephraim my dear son,the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him, I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord. Jeremiah 31:16-20

Hope for every child in a messed up, broken family. Hope for every loving, praying parent trying to raise their babies in this messed up, broken world.