My life felt like ashes. Would ever be able to laugh or smile again? The ashes were from my experiences as the mom of a troubled daughter.
My daughter, Renee, kept me in constant need of prayer as she grew up. Even as a toddler there were countless moments I found myself on my knees by my bed in tears praying desperately for wisdom and strength. Many times I told the God He’d made a mistake. I wasn’t smart enough, strong enough or wise enough to know how to parent this challenging, strong-willed child.
Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful times. Most of her childhood she appeared to be a happy little girl. She received Christ when she was 4 and had great spiritual depth for such a young age. However, puberty brought a great sense of angst, an identity crisis and an irresistible desire to rebel. Today Renee says she always knew “I was going to have to learn things the hard way and sometimes I would even cry over that”. But I was the clueless mom who had no idea what an intense storm loomed on the horizon.
A glimmer of the nightmare ahead began when Renee cut herself the first time when she was twelve. She was upset about something we’d discovered that she had done, knowing she would be disciplined. She said the idea to hurt herself literally came to her out of nowhere. She’d never heard of cutting before and knew of no one who did this to themselves. She struggled secretly with extreme self-condemnation, feeling she had to be perfect. Unknown to us, she had also been plagued with a sense of evil and darkness surrounding her for years. Today we understand this was a combination of depression and spiritual battle. She thought these struggles were normal so she kept them to herself. Even now, 0ver twenty years later, knowing she carried this secret for so long still causes me pain.
Renee has suffered the ravages of alcoholism, drug abuse, self-harm (cutting), rape, suicide attempts, hospitalizations in psych wards, near overdoses, and several stays in residential treatment programs. Diagnosed with numerous mental health disorders among them anxiety, PTSD, and an obsessive compulsive disorder, her struggles were on many levels.
I realize this is hard to hear. My story might be almost identical to yours. I’m sharing my journey to give you an idea of what God has brought me through. Experiences I never, ever dreamed or imagined could happen have happened to our family. Not my little girl. How could it be possible? The pain has been deep, at times immobilizing and crushing. Have you thought the same thing?
My children were my world, my sole focus. I gave them all I had. I tried to be the best, most godly, Spirit-filled mom I could be. My husband’s and my goal with each of our three children was to love them unconditionally and without reservation; to teach them God’s Word and model living a purposeful, meaningful life for Christ, with passion and enthusiasm. I wondered how could this be my life?
Full of guilt and self-blame, I tortured myself asking: What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? How could God let this happen to one of my children? I don’t understand! I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide from everyone. I just wanted it all to go away, to have my sweet little girl back. Is this you too?
To be honest, I felt as though my daughter had died. For this was indeed a death of sorts, the death of the hopes and dreams I had for her. When Renee left home at eighteen, six weeks before high school graduation, to pursue a destructive lifestyle, my worst nightmare came true. I told a friend, “I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from this.” Shock, denial, embarrassment, shame, anger, fear, and bargaining with God were my constant companions. What good could come from this?
BEAUTY FROM ASHES
How has God brought beauty out of these ashes? In ways I never dreamed possible.
During this time, I stumbled upon a Bible verse I’d never noticed before:
I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places (Isaiah 45:3) NIV
Treasures in darkness. Riches in secret places? How could that be? I couldn’t see it then, but now I can tell you that I am far richer for the discoveries I’ve made on this painful journey with my daughter than before this trial began. I learned more about myself, about God, about His Word, and each of my significant relationships. This terrible experience has brought me many gifts. In The Last Addiction, author Sharon Hersch wrote, “I discovered the gifts of addiction.” So have I.
God’s gifts often come to us wrapped in mysterious ways.
Here are a few treasures, “gifts” I have received. Beauty from the ashes:
1 ) I know my Creator on a much deeper and more intimate level. Pressing in closer for survival brought a greater sweetness to our fellowship. I was amazed at the nearness of His presence through many sleepless nights and pain-filled days of uncertainty. Sometimes His presence was almost palpable. While at others He felt far away.
Walking by faith not by sight became essential. Often numb God had to be enough, even if no other prayer I ever prayed was answered again. Could I be content? Could I rest in Him even if my prodigal never came home? Can you?
2) Scripture became even more valuable and precious. Knowing I couldn’t survive emotionally without God’s supernatural strength forced me to spend a lot more time in the Scriptures. I was constantly amazed at how God would give exactly what I needed for each day. Some days I read a few verses before I would come upon bread for my soul. During these years I discovered a wealth of riches that will always be valuable to me for how they sustained my spirit, filling me with hope. The Holy Spirit assisted me in mining them out of God’s Word. Here are two of my favorites:
Isaiah 55:8-13 NIV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord….. my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace…..instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.
2 Timothy 2:25b-26 NIV …in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do is will.
3) I experienced greater spiritual and personal growth. I don’t like conflict. Avoiding discord is my preference, but I’ve learned to face disagreements (at least I do better now). Instead of running from conflict, I’m able to be more honest about my feelings (though, I won’t fool you, it is still hard!). Before, I was an anxious, fearful person, but now I’m much more peace. I’ve learned to face my worst fears, accept possible outcomes and find peace with an unknown future. My faith has grown and my prayer life has deepened. I trust God more and rest in Him more fully. Bible verses often form my prayers and I listen to my heavenly Father more when I pray.
4) I’ve grown closer to my husband and other children. Today we have a richer, deeper appreciation for each other and we’re able to discuss hard subjects a little more easily.
When we share a lot of heartache and pain in our marriage, we either draw closer together, strengthening our relationship, or we withdraw and are torn apart, damaging our relationship. During times of crisis we need to give our marriage more care…our other children too. What will you do?
My husband and I chose to protect our marriage and make it a priority. We took steps to guard our relationship. During one of our most difficult times he surprised me by whisking me away on a cruise to celebrate our anniversary. We also made the effort to give our other children more attention, letting them know how much we appreciated and loved them. We were careful not to neglect them so they wouldn’t become resentful of their sister.
In my next post on Oct. 31st, I will share 4 more gifts I discovered from being the mom of a self-destructive daughter. Beauty can come out of the ashes of your life too.
**What beautiful gifts have you found in your ashes?
Please share in comments to encourage other hurting parents.