Tender Mercy ( or No Regrets)

Nov 30, 2013

No turning back

It’s November 12th and I’m looking out my window at a winter wonderland. It’s been steadily snowing for an hour and the ground is white, my hanging plants, which are still flowering, are frosted. Back in the garden I can imagine my little baby radishes trembling under the wet snow. The lettuce will likely quit and die, although the kale and Swiss chard are dancing, the polar bears of greens.

It can’t be anything but beautiful, yet a little dismaying. Last night my husband remarked that the Christmas cactus bloomed early this year. Smart plant. Its stunning red flowers wave out of the window at the snow, dreaming of a white Christmas. And the lawn furniture which I insisted must stay out because we can still bundle up and sit outside although I forgot it’s dark by the time we are together every evening, is covered now. Let it go, Robin.

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and I was shopping the sales like a good American. There were kids everywhere, and mothers yelling at them, for them. I heard one mother’s voice become desperate as little Grace refused to answer. Then she popped out from under a clothes rack, delighted with her prime hiding spot until she saw her mothers face. I saw a little boy trying on clothes, around age ten, looking at himself in the mirror, wondering if the other kids would think these pants are cool…or not. Then I spotted a little boy with long blond hair the color my son Spencer had, and he was full of spark and mischief as Spence was too and I stood still for a few moments watching him run, hearing his mom, exasperated, the worn edge to her voice, and I was translated back to the early 80’s, remembering how long some days were with two little boys that were like a blond dust devil at my feet all day, running and falling and climbing; going from scared to mad to just dog-tired. I was a single mom, raking oysters, shucking scallops, driving a mini bus, cleaning cottages, whatever I could find that accommodated two wild little boys.

At night I would read to them and tuck them in as early as I could, then the wine would come out. I drank cheap port sherry for a while. As exhaustion and hopelessness choked my life, I slid into bourbon, vodka and drinking alone at night. I started sipping earlier, inventing a game called “Bar”, as I sat alone at the kitchen table with a glass of Relska vodka, letting the boys pull the kitchen apart, making bar snacks. Then I started to forget how I tucked the boys in. I was caught; trapped in the same vice that had nearly killed my dad. And I couldn’t break free. Terror added to despair.

I shook myself from the darkness of the past. When Jesus gently released me from that trap nearly 28 years ago, and restored my mind, my soul, he said, Robin, you are forgiven. All of it. He was there at my kitchen table, whispering hope to me and when He called, I stepped out, wobbly, to reach for Him. Forgiveness broke those chains. It was a finished work and I have never had another drop of alcohol, or any other drug since that unforgettable day. But the bondage of guilt still beckoned.

Regrets. The same forgiveness and grace that was freely given to me has been an easy choice for me to give to others throughout the last 26 years of my salvation. But the matter of forgiving myself has been altogether different. Particularly for a mother who has lost a child, guilt and regret are universal and usually completely irrelevant.

My mother blamed herself for my brother’s death in 1964 from an unseen congenital defect in his heart. A healthy, active little boy suddenly drops dead, and for all the rest of her years my mother carried a secret burden of guilt. I should’ve known. Every mother who has lost a child that I have talked with, and it’s getting to be many, admits to this same phenomenon…regret. I think it’s that protective instinct that God puts in us, the mystical response that made me turn and catch my son Miles as he was catapulting off of a three story staircase, behind me; that Mommy alarm that goes off for no reason. We just know, or we think we should.

A couple of weeks before Spence died, I sensed God strongly telling me to ask Spence for his forgiveness for my overall negligence and poor performance as a mother in his early years. This request was a little confusing to me because Spence and I had already discussed it, I had said sorry and he forgave. But… Say it again. OK. It’s pointless to argue with God.

Spence came over for dinner one night and as I stood at the stove stirring the beef stew, he came over and stood beside me, leaning his back to the counter. He had his work clothes on and smelled of wood. We talked easily, catching up on things. He had been different, coming over more, hanging out with Jake, his little brother. He talked about calling the pastor, about getting a place with a couple of guys from church. It seemed like he had a peace that had eluded him for several months.

Awkwardly, I changed the topic. If you’ve ever had God telling you to do something, it’s going to feel awkward but you just jump in.

“Spence…I’ve been thinking about the past, when you were just a little guy. There were so many ways you deserved a better mom. I should’ve been there more, I…”

“Mom.” He stopped me. His voice was firm but gentle. “You’ve been the greatest mom in the whole world.” Then he turned and looked at me.

“I’m a man now. Everything I am is my choice, it’s not because of you. I hate the victim mentality. I take full responsibility for who I am.” I stopped cooking and looked at him, caught his light grin and the love in his eyes.

“Okay.” I smiled. Okay. That was the last conversation I ever had with my son. God did that for ME, not for Spence. Mercy saw what was to come. Tender mercy.

One of the things I suggest to moms who have recently lost a child is to plan something in the future; anything but make it something big enough that you can look ahead because the tendency to turn back and regret is so strong and it is deadly. Guilt and unforgiveness destroy. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Philippians 3:12-14:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ESV

After many years of being a born-again, blood-bought Christian, I confess I have carried a secret debt of my own regrets. But doesn’t that sweet freedom that Grace gave to me 26 years ago weigh in to my own conscience? Isn’t MY forgiveness good enough? God spoke to me one day not too long ago. How can I testify to His redemptive power and still cling to my own regrets and shame? When I think of that worn out mom of 30 years ago, pulling out the bottle of cheap port when the kids have gone to bed, I see her through His eyes of compassion and then say, You’re forgiven.

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Psalm 103;4 KJV

The snow has slowed, it has that random drift to it now and the birds have settled into the feeders. They do not even keep their nests from last spring. They just know that whoever made them, will take care of them. It seems to take a certain abandon to follow Christ for we really don’t know what tomorrow brings…snow, typhoons or maybe just another hard day. But we have a great hope and expectancy. We press towards the goal, towards the prize, the upward call, leaving the past at the cross of Calvary. Come to his River of mercy and go in deep. Let the hurt and disappointments of the past wash away. Then put your hand to the plow and press on. As the Message says,

“Now that we know we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.” Philippians 3:16