October 26, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 25} :: On People ...

Friends came over last night and we sipped coffee and they talked about family... how it can be sad sometimes and just feel all wrong. They told about parents who left gaping holes.

How mixed-up love can sometimes go bad and leave you wide open ... lacking.

And we talked redemption and healing and the evening ended with Jesus.

But I couldn't help but think back to last year:

I'm at work on a Wednesday and I walk through the locked metal door. That all-star therapist peeks her  head out and stands to meet me. I adore her and she doesn't give herself enough credit. The work she does...

She pulls me aside to tell me that "my girl" is waiting for me today... to be ready. I haven't walked on the hall yet. I call it The Gauntlet because once I step across that line into visible space, they descend. The teenage girls who live here all day, every day, will flock like gulls and I need a report from the off-going crew. Then I'll take a deep breath. Go.

"She just spoke with her mom," the therapist says. "She will give up custody. Just isn't invested."

I sigh, drop shoulders.

"You just need to be prepared," she tells me. "And I'm glad you're here tonight. For her."

I nod. I know.

And when I step onto the unit, I see her there in her usual place. She is pacing, leaning into the cinder block wall ... shoulder rubbing, holding her up as she goes. This is what she does when she needs to work through a moment, to decide what she will do next.

I know her. She will pound her fist and the tears will come. And after that it depends on who is around, to talk her down ... or up. And it could be any one of these sensational staff who does either.

It is like Russian roulette.

I walk to med room, count narcotics. Check all things check-worthy. I hear her. She is pounding now and this is always the part when they look to me.

"What do you want to do , Ms. Abby?"

And when all eyes are on me I wince. I am not a decision maker but this job has pushed me, like a shove in the back with whiplash, into a leader role. This hospital policy will allow for "hands-on" if a child is unsafe and this is a big deal.

Because this is some one's child.

Whether they want to relinquish custody or not ... this is some one's child.

And I sometimes wonder what I am even doing here.

I should be home with my own.

And so I don't jump too quickly. I know she can work this out, but she hits the side of her fist on hard wall now. She keeps breaking her hand and how do I not get excited, talk her down?

What do I know of mothers who abandon?

I decide to join her. Find her stride. Wave everyone off. We will do this together.
Tears are streaming and she says she's trying to use her skills. She bites her shirt and I laugh and tell her not to eat through another one-- her chin all tucked inside with wet ring on cotton. We threw her other shirt away just last week.

I tell her to stop pounding, tell her I don't feel like sending her out again for x-rays. She smiles and it's a good sign. She links both her arms around my one, latches on tight. We are in step and she slows ... asks if she can show me something. I wait to be invited into her room and when I enter in and look, I am stunned.

There on four walls, nearly top to bottom, are pictures: of mothers and babies.

Mothers holding babies. Mothers cradling babies. Mothers kissing babies.

White walls covered in mother love and I am blown away. On every picture, ripped from trendy magazines, she has written her name. She has named them ... given every infant on the wall her own birth name.

They are all her: held, cradled, kissed.

This long neglected seventeen year-old girl sits on edge of bed and tells me how she feels. She used to shut down, flail, and fight. She couldn't make a request ... didn't feel worthy of one. She used a pacifier to soothe herself to sleep. And now? I listen and realize how far she has come in these months. She has made poor choices, yes, but she is learning.

She pulls up sleeves, shows me her pain in black ink-- every wrong word in every which way. This is what she calls herself and I offer to help her clean up, to help her replace those words with words that are true. We walk to sink and make water warm...find good soap.

I  rinse black expletives and hurt down the drain and soothe with encouragement. Compassion.

I glance up for paper towel and her affirmation list catches my eye: her reminders displayed in a prominent place.

1. I am lovable
2. I am a good girl.
3. I am safe here.
4. I can ask for what I need.
5. I can say how I feel.
6. I am beautiful.
7. I will be a good mother...

I will be a good mother...

I read her ball-point scrawl on paper on mirror and I am undone. I hold my breath and my face gets hot and these white walls are moving.

How inadequate I can feel at this mothering profession and here I am, linking arms with a girl who just wants the time back ... just wants it to look different.

This mother-longing has worn her right through, hollowed her out, laid her bare.

And I brace myself in that moment, one hand on counter and one hand on hers.
I look her straight in the eyes and I tell her.

"You will be." I say. Her eyes ask the question.

"You will be a good mother."

She falls apart and falls into this shoulder and this mother-nurse plants feet firm and waits out the storm.

And I know this lacking will end with her. 

Because He can make all things new and He can graft us in to new family and she can be the first to offer a different kind of parent-love.  

That night she waits at her door, leans into hallway and asks to say prayers.

I enter in again and she takes the lead.
She says the Lord's Prayer.
She reads Psalm 145.

"One generation will commend your works to another... the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."

I turn out her light and tell her she did great work today.

And she sleeps under dreams on walls of what could have been ... dreams of what will be. I marvel at how far she has come. I offer her up and I am spent ...

And this is how it goes.

Because we spend our whole lives on people. We don't always relate, but we enter in. We don't always know what to do, but we walk alongside. We point people back to Him when they become muddled, hazy grey, and we ask them to do the same for us. We offer hope. We live out this hope together, side by side, every single day. Because, really, this is what life is about.


And it was all for the love of people that He came down ...


  1. Abby, your writing is beautiful and your heart for this young, hurting woman even more so. Thank you for sharing it and for lifting my head above my own little world for a few minutes.

  2. Oh Ab - thank you for perspective. For truth. What a beautiful reminder of how blessed (and loved) I am in all of my brokenness...all of my lacking...all of my imperfections. Thank you. I love the sweet mama-photos.

  3. As a mother I so often feel a failure with my teens. But, I am with them everyday, I tell them that I love them each day. Thank you for allowing a tired parent the time to realize they are doing much right. I will pray for this young woman. I love that you washed the bad down the drain and that she has the good posted. You are bringing truth to her. Thank you for loving someone who isn't yet ready to see her worth. I will pray for you tonight.