When I saw the blue and red cop lights in my rear view mirror, I had no idea it was the beginning of a very long night. The cop wasn’t a jerk. But he wasn’t one of those really nice ones either.
My two teenage sons were in the car and I was ever aware that they were watching how I handled the situation. We were on our way home from the airport…
It had been a long, long week. Just days earlier we’d flown from Omaha to Colorado for their Dad’s funeral. Their Dad and I had been married for 20 years, then divorced. His New Wife of a little over a year had filed divorce papers, making it his second failed marriage in a short period of time. A week before Christmas he took his handgun and shot himself. He was 44 years old.
Between the horror and shock of his suicide, trying to pull Christmas off, work, kids’ homework, paperwork for “survivor” benefits, dozens of phone calls that were coming in, then writing a speech for the memorial service…well, the pile on my desk had grown like layers in an excavation dig. And therein lay my car registration. Cue: red and blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror on my way home from the airport.
I was tempted to gamble with the “it’s-been-a-really-bad-few-weeks,” “Could-you-just-let-me-off-with-a-warning?” routine. But I was just too exhausted to be charming. I just wanted to go home. $137 poorer. I couldn’t wait to get in the door, get the kids to bed and climb into my own bed. The lump in my throat had been sitting there all day waiting to be alone. I wanted one last really good cry before I faced life in the morning. Maybe the world would stop just for one night to let me catch my breath.
We were late getting home – about 8:30pm. As we pulled into the driveway, we found Best Friend sitting on the front porch waiting for my Firstborn.
How nice of him. Greeting my Firstborn home from his Dad’s funeral. Checking to see if he’s ok. But he’s really going to have to go home.
As we started pulling suitcases and backpacks out of the car, I soon realized he wasn’t there to be a thoughtful friend at all. He was all worked up in a frenzy because the housing contract for next year’s freshmen to get into the dorms at the University “was due tomorrow.” I had no clue what he was talking about.
Everybody came inside our tiny two bedroom duplex, called “home”. Firstborn and Younger Son, of course, were hungry. (Remember, I said teenagers.) I didn’t even know if there was anything to eat in the house since we’d been gone for several days. Could I squeeze in a late night store run? Did I have it in me? Maybe I should start a list. Uugh.
Best Friend was now getting Firstborn into a bit of a frenzy himself (which is hard to do). They were worried they wouldn’t be roommates next year. My head was spinning, as I glanced at the pile on my desk. What other emergencies are hiding in there? Uugh. Not tonight.
Laptop cracked open, I began searching in the sea of emails for “housing contract”. I was keeping my eye on the goal: bed. Get this ball rolling enough that Best Friend will go home.
Just then, Younger Son came into the kitchen in his own frenzy.
He was sobbing. “I have to have seven chapters read by tomorrow!”
“I forgot to take my book to Colorado! And I have a test tomorrow!”
At this moment, there are no words.
Not even swear words.
Maybe this is where people start to drink.
Where does a parent begin on a night like this?
We’ve all had bad days. A coffee’d up, cheerful-heart-kind-of-Mom would probably think this evening was a challenge. But this exhausted, broken-hearted, now-very-single-mother-of-two was beyond even prayer.
Not even a quick toss up asking for help.
But the gift came anyway.
Two pictures immediately jumped into my head:
My mom’s jewelry box and a tangled box of Christmas lights.
For a moment, I peaked into this intriguing velvet lined box. Gold chains were tangled around each other with pearls, diamonds and other luster peeking out beneath the gnarled mess. Each gem holding a precious story or even better…romance. The glimpses of shiny enticed the 10-year-old me to dig them out.
“But how do I untangle this mess?” my freckled face asked.
“Take one chain at a time,” my mom said, “working it all the way through the others until it has broken free.”
“Then, take the next one,” she instructed calmly.
“Work it all the way through until it’s free.”
It took time and patience. But as I did, each necklace would break free of the mess and really shine in the way it was meant to.
At first, the green-wired Christmas lights look like impossible confusion inside the cardboard box. But when I looked closer, I could see un-lit wonders beneath the green nest. Each little gem promising to add to the Christmas magic. My Dad showed me that you “…find the end of one and work it through…work it through…work it through…follow it all the way through…until it’s free.” Freedom for this little strand of Christmas lights to do what little strand of Christmas lights are supposed to do.
Inspired by these two snapshots, I grabbed a hold of one end of a problem and I ignored the other nest of problems that surrounded it. The unpacked luggage, the laundry, the ticket I’d just received, my broken heart, my worries and fears, a trip to the store, my bed and the good cry that was waiting for me. I found the end of each problem that I could grab a hold of and followed it all the way through, all the way through, until it was resolved – at least for the night.
Because I didn’t have the strength or energy or time or patience to pray or look up some scripture to inspire me or show me what to do.
He gave me photos from my scrapbook brain.
He’s great about doing stuff like that.
He doesn’t usually fix my problems.
(Sooo wish He would sometimes).
But He’ll inspire me.
He’ll give me something.
He gives me a way out.
My car must have gotten registered. I just don’t remember that. The money for the ticket came from somewhere.
Firstborn and Best Friend were college roommates.
Younger Son graduated from high school.
I don’t remember how I resolved everything that night.
But I remember those pictures. And I kept them with me.
I was going to need them.
That evening – as overwhelming as it was – was a skip through a beautiful green meadow on a sunny day compared to the days of battle that would follow. Ahead of me were days of frustration and overwhelm-edness (new word). Some days, finding “the end” of the problem to grab a hold of was a struggle in and of itself.
But I remembered those two pictures.
The tangled beauty of jewelry and messy nest of Christmas lights.
I remember a gift that wasn’t asked for.
An un-prayed prayer that was answered.
And the finish line called my bed that helped me end a really bad day.