This time, she's wearing a floral dress and pink lipstick. The pained expression I recognize well. Before she even opens her mouth, I'm pretty sure she is the mother of an addicted son or daughter.
I meet this mom too often, I'm afraid. This particular one I met on Tuesday, after I spoke at a luncheon. She's scared out of her mind, guilt-ridden, and confused. How could this happen to her baby? And her worst fear is too great to voice: I'm terrified my child is going to die.
I'm scared her child will die, too. In the U.S. alone, addiction and alcoholism kill on average 300 people a day, many of them young. That's a jumbo jet filled with passengers going down. Every. Single. Day.
The hardest part might be that I can't even tell this mom, "Trust God--it's gonna be okay." Because it might not be. Ask any parent who earnestly prayed for God to protect their child and then said goodbye in a morgue.
Despite what some of us--including myself--have been taught, God really can't be trusted--at least not for specific outcomes. No matter what a parent does, or how hard we pray, anything can happen, including our worst nightmare.
Life is fatal, you know?
Which is just not tenable, especially for us moms. Which is why I don't often talk about the divine trust problem with other worried mothers of addicts.
But maybe I should. Six years ago, facing this issue head on helped me turn an important corner with my own alcoholic son. A turn toward more peace of mind and, I might add, a more honest relationship with God. It happened like this:
For years, I was terrified that I would lose Noah to an alcohol or drug related accident, overdose, or suicide. He was out of control, spiraling down. Days and nights, I pleaded with God to save him. Which was a right and good thing to do. I believe in prayer, even if I don't understand it.
Then, one rainy afternoon, I finally had a breakthrough. I saw that God could not be trusted to keep Noah safe or alive--and yet he was asking me to release my son to him, anyway.
As you can imagine, that didn't feel safe. At all. But neither did the burden of continuing to believe that if I just prayed hard or long enough, or said the right words, or lived the right way, I might twist God's arm to save my son.
Mine was a tearful, agonizing surrender that afternoon. It meant giving up on the comforting notion of a God who proves his love to us by intervening on our behalf in the ways of our choosing. It meant banking everything--even my son's life--on the truth that God is always and nothing less than love no matter what happens on earth.
It was the hugest relief, and today I understand why. Surrendering people we can't control anyway liberates us--and them.
I didn't automatically stop worrying, of course. And my decision to let go didn't mean that even after Noah was in recovery I wouldn't again despair, feel afraid for him, or desperately try to bargain with the universe.
We're never going to stop being moms, right?
If today you're one of those moms with a heart full of pain about a child lost to addiction, I'm so sorry this is happening to you. And I believe God is too. Surely, his compassion for mothers of addicts is greater than we can even grasp.
But I encourage you try. And to cling fast to hope even as you let go. Maybe the best gift you can give yourself on Mother's Day is to put your hope in God's unfailing goodness...no matter what.