40: Against All Expectations

40: Against All Expectations

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Against All Expectations

A difficult time can be more readily endured if we retain the conviction that our existence holds a purpose—a cause to pursue, a person to love, a goal to achieve.

~John Maxwell

In a small Connecticut town, one August morning in 1988, summer ended early for me. I stood over a load of clean laundry piled on my bed. As I started to fold a towel, warm from the dryer, I heard the front door open and the recognizable sound of flip-flops slapping against the soles of my daughter’s feet. My chest tightened. I wondered what she wanted from me this time. She climbed the stairs and settled on the corner of my bed.

“Mom,” Myra’s voice sounded edgy. “Would you take the kids?”

I stopped folding, straightened up and studied my twenty-three-year-old daughter. She wore no make-up. Her T-shirt was stained and ripped. She swiped at her cheek.

“I have a court date and my lawyer said I’ll probably go to prison. Will you take the girls?”

My breath caught in my throat. Her addiction to drugs had hurled our family through a vortex of lies, suspicion and fear. She began using drugs at a party in her teens. Somehow her friends who used drugs with her skipped the addiction part. Not Myra. Our family had cycled from crisis to crisis over the past eight years. It had worn me down. I’d seen the neglect of her children. I suspected she shoplifted. “So multiple larceny charges finally caught up with you,” I thought.

“Yes, of course.” I didn’t need to discuss this with my husband. Ken and I had talked about raising our grandchildren, always circling around to the parental guilt we felt. Where did we go wrong?

I silently asked God to make me brave.

“We’ll need legal custody.” I emphasized the word “legal.”

“Why?”

“Doctor visits, insurance, school admittance . . .”

There was an icy silence. Finally she nodded and gave into her sorrow, letting tears drip down her face. She let me hug her and then she left.

Three days later, I stared at my daughter and her husband, Ted. They glared back. I told myself they were the parents of my granddaughters and I should feel some compassion. But I felt nothing.

They dragged their feet through the doorway into the attorney’s office. The heavy oak door clicked shut behind them. I stayed in the waiting room with the little girls, afraid that Ted and Myra’s anger would cause them to storm out without signing the papers. Had I pushed too hard?

At first, the voices from inside the office sounded soft. I relaxed a little. Then angry protests filtered into the waiting area. Expletives. I glanced nervously at the three-year-old. She sat next to me and ripped pages out of a magazine, turned upside down. The baby slept in my arms.

A strong female voice, one that overrode the invectives, spoke from behind the office door. “You’re both going to prison. The state, not your mother, is taking your children away from you. Your children will end up in foster care with no guarantee of staying together.” There was a long pause. A strangled sound. Was someone weeping? “That’s a fact. You can either deal with the state, or you can deal with your mother. What’s it going to be?”

Silence. What was happening? I looked again at the three-year-old, still tearing pages apart. What was taking so long? The baby slept. And I wept.

The door opened and Myra and Ted stumbled out. They’d signed the papers.

A week later Myra began to serve a reduced sentence in a women’s correctional facility.

With no time to adjust, Ken and I went from being empty nesters to having a house full of diapers and baby food. Our family room became a playroom. A highchair and booster seat were fixtures at our table. Toys cluttered the floor, locks were affixed to cabinet doors and plastic plugs pushed into electrical outlets.

Three months later, Ted entered a detox program. Myra completed her sentence and wanted the same hospitalization detox program as Ted. But she was denied, then unexpectedly accepted, as though overruled by a higher authority.

After Myra completed detoxification, she and Ted joined an intensive twelve-week outpatient recovery program. During a weekend visit, Myra asked if she and I could talk privately. We headed outside for a walk. The winter chill crept under my jacket. I shuddered and quickened my pace. Myra strode beside me, giving no indication that the temperature had dipped into the mid-twenties.

“I’m going to change, Mom. I mean it. This time I really mean it.”

I nodded. I’d lost count of how many times she’d said that. I remained skeptical.

The recovery program was an experiment. Fifteen addicts took the challenge to get clean and sober.

“The counselors in our program warned us that couples don’t make it if they stay together.” Myra’s breath steamed against the cold as she talked. “One always pulls the other down. So I told Ted, if he uses, I’m leaving him. Recovery is the only thing that matters right now.”

“I want more than anything for you to stay in recovery and live a purposeful life. Then we’ll celebrate your girls going back to you.”

Privately, I prayed. I begged. I pleaded with God for Myra and Ted’s recoveries from addiction.

Out of the fifteen clients in the intensive recovery program, three made it. Four committed suicide. Most went back to using, chained to their addictions. With only three recoveries, the failed program shut down at the end of twelve weeks. However, against all expectations, two of the three who remained in recovery were Myra and Ted.

Two years later, on Father’s Day, our family gathered for a private Reconnection Ceremony at our church. Ken and I stood in the sanctuary, facing the altar and Myra and Ted stood a few feet away, across the aisle. Myra looked straight ahead. The two little girls, wearing pretty dresses with bows clamped in their hair, stood between Ken and me.

After our pastor recited the story of the Prodigal Son and the joy of reunion, he lit a small candle from a lighted taper on the altar. He handed the candle to the older granddaughter. She walked over and passed it to Myra and stood with her parents, stretching her fingers inside her daddy’s hand. I bit my lip to control bittersweet tears. Next the pastor removed a bouquet of flowers from the altar, handed them to our younger granddaughter, who joined her parents after she gave them to me. I glanced at Myra. She stood with her head lowered. One hand covered her eyes and her shoulders trembled. My heart went out to her.

The pastor held up his right hand for the benediction.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.”

Myra blew out the candle and we sobbed in each other’s arms. The crying spread like a giant wave, and included the pastor. That day, Myra and Ted drove home with their children, a reunited family. And Ken and I became grandparents again.

Epilogue:

This year, Myra and Ted celebrated twenty-seven years of marriage and twenty-five years of recovery. Against all expectations. For that, I have endless gratitude.

~Judy Buch

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