Today is leaving day. The hug I receive from my twenty-year-old daughter before she heads back to college is open-hearted, silently saying, “I’m gonna’ miss you, Mom.” No words necessary. I feel a rush of relief that, as her Christmas break ends, we have slowly found our way to a measure of redemption.
A few weeks ago there was another hug. It was more of a warming-up one, full of the ambivalence a newly-independent young adult feels on returning home. I still remember the sense of disorientation I felt as a college student coming home for breaks. Home, but not home. Daughter, but not child. Eager to demonstrate my maturity and independence, yet always annoyed at the magical power of my mother’s doorway to suddenly transform me to my eight-year-old, ten-year-old, thirteen-year-old (gasp!) self.
And so, I’m trying to hold all of this in mind as Ellie and I readjust to each other. I chastise myself when those old pet nicknames slip out. (Where did “Pookie” come from, anyway?!) Though curious, I avoid asking for a rundown of her plans for each day. “Just let me know if you’ll be here for dinner” I say, giving myself a pat on the back for my restraint. After seeing Ellie gradually relax and settle in, I’ve been thinking, “Maybe she’s really starting to see that I don’t want to control her life. Whew!” The lyrics to J.J. Heller’s song, “Only Have One” come to mind:
“I should not try to live two lives. I only have one. I only have one. You have yours and I have mine. We only have one life.”
I tell myself, “You’re doing a good job!” And for days, I think I am. Then suddenly, I’m not. So it all crashes down and the door to her heart slams shut. I’ve made a mistake that leaves her feeling betrayed, disrespected. And all at once, our beautiful, fragile connection seems shattered.
I feel the impact of Steve’s disappearance and death as dark threads woven into almost every piece of our lives, coloring and complicating what would already be a challenging season in a mother-daughter relationship. In times of strain like these, I find the sudden rift with my daughter–my one and only family member–to be unbearable. The tension of this rupture is like the chasm I feel when my sin distances me from God: unmoored and alone, like an astronaut untethered from her space ship.
We tip-toe around each other at first, then try to talk it out, to understand the scene better through each other’s eyes. And though, in the end, she still views my action as a betrayal, I feel her gradually softening toward me. A whiff of grace has started to warm the air.
So how did we get here? Surely the many mistakes and apologies over the years have given us much practice! Yes, that’s part of it. But then there’s grace. Ellie found her way to forgiving me. And in this action, in her decision to move toward her very human mom instead of away, I see tracings of the woman she is becoming and the resilient relationship God is nurturing between us.
And so, I return her open-hearted “good bye” hug, once again so grateful for the gift of grace, this time expressed through my lovely daughter.