The Gold of Broken Parts
Paul calls me on an ugly day, the sky an even, dull gray and leaking onto my window. The connection is patchy and there’s background noise on his end; but, even with this, I can hear the anxiety in his voice underneath the indignant complaints about his new home for the next thirty days. This marks day two of his journey into sobriety and it’s not going well.
It’s hell, actually.
He’s in pain, physically and emotionally, his body ravaged by the symptoms of detox and his mind demanding an end to this foolishness, both crying out in deafening unison for relief.
Angered by the cold fact that this pain is the only way to his freedom, he’s looking for a fight and I’m an easy target.
“You don’t understand,” he hisses through the phone when I try to calm him.
I can’t argue with that. Four years of undergrad study of psychology, three years’ post-grad study of counseling, and several classes on addiction and recovery have merely given me book knowledge of this illness which plagues our society, our homes, our churches – my Paul.
He’s the one who has lost jobs, relationships and dignity to addiction. Not me.
He’s the one who has been homeless, panhandling through different cities and states. Not me.
He’s the one who has stared out at the normal world from the inside of a jail cell. Not me.
When it comes to addiction, I lack the street cred which he’s earned through years of self-inflicted suffering. So, I remain silent and let him sit with his anger.
“I’m tired of this life,” he whispers.
My mind rolls back through the years, to our childhood. I remember his blond curls, the evening sunlight bouncing off them as we chase each other through the yard; his lovely green eyes, full of delight, staring up at me as I demonstrate how to turn an ordinary water hose into a power sprayer with a mere re-positioning of the fingers; his refusal to be called by his given name, opting, instead, to be called by the name of whichever superhero was top on his list that week.
The world sees a criminal, an addict, a hopeless and angry man, a life squandered.
I see that hopeful, dreamer of a boy.
I’ve read the passages in the Bible which assure God sees us all in totality instead of in parts. If this is true, then that means Paul’s addiction doesn’t define him in God’s eyes the way it has defined him to the world for so long. The well-worn Bible on my nightstand says God knit Paul in the womb, has every hair on his head counted and his very days numbered.
I wonder if, when it comes to God, it doesn’t have to be, “I’m Paul and I’m a drug addict and alcoholic.”
It can be, simply, “Here I am. I’m Paul.”
This brings to mind some of my own parts I’m comforted aren’t isolated and distilled into a crooked definition of who I am.
Paul struggles with addiction, but has he ever yelled at his small child for a simple mistake and seen fear in her young eyes as a result?
Come to think of it, has he lost relationships due to stubborn pride as I have?
Has he burned with jealousy over others’ successes or has he put others down to make himself feel better? I’ve done those things so many times.
I may lack street cred when it comes to addiction, but I’ve got it for days when it comes to pride and jealousy and selfishness of all kinds.
Paul is no different than me. His mistakes and their consequences look one way and mine look another, but we’re both in need of the sort of detox that saves us from ourselves.
I wonder if, when it comes to God, it doesn’t have to be, “I’m Amber and I’m a prideful, jealous, selfish person.”
It can be, simply, “Here I am. I’m Amber.”
His voice pulls me out of the past. “It’s going to be a long time ‘til I feel good again,” he says with more sadness than my heart can bear.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Pray for me,” he says before we hang up.
“Always,” I promise.
As soon as we hang up, I do. I pray for Paul’s healing and the restoration to come. I pray for the saints who are bearing with him, offering him camaraderie and counsel. And I say a prayer of thanks to a God who doesn’t define either of us by our broken parts but sees us in beautiful totality, the bad artfully worked in with the good so that their edges begin to blur into a creation wholly other than they could have been alone.
When I look up again, the rain is still streaking my window but I can almost see a big yard and the spray of a garden hose, a dreamy little boy and his big sister, smiling and laughing, with sunshine in their hair.