I didn’t know my daughter graduating from high school would be such an emotional time for me. She’s not moving out on her own or attending a college far away. Unlike a good friend of her’s, she’s not going off on a two year mission trip. It’s simply the end of her childhood education. And I was fine, I really was. But in all the hustle and bustle, there was one thing I wanted to do for her, something that my grandma had done for me: put together a photo album of her through the years to give her as a graduation gift. Doing so is what made me realize the right of passage was much more than a piece of paper with her name on it, more than a cap and gown.
It was a daunting task, thanks to my procrastination. In the wonderful world of digital photography, it’s quite easy to enjoy pictures without printing them, which is basically what I had done for the last 11 years or so. And then there were the boxes of pictures I did have from her early years, and all the memorabilia. Sorting through it brought those years vividly back to life. I was frequently sharing items with my husband, showing him the pictures and keepsakes from the time before he entered our lives.
Then I came across the drawing. It was of a house, with an American Flag sticker in the corner. It didn’t have a name or date, but I remembered when it was drawn, and by whom.
It was only a few months after my divorce from my first husband. The girls and I were living in an apartment. They had come back from a visit with their dad, who still lived in the house we had shared, the only home my girls had known. The one I had given up when I left him for sanity, for safety, for a future filled with peace instead of fear. Katie was upset, almost angry, because at the apartment there was no backyard to play in. No play structure. No perfect lawn with sprinklers to run through in the heat of summer. No strawberries to pick from the garden.
It stung. I couldn’t explain to her why we didn’t have those things, just like I couldn’t explain why I had left. I did my best to comfort her, to give her hope. Someday, I told her, we would have a house again, and it would have a huge backyard.
She took in my promise like a new food, testing it against what her four-year-old mind already knew. “What color will it be?” she asked.
“What color do you want it to be?”
“Blue!” she exclaimed, her eyes bright.
“Then blue it will be.” I paused for a moment. “Do you want to draw a picture of it?”
And she did. With those chubby little hands and a box of crayons, she carefully sketched our future home. I put the drawing on the refrigerator in that first apartment of ours. It was my promise to my daughter. It was what I was working toward, and it found it’s place on the refrigerator of each home thereafter during those difficult years. I taped it on the yellowish-brown fridge of a drafty duplex with heating bills I couldn’t afford in a not-so-good part of town. Next it was displayed on the refrigerator of a tiny, second floor, low-income apartment that didn’t even have a balcony. That’s where it stayed the longest, while I juggled college and work, court battles and visits to the therapist.
The blue house drawing fueled my resolve when I felt too tired to go another day. It gave me strength when I watched my daughters put yet another Eugene Police sticker on their backpacks. They were too young to fully understand that the stickers were not a cool status symbol, but a sign that something bad had happened and the police had shown up. It fueled my perseverance as I strung together an odd mix of part time jobs to survive. It was a constant reminder of why I was fighting beyond my own abilities to give them a better life.
Eventually, it all worked out. By our next move I was married and we were building a house. The photographs I printed for my daughter’s album included ones of my girls standing in the framework of that house as it was being built, beaming in what would be their rooms, and a photo of them sitting contently on a boulder in their new backyard.
Ironically, we didn’t paint the house blue. That color was not in style, so the house was painted more of a khaki color. I was a little disappointed, but then I realized something. The apartment we were living in when my daughter drew that picture — it was blue. The color wasn’t about the perfect house, it was about what she considered home. The color of our new house didn’t matter. It was ours, and we were safe.
Because for me, that’s really what it was all about: being safe, yet free. My children being free from fear, safe from the hateful venom of an emotionally abusive, alcoholic father. Having a home to call their own, a soft place for them to land, no matter what. I wish I could have sheltered them, somehow, during those tumultuous times. I hope that they don’t remember the days when I broke down sobbing as much as they remember the days I told them long silly stories to make them laugh.
For better or worse, those years of struggle and heartache are part of who my girls are. My mother-in-law described my oldest daughter best with the words on the necklace she gave her for graduation: Grit with Grace. The phrase fits her perfectly. I think, I hope, she got a bit of that grit not only from enduring some hard years but because she watched me fight for her and our future, and not give up. I hope she realizes that though she has the grace that is beauty and elegance, the most important thing is that she has the Grace that is the free and unmerited favor of God.
Because that’s Who really got us through it all, who brought that drawing to life and gave us freedom. Despite my mistakes, regardless of my hard work, we wouldn’t have survived without God coming through for us more times than I can count. He gave us more than a home, he gave us a whole new life. He gave my girls a dad, one to love and protect and provide for them the way a father should.
As I watch my daughter read, “Jesus Calling for Graduates,” and write in her journal, as I watch her work through her struggles and setbacks with not only grit, but grace, I think she does get it. She knows who our Hero is, and why despite anything else she may do, following Him will always lead her home.