She had always leaned on her faith. But when it came to her drug-addicted son her faith did not feel like enough.
Posted in , Oct 2, 2018
Two guys walked up to us in the strip mall parking lot just as my husband and I were about to get in our car. They were carrying a cooler. Something about them gave me a strange vibe, so I opened the passenger door and climbed in.
“Would you like to buy some banana bread?” I heard one of the men ask David.
What do they really want? I wondered.
“No, thanks,” David said. “My wife makes the best banana bread.”
“I understand,” the man said. “Please take this, though.” He handed David some sort of paper.
“Sure,” David said casually, no tension in his voice as he opened the driver’s side door. He’s a retired Houston cop, and if alarm bells weren’t ringing for him, I figured there was nothing to worry about.
Besides, it wasn’t as if I didn’t have enough on my mind. The oldest of my three kids, my son Wesley, had been addicted to drugs since his early teens. But I’d never seen him as hopeless as he was now, at 20. Lately every time my phone rang, I expected it to be the morgue asking me to come identify his body.
Really, I’d worried a lot about Wes right from the start. Changes that other toddlers got used to with just a little fussing totally threw him. Everyday things like wearing long sleeves, taking time-outs and putting on sunscreen triggered huge tantrums that took him forever to come down from. It tore at my heart to see the frustration and misery in his big blue eyes. Even worse, sometimes there was nothing I could do to ease his pain. It was as if he didn’t want me to help him.
The only place I could turn was my faith. Every night when I tucked Wes into bed, I would lay one hand on him and ask God aloud to protect him, our family and anyone we knew who was having a tough time. Then I’d say a silent prayer, not wanting to put pressure on my little boy, who already struggled with so much. God, please make life easier for Wesley, I prayed. Bring him peace.
I hoped he’d grow out of his oversensitivity once he was in school, but if anything, his moods grew more extreme. At one point, I tried making all his food from scratch, hoping that if I eliminated additives and preservatives it might help him. We took him to a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, who diagnosed Wes with ADHD and put him on medication. Thank you, Lord, I thought. This is what I’ve been praying for. The meds didn’t bring him much relief, though.
When Wes was a teenager, I took a job as a flight attendant, which had me away from home only on weekends so it wouldn’t disrupt the kids’ routines. Still, he had frightening outbursts—he’d bang his head against the wall, beat things with his fists. I worried about his younger sister and brother too. They weren’t getting as much attention from me and Wes’s behavior had to be traumatizing for them.
Wes’s dad and I had our own issues—dealing with a troubled child puts a tremendous strain on a marriage and ours wasn’t the strongest—but we did everything we could for Wes. We gave him love. We gave him rules. He broke them all.
Wes was over at a friend’s one day when I called to check in. He sounded off, his words slurred. “You okay, Wes?” I asked.
“Yeah, Mom…” he mumbled. “I’m…fine.”
He’s lying, I thought. The minute Wes got home, I confronted him. He admitted to smoking pot. “But I don’t have a problem,” he said. I dropped to my knees and sobbed. I knew life was a constant struggle for Wes, but drugs at 14? “Why couldn’t I have seen this coming and stopped it?” I cried out to God. “Why didn’t you? You say in your Word that you love Wes and me, so why are you allowing this to happen?”
Wes was right. He didn’t have a problem. He had a full-blown addiction. He was caught at school hiding a joint. I found more pot and a pipe in the attic above his room. From there it was tranquilizers, narcotic painkillers, hallucinogens. When Wes was 16, his dad and I divorced and Wes went to live with him. Even though we weren’t in the same house, his addiction consumed me.
I managed to keep things together at home, barely, and take care of my other two kids. On the road, though, I’d lock myself into my hotel room and scream, not caring who heard me. I was that desperate to release my own pain. God, why haven’t you brought my son the peace I asked for? Can’t you see he’s suffering? Don’t you care?
If it hadn’t been for another flight attendant I met at work, a wonderful man named David, my spirit would have been completely broken. David was kind, supportive and strong. His background as a narcotics officer gave him insight and understanding about my son’s struggles. And mine. “We’re going to get through this. So will Wes,” he told me. “We’ve got God on our side.” Having David in my life made me want to believe that again, hope again.
David and I got married when Wes was 17. As much joy as our marriage brought me, it was tempered by the heartache of watching my son plummet further and further into the hell of addiction. I can’t remember how many times I confronted him, pleaded with him to get clean. Or how many times he landed in hospitals or rehab, only to start using again as soon as he got out.
Now Wes was 20 and I felt like I was in mourning, with the terrible grief of a mother who knows her child is lost to her, beyond prayer, beyond hope. I wanted to rest my head against the dash and cry. Instead I put on my seat belt and watched the two guys walk away with their cooler. And their banana bread. What was that all about, anyway?
David got in the driver’s seat. “I think you need to see this,” he said, handing me the paper he’d been given.
It was a flyer. “Victory Family Center: The Road to Recovery Starts Here” the front proclaimed. A shiver ran down my spine.
David had started to drive away. “Wait!” I said. “Turn around.”
Back in the parking lot we spoke to one of the men with the banana bread. “Victory Family Center has a six-month live-in recovery program,” he told us. “Residents participate in daily chapel services, group sessions, Bible studies and various work activities designed to motivate and build character. All our services are free.” To help support the center, residents sold banana bread, which also gave them an opportunity to tell others about the ways God had worked in their lives.
I felt that shiver again, and I knew he had to be at work right here and right now. I called Wes on my cell phone. “There’s this place I think you should check out,” I said. “It’s a rehab center that really focuses on God. Please just see how it is. Not for me. For yourself.”
Silence. Was he going to hang up or tell me to stay out of his life? I braced myself.
“Yeah, okay,” Wes said. “I’ll go, I guess.”
David was the one who took Wes to Victory Family Center that very night. I couldn’t bring myself to go. If he refused to check himself in, I wouldn’t be able to take it. As soon as David got home, I ran to him. “Please tell me he stayed,” I said. “Please tell me something good.”
“The first thing the counselors did was open their arms and hug Wes,” he said. “They told him they loved him and were there for him no matter what.”
On my first visit to the Victory Family campus, I saw that love in action. The place was very structured—no TVs, no couches to lounge on. Every resident was given a job, something to take responsibility for. “I love it here,” Wes told me. “I feel like I have a purpose.”
Still, after he finished up the six months, he relapsed. But now I understood that relapse was part of the disease. He got clean again and recommitted to Victory Family for a two-year program. He traveled all over the Houston area with a cooler full of banana bread, helping addicts get on the road to recovery. Helping others get straight helped him stay straight. David and I talked to him all the time, and we visited regularly with his sister and brother too.
One afternoon David and I took Wes out for lunch. “Mom, if I hadn’t gone through everything that I did,” Wes said, “I never would have changed or given my life to Christ.” His big blue eyes were filled with light, with life—and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I’m so proud of you, Wes,” I said to him. “I…”
Before I could finish, he spoke again.
“And, Mom, when I wake up in the morning I am at peace. And when I go to bed at night, I have peace.”
My deepest prayer for my son was answered, a miracle as sweet as banana bread.
This story first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Guideposts magazine.