How an Art Class Gave This Worried Mom Hope

She feared her son would never overcome his drug addiction—until she received divine assurance.

Posted in , Jul 29, 2021

Heather Henry and her son Tim;  photo by Jim Graham

My heart broke a little with each step my 18-year-old son took toward the white Volkswagen idling in the dark at the end of our neat suburban drive­way. I’d never felt so powerless.

He climbed into the car, his shoul­ders slumped. He looked so sad. I took my husband David’s hand and squeezed hard. Together we watched the taillights fade into the darkness.

“What if we never see him again?” I said, my voice hoarse with emotion.

“It was his decision,” David said slowly. “He knew the rules.”

We’d given Tim every chance to get clean from drugs and alcohol. All we got in return were two years of lies and half-hearted attempts. Finally we told Tim that if he continued doing drugs he would have to move out. He defi­antly refused to quit. This time, we insisted he take an at-home drug test. It came back positive. Tim went to his room and called his girlfriend. Then he packed a bag and left.

David was right: Tim was an adult. Our son had made a choice—drugs over his family. I cried for days after­ward, but other emotions surfaced through the tears. Anger. Resentment. Over and over, I justified our ultima­tum to Tim, as if to trying to convince my heart. He knew the rules. How could he do this to our family? To himself? He was becoming someone I didn’t recognize and couldn’t stand it.

Other times, I felt guilty. How could I not have caught this? I worried Tim would die and I’d never see him again.

Tim was the second of four children, spiritually mature at a young age. He got baptized in our church as a teen­ager, never missed youth group, stud­ied his Bible. Then he turned 16. And everything changed.

I tried to chalk it up to typical teen­ager angst, yet a nagging sense told me this was something more. He seemed depressed, and I grew increasingly concerned. One day, I opened his phone and read through his messages. I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. To my horror, I scrolled through text after text about smoking pot. Worst of all, they were all from older kids in youth group.

David and I confronted Tim that evening. “I’m not going to stop!” he said. “Even my teacher says smoking pot is better than drinking alcohol.” He turned and retreated into his room, into himself.

Loving Christian families didn’t have kids doing drugs. What would people think? I was filled with anger at the friends who had in­troduced him to drugs.

Tim grew more distant from us, like a kite being torn from our hands by an unyielding wind. Getting kicked out of high school? Check. Staying out all night without telling us where he was or who he was with, or lying about it? Check. Endlessly protesting that he wasn’t ad­dicted to drugs when we knew he was? Check. It was a list we thought hap­pened to other families, not ours.

People we thought were friends at church stopped talking to us, literally turning their backs to us as we walked through the door. I stopped going, but David continued taking our other three kids. I kept praying every day, on my knees, but it felt as if God had abandoned me.

One thing helped keep my head barely above water: a newfound gift of painting and drawing. A friend had invited me to a painting party she was hosting. I didn’t really want to go. I was barely leaving the house those days. But my friend was persistent, and I relented.

It was only after the class that it hit me: I’d spent two hours barely think­ing about Tim. I hadn’t worried, cried or felt guilty. I came home and told David I was buying art supplies, even though I’d never painted before and my work was mediocre. I just knew I couldn’t wait to paint again. I started painting day and night.

Eventually I got good enough to teach my own painting parties. Soon after Tim walked down our driveway and left us, I was scheduled to teach a painting party for a women’s Bible study. I was terrified I couldn’t do it.

Parked on the street outside the par­ty host’s house, I struggled to pull my­self together, wiping away my tears. In­side a dozen women were chatting and laughing. I couldn’t wait any longer.

I set up an easel, canvas and paints in front of each woman. They looked at me expectantly.

“I never picked up a paintbrush until I was 42,” I said. “My son fell into ad­diction at the same time God gave me the gift of art. When I paint, my mind gets a break. I hope in these next two hours, your mind gets a break too.”

The outpouring of support I got from those women was humbling. Still, I yearned to feel a divine presence. I’d heard nothing from God for seven months. Desperate, I went on a wom­en’s retreat. During a break between sessions, I went outside, wanting to be alone. A sudden cool breeze washed over me. Then a thought, like a com­mand, shot through my mind: You will minister to addicts.

“No, I won’t!” I said. How could this be God?

Tim turned 19, but what was there to celebrate? I was running errands one day when my phone rang. “May I speak to Heather Henry?” a man’s voice said.

I took a deep breath. Was it about Tim? Had something happened? “This is Heather,” I said.

“I got your name from someone who attended one of your painting par­ties,” he said. “They were impressed with your compassion…. Would you consider teaching at a rehabili­tation center?”

Wait, what? “Like people do­ing physical therapy?” I said.

“No, I mean a drug and alco­hol rehab,” he said.

“Did you know I was the mother of an addict?” I said.

“No, I hadn’t heard that,” he said.

         Heather's Takeaways
         1. Parents of an addict must
             present a united front.
         2. Enabling does not equal love.
         3. Biblically prepare for a long
             spiritual battle.

My mind was a jumble. You will minister to addicts. Those words came back like that sudden cool breeze at the retreat. I’d forced them out of my head until this moment.

“Don’t hire anyone else,” I said. “I’m the person for this job.”

My palms were damp as I stood before my first class, two rows of fac­ing tables in a big conference room. “My name is Heather,” I said. “I’m the mother of an addict. I’m here to teach you painting, and I have only one rule. You are not allowed to talk negatively about your art.”

I demonstrated overall concepts: color, shape, space, texture. I worked with each student one-on-one. Talk came easily, naturally, not like with Tim, where conversations were tense standoffs. I felt a strange affinity for the people in my class. Maybe I wished Tim were among them. At every class, I told my students that they were worth the work it takes to stay clean and hugged them as they left the room.

One day, a student asked how Tim was doing. I told her he had just re­lapsed again and we didn’t know where he was.

“He’s not doing this to hurt you,” she said. “He doesn’t want to be this way, but he doesn’t know how to stop.”

All this time, I had been so angry at Tim for not trying hard enough to overcome his addiction, not caring enough to change, but as those words sunk in, I realized that I had misunderstood his struggle. Now all I felt was pity. My heart was broken for him, instead of because of him.

Tim couldn’t do this on his own any more than I could. Neither one of us was any match for the disease of addiction. It was in the recognition of that need for help that I found God again waiting to meet me. It was a relief, flooding me with compassion and love.

That evening, David and I agreed to rebuild our relationship with Tim. That didn’t mean enabling him. We couldn’t give him money or allow him to live with us while he was using. It wasn’t easy. Tim continued to relapse, but we committed to seeing him each week, and in those conversations, I found hope. Every time we met, in exchange for the food we brought him, Tim had to endure my crying, praying, pleading for him to enter the faith-based residential recovery program run by Adult & Teen Challenge.

In April 2020, I asked Tim if he would take a one-hour drive with me to visit a Christian retreat center and addiction treatment center. Tim agreed.

“Mom, I’m miserable,” he said, sobbing. “I just want to be normal.” His body was emaciated, covered with sores I knew were the result of using methamphetamines and heroin. This felt like his last chance. We talked the entire way, honestly, heart to heart.

We arrived and drove down the winding road, passing trees with Scriptures attached to them. One read, “I will restore the years the locusts have taken.”

“Do you know what that Scripture means?” I asked. Tim shook his head no. “It means these last four years you’ve been doing drugs, God can restore to you.”

“But how, Mom?” Tim asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “All we can do is trust God.” It felt like a message I was telling myself as much as Tim.

By the grace of God, Tim decided to attend Adult & Teen Challenge and has been clean now for more than a year, a day at a time. Recovery is a miracle, one I will never stop being grateful for. At our lowest point, when we felt most helpless and hopeless, God met each of us—Tim and me—and changed our hearts.

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