Alone. But Not Alone.

Photo by Jake Stark on Unsplash

By Nora Parker

*Content Warning: Suicidal Ideation, Mental Illness*

I found myself sitting on the bed of a cheap motel around midnight. “Friends” reruns play on the tv and I’m flipping through Residential Psychiatric Intake Forms to be filled out by me on behalf of my teenage daughter. It’s June 2020 in Portland, Oregon, and scattered around the city daily protests for racial justice get edgier.

I’m in the heart of a large city that is figuratively, and at times literally, on fire. My own faith and dreams are taking on a burnt smell themselves as I try to remember which psychiatric medications my family members have had poor reactions to. And I am alone.

I quickly turn my cell phone on to check for messages. Back at home in my small rural town, I had been so busy gathering items for my teen daughter to bring to the hospital, that I had forgotten to bring anything I might need for this overnight stay. I’m here in the city to get her checked into the hospital and have a morning meeting at the hospital to be introduced to the staff and the routines of visiting a secure psychiatric ward. And of course, to try to glean information for how the hell I’m supposed to support a suicidal teen when she’s released back to my care in a week or so.

So I’m in the hotel room and I have no phone charger and I’m trying to conserve my last 12%. I hope maybe my husband has texted something. Maybe anything. But he hasn’t. He’s still in some parental form of a catatonic state. I turn the phone back off.

At this point, I am still in shock, struggling to understand the seriousness of my daughter’s mental health. And I’m almost equally in shock at the state of our country, of what it means to be Black in America. 

Two huge blind spots and I’m waking up to them simultaneously.

Racial injustice. My daughter’s depression.

They had both been heating up for some time, and I had some inkling of them, yet I chose to believe…anything else. Anything to not think about it anymore: “Civil rights. America has come a long way. I don’t hate black people so I’m not racist. The liberal media is blowing things out of proportion to gain votes. My daughter is just moody. She just needs to learn better self-control and have more gratitude.” (Feel free to roll your eyes, I recognize the appropriateness.)

Then Covid-19 hit. Tensions grew. Suddenly I could recognize in my daughter that she was not a “rude kid”, she was a deeply hurting kid. I tried to get her help, tried to understand. 

I turned to the news partially as an escape and learned new names: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd. No one I knew was talking about race. No one I knew cared. There were some local protests and I heard friends and neighbors say things like, “What is wrong with these people? This is not our problem.” 

And as the early spring weeks passed in the time pre-psychiatric hospital, tensions grew. My husband could not grasp any of it. I think he needed everything to make sense and neither of these things could: our daughter desperately wanted to die for no obvious reason and systemic racism was still rampant in a country that claimed to provide freedom for all. Black people were dying and my white neighbors were self-righteously indignant about cloth masks.

So that’s how I got to this point in June of 2020, sitting in this foreign room, doing mundane things while my world exploded. Alone.

Yet not alone. 

I probably offered up an obligatory prayer but mostly silence sat comfortably between Jesus and me. He and I had been through enough that we didn’t always need to talk. I don’t remember paying him much attention, but as I look back into that hotel room in downtown Portland, I can see Him sitting in the ubiquitous ugly upholstered chair. I can see his eyes and read his face.

In light of the last year, I see his love displayed there, and care. And I also see a knowing look. 

He knows I’m somewhere on the outskirts of hell and that it hurts and that I have my fair share of hurting left to go through. And he also knows I’m heading out on a journey, like an ancient myth in my green cardigan. He knows what lies ahead, he knows I’m already taking steps toward true submission and true freedom: placing my faith in One I cannot completely explain as hard as I might try and wish and finding the freedom to learn and grow and love as I could never have dreamed.

I am already beginning the months, maybe years, long goodbye to the worldly wisdom I had put my trust in as an evangelical, and I am seeking Jesus alone.

And not alone.

I have a strength unfathomable, the strength of a mother and of one who is curious and broken and hopeful and ruined, owning my guilt yet free. And one who recognizes to some degree of accuracy her own foolishness, and the dangerousness of it. Because following Jesus isn’t about my growth or fullness or enlightenment: it’s about saving lives.

Wellbutrin. Aunt so-and-so had a bad reaction to Wellbutrin. Joey says something sexist on tv and the laugh track plays. My phone has 11%. My life will never be the same. And I will come to like it.

*Love this essay? Buy me a coffee. It’s like a tip jar for our writers.*

Nora Parker is absolutely positive about few facts beyond the undeniable truth that she is indecisive, and that Jesus represents a radical kind of love. She is in awe of her two daughters, (a teen and a toddler), and enjoys the patient love of a good man. Nora is relearning practically everything, and some things for the first time, like how to be a beneficial ally to the marginalized. Her passions include, but are not limited to: coffee, art, birth and motherhood, writing, sleeping, carbohydrates, and “liking” things.

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