Be with me in this moment: It is a dark 1 am. My baby is in a 3 hour stretch of sleep. My school day begins in only a few hours. My husband is either working or drinking, and I am guessing it is the latter. And I am praying. But it is not the prayer you are thinking. I am praying for tragedy. A traffic stop would be preferred, but a fender bender would work too. An arrest seems likely, and necessary. You see, I am desperate, and I know from the movies that tragedy usually leads to redemption. And I am hoping for redemption, so I am waiting for tragedy.
Yesterday I sat in an auditorium packed with 800 high schoolers watching underage drinkers and pill-traders be sentenced by a judge. Following that was a video with graphic images from underage drinking accidents and ending with a father-narrated slideshow of a smiling 18-year-old killed in one night of an overdose….his first time using drugs. The tears welled up, and I was not certain what was spurring them most, my motherly sadness or my fear for these 800 kids surrounding me. Because everyone in the sentencing and the videos has one thing in common: they waited for tragedy to change.
And these invincible kids of mine are walking out into a parking lot to load into cars and head off to God-knows-where to do God-knows-what. Most of them won’t think to change any behaviors until tragedy demands it….if tragedy is kind enough to offer survival as an option. But life isn’t a movie, and redemption need not be glamorous. We should not wait for a brutal wake up call if we can hear the whisper or feel the tug to change.
My midnight couch tragedy vigils are over. Nick found redemption in a whisper, not in a scream. But there may be more of those moments, waiting up for my someday teenagers, praying for choices and circumstances. For now, these school teens feel like my own, and I so badly want to say this: if you are headed to that party and you feel a warning nudge you, turn around. If you pick up that pill for the first, or hundredth time, and you know you are wearing your safety net thin, flush it. If you don’t trust that driver, walk back to the house. Do not wait for the millions of tragedies that could be hiding behind the next bottle, blade, or beer can.
Now I realize that I was wrong, too. My nights of praying for tragedy, believing fully that would fix his problem and my pain, were not the answer. I was wrong to reach for extremity when everyday could suffice. Choosing to do the right things, or stop doing the wrong ones, should not depend on a period, but on a comma. Don’t hope for a tragic end to stop your sentence of poor choices. Rather, consider them a conjunction joining the before of pain and defeat with the after of healing and hope. I can tell you from beyond the comma, the phrase in which you struggled feels small in comparison with all the words God adds to the sentence for you.