Just returned from picking up medication at the pharmacy at our local supermarket. As I was walking out, in walked V's mother. Helene was thrilled to see me, grabbed me for an extra long hug, then we stood and debriefed about the tumultuous weekend we'd had with her daughter.
It's an interesting relationship I have with Helene. Life isn't very black and white, no matter how I'd like it to be. I would have preferred not to even meet Helene, given what she'd done to her daughter that brought V into our home. I can't talk about the particulars, but let me just say, it's gruesome! To know about it, like about all crimes, one thinks of the perpetrator as a monster. And there is no question that what it was monstrous indeed. Like I said, I didn't want to have anything to do with that woman in the beginning.
However, there wasn't a choice. Because V couldn't be in contact, I had to be. There's a baby sister at home who adores V and had to be transported between our homes several times a week. As I picked Amida up, and returned her to her mother, I began to converse with this African mother. I learned that as she became agitated, her already heavy accent became almost impossible for me to understand. I watched the tell-tale signs that she was about to break down into tears, or ramp up into anger. Helene is absolutely African--from her dress to her sensibilities. Even her 'punishment' of V that day was based on her life experience, what parents do to correct their children in her homeland. Punishment, not discipline, is the word she uses over and over to describe the parent's job. To me, Helene crossed so far over the line it's anathema, to her: "V act like a woman, I fight her like a woman."
Helene, like her daughter, is a liar. I caught her in lies on several occasions. Straight out, bold ones. Shameless ones. And, like her daughter, she is winsome and charming. She called me on more than one occasion and screamed at me. I began to dread seeing her name come up on my cell-phone. And yet...nothing is ever simple. It would be easy to paint her as merely a monster. I cannot. Life is painted in hues of gray. We are all made up of sin and God's image together. Good and evil in parts. We're all the woman caught in adultery, thrown at Jesus' feet and we're the people in the crowd with stones in our hands. I've learned how complicated this all is this summer, how I can judge a woman who could hurt her own child, and love her all at once. Yes, I said love her. I didn't expect it to happen, but when Jesus writes in the sand, then lifts her to her feet, He fills me as well. The Holy Spirit in me, enabling me to see that Helene and I--we are the same. I can be horrified by her actions, could never imagine, have never come close to such violence, but we are the same. Made the same way, made for the same purpose--to be His, to worship Him. I might not ever do what she did, but I sin and fail, and also love my children, hurt for them, am hurt by them, have hopes and dreams for them, am disappointed by them, inspired by them, know them. "I am her Mama," she'll say, crying, "Only I can take her mess." And I get that. That's how I feel about my kids. Not doing what she did, but feeling what she feels.
And now Helene sees Beve and me as family. She can hardly believe we could love her daughter and her as we have. I might hardly be able to believe it as well, but that's the Holy Spirit for you. He loves them, just as they are, in all their garbage. Thankfully, what Helene feels is not my incomprehension, my hesistancy, my disdain, but His 'just as you are' love.