by Katherine James
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here.
My son, at 17, overdosed on heroin and ended up on life support. I never imagined this would be part of my story. When I pictured my future as a writer, I had something a little more like The Great American Novel in mind. If you’ve ever played that board game, The Game of Life, one of the cards you can pick tells you that you just published The Great American Novel and get to jump ten places forward, or something like that, which, in my 8 year old mind as I sat on the green carpeting of our den as a kid, meant that writing The Great American Novel was the ticket to winning, whatever winning meant to me back then.
We’re all constrained to the stories we’ve thought or lived—imaginary or real—so ultimately these are the stories that hit the page. If you write a novel, I think the characters are permutations of yourself, really. When I write, I slice off bits and nibbles of myself to create imaginary people; my heart, my brain, my scribbles in journals over the years.
And then there are the real stories. Like memoirs. I just wrote one that was really-really-really hard to write, but I’m very-very-very glad I wrote it. However, in a sense, it’s not my story because God himself gave it to me.
My son’s addiction and overdose is the story God gave me. A story not at all unfamiliar in our young century, but one that still sears mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends with a painful branding everyone can see. It’s like a large H for heroin has been burned on your flank, or your cheek—or heart really—and for those who love an addict it brings all kinds of things into question that you thought you’d already settled: God loves me, I’m forgiven, my future lies in good places, he knows what’s going on and he has a plan.
In the ICU we didn’t know whether our son would live. His heart was failing, and he was in septic shock. My husband and I had prayed for him for all of his 17 years plus 9 months pre-light, and here we were in our own kind of shock wondering if God was somewhere busy with the rest of the world or if we’d done something wrong to cause all of it.
Have you ever seen one of those mustard seed necklaces? Some resourceful soul discovered that a little plastic ball the size of a marble with a tiny, almost invisible, mustard seed in it, when attached to a chain, becomes a very cool necklace. In the Bible mustard seeds are a stand-in for faith (Matthew 17:20).
We talk about miracles.
It was a miracle that God used such an apparently purposeless event to swell my mustard seed size faith, and with that faith, wisdom; two things I would have said I already had plenty of. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that God is both the author and finisher of our faith, and in the end he used my son’s heroin overdose to show me he’s trustworthy; it was a miracle that crept up on me through the back door and taught me to add a ‘really does’ to the things I thought I already knew. God really does love me, I really am forgiven, my future really does lie in good places, he really does know what’s going on and he really does have a plan. When my son was close to death and I had to fight to believe those things, my faith grew some muscle.
And it’s a miracle that God chose to let my son live and not have brain damage. And he’s clean today. He’s a walking narrative to me that God is, and that he loves. My father in Heaven wrote—and then handed me—the Great American Novel; the most spectacular story, one that although at first might have looked like film noir, for me has become legend.
Katherine James is the author of the award-winning novel, Can You See Anything Now? and A Prayer for Orion, a memoir about her son’s heroin overdose. Connect with her on Twitter and on her online.