I still vividly remember the first time I saw her.
It was 2 weeks before my wedding. I was moonlighting on third shift, helping to cover a coworker out on FMLA. I got off shift that morning and hopped into the car with my fiance: we were driving to Virginia to meet his sister, her husband, and my oldest soon-to-be nephew and 2 nieces.
I tried to sleep in the car, but it was a fitful, unrested sleep. I was an overtired, grumpy, frazzled, dehydrated, stressed out bride who was about to meet extended family for the first time. And I was a hot mess.
I managed to pull myself together by the time we arrived in their driveway, and that’s when I saw her from the passenger side of the car: a cute little 9 year old with light brown hair and big expressive brown eyes was playing in the yard. This had to be Chantel. We locked eyes. I had never been an aunt before. We started quizzicaly at each other, unsure of what all this meant. I remember she gave me a big hug, as we got out of the car, and were ushered into the house, welcomed with open arms.
Through the years, I’d watch her blossom into a teenager. What began as her watching me put on make up in the morning morphed into me asking her for make up advice. Her make up game was on fleek, as the kids say nowadays.
The teenage years became fraught with angst and rebellion, accentuated with drugs and sex, probably steaming from the abuse she had suffered and never treated. I’d call her out and try my best to show her I would always be there and love her despite her many lapses in judgment. Her parents kicked her out of the house several times for having drugs and basically threw up their arms with frustration in terms of helping her professionally and emotionally. She’s currently living with a friend’s family at age 19, in between jobs again.
She needs someone to show her the love of the Father. And so I remain, checking on her through text messages and sending birthday gifts.
I was in town, visiting her family without my husband, a few weeks ago. While she was invited over for dinner, her lack of communication skills kept her from stopping by. It was no matter: I had already arranged a lunch date with her before I arrived.
* * * * *
Almost to the day, 10 years after we met in a driveway, I picked Chantel up in a stranger’s driveway. She was at another friend’s house, in the middle of absolute nowhere. She looked like she had dropped some excess weight, as her belly ring was clearly on display, and wore the light aroma of of marijuana as she slid into the passenger seat. Both of us were nursing a hangover: I sipped too much wine the night before and had a splitting headache. She had done shots (“Only like 6 or 7” – I kindly informed her 4 was binge drinking – she had no clue) and spent part of the night throwing up. She had been arrested again last month, this time for petit larceny, after failing to say no to a friend’s suggestion of putting unpaid merchandise in her purse. She was on probation, of course.
I swear, her communication skills and insecurity will be the end of her.
This was demonstrated again in her failing to pick a spot for lunch. “I don’t know, what do you want?” I pushed her to make a decision and she finally chose Red Robin, a fine choice, even though my Lenten fast meant I wouldn’t get my favorite bottomless root beer float.
Our conversation was surface level, but by the time food arrived we were in a deep talk about her insecurities, her inability to express her desires, and how that was making her life very difficult. She knew that stealing was wrong, but she lacked the fortitude to say no, blaming it on being tired after a long day, wanting to go home, and the “Sure, whatever” mindset she has when making decisions that directly affect her.
She acknowledged what I already knew to be true, but she has a streak of lip service behind her. Chantel’s words and actions are light years apart.
After lunch, I drove her back to her current home and I felt that tug from the Holy Spirit to pray with her. I struggle to say Grace before meals in a group setting, but I obliged.
“Can I pray with you?” I asked as she was about to leave the car.
“Sure,” she replied.
I held her hands and spoke His words over her. They flowed out, like a poem. I asked for her protection and that Chantel would know how beautiful, strong, and loved she was. There were tears in her eyes at the end.
Before she left, I told her not to spend dwindling money on weed, as I could smell it on her. I hugged her tight, told her I loved her, and to call me if she needed anything.
And before I knew it, I was flying south on the interstate, heading for home.
I hope Chantel’s future is brighter than her past. But only she can make that happen.