The little boy’s mother had not had it easy. In a sense, she was a victim.
She had come from a long line of alcoholics. Genetically predisposed to alcohol and sex addiction, she coped as best she could. She had married at age 16, given birth to three children before turning 21, and suffered a nervous breakdown when the little boy’s father went to serve in WWII leaving her alone to care for the children.
The little boy’s next-door neighbors, Methodists who were raising six children of their own, found a doctor to help his broken mother. While the little boy’s mother recovered, the neighbors nurtured the little boy bathing him in the kitchen sink, sitting him down to a family meal of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and kissing him on the forehead before tucking him under the covers each night.
When the little boy’s mother recovered and his dad returned from the war, the little eight-year-old boy came home from school one day to find his mother lounging on the sofa with a man and a glass of wine. The man was a stranger to the little boy; the glass of wine he recognized. Later that day, he watched his mother stand on the hood of the car, kick in the windshield, and curse the little boy’s daddy to hell. His mother and father divorced soon afterward. The little boy’s father moved him and his siblings to the country far away from the neighbors who had loved him for seven years.
His heart shattered, the little boy became dispassionate and began to struggle in school. To please his daddy whom he saw as injured and bitter, the little boy tried to be good. Hadn’t his father suffered enough with his drunken mother? The little boy’s mission became to fix what the adults around him had broken.
But the little boy was the most broken of all. Unlike all the king’s horses and all the king’s men who tried to put Humpty Dumpty together again, there was no one to pick up the little boy’s shattered pieces. But God showed mercy to the little boy by sending him a message of hope in the unlikely story of the cartoon character Dumbo, the cruel name given a young circus elephant who is ridiculed for his enormous ears.
When the little boy turned 12, he began delivering newspapers in the wee morning hours. When the little boy awakened, the moon and stars illuminated his path. When the little boy trekked from house to house with a knapsack full of newspapers, the only sound he heard came from the stale snow underneath his boots. In these quiet spaces, the little boy had time to think and remember. Sometimes he thought he remembered love.
But sometimes when hearts are shattered, the memory of love is not enough.
When the little boy became a teenager, he began to drink and curse like his mother. When he graduated from high school, he went to the University of Mississippi where his story of desperation came full circle. After an evening of drinking and carousing, the teenage boy collapsed on the floor of his dorm, the thick stench of regurgitated alcohol filling his senses.
Call it fate.
Call it God.
Call it fantasy.
Call it grace.
Whatever it’s called, there existed a split second when heaven touched the edge of earth and a voice poked through the veil:
“What do you really want?” it asked.
Out of sheer desperation, the next day the little boy, now a young man, found a King James Bible and read the entire book of John. After three hours of reading, the young man was struck by the words of Jesus:
“I came to give life and to give it abundantly.”
“What does this mean?” the young man began to ask. “What is ‘abundant life?’ Who is this Jesus? He’s either a liar or he’s crazy!”
Thus began the young man’s quest. He enrolled in a Bible Archaeology class at the local public university. Although he fell asleep during the professor’s three-hour lecture and flunked the course, he was not dissuaded. One day on a whim, he called the nearby Christian university. The president answered the phone.
“I want to enroll in a Christian school,” the young man told the president.
“Why? Are you a discipline problem?” the president asked.
“No,” the young man replied, “I just want to know about Jesus.”
The young man earned a Master of Theology. Prompted by the desire to understand his tumultuous childhood and avoid the same mistakes his mother and father had made, he began pursuing a Master of Arts in Counseling. During the young man’s last year of graduate school, he began looking for his long-lost mother. To his surprise, she was living nearby in a house that he passed daily on his way to school.
“Should I go see her,” he pondered. “Can I ever understand and forgive this woman who abandoned her young children 18 years ago to never again be involved in their lives?”
In the fall of his 26th year, the young man knocked on his estranged mother’s door.
The woman who answered did not recognize her son. She was still an alcoholic, divorced five times, and living with a man who was not her husband. She hated herself. She had attempted suicide three times. One time she tried cutting her throat. Another time she jumped out of a car going 80 miles an hour. The third time she put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired, fell to the floor, and blew a hole in the wall.
The young man, who had read the Gospel of John in his college dorm following a night of drunken stupor, introduced his mother to the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well in John 4. The young man’s mother couldn’t help noticing the striking resemblance between her life and the Samaritan woman’s life. One day in a moment of sheer grace, a prayer crossed her lips. Anyone watching would have thought it a mere sigh: “If Jesus can offer forgiveness to you,” she whispered to her new Samaritan friend, “then maybe, just maybe God can forgive me too.”
In the ten years that passed, the young man married, had two baby daughters, and moved to New England. Called home for a Christmas family wedding, the young man flew back to Mississippi.
He arrived home to find his mother on the sofa. For a brief moment, the young man felt his heart slump.
But the woman who had passed down her shattered heart to her little boy arose to meet her son. There was no man on her arm or glass of wine in her hand. The only thing she held was a request for forgiveness.
The two shattered hearts embraced and for the first time in 35 years felt whole.