No Where Else To Go, But Jesus
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Katherine JamesKatherine James holds an MFA from Columbia University, where she received the Felipe P. De Alba fellowship. Her novel Can You See Anything Now? was longlisted for the Doris Bakwin prize and won Christianity Today’s award for best fiction of 2018. Her work has been published in various journals and anthologies and one of her short stories was a finalist for a Narrative Spring Prize.
How do you keep walking forward, when all hope seems gone? Hear the dramatic story of Katherine James as she recalls how the Lord walked alongside her during the dark days of her son’s drug addiction.
No Where Else To Go, But Jesus
Bob: When Katherine James’ son started experimenting with drugs while he was in high school, Katherine was alarmed; because she knew about his addictive personality.
Katherine: The first overdose was one of those things, where all of these things had to happen for him to have lived; he did, but he went into septic shock. He was on life support for three or four days. The doctor actually said that this was the worst overdose he had ever seen, which was kind of like, “What do you mean?” That’s when my faith was shaken to its core.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What do we do, as parents, if a child’s substance abuse has gotten completely out of control and become life-threatening? How do we respond? We’ll talk with Katherine James about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to think that we have some parents listening this week, who are hearing the story that we’re sharing and going, “That’s our story; we’ve had the same thing happen.” Maybe, it’s happening now; and you’re anxious, and you’re fearful, and you want to be wise. You want to do anything and everything you can to keep a child from dangerous, destructive behavior.
Yet, there’s no guarantee that there’s anything you can do. I’ve walked with parents, who have had kids—you guys have too—parents, who have had kids in the middle of drug addiction, where they put them in programs. Kids go through the programs; they come out; they lapse back over and over again. The parents are at their wits end, going, “We’d do anything to stop this.” If we knew the magic words, we’d tell you the magic words; but in some cases, there just aren’t any magic words.
Ann: I think parents are looking for hope, and they’d love to have a quick fix. I talk to so many parents, who think, “God could do this! He could miraculously change things, and heal my son or daughter with a spoken word.” But it doesn’t always happen like that.
Dave: It does sometimes happen like that; but most of the time, it seems like there’s a process. I’m glad we’re talking about it; because so often, the church is silent, and quiet, and afraid. This program’s going to be helpful to a lot of people; you need to share it with people.
Bob: Yes; Katherine James is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Bob: Katherine is a mom; she’s a writer. She’s a fellow staff member with us on staff of Cru®. She’s written a book called A Prayer for Orion, which is, as I said, a memoir that no mom ever wants to have to write. It’s about your youngest son. It began as kind of dabbling with what kids were dabbling with in middle school, which was smoking weed. You learned about it; you confronted him. You thought maybe the behavior had self-corrected.
Then, you started to find evidence; you found a homemade bong hidden in the insulation in the crawlspace outside of his room. It was back to another confrontation and more grounding. I’m sure you and your husband were wondering, “What can we do? Is there something we can do that will bring this behavior to an end?”
Katherine: Yes; yes.
Ann: I’m interested in the title. When I first read it, I thought Orion was your son. Why A Prayer for Orion?
Katherine: During this time, one of the most powerful things I feel like God taught me was, basically, the power of prayer. I began praying constantly, and so did my husband. We have this huge bay window in the front of our house. If you look up around January, you can see the constellation Orion—and the belt of Orion—basically, it has three stars right in a row. We have three kids, and I used to sort of use the stars as kind of naming my children as I prayed for each one. That’s kind of where it began; it was sort of a working title to begin with, and then ended up using it.
Dave: I don’t know if I’ve ever read an opening paragraph quite like this. Obviously, as Bob has walked us through, started with smoking weed; but it went beyond that. I thought, when I read this—first of all, we’re an author; and we can’t write anything like this—“This is genius; this is beautiful, this is creative. What a way to introduce the reader to this story.” Is it okay if I read it?
Dave: [Reading book] Chapter title: “Sick.” “They say that when you tie a rubber tube around an upper arm, you feel the lub the way a river feels a rock—a swish up, and over, or around—the river tightens and narrows. The weight behind if shoots out water like the universe shoots out stars, but the gritty fog of sediment tells the whole story. The needle goes in; rubber tube—pull it tight—flatten the arm; needle.”
You introduce to the reader—we don’t know yet—but: “What in the world is this about?” Obviously, your son went from weed to harder drugs. Tell us about that journey.
Katherine: Yes; most of you have probably heard about the opiate epidemic, which has gotten worse and worse. Goodness, I don’t know how many lives now; but in 2017, something like 70,000 lives were lost to opiate overdoses. Actually, COVID has increased that amount. We’re not talking about it that much, because there are other things going on in the news; it is awful.
One of the things that high school kids have started doing is, basically, popping pills from their parents’ medicine cabinet. Sometimes, that will be opiate painkillers and that sort of thing; they are very easy to access. There’s also other things: that at parties, they’re tossing around Mollies; and there’s all these psychedelic drugs—acid and that sort of thing.
In certain groups, it’s really very, very normal to do this; pills are seen as not being all that dangerous, really. For a kid like my son, as I talked about before, he really does have an addictive personality. Somebody like him, who takes a pill, it turns into, “I need another one.” Somebody else, it’s like, “Oh, that was kind of interesting,” and they go home. [For our son,] it started with weed, and then who knows how it escalated into something far worse.
We loved his friends; they were great. We ended up with a lot of the kids, that he was hanging out with and our girls were hanging out with, in our home; because they would come for Bible studies. We talked to them, and some of them came to Christ and started growing. They’re just doing wonderful, most of them.
At the same point, there were other kids that our son was hanging out with, who were doing these things. We don’t know exactly how it started, or what pills they were taking—or what have you—that kind of thing. Ultimately, I guess he started taking like a Percocet or that sort of thing. They can be prescribed from doctors for pain. You get it from your grandmother’s medicine cabinet; those are the Oxycodone/that kind of thing.
If they get it on the street, you don’t know what they’re made up of. Even pills—this is something I didn’t learn until recently—even pills on the street can have something called Fentanyl in them. Fentanyl is what’s responsible for a lot of the overdose deaths—it’s very strong—50-100 times stronger than heroin. What happens is—the pills—harder to get/more expensive—so they start going to heroin on the street, which is much, much cheaper. Sometimes the heroin is laced with Fentanyl.
Ann: I was shocked in the book that you even said some of the dealers will put so much Fentanyl, or another substance, in the drug that, if someone overdoses or dies, it gives them a good reputation?—like, “What is that?”
Katherine: Yes; it gets darker, and darker, and darker; it’s shocking.
A dealer—what happens with heroin is—they are in these little cellophane/sort of little packets—they’re tiny. On the packets, they’ll stamp their particular brand. Say you start producing heroin, or whatever, in these little packets; you’re going to stamp it with your name—something like that—or you’ll name it something: “Mickey Mouse”—whatever—so they’ll know it’s coming from you.
If you include in your batch for that week some Fentanyl—or something particularly strong in them—and a couple people overdose and die or just overdose, people know that’s a good batch; so they’ll go to you for the rest of it. It’s a horrible thing, but it sells. They make more money that way. A couple intentional overdoses are worth selling off bags to make thousands of dollars.
Ann: Can you imagine that you ever thought you would know about this?
Katherine: I know; right?
Katherine: It’s just a whole world. With the opiate epidemic going on, it was just, “Wow.” It kind of blew my mind how bad it was. Back when I was growing up, it was just like, “The city,”—maybe a couple streets that have this stuff, but—
Dave: Was your reaction any different? You told us earlier that, when you caught him with weed—now it’s heroin—is it a different reaction for you?
Katherine: Yes, yes; that was the mother of all drugs.
Bob: How did you catch him? How did you know he was using?
Katherine: You know what? It’s all so complicated in the situation. His friends actually said, “You need to tell your parents that you’re doing heroin.” He sat down next to us and he told us, and he cried—he said, “I’m doing heroin.”
Ann: Why would his friends tell him to tell you guys? And these are friends that are hanging out at your house; is that right?
Katherine: Yes; they had come to Christ, so they really cared for him. They were really worried about him. I don’t think any of them were into the really hard drugs. Somehow, he had gotten in. Like I said before, he’s an addictive kid; we knew he was going to go in that direction, and he did.
Once he told us, my first reaction was, “You’re going to rehab.” To me, at that point, that’s what you do—you go to rehab—which, oftentimes, you should. Rick was able to see things a little clearer at that point. He knew that our son, because of who he is—and as we know, every kid is different—that he would just run, and then he wouldn’t stay because of his anxiety issues.
Mostly, what we told him—I don’t remember as far as what he was able and not able to do—but we tested him constantly, like every day. I got the tests that tested for every possible drug that you take, and then I tested him.
Bob: He was saying, “I want help, and I’ll get tested. I want you to help me with this.”
Katherine: Yes; yes.
Bob: And his friends were encouraging that. Again, I’m guessing you’re thinking, “Okay; as long as we’re testing him, and he wants help, then we’re going to win this battle.”
Katherine: Yes; yes.
Bob: But that’s not exactly the direction it went.
Katherine: No; because of the physical addiction. I think, psychologically, many addicts/most addicts want out, but it’s a physical thing. At that point, we just started testing him every day.
Dave: You’re praying; you’re looking up, even in a beautiful way, at the sky, and you’re talking to God about your son, not for days or weeks—years—right? How did that go? It doesn’t seem like He’s hearing or answering your prayer.
Katherine: Yes; oh, boy. You know, when you go through these difficult times, everything become more alive. You are awake and sensitive to the Holy Spirit and what’s happening around you, because you’re desperate/because you’re constantly in prayer. What happened was—we would get little encouragements, here and there—kind of like God reminding us, “Yes; I’m here. I’m here,” even though, for all intents and purposes, it seemed like He was nowhere.
Bob: You started a prayer group at church?
Katherine: Yes; mostly, it was parents; people who love people, who are battling addictions; some were in prison; some were still living at home; older kids/younger kids—all sorts of things. Once you let the word out, it’s such a need.
In the same way, as we began to pray, we saw things happening in these kids’ lives that were pretty amazing. As of today, none of them died. The fact that they’re all alive, if you understand the culture and you understand what’s going on, is a miracle that they’re all living, so pray, pray, pray!
There isn’t any other sure thing. You can try to do all the right things—it’s very important to get wisdom from other parents, and read things, and all of that—very, very important; and do your research—but at the same time, the only thing that’s for sure is prayer—and that this isn’t out of the blue; there’s nothing random about this.
Dave: You mention that he didn’t just overdose once. Sometimes, you read that, and you’re like, “He died.” But he overdosed and did several times?
Katherine: Yes; he did. The first overdose was one of those things, where—I think I talk about it in the book—where all of these things had to happen for him to have lived, and he did. He was in the ICU; he was on life support for three or four days. We prayed; the whole waiting room was filled with mostly his friends, who had come to Christ/were walking with God. Little by little, things started to happen with his body. He needed to get his blood pressure up; he went into septic shock. The doctor actually said that this was the worst overdose that he’d seen where anybody lived through it.
One year later, I was knocking on his door in the morning to wake him up; and he wasn’t answering. My husband came and kicked it in. He was blue; at that point, my husband ran towards him; and I ran away from him—just the different kind of impulses that we had. He’s trying to revive him, and I just leave. It was so scary! I did see him when the door came down, and I saw his blue face; and I didn’t want to see anymore. I immediately called 911; but at the same point, I’m physically just melting. My knees are completely giving way.
All I could think was—because things had been going really well before that—I’d been thanking God for how well he was doing! At that point, all I could think was, “Are you real, God? I’ve been thanking You this whole time, and then this. What is going on? How could You possibly let this happen?” That’s when my faith was shaken to its core, and it was either going to disappear or grow stronger. This is an amazing thing that God did at that moment. Rick came over to me, as the paramedics were going up the stairs, I guess. He said, “Don’t worry; I’ll believe for you.” That might not make any sense; but at the time, it was/I was like, “Okay, God; You’re even going to get me through this.”
Ann: After that second overdose, were you afraid to be hopeful again?
Katherine: Yes, yes. I was afraid to be hopeful again after that. One of the things that became a revelation for me was that my “If only-s” became “Even ifs.” My “If only-s”—which I’d been struggling with since Day One—were: “If only I’d done this differently,” or “…we’d done this differently...” “If only we’d seen things earlier…” “If only we’d been harder on him…”—or whatever it was—which was doing nothing except polluting my prayer life.
These turned into an “Even if…” It’s kind of like Jesus at Gethsemane. “Please take this from Me; but not My will, but Yours.” I was able to come to Christ/to Jesus and say, “Even if our son dies—it will be the most painful thing I’ll ever go through—but even if our son dies, I’m okay; heaven’s okay. I’m going to be good.”
Ann: That’s huge.
Katherine: And it was amazing—it just relieved all of the fear; I wasn’t afraid anymore!—it was okay; you know, it was okay. I knew it would be hard, but it was okay. Once you’re not afraid of the worst thing you could imagine, the freedom that comes is wonderful—and the sense of peace—you are walking with God at that point. You’re not just, “Alright; if that’s what You want, I’ll do it, or whatever; Your will be done.” No; it was like, “You’re going to take care of me in ways I could never imagine.”
Ann: It seems like that’s a point, as parents, that we all need to come to. It’s like a surrendering of everything/of our kids. That’s a hard thing to do; because it’s releasing your child to God—whether they have an addiction/whether they’ve walked away from God—wherever they are in life. That’s a hard place to come to. Is that the place you’d encourage parents to get to?
Katherine: I would, hands down.
Ann: And yet, you didn’t get there overnight.
Katherine: Did not get there overnight. Very hard to get to; but if you’re struggling right now in that place of complete uncertainty and fear, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and there’s tumult at home or whatever—that is a place you want to get to. Get there by prayer—constant, constant prayer—and read Scripture. Hebrews 11 is great, talking about the faith. Some people didn’t experience the answers to their prayers in the very end, but they knew a better future was coming for them.
Bob: His second time in the hospital was a turning point of sorts; wasn’t it?
Katherine: Yes; it was such a gradual thing. He got jobs that he held down well. He’d tell us things; he got a little more open about what was going on—he said somebody had come into where he was working and offered him pills; and he was mad at the guy, because he knew the guy knew that he was trying not to use—things like that.
It’s interesting—we always wanted and expected him to have this miraculous spiritual awakening and start leading Bible studies with his dad—things like that/that—“This is how it works for the Christian; they, all of a sudden, discover the Spirit-filled life, and then everything’s perfect.” It wasn’t at all like that; it was very, very slow. He’s still a very internal person, but his heart’s good.
More than one time, I feel like God gave me the image of a turtle. [Laughs] I was praying—it finally came to me: “I should pray that, like a turtle, he would always go slow, slow, in the right direction. I don’t care how slow it is, but always let him go in the right direction and never back”; right? I was praying this as I was walking through a park one day. Got in the car, headed out. I had to stop; because this little turtle was, literally, walking on the road, five feet in front of the car. It was going so slow, I had to pick it up and carry it to the other side of the road.
But things like that—slowly, you could tell things were headed in the right direction. Even now, though, there’s always going to be a little bit of a fear there that something could happen. But I do/I think that I’ve gotten to that place, where my first reaction is to go back to, “Even if…”
Bob: Today, he’s living independently.
Bob: He’s married.
Katherine: He’s married; has a little baby girl.
Bob: And as far as you know, substance use is a part of the past, not a part of the present.
Katherine: No; he’s doing really well; so thankful.
Bob: And the story is not over.
Bob: I talk to parents, all the time, who are in the middle of difficult situations with a prodigal/with somebody, who’s using—whatever their circumstance is—there’s a broken heart in that conversation. There’s also a sense of hopelessness. I have to look at them and say, “The story’s not over. We don’t know what God’s going to do. There’s still hope. Keep crying out; keep interceding; keep pointing him in the right direction; keep asking God for wisdom.”
Dave: You’re walking around the walls of Jericho; not a single brick’s fallen. You’ve got to be thinking, “Just give me, at least, a brick!”
Katherine: “…just a brick.”
Dave: But this could be Day Six.
Ann: —and your prayers are being heard.
Katherine: Yes, yes, yes.
Bob: He had to know mom was writing a book, telling the story.
Katherine: He did. I asked if he wanted to vet it, and he took it to read. He got through the first couple pages; and he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t read it.” I said, “I’m so sorry I did that to you.”
Bob: But he was okay; he signed off on you telling this story.
Katherine: Yes, yes. And all of his friends, who are in here as well—I ran it by them—so everybody signed off.
Bob: Now, there are a lot of moms and dads—and maybe a lot of addicts—who are going to read this and get hope because of the story.
Bob: Thanks for writing it. Thanks for coming here, and thanks for sharing your story.
Katherine: Thank you.
Bob: We’ve got copies of Katherine’s book, which is called A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, our website: FamilyLifeToday.com. You’ll find additional resources there for parents, whose kids have become involved with substance abuse: other books, articles, resources that we have available. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information.
If we can pray for you and your family, if you’re going through this or any challenge, it would be a privilege to be able to pray for your family in the new year. Get in touch with us and let us know how we can be praying for you.
Of course, today is the first day of 2021, and we’re all praying that 2021 will be a different year/a better year than 2020 was. 2020 was challenging; it was hard for many of us. Yet, God was with us and sustained us as He always does; we’re grateful for that.
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Pray for us in the new year ahead as we look to be innovative and creative about how we can most effectively minister to marriages and families—that God will open new doors as He has already been doing for us in so many ways—pray that 2021 will be a fruitful year of ministry for us, here at FamilyLife. Again, anytime we can help you, please do get in touch with us and let us know.
We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when Dave and Ann Wilson are going to share with us about their engagement; about the very first Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway they ever went to, back before they were married; and then about the first tumultuous months of marriage, where eventually they looked at each other and said, “We made a huge mistake.” We’ll hear that story Monday. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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