She sat at my kitchen table, tears pooling in her big brown eyes, and then silently slipping into the Diet Coke she was trying to choke down. Her heart was broken. I cried with her.
Her story felt unique to her, but sadly, I knew it wasn't. The refrain of "I can't believe this happened to me. I know better" has been sung too many times before. Ignoring the signs that warn "danger". Climbing over the rails put there to protect. Lingering long in the dwelling place of snakes can eventually lead to snakebite.
I live in a college town and I've watched this scene way more times than I'd like to say. Sweet kid leaves home. Seems to "have it all together". But underneath that smiling exterior is a heart that leaps at this chance to "be free". A heart that sees the restrictions and rules as unnecessary for the wanna-be adult inside. A heart that disbelieves that the warning signs and guardrails are protective but rather a barrier to fun.
So the migration begins. Little things, at first. Things that seem to be "personal preference", nothing that seems consequential. Choice of friends. Of places to be. Appearance. Activities. It feels so fun and feels far from harmful.
Then stuff happens. Things never planned or desired. Things that cannot be undone. And often, there comes a scene at somebody's kitchen table, in tears and disbelief.
Things can be repaired, though. And I told her that. We talked about new beginnings and forgiveness and restoration. To address her amazement that "this" had happened to her, I gently pointed out that if you poke around a lot in the habitat of snakes, you're probably gonna get bitten.
If you've gotten bitten, I want you to know with all my heart that there is a chance to begin again. There is grace enough to cover all mistakes of every kind. And there can be beauty from ashes, mourning can be turned into joy. It's gonna take some work and some time but I've seen it happen. I know that it can happen for you.
But please listen to this next line:
If you're not yet bitten but you are frequenting places where snakebites happen, I beg you to pull away. Guardrails are there for protection, not to prevent fun. What you look at, listen to, and long for matters. Who you have fun with matters. It all matters. And if you disregard the guardrails and the signs of warning and remain in the territory of snakebites.....
Whether you're in college or long past it.
After she left my table, I spilled tears into my own Diet Coke. For her. Not so much for what's happened but mostly because she didn't seem convinced that the guardrails are necessary. I fear she won't stay away from the terrain of the snakes. First bites are bad enough but it's really really really hard to recover from subsequent ones.
This post originally appeared on March 8, 2014. It bears repeating.