Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
It is hard to start sharing our story from the very beginning, because its genesis is not entirely sudden. A family ripped apart by the death of a child when their car was hit by a drunk driver can truly mark a single moment as the central point from which all other horrors radiate. And while the date of our tragedy finds most of its roots embedded in that call, it is time to look in the rearview mirror and share with you some of our backstory.
Asher was a delightful boy. His ready smile and quick laugh made him irresistible to most people. That expression He never met a stranger was made for our son. He especially connected well with adults and older boys. But we distinctly remember the summer of his seventh year when he started to experience great difficulty with peer relationships. Asher took a long time to develop strong reading skills, and that summer was the first time his VBS group was not made up of mostly pre-readers. There were also a couple of boys in that group who were troubled and taking their anger towards their dysfunctional lives out on the kiddos around them. Asher was easily targeted with his slower reading skills and quick desire to please.
It devastated him. And we thought it was the primary cause for the sudden shift in his personality. Almost overnight, our son went from being confident with just the right amount of bravado to bragging about mastery over skills he had never even tried. The boasting grew until it was woven into the very fabric of his being, and soon we all detested the streak of hubris he nearly always showed.
Slowly, the hubris took on a greater role in Asher’s world, and by the time he was turning 11, we had a boy who refused to acknowledge that anyone could beat him at anything. This wasn’t a healthy sense of strength that refuses to give up when the fight is hard. No. This was a determination that was never humble, never gracious, and never realistic. It reeked of insecurity and self-loathing.
And the first glimmers of full-fledged rebellion were showing. They were faint at first. He sometimes refused to do a chore or respect Savannah and Ginny when Joseph and I were on a date. He occasionally bullied his younger siblings and coerced them to stay silent when we asked how things were going. But the greatest issue was an attitude that vacillated wildly between you don’t have any authority over me and I’m trying to work with you so that we can all get along. It honestly felt like we had two different children living in our one son. The challenge was figuring out which one you were dealing with in any given situation.
As Asher approached 13, we were crying out to God for help in parenting and guiding this troubled young man. His mood swings were dramatic and unpredictable. The hubris was now working its way through his relationships. He was allowed to be upset and view the actions of others as offensive, but no one was allowed to assume his heart was not always in the right place whenever his choices adversely affected someone else. He often bore Joseph and I a great deal of ill-will because he fed on a lie that said we were trying to ruin his life. The boundaries and parameters expected of all our children became onerous and ostensibly served only to imprison him. Why else would we not allow firecrackers in the house? What possible reason could there be for not letting him ride his skateboard barefoot? How come he was expected to manage Bart’s poop on the lawn while his sisters only had to do dishes?
Sometimes, the answers to these questions were met with a surprising degree of compliance and self-regulation. Often, they were met with hysterics and loud protestations. In the four months preceding the abuse disclosure, we met with several godly men and women seeking counsel for Asher’s outbursts and volatile behaviors. We were beginning to pray that God would reveal a way for us to remove him from our home without harming him, but still giving us the chance to be free from the emotionally abusive environment he perpetuated. We also had a very real conversation with Asher about the possible need to involve law enforcement if he couldn’t learn to submit to our reasonable guidelines.
Then it happened.
The Thursday before that wretched Sunday, Asher was sent to his room for disrespectful and emotionally abusive behavior towards me. He was on a tirade about how unfair it was that we weren’t allowing him to keep a 6’x3’x4’ft deep hole in our backyard even as we prepared to host a large group full of young families and small children. He lamented, whined, complained, bargained, obfuscated, and finally lied. We discovered that he merely covered the hole with rotting boards (that’ll help our backyard be safe for a zillion 3yr olds!), and when we confronted him on it he blew up screaming and yelling at us for all the ways we were ruining his life. Joseph demanded he go to his room. But as I finished making supper, and prepared to take a plate to Asher in his room, our son popped his head into the kitchen with a Cheshire cat grin of pure malice and breezily asked if food was ready. He then strolled into the dining room and sat down at the table.
Joseph calmly looked him in the eyes as I set the food on the table. “Asher, you are welcome to join us after your mother and I have discussed your attitude over the hole. Until then, you will eat your dinner in your room.” Our son smiled back and simply said, “No.”
What followed was a heartbreaking 5 minutes of Joseph warning Asher that he needed to obey and Asher stubbornly refusing to submit. It felt like an eternity. Ultimately, Asher glared at his father, flashed a defiant smile, and then turned to ask his siblings about their day. Our other children stared at me completely bewildered by the turn in events. Joseph again addressed Asher and asked him to go back to his room until we had a chance to talk. But Asher dug in his heals and let out a loud, piercing yell that exclaimed, with no uncertainty, that he was never again obeying us.
I immediately stood up and instructed the kids to get into the van. Asher began engaging with each one of them by asking them why they were leaving and telling them they didn’t need to go. But without remark, every single one filed into the van with me quickly behind them. We drove around for nearly an hour waiting to hear from Joseph. When I finally got in touch with him I could hear the fatigue and exasperation in his voice. It was clear for us to come home, but it was still ugly with Asher. He was in his room, but there was definitely more work to be done before this latest issue was resolved.
As I drove into our driveway, I remember wondering if things would ever resolve for our son. He was obviously riddled with guilt when he came out of these tirades. He apologized and wept while seeking forgiveness from me and his father. He recognized the reasonableness of our requests and appeared ready to make real changes that would lead to better outcomes over similar struggles bound to occur in the future.
It was the same every time. I figured this would be no different.
But when I walked in the door I could immediately sense that something was still off. Asher came upstairs to greet his siblings, and even though he obeyed Joseph’s command to return to his room it wasn’t without a retort thrown over his shoulder. “I want my real mother back and not this monster.” We chose to ignore it. Just another in a long line of insults hurled at us in the throes of these dark tempests. We situated the kids in their bedrooms and chose to have Nathan sleep in the office. We had begun witnessing behaviors in Nathan that were concerning us. Asher’s emotional bullying was obviously taking a toll on him (or what we thought was his emotional bullying). Then we called Asher into our room to try to discuss his choices with some degree of objectivity.
It was nearly 11pm.
Asher began by apologizing and clearly articulating his exact instances of defiance and rebellion. We thanked him for his honesty and accepted his apology. He cried. We tried to encourage him with words of affirmation. We reasserted our unconditional love for him. Then we began clarifying the terms of his disobedience. Asher’s eyes opened wide and he sputtered, with a degree of incredulity heretofore unseen in him, “Wait! I apologized! You mean I’m still not going to get to go to the park?”
We were stunned, and within moments, we were pitching headlong on another of Asher’s emotional roller coaster rides. I calmly warned him that he was taking this too far, and we would call the police if he continued to force discordance upon us. Asher stood up and said, “Really?”
I shook my head sadly and simply stated, “Asher, if you walk out of our room right now, I’m going to call the sheriff.” He boldly walked to our bedroom door and then turned to look at me. Staring directly into my face, he took a single step over the threshold.
I called the police.
What followed was 2 hours of filing paperwork, orchestrating a good cop/bad cop plan, putting Asher in the back of the police car and allowing him to sit there without knowing the next step. We decided to move forward with a two-step approach that kept Asher out of jail for that night but would put the steps into motion for him to be assigned a probation officer if we had to again call them. Our son was eventually taken out from the back of the police car and told, with no uncertain terms, that his job was to obey his parents and if he didn’t, then they would be called.
After the police left, Asher and I shared a long hug. He cried and openly admitted that he was scared when they showed up. He promised that he never wanted to go through the ordeal again. He said he was changed.
The following few days showed us that Asher was still caught between the devastating pull of dark and the never-fading conviction of light. Something was going to need to happen. We just didn’t understand what. We didn’t realize just how deep the fight really was. We underestimated the truth that God was revealing in our hearts.
Joseph and I sat, quietly enjoying the warm afternoon on that Sunday. All the kids were at the lake, excited to start the summer, and we were alone for a rare moment. I quietly asked Joseph the question so often on our hearts and minds in the recent months. “How are we going to help Asher?” Joseph’s sigh spoke so much. We began sharing with one another the fears we had that Asher was going to need a hard season of fighting the desires of his flesh and the pull of darkness before he actually changed. “I feel like something big has to happen.” I saw the same ache and loss in my own heart echo in Joseph as he nodded his head.
We were interrupted by the phone ringing.