When Asher was prosecuted, he was charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior towards a minor under the age of 16. We worked directly with the county prosecutor and Asher’s defense counsel to decide what charges would provide enough fodder for the judge to adequately sentence him without adding unnecessary repetition simply for the sake of weight. For this reason, though the initial charge was three counts, we all believed it best to drop one count. Asher never tried to avoid responsibility for his actions or deny the charges, which allowed the prosecutor and defense attorney to trust our input as his parents. This was important because all states are now federally required to deny parents access to the defense of a sexual offender when they are also the parents of the victims. The law was designed to provide legal protection for the defendant in the case of parents believing false allegations and not providing adequate counsel for their child’s defense. It was also put in place to give parents legal buttressing against choosing sides. Because in a society without Jesus, no parent could possibly be capable of loving an ugly, rebellious, wayward child who has actively behaved in a way that attacks the fundamental worth and value of their other children. So, obviously, no parent of an intrafamilial perpetrator could want anything other than an excuse to remove themselves from the responsibility of supporting that child.

And to be entirely transparent, without Jesus, that makes perfect sense. It is only with the grace of a God who loved me while I was still a sinner that I can possibly find the wherewithal to pour unconditional love onto my own son – while he is still hurting our family.

But Christ’s grace did show up in immeasurable and underserved ways and we desired, not just felt compelled, to engage in Asher’s defense. We knew, instinctively, that it was essential for Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan to see us fighting for their rights. But we also recognized that Asher needed to see us fighting for him. He needed to know that we were not simply jumping on the bandwagon of haters who wanted to see him fail. We were not pressing the courts for the severest consequences possible, but rather, we were seeking the best means of rehabilitation for all people involved.

I am forever thankful for the judge in our case. He made a point of explaining that Asher’s own victimization played a significant part in his role as a perpetrator. I am also grateful for his willingness to call out the law-abiding citizen in my son. These words were a balm to my soul after reading and meeting with Asher’s different evaluators during the court-ordered psycho-social and psycho-sexual reports, and polygraph.

In the beginning, we were only too excited to have Asher working through the rehabilitation program set forth at JCF. And we were also grateful that he was no longer living in our house. The outbursts, fits of irrational behavior, violent mood swings, and countless hours spent counseling and disciplining him were finally off our plate. We were only too eager to take back the peace and time stolen from us through our son’s volatility.

About a year into the process, we began softening towards the idea of Asher returning home. I don’t mean that up until then we had no intention of bringing him back into our house. But before that point, it was only a prayer based on a firm resolution that God could do “greater than all we could ask OR IMAGINE.” Asher coming home was beyond even our imagination in the early days. But around the year mark, it became something we occasionally glimpsed in a passing comment or an unintentional gesture by both Asher and our other children.

Now we are 22 months into this season, and everyone wants it to be over. Asher wants to come home. His siblings miss him. We are weary of the meetings, the bureaucracy, and even the lack of holistic care JCF can offer our son. Just today, we sat down with the social worker and probation officer assigned to our case to touch base about reintegration. The conversation was filled with broad statements and conflicting, or at the least confusing, remarks concerning expectations for Asher. Even directions given to us are hard to pin down with exactness. Here is a sample:

“Your safety plan needs to be airtight so Asher understands exactly what the expectations are for his behavior in the home.”
“Absolutely. So, can you help me understand what more I need to add to this document to make it clearer?”
“Well, it’s just important that you spell everything out.”
“Right. I thought, [reading from the safety plan we developed and provided to both these individuals months ago] ‘Asher will not be allowed downstairs for any reason at any time. The downstairs family room area will be a safe zone for our other children as they work through the final steps of healing with Asher.’ was pretty specific.”
“Yes, but it needs to be spelled out with regard to consequences, too.”
“Of course!  How should I clarify, [again, reading] ‘If there is any blatant disrespect for these boundaries on Asher’s behalf, an immediate call to his probation officer will be made. We will not tolerate his willful disregard of our safety standards designed to ensure his siblings remain comfortable in their own home.’?”
“It just needs to be very clear.”

Oy vey.

There is still a natural suspicion that we truly can care for Asher, Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan without losing sight of the facts. Our social worker has a particularly condescending habit of staring at us like we are speaking a foreign language when we even hint at the possibility that all of Asher’s emotional and psychological needs are not being met through the current program at JCF. Suggesting that some of Asher’s behaviors may still be connected to unresolved triggers as a victim seems perfectly natural to us. After all, the primary focus of JCF is to rehabilitate a perpetrator not heal a victim. But for these professionals, the idea appears ludicrous.

It is a gentle reminder that our salvation does not lie in any human institution. Nor does it live within any single person outside of Jesus Christ. He alone knows what is best for us, for Asher, for our other children. He alone will determine when all the boxes – conflicting, confusing, and clear alike – are checked. And while I can appreciate the ways God used this bureaucracy to care for us during this season, I will be incredibly grateful to finally get out of the system when that day comes.