And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers…
-Malachi 4:6a

I thoroughly appreciate a sermon John Piper preached on this passage many years ago. I recommend reading or listening to it. At one point he talks about the importance of ordinary fathers (and mothers) and ordinary sons (and daughters) choosing to fight for tenderness towards one another. It is a powerful reminder that Joseph and I have an obligation to remain faithful to the call of parenting during this journey. And it gives us the strength to continue the battle for Asher’s heart.

We need all the strength we can get! This is an excerpt from his most recent bi-monthly progress report.

Release Expectations: Asher will have the desire and ability to respect the boundaries of others and be open to feedback from his victims.
Treatment Goals: Asher will learn how to set and maintain appropriate boundaries with others by respecting himself, others, and not engaging in victimizing behaviors that place others at risk.
Progress to Date: Asher completed the assignments with the Juvenile Sexual Assault Treatment (JSAT) curriculum. He continues completing weekly Assault Cycle Check-Ins (ACCI) and improved his ability to apply the tools in real time as this period progressed. He has made improvements all around and is preparing to participate in Victim Mediation with siblings. The concern here is Asher’s dismissive attitude towards remaining concerns brought to his attention almost daily. He seems to want to convince others that he will not make the type of mistakes once at home that he continues to make to this day. Namely, triangulating authority figures, including his peers, to get what he wants. He recently was able to view the safety plan his parents developed for when he returns to live with them. Rather than using his empathy, reasoning, and compassion to understand the plan, he painted his parents as being punitive. He went further by engaging in discussions with one of his peers that entertained the idea of doing things behind his parents’ back. In one particular instance, Asher went out of his way to criticize and complain with great energy to staff and peers of a rule within this safety plan, stating that none of his other siblings were subject to such a rule. This went on for weeks before it was confronted and corrected by his family members, one of whom was a sibling that was subject to this very same rule. Asher went to great lengths to paint a picture of unfairness and being singled out by his parents because of this particular rule. It was someone other than himself that finally exposed the manipulation. Since then, Asher has dropped it completely acting as though he wants others to just forget that he lied. There is only one word that describes his attitude towards this safety plans since he has reviewed it and that is uncooperative. It was only when avenues for manipulation were beginning to be cut off that he began to settle into compliance.

That one rule, spoken of so frequently in the above passage, is our firm conviction that casual dating is inappropriate and while our children live in our house under our rules as minors, we do not allow them to engage in it. This was true for Savannah. It is true for Ginny. It is true for Asher. It will be true for Georgia, Olivia, Nathan, and Hope. It is our family culture and expectation. Asher’s crimes do not play into the standard even though we certainly do not believe that Asher needs to be worried about teenage romance while trying to reintegrate and engage in his court-ordered, outpatient, sex offender specific treatment. The policy is not based on a prejudice that says Asher is less capable of navigating teenage romance than his siblings. It is based on a biblical perspective of healthy attachment and the belief that opening your heart to the ecstasies and sorrows of romantic love is a recipe for disaster at the age of 15. Period.

He is still moping about this rule.

At my last visit, his peers addressed the inconsistency of his behaviors while Joseph and I are visiting. He shows great control and apparent respect during our visits but then, as the report exposed, rails against us when we are not present. The dating issue was brought up, again, and this time his peers forced him to acknowledge his plan for emancipation from us.

Wait. What?

I’m still reeling from the apparently bottomless well of hurtful behaviors our son can draw from when he wants to wound.

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Asher quickly tried to say he didn’t really want emancipation and that he was irrational when he said it. The problem is that, as the report says, he is convinced he won’t have any of these irrational episodes at home. He believes that once his external circumstances change, his struggles will end. Doesn’t that sound familiar? How many times have we, literally or metaphorically, changed our circumstances believing the difficult relationship, financial challenge, or spiritual malaise was due to factors outside of ourselves. Change the factors and – voila – a new life with only happiness and prosperity. By the way, in case you are wondering, this never works.

So, the first thing I did was assure him that he was not getting emancipated. Even while he asserted that wasn’t what he wanted and he knew it wouldn’t happen, I calmly but directly told him that we would fight with everything we had to keep him from running away from us. “No court will sanction your emancipation without proof that your family is unfit or without parental consent. You and I both know you will get neither.”

Then, I prayed desperately for wisdom. I hope the following conversation was Spirit-filled and led.

“Asher, you try to say you don’t struggle with me or your father and the authority we have over you. But I just don’t believe that. When you were home, we lived in near-constant conflict because you were so unwilling to abide by even the simplest rules. And now, it may appear that your issues are not with us but I believe that is only because we are not the ones directing wielding the authority. You have staff and social workers who now make and enforce the rules so Daddy and I are “safe.” But that will change when you come home. We must get to the bottom of this issue before you can safely move back home.”

Asher then protested a very great deal and explained, for the umpteenth time, why he will be fine once his circumstances change. But I held my ground firm in the conviction that this was not so.

“Asher, have you ever addressed being angry at me and Daddy for not stopping Drake’s abuse of you?”

“No. That’s absurd. You and Daddy had no idea he was abusing me so how can I be angry that you didn’t stop it?”

Here is one of those times when the grace of God shows up in mysterious ways. Joseph was out of town, so our visit was just me. It was also short. The episode between Georgia and Nathan happened the day before, and I was struggling with anger towards Asher, Drake, sin in general, and even God as my family continues to experience the painful ramifications of abuse. As a result, I couldn’t bring myself to see Asher until 45 minutes before visiting hours ended. That meant I had just enough time to broach this subject before I needed to leave. I didn’t need to wait and see how he reacted to it or what he did with it. I was able to speak it and then leave it entirely to Christ.

“Asher, just because you can rationalize that right now doesn’t mean that sweet, little boy of 7 understood why we didn’t somehow know that you were different. How could you not have been angry with us? There was no time when we disciplined you for being late when it was Drake pinning you to the ground and refusing to let you go? We never misjudged your motives for poor behavior or assigned inappropriate meaning to your cues? I am certain we would have done everything in our power to get Drake as far away from you for as long as possible if we knew what was happening. I am also certain that you felt abandoned and rejected by our naïveté and even ignorance.”

“But you and Daddy don’t deserve for me to be angry with you!” Asher was crying at this point, and I hope something is still working on him even as I write this article.

“You’re right. We don’t. But that doesn’t really matter right now. We don’t deserve a lot of things, but here we are. And if you really want to show that you love us, then you’ll start addressing these deeper areas of pain and hurt. And you’ll get real about your anger towards us. Because if you don’t, you will continue to show it in unhealthy ways like rejecting our authority.”

My time was up. I hugged him and told him how much his father and I truly do love him and then I left.

Please, dear Jesus, use my humble words to pierce something inside Asher’s heart that is hard and dead. Please give us the courage to continue loving him. And remind us all that you are our Heavenly Father who sees our needs and meets every one with your goodness – even when we want our own version of emancipation from you.