If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Joseph and I met with Asher and Jon for another family counseling session on Friday. We knew the visit with Hope was scheduled for Saturday morning and thought it best to have a meeting before then. On the drive to JCF, we began speaking about what we wanted to address. I know I’ve mentioned this several times, but our desire to really put Asher’s feet to the fire about taking responsibility for all the ways he hurt our family continues to be a repeating motif in these discussions. When, precisely, is our son secure enough in our love that we can level the degree of hurt and disappointment we feel towards him and his actions? And how long should we wait to process these difficult emotions considering the ongoing effect they have on our willingness to engage with our son? There are very few concrete answers. So, we pray.
And that is what we were doing on Friday morning as we drove.
One of the themes in our discussions with Asher is his inability/unwillingness to trust us. To that end, I felt like we needed to thoroughly address the ways we fed into that broken relationship by our parenting mishaps – caused by both our immaturity as parents and a harshness as perfectionists. When our older children were young, we were far too concerned with their outward behaviors and not nearly as concerned with their heart. As a result, when our children disobeyed, they were met with swift discipline that rarely considered extenuating circumstances or had any nuance to it. And when our children disobeyed repeatedly, we simply increased the discipline without taking the time to evaluate why the child was continuing to rebel.
In Asher’s case, we knew something dramatic happened the summer he turned eight. We spoke often and regularly of it. But it wasn’t until we were years into this mess, and his outbursts were beyond management, that we were broken enough to look at alternatives to our black-and-white methods of disobedience/punishment paradigm. I felt convicted that Asher needed us to acknowledge this reality and its role in contributing to his broken trust in us.
Joseph agreed but initially struggled with the mechanics of how we would apologize. He carries a great sense of responsibility for protecting Asher’s siblings from a brother who is unrepentant; as long as Asher continues to rationalize or prevaricate, Joseph feels that he must maintain a strong boundary with him. I agree! We cannot allow anything less than a deep conviction over the hurts perpetrated against Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan – as well as a marked understanding for the pain endured by our entire family – before considering a return into our home. But, we also know that expecting perfection, and dare I say even excellence, without encouragement is a fool’s errand.
After discussing our feelings over these matters, we settled on a course of action. We would initiate an apology at the very beginning of our session and Joseph would be the one to speak first. This was important because while Asher was disciplined primarily by me, he views his father as the disciplinarian. I believe most of this is a natural outworking of a strong and present man within our family. But I also believe Asher views Joseph with far more antagonism than he does me because of complex, psychological aspects of shame present in male victims of same-sex abuse.
Joseph humbly accepted the call of being reasonable and taking responsibility (though not actually accountable for the ways Drake’s abuse perverted Asher’s mind) for our role in breaking Asher’s trust and by extension, his heart.
We arrived at JCF and like every other counseling appointment, Joseph and I sat together on a couch while Asher occupied an easy chair across from us with Jon bridging us in the middle. Joseph immediately initiated with our apology. He spoke beautifully of the ways we were deeply sorry for hurting Asher. He acknowledged that we didn’t know the pain Asher was experiencing, but that we certainly recognized that something was wrong. However, in our zealousness, inexperience, and pride, we did not stop to drill down into the heart behind our son’s sudden shift in behavior and ultimately the changes in his personality. Joseph asked for Asher’s forgiveness and told him how sorry we both were for the suffering we caused.
Asher was silent.
At first, I didn’t know if he even believed us. Jon finally broke the silence by asking Asher if he understood what we just did. Asher nodded but a distance in his eyes told us that he was processing deep emotions. As Jon plied him with more questions, Asher began sharing his thoughts. He acknowledged that his immediate reaction was to reject our apology. I asked if that was because to accept it was to lose the power of anger he held against us. If he continued to reject our honest desire to show ourselves reasonable, then he couldn’t be held responsible for his unwillingness to show the same. It’s convoluted, but it is exactly what was happening in his mind. But then he admitted that something, an ever so tiny something, was interested in what would happen if he moved forward with believing us. Jon did an excellent job of reiterating the consistency of our actions over the past several years and that Asher has no reason to doubt the sincerity of our motivation.
“Can you list the emotions you have right now?” Jon asked. Asher responded with, “Happy. For some reason, I feel happy. Lonely. Ashamed. Isolated. For a long time, way before I came here, I’ve felt like our family is this circle. Like a black circle on a piece of paper. Everyone has their spot and together they all fit. Then I’m this black dot 9 inches away. You know, before we met for the first time I told Mr. Bleckner [Jon] that I would sit in this chair so there would be no awkwardness when we first came into the room. I knew you would sit by one another and I didn’t feel like I could be next to you. I knew your touch would suffocate me and I would feel trapped. I needed to be away from you on this other side of the room where I’m free. But now I’m looking at you, and I see the spot between you on the couch and I remember what it was like to feel safe in that spot. There is a part of me that thinks it would be nice to sit in that spot, again.”
In that moment, Joseph and I were stunned. And though we didn’t really know what to say, we both immediately offered for him to sit with us. To our amazement, Asher literally hopped off his chair and while bounding across the room exclaimed, “Yes!” It was almost as though he didn’t allow himself the time to even consider it. He plopped so unceremoniously onto the couch that he practically sat on our laps – having not given us time to really separate and make room for him. We both commented, later, that his enthusiasm and smile felt genuine in a way we’ve not seen for at least 5 years. Joseph put his arm around his shoulder and I reached down to pat his leg. Asher laid his head on my shoulder and when Jon asked him how he felt he smiled and said, “good.” Jon told him he looked good, too.
From that position, we finished our counseling session. We discussed big topics like forgiveness, trust, and moving forward. Jon reiterated that he believes Asher spent the last several years trying to refuse and reject our love. But he also told him that he believes our love for him is not predicated on his acceptance of it and so it remains. It was a Holy Spirit moment. And did a great deal to validate us and the work we are doing to remain soft and open to Asher. Then, when it was time to part ways, Asher loitered next to us rather than fidget and show his irritation at being separated from his group.
I don’t quite know what to make of all this. Two months ago, we recognized the need to release any expectations of Asher returning to our home. Today, while our son continues to struggle with understanding all the factors that play a role in his release (not the least of which is the willingness of our other children to allow him into our home), we are praying that God keeps our hearts soft so that if Asher is making changes, we are ready to rejoice.