Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance
Ephesians 6:10-18a

I wrote once before, early in our journey, about the reality behind a spiritual battle in our present situation. From the beginning, Joseph and I felt confidently that our battle was not against Asher. It wasn’t against therapists or authorities. It wasn’t against one another or our church. The true battle for our son’s heart and our family’s wholeness was, and remains to be, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness. Satan has no use for a reconciled family. He wants nothing to come of our story of brokenness and pain. He certainly cannot stand the idea of Christ gaining glory from the hurt and abuse that permeated our home for so many years. His hold upon our children was strong for a long time. He kept the secret of shame and ugliness well-tended and in the darkness the pain caused by sexual abuse flourished unchecked. Satan appeared to be winning.

When light first flooded into our home and exposed the evil deeds of the enemy, our family was almost undone. To face the awful truth that physical, verbal, mental, and sexual abuse was happening to our children and by our children, while we remained ignorant, was a terrible blow. And as the truth continued to expose more and more of the sickness festering in our home, the depth of impact upon us all was unavoidable. Asher may be the only one serving time for his abusive actions, but he certainly was not the only one who perpetrated great harm against our family. The unhealthy coping mechanisms used by all of us, at some point or another, dealt a blow to our family’s unity and health.

There were many times, in the early weeks and months, when I questioned how we could ever survive something this ugly. But there were also instances when I felt invigorated to fight with everything I had in me to stand against those spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. And, in all honesty, I was also carried along by the sheer rush of adrenaline caused by my flight or fight response to the trauma.

And slowly, we did survive. We made it to 6 months and then to one year. We fought for gentleness through 18 months and then two years. We healed and prayed and stood firm through 30 months and now, closer to three years than not, we are reminded afresh that we are, indeed, in the midst of a mighty battle.

Asher’s heart appears to be softening every week. He continues to show consistency in his desire to connect with us and come home. He openly acknowledges ways he treated us with disdain and apologizes nearly every time we speak for his hurtful attitudes or behaviors. We, family and professionals alike, are all confident that it is time for victim mediation to begin. And everyone also recognizes that Asher and his siblings’ response to victim mediation is the final component for determining Asher’s release. The assumption is that it will go well, and Asher will begin the process of reintegration as soon as mediation is completed.

It’s been nearly a month since that assessment was made and yet we still cannot seem to get anything on the calendar.

Miscommunication, lost emails, and poorly understood expectations for responsibilities are all playing a significant role in creating the delay. At least, that’s what it appears to be on the surface. Joseph and I know something else is at work.

Tara, the therapist whom we chose to work with our children through their TF-CBT is wonderful in many ways. But while she is supportive of our desire to see reunification as an option, she is quick to note that our children’s relationship may never (and by may, she appears to mean won’t) reach a place of true connection. Jon, the therapist assigned to Asher by the state, is even less willing to entertain the possibility of successful reintegration. In a recent conversation with Tara, he again asserted his opinion that doing two mediations in a single day would be fine. Jon sees these meetings as a point of closure and not a point of beginning. When Tara reiterated that our family is not comfortable with putting Asher (or his siblings) through the emotional difficulty of two mediations in a single day, Jon asked her if she, “really thought Asher would ever be able to go home.” His thought is that our desire to provide space for each sibling set to process through the meeting is unnecessary since there won’t be any genuine reconciliation anyway. Jon’s whole mindset is determined by a world view that includes antagonistic parents, bitter children, poor to no therapy work on the part of the victims, and no Jesus. When Tara replied that she believed our family stood the best chance of any family she worked with, Jon asked another question, “Do you have 100% confidence that Asher will ever reconcile with his siblings?” Tara replied that she doesn’t have 100% confidence in anything and that it isn’t something she believes will be easy or even probable. However, she is working on behalf of our family and believes she and Jon ought to work to support the vision our family has until that vision is proven unhealthy.

Our vision is pretty simple. Provide each victim with a meeting where they may see their brother for the first time in nearly three years. Listen to him apologize and read the letter they worked so hard on together. Read their own letter and share the things their heart longs to say. Allow them to engage with one another and then give them space to process through their emotions and reactions. It doesn’t sound revolutionary to me.

Joseph and I recently sent this email to both Tara and Jon:

My wife and I have desperately tried to get victim mediation scheduled for well over a month.  And after giving everyone involved plenty of room to account for schedules and other priorities, we are feeling relegated to the corner. This is our life. Our children. Our family. Perhaps there needs to be a simple reminder that for us, victim mediation is not just another appointment to get to when it is convenient. And while we understand, and I believe have shown incredible patience, that each of you has many plates spinning, we still deserve to be treated with respect and not passed over or ignored.
We continue to find it difficult for the staff at JCF to accept and support our vision of one mediation meeting per week. Asher’s previous counselor advocated for all four meetings to happen in a single day. Jon believes that two a day with a week in between is entirely acceptable. I’m not sure any of you have dealt with a family like ours, but let me assure you, pushing victim mediation through on a “budget” is not acceptable to us. All of our children (victims and non-victims), as well as Teeli and I, worked entirely too hard over the past 37 months towards healing and the possibility of reconciliation to waste those efforts on a check-the-box meeting. Plus, the dysregulation that may occur for our children at home, but even more importantly for Asher, must be considered. We want to present our family with as much room as possible to succeed in this endeavor. We have no guarantees. And we will not know for certain what our path forward will look like until after Asher has met with each of his victims. But certainly, it would be the wisest course of action to allow Asher the time he needs to process through each meeting before rushing into another one. And it will allow our children at home to recognize that each of them is valuable and deserving of the priority for that moment. Nothing speaks “you’re worth it” like giving them a kiss on the cheek while they’re wrestling with the feelings of relief, hope, disappointment, or even anger because you need to leave them for another meeting with another sibling. Please note my sarcasm. So here we are, trying to get everyone on the same page so we can move forward, and yet we are consistently meeting roadblock after roadblock. Or simply being ignored.

We were once before sitting in this near identical situation where Teeli and I were advocating a move towards mediation but kept getting deferred by JCF staff. We later learned that we were woefully uninformed about the exact nature of Asher’s heart towards reunification. I’m beginning to fear that we are facing a similar situation. Otherwise, what is the holdup? And if there is something beyond poor communication that we should be aware of, we would greatly appreciate the clarification.

At this point, our schedule, Tara’s schedule, and the availability of a support person whose presence is a non-negotiable for us have become too complicated to make meeting a possibility until the middle of March. We are disappointed and angry that this happened, but we want to see the best in this. So, please take a moment and confirm your availability so that we can actually schedule – not kind of schedule or sort of schedule or pseudo schedule – but actually put on your calendar the dates for ALL THREE mediations.

Here is my proposal:
Friday, March 22; Friday, March 29; and Friday, April 5

Respectfully, Joseph and Teeli Reynolds

…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore…

We are standing.