A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

Other than Savannah, our entire family met together yesterday. It’s been nearly 35 months since Asher last sat with all his siblings in the same room. Three years and he isn’t even 16. There is irony that yesterday was National Sibling Day.

It was decided at Olivia’s mediation meeting that we should all come together after the individual sessions were completed if everything went well. And so, we gathered at JCF where Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan were able to see Asher’s home for the first time since he left theirs.

It was a crazy mix of emotions for me. And to do it justice requires a lengthy catch-up blog.

I wrote about our first experience with victim mediation in this blog. I talk about Olivia and Asher sharing their letters with one another and some of the profound disappointment I felt over the way the dynamic played out. Mostly, I was disappointed that Olivia’s extreme unwillingness to speak in unfamiliar situations, combined with Asher’s fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and Jon Bleckner’s bizarre need to engage in counseling Asher all added up to very little personal interaction between my two children. Jon quickly drew the meeting to a close long before anything of substance could pass between Asher and Olivia save their respective letters. And while it was good that those letters were read, it was disheartening that Jon continued to act as though this was a point of conclusion and not a beginning. I was afraid all our meetings would follow this pattern but something happened to shift their course.

Hope told Asher she was sorry.

In a letter that Hope wrote to Asher, she openly speaks about missing her big brother and also shares how upset she is that it is taking him so long to come home. She addresses times when he scared her or hurt her feelings. And at the very end, she tells him that she is sorry for any of the ways she may have hurt his feelings when he was living at home. She acknowledged that sometimes she was angry with him and didn’t respond well.

Jon was blown away. He has never encountered a situation where such a young child is willing to take responsibility for their own actions regardless of how understandable or justified their behavior may be. God used it to soften Jon’s heart and, I believe, open his eyes.

Our next meeting was with Georgia. The closeness of her relationship with Asher made their time together especially poignant. They both cried. Hard. And mutliple times. Georgia had to leave the room twice and Asher once to regulate themselves. But once their letters were read, their exuberance at being able to speak with one another overshadowed their awkwardness. Plus, where Olivia is withdrawn in unknown situations, Asher and Georgia are the exact opposite. Georgia quickly put Asher at ease with her jokes and boisterous engagement and the two were laughing in short order. They caught up on movies, tried to out do one another in math problems, and talked about growing taller (they are the tallest members of our family by a long shot). But almost more amazing than their willingness to forge a new path forward was Jon’s willingness to allow them. Olivia’s meeting lasted only 35 minutes – Georgia’s was two hours. When he finally did mention that he needed to get Asher back to JCF, it was not with pleasure.

The final meeting was just this past Friday between Nathan and Asher. It was the hardest and worst of them all. Nathan was prepared to give Asher the chance to apologize and there was even a small amount of warmth in Nathan’s conversation with Asher after their letters were read. But Nathan clearly wanted to be the one in control and weilded that power over Asher. We allowed the meeting to run the way Nathan wanted it, but I spoke with him about it before our family meeting yesterday. He agreed that he would be more mindful during our family visit.

Which brings me to yesterday.

It was bizarrely normal.

Asher fell in step with his brother and sisters with an ease that utterly surprised me. Hope climbed up on his lap and remained there for our entire time together. The kids played “hi-low” (your best and worst moments of the day) as though we were sitting around our own kitchen table and it was just another average evening. They laughed naturally at one another’s antics and shared themselves generously. I’m still a little in shock.

Of course, there were moments that were also hard. Jon and Tara were both present and wanted to use the time to begin clarifying our safety plan. Can Asher initiate a hug, tickle any of his siblings, engage in conversation about his own struggles outside of our supervision…? The kids all wanted their individual scenario answered with absolutes and most of what we gave them was, “We’ll need to address that when the time comes.” Joseph and I appreciated much of what Jon and Tara were doing for our family but there were still moments when it rubbed to have our family dynamics and parenting dictated to us. But so much of this is what we have hoped for and longed for and prayed for.

It all feels a little too surreal to be looking at reunification.