I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 3:14

Why are we working so hard to broker relational reconciliation with Asher? What’s the point – or, more pointedly, what’s the goal? If I’m honest with myself, then I must answer this question in two parts: the way my flesh behaves; and the way God intends.

The way my flesh behaves. That one is easy. *deep breath* I want Asher to come home. Not just to my house, which he has done, but to my heart. I want a son that loves me and his father and is joyful at the prospect of entering into relationship with us. I want him to see the sacrifices we made over the years of abusive behaviors and trauma-induced behaviors and stupid-selfish-adolescent-I-think-of-nothing-deeper-than-my-immediate-gratification behaviors. I want him to acknowledge his thankfulness for the many (many) times we did not give up on him. I want him to trust upon Christ with such a passion that he becomes a voice of calling for the Lord in others’ lives. I want Asher to choose us with intentionality. My goal in working until my eyes cannot cry any more tears and my heart cannot break into any more pieces is to hear my son say with his whole, authentic self, “Mama, I love you.”

We have not arrived at that point. We may never arrive at that point.

Two nights ago, Asher came home from school in a funk. I was out but Joseph was home and repeatedly asked what was going on for him. He rebuffed Joseph’s invitation at connection and instead took a phone, plugged in some earbuds, and sullenly asked if he could go for a walk. An hour later, he was calling home to ask if he could go to Calvin’s* house. Asher quickly volunteered that he would be home by curfew and Joseph gave the go-ahead.

But when curfew came and went, Asher was still not home. I texted him only to be told, “I was planning on coming home at 10.” Everything in me exploded. The countless previous conversations full of presumption and arrogance along with Asher’s obvious preference for Calvin flooded me with jealousy, hurt, and bitterness. Curfew is established by probation as nine o’clock. We sought special permission from Asher’s probation officer for Calvin to count as a parent in terms of curfew restrictions and Asher knew that he didn’t have to be home by nine as long as he was with Calvin. But that doesn’t give him the right to set his own curfew and then inform us of it. I felt manipulated and it angered me. “Actually, you will come home now because curfew is nine unless previous agreed otherwise.”

Asher walked into our house five minutes later with Calvin. He was apologetic but clearly irritated. We were irritated and not remotely apologetic. We shook hands with Calvin, who graciously took his leave, and then leveled Asher with a firm gaze.

Our son took responsibility for the way he miscommunicated his intentions with curfew and then dropped the ball with the follow-up. But I could quickly tell the evening was far from over. He glared at us and told us emphatically that he was tired of always feeling like he was never good enough for us and that nothing he did was every acceptable. The absurdity of that statement did not register to either Joseph or me. Perhaps if it had we could have stopped so much of the rest of the train wreck that followed. For certainly, Asher was not in his rational mind if he was accusing us of withholding praise and acknowledgment for efforts made since he returned home.

And then Satan had some fun.

Unbeknownst to us at the moment, Asher had a PTSD trigger occur at the end of his school day. And also unbeknownst to us, Calvin (who did not know about the school incident) encouraged Asher to share something with us that held meaning as a way of forging depth in our relationship. As an adoptive father to children suffering from reactive attachment disorder, he recognizes the ways traumatized children push away from real connection in favor of the superficial and inane. Sadly, Asher chose to initiate connection with an indictment. “You want to know about my day? Well, it SUCKED!!!!”

The tone and word choice said it all. (Asher is not allowed to use the slang term suck. I find it crude and vulgar and not remotely necessary. He picked it up at JCF and I was not interested in seeing it integrated into our family’s vocabulary. After multiple discussions {while still at JCF} and warnings {at home} he was finally told that he would provide us with 15 minutes of weeding every time he used the word.) And into that melee of emotions I injected, “You clearly don’t want to share any of this with us. So, why don’t you just go live with Calvin?!”

Asher fumed out of our room and into his own bedroom crying the whole time. Probably from a combination of frustration at his failed attempt to relate something of meaning to us and the pain of hearing my allegation hit so close to home. I truly believe Asher would leave our home for Calvin’s in a heartbeat.

I don’t even remember how we got back into a conversation, I just remember Joseph standing in the door to the bathroom desperately trying to get Asher to understand how hurt we are that he prefers everybody – anybody – over us. That when he came home, he wanted nothing to do with his own daddy’s attempt at initiating meaningful discussion but instead wanted to leave the house as quickly as possible. “We love you more than anyone!” Asher’s tearful reply said so much, “Then why don’t I feel it?”

Why, indeed? Because real love is so much more than an emotion. It is a rational decision to sacrifice for the very best in someone else’s life. And to feel that love, there must be an acceptance that getting what makes you feel good at the moment is not necessarily the same thing as love.

For the next hour, Asher, Joseph, and I sat and alternated crying, listening, seething, and trying to find the bridge that would allow us to reach one another. Asher shared about a boy who caressed his face as he walked by while my son stood, frozen, in the school hallway. The rage and shame poured out of him as we listened to him grieve the memories of Drake. PTSD is a monstrous task-master. Asher railed against “the rules” (his generic term that essentially means any authority in contradiction with his own desires of the moment). And then, through the grace of Christ alone, remained calm when he exploded by telling us that he doesn’t have a problem with authority when that authority is willing to hold themselves to the same standard… Hmm… I think you’re accusing me of using a double standard and expecting more from you than I do of myself. It is almost laughable were it not my son’s honest belief. But the worst was the moment that Joseph reached out, in tears, to share with Asher that we love him only to receive, “Yeah, I just don’t know if I love you,” in return.

At a breaking point, my husband finally turned to Asher and said, “You want a purely transactional relationship and until you make a concerted decision otherwise, that is all we will ever have. Because it doesn’t matter what we do or say, nothing will ever reach your heart if you are determined to filter everything through a lens of pure self-gratification. So, we will clearly state the rules [we just printed and hung the clarified weekday and weekend schedule in his room the day before and it was this that fomented his indignation about our hypocrisy – after all, how dare we ask him to do dishes on Thursdays and manage his bathroom and laundry on Saturdays with lights out at 11 on weekdays and midnight on weekends], clearly state the consequences, and coexist until you can leave.” Asher looked blankly at his dad and plaintively asked, “Are you being sarcastic?” Joseph shook his head sadly and simply stated, “No, Asher, I’m not.”

I thought we were done for the night. We were all exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed. But Asher was finally exiting his cycle (program jargon for irrational behaviors/thought patterns brought about by false beliefs that are unconsciously triggered and in this case were most certainly a result of the strange boy’s inappropriate contact at school) and beginning to think rationally. We were moving about with finalizing the evening’s chores when Joseph and I each interacted separately with Asher. I saw him crying as he put dishes into the cupboard and asked if I could hug him. He quickly came to me and sobbed into my shoulder. “I don’t know what to do, Mama.” My response didn’t offer much help, “Neither do I.” He acknowledged that he didn’t know if he loved me (the sting never goes away) but that he doesn’t want a transactional relationship. And I told him that he probably feels our disappointment at not holding his heart. “We’re not your probation officer, Asher. She can be proud of your checklist of good behaviors and call it a day. She wants nothing more than to see you successfully leave her office and never lay eyes upon you again. I want so much more than that.” Later, Joseph had a similar conversation. He remained open as Asher spoke of the friendships he is developing with schoolmates and the line he is pushing as he flirts with girl after girl.

Once again, the mantle of maturity and higher expectation were upon us – not our son. The irony was not lost on me. And it was that thought that rolled through my brain as Joseph and I took a short walk to the end of our block to meet with Calvin after a cryptic text told us he needed to share something in confidence as soon as Asher was asleep.

Asher made a foolish threat of suicide while driving with Calvin. He showed no signs of mental instability or emotional fragility that left credence to the statement. But Calvin felt beholden to tell us. We appreciated his transparency though it was unnecessary. Asher made the same statement to a friend via text and we intercepted it. When we spoke with Asher about it earlier in the evening, he quickly acknowledged it as a rash move meant to garner attention. “I just felt overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do.” “Then perhaps next time that is what you ought to say instead of telling someone you’re going to kill yourself.” However, I understood the weirdly rational mindset behind the move. At JCF, a suicide threat was the only sure-fire way to see a counselor and in a room full of criminally-minded, self-absorbed adolescents it can be hard to get your emotional needs met – even when they are legitimate. Calvin shared his perspective on the threat (that it wasn’t serious) and we shared ours (old habits die hard).**

As we prepared to part ways, Joseph asked Calvin for some perspective on the situation. Calvin shared some helpful counsel and offered wisdom from his own experiences with troubled youth. Joseph and I lamented the frustration and difficulty of loving someone who patently refuses to accept and reciprocate your love. Then I asked him, “How do you remain steadfast and hopeful when you can practically hear your own heart break?”

It was a rhetorical question.

Calvin didn’t take it as such.

“Are you hoping to have a reconciled relationship with Asher?” What? Um, yes. Isn’t that the point of all this? I thought the question a little daft. “Because if that is what the goal is for your actions, then you have the wrong goal.”

And here is where I come back to that question I asked at the beginning of the post and where I answer with the second option. Why are we working so hard to broker relational reconciliation with Asher? Because it is what God intends for us to do. And the goal is to do it in a way that pleases Him. Period.

As we wrestle with Asher over connection and relational cohesion, we must have a point of success apart from Asher’s response if we are to remain free of bitterness. It also puts way too much power in Asher’s hands if our reconciliation with him is the sole focus of all our sacrifice.

Yes, I want my son’s heart. But the bigger prize must be my God’s delight in me. Joseph and I have no idea how we are going to effect this change in our hearts. However, we are certain that we must.

*Calvin is a wonderful man of God who mentors troubled boys, now lives close by, and has graciously extended himself to us and Asher. Calvin is much more hip than we are at the moment. He is called to singleness and over the past two decades has adopted, fostered, mentored, and guided dozens of young men through trials of every kind. His profession affords him both monetary freedom that we don’t have and flexibility of a schedule that we don’t have. Essentially, he’s the coolest dad any fourteen to eighteen-year-old boy could want – until he is your dad and you realize Calvin is just as interested in your godliness, authenticity, and responsibility as your own parents. But our son is a long way from realizing that and so, Calvin remains firmly ensconced as our son’s favorite adult.

**His probation officer and treatment counselor also agreed with my assessment when I spoke with them the following day.