My apologies as this final entry is so long I’ve had to break it into two separate parts. It’s a lot to consume and I don’t wish to make you needlessly labor. The more I’ve written, the more I’m needing to write! How can one sum up a life like our Graham’s in only a few blog entries? Once again, thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.
In the last weeks our precious Graham was in our care, almost a year before He died – sorry, still trying to adjust to those words – my Father spoke very directly to me, saying that from that point on, whenever our son called asking for a place to crash, we were to open our home to him, and if ever he needed money, we were to open our pockets and wallets and give him whatever we had. No questions asked. No judgments. No strings.
“You’ve had to show tough love, but now it is time to be tender and love your son unconditionally, to the point that he knows he’s forgiven for everything and there is no uncrossable gulf between you.”
Our Father knew.
And His timing couldn’t have been better.
The picture above, our final family photo, was taken during this season of healing in our home. It’s the morning of the day he left us and moved to Minnesota to live with his birth family. He desperately needed to get away from all his deadly triggers, influencers and memories, he reasoned.
“Why can’t you be happy for me, Dad?” he asked, noting my silence upon finding out the way was paved for him to venture from home. I didn’t tell him then, but I feared I would never see my boy again.
“I’m just sad, buddy,” I replied.
“I’ll see you again,” he promised. “It’s not like I’m leaving for good. I just need a new start. If I don’t leave I don’t think I’ll survive.”
I nodded, trying hard to understand and taking care to measure my next words. When I told him I didn’t think he’d find the answers he was looking for in Minnesota, but that we’d support him still, I only made him angry.
“I know, Graham. You need to do this. It’s just that I still believe you can overcome your problems here. Remember Peter? He denied Jesus publicly in the streets of Jerusalem, but when his testimony was wrecked, the Lord restored him in those same streets, the very place he failed.”
His mind was made up. And as I bawl while recapturing these final moments with my son, I know that his journey north was most certainly necessary and in the plan of God. Sandy and I agree together on this.
This particular morning was bittersweet and this photograph captures the very last time the three of us were together. We’d never hug our boy again. Never kiss his cheek. Never hear him play his guitar long into the night. That aside, we’re forever grateful the wisdom and mercies of our Heavenly Parent enabled us to have this treasured peg to hold on to.
These postings are not an exercise to process my selective memories of a troubled kid who had the audacity to flout a perfect home with a perfect father. Hardly. It will always be with me, a red-hot poker of accusation, that my son felt more like a member of my church than a son during his über-impressionable years.
Frankly, I’m broken to bits that I allowed the grind and struggle of ministry – and the occasional cast of, shall we say, colorful characters (believe me, my first draft was less forgiving) – to drive a wedge in my home; that I occasionally carried the burdens of my work to my domicile, affecting the atmosphere with fits of brooding, shortness and impatience. Not always. It wasn’t the rule, but it was surely enough to affect a kid.
Believe me, the fault is my own, no one else’s, and I have rued the day.
My journals contain a litany of ministry hardships – and, yes, stunning triumphs – and I’ve spent enough time in them of late to conclude that I walk that razor-sharp edge of never wanting to trade those ministry years for anything but never, ever, ever desiring to relive them. Ever again. Ever.
You heard me say ever right?
My shelves are lined with used-up journals, each volume an honest exposé of everything that made me tick, all my dreams, prayers, desires and failures. Every wart and pimple. Nothing hidden. My journey of faith.
And I was leaving them all to Graham because I wanted him to know his daddy, and, whether he would be proud of him or despise the ground he walked on, well, I was leaving that up to him.
The Father was wise (again!) to move me to keep journals during Gra-Gra’s growing-up years, for if I relied on memory alone, I’d tend to recall mostly my failures and gloss over the really good times. Those journals are bulging with cherished stories of our home, our closeness, our laughter and traditions.
Satan is a liar, and we can be, too – about ourselves and about others.
One of my favorite entries, dated the summer of 1999 when Graham was only nine – probably the highlight of my shared life with that unique soul – reads like this:
Christian Overcomers Camp (camp for disabled) wrapped up around 2:15pm…Debbie (ministry director and beautiful friend) got us to (Newark, NJ) airport drop-off at 4:00…flight was 6:45. Graham and I grabbed some supper at Taco Bell stand since we had such a long time. It was going to be longer because flight before ours was delayed – our ETA of departure was now 8:00. When we got back to Gate 23, we got in line, as it was 6:30 or so. While in line, I heard guy in front say “You’ve got to be kidding! Cancelled?!?” I was sick when I learned that our flight, indeed, had been cancelled — poor weather all around us…we had to re-book for flights Saturday morning! And because it wasn’t airline’s fault they wouldn’t put us up in hotels. I told Graham it’d be okay, but I wasn’t so sure myself.
We re-booked for 8:45am flight – good, but where would we sleep? I called Debbie several times but couldn’t reach her. We went to baggage claim to get bags, but ours never materialized on the carousel! We learned that an earlier flight carried them on to Atlanta!!! As we walked away — no where to go, bags gone, only clothes on our backs, I was sick in my soul. Graham looked up at me and said, almost whimpering, “Dad, I feel homeless.”
What do you say? I feel God gave me the word at the right moment. I said enthusiastically (almost believing it myself!): “Hey! This is going to be an Adventure! Let’s just pretend we’re camping out!” He also heartened, especially when I bought him junk food and surprises (he always called gifts “surprises”) at a gift shop.
We roamed the halls, rode trams, napped in Terminal A until we got kicked out at 2:00am because the last flight had departed and security was removed…we were sent to Terminal C where we found very comfortable settings…we found a bench and plopped down. A 15-year old from Lake Havasu City, NM stopped by and talked to us awhile — there were 50-60 people stranded with us. I got an hour of sleep, Graham got two. At 5:30 we made our way back to Terminal A and checked in at the gate – agent gave us front-row seats!!!
I have to say, as I said to Graham: “a month from now, you’ll think this is the coolest story.” I really believe its one of the best experiences of our lives together. We’ll never forget it. In the hour of greatest disappointment, fear and abandonment, He delivered us!!! Praise to Him! Hey satan: if you can read, then digest this: God is faithful and you’re the liar from the beginning! You think you can get (us) to curse God? Go to hell!!!
Thank you, God, for showing my son again and again how real You are. That You are faithful. That your compassions never fail. Thank You for coming through for him time and again. Bless You for coming to save lost, helpless, homeless sinners. I shout for the mercies of God that never run out for Your own. Thank You, thank You, thank You for overcoming grace!
Graham was a preacher’s kid. He didn’t ask to be.
His dad was disabled. He didn’t choose that.
He was adopted. He never had a vote.
That’s a lot for any child to be exposed to.
These didn’t cause his addictions but they were contributing factors. Graham started using at 14, which led to years in and out of rehab, recovery programs and incarceration.
I won’t spend much time here as his journey is both private and painful. Suffice to say, he took the hardest of paths.
His rehab journals reflect those Sundays he “couldn’t wait to get out of church instead of paying attention so [he] could get high.” He lamented that his most heartbreaking loss was “the trust of my parents” because “I love them, they’re my main familio” and that, instead of stopping, he kept using since he was “ashamed of [himself]”, adding with devastating finality, “I was addicted.”
Oh, dear God, how I wish I had understood the menacing demon of addiction! I saw it only as a behavior to be managed, to “suck it up, get over it, be done with it.” C’mon, son! What in the name of all that’s holy are you thinking????
Only the Almighty knows for sure, so it’s senseless to Sherlock our way through the evidence of our only child’s life, asking why he chose the prodigal path, but there is a telling anecdote that seems to cry out for consideration (in next post). Could it be that this archived event may have taken an already primed and poised boy with licking lips and racing heart, and pushed him over the edge…?
(Continued in Part Two as “Gone…But Not Forever…”)