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“This book is perfectly titled. It’s not called Perfect Destination. I love that Lori doesn’t give us a formula for dealing with prodigals. Rather through her book, Messy Journey, Lori beautifully, humbly, and strategically shares her journey with her prodigal and bits and pieces of others’ experiences too. No matter why you have a prodigal, if you want to support someone who does, or if you are a prodigal yourself, this book will encourage you. There is hope in these pages!” —Dr. Kathy Koch, founder and president, Celebrate Kids Inc. “This book is a beautiful balance of the real-life mess of loving a prodigal and the steadfast truth of God’s Word. I will be recommending this book to many in the years to come.” —Dr. Juli Slattery, cofounder, Authentic Intimacy “Lori has given her readers a gift—a glimpse into her most vulnerable times. Lori’s daughter Courtney has done the same. This book will be balm for those who are weary and wounded and comfort and encouragement for those who love them.” —Mary Heathman, founding director, Where Grace Abounds Inc. “Messy Journey will feed your soul, give peace to your spirit, and empower you to step into the messy journey with grace and truth. You are not alone.” —Jill Savage, founder of Hearts at Home, author of 11 books, coauthor of No More Perfect Kids “Lori offers biblical truth, courageous steps, and reassuring hope for the parent who is watching at the gate, waiting for their beloved child to come home. A must-read for anyone who desires to grasp the journey of a prodigal son or daughter.” —Laura Petherbridge, speaker and author, coauthor of The Smart Stepmom “For parents whose children have broken their hearts by breaking from family values, Lori Wildenberg offers empathy, sympathy, prayerful guidance, practical advice and, most importantly, godly hope. Timely and nonjudgmental, Messy Journey encourages hurting parents to share the best remedy—their love.” —Patricia Raybon, author of Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace “If you’re dealing with a prodigal child, this book is a comfort. Lori includes true stories from dozens of people, prayers that can be personalized, and a detailed account of her own struggle. She doesn’t give platitudes but instead offers candid snippets from not only herself but her daughter as well. If I were dealing with a child gone astray this would be my roadmap.” —Lucille Zimmerman, licensed professional counselor and author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World “In reading Messy Journey, I felt I was sitting with a good friend who really understood. So many words met me right where I am on this journey and confirmed my faith and trust in a Sovereign Lord.” —Kathie Hamby “Life is messy. Many parents and families are confused and in pain. There’s nothing more comforting than someone willing to share their messiness and make themselves vulnerable, which truly brings glory to God and freedom to the hurting.” —McKrae Game, president, Hope for Wholeness

“Lori Wildenberg has written the words that a parent’s shattered heart feels but that they can’t articulate, and in doing so, she’s created a safe place for parents to breathe. Lori offers hope, practical next steps, and biblical wisdom for parents of prodigals. This is a resource that every parent whose child has strayed from the expected path will want to have on their nightstand, but it’s also a book for youth and family pastors, counselors, and support group leaders.” —Vicki Tiede, speaker, author of When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart, and mom “Messy Journey provides insight and encouragement for the prodigal, the family, and those trying to support the family. I hope so many can learn from this. I pray that this book brings healing, love, and reconciliation to many families.” —Nina Hinds, prayer warrior, business woman, and mom “If you are the parent of a young adult and identify with the father in the parable of the prodigal son, this book is for you. Lori’s openness, vulnerability, and practical helps will guide your heart and thoughts to our Heavenly Father who has so many prodigals of His own. Rich with Scripture, helpful suggestions, and others’ life experiences, you will feel loved, supported, and encouraged.” —David and Claudia Arp, international speakers, authors of more than 30 books “If your experience has been that life is messy and isn’t wrapped with a tight bow—this book is for you. If you are looking for someone who will openly share insights from all perspectives of a modernday prodigal journey—this book is for you. Along with other stories, Lori and her daughter Courtney share how they hold to conflicting values while staying in relationship and seeking to discern God’s truth. This side of heaven we are all prodigals trying to get home.” —Kirk Weaver, founder and executive director of Family Time Training, international speaker and author “Messy Journey offers plenty of great insight for all parents dealing with a prodigal.” —Dr. Scott Turansky, cofounder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting, coauthor of Parenting Is Heart Work “This book gives hope for the long haul and honors the tough and tender sides of a mother’s heart that is hurting.” —Scott Kingry, program director, Where Grace Abounds “Messy Journey is full of real-life, heart-wrenching stories, prodigal son and daughter stories, with amazing real-life God answers. I was moved to tears as parents and children shared their hearts. In this rapidly changing world we, as God’s children, need to understand and live God’s plan to its fullest.” —Dave Moore, speaker, chaplain, and author of The Father’s Love: Amid a Frantic Search for His Son, A Father Finds His Faith “Lori offers substantive hope and help. Messy Journey’s content resonates with credibility. This book not only gave me encouragement and endurance in my parental journey, it also reminded and revealed the Father’s heart for me with fresh vision. And then I felt the urge to run to my own sons again (Luke 15).” —Larry Renoe, teaching pastor, Waterstone Community Church

mmee s ss yy

JOU R N EY How Grace and Truth Offer the Prodigal a Way Home by LORI W I L DEN BERG


New Hope® Publishers PO Box 12065 Birmingham, AL 35202-2065 New Hope Publishers is a division of WMU®. © 2017 by Lori Wildenberg All rights reserved. First printing 2017. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise— without the prior written permission of the publisher. New Hope Publishers serves its authors as they express their views, which may not express the views of the publisher. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Wildenberg, Lori, author. Title: Messy journey : how grace and truth offer the prodigal a way home / by Lori Wildenberg. Description: 1st [edition]. | Birmingham : New Hope Publishers, 2017. Identifiers: LCCN 2017000236 (print) | LCCN 2017001619 (ebook) | ISBN 9781625915238 (permabind) | ISBN 9781596699762 (Ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Parent and child--Religious aspects--Christianity. | Parent and adult child--Religious aspects--Christianity. | Families--Religious aspects--Christianity. | Child rearing--Religious aspects--Christianity. | Parenting--Religious aspects--Christianity. Classification: LCC BV4529 .W554 2017 (print) | LCC BV4529 (ebook) | DDC 248.8/45--dc23 LC record available at All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™ Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. A GRIEF OBSERVED by CS Lewis © copyright CS Lewis Pte Ltd 1961. Excerpt taken from When the Enemy Strikes: The Keys to Winning Your Spiritual Battles by Charles Stanley Copyright ©2004 by Charles Stanley. Used by Permission of Thomas Nelson. Excerpt taken from Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow and Nathan Whitaker. Copyright ©2011 by Timothy R. Tebow. Used by Permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

ISBN-13: 978-1-62591-523-8 N174121 • 0417 • 2M1

This book is dedicated to all the wanderers who are working out their testimony and to the “waiters� who love them.

With faith, hope, and love,


Table of Contents Page 9


Page 11


Build the Bridge

Page 19

Chapter 1

Be Brave

Page 30

Chapter 2

Ask a Better Question

Page 43

Chapter 3

Exert Influence

Page 54

Chapter 4

Fight the Good Fight

Page 62

Chapter 5

Draw the Line

Page 73

Chapter 6

Avoid Collateral Relationship Damage

Page 87

Chapter 7

Find Your Support System

Page 99

Chapter 8

Be Real

Page 113

Chapter 9

Be a Prayer Warrior

Page 126

Chapter 10

Trust God

Page 137

Chapter 11


Page 149

Chapter 12


Page 161


Let God Use Your Story

Page 173


Appendix Page 175

A Prodigal Chart

Page 178

13 Indicators of Trouble

Page 179

20 Signs of Substance Abuse

Page 181

10 Warning Signs of Abuse

Page 182

6 Parenting Tips for Your Non-Prodigal

Page 183

4 Respect Rules

Page 184

Group Discussion

Page 191

About the Author | 7 |

Acknowledgments With a heart filled with love, I want to thank my daughter Courtney who has vulnerably shared her life, thoughts, and struggles in order to encourage parents to never give up. Tom, my husband, who has been a source of love, encouragement, steadfastness, and strength, I am grateful we do life together. A big thank-you to the rest of my family who loves one another big and has been supportive of this effort: Jake; my daughter-in-love, Jaime; Samantha; and Kendra. Thanks to my ever encouraging mom, Pat Appel, and mother-inlove, Marianne Wildenberg Schmitt. I’m filled with gratitude to those of you who have courageously shared your raw emotions and stories so those on the detour know they are not alone. You are my heroes! To my faithful prayer warriors, thank you for praying with me and for my family. You entered the throne room on days when I couldn’t: Julianne Adams, Maureen Behrens, Vicki Brock, Keri Buisman, Paula Calabrese, Becky Clark, Becky Danielson, Suanne Deskin, Jill Gillis, Paula Gleason, Gayle Hendrickson, Nina Hinds, Mary Heathman, Katie McElroy, Amy Raye, Darcy Robertson, Lindee Sebald, Stacey Van Horn, Kathy Wolfe, Elsa Wolff, and Wendy Zeuli. A special thank-you to Paula Weed, Kathie Hamby, Colby Cullison, Where Grace Abounds, and Waterstone Community Church. Thank you to Mark Bethea and New Hope Publishers for believing in this project and to Sarah Doss and Tina Atchenson for giving it a shiny polish. And to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, the sacrificial lover of my own rebellious human heart, I am Yours.

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Introduction BUILD THE BRIDGE Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path. —Proverbs 23:19 Life is not a straight line. Life is more like the concrete confluence of the 710 and the 105 freeways in Long Beach, California. This interchange has the dubious honor of being one of the ten busiest in the world. The multiple crisscrosses of the freeways and stacked bridges appear chaotic. But from an aerial perspective the architect’s spaghetti-junction design makes sense. Being wrapped in the middle of a life that looks like a tangled pasta mess is cumbersome and confusing. We assess, “It appears we are lost.” We inquire, “Which way should we go?” We reflect, “How did we get here?” We accuse, “It’s your fault we are here.” We wonder, “Who can show us the way out?” We demand, “Where’s the map?” THE R OA D “I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag,” said my Bible study discussion group leader as she confessed to being directionally challenged. But when it came to her prodigal son, she had no doubt where to head. All year long Janice had the group pray for her son to return home. I couldn’t imagine anything worse, a child estranged from the family. My kids were 5, 7, 9, and 11 at the time. I knew exactly where my kids were, what they were doing, what they were eating, when they fell asleep, and who their friends were. My leader knew none of these things about her son. Yet even while being smack dab in the middle of the mess, she chose to view things from a heavenly perspective. Her

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son had detoured away from his family and faith, but she believed he would find his way home. Her trust in God gave her the ability to have an aerial view. Heartache and hope surrounded the love she had tucked into her heart for her wanderer. I prayed for her and for her young person. I marveled at how she was able to navigate each day. Secretly, I wondered what she did wrong. My children would never wear her son’s shoes. Their big toes would not even touch the dusty detour. Yet, almost 14 years later, I observe a set of muddy footprints with the toes pointed away from home. My young adult has detoured from the road I expected her to travel. Jill, my wise and sensitive friend, told me, “Life is not a straight line.” I’ve noticed it isn’t smooth either. Bumps, wrong turns, potholes, and blind curves are found in life’s detours. Third John 4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,” and that shreds my heart. There are times I toss my hands in the air and declare, “I am sooo done being a mom.” Why is it that some kids who are brought up with every advantage and opportunity have issues with substance abuse or sexual sin? And then there are other families, with parents who are neglectful, disinterested, and distracted, that turn out kids with seemingly no problems. When I ponder this, jealousy rears its ugly head. At the very core of every believing mom and dad is the expectation that their children will love the Lord and follow His will for their lives. “Start children off in the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). My faith-fortified house made me feel protected. I was convinced the cultural winds could not blow their way through my prayed-up and prayed-for sanctuary and all its inhabitants. Tom and I raised our four kids in a Christian home, went to church, and modeled our values and morals. We plugged all the right factors into our parenting GPS (Good Parenting Stuff). I thought my GPS was

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a guarantee, a protection from any type of detour. But I neglected to input the unpredictable human elements of free will, sin propensity, and individual uniqueness. THE GA RDEN My daughter loves the Lord. She loves her family. She’s attracted to women. She prefers to dress in a masculine way. (Courtney has given me permission to write about her sexual orientation and gender identity struggle. From time to time her voice will interject into the text.) Before I became a mom, I sure didn’t expect homosexuality and gender issues to be a part of my future family life. The unwanted and unexpected comes clothed in turmoil and suffering. The difficult rebellious situations test the mettle of even the most steadfast parent. One mom shared she thought it would be easier to have a cancer diagnosis than deal with the things she has had to with her young adults. Our children are tightly wound around our hearts, holding the place that breaks our hearts the most. God is with you. He is with me. He is with our children. When we suffer due to our children’s rebellion, God gets it. After all, He’s Adam and Eve’s Dad (Genesis 3). Temptation slinks around even where there is a perfect Daddy and the children are living in the very best environment. No household, no garden is snake-proof. When Eve came to be, Adam already was. She entered the world in relationship. A woman is an innately relational being. So when an offspring takes a life detour, a mother’s very marrow aches, and sorrow comes with each exhale. THE ME SSAG E We ask, “Why? What can we do?” Perhaps the better question is, “How can I be Mom or Dad while my child moves away from me emotionally, mentally, and physically?” In this book, you will hear stories of real faith-filled families

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confronted with homosexuality, gender confusion, atheism, substance abuse, pornography, abortion, theft, teen pregnancy, cohabitation, divorce, and promiscuity. All the stories, though unique in their details, have common threads. The similarities in the struggles made me feel less alone and less of a failure. Many of those who were brave enough to share their lives and hearts with me (and now with you) have requested to remain anonymous. To honor their request, names have been changed and a few minor details adjusted to maintain their privacy. Young people who have gone astray also pipe in, giving their perspective and providing us a peek into their world. Whatever detour your wanderer is traveling on, I need to say, I am so sorry. My heart hurts for you, your spouse, your other kids, and your child. My daughter has given her commitment to this project. She is still traveling on the detour, but I believe the tips of her shoes are pointed home. I am called to tell my story. I’m comfortable. I am not afraid. —Courtney

If it were not for my daughter’s permission and support, I could not write this book. After hearing about this endeavor, my friend Pam asked Courtney, “What is the main message you would want parents to take away after reading the book?” “Never give up. That’s the message. Never give up.” THE BRIDGE BUILD ER S I pray the stories found here will renew hope for parents in the season of brokenness. Moms and dads alike will discover how to close the relational gaps by constructing a bridge to the wanderer, forming a connection to other parents with a prodigal, and clinging to the Lord. Moms and wives are uniquely created to be interpersonal influencers, guarding against the potential to be relationship busters and striving to be relationship builders. Dads and husbands have the ability to

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move forward and focus on the bigger picture. We can help each other navigate the prodigal predicament. I don’t even know how to be . . . —Mom of a gone-astray daughter My wife helps me to remember the person who is attached to the behavior. —Dad of a wanderer

The parental playbook has been discarded, the formerly comfortable mom role dismissed, the dad’s protective instincts quelled, conversations become contentious traps, and sinister motives are assigned to innocuous actions. We are left befuddled, confused. We don’t know how to act, what to do, what to say, or who to be. The rebel pushes back against any and every attempt to be protected or directed. But as God’s people, we can participate in His plan for healing and redemption for our child, for our families, for our fellow believers. If we are willing, He will provide us with courage, wisdom, grace, and truth. My wife is helping me to show mercy in this situation. She has much more compassion than I do. —Dad of a prodigal

Together we will learn how to pray, love unconditionally, and set boundaries. We will learn how to expect and show respect, how to experience grief while grabbing onto hope and joy. We understand Christ’s forgiveness, humility, sacrifice, and trust because we have a prodigal. And together we will be wise and do our best to repair and build up our broken-down homes. “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1). Up close, our individual situations look like a tangled spaghetti mess, but the Grand Architect has a plan and purpose for our young person’s detour. He beckons us to join Him in building relational bridges, and He will show us how to navigate this unexpected life.

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FINA L NOTE Some folks may object to same-sex relationships listed with atheism, substance abuse, pornography, abortion, theft, teen pregnancy, cohabitation, divorce, and promiscuity. If you are in this group, this book is not for you. This book is for parents who are suffering because their young adult children are living a life that contradicts the values, morals, and faith with which they were raised. Also, I didn’t single out homosexual relationships as the sin above all sins. We have all sinned and many of us have been involved in sexual sin (sex outside of biblical marriage). It is all the same, a rejection of God’s Word, and therefore qualifies as rebellious behavior. Holiness is the goal, not heterosexuality. Temptation isn’t the sin, giving in to it is (Matthew 4:1–11). My rebel, Courtney, wants to share this message with you: This is an amazing, encouraging story of not only my mom’s and mine but also of many others. I hope you can take these testimonies and apply them to your own circumstances. Parents, I ask you to be patient, to listen, to be there, and to love your child. Rebels, I know from experience this is hard, but give it time; know your parents ultimately want the best for you. Your parents love you so much. And I know deep down you love your parents so much. Parents and rebels, always keep the lines of communication open. Last but not least, trust and rely on God throughout your journey. I truly hope this book helps to bridge the gap that you find in your relationship with your family and with God. —Courtney

My prayer for you, the reader, is that the Lord will blanket you and your rebel with His love, grace, and mercy. I pray you will be equipped

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to navigate your particular situation and feel peace in the process. God does His best work in seemingly impossible circumstances. Thank you for trusting me with your heart and for allowing me the privilege of being with you on this lonely detour. Come with Courtney and me and meet other moms, dads, and gone-astray kids who are also traveling on a detour. We’ll begin by taking Proverbs 23:19 and 3 John 4 (which may be difficult to read right now) and turning them around into a prayer. Father, My greatest joy would be to have my child walk in Your truth. You are the giver of all good gifts. You know the cry of my heart. Lord, You were with me while I laid the groundwork of faith for my child. You have a parent’s heart. You intimately know that a mother and a father walk through everything their child does, feeling each step. Please do what only You can—turn the darkness to light. Give me the patience to endure this unwelcome journey. Provide the strength to pray when I feel defeated. Remind me of my prodigal times so I can approach my child with humility, understanding, truth, and unconditional love. Having my child separate from family and faith gives me insight into what You experience when I wander. Grant me the joy of witnessing my child walk off the prodigal path and follow You instead. Give her the wisdom to keep her heart on a road pleasing to You. Amen

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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. —1 Corinthians 13:4–8


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CHAPTER 1 BE BRAVE Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9 “Watch out for the deer.” Jill and I were heading over to Gayle’s house for dinner. After Gayle gave me directions to her home, she added a caution. I wasn’t worried. Jill and I were both accustomed to country roads, and this was suburbia. But Gayle’s neighborhood was pitch-black. There were no streetlights to illuminate the curvy road. The headlights only provided light for about 160 feet ahead of us. Whatever lay beyond the scope of the light was invisible. I flipped on the high beams. They allowed me to see twice as far. The lights revealed a doe frozen, mesmerized by the car’s brights. I braked fast. The deer snapped out of her stupor and bounded off the road. I had been blind to the danger ahead. Gayle had warned me about the possibility of wildlife in the road, but I took her words lightly. Thankfully, the bright light illuminated the area so I could see. ELE CTRIFYING WO R D S Dark, blind curves hide danger around the bends of our lives. The anticipation of what could be is replaced by the reality of what is. As we round the corner with our lights on high beam, the truth is exposed. “I’m pregnant.” “I’m living with my boyfriend (or girlfriend).” | 19 |


“I’m in jail.” “I’m gay.” “I don’t believe in God.” When our young person discloses his or her situation, will we react like the deer in the headlights? Stunned? Confused? Frozen? Will the fear we feel be replaced with anger? Life has just been interrupted. Nothing is the same from that moment on. Surprise followed by anger is the typical first reaction. “How dare you upset the entire family? How could you do something so dumb? This will hurt everyone.” The second exclamation deals a little more with fear: “What now? What happens next? What will your grandparents say?” When our daughter told us she was pregnant, we were so mad. We got into a screaming match with her. Apparently, she had already told her sister and then chose to inform us when we had a houseful of company. —Donald and Grace

The wanderer’s timing to come out or shed light on his or her struggle is never good. It’s a bit like giving birth—the declaration comes when the child is ready, not the parent. The one on the detour plots and plans when to come clean and expose his or her secret. The parent has little time to catch a breath, let alone catch up to where the prodigal wants and even needs him or her to be. The “big bad mad” is the place many of us go when the issue comes to light. Surprise and fear fuel our emotion. But (and we all know this) our kids need us to show them something different at this moment— affirmation of love, now more than ever. Most of us blow it with our first reaction, but we have a choice going forward. For our kid’s sake, for our relationship’s sake, we must pick our shocked selves up off the floor, dust off the anger, and let our child know we love him or her. | 20 |


God has chosen us to be His agent of love and grace for the young person whose greatest fear is rejection. The child feels exposed and vulnerable. The words from Romans 5:8, “while we were still sinners,” enter my mind on many occasions. Loving on the detour is sacrificial and unconditional. “Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Now is the critical time to bravely move forward and focus on the relationship between you, your spouse, and your child. Set the lecture aside. If your child is like mine, he or she already knows how you feel and where you stand. I know where my family stands on homosexuality. But I still know in my heart, no matter what, that they love me. I feel it! —Courtney

At first, when Courtney would say she knew where we stand on homosexuality, I felt frustrated. I wanted her to believe what her dad and I believed. Then I realized she accepted our beliefs even though she didn’t share them. Maybe I can respect her right to have an alternative belief even if I disagree. Acceptance of an individual doesn’t have to mean agreement, just as disagreement doesn’t indicate a lack of acceptance. In spite of our opposing views, she feels love from us. Can we accept love from her, even if she doesn’t believe or behave the way we do? Yes, we can still be in relationship even if we don’t agree. Unconditional love isn’t a one-way street. NO SURPRISE Thankfully, God didn’t let me be completely surprised regarding Courtney’s gender identity disorder, also known as gender dysphoria. The Lord began giving me small nudges along the way, even when she was a preschooler, revealing gender identity would be her struggle. Two moments stand out in my memory. Both occurred when she was in preschool. | 21 |


Courtney: Which Muppets are girls? Me: Prairie Dawn. (You know, the most boring one living on Sesame Street.) A year or so later . . . Courtney: Has there been a woman president? Me: No. But England has a female prime minister. God moved in my spirit during those times to let me know they were significant. We adopted Courtney at the young age of three months. Like many adopted kids, she has struggled with the issue of abandonment. The adoptee has no choice or control over his or her young life. The birth mother makes a decision, the adoptive parents make a choice, but the adopted child has no voice. The feelings of abandonment and helplessness color the adopted child’s view of the world, relationships, and roles. My four-year-old daughter was very interested in women’s positions in society and how they appeared less important, interesting, and powerful to her. God gave me clear eyes to see that my child preferred the masculine role. Courtney determined men had more power than women. Looking back, I believe the abandonment and subsequent adoption played a significant part in her need for control. But at the time I did not understand this connection. When she was a preschooler and early elementary student, she loved to wear clothes that resembled her daddy’s: collared shirts, a tie, and a sports jacket. For her first day of kindergarten, I got her the cutest little outfit: a pleated royal blue plaid skirt with a matching vest and a little striped tie. The outfit looked a little like a parochial uniform. The final touch was her jet-black, shoulder-length hair gathered into flouncy pigtails, each tied with a blue bow. Courtney loved the ensemble, mostly because of the tie. As she entered puberty, the Lord began to prepare me for her attraction to the same sex. A neighborhood girl began taunting | 22 |


Courtney on the bus, calling her a lesbian. Courtney was too ashamed to tell me, but a tenderhearted neighbor filled me in. The ache I felt couldn’t even be put into words. I called the bully’s parent, and both the mom and student came over and apologized. Courtney was embarrassed. When Courtney was in middle school, I noticed she had a crush on a girl. Studies show that developmentally it’s not unusual for a tween to have a crush on a person of the same sex, but because the Lord continued to put these incidents in front of me, I knew this was more than just a developmental phase. He had shown me her attraction propensity. She and I began to honestly dialogue about what healthy and godly same-sex friendships looked like. We would talk about her feelings toward other girls and appropriate interactions with them. During high school I would check in from time to time about her struggle. “Do you struggle with stuff, Mom?” “I do, babe, everyone does. The struggle you have isn’t one I have, but I struggle with other things.” God continued to illuminate what I needed to see. Typically, He used everyday situations. Those times would stand out—almost jump out—at me. They were clearer, brighter, and bigger in my mind’s eye than other scenarios. It was as if He were saying, “See this. Pay attention.” In my friend Maryleigh’s situation, He used a dream. When my son was five, God spoke to me in a dream. The Lord sent me messages all the way to the “big explosion.” I was prepared. There were days when I thought my heart would burst through my chest. I kept speaking faith, praying faith, reminding God of Psalm 139. God was not surprised, and I never gave up. —Maryleigh Bucher

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I don’t know what Maryleigh’s explosion was, and I don’t need to know. Like Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12, I can relate to her prayers and anguish. Like Maryleigh, God knew I needed a heads-up and long-term training in order to face this issue when it came to fruition. I’ve heard of some situations where the young person does a test run by giving a little clue before speaking those illuminating and electrifying words. “So what would you do if I said I were gay? I’m not. I’m just wondering.” “Guess what? I’m gay. Just kidding.” “Lots of kids at my school do drugs (or drink alcohol). It’s no big deal.” “Danae’s parents kicked her out when she got pregnant.” “Nobody I know goes to church.” In my experience as a parent and a person who works with parents, I have discovered when a conversational teaser is dangled, it’s time to take the discussion to the next level. It is less intrusive and less awkward to begin by gently asking questions like, “How do you think I’d respond if you were—(pregnant, a drug user, sexually active, same-sex attracted)?” This is a nonthreatening way to open a door. By doing this you have a better understanding of what your child thinks and feels. This is also a time to provide reassurance: “No matter what, I will always love you. And I would hope you would know you can talk to me any time.” All the while staying calm (or at least appearing so). Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” —Genesis 3:8–9 THE BEGINNING, MY PE R SP EC TI V E Social media has become the old school diary, except no key is needed to unlock private thoughts—those now appear in a public forum. | 24 |


A number of parents have told me social media was the way they learned about their child’s use of alcohol and drugs. I heard about my daughter’s first same-sex relationship on the book. There, right on Facebook, was my daughter’s relationship status. “In a relationship with Jessica.” Comments such as: “Congratulations,” “You two are so cute,” “It’s about time,” littered the page. Each one burned a hole in my racing heart, nausea washed over me, and sound was muffled. My head felt light, my heart pounded, and my tears demanded exit. Courtney had been telling Tom and me about her new friend: how they hung out all time at school, studied, and filled their weekends with different activities. Her new college pal sounded great. Courtney hadn’t had one special gal pal for a number of years. This could be a blessing, her all-time best friend. But rather than joy, I felt the knot in my stomach tighten. Her Facebook profile confirmed my suspicions. I had prayed millions of prayers against this. Why weren’t my prayers answered? I felt angry, betrayed. God, didn’t You give me a heads-up so I could bow my head in prayer against this? Were my prayers in vain? So here I was, after ages of prayer against this, driving two hours to Courtney’s dorm on a Sunday to discuss the Facebook postings. Over the years, Courtney and I had open and honest conversations about her attraction orientation; but . . . not all of the time. “How are you doing with your struggle?” “OK. I’m focusing on school.” (Hmmm.) “Is this a God-honoring friendship?” “Yes, of course.” (It wasn’t.) Head shaking and big sighing followed many not-so-productive conversations. We would speak of appropriate, godly friendships. We would argue over her style. I would feel frustrated that the baby daughter I longed for after years of infertility wanted to dress in a masculine way. On the drive to her college, I thought about all those things. | 25 |


God, why didn’t You stop this? Lord, haven’t You heard my cries? You can do whatever You want, and You have let this continue. Don’t You care? I ranted. I prayed. I felt defeated. The enemy won that round. After about an hour and a half of driving, God turned my thinking inside out. Love her. Listen to her. Speak truth. Be still. Trust Me. I was a little shaky when I arrived at Courtney’s dormitory. I shot up one of my quick and to the point “arrow prayers” to the Lord. God, please let her be in her room. Give me the words to speak. I trust You with the details. I trust You with the outcome. I dialed her number as I stood outside the security door. “Hey, Mom!” Her voice was so happy. She had no idea I was at the school. “Babe! I’m outside your dorm. Can you let me in?” She complied with my request. Suspicion and curiosity were vying for space in her mind. “Why are you here?” She was asking a lot of questions about my impromptu visit. This wasn’t the venue for the conversation. I put her off. “I’d like to take you out for breakfast.” “Can my friend Jessica come?” God had prepared me for this. I was ready with an affirmative answer. I needed to meet the person who had captured my daughter’s heart. Courtney and I picked Jessica up. I was prepared to hate this young woman. But I loved her from the start. She had a sweet and gentle spirit. Here was a person who really cared about my child. A young woman, I later learned, who had been wounded by so many. She was not the enemy. | 26 |


After breakfast, I dropped Jessica off and drove to a small lake with a path that circled it. “Let’s walk.” Apprehension filled the air. But Courtney’s curiosity trumped her anxiety. “Why did you come?” I knew this conversation was going to be tough. I had to be brave and speak the words God gave me. She didn’t want to reveal anything new—just in case. I started with a basic question. “Do you believe Dad and I love you no matter what?” She gulped air. She knew I knew. “We love you, no matter what. You are and always will be our daughter. And we know you and Jessica are in a relationship.” The floodgates opened. Tears flowed. The enemy had been whispering, “Your parents will disown you. Your parents will make you stop seeing her. Your parents will haul you home.” She had been taken in by the enemy, even after 20 years of receiving unconditional love. He played on her fear of rejection, her fear of abandonment. He played dirty. “We love you. You know this isn’t a godly relationship. But no, we won’t make you stop seeing her. (This next line was pretty hard. I needed to release my death grip and hand this over to God.) How you handle this relationship is between you and the Lord.” At that moment, Courtney knew we loved her and that is what she needed to hear. The bridge was beginning to be constructed. I wondered why my mom came to my dorm that Sunday. I wanted to invite Jessica to breakfast so my mom could meet her. I was so nervous I couldn’t even eat. Then after breakfast, Mom and I went for a walk. I was scared. I didn’t know what to say. I’m glad she broke the ice. I felt relieved because there was no more hiding. —Courtney | 27 |


FR OM FE A R TO FAI T H Once the lights were turned on and the struggle was fully disclosed, my daughter craved affirming words from Tom and me. We needed to bridge the gap that the fear of rejection had created in Courtney’s relationship with us and her relationship with God. • You are valuable to your family and to God. You are loved by God and by us. • You were created for a purpose by God. Your life matters. There is hope. • Your past behavior and temptations do not identify or define you. Only the enemy (Satan) calls you by your struggle or sin. God calls you His child, His beloved. Once you are redeemed, the chains fall off, you are free! You can have a fresh start, a new life. • You are on a journey. A road that does have an end. I will be with you; God will be with you each step of the way. He wants you (and me) to become like Him, to be holy. Courtney fears rejection. What will today look like? I fear the future. What will tomorrow look like? We both have questions. We both have fears. One of my favorite theologians, Tim Tebow, in his book Through My Eyes, says, “I don’t know what my future holds, but I do know who holds my future.” We have entered into uncharted territory. It is a little scary. God is calling me, Courtney’s mom, to set the tone in our relationship. God is calling Tom, her dad, to keep protecting his family. Bravery is the first plank to be laid down. We will not be able to respond the way the Lord wants us to if we cannot be courageous on this detour. Navigating each step will be a leap of faith.

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You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceived my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. —Psalm 139:1–4 Lord, You know me, You know my child. None of what my young person is going through takes You by surprise. You know my ways and my child’s ways. Guide her and guide me. Lead both of us along the path You have chosen for us. Be patient with me as I attempt to navigate these unmapped detours. Give me Your courage to deal with life circumstances as they arise. I know You are diligently and deliberately working in my child’s life. Amen

I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. —Proverbs 4:11


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Messy Journey Sampler  

Messy Journey is for parents walking the difficult road with a wayward child. Be inspired to drink the deep waters of peace as you draw clos...

Messy Journey Sampler  

Messy Journey is for parents walking the difficult road with a wayward child. Be inspired to drink the deep waters of peace as you draw clos...