The Prodigal Stone

This is a story about me and my baby, who’s now 22, and the misery we walked through together to find a love connection. It’s a story of our mutual failure, but it’s a story with a happy ending. I lived the miracle. I watched it change me. And then I watched it change my son.

Stone’s given me permission to tell it with all the sordid details—I love a blank check—but I’ll just hit the lowlights.

In the summers before his junior and senior years of high school, Stone got drunk on our family’s lake vacations. Both years, he also drank at his proms, letting us know his plans beforehand. He was proud he hadn’t drunk anything while driving. I have to hand him that.

There were consequences that involved his meeting with recovering alcoholics, losing the use of our truck and gas card, losing his Xbox, and peeing in countless cups, but none of it did diddly squat.

On the day before his senior year started, we drew up a contract that said he agreed to abstain from alcohol and drugs, or he’d find somewhere else to live. But it was too little, too late. He was angry discussing it and angry signing. His mouth was ugly and loud about it.

My conversations with him that year became interrogations—where was he going? when would he be home? what about homework? There wasn’t much of anything said between us that wasn’t hostile. But his pee was clean with a couple of oops that were forgiven. Good enough, I thought. Never mind the relationship; he was finally towing the line, and that’s what mattered.

Sometime that spring, I caught him substituting someone else’s pee for his. How long he’d been doing it, I had no idea, likely most of the year. By now, I was out of ideas. The obvious consequence, the one we’d all agreed on in the signed contract, we didn’t have the heart to enforce. I kept hoping he’d get onboard and respect us.

But things became even more ridiculous.

For spring break, his friends cooked up a senior trip that included inviting all the moms to go with them to the Hard Rock Cafe in the Dominican Republic. It was the insane idea of brilliant young minds, who knew how to pluck their mothers’ throbbing heartstrings. “It’ll be a chance for a mother-son adventure before you lose us to college,” they said with straight faces.

The fine print was this:  the legal drinking age in the Dominican is 18, and for one all-inclusive, exorbitant price, we’d have all the food and alcohol we could possibly want for nine days, including tips.

Given what had gone on with Stone and me that year and none of it any good, I was a sucker for the spin on this. What I most wanted was a healed relationship, but since I had no idea how to have one, I’d settle for having fun on the beach with him and his friends.

And I dreamed a little dream that went something like this: maybe this trip would build a bridge between us? Maybe it would give him the chance to show he could be responsible with alcohol? Maybe he would practice self control since it wasn’t illegal and he wouldn’t be bucking the system?

I was lost in Fantasy Land.

I finally decided that what it came down to was this:  would I trust God to walk me through it, even if the bottom fell out?  Turns out, I would, and we went.

But my worst fears were realized: Stone was drunk all day, everyday, beginning the first day, before breakfast. He was so sick-drunk by the end of the trip, we saw a doctor who recommended the ER. I was broken hearted. I had such high hopes and had spent so much money, only to have my son nearly dying from alcohol poisoning while I stood by and watched.

A few weeks after we got back, he totaled our truck, and some months later, our beloved old Jeep. We had no more cars to give him, and we weren’t looking to find any. The next car he drove, he’d have to buy.

After graduation, he announced he was working construction for a friend’s father for the summer and would be moving to their house. Without transportation, it made sense.

But my mama’s heart had been counting the weeks before college, thinking I’d have time with him, so watching him leave home 3 months early was hard. I saw him only twice that summer since he had no car and was at the mercy of friends. He didn’t answer his phone and rarely answered my texts.

Sniff. 

Had I been healthier, I’d have said, “Good riddance.”

When it came time to get ready for college, I remembered the trips I’d taken with our other kids–shopping together, eating lunch out, making a day of it. Stone asked for my credit card and said he’d handle it.

Reality bites.

That summer, he wasn’t drunk on the family vacay, because I asked everyone to abstain from alcohol that year. They all cooperated because I was adamant, but looking back, I should’ve simply told Stone he wasn’t invited. When you’re in the thick of a long crisis, it’s hard to find your mind under all the insanity you’re allowing.

He was playing football in college and had games every weekend, and since he was without a car, he was never home that fall except for Thanksgiving. And then it was Christmas, and I was so glad to see him–until he got drunk three times at home that week. The last time, I found him getting wine from the closet where I’d hidden what was left from the night before. It was 5 am, and he was already loaded.

With another week of Christmas break to go, we’d finally had enough. We said he couldn’t live with us and continue to be defiant: getting drunk at home felt like an enormous middle finger. So on January 4, we asked him to leave. I remember the date because I wrote a poem about it.

It was a difficult thing, kicking our adopted son out of the house. Kicking out any child is hard enough, but kicking out an adopted child has got to be worse. I had fears about how it might impact him, this son who’d felt displaced since birth. I don’t know where he went or how he got back to college, but I had a fleeting moment of sanity and realized it wasn’t my problem. And another one when I realized we should’ve done it two years sooner.

In March, a different insanity began. Covid hit and colleges closed down. Being kicked out was awkward and inconvenient now that life as we knew it was coming apart, so Stone came home to zoom the rest of his freshman year. Who would take him if not us?

Quarantining with a 20-year-old son, fresh out of college with unresolved issues between us was complicated, exacerbated by a husband who didn’t believe in quarantining and two daughters-in-law who did, who were the gatekeepers for our grandkids.

How to live with two extroverts under quarantine? How to manage them so I could keep enjoying my grandboys? How to live with a loud and mouthy son who hadn’t answered to anyone except football coaches for months? I don’t know how we all didn’t end up dead drunk that spring.

I stopped drug testing him. What was the use? With everybody afraid of everybody else and battened down, there was nowhere for him to go, even if we wanted to kick him out. I turned a blind eye to the couple of times he met a friend at the mailbox to “trade Xbox games.” The bulge in the brown bag told me something else.

By May, there was something else bulging and obvious: Stone had to go. He was like a tiger in a cage, restless and growly. He wouldn’t quarantine any more, and I was aching to see my grand boys.

But he was already way ahead of us. He announced he was flying to Colorado to get a job and live with a friend for the summer, which he did. But the friendship went south for reasons that aren’t clear—drinking was part of it and fights over a girl. And George Floyd’s death that month had something to do with it, I think. We were asked to fly him home on the next plane out.

His 21st birthday was still 9 long months away. Would we survive them?

With no vehicle, no money, and in debt to us for that emergency return plane ticket, we also found he had no plan to return to college that fall. Football wasn’t enough of a reason to stay at a college he didn’t like.

Even if he did go back, classes were likely going to be online, which this rambling man could’t handle. “Mom, everybody I know will be sitting around their dorm rooms, drinking and playing video games all day when they aren’t zooming. I want to work; I want to do something.”

This was certainly different. Sitting around with friends in college, drinking and playing video games didn’t sound like fun? Since when? I wanted to believe him, but his track record was trash. I wanted to tell him to get his butt back to college or he’d never finish, but I decided to trust him. Maybe he was right, maybe working full time would jumpstart him.

When Stone was in Colorado, I was asked to write an article about how to come back to God after falling flat for an online women’s magazine. I spent a lot of time with the prodigal son story in Luke 15. I couldn’t help but notice that when the prodigal headed home, the father ran to meet him before the son said any words about being sorry.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him,” Lk 15:20. 

It wasn’t the son’s repentance that connected them.  It was the father’s love and forgiveness.  The father had been watching for his son and saw him when he was “a long way off.” The father had already forgiven him before he even showed up.  

What’s more, he was eager to have his son back, even after all he’d done, which the Bible says was way worse than underage drinking.

When the son finally gets close enough to say something about how unworthy he is, the father is already putting a robe on him and giving him his ring—cultural cues that saythis is my son, who I’m so proud of”—and he’s calling for the servants to get a party started to celebrate.

What I learned from Luke 15 was to be glad, even giddy, every time my boy came through our door breathing. I decided that if it was good enough for God, it was good enough for me: breathing was the only prerequisite I needed to be absolutely thrilled with him.

Period.

So I gave up trying to control him. And I got a new goal: to be connected with him. I had to pretend like he was someone else’s son at first, so I would stop trying to tell him anything. Some things are hard for this mama to lay down.

I stopped fussing and asking questions every time I saw him. I stopped telling him what to do and how to live and about all the things he’d done that I wasn’t proud of. I stopped commenting on his lifestyle choices. I stopped making an issue of alcohol.

I started letting him see how overjoyed I felt whenever I saw him. I started hugging him a lot for no reason. I started telling him all the things I loved about him. And I told him how much I loved him, like I did when he was little.

I asked him to forgive me for trying to control him.  I said I’d been afraid of him messing up his life and breaking my heart, and that I let that distract me from what was most important, which was loving him.  

I’d been so afraid his life would end up in the gutter that I let fear take over, and I’d forgotten who he was: the son who loved people, who liked to cook with me in the kitchen, whose smile lit up the room, who had a heart for the poor and was generous, who was kind to people on the fringe, who often asked good questions about faith.

With my eyes on his sin, I couldn’t see anything else about him. If you’ll notice, all I’ve written here so far are all the ways he’s messed up. That’s what his life had boiled down to for me—what he did wrong. I wasted a lot of years trying to police him rather than simply enjoying him, years I can’t get back.

And then it happened: he began responding.

He started sending silly videos on Instagram. I sent him videos of his dog wrestling our cat. He’d send long-boarding videos. I sent back Jim Gaffigan links so we could laugh.

He made good on getting jobs: he worked at Amazon and served at a couple of restaurants. Somehow without dependable transportation, he got himself to work and back steadily enough to keep them. Friends helped. Sometimes he paid me to drive him. He lived wherever he happened to land every night, which could be anywhere, even at home. We hoped-against-hope that we were in a new season with him.

Stone turned 21 in the spring of that gap year, 2021, and he didn’t get drunk to celebrate it. I know because he called me that night to tell me hi and who’d stopped by to wish him happy birthday. Something was changing.

By August, he’d saved up enough money to buy his own car. He said he wanted to finish college. He enrolled at a local university, found roommates, and moved into a bonafide house. He was no longer living on anybody’s couch.

While we’d been at each other’s throats since his junior year, barely speaking unless we were yelling, he started calling, just to say hi.

Just last week, he called more times than I can count to fill me in on work and his new house, what he was cooking, who he saw downtown, why he wouldn’t be up to do the yardwork he’d promised, how he lost his wallet, and then how he found it.

The good news is that even if you’ve messed up badly, like I have, and you’re on your very last, even your most precious, adopted son, it’s never too late to have a heart-to-heart connection. It’s never too late to start over and really love.

And the more good news is that you don’t need anyone else’s permission. You can do it without anybody’s help or cooperation. It’s a powerful and contagious thing to be a truly loving human being. When I changed, Stone changed. Is there any other power you know of that can enable a silver-haired mother to lead her grown son?

I don’t know of one.

God reached down through his word and showed me who he is—the Father who longs for a love connection with his children. He showed me what that longing looks like—a father watching and waiting and running to greet his wayward son, overjoyed to hold him and welcome him home without one negative word and before that son has answered any questions or said anything about repentance, much less changed one little bit.

What the son has done is come home. He turned to his father. Turns out, that’s what repentance means—to turn. It doesn’t mean to have it all figured out when you get there. It doesn’t necessarily even mean to do it all right from now on. It’s looking to the Father for what you need and can’t do for yourself. It’s depending on him, who’s always running to us in love.

When the prodigal said he wanted his half of the cash and took off to take a walk on the wild side, the father let him go. He didn’t say a word of reproof or try to lay out the issues and help his son see what was at stake. He let him go and waste every bit of his hard earned money.

He said something like, ”Here’s your half of all I have. Take it and go. Remember that I always love you, no matter what.” Sometimes I just don’t approve of the way God parents. Doesn’t he know people will take advantage of this kind of freedom and grace? Doesn’t he know that if you give a kid an inch, he’ll take a mile?

I’m sure he does. But God says it’s his kindness that leads us to repentance, not bootstraps and ought-tos. He’s not looking for obedient robots: he’s looking for sons and daughters who love. I know which I’d rather have. And I know which I’d rather be.

We’re all prodigals who need the Father’s love.

___________________

“…God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance,” Ro 2:4.

The story of getting to Punta Cana for that spring break trip is here:
onetruelove.blog/2019/03/26/passport-to-punta-cana/

The poem I wrote the morning Stone was asked to leave is here:
onetruelove.blog/2020/01/04/limping-praise/

The story I wrote for the online women’s magazine is here:
https://thegritandgraceproject.org/faith/you-can-turn-back-to-god-no-matter-what-this-is-why

and here:
https://onetruelove.blog/2020/09/24/the-comeback/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s