Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of Mice and Men...and Medicine Wheels

Admittedly, I’m one of those people with impossibly high expectations. Sometimes I intentionally lower the bar just to ward off the inevitable disappointment. But I couldn’t bring myself to lower my expectations for our reunion with Josh. I just kept holding out this emotional torch, knowing it would be a sweet reunion and a time of healing, both for him and for us.

We arrived in Loa on Sunday the 17th, just in time to slip into the parent meeting at 6 p.m. There was only one other boy graduating that week, and his parents were a lovely couple from Texas who live on a ministry and oversee several Christian missions worldwide (an orphanage in Liberia, a media mission in France, etc.). We were all coached on how to avoid any kind of distancing behaviors with our sons, and what to expect from them, including some lingering anger at us for sending them there.

We stayed that night in a quaint motel across the street, called the Snuggle Inn...and hardly slept a wink because of all the excitement, emotion, and built-up anticipation.

The next morning we had more parent workshops and drafted several “I Feel... statements”:
(I feel _______ when you __________. I feel this way because _________. In the future I hope I can _________, and request that you __________.)
The boys have been trained to communicate this way, learning to express their feelings in a way that de-escalates conflict, and then reflect back each other’s statements until they feel adequately heard. It was more challenging than we expected, both to communicate this way, and to listen and reflect back what the other person was saying. The graduation counselor said our boys are “emotional warriors” -- not in an angry, fighting sense, but in the sense of having conquered their own emotions and learned to express them assertively and listen with compassion -- “emotional warriors” in the heroic sense.

After lunch they told us to load our gear into the truck, and they drove us out to the wilderness to meet up with our boys. (Note: Our gear consisted of the clothes on our back, a sleeping bag, water bottle, camping cup and spoon, and a fleece jacket. We were instructed NOT to bring any food, cosmetics, matches, flashlights, camping equipment, or anything else that could detract from the wilderness experience. Cellphones and internet were out of the question.)

After a 20-minute ride down a series of dirt roads, we stopped the vehicles, and had a moment in a circle, linked by a red cord, to share our feelings. Then they told us, “Your boys are just on the other side of that hill.” Gingerly we climbed the hill and made our way down the trail. Once we rounded the bend, I caught sight of the boys, and my heart just about leaped right out of my chest. At that moment it felt exactly like the account of the Prodigal Son in the book of Luke:
But when he was yet a [little] way off, [we] saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
My arms would not, could not let go of him, and my chest would not stop heaving up and down as I sobbed my love and gratitude right onto his shoulder. We just held each other like that for what seemed like forever. And then he and Jeff did the same.

The boys (who it turns out have become best friends during their time together in the wilderness) walked us to the private campsites they had prepared especially for this reunion with their parents. We tramped over acres of desert grass and cactus until we arrived at a little clearing where Josh had built a shelter for himself, and one for us. (Home, sweet home!)

He taught us how to “bust a fire” using a bow drill, and cooked our dinner (which was delicious, by the way) in a "billy can". We washed out our cups and the cans using sand (such irony, cleaning with dirt) and then Josh read us page after page from his journal, along with two short stories he’d written. (I had no idea he was such a strong writer. His talent puts mine to shame. His diction, clarity, visual sense and imagination were very impressive. Both Jeff and I gave him the ultimate compliment: “I wish I had written that.”)

The next day we hiked down to a little shady spot by a river that was so lush and green it was like something from Shangri-La. We spent the better part of the day there with the group, engaged in listening activities, relays, and even a writing exercise. (yay!) That afternoon we got rained on, then hailed on, then rained on again, and worked our way breathlessly back up the hill to our campsite to let everything dry out. At that point I felt like we had been given a tiny taste of what the boys had been through for the past eight weeks. It was just enough to ignite my sense of adventure without dampening my spirits.

The next morning we walked through a Native American Medicine Wheel (a circle on the ground, made of branches and bones and chapparal, with four gates: North, South, East and West) except this special graduation medicine wheel had only two gates, East (symbolizing new birth, new life, regrowth) and West (symbolizing leaving something old behind). We entered the wheel from the West gate and walked counter-clockwise to stop time. Everyone passed a "heart stick" that has been at Aspen graduations for decades, and shared a few thoughts regarding our reunion experience. The staff leader read Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You'll Go!, which seemed amazingly applicable to what we were all thinking and feeling. We then walked clockwise around the medicine wheel to restart time, and exited through the East gate and hiked back out to our cars, leaving the wilderness and all its rich lessons behind, but hopefully emblazoned in our hearts.

I was prepared for a rough couple of nights under the stars and a sweet reunion. But I was not prepared for the amazing young man we met there. (I almost wanted to ask, Who are you and what have you done with my son? --except that this was the young man I always knew was inside him. I just hadn’t ever come face to face with him yet). He seemed so much older, whether or not you took into consideration the two months we’d been apart. He was confident, gracious, respectful, loving, expressive, patient, responsible, goal-oriented, and dare I say? happy. He demonstrated all the qualities of a strong leader. I couldn’t help thinking that he had entered this amazing rite of passage as an angry, confused boy...and come out a man. He made a courageous journey, physically and psychologically, progressing up the figurative totem pole from Mouse to Coyote to Buffalo...and finally Eagle (an honor only 5% of the kids achieve).

He almost seemed born again -- not necessarily in the Christian sense, but in the sense that he had been stripped of his old life and was beginning a new where he had discovered exactly who he is and what his purpose is. Like his whole mind and body had been cleansed by the dirt and the rain and the wind and the sun and let his soul shine through like never before.

I was also struck by the symbolism of us meeting him on his turf, so to speak, and the reciprocal beauty of having him prepare a shelter for us and cook our meals. We, who had nurtured him since his infancy were now being sheltered, fed, taught and cared for by him. The whole experience surpassed my expectations in every way. I have a hunch this is one of those pivotal points in history we’ll refer to for the rest of our lives. To say that we feel blessed would be entirely insufficient. I can’t thank you enough for every thought and prayer launched to the skies in our behalf. I believe He has held our family in His loving arms and carried us safely to this point in the journey.

And so we’re on to the next adventure. As we dropped Josh off at his new boarding school there seemed to be an innocence and vulnerability I haven’t seen in him in years. Something tells me he’ll do well, and once again rise to the top...but that he’ll need our faith and prayers along the way like never before.


Sandy M. said...

Wow, Charrett. I have no words... Just a very big smile, misty eyes, and a heart very full with happiness for you all!
Thank you, for sharing.

Luisa Perkins said...

What an amazing experience; I am thrilled that your expectations were exceeded in every way. This post is yet another of your beautiful gifts to us all.

Pam at beyondjustmom said...

Oh Charrette,
I'm so moved and so happy for you. We went through multiple recovery programs with my brother, the ultimate prodigal son, how now--at 43-- is doing exceptionally well. The program that finally made a difference was one like this that involved the whole family.
I know this will be a pivot point for you and your son, along with the faith and prayers to sustain it.
Thank you so much for sharing. Your story will touch so many who might need encouragement where hope is dim.

Kristina P. said...

I wonder if he's in the same program my brother went to, Aspen Ranch?

My brother was there about 13 years ago, dfor drug related issues, he came back, made new friends, and never looked back. It was a miracle.

Jenny P. said...

I'm so glad for you, Jeff, Josh, and the rest of your family. What a truly awesome thing. What a blessing. Hey, I was at the Snuggle Inn just last Saturday! I was on my way home from a rained out camping trip in Escalante and stopped there to ask directions to the cemetery. My great grandparents are buried there. Hey sorry the watercolor trip didn't work out for me! They unexpectedly asked me to teach a summer class at SLCC that I haven't taught before. Next year! Glad all is well.

Kimberly said...

I'm openly weeping after reading that. I think it fair to say that expectations were exceeded, and I couldn't be more thrilled for you. Thank you for sharing this beautiful moment from your family's life with us.

Heidi Ashworth said...

Sooooo so so-so happy and relieved that it was everything you and he needed it to be! Love you!

LisAway said...

I could not have imagined you could present me with anything that would so perfectly wipe away the worry and sadness that I've felt for you (and especially your son) through your past posts.

I'm so, so glad. What a great experience. Keep us posted on how he's doing, please!

Dedee said...

I hate it when there are no words to express what I'm feeling...relief,

I'm so glad that this was such a beautiful experience for you all. My prayers are still with you that things will continue to go onward and upward.

Love you!

Brillig said...

I'm so happy. This is/has been so hard, and yet all along you've written so bravely about it. Thanks so much for sharing these joyful moments with us. What a beautiful experience, and of course your telling of it is gorgeous. All my love to you and to that golden boy of yours.

Heather of the EO said...

I couldn't stop the tears, reading this. I'm so happy for you all. So moved by your telling of this experience.

Thank you for sharing it with us, it's truly inspiring and hope-giving.

I love you, lady!

LexiconLuvr said...

I feel the most elated sense of joy for your son. What a gift! What a blessing! What truly beautiful parents you are for helping him to have this chance at a miracle of his own making. I'm so happy for you---so proud of you. I can only hope that I'll be half the parent that you are. I'm so, so happy for your family!!

Kazzy said...

I am so glad you gave us a nice big drink of your experience and reactions. Sounds like it really was life-changing for my friend, Josh, and even his parents. I am so thrilled for you guys and know you must be too. Big big hugs to you all. XO

Melanie J said...

It makes my heart happy to hear the joy and relief in your post. I am so glad you guys had such a wonderful experience. The foundation he's had to build on is too sure for this not to work. Again, take it from someone who's been somewhere similar in my life...he's back.

Luann said...

I know the surge of emotion I feel as I read this is only a shadow of what the three of you must be feeling. Thank you so much for sharing such a tender experience. My heart is full.

Debbie said...

I am so happy to hear what a great reunion you had. Just an answer to a prayer.


This is quite the Odyssey, Charette. What a great guy he must be-and Lucky to have You for a MOM. This is quite moving. p.s. I hope it is O.K. that I am following this blog of Yours-A work of absolute Art! ♥

An Ordinary Mom said...

Beautiful. Simply beautiful. What a reunion to experience! Thanks for giving us a glimpse into what it was like!

fanatic10smom said...

Gifts are precious things. Gifts of the Spirit and Gifts of God. How can you unwrap love lost and love gained? How can you replace days, weeks and months filled with despair and grief? Somehow, the gift you received in the wilderness with your son and husband seems to be enormous gifts of love.

Thank you for your willingness to share your gifts with us.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Hope is such a beautiful thing, isn't it? And the joy isn't bad either. So happy for you and your family and this new start you've been given. What a blessing.

Mrs4444 said...

What a testimonial, and what a perfect time of year for such rebirth. I'm so happy for all of you.

Tammy Lorna said...

It's been a while since I've had time to spend in the blog world - and it's wonderful to be back. I was lucky to spend just a little bit of time with you and your family over that year or so, and I just love you all so much. It makes me happy to think that things are looking up for you all. You're all often in my thoughts and heart.

xo Tammy

Allison said...

I found myself wishing I could have been an unseen witness to everything. I love your family, and I'm so happy the end of this journey was a happy one.

Karl Johanson said...

Aspen Ranch; Is it not owned by the same company which owns the wilderness programs (Aspen Achievement Academy, Sagewalk, SUWS) where all the teenagers died?