BY JOANNE RUTHERFORD
The phone rang as my husband, Wayne, and I were leaving the house to enjoy dinner with relatives one sunny autumn afternoon. Picking up the receiver, I heard the all-too-familiar recording, “This is a collect call from the county correctional facility. Press “0” to accept the charges.”
I cried silently as I listened to our son describe the events of the night before. He had been caught drinking alcohol again, violating the terms of his probation.
Why, Lord? I wondered for the hundredth time. We had tried so hard to be perfect parents, and had taken special care to build our son’s self-esteem ever since he arrived in our home at the age of 19 months.
David’s birth mother, Danielle, had come from a dysfunctional home. At age 17, she wanted something better for her precious baby son. She had prayed for months that the adoption agency would find the right home for him, specifying that it must be in the country with the animals he loved so much.
Danielle felt her prayers had been answered when Wayne and I were approved as adoptive parents at the very time David was released for adoption. She found further assurance in learning that he had bonded with us shortly after his arrival, and that he seemed happy with his new extended family, which included several cousins his age.
As a toddler, David loved listening to stories. We read book after book until both he and I knew the stories by heart. We read entire sets of Bible storybooks over and over, as well as many other character-building books.
When baby sister Kristi arrived, David bonded with her as well. As the children grew, they played and worked together with only rare disagreements.
Reluctant to entrust our son’s spiritual and scholastic development to others, I homeschooled him for three years. In third grade he began attending our local church school. During seventh grade, he took baptismal studies and decided to become an active member of our church. How devastated we were when, in spite of the nurturing love and care of extended family and church family, David began self-destructive behaviors at age 13.
This can’t be happening, I kept telling myself. Children from stable homes don’t get involved with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. We had discussed the dangers of drugs many times. David had read a monthly temperance magazine since he was 10 years old. He knew the harmful effects of tobacco and alcohol.
We had tried so hard to be perfect parents.
If a lack of knowledge wasn’t the problem, what was? Wayne and I had no answers, and our heartbreak grew deeper every time we found a cigarette butt in the yard, an empty beer can in our trash barrel. We tried withdrawing privileges, grounding David, and begging him to stop. Nothing worked.
David failed his ninth-grade classes, and we homeschooled again. Though living at home, he gradually drifted away from us. After two years, he refused to complete his high school courses and began working, spending more and more time away from home, rebelling against our rules, insisting that he wanted “freedom.”
Freedom? How can one be free when chained to addictive habits?
Our hearts ached, wishing David could understand that true freedom is found only by doing God’s will. Knowing that some older members of our local church had “sowed wild oats” in their teenage years, he observed that they “turned out OK,” and announced that he too would eventually be OK. He was especially enthralled by stories from a pastor who spent several years in the drug culture.
Wayne and I tried to convince David that it would be much easier to learn from the mistakes of others rather than making the same mistakes himself, but he refused to listen. As we searched for answers, eventually we came to understand the influence of genetics, learning of research indicating that alcoholism may be an inherited trait. This was confirmed when we learned that David’s birth family was largely composed of alcoholics. We became less judgmental of other hurting parents as we realized that children may make wrong choices in spite of their parents’ best efforts.
Through the heartbreak in watching our son turn away from everything we had taught him, I began to understand something of what our heavenly Parent must feel when we reject the things He tries to teach us.
How often I have disappointed my Lord! I recalled how Jesus wept over Jerusalem, which had repeatedly rejected His prophets. How long-
suffering He was with Israel and Judah as they turned to heathen gods again and again. Jesus not only created us—He redeemed us. Even though we insist on going our own ways, God has adopted us as His own children and loves us even more than we earthly parents love our children.
When David disappeared into the drug culture, Wayne and I didn’t hear from him for months at a time. We prayed constantly that he would be safe and that he would come home, and, most important, return to the God who had, we believed, chosen us as his adoptive parents. I painfully realized that in the past I had often neglected to communicate with my heavenly Father. Yet, like the father of the prodigal son, God had patiently waited for me to “return home” as well.
God also knows the agony of rejection, the heartbreak of losing a child. He, even as a perfect parent, lost one third of the angels in heaven. In the person of His Son He was misunderstood and falsely accused, even as Wayne and I were misunderstood by those who assumed we were “bad” parents.
I searched God’s Word for encouragement and hope during a particularly discouraging winter when we had no idea where David was, or even if he was still alive. The Lord gave me this meaningful promise: “Everything you have done for your children will not go unrewarded. I will bring them back from death and from the land of the enemy” (Jer. 31:16, Clear Word).*
While David was missing the following winter, I found another promise that we claimed daily: “I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save” (Isa. 49:25).
Indeed, each time David disappeared, he eventually did come home. The Lord heard our prayers for his safety, as well as the prayers of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. How we appreciated the prayers of our pastor and church family!
One evening at the midweek service our pastor prayed that David would come home. We praised God upon arriving home after the service to find him waiting for us!
Every time David returned, he told of miracles he had experienced while in a neighboring state. While inebriated, he had choked on a piece of meat and was taken to an emergency room in time to save his life. Twice he had been broadsided by another vehicle at intersections, and walked away without a scratch. One winter he became so emaciated from drug use that we didn’t recognize him when he returned home.
Through frequent stints in correctional facilities where drugs were unavailable, David was able to regain his health. Every visit there was emotionally painful and humbling for us as his parents, but we knew that this was the Lord’s way of protecting him and preserving his life.
Though many times there seemed to be no hope, we remember these miracles and renew our faith, trusting when we don’t understand and asking God to forgive our own waywardness. We know that whatever the future holds, our heavenly Father is able to deliver both us and our children from the enemy.
* Texts credited to Clear Word are from
The Clear Word, copyright © 1994, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006 by Review and Herald Publishing Association. All rights reserved.
Because of the personal nature of this narrative, all names are pseudonyms.