When Good Kids From Good Homes Go Bad
Praying for Your Prodigals
by Marion Bond West
It happens every day. Teens and young adults raised by Christian parents who thought they parented the very best they could turn away from the faith and get sucked into lifestyles that mimic the extremes of modern American culture. Some of them have diagnosed mental illnesses, some turn to drugs or alcohol, others embrace alternative lifestyles and sex without marriage. They are the prodigals.
Author Marion Bond West, contributing editor to Guideposts magazine and Daily Guideposts for the past 33 years, raised four children with her husband Jerry West, who died in 1983 of cancer. Two of her sons, twins Jeremy and Jon, became rebellious and difficult teenagers, and several years ago became hospitalized simultaneously with life-threatening conditions. That’s when Marion discovered how crucial it was to keep praying for her own life, and she shares the results of her stubborn faith and the comfort she received picturing her feet as “hinds feet in impossible places” in her new book, Praying for My Life.
Here is Marion’s account of the devastating days when her twin sons’ lives took their darkest turns:
This can’t be anything but bad news. You don’t get good news from hospital chaplains.
I swallowed twice, took a deep breath, and tried to speak in a normal voice. “Yes, this is Marion, Jeremy’s mother.”
“You need to come to the emergency room now. Jeremy is in stable condition, but you need to get here. He’s been in a serious accident.”
This was Jeremy’s fourth auto accident in a matter of weeks. He’d been diagnosed as bipolar six months ago. Since then he’d been in a behavioral facility four times, but once out, he didn’t take his medicine. Depression now had a fierce grip on him. The overwhelming temptation to panic was as real as the green kitchen telephone I held in my hand. The desire to throw down the phone, jump in the car and drive somewhere– anywhere altogether carefree–pulled at me like an undertow.
You’ve been here before, I tried to reason with myself. You’ve been sent back to the fear again, just by the phone ringing. If this had been my first experience with fear, I would have immediately surrendered, never suspecting that I had a choice. How many times had I thought: Who can stand against this? No one! ItÕs like standing in front of a steamroller or a freight train.
My husband Gene and I had been married 16 years; we married four years after Jeremy’s father died. Jeremy and his brother Jon, fraternal twins, had just turned 15 when they lost their father. In some ways, they still seemed 15, though they were now 35. Neither had married.
At the hospital, we made our way past the trauma patients in the crowded ER. Finally, we reached the room where Jeremy lay on a steel table having his face sewn up. I looked at the pile of clothes on the floor, filthy and bloody with tiny sparkles of glass in them. I wished someone had thrown them away.
“He has a broken right hip and two fractures in his left femur. A surgeon is on the way,” the doctor explained without looking up.
When Jeremy was taken to surgery, Gene and I went to wait in the empty surgical waiting room. I recalled the day a few months earlier when Gene and I went to Jeremy’s house to check on him. That day we weren’t even certain Jeremy was alive. All of the doors were locked, blinds closed. I took the screen down and knocked loudly on the window, which was right by his bed.
“Jeeeeeremy!” I shouted. After about five minutes, he appeared suddenly on the cluttered front porch in his underwear. He hadn’t shaved for days, and his beautiful red hair was long and dirty. He squinted in the bright sunshine, all skin and bones. He was unsteady on his feet and obviously in a rage.
Right now you have to stay calm, Marion. Move slowly. Speak softly. Smile a bit. Be a mother. Remember when he was a tiny baby and you bathed and powdered him? Remember how he loved to laugh? Remember how he nearly died when he was just nine months old, and the doctors said that most babies couldn’t have survived and that he was a strong, determined little fellow? Remember when he thought before the rest of us that his father might have a terminal illness, and he offered to quit school and go to work and provide for the family? He’s that same person now–and he’s hurting terribly. He’s bottled up his feelings for so long. Help me, Lord. Help me do what Jeremy needs me to do now.
Just then Jeremy leaned over the banister and screamed, “Go away! I don’t need you, Mother. Leave me alone. Don’t you hear me? I have to sleep. Get off my property!”
Oh, Jeremy, let me help you. I ran up the front steps and said, simply, “Hi.”
He started bellowing all over again. “Why are you here? Get off my property! Why did you take down my screen? I’ll call the police if you don’t leave now.”
He ran into the house and tried to slam the door, but I eased inside. When I tried to hug him he threw up his arms, and I knew if I didn’t back off, he’d probably shove me. I stepped back.
How am I able to do this? I thought.
I’m helping you, Marion, I thought God said to me. Leave now. Gently and quietly.
And so Gene and I did the unthinkable. We got into our car and drove off. It felt as if a part of me were staying there–holding Jeremy, soothing him.
Now I was at the hospital, hopeless once again to do anything to fix Jeremy, to be whatever it was he needed. Little did I know there was even more to come. The next day, we’d just returned from visiting Jeremy when the phone rang. I answered and listened, not believing what I heard. It was another urgent voice from another hospital. “You need to get here now. Your son Jon has been admitted and is in critical condition. We aren’t certain about the diagnosis.”
We rushed to the hospital and found Jon in a private room, burning up with fever and on morphine for pain. He lay very still in the hospital bed, wearing the red checkered boxer shorts I’d given him for Christmas.
“We’re waiting for a hand surgeon,” he mumbled, not opening his eyes. His right hand was so thickly bandaged that he seemed to be wearing a boxing glove. “What happened?” Gene asked softly.
“A tiny nick on my finger… got infected. There are red marks going all the way up to my shoulder. Hurts like…”
Five hours later the surgeon arrived. He talked to us after Jon’s surgery.
“Your son is very sick. He’s being admitted to intensive care. This is life-threatening. He could lose fingers, his hand, part of his arm. You’ve probably never heard of necrotizing fasciitis. It’s very rare. Powerful bacteria enter the body and quickly destroy the soft tissue just beneath the skin. That’s why they call it the ‘flesh-eating disease.’ I suspect that’s what Jon has. We’ll have to wait for lab reports and cultures. I’ll have to do more surgery while he’s here and keep him on something strong for the pain.”
Gene moved closer and put his arm around me. I made myself say, “Do you know he’s addicted to drugs?”
The doctor didn’t answer my question. “He has to have something for the pain. Here’s my beeper number,” he said as he handed us a card. “Call me if you have questions.”
Jon was hospitalized for 11 days. He had five surgeries, the last one a skin graft using skin from his thigh. Gene and I spent most of our time and energy driving from one hospital to the other; they were about 40 minutes apart.
By the second day, I had no idea what day or even month it was. Everything seemed unreal. I was numb, but sensed that fear was planning a sudden attack. I felt that I could endure anything but fear. Without feeling the least bit of hope, terrified of fear, I pretended I was a mother of faith. Great faith. I imagined both my sons escaping death, illness, addictions, emotional instability, depression. I “saw” them victorious–climbing an impossible mountain–and reaching a summit, just like the picture in Habakkuk 3:17-19, when he prays that his feet will be like hinds feet walking through impossible places. That scripture became my prayer, and it is one that never fails.
Years after Jeremy and Jon were released from the hospitals during those dark days, through additional trials and triumphs, those verses in Habakkuk remain my prayer for my family and my life today. Whether you see a change in your immediate circumstance, or God asks you to wait to see victory, pray the prayer of Habakkuk. God honored this prophet’s prayer, and he honors this prayer of his people today.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NAS)
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail,
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold,
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He had made my feet like hindsÕ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
Saving a Life (David C. Cook)
Is Your Teen Stressed or Depressed? (Thomas Nelson)
Praying for My Life (Guideposts Books)
Prodigals and Those Who Love Them (Baker Publishing Group)
When I Lay My Isaac Down (NavPress)