Last week I withdrew our youngest child from high school. It nearly took my breath away when I realized I did the exact same thing on almost the exact same day seven years ago with our oldest child. But the reasons couldn’t be more different.

I sat in a chair across from our son’s high school counselor, discussing options for withdrawing him for the rest of the semester for a study abroad program in London.

Suddenly I was haunted by flashbacks when nine years ago I withdrew our oldest son from the same school on almost the same day.

Then, although the halls were filled with students, I felt like I was walking through a ghost down, knowing our son would never return to this place. I asked his teachers to sign the withdrawal forms, realizing that while many mourned his absence, some barely knew he existed. He was already on his way to a wilderness survival program, followed by 13 months in a residential boarding school, in an effort to stop a drug addiction.*

Just a few hours earlier, in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, two large men in jeans and cowboy boots had arrived at our front door, come down to his room, and taken him away in their truck. “Escorts,” was their euphemistic title. They were taking our son to the middle of nowhere, to live in the great outdoors and learn some lessons about life and himself that no one can teach better than Mother Nature herself. Although my husband and I had arranged this parting, actually seeing your son ripped from your home creates a pain in a parent’s heart that is indescribable.

Every day I checked the weather report for Loa, Utah to see what conditions our son was living in, braving, out of our reach. Every week we looked for a hand-written letter from him, along with a note from his counselor updating us on his progress. Every week we sent letters of our own. Letters outlining the impact of his choices on our family. Letters reassuring him of our unconditional love. His letters gradually became less angry, more progress-oriented—even grateful. His letters also expressed love. I was amazed at how much healing could take place through mere words.

Two months later we drove to Loa in our Honda Pilot to pick up our son. After a day of workshops, they drove us to a meeting place, pointed to a trail and said, “Your boys are just on the other side of that hill.” We started walking, then as soon as we saw him broke into a run. I threw my arms around him and sobbed tears of joy.

    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.

The angry boy with a foul mouth and darkness in his eyes had become someone I barely knew by the time he left our home. The bright, creative, sensitive young man who greeted us, cooked our meals, and built us a shelter was the boy I knew well. He’d been hiding behind a cloak of drugs, but all that was gone, and we could see him for who he truly was. He had finally come to himself, as well as come back to us.

One thing I know is that when a boy leaves school, no matter the circumstances, he is opening a door to change. I can hardly wait to see what two months studying in London does for our second son.I left the counselor’s office with a fistful of papers and a hopeful heart.


*For more on our addiction story, I highly recommend our podcast, "Hope, Healing and Support Through Addiction" bit.ly/TLRshow26

#livingroomwithjana #makingroom



   Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, teacher, and adjunct art instructor at UVU. She and her husband have 3 kids and 2 dogs, and she spends every day possible rejuvenating her soul in Utah's glorious mountains. She writes at  divergent pathways and exhibits her work at janaparkin.com.

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