I could tell something was wrong. Even in the midst of my hectic schedule and the busyness of everyday life, I had noticed changes in my middle child, a shift in her mood and appearance over the past few months.
Bethany had begun to fade into a shell of her normally dramatic and exuberant teenage self. She kept her eyes down, usually with a hoodie over her head and iPod earbuds jammed in her ears. She was trying to keep all of us out. It was frustrating, irritating, and disrespectful, and I had made a mental note to confront her with the many rude behaviors I had observed in her recently.
Her schoolwork was starting to suffer, and seemingly overnight she had changed her clothes from a well-groomed “preppy” style to a sloppy, skinny jeans “skater” look. What was going on with her?
Not only had Bethany changed in appearance and attitude, but the time she spent alone in her room and away from her family or friends had grown from a few hours each week to a few hours each day. When she was around, her blank and absent stare was devoid of any emotion — beyond her growing irritation with the rest of us. Yet I continued to misread her activities, changes in appearance, and nasty attitude. I shudder to think what might have happened that dark week in September 2009 if I hadn’t taken a moment to pray with my wife [Paige] late one night in our bedroom.
As I took the time to quiet myself, and as I emptied my mind of the day’s worries, I opened my heart in prayer and immediately felt the presence of God intrude into
my awareness. It was like a firm, tender, but powerful impression, a deep whisper in my mind: Ask Bethany what she is hiding from you.
I thought, Tonight, Lord? Right Now? My heart felt an intense surge of emotion as I sensed the urgency. Immediately!
At the door to my daughter’s bedroom, I paused and listened. I could hear her quiet sobs and restless movements. I was beginning to grow more concerned and less angry at whatever she had done. I began to feel a darkness — deep pain and despair — coming from her room. It was a palpable sense that something or someone was tormenting my daughter.
Bethany by now was restlessly moving in her bed; maybe she could sense that someone was at her door. As her mother and I entered and approached her bedside, she moved suddenly as if to hide something.
My wife and I simply told our daughter that we felt God had revealed to us in prayer that she had been struggling with a profound and painful secret. We assured her that we wanted to help, but to do that we would need her to be completely honest about whatever was going on in her life. As we gently but firmly asked her to reveal what she was hiding from us, it seemed her entire body shuddered slowly. This was not the reaction she usually had when we confronted her. This was the response of a broken and devastated soul, weary and hopeless and alone.
I remember the sudden and painful tightening in my gut, the nausea in the back of my throat as I listened to my little girl tell me she had been molested the day of her graduation from eighth grade.
Bethany sobbed and rocked back and forth in her chair as she told her mother and me in a rush of words and gasping cries of her attempt to take her own life a day before. She told us how she had been cutting herself, desperate to stop the pain and shame.
A long night ensued, filled with explanations, choking cries of despair and shame, and anger at God for letting this happen and myself for leaving her all alone to figure it out.
Accepting my failures, I was determined to learn, grow, and improve in my God-given role as Bethany’s earthly father. I began the process of rearranging my schedule, my priorities, and my life to a substantial degree and I began asking God to show me what I could do to help repair the wounds in my daughter and in our home.Over time, that prayer for healing, wholeness, and restoration would be answered in a most unusual way.
The Road to Recovery
As I reflected on all our family had been through in the past months and as I spent time with God in prayer, asking him for guidance, I sensed that God’s specific
strategy to help us reconnect as a family included taking a road trip out west.
Despite all my previous rhetoric about letting God lead us on our road to recovery, I wasn’t thrilled with his plan. A family road trip? For all of us, at one time? This idea, while at first supercool and attractive to my explorer’s heart, became less exciting after a few moments of sane contemplation.
Two teenage girls and one seventh-grade son all together with my wife and me in a box on wheels, a steel cage not much bigger than a king-size bed. Hmmm. This could
create some serious tension after only thirty minutes on the road!
To Paige’s credit, she didn’t dismiss my idea as ridiculous, although she must have been tempted. I was mostly sure it was God. I believed deep down that it was his idea more than mine, that he had intentionally created a divine road map for our recovery, and that he had specific things to reveal to each one of us — things we would only be able to experience on our upcoming journey to the wilderness wilds of Canada and back.
Paige and I began praying for God to reveal himself to our kids on the trip. We prayed specifically that he would teach Jessica to trust him wholly, that he would heal Bethany completely from her struggles of the previous year, and that he would help Caleb in his transition from boy to young man. We had hopes that he would work mightily in each child’s life, but we left the details to him.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Our week in Canada was extraordinary. Not because we had planned it so well, or because we did all the expensive and cool tourist things, but because the hand of God was on us. As we moved into the second week of the trip, there were no more heated car fights or “he said/she said” back-and-forth battles. Gone were the bitingly sarcastic remarks
and the “Get out of my space, or I’m gonna hurt you” verbal spats. Absent were the bored, comatose looks in the rearview mirror. My subdued, emotionally distant teen-agers were coming alive again. I could feel it. They were reawakening to the joy of discovery, to the childlike thrill of experiencing new things and learning about different places, peoples, and cultures.
As my kids began to sense the enormity of the trip — they, on their own initiative, began to set down their technologies and unplug from the safety of all that was
familiar and distracting. I believe they sensed the power of the beauty around them to inspire, uplift, and redirect their dreams to something bigger than themselves. The result was that less iPod and more “I-talk” was occurring in the car. We were discussing the history, culture, and weather of the areas we drove through and looking for historical signs and interesting landmarks to stop and check out. Their focus was subtly shifting from entertaining themselves to discovering more about the world around them.
I wouldn’t have asked for anything else from this trip, but God had more in store for each of us in the days ahead.
Friday, July 2
I had felt a nudge from God in the night. The nudge suggested I should get up very early and get the family awake, fed, and in the SUV by dawn. After a long day on the road yesterday, I fought that nudge a bit. But as I rose quietly in the two-room suite, I felt it again.
Obeying that nudge, I reluctantly woke everyone. As I did, I noticed the fog was so dense outside that I couldn’t see the SUV parked ten feet in front of our door. It was thicker than any I had ever seen. Fog was not a welcome part of the beautiful drive, mountain vistas, and treasured family moments I had planned that morning, yet I felt the nudge again, telling me not to delay. This time the message was
even stronger and clearer: Tell them I have something special to show Bethany this morning, but all three will see something just for them today.
Bethany had been wanting to see a moose in the wild now for over a week. The entire time we were in Canada, she had been relentless in her pursuit of capturing one on camera.
I had spent hundreds of hours in the woods and around the mountains and lakes of Canada and Colorado, but I had only seen a moose two or three times in more than thirty years. They were rare here.
I knew that [Rocky Mountain National Park] had a few moose, but it was more of an elk, deer, bear, bighorn sheep, and occasional eagle kind of place. Moose really like wetlands, not jagged mountain peaks and alpine tundra.
I sighed deeply.
The nudge from God would not go away.
We repacked our dozens of bags, suitcases, trinkets, and snacks and piled in the SUV. We grabbed some jackets, hats, and cameras and drove off into the murky fog. It was 6 a.m., local time. The fog was intense, and the twenty miles up from Granby to the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park were a bit underwhelming. Fog blocked the views of the pristine lakes to our right, as well as the snowcapped peaks. It blocked the view of the forest and the trees, and it blocked my view of the road beyond the fifteen feet of pavement my headlights could illuminate. It was cold, wet, and damp. And I was looking for a moose.
I drove the first ten miles as slow as humanly possible. I admit I was stalling. If the sun got high enough and strong enough, it would burn through the fog, and then we would be able to see the valley to our right. The valley where there might be a moose.
After eight miles and thirty minutes of creeping through the valley,after pausing at three road turnoffs to peer into the fog-shrouded valley, I was done. No moose today. I was wrong.
Despite my doubts, I drove on. The fog persisted, but I knew that as we went into the elevated areas of the park, the drier air would dissipate the fog, giving us a better view of the rest of the drive. I also knew no moose would be that high in the park. I resigned myself to being at least partially nuts and went on, smiling and chatting as if nothing were amiss.
Until I felt the nudge once more. Again? I thought.
I could almost hear the words in my head: Pull over, now!
They were commanding, insistent, and firm, so I did it. I obeyed the voice and drove off to the left shoulder of the road. I rolled down my window and listened intently to hear something, anything. Not a sound.
I got out; the fog was as thick as ever. “Bethany,” I whispered, “get your camera. I’ve got a feeling.” We all jumped out and quietly walked to our left, toward a stand of trees and a bluff overlooking the valley below. As we approached, I saw the fog pull back like a curtain. There, about twenty-five feet from us, was a huge female moose drinking and grazing by the edge of the valley — directly across from Bethany.
It was amazing. It was miraculous. It was God. I felt the impossible touch of the divine as it reached into my daughter’s heart and grabbed her! God was shouting at her, I love you, I love you, I love you, Bethany Rose! I want to be near you! I want to touch your hurts and heal all your pain! It couldn’t be ignored; it couldn’t be fabricated, faked or arranged. It had to be God!
I felt weak in the knees, weary and worn from the burden of it all. I realized I had been trying so hard to be the perfect dad, husband, and pastor. I had hoped and dreamed and tried to be all that I could be to Bethany so she would believe, so she would trust in God by my example. But in the end, I wasn’t enough. It took God showing up to win her heart.
Bethany was taking pictures as fast as her fingers could press the button. She was smiling, laughing, and full of genuine and unrestrained joy. I hadn’t seen that in her face for a year or more. She was free, released from whatever lies the darkness in her mind had told her about the nature of God.
The moose in the valley was so specific, so unique, so exactly what she had prayed for that it couldn’t be ignored, brushed away, or contrived as coincidence. It was God. Issue settled. Life changed. Hope renewed.
This experience taught me like no other to listen carefully for God’s nudges. He is always speaking to us. It’s just so loud in our heads that we rarely hear him. Yet if we can’t hear him for ourselves, we will never be able to teach our kids or lead our families with anything but our own wisdom and strength … and that is beyond exhausting.
[Jesus] said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 ESV.
Taken from Road Trip to Redemption by Brad Mathias. Copyright © 2013 by Brad Mathias. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.