Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Climb on Every Rung

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay, forever young…

            My son graduated from high school this past Friday night. I was good-I only cried about three times during the hour-long ceremony. The funny thing about it is that he’s not actually going anywhere for at least a couple of years, but I know that it will not be the same. The boy has given way to the man, a man of whom I am extremely proud. A man who has Become. This was not an easy process, and, as I look back over the past eight years, I am astounded. This young man is a work of God.

            It is a tradition at our school for each graduate to have a memory table upon which can be displayed pictures, awards, mementos, etc.-the things that define each individual, his interests, his achievements. As I looked at my son’s table, at the 250 photos flashing by on the digital screen, I thought about how smart he is, how funny, how interesting. Many of the photos are from the performance of Tom Sawyer, in which he had the starring role. A lot of them are of Tony and his sisters clowning around, swimming at the beach, feeding the seagulls, opening presents on Christmas morning. There is one shot of the armadillos that live in our yard and an extreme close-up of our dog Miney’s face.

            We thought it was important to include Miney’s picture because she was instrumental in making Tony who he has Become. From his ability to connect with and trust this little dog, who still sleeps in his bed every night, grew Tony’s eventual connection with other human beings. His devotion to her also awakened in him a desire to help and heal all living things. In so many of the photos he is holding an animal-a bird, cupped gently in his hands, a tiny puppy, a guinea pig. There is one absolutely beautiful shot of him and his sister Raina, gazing up at the seagulls in wonder and delight. Tony’s heart is tender and fiercely protective of those he loves and of anyone or anything helpless or friendless. In the past two years he has taken under his wing several younger students who reminded him of himself in his younger years.

            He came to us when he was eleven, a strange little kid with ill-fitting clothes and a very bad haircut. His shoes were always untied and he never seemed to stop talking. He was loud and boastful and completely insecure. He lied far more than he told the truth, and as we peeled back the layers of pretense and got to the core of the raging hurt that controlled him, we began to see who he really was. He ran with an awkward gait and was obsessed with video games, obsessed to the point of addiction. In most of his foster homes he had been allowed to play as much as he wanted, because he was less annoying that way. His grades had always been poor and he had had one hundred sixty-seven disciplinary referrals in ONE school year! But we saw more. It was difficult, but we saw more. We saw a bright child who had a gift for becoming whoever he thought people wanted him to be. He was a con artist and a showoff, a kid who used the few big words that he knew in the hope that he would seem “smart”.  He claimed to have read many books, but we soon discovered that was all part of the façade, too. You see, we had actually read all of the books he claimed to have read, unlike any other foster family he had stayed with, so we caught him first in that lie, and then many others.

            The years that followed were not easy. We had to take away the video games completely for nearly two years. Once the adoption was finalized, we had to detox this child from the cocktail of medications that he had been prescribed to keep him under control. One of them, Abilify, turned out to be an antipsychotic drug that, to our horror, was not even supposed to be given to people under a certain age. The withdrawal from all of these “medications” was rather nightmarish but fortunately did not last long. And it was the beginning of being able to see, bit by bit, who Tony really was. It was a journey of discovery during which he learned that the truth is always better than a lie, that he really was smart and capable, and that he had many talents. The two video game-free years enabled him to develop his gifts and he became a much better student. His grades never quite measured up to his abilities, which, according to standardized testing, are far above the norm, but he graduated with a 3.5 GPA and a score of 25 on the ACT. He managed to pull off the A-B honor roll every year of high school despite his defensive struggle against math and his disorganization and his tendency towards procrastination.  He writes brilliant papers and amazing stories and incredible songs. He draws wonderful pictures and he plays the guitar and sings. He is, according to our principal, “probably the best actor to ever come through our school.” Indeed, his performance as Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as well as his lead role in Tom Sawyer were as good as anything I have ever seen. I can say this even though I am his mother, because I have not always been his mother. While not completely objective, I probably have a clearer picture than I would if I had had him since birth.

            I can be somewhat objective because only those who live in our house know the full extent of the battle that has been fought to bring this young man to where he is today. Only his father, his sisters, and God know what we went through. People who have known him since he first came have witnessed his transformation and been astounded. I myself feel as though I have been witness to a miracle. I have had to, at times, remove myself emotionally from the situation and do what needed to be done by giving him completely to God. This is the hardest thing a parent can do. I know that the enemy wanted my child. I know that it was a defeat for the enemy when Tony was snatched from the darkness and brought into a home where he would be exposed to the Light. Nor am I naïve enough to believe it is over, for Tony or for the girls. Tony is a fine young Christian man, recently knighted by the Armor Bearers group and commissioned to carry Truth into the world. He tries to do the right thing and stands in the gap for the needy and the weak. But every day for him will be fraught with hard choices and important decisions. I pray that as he builds his ladder to the stars, he will stand firm.

            It is not easy to live well and also remain true to oneself in this world. Tony is a unique, versatile person. His memory table held his awards for academic achievement, but also for the character traits of Respect and Gratitude. It held his old guitar, his Tom Sawyer hat, his fedora, his Beatles memorabilia, his sword, and a copy of a Ray Bradbury novel. As I looked at it and remembered where he had been and caught a glimpse of where he was going, I was proud and glad. Still, as bright as his future is, as thrilled as we are with the fact that he has chosen nursing as his career, we cannot ever stop praying that every choice will be God’s will, and that, if he does falter in his steps, he can still get back onto the next rung and continue his climb with purpose and determination, and above all, with Love.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young.

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