Will You Take This Boy?
Judy Douglass, the founder and host of the online community Prayer for Prodigals, tells how she and her husband, Steve, came to foster and then adopt a 12-year-old boy named Josh. She was already the contented mother of two girls when she sensed God was going to give them another child. Judy miscarried and several years passed, but she couldn't forget God's words to her years earlier. Judy shares how Josh first entered their lives through the foster system and tells how their home life turned upside down once he became part of their family.
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Judy Douglass, tells how she and her husband, Steve, came to foster and then adopt a 12-year-old boy named Josh. She tells how their home life turned upside down once he became part of their family.
Will You Take This Boy?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 19th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to talk today with Judy Douglass about her experience as a mom who had a son come into their family and, eventually, walk away from them and from Jesus. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk about something today that, any time we talk about this, there are tens of thousands of moms and dads, who reach over and turn up the radio, and start to choke up, and start to feel a knot in their stomach tighten because they have a prodigal.
I was thinking about this the other day—the things we talk about, here on FamilyLife®, we’re not simply trying to provide information; we’re trying to provide help and hope for people who are in very real, very difficult, very challenging situations. I’m thinking about this in relation to our yearend and the fact that we’re hoping FamilyLife Today listeners will make a yearend contribution and support the work of this ministry. I just want folks to know what you’re supporting is help and hope for people who are in very difficult situations. You’re supporting answers for them that can help them know how to navigate the challenges of life.
Dave: I’m proud to say, we’ll go there. You know, we’ll go to the dark, hard places in life. We’re going to talk about things that people are wrestling with. When you said they have a knot in their stomach, it’s real. I mean, they’re laying in bed at night; they can’t sleep; they’re worrying; there’s anxiety.
We’ve all felt this at times and, “Where is God?” We’re going to say, “We’re going to help you; we’re going to show you where God is.” When you give to this ministry you are helping us help people right where they live.
Ann: I think, for Dave and I, we’ve been speaking at the Weekend to Remember® for
30 years; and we feel the desperation in people’s lives. Bob, you’ve been speaking for how long?
Bob: —for 25-plus years; yes.
Ann: So we’re experiencing the stories/the heartache, and this ministry has really helped save so many marriages.
Bob: Yes; well, again, we’re hoping FamilyLife Today listeners—if God’s used this ministry in your life—if you want to help others understand how to biblically respond to the challenges they’re facing in marriage and family, make a yearend contribution so that FamilyLife can move into the new year ready to tackle the challenges that are ahead. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a yearend contribution. We look forward to hearing from you.
If you’re parents with a prodigal, which is what we're going to talk about today, I don’t know how many times I have referred to the verse in 3 John 4, that says, “I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth.” If that’s true, then I think it’s also true that there’s no greater anguish for a parent than to watch our kids wander off and head in a direction that is not a healthy direction for them.
Dave: Probably every parent knows the feeling of laying in bed at night and worrying—
Ann: —and worrying.
Dave: —about your children. I mean, how many nights, we just lay there and you just beg God, “God, please help.”
Ann: And we carry it everywhere we go.
Ann: It never leaves our mind/our heart. Our children are always on our minds.
Bob: The thing I keep telling moms and dads is: “The story’s not over. The last chapter hasn’t been written yet for a son or daughter who is still far away. You don’t know how God’s going to work. He can bring beauty from ashes,”—we’ve seen that so many times. There’s not a guarantee that’ll happen—
Bob: —but there’s a hope that God will intervene and that a child’s going to wake up one day and go, “What am I doing?”
Dave: I tell you—without that hope, I don’t think I’d have ever gotten to sleep.
Bob: Yes, exactly.
Dave: That’s the hope that actually helps you close your eyes.
Ann: I didn’t know you were staying awake; I thought I was the only lying awake. [Laughter]
Bob: We have joining us today Judy Douglass. Judy, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Judy: Thank you. It is a great privilege.
Bob: Judy is the Director of Women’s Resources for a large organization that we’re a part of, Cru®, which is formerly Campus Crusade For Christ®. Judy’s husband, Steve, is the president of Cru International. Judy is a writer, and a blogger, and now a leader of intercessory prayer as you’re gathering with parents of prodigals pretty regularly.
In fact, this has been a burden on your heart for many years. Inside the Cru family, we know that, when we get an email from Judy, it’s often about parents, in the ministry, whose kids have wandered and how we can rally around that. I think it's got to be particularly challenging having a prodigal when you’re in full-time ministry.
Judy: Yes, indeed.
Bob: You have written a book called When You Love a Prodigal that’s really a devotional guide—
Judy: Yes, it is.
Bob: —for parents of prodigals. This comes out of your own story, which your son has read and has agreed it’s okay to have this in print.
Judy: He has; and I’ve checked numerous times—I said, “Are you sure you’re okay?” So did my publisher [Laughter]: “Make him sign off on it.”
Bob: In fact, he wrote a chapter at the end of the book?
Judy: Not a chapter; he wrote “A Word from Josh” at the end.
Bob: Okay; so take us into the story and when was it that you first started to go, “Something’s not right with Josh”?
Judy: The day he moved into our home.
Dave: You knew right on day one?
Judy: The whole atmosphere of our home went from basically peaceful—we had two daughters, who were twelve and ten—and God sent Josh to us. That’s a story for sure—he moved in; he was almost ten—from a really hard situation with his birth mother, who was a drug addict and alcoholic. He was/had grown up for more than eight years then with uncertainty—not knowing his dad; his mom consistently saying, “I love you,” and choosing her addictions.
Then, when the county took him away from her—for good reasons—the grandparents were asked to keep him. They said: “We’re already raising his half-sister,”—who was six years older—“We’re too old and too tired. We can’t do it.” They were wise to say that, I’m sure; but for him, it was, once more, of who should be important in his life rejecting him.
Bob: So you intervened and agreed to bring Josh into your home. You had to know—
Judy: Yes and no. Actually, God had told me years before.
Dave: Yes, I want to hear that story. You are/you wrote about that; and that's very, very interesting.
Judy: So, we had two girls. I didn’t have my first child until I was 36 and, then, I had another one at 38. I was content; I was eager to get back more in the ministry. I had kind of stepped away for a while and God said, “I want you to have another baby.” I went, “No, thank you.” He said, “No, I want you to.” I went, “I’d rather not.” He says, “No, I’d like you to.”
I got pregnant and, then, I got excited; then I had a miscarriage. Then I was mad at God; I just said, “Why would You tell me to do this if You’re just going to turn around and take this child away?” I went away for a while. I guess Steve must’ve taken care of the children/the girls. I don’t know who did other things that were my responsibilities; but anyway, for about a month, all I was doing was talking to God and trying to listen and understand what He was doing in my life with this: “Do this,” and taking away something that I was excited about by then.
At the end of that time, God really said to me—I’m not sure how, but He did—He said, “I’m going to send you a son, and you don’t need to do anything about it.” I went, “It’s on You; that’s fine.” I told Steve; I didn’t get pregnant. He said, “Do you think we should look into adopting?” I went: “No, I think this is on God. He said He would do it; we didn’t have to.”
So years passed—several—and I said: “You know, I really am happy. Let’s just forget the boy. I don’t need another child.” He said, “I’m sending you a son.” Then right before we moved from California to Florida, He said, “When you get to Florida, someone will say, ‘Can you take this boy?’” I went, “If that happens, then I guess this isn’t all my imagination.”
Three weeks after we got to Florida, a new friend said, “By the way, do you know someone who could take an eight-year-old boy?” I just looked at her and tears came, so she started crying when I cried. She’s the best friend of Josh’s grandparents. They had said, “No, they couldn’t keep him,” and so he was going into the foster care system; and she just couldn’t have that at all, so she went to work. All these Cru people were moving [in], she said, “Certainly, one of them would take this boy.”
We said, “Yes, we will enter the process,” but making sure we didn’t make it happen—that we were leaving it in God’s hands if He wanted it to happen.
Ann: And your girls were onboard with this as well? Had you told them your story?
Judy: I don’t remember if I told them all of the story, but they were excited about it. They thought, “Oh that’ll be fun to have a little brother,” until a year later, when he actually moved in with us and life changed. He had so many needs and so many issues. He just had this high need for center of attention, so nobody else could say much of anything; because he was always grabbing the attention.
Dave: Was there any thought of, “Okay; God sort of told us this is going to happen, so God’s bringing us this boy. It won’t be that hard; God’s in it. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s what I was thinking.
Dave: “It won’t be as hard as it was”; right?
Ann: That’s our assumption.
Judy: It was exciting.
Ann: “That does it. This is a good thing; this will be great.”
Judy: “And I don’t have to live through baby- and toddlerhood; I’m getting a kid.”
Well, this kid, who was almost ten—he was big; he was two grades behind; he could barely read or write. He had RAD, which is Reactive Attachment Disorder—it’s like: “No one has been trustworthy in my life; you won’t be either.” He built this wall around us to keep us from getting in, emotionally. He appreciated the good things we did for him, which were many; but he would not, in any way, connect with us. For the girls, they were disappointed; because they really wanted to connect with this little brother that they had.
At the end of three years, the county terminated his mother’s rights. Then the court said: “Yes, she’s gone; so now he’s up for adoption. Do you want him?” It took us a while to say, “Yes.” We had a little family meeting, once a month, on the weekend he spent with his grandparents.
I’m pretty sure, when God said, “I’m sending you a son,” it wasn’t for three years; that it was forever. Steve was very concerned that he was such a distraction; he was like: “I don’t see how we can do this. I don’t know that God wants it.” I just said, “I just think that God sent him to us, and he was a gift. God said this is a gift.”
We had this meeting, and Steve asked Michelle first. Now, Michelle is a counselor. She’s been a counselor since she’s been about 12; all her friends would come to her. She’s just a loving, compassionate, understanding person. She said, “Well, I don’t know if we should keep him; but I don’t want to ruin the rest of his life by rejecting him”; because, even at 12, she understood that that’s one more rejection: “How many can a person take?”
Now Debbie was 14—very, very 14—very self-focused and not really making the Lord a priority in her life. Steve’s thinking, “She’s going to say, ‘No way.’” She said, “You know, we just need to suffer gladly. God sent him to us; He must have things to teach us.”
Dave: That’s what your 14-year-old daughter said? Wow.
Judy: We were all—I mean, silence; it’s like, “Who are you?!” Steve said, “This is of God.” We said, “Yes”—“He’d said, ‘Yes’; we said, ‘Yes.’” We went to court; he was our son.
Things got a lot worse because he was going into middle school.
Bob: So he’s at the beginning of adolescence, where children are starting to ask the question: “Who am I?”
Bob: “What am I good at?” “What am I valued for?” Here’s a son, with a lot of scarring in his past/a lot of rejection in his past—
Bob: —and this is one of those times when—I’ve just talked with enough parents of adopted kids—in the onset of adolescence, as they move through adolescence—
Judy: —it’s the hardest time.
Bob: —that’s the time when they’re starting to figure out, “Do I even belong here at all?” How did Josh start to act out as a middle schooler?
Judy: Well, first of all, he’s two years older than all these sixth graders. They were small; he was big. He acted out at school; he became a bully. He got kicked off the bus, because he was always stirring things up. Teachers couldn’t teach with him in the room because of his ADD.
Finally, the principal said, “One more incident and he’s out of here.” We’re thinking, “Lord, what do we do?” We had tried counseling; we’d tried programs that the school recommended/that we found; and nothing was making a difference. So God led us to a local Christian residential program that we put him in. He agreed to it; he was there for a year-and-a-half.
Bob: How old was he at this point?
Judy: He was 14.
Bob: Okay, so he’s in the treatment program for a year-and-a-half. You guys are praying for him. Did you feel like: “Maybe we found a turning point here”?
Judy: We did; sort of. It was—treatment wouldn’t be the right word—it’s not a formal treatment. It is a Christian rehab kind of thing, and we had to go through it too—
Bob: Oh, wow.
Judy: —which was good and not always easy. We had to go to counseling there; we had to be there. At first, we couldn’t be there; but then we had to. It was a couple—well, several really wonderful things happened there. One, we were forced to connect with him; he, therefore, was forced to connect with us.
Ann: What did that look like? In what ways were you connecting?
Judy: We—twice a week, we had to be there; and we had to spend time with him. We talked, and we got to know him; and that was a great thing. Because we had to be with him, the girls did, too; so they developed relationship.
Judy: Good things that happened included that he got his mind filled with the Word of God. He still knows lots of Scripture as a result of that. While he was there, he met Jesus. His house parents led him to Christ and baptized him, and they are still important in his life.
He learned how to work the program and graduated—that’s what they all do, you know—they learn how to work the program. They do what they’re expected so they can move forward and get out. He did that well. Some of that was manipulative; some of that was genuine—that he really was growing; and he’d learned a lot, and he was feeling loved.
Here’s what happened to me. All this time, up until when he came to Christ, we were doing the right thing/the good thing. God sent him to us; we’re being good parents to him; we’re showing love to him. But there was no emotion; it was growing some. The night that he came to Christ, and they called me and told me, God called on me to just pray, and pray, and pray, and resist the devil on his behalf. He said, “Okay; now, loving him and praying for him is your assignment for the future.” So that’s what I did.
Bob: You know, I remember being on a seminary campus and meeting a FamilyLife Today listener—this was a number of years ago. This listener had heard us talk about adoption on FamilyLife Today. We’ve always been very pro-adoption: encouraging parents to pray about it, to consider it, to be open to this. This is a part of God’s design for the orphan—that we would rescue orphans; right?
Bob: This guy came up to me and he said, “You guys need to be telling the whole story.”
Bob: Because he said, “It’s easy for us to get into a romanticized vision of: ‘We’re going to go rescue somebody, and they’re going to be eternally grateful for our love and our grace,’”—and this was an adoptive dad—and he said, “This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done as parents.”
Bob: So over the years, we’ve tried to say to moms and dads: “Look, this is a noble calling, and it’s something you need to make sure God’s calling you to. Don’t go into it with a sense of: ‘Oh, it’s going to be wonderful.’ Go into it with a sense of: ‘God has made it clear this is what we need to do.’ Then know, in the process, that whatever’s going on with your adopted son or daughter—they’re in a better place than they would have been if you hadn’t entered their life.”
So even as you see and go, “This isn’t turning out the way I want it to turn out,” just know it’s turning out better than it would have been if you weren’t a part of this.
Judy: —especially for the adopted child.
Bob: Yes, exactly; well, mostly for the adopted child; that child would be in a world of hurt if you hadn’t stepped in. You may be looking, going, “This isn’t going well.” For them, it’s much better than it would have been otherwise.
I say all of that—and Judy, your story and your book, When You Love a Prodigal—is an attempt to say, “This is a good and godly calling;but it’s when you go into, eyes wide open—
Judy: Eyes wide open, on your knees.
Bob: —“and knowing you’re called by God to do it,” so that, when you face the obstacles/the kind of obstacles that you’ve described today, you go: “I’m here because God called me to. Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with me; and His rod and His staff will comfort me in the midst of the anguish that I’m dealing with.”
Dave: And what a picture. As I’m listening to you, Judy, I’m thinking/here’s what I’m thinking, “This is what God feels—
Bob: That's right.
Dave: —“about us. We’re/we’re Josh.”
Judy: Oh absolutely; we are all prodigals.
Dave: And your love for him is just the same as God’s love for us. Can you imagine what God thinks of all the crazy decisions we make and, yet, He never stops—
Ann: —loving us.
Bob: I would encourage moms and dads, who are thinking about this—or who have brought a son or a daughter into their home, either through adoption, or maybe you’ve got a natural-born son or daughter, who has wandered off—Judy’s book is designed to walk with you through 90 days of this journey with thoughts for you to reflect on: the Scriptures; prayers you can pray. It’s a 90-day devotional for parents who are in the wilderness. It’s called When You Love a Prodigal.
You can order a copy of the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can call to order Judy Douglass’s book, When You Love a Prodigal; our number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I know every time that we touch on this subject, we are going near where a lot of people are in significant pain. One of the things we want to do, here at FamilyLife, is to be here for you when you face the kinds of challenges that all of us face in our marriages and in our families. Those challenges that come from bad choices that people make or from circumstances that we never expected: “What does the Bible say about those things?” “How do we walk through those in a way that brings honor to God and that keeps us close to Him?” That’s what FamilyLife Today is all about—providing you with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family.
I mention that because we are two weeks away, now, from the start of a new year. This is an important season for us, here at FamilyLife. The next two weeks will determine, in large part, what the following 12 months look like, whether FamilyLife Today is able to continue with the ministry that we have, and even expand into the future, or whether we have to pull back. A lot of that depends on whether listeners, in the next two weeks, are able to help with a donation.
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Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and donate online. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. If you donation is $50 or more, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a new devotional for couples called The Story of Us. Please pray for FamilyLife Today as we approach yearend. Pray that we’d be able to take full advantage of this, now, $3 million matching-gift fund. Will you do that for us?
We hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow. We’re going to continue to talk with Judy Douglass about her experience as a mom of a young man, who walked away from her, and from his family, and from God. We’ll continue that conversation tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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