Next week our son Matt will graduate from college.
I couldn’t think of a more magnificent gift during this season. It reflects the hope and joy that all parents of struggling teens pray and yearn for, but don’t believe will ever come. I know. I was in that place.
Rewind eight years. That Christmas we were living in the eye of a storm; the storm of stealth, anger, belligerence and marijuana abuse, neatly wrapped inside the lie of, “It’s only marijuana, no big deal.”
No-big-deal marijuana abuse (which is the drug of choice for over 200,000 individuals to drug rehab every year) was ruining our family, including my marriage. It took a huge toll. While in the midst of this storm, Matt’s older brother was cruising through his sophomore year of college, underneath his brother’s radar. He ended up earning nine (yes, you read that right!) transferable credits the entire year. Thirty is considered standard. And this was at an expensive private college…And Matt’s younger sisters became accustomed to being dropped off, often on short notice, at various places so I could attend to the latest crisis. Merry Christmas…
Fast forward six months. Matt was court ordered out of our home to a Therapeutic Wilderness Program. It saved his life. It saved my marriage. It started the healing process for our family. And it planted the seeds for long term transformation in Matt. His experience there led to a passion for the wilderness and ultimately directed him to his college major, Outdoor Adventure Leadership. How cool is that? It almost made me want to go back to school so I could study in that field. His curriculum included mountaineering and ice climbing; risky choices for sure, but so much better than the risky choices he had been making.
I bristle at the notion that wilderness programs are “Brat Camps” or some kind of cushy retreat. While I am certain as with anything, there are a range of programs from the sub-par and abusive to the excellent, we were blessed with an experience at an outstanding program. Matt spent nine weeks in the Utah Wilderness at Second Nature where he was challenged in his thoughts, decision making and in his ability to survive. The Hilton it was not.
There he gained firsthand experience in problem solving and responsibility in a way that our children’s comfortable worlds (to which they have become accustomed to as an entitlement) cannot possibly provide. Stripped to the bare essentials (which did NOT include cell phones, IPods, or any other form of technology or communication devices) he experienced and really learned about survival, responsibility and communication. (Don’t even get me started about how kids are now texting instead of talking to each other…)
Fast forward eight years. Matt is now graduating with his degree, and guess what? He has decided to work at Second Nature as member of their field staff.
If you had predicted that this was what would unfold in my future, I would have snorted in disbelief. As a matter of fact, I did snort in disbelief when a professional in the field told me our family would heal and grow together. But yet, it has come to pass.
If you are struggling with an angry, belligerent, teen who is getting high and bucking authority at every turn, let me encourage you. Been there done that, and come out the other end.
May this holiday season bring you a glimpse of the promise of hope and renewal.