Chapter OneOUR PRODIGALS
It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.
"I'm losing it!"
Sitting in DeEtte's bedroom choking back tears, I (Brendan)
told my longtime friend that my life was unraveling. She'd been
there for me through my divorce and remarriage, through starting
over with more children at forty-two. I could fall apart in her company
because I knew she understood. Her daughters had made mistakes
and taken the prodigal path too. They'd given DeEtte her
share of disappointment and pain.
We cried together, and then she told me about the prayer she
had been praying for her daughters. Thumbing through the well-worn
pages of her Bible, she showed me Psalm 90. I hurried over
the psalmist's reminders of how short our lives are and how much
time we waste on meaningless pursuits. Then my eyes landed on
verse 16, in which the writer begs the Lord to make His deeds
known to His servants and His splendor to their children. I was
familiar with the deeds of the Lord in my life, but I hadn't thought
much about my children comprehending God's splendor. It's not
that I didn't want my children to know what a splendid God we
serve-I just hadn't thought of asking God to reveal Himself to my
Desperate for help, I decided to take my eyes off the scary
events unfolding in my daughter Vanessa's life and instead focus on
what could happen if she experienced the magnificence of the Lord.
I'm not sure what I expected, but I prayed and DeEtte prayed with
me. As we prayed I realized that I hadn't fully been appreciating
God's splendor either. I began to recall the amazing ways God had
answered prayers in the past. The Lord had brought new hope into
my life when I met my husband Dan. He also had renewed Dan's
faith and made him a source of strength for me. The Creator of the
universe had enabled Dan and me to create two precious children in
spite of a previous tubal ligation. Our son Devin frequently refers to
the time before he was born as that time "when I was just a prayer"
because we've told him about our Sunday school class praying for
us to conceive a child. As I focused my heart and mind on the splendor
God had shown me, I felt a deep assurance that He would be
there for Vanessa too.
Vanessa's journey went deeper into the shadowlands before she
reached a turning point. But she did turn around. She faced her failure,
sought God's love and forgiveness, and rebuilt her life.
VANESSA'S and NATALIE'S Stories
Vanessa was abandoned five times. The first was when her birth
mother gave her up for adoption, which is how she came into our
lives. After four years of infertility, my first husband and I had decided
to adopt. Vanessa was so beautiful. Her clear blue eyes, tan skin, and
white blonde hair made people in the supermarket smile when I
wheeled her down the aisles. She loved people. As soon as she could
say a few words she talked to everyone.
When she was five months old I started my doctoral program a
hundred miles from home. Mistakenly, I thought that going to
school would be compatible with motherhood. I was gone a lot.
Although her father and our nanny were loving and very attentive,
I believe that my absence was a second abandonment for her.
The third abandonment came quickly on the heels of my doctoral
work. When we least expected it, I discovered that I was pregnant.
Vanessa's sister, Natalie, was born when Vanessa was two.
Within three months of her birth, Natalie was diagnosed with neuroblastoma-cancer
of the nervous tissues. She had a kidney
removed, radiation on her eye, and chemotherapy for eight months.
Vanessa was thrust on the nanny or other family members for more
than a year as we focused on Natalie's urgent needs.
Natalie survived and so did Vanessa, but insecurity had taken its
toll. Teachers had called Vanessa the "sunshine girl." However, by
third grade a learning disability was tarnishing her shine.
The fourth abandonment came when her father and I divorced.
She was seven years old and had no inkling that we were unhappy;
our life looked fine on the outside. We both remarried within two
years and began having more children. Vanessa would never get the
attention she needed. There had been too much change and too
By ninth grade Vanessa was well on her way to self-defeat. She
acted out her depression and hunger for attention, even negative
attention. Underachieving, experimenting with drugs, and sneaking
out of the house revealed that she was in trouble. I remember sit-ting
in church the night before we put her in residential treatment.
Guilt and shame flooded my soul. All I could do was cry. My spiritual
friends surrounded me and we prayed. I hated feeling needy, but
Our family had work to do. Therapy helped some, but Vanessa
still carried so many wounds. And I just wanted to get on with a
happy life. None of her parents liked the strain of rehashing all the
Our needs conflicted with hers.
One day I was changing the sheets on her bed when I saw
something puzzling. Stuck between the bed and the wall was a baby
pacifier. She admitted that she sucked on it at night. At fourteen
years old, she was regressing all the way back to infancy when she
was alone. My heart broke. How could I help this child who never
got enough of the secure feeling every child deserves? She was too
old for me to treat her like a baby.
She resolved the dilemma by getting pregnant. When she was
seventeen she started her senior year of high school married and
expecting a child on Christmas Eve. Her husband, only one year
older, enlisted in the army. They went to Germany and tried to be
a family for three years. When they returned to the United States her
husband left her. Abandoned again, Vanessa fell into the pit of
depression, refused to get help, and ended up homeless. She lost
custody of her son because she lived with drug dealers and could not
even support herself. Vanessa hit bottom. That's when I turned to
my friend DeEtte.
* * *
Natalie's rebellion was less obvious. Unlike Vanessa, she looked like
a normal, high-functioning youth with lots of friends and accomplishments.
She did well in school, made cheerleader, and went to
church occasionally. Vanessa and Natalie accepted Christ and were
baptized and confirmed, but Natalie disclosed later that she felt she
had no choice. We discovered after the fact that Natalie drank and
smoked a lot throughout high school. In college, she rejected worship
or any other organized Christian activity. Her prodigal behavior
was subtle, not straying too far but clearly denying the
importance of a relationship with Christ. I felt confused and frustrated
by her attitude. When both my daughters rejected the values
I wanted for them, I didn't know what to do. It was hard not to
personalize their problems. My strength and hope had to come
MARLA'S and LAYNE'S Stories
In the extreme August heat of west Texas, George and I (DeEtte)
unloaded a full-to-overflowing U-Haul truck and helped our
youngest daughter, Layne, set up housekeeping six hundred miles
from home. We weren't supportive when she first announced her
plans to move to a barren desert community across the state. We did
everything we could to dissuade her, but she was firm in her decision
to pursue a career opportunity. I wished we could have been
The distance in miles wasn't all that separated us. Over the past
years we watched helplessly as our daughters moved further and further
away from the committed young people they had been. The
world had seduced them. Every time they rejected our urges to
"pray about that," or "come to church with us," or " read this," we
felt a deep sadness. To see their eyes roll upward each time we mentioned
the Lord was torment.
Just after George and I returned to Houston, the phone rang.
It was a close friend urging me to read Psalm 90. When I got to
verse 16, the words leaped off the page and into my heart: "May
your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children"
(NIV). Those words became mine.
I shouted, "That's it!" I knew what God wanted me to do. I
began to pray, "Lord, show them Your splendor." Sometimes it was
a request, sometimes a plea, and sometimes a cry from the depths of
my soul. I knew God had given me this prayer, this hope.
Years earlier we had experienced the agony of losing Jennifer,
our oldest daughter, in a car accident when she was eighteen.
Intense grief left us inconsolable, clinging to our two other children.
Marla, our middle daughter, began to show signs of rebellion in college.
She partied too much, switched schools, and eventually
dropped out for a while. Her boyfriend relationships failed. At a
time when George and I were beginning to mature spiritually, Marla
turned her back on our values. We lost her, not by an auto accident,
but by her choice. I cried in my sleep and I cried awake as I pictured
Jennifer curled up in the arms of her heavenly Father, protected and
safe. Now, I saw Marla running from Him toward danger.
For several years she avoided us. When we were together she
was uncomfortable, so she limited the contact. The relationship was
strained. She seemed to self-destruct on a regular basis until she
began the long path home to the faith of her adolescence.
When I began praying Psalm 90:16 for Layne and Marla, I
knew God had to work a few miracles before that prayer would be
answered. But I prayed, "Lord, show them Your splendor." I knelt,
bowed, sang, read, and prayed some more. Most of all, I trusted
Him. And then, the same peace I'd felt the night of Jenny's death
washed over me. In the midst of the anguish I experienced joy. My
spirit quieted. I knew God was faithful.