A mom’s story of her time at Shelterwood and how she came to see a changed life
First, let me say this talk was not pre-approved by Shelterwood. As I was sharing with my husband this morning what I wanted to share he kept saying: it’s too negative and I kept saying: wait until the end. So as I am talking if you think it is too negative: wait until the end!
I knew who I wanted to address tonight. I wanted to speak to the mama that is sitting here wondering how she ended up here. The mama that doesn’t want to be here or want her son to be here either because that is exactly how I felt sitting here last spring family weekend. I want to speak to the mom who remembers holding that baby boy close to her chest, the one who shared with everyone who would listen all the cute things her preschooler said and did and then the mom who after her son went through puberty wanted to take the same hands that held her baby close and strangle her teenager because of all the horrible decisions he was making. The mom , dad, or grandparent who no matter what they tried they couldn’t stop their son from going down a path that led to destruction. That is exactly where our family was a year ago. Thank God for Shelterwood.
As my husband and I realized things were deteriorating with Connor we began a daily practice of listening prayer. I first encountered Listening Prayer in a book by a nun to India, Mary Geegh. The very first time we prayed this way together we each heard individually in our hearts Connor can’t stay in Dothan. One theme in Mary Geegh’s book is “where God guides, God provides” and that is what we experienced. God led us on a clear path to send Connor to Shelterwood. This is not what I would have chosen. To date bringing Connor here against his will is the hardest thing I have ever done. Yes, it is a Christian boarding school. Yes, each person employed here loves and cares about each one of our sons, but that didn’t alleviate my pain.
In fact, the pain would get worse before it got better. When we began our calls with Connor after a few weeks it was excruciatingly painful. He would tell us in great detail how horrible Shelterwood was. He didn’t deserve to be here. Everyone laughed at him when he told them why he was here. They had all done MUCH worse. Bless our counselor Leanne’s heart during that time for all the babysitting and comforting she did for me. And I’ll be honest with you when we came for parent’s weekend after Connor had been here a couple of months it didn’t help much. I wanted to grab Connor and run back home. One thing I remember from last year’s parent’s weekend was Rujon saying just think if you couldn’t handle one teenager in your home can you imagine how hard it is for our staff. And she was right! Things were not going well when Connor was home. At least here he was safe. Safe from himself and safe from the influence of his peers. Here he had young men called by God to speak truth into his life. A staff that cared about him. I was also thankful during that time that we had had clear direction from God about sending Connor here because as the doubts surfaced I held on to that. As circumstances around me still looked bad and not better I held on to what God had spoken to us. At parents weekend I heard so many times “trust the process” I wanted to throw up. In my head I was shouting, “What process!!!! You people are so stinkin slow!!! Hurry this up!”
Months into “the process” a wonderful thing began to happen. Connor was working hard & liking the person he was becoming. We saw progress. We saw change. But I didn’t completely trust the process because after 6 months we allowed Connor to come home before graduating the program. He convinced us that he did not want to go back to his old ways. Leanne warned us against it. She said he had made great progress but wasn’t ready. Connor told us graduating the program was no big deal. EVERYONE that did went back to their old ways. Staying a couple of more months wouldn’t make a difference. Which makes me think of something I left out about last year’s parent’s weekend. A young man who had recently graduated the program spoke. He did an excellent job and began to alleviate my fears. I remember thinking maybe Shelterwood can help Connor. Afterwards, Connor told us oh he’s so fake. I heard he still smokes pot. Manipulation, manipulation.
When Connor arrived home to begin his senior year, it didn’t take long for things to deteriorate again. During this time I felt like we had made the wrong decision sending him to Shelterwood. He was angry with us and resentful. I felt like we were worse off than better. I heard God speaking to my spirit: there is nothing you can say or do to change Connor King only the Holy Spirit can change him. I held on to this promise for several LONG months. Again things got a lot worse before they got better. Have you ever prayed and prayed for something and didn’t realize it was being answered because it wasn’t happening the way you envisioned? Well, that’s what happened next. Connor has already told you about going on the life changing mission trip to Haiti. When he came home and asked to go back to Shelterwood. The school he was begging to come home from a few short months before. I couldn’t even process it all. He had convinced me last summer Shelterwood was not helping him & was making him worse. So I questioned and questioned Connor, what about this, what about when you said this about the school? His response to all of my questions was: believe me mom I’ve thought about ALL that. I knew the Holy Spirit had moved in Connor’s life when he told us he couldn’t be who he wanted to be and live in Dothan, AL. He needed to, actually wanted to go back to Shelterwood to graduate the program. Connor spoke out loud the words that Leslie and I had heard in our hearts the first time we prayed about what we could do to help Connor.
My part of the story should end there shouldn’t it? Connor speaking the words we had heard God speak into our hearts. But to be honest, I hesitated. In my wildest dreams I never expected Connor to ASK to come back. I had it all planned out. How it would work out with him staying in Dothan. I haven’t mentioned yet how thankful I am for the few close friends I had praying for us during this time. My sweet friends have been faithful to encourage and pray with me. If you don’t have someone like that please come see me during the weekend. I’d be honor to pray for your family during this difficult time. Or should I say during this process.
As I was questioning and doubting God’s answer I had one of those wise friends speak truth into my life. She looked at me and ask, “Lea, what have you been praying for?” I slowly began to realize God had answered my prayer for Connor in a way I never imagined. God had done immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine. We are calling it a miracle in our family.
We are looking forward to Connor graduating the program. Connor is looking forward to graduating the program. Turns out it is a BIG deal when your heart changes. Connor has even asked my parents if they would make the long journey for it. Now, I trust the process. As we are discussing with Connor options for the summer, Leanne’s opinion matters a lot to me. She understands the process.
Connor, words cannot express how proud your dad and I are of you. We are so proud of the hard decisions, the hard choices you have made as the world has been trying to pull you in the opposite direction. It’s hard to give up friends who are bringing you down at any age, but especially when you are young. It’s hard to leave the comforts of home to do what is best for yourself. I am reminded of the Bible verse God gave me concerning you when you were in preschool and I see it being played out now. Ephesians 2:10 “For you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God planned in advance for you to do.”
I have one more thing to say. As I look around the room and see the Shelterwood staff, I wish I could look into each of your eyes and thank you for all the time, energy, and effort you have put into Connor’s life & every student’s life. I may not have mentioned you by name in our story, but I know you contributed to our story. Whether you have had direct or indirect contact with Connor what you do matters. It matters for the kingdom of God. If we receive crowns in heaven, I know there is a jewel on each of yours with the initials CWK for Connor Winn King and this mama’s heart is eternally grateful to each of you!
Lea shared this talk with fellow parents at our most recent Family Weekend