This is Chapter 1 of the Return of the Prodigal Foster Son.
My writer friend Cathee Poulsen inspired me with a New Year’s blog. Ephesians 3:20 gripped me “For to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work in us to Him be the glory…”
drawing a circle around your prayers
I am editing a book by Cathee’s daughter Texas Stready and in Chapter 36 it describes Cathee’s insistence that Texas form a circle with something and step inside of the circle to pray to the Father. Mark Batterson, one of my favorite authors wrote an entire book about circling your prayers in The Circle Maker.
Texas had some pine cones to make her circle. I went to the basement but thanks to the recent flood, I was fresh out of pine cones. I did find a nice collection of wine corks and I brought those upstairs and made my circle. I wondered how appropriate it was to use wine corks for prayer, but since Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine, I thought it was ok. The circle is right next to my desk in front of my 3 Wise Men rug in the living room. I get in that circle and pray every time I walk by.
I am praying about being alone and praying about my writing and photography career. I don’t think we are meant to be isolated and alone. I am hoping for a companion but I want a relationship that is more than a dinner date and yet far less than a husband. I love living alone, but want to be a vital connection in someone’s life. The photos used in my creative work come from road trips. I have a great desire to explore the southwest. Currently I have no time and no funds to travel. I gave all this to the Lord wondering how He would handle these desires of the heart. Immeasureably more…that is what I was asking and imagining.
you raised me
This dreaming and praying and asking and imagining has gone on with great fervor for the last 14 days. God is generally quiet and He evokes miracles so easily without you having any idea what He is up to. I checked my phone and had a friend request. It was from Robert Nolan. Twenty years ago I had a foster son named Robert Nolan. I did not see any mutual friends and I looked at the profile picture and it was a guy driving a semi truck. No that could not be Robert. Then I got a message that said “Hi, How are you. This is Robert Nolan. You raised me.” Oh my dear Lord I could never forget raising Robert Nolan! I enlarged the photo of the truck driver and there was Robert fast forward to age 41.
20 years ago
Twenty years ago, in 1996 I was 39 and my foster son Robert was 21. I had been part of Robert’s life since he was 16. He lived at Central State Mental Hospital when I first met him. His parents abused him in every way imaginable in his early youth and he was removed from their custody and he became a ward of the state when he was only 8. In traditional foster care Robert managed to blow apart every family he was placed with and he turned each household upside down. His home wrecking ability landed him in a mental hospital as a last resort.
Robert was a likable, nice looking kid. At first glance, you would not know there was anything wrong. He had a medical chart that was lengthy with a lot of labels to justify his home in a mental hospital. His IQ was the same number as his birth year. It was considered borderline mental retardation.
At the time, my husband and I had just built our dream home in a family compound which was next door to a church. The pastor was a young guy who looked like Tom Cruise. He was doing some volunteer work at Central State Hospital when he met Robert. He brought Robert home on weekends. The pastor and his wife were being transferred to a church in Alaska and Pastor Tom Cruise was looking for a likely replacement to work with Robert.
50 cents an hour
I was working on my lawn spreading top soil when Robert walked over to my yard from the church. “Hi how are you doing today?” he said. I said “good, how are you?” He said “I wanted to see if you needed any help around here.” I said “no I don’t think I have any work right now.” He was not deterred and said “how about someone to help you mow all this grass.” I said “no, my dad cuts the lawn for all of us as he has a big tractor to cover this area.” He gave a big smile and said, “well ma’am, you look tired and you look like you could use a hand spreading that dirt.” I gave in and said, “maybe you are right. How much do you charge an hour.” He paused for an uncomfortable moment and he said “fifty cents.” Only then did I realize Robert was not who he appeared to be. I saw the pastor from the church next door lurking around and figured he put the kid up to this. I told Robert to start shoveling and I would come up with a fair wage.
Pastor Tom Cruise filled me in on Robert’s history. I have a soft spot for the underdog and heartfelt compassion for young people with developmental disabilities. I always tutored the special ed kids in school. In college I worked with adults with mental and developmental challenges.
he dreamed of a truck and a driver’s license
I invited Robert in for a cold drink and some cookies. I asked him to tell me about himself and that was the last time I ever got a word in edgewise. The kid loved trucks and he loved to talk. He wanted to buy a pickup and of course he needed to get his driver’s license. It did not concern him at all that he lived in a mental hospital. As he jabbered away, he told me the staff on his unit told him he could take Driver’s Ed if he found someone willing to pay for the class, transport him to and from school every day, put him on a car insurance policy and provide a vehicle for him to gain driving experience. So in other words, it would be an impossible task for Robert to find someone willing to put a 16 year old kid on her insurance (especially one who had an IQ of borderline mental retardation who lived in a mental hospital.)
learning to drive at the mental hospital
The years of raising Robert from age 16 to 21 were tumultuous and would fill a book. I taught Robert how to drive a stick shift Saab convertible on the grounds of Central State Hospital. I used my lunch hour to take him to Driver’s Ed every day and paid someone to take him back to the hospital. I left out certain details when I put him on my insurance policy and I did not think I would live through the driving practice. The kid could barely read and could hardly comprehend. We worked for months on the rules of the road and how to answer the test questions. By some total and complete miracle he passed the test and got his driver’s license. We bought him an old red Ford pickup and later a Ford Ranger and I bought him his own separate insurance policy!
nothing but a dream
The kid had nothing but a dream and I was determined to make his dream come true. I was still operating under the false impression I was invincible and could make anything happen if I just tried hard enough. After two wrecked trucks and Robert showing off to a girlfriend and running my car up a tree which kept him from running into the pond, I realized I had made a horrible mistake in helping Robert get his license. He did not have the judgement and reaction time to navigate the interstates and I was just sick thinking I had helped a mentally retarded boy who lived in a mental hospital get his driver’s license.
he chose the way of the world
At age 21 Robert was emancipated from being a ward of the state of Indiana. He was too old to adopt, so I offered him a permanent guardianship and a home. He instead elected the allure and freedom of the world and he took off to find his birth family and he returned to the horrors of what I had tried to protect him from. Turns out he went to Florida and later so did I but neither of us knew the other was there. I never heard from him again for twenty years.
At Christmas this year my sister and I looked through photos of Christmases past and there was Robert in five years of our Christmas pictures. Jill asked if I ever thought I would hear from Robert again. Little did I know what was coming.
driving the big rig
Several long phone calls later after connecting on Facebook, I kept pinching myself sure I was having a surreal dream. I could not imagine how in the world he had gotten a CDL and who in their right mind would trust him with a 80,000 pound 53 foot truck. I knew what it took to back up and park a big rig. I learned from a commercial trucker when I was pulling my helicopter around behind my truck. I also considered getting my own CDL and gave up after looking at the manual. Robert was a kid who could not do basic math. He got lost whenever he drove. He could not read a map and did not know North from South. Thinking about it, Robert reminds me a bit of Forrest Gump.
“Robert, do you have a smart phone?”
“Sure do” he says.
“Can you take a picture of your CDL license, I would really like a picture of that for my scrap book.”
“Oh sure mom, I know you would be really proud to get that.”
Sure enough, he has a valid CDL. Same Robert, same date of birth.
“Robert, what took you so long to contact me?”
“Well, I just learned how to do this Facebook thing. I got really frustrated at first with it and I did not understand it but my cousin helped me. I had a hard time finding you because I thought you lived in Greenwood. Wasn’t that the town we lived in mom?”
“No Robert, we lived in Indianapolis. Robert are you on the road now? Where are you headed?”
“Well I just got into New York tonight. That was really scary.”
“Robert, New York City? Oh honey, how on earth did you figure out how to get to New York and where did you come from.”
“Well mom, I just came from Seattle. I have driven 2900 miles from one coast to the other. I have a Rand McNally atlas. I have a chart I follow for the miles. I divide the miles by 65 because that is the speed for trucks. If I am going through the mountains, I back that off to 50 as we have to slow down through the mountains.” This tells me how many hours it will take. I have a Garmin DZEL 770 GPS. I just plug in the destination and I am off and running.”
I am utterly speechless.
“Mom, where do you live now?”
“Robert, unbelievably, I live right down the street from the big house where I raised you. I went to Florida and have been all over the country and came back to roost just down the street from where it all started. “
“Well mom, I sure want to come see you. Do you have someplace I can park the semi? I am ready to come home”
He texts me 20,000 times the first day (but not while driving), sends me Facebook messages and informs me he is on a 34 hour restart. “Mom, that means I can’t move the truck for 34 hours.”
The next morning he texts “Mom, I got a load out of New York to Michigan. I will come through Indianapolis. Come pick me up at the truck stop and let’s go out to dinner. Is that steak house we used to go to still around? Remember when we put the horns on the Cadillac and wore our cowboy hats and boots to the Lone Star Steakhouse?”
how could I ever forget
And I say wistfully to myself, oh yes Robert I remember. How could I ever forget. All that country music you made me listen to turned me into a redneck, although a sophisticated one. And after 20 years, nothing, yet everything has changed.
“Mom, you were the only one who believed in me. I made a lot of mistakes. I should never have left you. I know I stressed you out bad, but all I am today, I owe to you. Hey is your mom on Facebook and do you think Jill will accept a friend request?”
God answers our prayers in the most unusual ways. He who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. I will now have a companion with more motor mouth than I can endure. Someone who loves to go out to eat and loves live country music. Someone who I will be a vital part of. Someone to teach and make a difference in his life.
Polly Riddell writing as G. Polly Jordan is a storyteller connecting people and the stories they tell.
Twenty years before this series was written I took Robert in and taught him to drive and made all his dreams come true. He is the cause of my gray hair and he also was on the scene throughout both of my divorces, hmm.
He resurfaced twenty years later to give me a glimpse of the impact we had. It was a lot of impact.