Journal entry, August 19, 1996: Where is my son?
This question began what became a steady stream of notations documenting the disorienting passage in my life when one of my children left the world in which my husband and I had reared him—the world of faith. An unexpected aspect of this painful season has been the equally forbidding sojourn his pilgrimage has meant for me.

Before our son was born, my husband and I took "natural" childbirth classes. The pain was supposed to be "managed" by breathing techniques. But by the time I was pushing that boy through my loins (after 36 hours of labor), the classes didn't mean a thing: Nothing could have prepared me for what that felt like. In the same way, nothing in all the parenting books I had dutifully read prepared me for the stages of pain and grief that having a prodigal child brought to my otherwise well-ordered, biblically packaged, evangelical world.

Early on, when I first began to wonder what was happening in my son, I pictured the saucer-eyed, silky-haired little helper who used to come to me as a four-year-old with pen and paper in hand and ask, "Mom, draw me an Ewok" (the furry creatures from The Return of the Jedi). I drew so many of them I could have marketed them.

Our son was the same age when he told us he was afraid of dying. We talked to him about his fear and tried to help him understand that, when we belong to Jesus, we don't have to be afraid. He wanted that assurance, and my husband, Bob, on the spot, helped him pray. Our son prayed the words after my husband, asking the Lord to come into his heart and free him from his fears. He prayed loudly, clearly, without mumbling.

When he was 10, he took Communion for the first time. He said he felt like he "was growing ...

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