Parenting a Prodigal

Tyler Evan Smith joined our family on December 16, 1981. His sister Wendy was 27 months old. Kirby and I (Linda) had been married for 5-and-a-half years. We lived in a house near the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington.

Tyler started out as a happy and funny little person but became more sullen as he advanced in his grade school years. He later reported that, at age 11, he wanted a life more like his friends’ lives. So, he chose to follow the worldly intrigues and enticements.

As a teenager, Tyler became increasingly harder to deal with. He fought back against requirements by us, his athletic coaches, and schoolteachers and administrators. His grades were pretty good until he got to high school. He got in trouble with the law now and then, and just seemed to be seething with anger all the time. Enforcing rules seemed to create more anger and distance between him and us. Kirby and I chose to keep relationship with Tyler and pray, pray, pray.

In February of 1996, our family of four was at Westgate Chapel on a Sunday morning. Kirby and I were not enjoying parenting our teenagers. I was observing the youth choir kids as they sang, with their white shirts and blouses and black pants and skirts. I was wishing my kids looked like that instead of grungy and awkward. God clearly said to me, “Don’t worry about your kids. I’m preparing them for ministry, and they won’t need to dress up. If they were in that choir, you would be proud, and I can’t use a proud heart.” Ouch! It wasn’t just about them. It was about me too. I hung on those words for years to come. I needed to release my kids to God.

When Tyler was in the tenth grade, my sister’s neighbor George was telling her about his terrible high school experience and his ADD. She thought his story sounded like Tyler’s current state of affairs, so she told me about it. I pursued the idea and had him evaluated by an ADD psychologist. Sure enough! He was diagnosed “ADHD without Hyperactivity”. Some accommodations were put in place to help him with school. He was exempt from the foreign language requirement and was able to do some assignments and tests audibly instead of on paper. This was a touch point for us as a family, understanding that Tyler was wired for action, not for paperwork. We were relieved by a temporary reprieve.

Tyler struggled through the rest of high school and graduated in June of 2000, with just less than a 3.0 average. He got in trouble right before graduation, so his principal almost didn’t let him walk the aisle for graduation. Family joined us for the Franklin High School graduation ceremony. However, this graduation felt more like a riot than a celebration, as the students took over more and more control of the event. It felt like I had been stripped of my pride by this time. Kirby and I felt humbled and humiliated. Our hearts cried within us for God to come now and fix this. We kept praying.

Tyler got an evening, sorting job at UPS during his senior year, then attended a few classes at Seattle Central Community College before going to their carpentry school – and graduating, WITH a certified skill! This gave us another glimpse of hope. He would be able to support himself eventually. That is a parenting goal.

Backtrack now with me to grade school. I started a Moms In Touch group to pray with other moms for our kids, their teachers, administrators, the school district, etc. I continued with Moms in Touch groups through middle school and two high schools. After Tyler graduated and I started a daytime job, I couldn’t find an evening or weekend Moms in Touch group to pray for college-age kids. So, Kirby and I decided to start our own. We called them “Parent Prayer Potlucks”. We invited married or single moms and dads to come and pray on Friday nights (while Tyler was at work). There were usually 5 or 6 of us. I’d put soup in the crockpot before I went to work on those Fridays and pick up a loaf of fresh, sourdough bread on my way home after work. One guest would bring a salad, and another would bring dessert.

We did not have to look far to find parents who wanted to pray for their kids. During dinner, Kirby and I would tell about our kids and request prayer for them. Then we’d ask about their kids and how we could pray for them. I noted these requests on a piece of paper, and then ran a copy for each parent present.

At this point, Kirby would take the lead with scripture and prayer. We would then take random turns praying and sharing scriptures until we had lifted up every son, daughter, in-law, issue, and concern noted on our papers – plus a few more for good measure. God met us there in our living room every time. We stormed the gates of heaven those Friday nights and grew in our faith. When we parted ways with the other parents, we each took our notes and papers with us and promised to continue to pray.

In February of 2007, Tyler’s long-time girlfriend broke up with him. He was devastated and depressed. Things seemed to be getting worse instead of better. WE kept praying and asking others to join us.

In May, we had another Parent Prayer Potluck. Only one couple showed up – Joe and Joann Kennard. Tyler happened not to be at work that night, so we introduced him to them when he passed by the living room, on his way to his bedroom.

On Memorial Day weekend, Tyler hit bottom and was planning to take his own life. As he sat in his car, waiting for his buddies, he heard a voice say, “Wait a little longer.” He knew it was God’s voice. WE kept praying.

On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, Tyler asked Kirby, “What time does prayer meeting start tonight?”

After picking his jaw up off his chest, Kirby stammered, “Aah, 7:00.” For the last 11 years, Kirby and I had made a habit of attending the Tuesday night dinners before the prayer meetings. We were wondering if Tyler would actually join us that night. HE DID! WE kept praying.

Tyler took a seat next to Kirby. Joe Kennard was present too – praying, I’m sure. When Pastor Alec gave the first opportunity to go to the altar and pray, Tyler was there. Kirby and I were shocked (oh, ye of little faith) and weeping. Then Joe went up to the altar, laid his hand on Tyler’s back and prayed for him – by name. That night Tyler did not tell us what had happened. I think he was still trying to figure that out when he went home. WE kept praying.

The next evening, he asked if he could talk to Kirby and me. It was all good new! He gave his life back to Jesus at that prayer meeting. He was going to live every day the rest of his life for God’s glory. He didn’t care if his friends ridiculed him. This was the real thing. He was starting a new life. And HE DID.

The first year, Tyler spent lots of time and energy getting grounded in God’s Word and his faith. It was a real pleasure for Kirby to be working at home and sharing almost daily in that process. The two of them had lots of good, spiritual talks. The second year, Tyler discovered the rich fellowship of the Westgate College/20s group. He got grounded in the family of faith. WE kept praying.

One day, in the foyer at church, Joe Kennard suggested to Tyler that he take his carpentry skills to Uruguay and help build an orphanage there. Joe emphasized that they needed him there. Tyler was surprised at the idea and pleased to be asked. Upon further consideration, he raised some funds and went. He spent a few months in Uruguay building on the orphanage AND building relationships with the kids who lived there. He came back home for a while, but the teenage boys at the orphanage needed him, so he went back again. This is where ministry was born in Tyler’s heart – missions ministry. WE kept praying.

Tyler’s College/20s pastor from Westgate, Chris Lapp, told Tyer that he would need a college degree if he was seriously considering missions. Chris and family had moved to Long Beach, California, by this time, so Biola University’s Intercultural Studies seemed like a good choice. Tyler got his 4-year Intercultural Studies degree and went on to get his masters. He excelled! He was even rewarded a medal for the Best Senior Paper. Education was not the struggle that it used to be. WE kept praying.

Remember in 1996 when God said he was preparing my kids for ministry? God was, and Tyler is. Before COVID, Tyler was part of a start-up church called Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, California. During COVID, Tyler and his family have been reaching out to their neighborhood. Did God say they wouldn’t need to dress up? Well, Easter Sunday was celebrated in their front yard – with friends and neighbors, and no one needed to dress up.

Remember in 1996 that that God said I would have had a proud heart? So, He humbled us, Tyler’s parents. He showed us how to pray. He showed us how keep praying andbelieving.

AND, He showed us that He always keeps His promises.

Parents, keep believing in God for your prodigal, and pray, pray, pray.

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