92906_000_006Participation in the pageant gave us back our son.
This was Jason * —my handsome, blond, blue-eyed, seventeen-year-old son. Two police officers subdued and handcuffed him and put him in the squad car. Jason was on his way to detention once again. And once again, I ached with the question, Where had I failed my son?
Earlier that afternoon, our family had been together watching a Fourth of July parade. It was supposed to be a fun-filled family activity, but something led Jason to lose his temper and land a powerful blow to his father’s right eye. My husband, Jim * , loved Jason dearly, but they didn’t get along well. As blood streamed down his father’s face, Jason became frightened and ran away, later showing up at the house only to pack his things.
But the police were waiting. Jim had called them to report the assault, after having stitches taken to close the cut above his eye.
Nothing had prepared our family for this nightmare. We had lived in Germany for ten years and had returned to America in 1978 with high hopes. But our dream life turned out to be plagued with unemployment and emotional turmoil for all of us.
For Jason, the adjustment was especially painful. Finding few friends, he turned to aggressive behavior to vent his pent-up emotion. Holes punctured our walls, windows, and doors as a result of his fits of anger. Our son was out of control.
We had looked everywhere for help. During the past six years, Jason had been in and out of three hospitals and had received hundreds of hours of counseling. All who worked with him had done their best to help him cope and establish new ways of dealing with stress and unhappiness. But Jason seemed not to care or even notice. Although he originally resisted his friends’ coaxing to drink, smoke, and take drugs, his desire to be accepted finally overcame his strength to refuse.
There had been some hopeful moments. At one point, as Jason was allowed to go to his fifth school, we all prayed that this time things would work. We were proud of each new step. He even attended seminary, where he met some concerned teachers and caring students.
But one day he collapsed in his seminary class after taking a mixture of drugs and alcohol. His seminary friends rallied around him and even lobbied for him with the principal so that he wouldn’t be expelled. But he had broken the rules, and he was out again. Still the seminary students gave him a parting gift, a clock radio. He was touched that they would care for him even though they knew he drank, smoked, and used drugs.
The tears, the tirades, and the self-recrimination that our family went through became almost unbearable at times. We suffered as individuals and as a family.
After the Fourth of July incident, Jim, with a desire to salvage and strengthen what family unity remained, finally decided we would take a prolonged family vacation.
For years, he had dreamed of taking our family back to participate in the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Our bishop gave us the required approval; and Brother and Sister John Dawson, executive producers of the pageant, accepted our family’s applications, even after being made aware of Jason’s problems.
Jim invited Jason to come with us, but he specified that if he did, Jason would have to obey the family rules of no smoking, drinking, or using drugs. Surprisingly, Jason agreed.
Our son was under the custody of the state, so we had to ask the court’s permission to take him out of state on a vacation. The plans were approved, and we were off.
Our family vacation was not the glamorous, fun experience you might have imagined. Ten people in a 28-foot motor home, day and night, can become stressful. Emotions ran high on several occasions. In fact, even before we reached New York state, Jason had run away and had to be picked up at a police station. But we managed to hold together until we reached Palmyra and the pageant.
Once we arrived and received our assignments, I began to see some gradual changes in our son as he worked with his assigned companion. Elder Todd Thompson had a profound effect upon Jason. He never judged him or grew impatient. They prayed together and attended all required meetings and study groups. The people in their study group shared a real closeness and, unknowingly, they spun a web of love around Jason that helped him feel the peace and presence of the Holy Ghost for the first time in years.
On our last Thursday in Palmyra, we all gathered at the Sacred Grove for a testimony meeting. Just before the meeting was over, Jason stood to share his thoughts. He shared powerful and beautiful feelings about the Church. Recognizing his sins, he humbly asked forgiveness. He thanked his companion and his study group for their influence and example. He thanked President and Sister Dawson for living in a way that they could be inspired to allow him to join the family and participate in the pageant. A sweetness was present in the Sacred Grove as this young man expressed love for his God, his parents, and his family. I had almost given up hope of seeing such a change in my son.
The most touching of all experiences happened after the meeting was over. Jason went up to his dad. The two embraced, and tears ran down their cheeks as Jason asked for forgiveness and expressed his love. A miracle was wrought at this sacred place, one that will remain in our hearts for eternity.
Jason returned home with us in August of 1985. The trip home was pleasant, with Jason himself suggesting regular scripture reading and family prayer. I was so thankful to the Lord for the wonderful transformation that I witnessed in this young man, but I couldn’t help but worry about what would happen after we returned home.
My concerns faded as the miracle continued. Jason never returned to smoking, drinking, or drug use. The state returned custody of our son to us, and his case was closed. Jason attended his meetings regularly and invited his friends along; a few even came. Together we shared his story in firesides and other inspirational meetings.
It wasn’t easy and there were rough times. But Jason’s friends and family were there. There were phone calls and letters from all over the United States from Jason’s Cumorah friends, who continued their love and support long distance.
Jason did graduate from high school and, in September 1987, accepted a call to serve as a missionary. He served an honorable, testimony-strengthening mission and went on to college. We all continue to benefit from our miracle at Cumorah.