By Sherry Chidwick
This is a story about my sons—there are so many of them.
Driving through eastern Oregon on a summer road trip, I noticed a young man up ahead of me. He was walking along the shoulder of the lonely stretch of highway, a pack on his back. His clothes were dirty and his bronzed skin glistened under the midday sun. Even from a distance, I could tell he had been out on the road for some time. All my logic and training should have told me not to stop, but as I drove past, something about him reminded me of my own son. I pulled over abruptly, tires crunching on the gravel.
My son had moved away too young and was making all his own decisions–most of them unwise. Two years into his independence, he was balancing recklessly on the very edge of life with no safety harness. Realistically, I had to assume he would likely be living on the streets—or worse—within a short time. Through many nights of tears and prayers, I prepared for the worst.
Helpless to care for my own child, I had asked God to direct me toward other young people to whom I could minister in some small way. Not sensing any danger from this young man walking along the highway, I stepped out of my car and strode toward him while my friend watched warily from the passenger seat. As semi-trucks rumbled past, I handed him a large zipper bag filled with some snacks, a water bottle, socks, and assorted toiletry items. He gratefully accepted with a smile and a sweet, gentle hug. Just like my boy.
I inquired about his journey.
A month ago, he had been in Florida; then he hitchhiked to Oregon. Now he was anxious to get back home to Ohio.
“Is your family there?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he smiled.
“I suppose your mom will be happy to see you,” I ventured.
He lowered his gaze.
“Maybe at least a little bit?”
He met my eyes again and tried to smile. “My mom isn’t really part of my life. She hasn’t been in my life since I was seven years old.”
I looked him squarely in the heart. The words escaped my lips unbidden, surprising us both. “Well, today she is. Today, I am your mama.”
His shoulders slumped with emotion and he wrapped his arms gently around me again. I embraced him back. It should have been awkward, but it wasn’t.
I apologized for being uncomfortable with offering him a ride. He understood. We chatted a bit, then waved farewell. Our eyes locked again briefly.
This parenting gig is not for the faint of heart.
A year after the encounter with the hitchhiker along the highway, I met another of my sons. I was on another summer road trip, a solo jaunt, and had stopped for a break.
Parking in front of an ice cream shop, I noted a young man sitting at a table outside. He was about 20 with a sunburned face and a shock of unruly blond hair in need of shampoo. Hunched over his phone, he worked slowly on a small dish of ice cream. I smiled; he actually looked quite a bit like my son. Apparently, he had not noticed the large cup of ice water in front of him was leaking badly, dripping through the wire mesh table and making a puddle underneath. I mentioned it as I walked past. He stood abruptly and threw the cup away, then sat back down wearily with a polite thank-you.
Several minutes later, when I had paid for my milk shake and turned to go, I noticed the young man was still outside. I turned back again and asked for a large ice water.
He looked up, surprised, as I smiled and handed him the cup of water and a straw. “This is for me?” He jumped to his feet. “Thank you, Ma’am! That was really nice! God bless you, Ma’am.”
I smiled and mumbled that he looked like my son; I was just being a mom.
As I walked to my car, though, a question flashed into my mind. Was he homeless?I opened my car door and glanced back toward him. He had gone back to his phone. An overstuffed and dirty backpack lay on the sidewalk at his feet. It looked heavy. My heart melted. I leaned on my car door and addressed him again. “So…are you just out on your own at this point?”
He looked up. “Yes, Ma’am, I am.”
I reached in and grabbed the bag of snacks on my passenger seat, then walked back to him. “Maybe this will help a little,” I offered.
He again jumped to his feet, this time nearly knocking over his metal chair. “Wow! Thank you, Ma’am. That really means a lot to me!”
“You’re welcome,” I smiled. Standing next to him, he reminded me so much of my son. I missed him intensely. “Can I give you a hug?” My heart had once again blurted out words before my head could overrule.
“Sure!” He opened his arms and pulled me into a big mother-son embrace. His tall, lanky body smelled of cigarette smoke and sweat. Just like my boy.
I had barely buckled my seat belt when fat tears began rolling down my face. God had sent me to an ice cream shop in an unfamiliar city, at just the right time, to bless some other mom’s son with a large ice water, some solid food, and a mom hug.
How many times over the last few years had I earnestly prayed God would send other moms to care for my son when he was out of my reach? Perhaps these boys’ mamas had prayed the very same thing.
God is good.
My family photos show only one son, but actually, I have so many.
Courage, my heart. Courage.
UPDATE: God has worked mightily in the life of my son since this story was written. He is successfully ‘adulting,’ passionately pursuing a career, and building deep relationships with both his family and his Savior.
Sherry Chidwick is a seeker of beauty and truth. Beauty is not always truthful and the truth is not always a thing of beauty, but wherever the two meet, she narrows her focus. Sherry is a high school teacher, a road trip junkie, and a big fan of both mountains and museums. As novice empty nesters, she and her husband are experimenting with full-time RV life in Salem, Oregon.