"Ma'am, I want to make clear to you this is not a performance issue. He is excelling." That was what an Air Force Academy Colonel told Godson's Mom when they called to say Precious Angel had changed his mind.
Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again."
Robert Frost said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
Jon Bon Jovi said, "Who says you can't go home? There's only one place they call me one of their own."
Over the next few days, that Colonel threw around some other words: Leader. Credit to his squadron. If we cannot persuade him to stay, we hope he will come back to us as a Chaplain.
See, this was not the first time the ministry had come up. When he was fifteen, he said he was going to be a Lutheran pastor. By the time he was sixteen, he wanted to go to one of the Academies and become a Chaplain. But by seventeen, he was going to fly jets, come hell or high water. None of us ever said to him, "What about that seminary idea?" Maybe we should have but I don't think so. When he was four, he wanted to be a "garbage truck man" and nobody brought that up. Kids—and some adults—change their minds about what they want to be when they grow up.
Still, we—the adults who have stood him in the corner, coddled him, and told him yes and no—didn't know whether to potty or go blind. This is a child who has never done anything—I mean anything—unexpected. This is a child who has never quit anything. Even when it became clear there was no room in his life for football, tennis team, band, church work, and his accelerated International Baccalaureate academic program, he warned the band director in plenty of time that he wouldn't be back the following year.
Meanwhile, back in Colorado.
Days passed. He saw councilors at the Academy. He talked to Chaplains. He continued to do pushups, run multiple miles, and look at the eagle on his plate while he ate. And he continued to pray for guidance. In the end, he insisted, "I am not homesick. I have not failed. I can do this. But I am convicted by God to do something else—something I should have never become distracted from."
And what do you say to that? I'll tell you what you say, "I am proud of you for making this hard decision." You say, "I know it would be easier to stay that come back." If you are his parents, you say, "I support you, but you are going to have to work this college thing out--and you don't have much time."
You say, "You come on home, baby."
You say, "You come on home, baby."
So he did. We met his plane mid-morning, gave him a kiss, and told him we loved him. Shortly before eleven that night, he called me. (He knows he can call this house that late, as no one ever goes to bed before midnight.) He had written an essay that he needed me to look over the next morning. This is a road we had been down before.
By the time he ambled in my door the next day about one, he had seen a guidance counselor, applied to four private colleges, had transcripts and ACT scores faxed, been to the gym, and secured promises from two schools for full tuition.
He stood in my kitchen and said, "I am so glad y'all were behind me on this." Because he knew what he had given up. He had lived though the small town hype of attaining admittance into two of the most elite institutions in this country. He'd stood there on the stage of Decatur High School to thundering applause and a standing ovation—with the adults in his life in the first and second rows.
"Behind you?" I said perplexed. "Where else would we be?" This time there would be no coddling, no standing in the corner. This time we hadn't told him yes or no.
He shrugged. "A guy who left the same I day did—his mother won't let him come home."
Then he ate two plates of barbecue, a tub of hummus, and half a box of Wheat Thins. After that, he collapsed on my sofa, cuddled up with the cat, and slept three hours straight.
Some things never change.
Since that day, some other offers have come in. He and Godson's Mom have driven a lot of miles looking at a lot of campuses and spent a lot of time on the phone reporting their findings to Godson's Dad. Precious Angel has promised various institutions that he will make a decision this week.
And you know what? If he makes another mistake, he can still come home. He can always come home. He can't sit on the sofa and play video games. But he can come home to try again until he gets it right.
Because, who says you can't come home?