I sensed something critical happening in them at this remote, wild, and beautiful mountain. God was present for them like he had been for me. They were seeing the majesty of the mystical and mysterious Creator we worshiped together every Sunday. Only this time, they were worshiping spontaneously, without me leading or prompting them.

As I paused by the trail, my mind flashed back to that devastating night my family had experienced not even a year ago. The events that had shaped our decision to be here were painful memories, yet the sting of them was already fading in the magic of this moment. Nevertheless, that shockingly unexpected crisis had formed in my wife and me the resolution to change our lives, to adapt our parenting in ways I never would have dreamed of a few months earlier. That priority shift resulted in our decision to drive our entire family seven thousand miles in two weeks in an effort to reconnect with each other, and in the process, we saw our journey connect us all with God. Here is our story...

September 2009

I could tell something was wrong. Even in the midst of my hectic schedule and the busyness of everyday life, I had noticed changes in my middle child, a shift in her mood and appearance over the past few months. She had withdrawn a bit—removed herself from our simple weekly family life, sat out our evening dinner discussions, and always had too much to do on family movie nights. She was still there, physically present, but she was emotionally “checked out.”

Bethany had begun to fade into a shell of her normally dramatic and exuberant teenage self. She was still an athletic, slim, blonde “Barbie doll” of a girl, but her beautiful sky-blue eyes had seemed to lose their color. They were darker now, especially with the extra mascara and eyeliner she had begun to wear. Her skin looked more frail and white than I’d ever remembered. She kept her eyes down, usually with a hoodie over her head and iPod earbuds jammed in her ears. She was trying to keep us all out. It was frustrating, irritating, and disrespectful, and I had made a mental note to confront her about the many rude behaviors I had observed in her recently. My patience for her teenage angst had worn thin. She needed to be corrected. It was time our family quit being punished by her unpredictable moods and her annoyance with everyone and everything around her.

I loved her dearly, but I had to admit it—Bethany could be a real snot sometimes. Her older sister and younger brother were always complaining about her attitudes and selfishness, and on more than one occasion Paige had thrown up her hands in frustration and despair, wondering if Bethany would ever grow up. It didn’t take a PhD to figure out that we were giving her way too much latitude. Her schoolwork was starting to suffer, and seemingly overnight she had changed her clothes from a well-groomed “preppy” style to a sloppy, skinny jeans “skater” look. What was going on with her?

Whatever it was, I assumed it was related to her growing hormonal imbalances, combined with girl-boy teen drama and high school social stress. I also assumed her attitude was a jab at her mother and me, an attempt to show us that she was older and independent now, able to handle herself without our help. So I, the supposedly wise father, was already judging her actions as rebellious and in need of correction before I had talked with her at all. I was seriously right—and I was seriously wrong.

In retrospect, the signs were there, if I had taken the time to notice. If I had been paying attention to Bethany, really paying attention, I would have seen the faint scars from a few old, purple cuts—long, swollen, twisted welts—as well as the chronic scars on the insides of her forearms. But I didn’t. I might have noticed that the girl who had once been the most voracious eater in the family was suffering from an ongoing loss of appetite. I might have noticed that her choice of music, art, and reading had shifted from bright and uplifting to dark and depressing. She had, in fact, been morphing from an animated and optimistic young woman, full of life, hope, and excitement, into a shadow of her healthier self.