Alicia and her parents have come along a great journey of love and reconciliation. You can read about some of it at our January 28, 2007 post, the day we “killed the fatted calf” and had Alicia home.
Our conflict with Alicia was a complex one that lasted nearly three years. She went through a troubling state of rebellion that included a rebellious attitude that was rubbing off on the younger children. As her parents, we decided the best thing for the entire family was to remove her from the family. Her behavior, in our opinion, was destructive not only to herself, but to the entire family.
Since that time, Alicia showed signs of maturing and turning her heart back toward her family. We, however, were less enthusiastic about these signs. Her rebellion of the past included manipulation and pulling at the heartstrings of her siblings, so we were apprehensive about her sincerity. After three years, we simply did not trust her. We tried to set up counseling appointments, but they never seemed to work with our schedules. Alicia became a single mom in these three years so, naturally, time was tight.
When the TLC cameras came, we had intentions to keep this estranged relationship from the viewing. The crew was respectful of that. As the eight days progressed, we opened up to the cameras about Alicia. We felt God nudging us to share this imperfection to TLC and, ultimately, the world. The producer flew back to New York and pitched the story. The studio liked the idea and flew another crew out to film both Alicia and us.
What was displayed on TLC was close to accurate. Hats off to Powderhouse Productions for getting the story so close to the truth. They struggled at times to understand the universality of the Prodigal Son story. The producers were tempted to make this a battle of opinions, who was right and who was wrong, similar to a typical reality television show.
I (Chris) spent over an hour explaining to one of the editors the complexity of the story. He wanted more detail as to what Alicia actually “did” in the past so, in his mind, he could build two cases and let the viewer decide if we were being good parents (or Alicia a good daughter). Through our conversation, I helped him realize that separation is incredibly common and our story could be used to heal relationships. “Don’t you have separation in your life?” I asked him. He admitted yes, and I used his story to show that reconciliation will take much more than convincing anyone of who was right and who was wrong.
In the process of trying to explain our relationship with Alicia, God moved on our hearts to forgive her. It was the most difficult relational journey in our lives. We walked through a lesson on judgment that forced us to realize that we, as Alicia’s parents, were not displaying the love of the father in the story of the Prodigal. We believe we made the right choices in the initial separation between the family and Alicia’s rebellion, but when she started to return to the family, we closed up and put up defenses. I suppose some resistance was reasonable, but we certainly did not swing our arms open and have a party for Alicia’s return.
The TLC producers and editors pressed us on this. “You speak so much of love, but you won’t welcome your oldest daughter back?” Those questions burned in our heart. God showed us, in more situations than with the Alicia situation, that our hearts were hardened and bent toward judgment. We couldn’t help but judge Alicia for her sin. God led us into a deep study of love and relationship, the Greatest Commandment principle, and ultimately leaving judgment to God.
We confessed our shortcoming to Alicia in a couple of meetings. We can’t tell you how incredibly forgiving Alicia was, as well as sorry for her past failings in the conflict. God showed us how He can heal relationships once we surrendered judgment to Him. God will judge Alicia–just as He will judge her parents–not on how accurate our assessments of our actions are, but on how we love one another.
Does this story resonate with you? Separation is in all our lives in one way or another. We go into much more detail in our book, Love in the House, due out in May (more information to be posted soon). The last few chapters go into more detail than the TLC episode and this FAQ post. God worked through all of this to, hopefully, point viewers in the direction of love and reconciliation.