When my son was in his mid-teens, he brought to my attention the need to add another facet to my efforts of helping others through the valleys of life. Other than my writing, my interest and work revolved around alcoholism and drug abuse. Through this I came to know many who suffered from the destructive forces of either, and often times both, upon their lives; directly and indirectly. I worked with those both suffering the addictions and those that they affected; ie: family and friends. There are other traumas and problems that a teenager faces, apart from this. Other causes for their suffering with pain, darkness, and fear were brought sharply to my attention when my son started bringing groups of friends into our home.
Jason had encountered difficulties outside of the home that he chose not to be part of and so preferred the strong, spiritually based environment of our “safe” home where he was encouraged to grow his “wings.” He began to invite more of his friends to come over and these friends soon discovered that they were welcome and safe here too. They in turn, with permission, brought their friends. Soon our home was being filled by teens from various groups with a variety of interests that otherwise would not have associated with each other; ranging from jocks to fellow geeks like my son. We came to be known as the “safe house”, a place where teens could meet and share their interests with each other without fear or peer pressures; a home that guaranteed no drugs, alcohol, or violence. This in fact, was a major rule for any that entered. It was a large home where one could come and spend time just learning, sharing, and enjoying life. There were often 5-20 teenagers gathered on any given day, enjoying time spent with ones they would not have met through the “clicks” they were usually associated with. There were rules and structured routine in this loving environment and those that came more frequently had chores as well as privileges and rewards. They were treated as valuable individuals and not judged or pushed aside for who they were within or what they could or could not do. Differences were applauded and identities were strengthened. The community grew and all worked well with each other. I marveled at the camaraderie of these young adults and was proud of my son for helping to bring them all together.
This is what led me to opening a new facet in my life of service. I came to better know those who came more frequently and took them under my wings, listening to and guiding them with love. There were needs crying out to be met and seeing this, I soon began taking on a responsibility to help more directly. This then became my years of fostering.
I would like to introduce to you here a few of the young adults that I opened my home and heart to.
He was with us for 6 months. His mother had remarried and his father was “gone.” Joshua and his step-father fought and argued, too much. His mother made a choice between the two and decided to throw Josh out. Josh was in his senior year of high school, held a part-time job, and had plans to join the Navy once he had graduated. He would not be able to do any of this if he were left homeless. We made arrangements for him to come live with us. He had great anger and was very hurt but was also very determined to stay on course with his plans. He was successful in completing school and went on to learn a valuable trade while he was in the Navy; one which opened the door to a good life for him.
He was with us for 3 1/2 years. He was the son of a very busy architect, one who buried himself in his work when his wife left him and his 3 sons to go off to have her own life. She did not look back at those she had left. Alex was filled with anger and hatred for any female. He was very intelligent and never let anyone forget that, often taking the lead in anything he put his mind to. He was very small in stature but dynamic in his personality. He thrived in theatre arts, enjoying performing as well as working back stage. He eventually learned to trust females again and to open himself to a mother’s love, mine. Free again to love and be loved, his favorite saying became, and I quote, “I’m a Thespian lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” Keep in mind, he was still a teen-ager! Full of impulsive energy, he brought joy into any situation and enjoyed challenging others to “think.” He was so dark and full of pain when he came to live with us but with time and love, he got through the valley and climbed into the sunshine.
He was with us 2 ½ years. Rick was a kind soul and honest to a fault. He was a slow thinker but once he put his mind to something, he kept at it until he mastered whatever was in front of him. Reliable and responsible, he did the best he could at school and worked a part-time job. His mother had grown “tired” of him, in her own words, and threw him out when he was 16. He was very insecure and quiet. His self-esteem bloomed and he later became the manager of the place he had once worked at part-time.
She was with us for only 2 months, though she had been coming over for a few years. She came from a home life that was falling apart. She was loved but the stress level there was high. She needed to escape the constant strain that kept her buried and unable to function in school. She was very brilliant and wanted to become an architect. Her idol was Frank Lloyd Wright. Then she fell in love, got married and dropped out of school. She later had a son even as her marriage fell apart. She eventually settled and last that I heard she became a very happy woman. Though she did not go on to become an architect, she did find her way out of a very dark valley.
He was with us for only 1 month. He was a very troubled young man; cunning and bright with good looks and talent, but his favorite pass time was a deep interest in anarchy and chaos. He became infatuated with one of my friends, a single mother of a 4 year old boy. She tried to let him down gently but he seethed with anger at her rejection. We found him building a bomb to blow her up in her apartment. The bomb squad was called and they said that his bomb would have taken out a square mile. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital. I don’t know what happened to him from there. I pray that he received the help that he needed.
She lived with us for 2 years. It had been 8 years since I had sheltered any children. My own had grown and gone on with their lives and I now had 2 grandchildren. I met Angie in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when she was 14. She was a ward of the courts and had been living in a group home for girls since she was 13. She was the daughter of an alcoholic/drug addict mother and a schizophrenic father, and had developed her own addictions. I offered her help and friendship, guidance and aide. She developed trust in me and love grew. Angie was bright but manipulative and selfish. Even so, I hoped to help her find her own path through the debris of her life and petitioned the courts to have her live with us. I was given custody of this beautiful child just before her 16th birthday. She lived with me for 2 years. She worked hard at school and kept a part-time job to save up enough to buy her own car. Her sense of self-confidence grew and independence bloomed! I thought we had managed a change within her, through her efforts and mine but previous years of abuse and struggles couldn’t be overcome by the few years I gave her. She was wild and chose a difficult road when she left here to go on with her own life. I pray that time will bring her maturity and strength to focus her exceptional courage and intelligence on creating a better life. I rarely hear from her anymore.
Fostering teenagers is a very difficult challenge as wreckage from the past leaves scars on tender personalities that have already become fairly set as they approach adulthood. In some cases, re-directing them with love and guidance could help them to find a pathway up the mountains they climbed. I gave to them what spark I could to light their way. I offered roots they hadn’t had, and aided them in emerging from the chrysalis of their childhood and spread their wings to fly. I was allowed the great blessing and responsibility of touching and influencing these young lives. I trusted that God was there beside us. Their growth or lack thereof, depended on them and their efforts. I walked beside many on this journey we are on. I have a special place in my heart for each and every one.
I have changed the names of my young friends as I do not have their permission to use their own at the time of this writing.