A continuation of The Greatest Gift part 2
To start at the beginning: Part 1
My caseworker drove me 20 miles out of town, down 7 miles of dusty dirt road to a small house with a big back porch and a barn in the back yard. I could see horses in the distance and I wondered if they belonged to this new family.
We stood on the back porch surrounded by shelves of mason jars filled with vegetables. A dog looked me over as my caseworker gave my new foster parents some final instructions, “If she even steps off the porch without permission, call us, and we’ll take her to YDC (also known as the Youth Detention Center, or Juvie).”
Then it was time for the ceremonial laying out of rules and expectations. Every foster home did it. Most rarely stuck to their own rules. Same speech, different home.
“We will love you like you’re our own child,” said my new foster mom as she and her husband stood across the room.
“You don’t have to say that,” I said, rolling my eyes and cutting her speech off all at once. “I’m not your child, so you can’t love me like I’m yours.”
“You don’t have to pretend,” I said. “I’ll only be here 3 weeks, so just tell me the rules.”
Myra, new foster mom, looked stunned. They never signed up to keep teenage fosters. I was their first. Their other fosters were a 5 yr old boy named Kevin and a 9 yr old girl, Mandy. Myra’s look said “Oh boy, what have we gotten ourselves into.” Her husband, Chester, just smiled. He had certain smile when he was ticked off and trying to still be calm, fair, and firm. He gave me that smile and took over the conversation to finish going over the rules.
In addition to the other two foster kids, they had 3 children of their own, Jonathan 15 yrs, Christy 13 yrs, and Roxanne 9 yrs old. It was a full house, and the other kids were naturally curious about me. They stared and asked a lot of questions. I ignored them, preferring to stay to myself as often as possible.
I found solace in the barn with the horses. We’d had horses at the children’s home I’d lived in before foster care. Working with and caring for them brought me peace like nothing else ever could. I’ve always said I’d rather shovel out the barn all day than do one hour of house work. I loved brushing them, singing to and talking to them, and telling them my deepest darkest secrets. Though they only stood and stared, I felt like they heard and understood me.
My foster dad recognized quickly that I knew my way around a horse and used that to connect with me. He let me help work with and train the horses and sometimes we’d go on a trail ride.
This was the first family I’d come across that felt like a family. They ate together, prayed together, and played together. They made sure everyone was heard and included. Their expectations were high for all the kids. They saw good qualities in each kid, encouraged each kid and loved them all the same. It was strange. They looked like what a real family was supposed to be, it looked good, great even, but I stayed at the edges of it often ignoring any attempts to include me. I waited for the charade to fall apart.
One day, I don’t know where everyone was, I found myself alone with Christy. I watched her a lot. I was fascinated by how well she functioned physically despite having to use crutches and a wheel chair to get around. She was smart, funny and kind. She tried quite a few times to connect with me and each time I shut her down.
“Why are you such a BIDDY!?!(that’s country talk for another bad word that starts with a B)” Christy said after one of those attempts to connect.
“You don’t know me,” I said. “You don’t know what I’ve been through. Why won’t you just leave me alone!?!”
She looked at me for a long moment.
“Do you think you are the only one going through things?” she asked. Then she looked down at her legs and back up at me. “What do you think it feels like to watch you riding horses with my daddy knowing I’ll never get to do that with him?”
Her question was like a gut punch. I couldn’t imagine her pain. I couldn’t imagine never getting to ride a horse either.
A few hours later, my new foster parents watched Christy ride a horse. I’d gotten help from the other kids and we’d managed to get Christy onto one of the horses. I crawled behind her and we walked the horse around the yard for a while.
Suddenly I had a mission to get Christy outside with the horses or bouncing on the trampoline as much as possible. Sometimes I wonder if Christy didn’t have a mission of her own, chipping away at my walls I’d built around heart.
A couple of nights before DFACS was scheduled to pick me up, I dreamed that I was leaving. In my dream, I begged and pleaded to stay. Still, I had to go. I woke up crying. I followed the smell of bacon to the kitchen where my foster mom was already up cooking breakfast. I stood at the edge of the kitchen, stared at her and cried.
She dropped everything, rushed over and wrapped me in a hug. I wasn’t used to hugs. Usually, I avoided contact, but this hug was home.
“Please don’t make me go,” I said through tears and snot bubbles.
She hugged me tighter.
I don’t know how they went about it, or how long it took, but DFACS never showed up to get me. My temporary home became my forever family. They took an angry, distrustful and suicidal teen (story for another time) and gave her love, and family. They me gave their time, their trust, and, even when I was defiant, hard headed and challenging, they gave me forgiveness and grace. They gave me responsibility, disciplined me, supported and encouraged my dreams, and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
There is no doubt in my mind that my life would have turned out very differently, if it had not been for this family. They are the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten. A child who couldn’t imagine family blessed with one of the most loving, supportive, and forgiving families person could have–to this day.
It’s amazing that as a child I yearned and prayed for family and never thought I’d truly have one, but I’ve now been blessed with so much family it’s hard to keep up. I’ve got my foster family, my biological family (we all reunited and now my mom even lives with me!) and now I have the love of my own husband, and his family.
God is good.