Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Remembering and Recognizing

When I was only 12 years old, my world was turned upside down but it turned out that this event would make everything about my life make sense and seem to be exactly the way God intended it to be. 

At 12 years old, I thought I might be pregnant.  WHAT?!?!?! I know, it's crazy - 12 and to be scared of becoming a mother - what was going on?  Out of fear, I confided in my best friend that my father was sexually abusing me and that he'd been doing it for years - as long as I could remember.  That was a huge secret and my friend didn't really know what to do with it.  Can you blame her? She was only 12 years old and no 12 year old should know what to do with that (or should they?).  For some reason, she was led to tell my secret to the school counselor and report to child protective services was made. 

Later that day, I was called to the counselor's office at school to be interviewed by a social worker and a detective, and I have to admit that I really wanted to take it all back and say it wasn't true!  I knew that it was not a good thing to have these people asking these questions.  I knew trouble was coming but I answered all of their questions truthfully.  I had to.  There was a detective there and I knew these people were serious!  I saw no way out of this situation, but I did wonder if this situation would make it all stop.  What would happen next?  Would my father get arrested?  Would my mother believe me? What about my brother? What would happen?  I had no clue but I sat there and answered their questions.

In the next instant I was flooded by fear and confusion.  The social worker told me to get on the bus and go home.  "What!?!?" "Are you kidding me?" "You don't know what will happen to me!" were the thoughts that came rushing to mind.  What the social worker hadn't asked about was the discipline used in my home, which was very harsh and abusive.  I was now really afraid of what would happen when I got home and there was nowhere else for me to go.

As I walked in the door, the phone rang and my mother's jaw dropped.  My mother, my father and I drove to the detective's office together for questioning and I was being told to recant the story the whole way.  After some time, I was led to a room down the hall and I watched my parents drive away (without saying goodbye) through a window.  I remember feeling scared and alone but also a sense of relief because I didn't have to go home with them.  This night began a 6 year journey through foster care for me, which included 9 different places (1 relative placement, 4 group home stays, 3 long-term foster families, and 1emergency foster home).

My first placement was with a relative, who told the authorities to move me just 2 weeks later because she "didn't want me to make this up" about her husband.  I was moved to the Wichita Children's Home in Wichita, KS.  The "children's home", as it is commonly known here, was a big place with lots of rooms and lots of kids.  Every 8 hours staff changed and we carried "point cards" everywhere - even to school.  Meals were held in a big dining room and at the same time each day.  I would come to spend 3 months there this time and would be placed in 2 different units within the "home".  I would come back to the "home" 4 years later, in between foster home placements. to see many of the same staff there. 

That first summer in WCH was difficult and to be honest with you, I don't remember too much about it.  What I do remember are the stories of those that cared for me - the staff.  I was blessed to meet some really incredible people at the "home" who have impacted my life beyond measure.  People like Marcy Ray, Kim and Shawn Raider, Jamie Johnston, Sjonna Ocshner, and others, who gave so much of themselves to serve kids like me, of all ages, who were alone, scared and confused.  People who would introduce me to safety and security for the first time in my life.  People who would show me that life didn't have to hurt and relationships with adults didn't have to be scary or confusing.  People who would introduce me to Christ without ever saying His name.  People who I am sure prayed for me and for the other kids there. People who would let me sit in their office and hold teddy bears or play games or throw a frisbee with me.  People who would stay in touch with me even after I left the home. People who would watch out for me and advocate for me, or let me watch and sing along to "The Little Mermaid" whenever I wanted.  People who would later invite me, a teenager in foster care, to play a part in their wedding.  People who believed in me then, and still do. People who helped me to become the woman I am today.  People God knew I needed at that exact moment.

Just a few days ago, I received a call that one of these very special people had died.  Jamie Johnston left this world on Sunday, September 20, 2009.  She had worked at the home much longer than I can remember and had touched so many young people, just like me.  She had worked with too many youth and families to count, for sure.  She had impacted the lives of her co-workers and her community in such a kind and gentle way, that only Jamie could do.  Jamie was so caring and nurturing.  Her soft voice was comforting, yet honest.  She remembered you long after you'd left her sight and I know, in my heart, she prayed for so many, for so long.  Jamie was a remarkable woman and one that will be greatly missed. 

As I reflect on this time in my life, I remember not only what happened to me and the journey I took through foster care, but I also remember all of the incredible staff, case managers, therapists, teachers, counselors, social workers, the court service officer and judge who impacted my life in such a profound way. I also remember many of the other young people experiencing the journey alongside me and the struggles they were going through and I recognize that the young people I serve today are no different.   

I admire the efforts these caring workers put into their jobs and I respect the time and effort that each one gives to their clients.  I recognize that our system of foster care is not perfect. Our families are not perfect.  Our therapy techniques aren't perfect. Our laws and regulations aren't perfect.  Heck, the workers themselves, aren't perfect, but they try.  Each and every day, these people hold the life of a child and a family in the palm of their hands and they work as hard as they can to impact that family in a positive way.  Social workers don't stop serving their clients at 5:00 p.m. Social workers, and other caring professionals who serve families and children, think about their clients and pray for their clients and try to discover new ways to help improve situations or find resources to offer, every day. 

As a social worker, now, I look back with appreciation and respect. I thank each and every one of these people for taking the time to choose the job they did and be a part of my life - YOU HAVE HELPED ME TO BE WHO I AM!

1 comment:

  1. how brave of you to say these words. I just wanna give you the biggest hug.
    so sorry that u lost someone that impacted your life so. Remembering her is a way of honoring her and all she helped you through