I really don’t remember when “they” came to get me. I really don’t remember the first time we slept there. So many memories are just “hiding” in my mind, but I imagine I was thinking something like, “Where were we going? Why were we going to live somewhere else? What would happen to my toys?” It’s almost as if I just woke up one day and lived somewhere else.
First, I went to live with a family from the church. They were nice enough, but I just knew we were outsiders–even with their kids and I knew we’d be moving on when they found a good family for us. The next family for me was ‘scary’ – but I really don’t know why. They were a couple without children. I really didn’t like them and never really felt any love from or for them. Looking back now, I think they wanted kids and taking us in was their hope for a family. I just don’t think they knew how to be nurturing parents. My brother was not a good “fit” for them, and they soon made sure he moved on. He lived in about 9 homes in the next 7 months. Somehow, I stayed put, and only saw him briefly at church when our paths would cross. I saw the misery in his little eyes and I couldn’t do anything to protect him. I missed my little brother–he was my only connection to home. I lived with this family for about 7 months, and I settled into routine and did what I needed to do be invisible and not get in trouble.
The blessing that came out of living with this couple is that I met my life-time mentors (I’ll have to write a post about them one day…How God brought them to my life is amazing). I met them because my foster mom took me to do ceramics, and she’d go with us. She tells me now that she fell in love with me from the beginning. I believe my foster mom was jealous of her because we clicked so well – she and I had a bond that I didn’t share with my foster mom. I really enjoyed hanging out with them. They’d take us out on the boat and do special activities with us. If I was a “bad girl” my foster mom would keep me from seeing them or from attending the outing where they’d be. Later, I learned that they are the ones who discovered bruises on my legs from the beatings they were giving me. It wasn’t long after that I was reunited with my brother when we went to live in a group children’s home.
We first flew to Tampa, Florida and lived at the Faith Children’s Home (now called the Hope Children’s Home) there for about eight months until we were moved to Tallahassee, Florida as the first group of children to open a new home called, The Lighthouse Children’s Home. Living in a group home was different. Going there was bittersweet for me. I left a family behind that I didn’t care for too much and I was on a new adventure. I got to have 5 other roommates (there were 3 rooms — a little, middle and big girls room). I was in the “middle girls” room first. I was only allowed to keep three stuffed animals on my bed. Mysteriously, my toys all disappeared one day while I was at school. I think that’s when I started crying. I cried. I cried a lot. I was spanked for crying both at school and at home — they “gave me something to cry about” (I hate that line and won’t use it on my kids). I was a fragile, wounded little girl. I learned that crying was bad. People made fun of me and it hurt. I still cry a lot, but now it’s okay with me, and I don’t care what people think…I’m sensitive and that’s how God made me. I own it. It’s cleansing.
Living in a children’s home taught me many things. I learned to love unconditionally — everyone is different. Everyone”s situation is unique yet equal. I learned to have a strong faith in Christ and to pray about everything and for everything (I even prayed for my first curling iron). I learned that God answers prayer. Both of these children’s homes STILL exist PURELY on FAITH! I think that’s amazing. They are debt free and have been able to do the work they do for children because of their donors, prayer partners and supporters. I learned to be thankful for the little things. I learned to be gracious and appreciative when given a gift — even if it wasn’t what I wanted.
I learned how to “sing”…okay, not well, but I learned the basics. We were privileged enough to travel from church to church, sing and give our testimonies. I was not one of the “bright shiny stars” but I loved it. I found my love for performing. I believe this gave me the courage to be a speaker and leader.
Recently, I was able to attend a reunion at the Hope Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida. What an amazing visit we had as we walked the very same halls where we grew up. It was heart-warming to see God’s work there is going strong and He is ever-present in his blessings. Of course, it was very sad to see how many kids are living there now…seems the numbers have doubled.
I was moved to tears that day as I was reminded just how blessed I was to have been taught how to find the blessings in all I had. I was a frightened little girl who had been removed from my family. I was scared! I cried a lot, and I didn’t understand my situation. I knew that I had a roof over my head and I had a new family, the “Family of God”. I was blessed. They taught us well and to this day, I carry that faith and appreciation for the little things.
Looking back, I even learned from the not so good things. Because so many children came and went during my 4 1/2 years there, I learned to let go easily. It was always so difficult to have my “friend” leave me. To this day, goodbyes are heart-wrenching. Long-term or deep relationships are difficult for me. I have so many friends, yet, somehow I stay guarded even when I try hard not to…still working on it, though. The absence of family has taught me to be independent and sole-supporting. I’ve missed having ‘familial’ connections, but I’ve learned to find family in those special people that have open their hearts and home to me over the years. I’ve had some amazing holidays and celebrations with some warm and inviting families, many of which I’ve been jealous of because I missed out on the ‘warmth” of that family love they shared with each other. I know I shouldn’t be “jealous”, but I own it…it’s just one of those things that I think every foster child goes through when it’s missing from their lives. We become “society’s children” and find our family elsewhere, which is a blessing God affords us.
Even though I didn’t grow up in the “traditional” family setting, I turned out pretty well. I had some amazing people that came through my life. I was taught young to look for the positive in people and in life’s happenings. That’s not an easy trait, but it’s one that has gotten me far in life.
Now, I’m privileged to work with other children that are affected by the system or are traumatized at an early age. I pray I can be the same “light” in their life that many were in mine.