I was 13 when I left the very conservative Christian children’s home where I was safely living for four and a half years. We lived by strict rules and I felt very naive as I entered ninth grade at a public high school. For any rising ninth grader, it’s already nerve-wracking enough worrying about fitting in, finding friends and looking good, but for me, I was coming from a place where we didn’t wear pants, didn’t listen to popular music or watch the hip shows. I had been secluded and was SO out of the “know”. I KNEW I was different. I was nervous in my own skin, I was insecure about my secret home-life and wanted desperately to seem normal — to just start over with a fresh start.
During the last six years of my life, I’d been grounded with a great faith in Christ…although I think this is where I learned how “legalistic” religion can be at times. When I returned home I was abruptly told my mother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I’d now be studying the faith, too. YIKES! Instantly, I became more confused about religion, I questioned my faith, I questioned what I had learned for the six years. All of it felt very weird to me, and I was bombarded with more “legal” rules of religion. We weren’t allowed to celebrate holidays, no blood transfusions — thankfully I’ve never been faced with that! I learned we couldn’t associate with the “worldly”, so I wasn’t allowed to “hang” with kids at school and as a result had no friends. I was told I couldn’t go to college for fear of “falling away”. They believe that Christ didn’t die on a cross–he died on a stake. My favorite rule was that we weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays because there are only three mentioned in the Bible and at all of the parties there was a murder. I still don’t understand that one. Anyway..I learned about these and many other of their “interpretations”. Nonetheless, it never felt right to me.
From then on I didn’t trust anyone about religion, but one thing I did gather and still believe today about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they believe Christ is the Messiah/our Savior, they believe he died and rose again, they believe there will be a second coming and a judgement day. They do believe that some Christians will go to heaven. Anyway, these are just some of the interpretations I learned between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the “average” Christian denomination. Don’t we all have our quirks and crazy interpretations? I know I don’t have all the answers. In essence, I think they have the basic underlying truths of Christianity. I only talk about that because it was an integral picture into what our home-life looked like. My mom was studying and my step-father was not, which put another weird twist on it all. For the first few months, it all felt like things might be “normal” until…
It was New Years Eve of 1981 and the sexual abuse started over again, my brother was always “in trouble” and the abuse was abundant again. Here we go with the secrets again. I tried to go to school and be “normal”. At home, I was doing what I had to do what I had to do to be the “perfect” child and not rock the boat. When I was 15, my parents said they didn’t have enough money to make ends meet. My brother and I both were “homeschooled” – we really quit school and went to work full time to give our money to the family. I didn’t like school only because I wasn’t allowed to associate with any of the kids and I felt out of place, so I *thought* this would be a good idea. Afterall, I already felt “grown up” why not go out into the world and work to prove I’m responsible.
Not long after working on my own, at age 16, I finagled my way out of the house and moved out (another story for another day). I felt it was an escape. I didn’t get along with my mom because of the religion, my step-father was still abusing me and I knew if I could get out it may feel “fresh”. Off I went, to rent a room from someone. My mentor got wind that I had moved out and immediately contacted me and helped me get back into school. Soon, I found myself riding my bike to school, working full time, going to school full time and studying in my spare time. I still didn’t feel normal. I was estranged from my family after the “elders” of the witnesses came to my home and “disassociated” me from the Witnesses. Now, my mom was forbidden to speak with me. I was all alone, no family and no real friends.
Many children that age out of the foster care find themselves in this very same situation. They are thrown into the big world right out of a foster home that no longer received funding for them. They are told they need to survive. Many times, there are no benefits or assistance to help them transition, and if they do receive help, it’s temporary. Any young adult going to college or the work world needs motivation, encouragement, love and empowerment from family and friends. If anything, they need a home, family, or place to return for holiday, when life gets tough.
Here’s how one girl explains her story of emancipation: ”
The day I graduated from high school my foster mom told me, “You’ve been
emancipated. You can’t live here anymore.” My social worker showed up—I
was still in my little graduation dress and heels, my flowers, my cap on. My
social worker had never talked with me. [She just] told me, “I’ve called around
and found a shelter for you. You have a bed for four months.”
—Karen D., San Francisco
This is just one of many stories. I was fortunate that I had God on my side – although I had turned my back on organized religion since I was so confused, he was ever-present and protecting me. I was resilient. I had the will to succeed in my heart. I had had many great role models and examples of what a “normal home” *might* look like and I wanted it. I had drive, I had passion. I was “clingy” and shared my story frequently. I think that helped others know what I was going through and willing to help me and invite me in on holidays. I’ve made some special and compassionate friends over the years. I was fortunate that I was blessed with a personality that has a “go-get-it” attitude attached. I lived the saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way” and found ways to apply it at all cost. I graduated at the top of my high school class, received scholarships to college and made my way. No, it wasn’t easy…there were lots of troubles, dark lonely paths where I dabbled. Somehow, I never lost sight of my goal and I finished. Many of these foster kids haven’t been given the gift of great mentors, the gift of drive and tenacity or the ability to focus intently on a goal. Those are the ones that need others to be intuitive and reach out to help them. They need mentors. They need us to come along side them and let them know there is good in this world. They need someone to love unconditionally.
I hope as I share my story and the stories of others that you find a way to reach out in your local area and help someone in need. I hope you can find a sweet spot where you can help the ‘least of these’. They are God’s children; they are society’s children!
Until next time:
Matthew 25:40 …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.