"I'm running away".... that's what I heard my latest foster teen say to me only a few days into being in my home.
"Huh" I thought to myself I've never heard a teenager say they were going to run away before. I went back through the day thinking about what could have gone wrong that had brought her to this point but there wasn't really anything.
However, as I was looking at this defiant teenager on my couch about to bolt out the front door I thought I used to be her. Not that her life story matched mine at all but I know that anger, that fear, that hatred of not having control over my own life. I know that face, the face of determination that says you can't make me do anything....ANYTHING you are powerless!
Her whole body was screaming at me "you don't matter, I don't care" but deeper inside of her I saw the places she was hiding. The child inside of her that wanted to be held and told she was amazing, that she was worth being chosen.
In that moment I said "ok, is there anything I can get you before you go? Do you need food or something to drink? " NO!" she screamed and walked out the door, with an added "I'm never coming back".
2 hours later she was brought back and was begging to be put in Juvenile detention. The officer politely (not so politely) said you have to commit a crime to be put in Juve. "Well then I'm going to go do that now!" Her defiance was the wall to keep the caring out. As the door shut I asked her again "Are you hungry would you like anything to eat before you leave?" She said "No! but can I use the bathroom?"
"Sure no problem!" I stated. At this time my daughter woke up from her nap to the raging teen and because my daughter had said some not so fun things to her at the beginning of the day I made her apologize. As my daughters apologizing and begging, this determined teenager, not to run away again I see the crack in the armor. Ever so slightly but there it was a tear. As she is rummaging around through her thrashed room she began to cry.
I pull my daughter back and we go back into the living room. I explain to my daughter that we must give her the freedom to leave if she so desires we will not control her. It only took a few minutes but she was out again asking if it was alright that she stayed. " No problem, are you hungry? I ask again. "Yes, I'm really hungry. "
I wish the story ended there however in real life we don't snap out of years of pain in an instant. To be rejected all your life then finally find someone who can aim their love at you unconditionally takes reality to a whole other level.
Less then a week later out of the blue, later in the evening she says "I'm going to run away." At this point I'm getting the feeling that she thrives on drama and rejection so my position is, don't make a big deal out of it at all! I said to her, " ok, is there anything I can get you before you leave?" " No, I'm not coming back this time."
There she went out my front door again, as she left I declared that the angels would stop her at every corner that she would make decisions that would protect her life and that she would be able to keep herself safe by making wise decisions. Many times in the last week I would tell her, "You know that you are choosing this? No one is forcing you to choose this path you are the one doing this to yourself." No one had ever given her that responsibility before. She loved to watch people scramble to rescue her but I as a foster parent I am not the Rescuer.
It's a hard concept to come to grips with because you see how other peoples choices have affected their lives so drastically and our deep momma hearts want to make everything better right away. However, our job isn't shield them from consequences but it's to be a support system when they are facing those consequences.
At 2am that morning I hear a knock on the back door. There she was standing there by herself asking to come home. All I said that night was sleep well. No lecture or rejection because the prodigal has returned. Many times we are worried about the action instead of rejoicing in the repenting.
Later on she tells my social worker that everything that she was planning on doing that night that would have landed her in Juvie she stopped. She said " I chose to do something different then break the law". You can't tell me angles aren't real and that God doesn't have a plan for this kid's life.
Again I wish the story ended there, but pain is a hard thing to over come and we either are ready to face it or we are ready to run. This time it was a Sunday morning on my way out to work. "I'm running away and I'm not coming back", She told me. She asked for me to escort her out the front door so my daughter wouldn't see her leave. (However, my daughter the genius, knew she had run away again) "Is there anything I can get you before you go?" I ask per usual at this point. "No" she stated.
This time she had taken something that didn't belong to her. I found out about it later as I knew I had put it in my purse and it was no longer there. After work I got a call saying she turned herself in and wanted to be pick up. So, I drove up to get her. She was hoping for someone else but she got me so I asked for her to return the stolen item and immediately she did. There was no screaming or cussing or anger.
However, this time she refused to return with me. We came up with a compromise after a few hours of driving around the city. She stayed at the county office for the night. At this point I had to unveil my plan, " I can not keep her safe in my environment and because of that I don't think our home is the best fit for her." I didn't attach blame or guilty (she had plenty of that) I just knew for her level of need I wasn't able to provide the care she required.
In her past there had been a lot of homes and many of which she blew the roof off (figuratively) so there was no requirement for her to clean up her messes, the social workers did that for her. This time I needed her to come back, clean her room, say goodbye, and receive the gift the Lord had told me to get for her.
The journal I handed her had a letter written in it. Though I don't remember everything I wrote in it I do remember one line: When you come to the end of yourself, and no one will help you out anymore I want you to read this journal because the only person in the whole universe that can help you is Jesus.
In many ways I was writing to my younger self. When everything falls apart and you don't know where to run to anymore because you have run so long and to so many different places theres only one place that will bring you back and thats the arms of Jesus.
The person driving the car told me as she red the letter she openly sobbed. In that moment I knew she had the encounter that God had made just for her. Was she completely free? No. Does she have a long road ahead of her? Absolutely, but she encountered hope, love, and no fear of punishment.
Jesus said "Let the little children come to me" He didn't say " Force them to be a Christian" "Tell them they are so horrible they have to repent." He said "Let them" meaning when Jesus is displayed it's impossible for children to resist Him. As a foster parent I'm not here to control, manipulate, demand, or force. They have already experienced that enough in their lives. I'm here to bring freedom that looks like facing consequences for their actions, love them through the rough places, and create clear boundaries to make them feel safe.
Many people ask me "how do you take in teenagers? I would never take them in they are too hard." I just smile because to me I'm ministering to a younger version of me. I'm telling these kids everything I wanted to hear from my parents when I was a teen. You are valuable, important, worth it, and your voice matters. This makes what I do easy because I too said in my heart many times "I'm running away....."