Family, Friends and A Place Called Home (A Thanksgiving Story)

Being a pastor involves a lot of things that I never imagined.  I write this story as we approach the Thanksgiving holidays. Last night about 9:00 pm, my phone rang and I have caller ID. I knew who was on the other end and nothing in me wanted to answer the phone. I was watching a football game with my wife and we were pulling for her favorite team. I am a much better sport when I am rooting vicariously for her team. It was a good game and we were winning but out of guilt and knowing what was going on in the kids life, I hit the answer button on my cell and he began. Believe it or not, I mostly listen to Ricky: he is a very disturbed young man, a teenager just this side of puberty. He said, “This is the second time I have called, you did not answer the first time. I was beginning to think you were going to do me like all the rest and refuse to answer my calls. I have no little brother anymore, I have no mom, no dad, no family. You are all I have left.

If I had been cruelly honest with him, I would have said, “Son, if I am all you have,  you don’t have much.” The last time I went to see him, he had an outburst using vile and profane language and showing no respect to myself or anyone else. Unfortunately, I transported him to the institution where he resides. He came out of a foster home. Actually, he had been legally adopted but he violated a sibling [adopted sister] who was half his age. He knew better, she didn’t. He did the same thing to her that his parents had done to him. He did not deny his guilt. He was very passive, very quiet the day we admitted him. I felt sorry for him but understood that it was a very bad situation. Ricky could not be trusted and he had deep emotional problems. There was no way he could return to the home, not without 24/7 adult supervision and this family could not afford such an expense. He was in a mess and I knew it.

That was almost a year ago and things are no better for Ricky; matter of fact, I would say things have deteriorated. He is verbal and combative. He stays in trouble constantly for assaulting other with fist or tongue. He argues violently with other inmates about the absence of family. Most of the kids there have biological family that visit, Ricky has no one and he gets agitated when the subject comes up. His biological parents brought 6 to 8 children into the world and neglected and abused all of them. Rickey has a 23 year old sister but she is as irresponsible as he. The others are either in institutions or foster homes and one has been adopted.

It is hard for me to tell this story without it upsetting someone. His adopted family tried. This boy was a ticking time bomb; the sexual assault or something similar was bound to happen. The boy was scared emotionally and foster parents and DHR are not equipped to handle these damaged children. We know how inept government agencies are and most people at DHR work for a paycheck. Long story short, the kid never got what he needed and that begins with a responsible set of parents with enough sense to stay off drugs or stay out of the bed; evidently, they could do neither.  So DHR takes the kids because they are being neglected and begins fostering them out to various homes. They go from home to home for many reasons: one is that they are unhappy and will generally make life a living hell for whoever has the nerve to take them in. A lot depends on the age of the child. If they are rescued before they retain memory of their abuse, they can be saved: if they have been abused and it is fixed in the mind, you have major problems. Of course there is a difference between neglect and sexual abuse. Some things can be overcome but sexual abuse leaves a permanent scar for some reason. Over ninety percent of sexual child abuse comes from someone they love and trust and usually someone in the home. I know this is a difficult subject to discuss but trust me, it is very real.

So Ricky was abused sexually and then rejected by his biological parents who have made no effort to get their lives together so they can get their family together. This would be the goal but it rarely happens. We live in a drug culture and once folks get hooked, it is Katie bar the door. Drugs create a cruel vortex and then they suck the life out of everything in the vicinity. Your chances of survival are better as a snake handler in a holiness church than they are if you mess with drugs. You can’t imagine what drugs can do to a family until it happens to you. Drugs nor the culture surrounding drugs has any mercy, they will destroy you and never look back.

When Ricky violated his sister, it was a second rejection. He was cut off immediately from some of the family. Some did try to help but there was no hope of him being restored. One by one they all pulled away and now Ricky has only a memory of two families and neither one are capable of taking him back.  I would not encourage anyone to get into foster parenting for this reason: the great majority of these kids are messed up mentally and they will cause harm to your children in one way or another. No one needs to be in foster care without training and counseling. I firmly believe that children, especially older children, are much better off in institutions than the average foster home. There are exceptions but Ricky should never have been put in a regular home. He needed to be where there was professional help such as you have at the CHILDREN’S HOME. I know that on paper it is a good concept and it is workable for very young children but you get above age 4 or five and you can have problems. If you get an older child or teen you will have major problems.

So what we have here is a 15 year old who has no family, no one to visit him at Christmas. I assured him on the phone that I would get him money by Christmas. Is he being straight with me? I am not sure: probably not and he does call me when things don’t go well else where. He doesn’t really want to talk to me but he has no one else. I think it is very possible that he has burned all his bridges. It’s just the way the system works: these kids learn to lie to survive and they become leaches or emotional users. Once they attack themselves, they begin to suck the life out of you; it is the only way they know how to survive. Once a person get a viable excuse, they get detached form them ASAP. It is a cruel world.

I had good parents. My mother beat the hades out me about once a week but it kept me out of prison. By the time I was an older teenage, I knew that she was trying to save me from my reckless rebellion. I despised her growing up or thought I did and then she became my best friend. My daddy was 38 years old when I was born and he already had 5 above me with two more coming after. He was over-worked, under-payed and visibly frustrated. I had a horrible relationship with him as a teenager but now I can see where that was my fault. He was a good man, a better man than myself. My parents had a hard time making ends meet and they fought like a cat and dog at times but I never felt totally unloved. I don’t think I ever felt rejected. There was no way they were going to give me up for adoption even though I did cause some misery, shame and pain. So I have not experienced rejection once let alone twice as this kid has.

I have a heart for him and those like him but I am not the answer to his problem. He could possible fit in a home where there were no children but we have grand children and they are here often and some for hours per week. We discussed taking him but the risk were too great. I’ve made the mistake of taking kids in twice and both times it hurt my children and my family. I gave it a moments consideration but it did not take me long to say, “no” this will not work. I take a firm line with him and try to get through but I feel like I am pouring water on a ducks back. To be honest, I do not know if there is any hope for this child. It will be all but impossible for him to have a relationship with anyone. Prayer and conversion is the only hope and it wouldn’t hurt if a certified counselor fell in love with him and became his wife. You cannot build a relationship on lies and this kid is eaten up with insecurities and I doubt that he can tell the truth about much of anything. They use lies like planks or blocks and build walls around themselves with lies thinking that it will protect them when all along, it enslaves them. Lying becomes away of life; it becomes as natural as breathing and no lasting relationship can stand of lies.

So it is a sad story but it is also a reminder that not everyone has family. There are thousands of Rickey’s in America that will have no family this Thanksgiving. There is no one who loves them unconditionally. Not only does Rickey not have family, he has no home. He lives in a prison so to speak. We live in a small cottage, 2 bedroom and 1 bath. It is very meek and modest but it is a castle to me. My wife knows where I am 24/7. If I were to be late for anything; she would send out a search party. I have four kids that love me and a few relatives; plus my grandkids who love me a lot. I can’t imagine a Holiday without family. Am I blessed? You better believe it and so are you if you have family, friends and a place you can call home.

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