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From Surviving to Living
(18) Projecting Hope: A Journey through Adversity and Faith
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This episode describes my emotional journey as a mother incarcerated while battling to maintain parental rights and find a suitable living arrangement for my son, Tim, who is in foster care. Throughout my efforts, I face disappointments, such as Tim’s failed reunification plans with his father and the obstruction from Tim’s caseworker, Brian, who prevents Tim from receiving mail and visits from me.

In prison, I continue to experience a spiritual transformation, engaging with fellow inmates and disputing misconceptions about faith. My story also explores the concepts of God’s will versus personal desires, as I grapple with the possibility of losing my parental rights and learning to trust in God’s plans for me and my son. This is a story of resilience, faith, and unconditional love amidst the systemic challenges of foster care and incarceration.

00:00 The Struggle to Find a Home for Tim
01:05 The Heartache of Failed Reunifications
02:25 The Battle Against Bureaucracy and Time
04:37 A Mother’s Mission from Behind Bars
06:46 Finding Strength and Purpose Through Faith
09:46 Confrontation and Reflection: Facing Criticism
13:25 A Spiritual Turning Point: Questioning God’s Plan
17:24 Embracing God’s Will Amidst Personal Turmoil
19:13 Application for us today

TRANSCRIPT

Have you ever faced challenges where it seemed every solution was met with a “No”? Have you ever experienced the heartbreak of unfulfilled promises?

In May 2016 I experienced a turning point as I struggled to find a home for my son. I would also be confronted by a hostile inmate and fake friends. Join me as we explore the emotional impact of abandonment and rejection. Discover with me real solutions to God-sized problems.

We’ll uncover the secret to experiencing God’s good plans for you and how you can begin today! Listen until the end, you don’t want to miss a word. This is Projecting Hope.

“Hi, It’s Holly! How are you?” I was reaching out to every family member, friend and organization I could, trying to find a place for my son Tim to live. It was May 2016 and Tim, now 13 years old, had been in foster care for 2 and half years.

So far, Timmy had cycled through many foster and group homes. Occasionally Social Services wouldn’t have a home for Timmy at all, and he would sit all day at the Social Service offices, his backpack at his feet. He’d spend the night at an “emergency” foster home and be back the next day at Social Services, sitting at the office again. He’d also been placed in not quite right settings, such as group homes for older teenage boys with behavior problems, which concerned me greatly.

Ending another call, I hung up disappointed. Returning to my room, I reviewed the latest report from Social Services. My heart ached for Tim as I read. “Tim’s father agreed for the third time to a 6-month reunification plan in which he must attend Tim’s medical appointments. He never came to any appointments.”

Poor Tim, desperately lonely and wanting to go home! Tim was told the details of reunification plans. I’m sure Tim looked forward to seeing his dad at his doctor appointments, knowing this was the first step in going home.

I pictured Timmy in the doctor’s waiting room, hopefully watching the door, staring at the clock, excited for his dad to arrive. My heart broke as I imagined the appointment time growing closer and then passing altogether, Timmy still alone with a caseworker.

What would he be telling himself? How does one make that feel better? Timmy’s doctor appointments could be physically painful. How much worse as time and again it would be compounded by the emotional trauma of abandonment and rejection. How awful must the drive to his foster home have been afterward. Three identical reunification plans. Three identical failures. Hope obliterated in a child. Horrible. I feel sick writing about it.

Have you ever felt rejected or abandoned by someone important? Have you ever disappointed someone you love? How did you handle it?

Social Services also caused Tim trauma. Last fall Brian, Timmy’s caseworker, refused to give Timmy the mail I sent. (all mail was sent to Brian for delivery). During the same time period Brian also refused to facilitate my visits with Tim. He nevertheless reported through Social Services to the courts that Tim was receiving both visits and mail. It was a scary time for me, one I fought hard to fix.

Tim was unaware that stacks of mail from his mom were piled up on his caseworker’s desk. Tim was also unaware that his caseworker was obstructing visits. What Tim did know was that his dad, who lived nearby, had stopped visiting him and now it appeared his mom didn’t want to write or call anymore either. This absence of communication felt to Tim like both of his parents ##had abandoned him without warning. While I fought a legal battle to fix these things …Tim believed no one wanted him anymore.

With a new lawyer I reported Brian in court, accused him of perjury. Social Services officially responded by setting a trial date for September to terminate our parental rights with Tim. I was told if I could move Tim out of foster care to Minnesota, I could keep him. “But,” Brian threatened omce, “if you don’t move him to Minnesota and your rights are terminated in September, your relationship with him will be totally severed – no letters, no calls, nothing until he’s 18 years old. Your family too! Nothing!” Brian finished.

I had made at least a hundred phone calls recently, to everyone I could think of, and everyone so far said, “No.” I heard every type of reason. “He’s too old,” or “He’s too much work,” or “It’s ##too expensive,” or “I’m too busy,” or even “That isn’t something I feel like doing right now.” I had thought it would be easy to help Tim. Now I was dejected. Time was running out!

Calling someone every day had become my mission. I bought more phone time than ever before. I stopped buying anything I absolutely didn’t need so I could afford more calls. I called people to ask for the phone numbers of other people.

I asked for help from those around me and other women gave me referrals to organizations who helped children of parents in prison. Tim, however, was either too old (by a year), or I was going to be in prison longer than their standard guidelines (6 months too long), or there was always some other reason I was being told no with a heartfelt, “I’m really sorry.”

“God!” I prayed again now, “please lead me to the person who will joyfully take Tim.” Walking back to my room I prepared myself for my next phone call with Tim. In January I’d been excited to tell him about Minnesota. Now I was almost sorry I had. My failure seemed to confirm for him that no one, literally no one, not even family, wanted him at all, except his mom in prison who couldn’t help him. How do I encourage my son? I wanted to punch a wall in frustration!

God would soon respond to me in a way I never expected. In the meantime other battles arose.

Laughter erupted behind me the next day. Melissa and I sat at a table in the day room playing a game. I didn’t know her well. She hadn’t been here long.

“I’m worried about my teenage son,” she said, dropping a card on the table. My ears perked up; I could relate.

“What about?” I asked, laying down a card myself. I looked up to see Linda wandering over. Linda was back for the second time in a year. She told everyone her father was a preacher.

Linda dropped into a chair as Melissa answered, “Well, he’s been getting into trouble. We think he’s doing drugs, I’m not sure what else. My husband wants to send him to our church camp.”

I considered. Before prison, money and caregiving had seemed central to me in parenting. Once in prison, unable to do either, I became determined to find other important aspects of mothering. I now worked on fostering love, leadership, and respect. These were things I could pour into my children.

My relationship with Jesus kicked this into high gear as I experienced personal transformation I’d never known was possible until now. “Melissa, would you write a letter to your son?” I asked her. She nodded. Linda watched us, curious. “Ok,” I continued, “I write weekly letters, like Bible study letters, to my sons. I could share one with you, if you want.” Melissa agreed.

I wondered if she would feel comfortable teaching her son about the Bible. I could understand feeling hesitant. When I recently began reading the Bible, I had been shocked! I’d believed I already knew it, was knowledgeable. I discovered I was not. My information had been a second-hand echo and often a misrepresentation of the real thing.

That realization shook me. I now wanted to share what I was learning but I wondered, ‘If professional teachers had failed teach me about the Bible, then who was I to do a proper job?’ I was so thrilled with Jesus, however, that I had to share Him.

The book Story Structure Architect explains that all stories have either a plot-driven or character-driven story line. In a plot-driven story, the events move the story forward and cause the ##character to react. “The plot takes over like a tornado.” In a character-driven story the character moves the story forward through action and choices. She causes the events to happen and drives the story along.

I’ve met many people who view their life as plot-driven, seeing themselves as helpless victims of circumstance. They don’t make things happen, they constantly react to things that have happened or wonder what happened. I’ve also met people who view themselves as a main character moving their life forward through their actions and choices.

I’d been in the second group most of my life, but in January 2016 that radically changed! God showed His existence to me, His interest in me. In effect, I experienced a change in thinking. It was now clear that God is and has always been the Main Character initiating and causing events to happen. God is moving our life stories forward through His actions and choices.

I now understood the transformation I was experiencing was not unique to me; I was not the author of it! The secret to my transformation was not in “what I was doing” but Who I’d met. I became eager for my children (and everyone) to know Him!

A week later I sat alone in the day room. Suddenly Linda dropped into a seat before me. Surprised, I looked up to see her frowning. Linda’s usually cheerful face appeared angry and oddly, a little smug.

“I read the letter you gave Melissa,” she said, waiting. I struggled to shift gears, so Linda added, “the letter you wrote to your kids, the one you gave her for her son.” Again, Linda waited for a reaction. Not sure where this was going, I smiled and nodded.

Linda frowned, irritated. She spat out, “That was the stupidest letter I ever read!” Linda’s features turned hard. “I’m a preacher’s daughter and I want you to know that was the dumbest letter I ever read. It was poorly written. Your kids won’t learn anything from you! Why did you even bother?” Now she sat back and crossed her arms.

Shocked, I set aside my work. I was overwhelmed by her hostility. Leaning forward I answered, ##“Linda, as a preacher’s daughter you must know Paul, in the Bible, and what he wrote.” Linda gave a small nod, so I continued, “Well Paul says he relied on the Holy Spirit to persuade people and not his own words.”

“He did not!” Linda argued, slapping the table for emphasis. I reached for my Bible, opening it to I Corinthians. I slid it across the table, pointing to these verses:

And my language and my message were not set forth in persuasive words of wisdom, but they were in demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power – a proof by the Spirit and power of God, operating on me and stirring in the minds of my hearers the most holy emotions and thus persuading them,

So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men (human philosophy), but in the power of God. I Corinthians 2:4-5

Linda read it and pushed my Bible away. I continued, “I take this to mean that I could be the best writer and if God isn’t involved, it won’t do anything. Or I could be a very basic writer and God can use it. I’ve decided to give Him something to use and trust Him with it.”

Linda’s rage seemed to increase as I spoke. “Do you even believe in God?!” she retorted. “Are you even a Christian?!” she added loudly. Confused, I considered her reddening face.

I’d heard of psychological projection; maybe that’s what I saw. According to everydayhealth.com, “When someone engages in projection, they attribute their own behaviors, emotions, characteristics, or impulses to another person or group without realizing it. Projection doesn’t reflect anything that’s actually been said or done by whoever is on the receiving end. It’s about what the person doing the projecting is thinking and feeling about themselves.”

I considered Linda, an addict with multiple felonies, the daughter of a preacher. How often had she been asked these same questions by her parents? How often had she asked herself? I felt bad for her.

I didn’t answer her, just stood and headed for my room. I didn’t have all the answers. Linda was usually very nice. Where was this coming from?

That night I read my Bible. Reading the book of Matthew I stumbled to a halt as I read chapter ten. This would be a major turning point in my spiritual growth.

I believed that what I wanted for Tim was morally right and that God agreed with me. I wanted to rescue Tim from foster care, continue to be his mom. I hoped to find Tim a Christian home to live in so he could learn about God. The belief that God agreed this was right had been temporarily reinforced in me when Social Services encouraged me to move Tim to Minnesota to retain my rights. I’d thanked God at the time and felt empowered.

Now my eyes fell on Matthew 10:37 as Jesus said:

“He who loves and takes more pleasure in father or mother more than in Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves and takes more pleasure in son or daughter more than in Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37

Suddenly God asked me, “If you lose your parental rights at that trial, will you still love Me?” Absolutely shocked, I nearly threw up. I was on a mission, a war to save my son. As if I’d just been in a car crash, time jerked to a stop; I shook my head in denial of the thought.

“God!!” I screamed in my head. “I hate the very idea of it!” I felt sick. My mind rewound over the past 5 months and all that God had done for me. This was the best time in my life, despite my difficult struggles. For several minutes, maybe longer, I scrambled to get rid of these new thoughts.

I was about to learn the concept that God fights for me when I’m pursuing His plans. Until now I’d been pursuing my own agenda and asking God to enforce it.

##I’d read in the book of Joshua:

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up, and behold, a Man stood near him with His drawn sword in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, Are you for us or for our adversaries?

14 And He said, No [neither], but as Prince of the Lord’s host have I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, What says my Lord to His servant?

15 And the Prince of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, [a]Loose your shoes from off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy. And Joshua did so.

Joshua apparently had a similar misunderstanding and was being set straight. He viewed God as a tool in Israel’s war and was learning that Israel was God’s tool. God is for Himself, and we are either for Him or against Him.

I remembered another verse:

Roll your works upon the Lord commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and so shall your plans be established and succeed. Proverbs 16:3

I tentatively thought about God and His plans. I was a little scared to follow this train of thought, yet I continued. The Bible says all of God’s plans are good. It seemed logical that when someone makes a good plan, they are excited about that plan. If God intended to have my rights terminated, then it was His good plan. It followed, therefore, that He was excited about it.

I did not know for sure if this was God’s plan, but I was not excited about it. I did not see it as good. This could put me on the wrong side of things. Redirecting my thoughts, I prayed again, “God, I hate the very idea of losing my son but I also absolutely need You. I believe Your plans are good. If this is Your plan, to terminate my rights,” my stomach rolled, “today I hate it. Please cause my thoughts to become agreeable to Your will, because I can’t do it. I want to love what You love. Amen.”

Horrified, I cried. Four months remained until the trial. I was in the fire, and God was with me in it.

Listener, do you find yourself surrounded by broke promises and problems you struggle to overcome? I understand, and you are not alone.

Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 5. He says:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Let’s pray today for more of God, comfort from Him, contentment with who He says we are, caring for others and seeing God around us, with hearts made right with Him. Let’s pray to discover who we really are today and our place in God’s family!

Dear Jesus, thank you for teaching us. Thank you for your blessings. Help us to be makers and maintainers of peace, with a craving for more of You. Teach us today! Amen.

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