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

 

So far, Timmy had cycled through over 30 foster and group homes. Occasionally Social Services wouldn’t have a home for Timmy at all, and his entire day would be spent sitting at the Social Services offices, his backpack at his feet. Those times 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 the phone 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 any reunification plan. I’m sure Tim looked forward to seeing his dad at his doctor appointments, a step in going home.

 

I pictured Timmy in the doctor’s waiting room waiting for his dad, hopefully watching the door, staring at the clock. My heart broke as I imagined the appointment time growing closer and then passing altogether, Timmy left 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 emotional trauma – 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. Abandoned, rejected. 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 him for months (since Tim moved so often all mail for Tim was sent to Brian for delivery). During the same time period Brian also refused to facilitate my visits with Tim. Brian nevertheless continually reported through Social Services to the courts that Tim was receiving both. It was a scary time, 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 from his mom. What Tim did know was that his dad, who lived nearby, had stopped visiting him a while ago 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 loved him, 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. Brian told me if I could move Tim out of foster care to Minnesota, I could keep him. “But,” Brian threatened, “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.

Brian threatened, “If you don’t move Tim 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!”

There was always some  reason I was being told no with a heartfelt, “I’m really sorry.”

I had made at least a hundred phone calls, to everyone I could think of, and everyone so far said, “No.” I heard every 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 thought it would be easy to help Tim. Five months later in May I was dejected. Time was running out!

 

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

 

I asked for resources 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, “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 in America, not even family wanted him at all, except his mom in prison who couldn’t help him. How do I encourage my son in this situation? I wanted to punch a wall in frustration!

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 – provision and supervision. Once in prison, unable to do either, I became determined to find other important aspects of mothering. I worked on fostering love, leadership, and respect. These were things I could pour into my children.

My relationship with Jesus kicked this work 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 previously believed I 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 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.

When I recently began reading the Bible, I had been shocked! I’d previously believed I was knowledgeable. I discovered I was not.

God is moving our life stories forward through His actions and choices.

The secret to my transformation was not in “what I was doing” but Who I’d met.

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 in front of 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. And your kids won’t learn anything! Why did you even bother?” Now she sat back and crossed her arms.

Shocked, I set aside my work. Leaning forward I answered, “Linda, as a preacher’s daughter you must know Paul, in the Bible, and what he wrote.” I felt flustered, my head spinning from her hostility. 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 the 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 from the table and headed for my room. I didn’t have all the answers. Linda was usually very nice. This must be a hard day for her.

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.

That night I read my Bible. I was reading the book of Matthew and I stumbled to a halt as I read chapter ten. Jesus said many radical things and God was about show me another belief I had that I’d assumed came from him and didn’t.

I believed that what I wanted as a mother, Tim’s mother, was right and that God agreed with me. I wanted to rescue Tim, continue to be his mom. The belief that God agreed this was right had been temporarily reinforced 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.

“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 literally the best time in my life, despite my difficult struggles. 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 even follow this train of thought, yet I continued. 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 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. 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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Holly’s reliance on prayer and faith sustain her through the challenges she faces in advocating for Tim? Reflect on a time when your faith or spirituality provided strength during a difficult situation.

  2. The encounter with Linda prompts Holly to reflect on her own beliefs and convictions. Have you ever experienced a similar moment of confrontation or challenge that led to a deeper examination of your faith? How did it impact your spiritual growth?

  3. Consider Holly’s interpretation of Matthew 10:37 and her struggle to align her desires with God’s will. How does this passage resonate with your own understanding of surrendering personal desires to God? Consider a personal experience where you had to surrender your will to God’s plan.

  4. Reflect on Holly’s prayerful response to the possibility of losing parental rights. How does her willingness to trust in God’s plan, despite her fears and desires, demonstrate spiritual maturity? How can we cultivate a similar attitude of surrender and trust in our own lives?

  5. Throughout the narrative, Holly experiences moments of revelation and transformation in her understanding of faith and motherhood. Have you ever experienced a significant shift or growth in your spiritual beliefs or practices? What factors contributed to this transformation?

  6. Explore the theme of perseverance and resilience in the narrative. How does Holly’s unwavering commitment to Tim reflect her trust in God’s plan? Share a personal experience where you had to rely on faith and perseverance during a challenging time.

  7. Holly’s realization that “God was with me in the fire” underscores the presence of divine support and guidance even in the midst of adversity. How can we cultivate a deeper awareness of God’s presence in our own lives, especially during times of hardship?

  8. Reflect on Holly’s journey of spiritual growth and transformation. What lessons or insights can we glean from her experiences about the nature of faith, resilience, and the power of surrendering to God’s will?

  9. In what ways does the narrative challenge you to deepen your own spiritual practices and relationship with God? How can you apply the principles of faith, surrender, and trust demonstrated in the story to your own spiritual journey?

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