Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Just a story about grace

This story doesn't really have to do with the topic of singleness and relationships, but it's a story I wanted to tell.

I have a picture on my bookshelf in my office of an eleven-year-old girl. I don’t even remember taking the picture so I can’t say how I accomplished it, but it’s my favorite picture I’ve ever taken. She’s wearing a red polo shirt and her body is turned away from the camera. Her blue eyes are peering out from under her eye lids and there is clearly something emitting from her blue eyes, but it’s mysterious and you can’t tell what she’s thinking. I will call her Rebecca.

Mooseheart was a boarding school for at-risk youth, and for some reason, I was crazy enough to be a houseparent there. I met Rebecca at Mooseheart Child and City School after I had lived there almost four months. I had heard rumors about her behavior, but my first impressions were that she just needed attention. She was particularly clingy, even with a stranger, and I thought it odd that she acted like a young child instead of a fifth grader. As I got to know Rebecca better, I learned that she was a child with numerous problems and outlandish behavior. She had been raised by her deaf and mentally disabled mother, and there had been few other influences in her life. Her father and grandparents were around occasionally, but for the most part, her mother was her world. Rebecca was highly intelligent but had no idea how to effectively communicate with people or how to behave and interact with others. Those life skills had never been properly modeled for her. It took a while for me to see her true colors, but not long after I was assigned to live in her home, I quickly learned why Rebecca had a reputation on campus of being totally out of control.

Rebecca seemed to like me right away and did not hesitate to talk about her past. I saw easily how her behavior was a result of her traumatic childhood, but unfortunately, those around me just put her on medication to try to control her symptoms instead of dealing with what caused her to act out in the first place. For example, Rebecca never wanted to go to bed and put it off each night as long as she could stand it. This is quite normal for any child, but I soon discovered that her reason for not wanting to go to bed had little to do with the “normal” reasons most children avoid bedtime.

One night as I was praying with her, she started talking about her dad. Rebecca often tried to start conversations as I was leaving her room each night as a tactic to stay up, and usually I would quickly end the conversation, but I realized that this time she had something important to say. Rebecca was anything but quiet and was quite vocal and articulate. She never whispered anything! That night, however, she was sitting cross-legged on her floor and she began to talk in a whisper with her head sunk over. She often requested to sleep on the floor, but she was told over and over that she needed to sleep on her bed.

I don’t remember how she said it, but I’ll never forget her tone of voice and look in her eyes as she described how her father used to rape her. She admitted that she hated mattresses because it made her think of what her father did to he,r and she tried so hard every night not to fall asleep because she would dream of him. I never made her sleep in her bed again.

It didn’t take long for me to see her temper. There are two memorable OIC (out of instructional control) moments. My second most memorable OIC experience with Rebecca was actually my first OIC ever with her. She decided to run away, which was a typical response to a frustrating day. This time was different, however, because it was the dead of winter and she was barefoot and only wearing shorts and a tank top. She was outside almost an hour in the dark. It would have been impossible to find her in the 1,000-acre campus, so my boss told me to just wait for her to come home. Eventually, she came back, but her temper tantrum was far from over. It lasted about 3 or 4 hours and by the end, she had t-peed the entire house with our whole stock of toilet paper. Every single surface and every inch of the floor was covered. Before she found the toilet paper she discovered a few bowls of potpourri. She proceeded to skip around the house humming the wedding march while dropping the potpourri on the floor like she was a flower girl at a wedding. As she ran around the house with the toilet paper she smashed the potpourri into the carpet.

By the end of the evening, the house was beyond trashed and we were up late into the night watching her clean. The rules were that she is supposed to clean up the mess herself, but we were exhausted and wanted to go to bed.
Earlier that night, before she had found the TP and potpourri I had asked my boss to come over because it was the rule that any new FT (family teacher) needed a supervisor to observe during and OIC. When he arrived something triggered in Rebecca and she must have felt threatened or out of control in some way like she must have felt with her father. In the middle of a string of swear words she pulled down her pants and underwear and walked over to my male boss. She then asked him if he wanted to have her, and that he could if he wanted. It was said in defiance and it took my breath away. I wanted to cry and I had no idea what to do with her behavior.

My most memorable OIC with Rebecca started when she decided, as usual, to run away from home. This time, however, was admittedly a more comical experience than in the past. Fortunately, it was warmer outside, although as the sun began to set it got much cooler. Rebecca stole a bike and began riding around the campus. I let her go for a while to blow off steam, but eventually, I thought I should try to find her. It was light outside and I figured I could start in her favorite places, like the pond and the horse barn. By this time my boss had arrived with her husband on their golf cart, and they offered to drive me around to save time. We eventually spotted her, but since she was on a bike it was difficult to catch her. We kept our distance because we didn’t want to give her too much attention, but we wanted to make sure she was ok. After a while, she got bored or tired of being chased around and headed back to the house.

When she got back inside she headed for the kitchen to see if she could find anything forbidden to eat. Rebecca was so often in trouble that she rarely got the extra treats the other girls did because taking away sugar snacks was one type of consequence. Most often when she went OIC she would eat as much as she could since it was usually the only time she got to eat junk food. I was not allowed to touch a child that was OIC unless she was causing physical harm to herself or anyone else, so I had to just stand there and watch her eat a week’s worth of sugar! In her searching, she discovered a box of food coloring. I was pretty nervous what she was going to do with it; I should have tried harder to confiscate it, but I had no idea what she was about to do.

Rebecca took the bottles of food coloring and quickly squirted every last drop of all four full bottles onto the kitchen counter. She began to essentially finger paint all over the counter. Before long her hands and arms were covered in food coloring and she started to rub them all over every surface in the kitchen; the floors, appliances, walls, etc. Then she came for me. I was wearing my favorite jeans, my Birkenstocks and nice dress shirt. She rubbed food coloring all over my clothes and every inch of bare skin.

It was at that point that I decided to call in reinforcements. My boss reluctantly came over (it was a Sunday night and she was on call that day). I don’t think she realized how crazy the situation had become, but as soon as she walked into the kitchen and saw what Rebecca had done she started yelling at her. We were always told never to raise our voices, and I never once did, but the kids sure responded well to it! Rebecca immediately began following instructions and stopped acting out.

We began the slow process of cleaning it all up. I wished we could have made Rebecca clean it all up, but we were scared everything would stain if we didn't clean it up immediately. Some things were stained permanently, like some of the walls and a wooden door. My biggest fear was my skin because my sister, Cindy’s wedding was in 4 days and I was terrified I would still resemble a rainbow as I walked down the aisle! Thankfully, after a few days of VERY strong scrubbing, it came off. By the wedding, the only remnants were my green toenails, and I just covered them up with nail polish. Afterward, when Rebecca had calmed down she became extremely apologetic. After every OIC she would be so upset at what she had done; it was almost like a switch would turn on and she would see the destruction she had just caused.

This had all taken place late into the evening, so the other girls were not aware of what happened. When we all got up the next morning they discovered what Rebecca had done the night before. They were furious at her actions and even angrier at my dyed skin. I tried to get them to quickly move on but at dinner that night the subject came up again. All the girls were complaining to Rebecca and reprimanding her for her actions. I asked the girls to stop the conversation because I had forgiven her and we needed to move on.

As I was putting Rebecca to bed that night she was quieter than usual. She asked me a question I will never forget. She asked me, just above a whisper, if I had really forgiven her. I could feel her guilt weighing so heavily on her heart. I broke for her in that moment because I realized she did not have the peace of the Holy Spirit to comfort her heart after sinning. I immediately told her that I had forgiven her and went on to have a conversation about how God had forgiven me and I wanted to forgive her. I hope that by the end of our talk she understand the concept of God’s grace. Whenever I think back on Mooseheart I think first and foremost of the difficult times; when I’m having a bad day all I have to do is think about Mooseheart and I’m so grateful not to be there. I had so few happy memories and even fewer breakthroughs with students, but this moment with Rebecca made the 11 months worth it.

Despite her terrible temper, Rebecca was the most compassionate girl in the house. On her good days, she was absolutely hilarious and great entertainment. She was passionate about horses and could remember every country song she had ever heard. I only cried in public one time that year, and it was in front of Rebecca. I knew that she wouldn’t look down on me, and for whatever reason I couldn’t hold my tears back. She immediately reached out to comfort me and quite distressed over my tears. She was intelligent, a tremendously hard worker when she wanted to be, athletic, and an excellent student. She left Mooseheart about 6 months after I did, and I have no way of getting a hold of her. She’s back living with her mother, and to be honest, I’m scared for her. Every once in a while, it brings tears to my eyes that my role in her life is done. I wish I could be there for her now, but at this point, all I can do is put her picture on my bookshelf so I can remember her in my prayers.