“I Have A Lot of Problems” by Angela Risley
The following article is used by permission of 21st Century Christian Magazine and comes from their October 1993 edition,
May, 1992. The phone rang in our office. A caseworker with the Department of Human Services had two girls, ages 15and 17, who were in need of placement. Did we have any vacancies for these sisters? Luckily we did have room, and after the usual exchange of information, arranged for the girls to come to Happy Haven.
When “Becky” and “Lynn” arrived at the Home, they were nervous and uncomfortable.
Becky wore a flat, lifeless expression. Her blonde hair was coarsely chopped off around her face. She spoke only when directly addressed, and then in monosyllables. Our housemother made a mental note to have Becky’s hair properly cut and styled as soon as possible.
Lynn, the younger sister, apparently spoke for the two, and this arrangement suited Becky to a T. Every time Becky was asked a question, Lynn rushed to answer for her.
Non-communicative kids were nothing new to our house parents, but after several days, even they were feeling frustrated by not being able to communicate with Becky. Her stone face had a negative effect on the entire cottage. Finally, in desperation, the foster dad took Becky aside and handed her a mirror. When he asked her to look at herself and tell him what she saw, it was as if a dam broke inside her. She burst into tears, crying, “I have a lot of problems.”
Her life was a traumatic tale of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of various family members. Just before being taken into foster care, Becky’s mother had held her down and cut off her long, blonde hair in retaliation for Becky’s “telling lies” on her brother to the Department of Human Services.
Becky had become the scapegoat for all the family’s problems. When the world hurt her, she hid behind a blank expression. She did not talk. She did not laugh. She did not smile. She simply existed.
On her first night at Happy Haven, Becky was concerned that there was no lock on their bedroom door. Her house parents assured her that no one would enter their bedroom without their permission. What the house parents didn’t know at the time was that Becky and Lynn used to push their dresser against their bedroom door to keep their older brother from molesting them at night.
When it came time to buy swimsuits, Lynn said, “Becky doesn’t swim – she won’t wear a swimsuit.” It turned out that Becky didn’t want any part of her body to be seen, even in female company. She thought everyone would be staring at her. When we eventually convinced her that swimming was fun and good exercise, she decided she could wear a swimsuit with a T-shirt over it.
One Wednesday evening, in the girl’s Bible class at church, the teacher talked about unconditional love. She used the example of parents and their love for their children, even when the children disob ey or disappoint them. Becky raised her hand and asked, tears running down her cheeks, “What if your parents don’t love you? I know mine don’t love me.”
The teacher, caught off guard by Becky’s poignant question, struggled for composure. She assured Becky that Jesus’ love was constant, and that her house parents and teachers and many others cared for her as well.
It has not been ten months since Becky and Lynn came to Happy Haven. The girls still have “a lot of problems.” Years of abuse and neglect do not right themselves in a few months.
But they have made great progress in their social and communication skills. Becky now talks, smiles and interacts with others. She had discovered a talent for art and has been encouraged to develop it. She eats and sleeps well and is not afraid at night.
Lynn has relinquished her “mother” role and doesn’t hover over and speak for Becky. She is singing in the chorus at school and making friends.
Both girls are in a counseling group for teen survivors of sexual abuse. It is a painful, but cathartic, experience for them. They still struggle with anger, depression and a sense of worthlessness, but now they know they are not alone.
What are we doing to help the “Beckys” and “Lynns” of this world? AT Happy Haven, we seek to heal the hurts and fill the empty spaces in their lives. Our house parents are not only Christians, but trained professionals who want to help young people become productive adults through education, emotional support and Christian example.
The Psalmist David said, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). The Lord “takes up” the forsaken today through the efforts of his people, the church. Christians have a responsibility to be involved in benevolence. The Bible gives a specific charge to care for the fatherless and widows. Children’s homes and other child and family service agencies need your prayers, your fianacial support and your personal involvement if they are to surv ive into the next century.
The Beckys and Lynns of the world need you.