Sunday, June 17, 2012

What to do When A Big Kid Lands on Your Doorstep/Heart


I have always been mostly terrified of teenagers. I mean, I liked them enough. I thought they were fascinating and funny. People say they're hopped up on pretense and image, but I was never quite so sure. I saw more. I just saw it from afar, because, you know, the whole terrified thing.

I never knew what to say to them, how to act. Being around a new teenager brought out the awkward in me like a bad perm. You may as well have clipped a retainer to my teeth and dabbed some "flesh" toned Oxy on my zits. I felt insecure and dorky. I was sure they all wanted to run away from me and not be my friend.

Then my husband took a job at an alternative high school and I thought, Good for him. He can build relationships with a few kids who need him, bless his heart.

And then one of them moved in to our home. And another one moved into our heart. And another. And they brought friends.

So at this point, it's a little crowded up in here, in my heart. It's full. In a mostly-good way.

Sometimes, people ask me what it's like. Sometimes, they tell me I'm a fool and I'm putting my family at risk. Every once in a while, I can tell that they want a big kid of their own. Well, there's plenty to go around. When you find yours, be warned that they travel in packs. Just know that you'll soon be taking kids you've never met to the Chinese buffet and buying them tacos to-go.

You'll forgo reality tv and book-writing and (gasp) blogging because your free time will be spent driving kids around and playing board games until midnight.

Here's something else you should know: The girls might huddle around the computer before bedtime and search the local police department website. They keep tabs on who was arrested. They giggle a bit too gleefully at some of the mug shots. They know those mugs. They punched her lights out. They dated him.

These big kids, they will wreck you. They won't always be as grateful as you hope. They'll storm upstairs or outside or somewhere when you tell them the truth about certain things. They'll smoke behind your garage. They'll tell you lies.

They'll stretch out on the couch and make you laugh when you're trying to read. They'll eat nasty food. They'll teach you things you never wanted to know about a life you couldn't possibly have imagined.

They'll find the loosest seam of your heart and they'll yank that thread.

They'll exhaust you, exasperate you. They'll crack you up so bad.

They'll go home. Go to jail. Go missing for months on end. They'll avoid your calls. They'll defriend you.

You'll tell yourself you're done, then wonder where they're sitting when the moon lifts higher.

You'll worry every single day about them and pray that they come back. You'll try to ease yourself into the reality that they might never be back, but it won't work. You won't accept it.

You'll have a first row seat to many of their failures and you'll know for sure that there are many more left under wraps. But you'll think about seeing them the next time and you just won't give a rip about the mistakes. You want them back, that's all. You want them safe under your roof. You want to feed them peanut butter cake and heat them a bowl of soup.

Eventually, that day shows up like a rainbow in January. It's never when you expect. There they are, like they never left. They need you now. Who knows why. Who cares.

You laugh at their jokes because they're stinking funny. You find something to be proud of and you say it out loud - I'm proud of you. They'll tell you to never, ever say "fo sho", but you'll believe to your core that they secretly love it when you do. You'll learn the street names for drugs (they'll swear they don't do them). You'll learn a tiny bit about the complicated codes they live and love by.

You'll feel like your very own Mom when they return. This is what it must feel like to have everyone home. This is that happiness.

They'll leave then, because they say they have things to do even when they don't. So you'll wind your way back around the track, again, again, again. You'll hate being there, in that place where they're just out there somewhere, doing who knows what.

Your heart will break a second time, a tenth.

It won't matter. You love them.

54 comments:

  1. Powerful and lovely. Beyond that, i'm speechless. xo

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  2. LOVE this. Love you and hearing about those kids! Thanks for sharing this.

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  3. awesome, awesome sweet shannan. i hope to be this for my kids & the house they're friends all flock to when old enough.

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  4. Kevin coaches boys basketball at one of our local high schools. We've had boys in and out of our home for quite sometime now. Never out of our hearts. And yes they lie. And do and say things they shouldn't. But there are days just like today when he gets 15 or more text messages and phone calls wishing him a happy fathers day and telling him how much we as a family mean to them. And then you know what you did and are still doing is a very good thing.

    You are doing a very good thing....fo sho!!

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  5. This, my friend, is beautiful. "They need you now. Who knows why. Who cares." They knew you would be there, because you, unlike so many others, did not give up, never quit loving, showed Jesus' unconditional love.

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  6. "They'll find the loosest seam of your heart and they'll yank that thread." So beautiful!! Your heart is even more beautiful than your writing. And your writing will one day win awards.

    I love teenagers. Probably because I still feel like one. (But if you ask my kids....I am way outdated. Fo sho!) I used to feel the same insecure awkwardness around teens until my tots turned into them. I will not feel that way again. They are just big kids who need love and attention too. So maybe I am dorky in my teens' mind, but I think down deep my kids think I'm kinda cool.

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  7. I love this. And can relate. I'm heading into my ninth year teaching high school, mostly seniors, and I still get butterflies before I face those teenagers on the first day. After we all size each other up, we mostly like each other. These kids are lucky to have such a soft place to fall in you and your family...Best wishes to them/you all.

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  8. Oh Sister Friend. This is my life times 40. The last three are at home for now. Teenagers wreck your heart for sure.

    xxoo

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  9. I love this so much. You're making a difference....

    XOXO,
    Angie from Ohio :)

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  10. Yes, yes. We were houseparents (kinda like foster parents) to 8 teenagers for a year in Texas. We had to move on but our heart is full and those relationships have forever changed us. We are in the process of adopting one of them (a 15-year-old boy) and going back into doing foster care for more. All we hear from everyone is how absolutely stupid and crazy we are. My heart breaks because yeah, it's probably stupid and crazy but what's the alternative? What if everyone thought like that? What could be different if more of us didn't?

    It's hard for these older guys to get a break, especially the ones who most need one. Thanks for taking a chance and making a huge difference in these lives.

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  11. Holy moly...can I come be on your shoulder and learn all your tricks. Can I just say that you give me shivers. Are you even possible? Enough...I love you sister...you are doing good for the least of these and I love you for it.

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  12. Not everyone loves a teenager. I do! I love talking to them...listening to them...crying with them...telling them to pull up their pants or cover up things that shouldn't be seen. I love telling the girls they are beautiful..priceless. I love teaching the guys to be gentlemen. I want them to know that they are not to be looked down on...just like the Bible says.

    What a treat to read this post tonight. God bless you as you continue to pour your heart into them and them into you.

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  13. Love it! Ive always wanted to be a foster mum, but now with 3, almost 4, kiddies of my own its been put off until they're older and still then Im worried about the influence that would be bought into the house. What you are doing is wonderful :)

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  14. Oh, this is so lovely. You speak to the heart of things so beautifully. The way you write really gets to the soul of things. I tear up most times I read your blog...

    I miss those teenagers. I resigned from my teaching position two months ago to move with my husband for his job. God, oh God, how I miss those kids. That place in your heart is indescribable. I love those students, Anna, Kate, Kyle, etc.., in a way that I do not love my own children. It is a poignant and bittersweet, letting go, and holding on, sharing your love and knowing you are not their keeper, wanting to help them and knowing you need to tread carefully, kind of love.

    I am clearly being shown that I need to find my way back to helping kids.
    Thank you,
    saraspunza

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  15. That is beautiful. People that are very dear to me were teenagers like that. I wish there were more people like you to love lost and broken kids. You make a world of difference.

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  16. This is the type of ministry my husband and I have had for the past 15 years here in Portland, Oregon. Our church has reached many "street kids", foster kids, and kids in trouble with the law. We've taken them in personally as have other families in our church. Some are now adult leaders in our church and church plant, some chose to return to their former life. Our heart aches for them, and we still wait, pray and hope for their return.

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  17. Thank you for your post, for your blog. I keep hearing whispers of adoption, of foster parenting, of working with those kids that are too often left to fend for themselves out there on the fringes. Your words inspire; and thank you for your honesty--the road to loving on teenagers is not often easy on the heart.

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  18. Amen. I love this. My husband and are are going thru the adoption process for and older child. many shun us and say why?why would you ask for problems. I say why would I make one more child sit and wait one more day for the home they were never given. thank you for taking my thoughts and putting them on paper. we raised two of our own and they are now 21. I have my share of lost boys coming and going and when I see them out and about they love me. I love them. this was the greatest blog I have read in a long time. bless you!

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  19. wow. I was really, really moved by this. your heart shines so brightly. :)

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  20. and then you'll read a post like this that gets right to the heart of it. and you'll start to think more than you've let yourself in awhile. and you'll wonder where she is. and how her sweet baby is fairing. and you'll get really teary and emotional because you still love her even after all this time. and that love never stops tripping you up.

    thanks for these words, shan. just thanks. xoxo

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  21. Oh, wow. a post that mirrors one of my own. i understand personally every word you have put here. We have now had 25 teenagers go through our doors. Every single one of them has tugged at one of those heart strings. And i do wonder and pray for them as the moon rises higher in the sky. You are a place of comfort for those kids, when so many of them have never known a place of comfort in their their lives. You wrote it beautifully.

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  22. My hubby and I have helped with youth ministry in our church for 11 years. So I say YES! and Amen! to this post over and over. They ruin you for sure. 2 of "my girls" just graduated and I am pretty sure I will cry for a week when they go to college this fall. We live in a small, rural area and so our ministry to teens does not look the same as yours, but they do all soooo need unconditional love and I find that most people are completely freaked out by teens (I certainly used to be!). Thank you for being another who loves them!!

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  23. Oh, I love this. :) Beautifully written, friend!

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  24. I don't even have a compartment in my brain ready to absorb this post yet, but there is a crack that is starting... My son is 12, I just left him at a small college for a soccer camp where he was staying in a dorm with three friends and a hundred of soccer kids. That sounds so innocent compared to what you shared above, but it totally speaks to the fear in my heart when his smile lit up while four of his friends posed for the picture and I felt time lurch forward in my head to his REAL college days. And all that stuff that goes with a BIG kid. Ugh.

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  25. This made my heart beat a little fast :) My husband and I recently sat down with a social worker and when I thought for sure I’d tell her we’d like a baby or little bit bigger than a baby, the words “older child or teenager” came out. And I kind of couldn’t believe I said it. And now … I’m a little nervous. Fo sho.

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  26. I'm proud of YOU...that's fo sho.

    And this question came to mind the first time I saw this pic, so I just have to ask now that I've seen it again. Does Mr. Calvin have a Cincinnati Bengals jersey on? Bengals fans are few and far between, but we're a household of 'em round these here parts. :)

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  27. Once again, you've peeked inside my heart and expressed what's inside far better than I could. I've lived this too, and thank you for writing.

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  28. What a beutifully written post. I can tell that your open, welcoming heart is just as beautiful too. You inspire me.

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  29. So this is what it is all about - love. And your family is a living example...

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  30. Big fat tears rolling down my cheeks at work - - I love your writing.

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  31. mmhmm...girl...don't I know, don't I know.

    When we moved to our new house in a new town, I broke into the sweats thinking that our "girl" that has disappeared for a few years now won't know where we are. I mean, she would always just show up when things got tough (after living with us for about a year). And now she doesn't know where we live. Great, now I'm crying.

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  32. This post made me cry. You have a beautiful life. : )

    I told my sister all about you. They raise "at-risk" teenage boys and man, they have been around the block a time or ten. And now they're looking to move to the 'hood to just work and live among those who need a better model for family. It reminds me so much of what you and yours are doing.

    Also? I too am crazy awkward around teenagers. I'll have one of my own in two years and I'm hoping she can help me along. It's like I never was one! So weird.

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  33. This is wonderful Shannen. Reading it I couldn't help but think that perhaps we're all just teenagers in the Father's eyes. We come and go; we take one step forward and two back - and He just loves us and wraps us in grace. You are being Jesus to these kids. Cheering you on.

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  34. your love for these big kids makes my heart glad. and makes me want to love deeper and fiercer, too. oh, and of course, i love YOU!

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  35. Tearful...this is pretty gorgeous. Love that you recognize the priorities in life!

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  36. Teenagers used to frighten me to me core.

    Special needs kids made me feel like I would snap their fragile spirits like a twig. Especially children with Down Syndrome. (Turns out most are bendy...like palm trees and just sway in the breeze.)

    Then God gave me step-sons.
    There was no time to be frightened - though I tried. I was sure I wasn't good enough. (And, I was right.) Thankfully, God is.

    Blessings,
    D

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  37. truer than true! as always, you are beautiful with words and explaining how you feel. and i know that each one of those big kids appreciate you and your family for loving them no matter what.

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  38. Thank you 4 writing this girl. I worked with "these" teenagers back in my social work days, now I stay home raising my own boys and live many states away. All day, 5 or 6 days a week for six years, I was exhausted and I swear it nearly killed me but many days I find myself thinking of "my kids". Funny enough, I am home in Ohio right now visiting my family and I happened to flip on a local TV channel, showing a GED graduation and there, on that screen, walking across that stage, grabbing that overdue diploma was a girl, now young woman, that I cared for so many years ago. It made my heart sing. Thing is, you never really know how your kindness will impact the life of a young person, but what's the harm in caring? :)

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  39. Dayane, Mauri, Gabriella, Dezarae, Alexus, Larissa... They all took pieces of my heart and went away only God knows where. Four live in Brazil; two in the U.S. I don't expect them to return, but I pray often that God will call them to Him -- and back to safety. May someone come into their lives who will water the seeds we planted...

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    1. Sorry, Shannan. I hit enter too soon. I wanted to say that you're doing a wonderful thing being there for your kids -- and I thank you for your obedience to care for "the least of these." Broken hearts come with the territory. I'm thankful you're also experiencing laughter and smiles. It's a good balance. Be strong!

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  40. I know.
    I know. I know. I know.
    Tomorrow night I am taking one of my favorite teens for an award.
    She missed 78 days of school this year.
    She flunked.
    She is getting an award for trying.
    Trying to go to school when it would have been easier to drop out.
    Trying to deal with her Dad's prison sentence.
    Trying to deal with the scary things all around her.
    I am proud of her.
    I know good things can come her way.
    Praying she will find Jesus.

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  41. Holy cannoli, you hit me right between the eyes tonight, in the best kind of way. I'm on the edge of knowing this for myself and it's all a bit scary and awkward and hard, but darn wonderful. Just yesterday I drove for six hours with a van stuffed with teens. For a brief tiny moment I contemplated leaving them all behind at a rest stop, but then I would've missed out on a whole lotta wild good. I even learned a thing or two.

    Your teenager loving heart makes me smile. Thank you, lady.

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  42. I think what you are doing for those kids are great. They need someone to love them very very much. If you have the time, I would love to know how you set up boundaries in your home when your teenagers are there so you can protect your three little ones as well. It is a balancing act and I would love to hear some advice/ examples on how to do it.

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  43. I'm sitting in a coffee shop in down town Durban after just dropping my teenage "sons" back to the homeless shelter where they live and I am tired and emotional cause i feel like no one else understands how it feels to be passionate about a bunch of troubled teens and i find your post! GOD IS SOOOOOOO GOOD!
    Your words are my feelings.Thank you for this post, it encourages me to keep loving even when what they really need is a good shake or smack upside the head!
    I will be praying for you guys, that God give you wisdom and compassion for these teens. I'm also praying for Calvin. Stay strong.

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    1. Isn't it amazing? I am just now reading about this...

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  44. We've always got a mess of teenagers in and out of our house, sometimes living here, sometimes not. Sometime they come from bad home situations, sometimes they're just lonely. I hate it when the ones who are in trouble disappear because I worry - but I'm so happy when they pop in again. We've brought stray teenagers with us to family reunions, Thanksgiving, weddings, and zoo trips. It's so good for my kids to hear that home isn't quite as bad as they make it out to be when I force them to turn off the t.v. and go outside, and it brings out the generosity in all of us. Sometimes our hearts, my hubby's and mine, feel shredded and angry - but then we get a phone call from a 24 year old thanking us for the time we gave up and suddenly we can do it all over again. Love this post. Love your family and all your precious hearts!

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  45. We adopted one of those big kids and while it has been excruciatingly difficult at times, it is one of the best things we have ever done (and every word you wrote is true, I was cracking up at the police website. My girl and her friends do that all the time.)

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  46. Good gracious we are soul mates, meant to be friends :-) that sounds just like us and all our big kiddos - you totally captured the emotions PERFECTLY. And they definitely love it when we say "fo sho." I'm certain of it.

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  47. Oh goodness, could I love you any more than I already do!!!! My husband and I have been youth pastors for years and ministered in detention centers and took teens in when their families weren't there for them and everything you wrote is so very TRUE!! Thank you for sharing your life with these big kids that so desperately need love!! We need more people like you and your husband in this world! Keep on bringin' the light!

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  48. this kind of love will most definitely leave you crying in your pillow some nights. I'm ashamed to admit that I've taken offense and tried to make my heart swear it wouldn't let them in again.

    but, that heart of mine always opens the door when they come knocking.

    God used teenagers and their rebellion to teach me about my own heart towards him. He used them to teach me how to love without expectation....without condition.

    I love how you are loving them....how HE is loving them through you.

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  49. Wow, sitting here crying as my heart breaks. I'm excited for the journey that God has us on and can only pray that we are able to open our home to kids who just need a place to go!

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