When I was 15 years old, I ran away from home. I knew it was a bad choice, even when I was doing it, but I just didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t really want to do the right thing. Eventually, the cops brought me home and everything in every part of my life majorly blew up. I refused to stay home and refused to do my school work. I destroyed relationships and trust but didn’t want to reap the consequences.
I had grown up in a family that had served as missionaries overseas. I don’t remember ever loving my father, but I’m sure I did at one time. He decided to throw away our love by making terrible decisions. I felt helpless, like I was stuck in darkness, never to see light again. Subconsciously, I suppressed a lot of memories because I couldn’t bear to remember them. However, I do remember when we got away and stayed in a shelter, and started to find peace. My mom cared for us in the best way that she could, but I always felt I had a responsibility to help take care of my siblings and my mother. I felt as if I couldn’t be, or act as, a child.
The full weight of everything we had gone through didn’t hit me until my teenage years. I started to have nightmares, crying myself to sleep almost every night. My mom felt at a loss and really tried to help, but it never ended. I started going to a counselor but I hated every second of it. Eventually I learned to pretend I was better so I could just stop going. I was ashamed of my past; I was afraid of what the counselor would think of me. To everyone, I was the good little Christian girl that went to church, obeyed God and respected her mother, family, and God. Nobody ever would have guessed that I was a completely different person. I was making bad decisions and at times I thought, “I’ll do better the next time around,” but that time never came. My mom wanted to do the best thing for me and decided to send me to Cookson Hills.
I have been at Cookson Hills for a little over a year now. It has helped me by giving me a space to focus on myself and not focus on taking care of other people. It took me out of my environment, where it was easier for me to rebel. When I first arrived, I was afraid so I continued to keep everything bottled up.
The first big difference I noticed at Cookson Hills was how my houseparents and other adults on campus didn’t judge me based on my past. They only wanted to help me. There is a certain type of gentle grace they give you that not many people are used to. For example, after I had been here for a bit, I decided to do something that I knew was wrong and out of bounds. I eventually got caught and had to be held accountable. But my houseparents didn’t get angry at me; they didn’t yell or scream at me or demand an answer as to why I did what I did. They just simply talked to me. They were sad that I decided to make a bad decision and were disappointed, (which in my opinion is one of the worst consequences that I could have ever had). Immediately, I felt so terrible for what I had done, and not because I got caught, but because they handled it so gently. I chose to apologize to my houseparents, social worker, and mom who was back at home. When I did, I was forgiven immediately. I didn’t have to earn forgiveness. I was able to have a clear conscience immediately, and it made me feel free. This is everyday life in our house. It allows us to heal.
Counseling at Cookson Hills is one of the best tools that has taught me how to find healing. I talk to my counselor about everything. I love that it is at my own pace; there’s no pressure or judgement and I have great comfort in the confidentiality. My family joins me for family counseling once a week which has helped us work through a lot of things and communicate better. Counseling makes me feel heard and that brings me peace.
I also feel like I get some extra counseling time at home because my houseparents are good listeners. They help me process my feelings. Before I came to Cookson Hills, I never really expressed myself but now I have learned that I don’t have to hide my feelings in a box. Every time I get in an extra-bad mood and want nothing to do with anybody, my houseparents know what to do. They know when not to pry and when to pry. When I’m feeling depressed, they know how to lift my spirits. They always incorporate God into things but not in an overbearing, forcing it upon us, kind of way.
My school experience at Cookson Hills is much different than any other school that I’ve been to (which is a lot because of how many times I have moved). When I first enrolled, I was really behind. I used to refuse to do my school work and I didn’t care. The biggest change has been the grace of my teachers and coaches. They teach me that whatever I am doing is for the glory of the Lord and that I have to persevere even when I want to give up. They remind me to keep breathing because everything is going to be okay. Now, a year later, I am caught back up on my credits and I am on track to graduate on time!
For a long time, I was really against the idea of God because I thought He hated me for the things I had done. I never doubted that God was real, but I had a hard time wanting to follow Him and love Him. So I didn’t for a long time. Slowly and surely, God has found ways to win me back over. Last summer I went to a camp called CIY (Christ In Youth). It was the first time in a long time that I felt my love for God was real; I wasn’t faking it. Now my walk with the Lord is strong. My houseparents help me in my walk as well as the other staff and grandparents. I know that I am prayed for each day and it really helps.
I have been through a lot in my past. The biggest mountain I have had to climb is to learn to trust again. Before I came to Cookson Hills, I was super afraid of men in general because of that past. Now I have a safe place to build healthy, trusting relationships. I know to some degree what a father and good marriage would be like. I am thankful for that. I often get angry at God because I will never understand what it is like to grow up with a good father. Even as a child, I would get jealous of other kids because they had a great dad. I am slowly learning that God is my father and better than any earthly one could ever be. I know this as fact, but I still pray that I would know it in my heart. I am learning this by experiencing the way people at Cookson Hills love and give mercy to children who have been labeled by others as “bad kids.” These examples are teaching me that God loves even those who disobey, who aren’t perfect, who have scars and bruises. He loves those who doubt Him, those who go through hard times, and those who have trauma. He loves those who think He isn’t big enough to help them. He is a father to those who don’t have one.
I hope that one day, when I get to the end of my time at Cookson Hills, I will graduate high school, be able to reunite with my family (with a lasting and strong bond that won’t break), be stronger in my walk with the Lord and know how to accept and love myself as I am. I am building relationships at Cookson Hills that will last a lifetime. All of the people here are now part of my family. I am truly blessed to have this experience and I am thankful that God brought my family and me to this place because He knows what is great for me. Psalms 16:8 says, “I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.” My past will no longer define me but rather just be part of my story. I am excited for where God will bring me next!