I spent most of my childhood being raised by my grandma. My mom gained full custody of me when I was in first grade, but she wasn’t really able to take care of me because she became sick with congenital heart disease. I spent several unsettled years being tossed around to different places to be taken care of. My mom’s friends, former housekeepers, and friends of friends stepped in to help my mom when she couldn’t be there for me. Either she was in the hospital, too sick to care for me, or she didn’t want me to see how sick she was.
Throughout my childhood, I lived in twenty different homes. They were not always the best settings. In some of the situations, my mom wasn’t aware of the awful things that happened to me. When I was ten years old, she was in line for a heart transplant. While waiting, she became very sick. My grandma heard about how much I was being bounced around and didn’t like it one bit. She reclaimed full custody of me so that I would have a stable life. My mom finally got a call that they found a heart for her. However, she was too sick for the transplant to be successful. My mom passed away when I was eleven.
Everything was too much for me to cope with. I didn’t know how to handle my emotions. When I was twelve, I became suicidal and started self-harming. My grandma was at a loss. She was older and not sure how to help me. She already had me in counseling but things were just getting worse. Her nephew Johnny Clark, who worked at Cookson Hills, told her to pray about sending me there. He thought I would prosper there. My grandma chose to send me to Cookson Hills. I was devastated once again. Again I felt like I was disposable; I was garbage, being tossed out once more.
At thirteen years old, I moved to Cookson Hills. I was first placed with the Benner family, but that summer they were called to move back to Ohio. Then Becky and Kent Shaffer took me in. Everything changed. They handpicked me. They wanted me. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. To them, I wasn’t just another kid. They believed in me and loved me when they didn’t have to. They loved me when it was easy and most importantly they loved me when it was hard. It took me a while to adjust but it was the perfect fit. Mom Shaffer understood me; she took the time to talk to me. “Heart talks” is what she called them. She showed me that I didn’t have to be scared to open up. It took a while to build that trust, but when I began to trust, I blossomed.
The Shaffers taught me so much and showed me so much love. I am forever grateful for them and I know it was God’s plan for me to become their daughter. They were made for me. It just took me a while to find them. They believed in me and helped me grow. Their love for God was infectious and their love for me was indescribable. Never once did they make me feel like I was a foster kid. Mom would always tell me, “I may not have birthed you, but you are mine.”
With their belief in me and Dad’s patient tutoring, I started excelling in school. I had always done very poorly in school, but I went from failing every subject to graduating high school in 2005 on the honor roll. The Shaffers did so much for me and I am forever grateful to them and Cookson Hills.
I had opportunities to experience things that I wouldn’t have had while living with my grandma. I was able to go with my Cookson Hills family to places like Silver Dollar City and Washington D.C. for vacation. While in D.C. I saw the White House and the Smithsonian Museum. In school, I participated in basketball and volleyball, where I had so much fun competing in games. Some of my favorite memories are of wilderness camp and the summer work program. I also loved learning to cook and taking multiple cooking classes. Working with the horses was something I know I would never have had the chance to do anywhere else. And finally, my senior year our class took a mission trip to Arizona. Thanks to Cookson Hills I was able to stop just surviving and start living my best life.
I would like to share with you a poem I wrote while I was at Cookson Hills.
Has anyone in your family ever died?
Has it ever hurt so bad you cried?
But now do you ever say,
That there is only one way?
When I was eleven my mom died.
The sad part is I never cried.
My heart was in so much pain I couldn’t.
To put it more simply, I just wouldn’t.
I made my pain into anger, my anger into rage
I yelled, I screamed, around me was a cage.
No one could get through, although they tried.
My grandma just sat, prayed, and cried.
Later I hung out with the wrong group of friends.
I didn’t think or care how my story would end.
It got me into some trouble I say.
But still, I did not know the way.
I kept on getting closer to the right path.
But it was much harder to me than English or math.
My life started getting better, my cage was falling down.
I am not afraid to have people near me now.
My world almost fell apart.
I wouldn’t let anyone into my heart.
But that all changed one very special day,
When I found out that Jesus is the only way.