The Lord is Faithful- One Family’s Journey

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” –Hebrews 10:23

The struggles with our daughter, Sonya, started relatively small. First, she had migraines and started to miss days of school and also church, stating that she was too tired or had a headache. She lost interest in learning and lacked the motivation that she once had. Her father and I discussed alternative academic options to her large public school she was attending. Our ideas varied greatly, ranging from military school to homeschooling.

Once things became a crisis, it was truly an overwhelming, terrifying, and dark period of our lives. Mental illness began to rear its ugly face and our daughter was placed in an acute care psychiatric hospital for a week. Upon her return home there were many more doctors’ visits, diagnoses, different medications tried and therapy sessions completed. We tried to find the best ways to help her and find a new “normal” of living with a loved one diagnosed with mental illness.

Our efforts were fruitless. After a time, we just began coping and barely surviving from day to day. Our daughter was being disrespectful to us, very impulsive, skipping classes, lying, and spending time with friends she knew we didn’t approve of.  Three weeks before her 16th birthday she ran away from home. We found her safe and sound, but also found out that she had been self-medicating and became an addict right under our noses. We knew that we had to take action swiftly. We had lost our daughter and fear gripped us; this had become greater than ourselves and we needed to seek outside help- maybe she needed a completely new environment?

Prayers and Patience

I began with prayer for guidance, discernment, and support. Family and close friends gave suggestions but not many had experience with our specific struggles. I researched and found several great places that could help us with our situation, but we either couldn’t afford them or they didn’t seem like a good fit for our daughter. I began to lose hope. As I prayed, I believe I forgot to ask Him for one important thing- patience. I expected answers immediately and didn’t understand why He didn’t deliver. Didn’t He love our daughter even more than we did?

One day at work I shared our situation with my minister friend and he suggested a Christian group home for children- they even had a small school on campus! He had many great things to say about this place called Cookson Hills and I trusted his recommendation. He also informed me that they were not tuition-based, but instead funded by churches, other organizations and individuals, and that each family pledges monthly what they can afford. This truly sounded like an answer to prayer until he informed me of their location in Kansas, Oklahoma which was nearly 500 miles from us! My heart just dropped! I couldn’t imagine being over seven hours away from my daughter, and I knew we couldn’t afford the trips back and forth for visits. But, we requested information from them and I waited.  

When the information packet arrived in the mail, I was so excited but was afraid to be hopeful. I read it over and over and determined that aside from the distance, it sounded too good to be true! I prayed some more and discussed it with my husband. We decided there was no harm in filling out the online form. My hope began to return!

So it began…

My first verbal contact with Cookson Hills was the intake coordinator. She asked me a series of detailed questions and then informed me that they would get back to us as they needed to determine if they would be a good fit for our daughter. Before ending the conversation, she asked me if she could pray over our daughter and family and I said, “Yes, please!” My tears flowed and I thanked her for her time. I knew right then and there that God was in approval of Cookson Hills and I was led to the right place! More hope was restored!

My daughter and I drove to Kansas, Oklahoma for a family assessment and a tour of the campus. We were both so anxious on our drive there. As we hit the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, she looked at the landscape and said to me, “Well, I guess it won’t be too smart of me to run away from here!” It was a serious moment but we had a good laugh. We both enjoyed the tour and meeting some of the staff and peering in on the classrooms which were in session. Everyone was so warm and made us feel right at home. I felt very positive overall and our daughter was beginning to get on board! During that time they agreed that their facility would be an appropriate placement for our daughter; we just needed to wait for an open spot.

During our time of wait, it gave me the opportunity to focus on God’s love and His faithfulness. Two months later, we received a call from Cookson Hills stating that they had a placement date for our daughter- in just 2 weeks!  God answered our prayers in His time. We were relieved, scared, and excited all at once.

I began to miss her the moment that I ended that phone call. How would I be able to leave my daughter with virtual strangers and not be in any contact with her directly for 30 days? What kind of a mother was I? Will she be ready to go? Will she run away again before the time came? These questions and many more flooded through my mind.  

Move in Day

The day came and her father and I drove her to the campus. We met her houseparents and social worker for the first time and got to know them a little bit. We filled out paperwork, worked out a future plan together for our daughter and then headed over to her new home. They helped us unload all of her belongings and we chatted for a few more minutes in their living room. While my heart was devastated, I knew that I had to be the strong one for her sake.

Thirty days and a million letters later, we had our first visit with Sonya and her houseparents in the warmth of their living room. That first hug and her beaming smile was all that this momma needed to restore her soul.  She had so much to say and had been on so many adventures in just 30 days! She made it through her adjustment period, began school, battled strep throat, had a long family trip to Colorado (even to the top of Pikes Peak!), celebrated Thanksgiving with all these new people, made new friends and bonded with her new houseparents and siblings! It was a short, albeit wonderful, visit with her that day. It was a blessing because we got more acquainted with her houseparents and received a good glimpse of her well-being. I truly believe that the Lord hand-picked these wonderful parents just for our daughter. They reached spots in her heart that I had not been able to reach. The healing I prayed for was just beginning.

Writing a better story

Over the next few months, she began to excel in school and loved her classes. It had been a long time since I had seen her put forth much effort and she even made it to the honor roll! Most importantly she had gained self-confidence and her motivation returned! She began reading and writing again, with poetry being her favorite. Her English teacher bragged on her a lot and it boosted her confidence immensely! She really enjoyed her Bible class teacher- she had a blast listening to him and debating with him! That school year she was also in Drama Club and performed in her school play. We were able to attend and she did an amazing job!

At the end of the school year, they had an awards banquet and her house mom texted me a photo of her laying there on the ground with several awards she received that night surrounding her! We are so proud of how she has triumphed over her anxiety and plowed on through! She really has grown and learned so much during her therapy as well- she really loved her therapist. Also, she got her first job on campus doing yard work, landscaping, and janitorial work in the school and campus housing. Sonya learned so many life skills from her houseparents, teachers, social workers and staff that will carry her on as she begins adulthood soon.

Where are we now?

Sonya is now back home with us and is finishing her education this spring by online course work to receive her high school diploma. She is also working as a hostess at Cracker Barrel, learning to save up her money and continues therapy. While there were ups, downs, struggles and learning curves for her, the one year stay at Cookson Hills was more than just adventures and learning; it was about the start of healing her soul. Many seeds were planted by so many people there, and lifelong relationships were formed as well. She is grateful to everyone for all the encouragement, support and unconditional love received there and she will carry that with her throughout her lifetime. I know that those seeds planted will grow.

We, as a family, have grateful hearts for the Cookson Hills staff and for our daughter’s amazing houseparents. I am confident that we will have a forever connection that is beautiful and unexplainable. We could never fully express our gratitude and I could write an entire book filled with all the positive things. Just like God is full of amazing grace, hope, second chances, and redemption, so also is the beautiful place known as Cookson Hills.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Shawn Shafer has been married for 25 years and is the mom of two teenage daughters. She loves to read, garden and drink delicious tea!