As you read this story of hope from Lindsay Long, watch the video clips before continuing on.
Judging a book by its cover is never a good thing to do.
The day I met Kayla she seemed like she had it together, she was cool, calm and had a good sense of humor. She greeted me with a nice smile and we sat down for a cup of coffee as we talked about life. Kayla seemed like most other 20 year-olds, she was doing “okay” and was just working to manage her life. It became apparent that her story was drastically different; yet heartbreaking in a familiar to many. Kayla is a former foster youth. She endured abuse and neglect when she was young and was removed from her mother’s home and placed in the foster care system. When things became too hard to bear, Kayla, like a lot of other former foster youth, turned to the same life she was trying so desperately to run from. Kayla knew it was not what she wanted for her life, but since it was familiar and easy, that is the road she began to head down.
Over the course of my relationship with Kayla, many stories had been shared and tears shed. She has searched for herself and has set some life goals and has experienced some triumphs and trials. Kayla entered the THP+ program last summer and has since has enrolled in college and is a full-time student, she lives on her own and has a cute little apartment. During one of our visits, Kayla shared with me that she likes to sing and used to sing at this church her (other) grandma used to bring her to. With a lot of encouragement (and some begging), Kayla began to sing and it was as if she came alive. The room seemed to close in and she was on stage. Tears fell down my face as I watched her sing, her eyes were closed and her heart was telling me something from deep within as she belted out the chorus. I can’t even remember the song she sang, but I will never forget the way she sang and the way she responded when I told her she was incredibly talented. She opened up after that and shared her dream to sing and expressed how she feels there is something missing, but she is not sure what. I offered to help her get plugged in to local resources and even take her to audition for American idol. She was skeptical at first, but then recognized my sincerity and it seemed as though she began to believe in herself for the first time in who knows how long.
Then, last week I went to see Kayla, and what I thought was going to be a simple home visit. However, it turned out to be something much more. We talked about school, family, boys, program stuff, and I offered encouragement where it was due. Kayla began to share she felt depressed most of the time, has been burned by counseling, feels overcome with anxiety attacks, and is completely alone. My heart was aching inside, because I just wanted this young woman to know just how precious she was. I wanted her to know that she was created by a loving God, who cared more for her than any human ever could. I wanted her to know that she was created with intention and purpose. I wanted to tell her that even though everyone she has ever known has hurt her, let her down, and left her alone; that there was a God who will not leave her or forsake her. I began to pray silently in my heart for an opportunity to share about love and true freedom. Then a door opened so wide in our conversation, and I walked through it with her. I began to share with Kayla about the love of the Father, and how Jesus is who says He says He is, and that wont change. I told her that He is the best friend she could ever want, and He alone will be enough. For the next hour, tears fell and words of hope were shared and heard.
The next words that came out her mouth next made my heart grieve deeply. She told me she only had one positive person in her life. One person telling her she could and should chase after her dreams. One person telling her she could do it and she could have a different and better life, one free of abuse and neglect. One free of the justice system and parole officers and social workers.
That one person was me.
I was lost for words. I just stared back into her vulnerable and glossy eyes and did not know what to say. I pulled her closely and hugged her… smiled… and then she said that without me and the people at Covenant she would not be where she is today; that she would be living the life she was removed from so many years ago. She then went on to explain that before this program she did not believe in herself, and she did not have any hope. She said before this “program” she was headed for a life full of drugs, alcohol, and despair.
The slogan at Covenant takes on a whole new meaning for me today. “Hope lives here” is true and real for so many foster youth and former foster youth. If I get to play a role in being a conduit of that hope by working with former foster youth everyday, I gladly choose hope; because lives are changed and dreams become tangible.
Thank you Kayla, for your vulnerability, honesty, and sincerity. You have encouraged the my heart to keep seeking the author of hope, and the One who is love and gives it so freely.