Stephon entered the foster care system when he was only six years old.
He hid in the corner as his stepfather chased his mom with a blowtorch and screamed dark, hard, scary words at the top of his lungs.
The next day, Stephon went to a foster home . . . the first of five by the time he reached age nine. He turned inward as he bounced from placement to placement, from family to family, and school to school. Each time, he loaded up his only possessions into a garbage bag . . .
. . . until he was finally adopted by a “forever family” at age ten. But then the adoption failed.
When Stephon saw the social worker drive up to the house, he started to panic. A flood of fear rushed down to his toes. “Oh, no!!! AGAIN!?!” he thought. “Not again!!! NOT AGAIN!!!” He was furious with himself for thinking this would be different, that it would last. Tears streamed down his face, but he didn’t say a word.
Stephon shuffled back into the system, dragging his garbage bag, convinced he was unloved and unlovable. Failed adoptions hurt as much (or more) than being pulled out of your family home. For a child, the pain and rejection of being told, “You’re too much. You don’t belong here” is excruciating. The wound cuts deep.
Stephon bounced through two more foster families before I met him at age twelve. His narrow shoulders carried the weight of years of trauma.
That’s when Stephon came to our children’s ministry home. Stephon would sometimes withdraw, sometimes act out, other times just sit and talk with me. Sometimes we’d go for a walk together on the grounds, and his heart would spill out.
He’d test me, try to push my buttons, apologize for yesterday things, and I’d bend down, look him in the eye, and tell him, “There’s grace. You’re loved. We all make mistakes. Where we go from here, that’s the important thing. We all have something we’re working through.”
As Stephon’s walls started to come down and he made progress in school and with the other kids at the children’s ministry home, we got word from his case worker there was a family interested in adopting this now thirteen-year-old young man.
That’s when it happened. Stephon sprayed down his group’s whole cottage with a fire extinguisher. That was a first!
Stephon and I talked, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Are you going to put me out?”
I asked him why he thought that. “Well,” he responded, “that’s what they did in my last placement. I used the fire extinguisher, and they put me out the next day. Are you going to put me out?”
“No,” I reassured him with a hug. “But we do need to talk about other ways to communicate when you’re scared or worried or unsure about something. And you do need to help clean this mess up.”
When he acted up in smaller ways, I’d give him a Bible verse to write out. One day Stephon was singing a song full of unhealthy, disrespectful lyrics. I asked him to stop, and he asked if I was mad. Then I let him in on a secret, “I don’t do mad. It ruins the day. Disappointed, sure. I expect you to do better because you can do better. Go and write down the lyrics to Amazing Grace.”
He came back to me later that afternoon, excited but with a puzzled look. “Did you do that on purpose?” he asked.
“Do what Stephon?” Now I probably had the puzzled look.
“Was it about me? Was that song about me?” he asked, barely able to look me in the eye.
I laughed and wrapped him in a big hug. “Stephon, honey, that’s about all of us.”
I can’t say Stephon’s story has a happy ending . . . not yet. When Stephon describes his first home, you can still see the fear in his eyes, hear the pain in his voice.
But what I CAN tell you is that he’s finally getting the Christ-centered, loving, and supportive care he needs to heal and, Lord willing, to thrive.
To support Stephon and children like him please see how you can help.
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