Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Story of Joe

Led by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen, we’ve been discussing Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis and Beth Clark. In chapter seven, Katie describes returning to the United States to do some fund-raising for herself and her growing ministry. She’s discovering that she’s changing, and doesn’t belong in the comfortable lifestyle in which she grew up in suburban Nashville. (I still have an issue with her attitude at times; perhaps the very reason for the wealth of her upbringing has something to do with the resources that will be provided for her work in Uganda.)

As I wrote last week, these two chapters put in mind of an experience I had in Houston in the mid- to late 1970s. I was doing volunteer work at Cambio House, a residence home for emotionally disturbed children. My primary job was the fun job – taking the kids on a field trip on Saturday, providing they had earned enough points during the week to go.

Sophie (not her real name) was one of those children. She was eventually moved to a residence home in the East Texas woods. Her experience at Cambio did not end well.

Joe (not his real name) was another child. He was 11. He and his younger brother had been removed from the family home, the “home” being an unlit, unheated garage. Today we would say that his parents had speech and hearing impediments, and were developmentally disabled. Thirty-five years ago, what was written in Joe’s file was “parents are deaf mutes, unable to care for themselves or their children.”

Joe’s brother had been successfully adopted. Joe was, too, until his new parents decided he was too much work and turned him back over to the court. After a succession of foster homes, Joe ended up at Cambio House, hating authority and hating adults.

I had been at Cambio almost two years when Joe arrived. I knew the ropes. In fact, I knew the ropes better than some of the staff did, because turnover was high. These were low-paying, easy-to-burn-out jobs (jobs like these probably still are).

Like most of the kids when they first arrived at Cambio, Joe went through a honeymoon period. Then the testing of the system started, and the rebellion. One of the things that struck me about him was that he was a good kid; his parents may have been “developmentally disabled” but they or someone had done a decent job raising him. But he was filled with anger; he had been buffeted and rejected so many times that he began to “live down to expectations.” He also didn’t like to be touched, as if he didn’t trust affection.

I saw him at most once a week, but we did build a relationship. He would become unbelievably upset if I happened to be in the vicinity when he was being disciplined, so if I saw things moving in that direction it was either calm Joe down or leave the room.

He was making progress. It was often easy to define the child by the behavior, but he was a little boy who wanted to be accepted and loved.

One Saturday, none of the kids had enough points for a field day, and it was raining, so we stayed in, playing board games, goofing off and watching TV. Joe was sitting next to me on the sofa, and several other kids were in various parts of the sofa, floor, nearby chairs, whatever was handy. A staff person had wandered in to see how we were doing, but was standing quietly to the side.

Without a word, Joe suddenly slipped his hand inside mine. I had the presence of mind not to react; I squeezed his hand and kept watching TV. I did glance at the staff member, who had seen Joe’s action. His eyes were huge. A breakthrough had happened.

A few months later, Joe was adopted by an older couple whose children were grown. They were warned he might act up at some point, to test them. And he did. He trashed their house. This time, though, they didn’t give him back to the court. They disciplined him, and they kept him. He had found a home.

I’ve looked but haven’t found a web link for Cambio House, but ChildBuilders has a page which mentions it – describing it as Houston’s first residential facility for emotionally disturbed children and saying that it had opened in 1974.

I didn’t see Joe again, but his story had a better ending that Sophie’s. Joe would be 48 today. It’s my hope that he and his new family were a success.

He and Sophie bought taught me that children matter, and that if we have the resources or the time or the heart, we should share what we have.

Katie learned that lesson in Uganda. I learned it in my backyard. It’s the same lesson.

To see more posts on this chapter of Kisses from Katie, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.


Anonymous said...

we just don't understand the plan. but, God can use anyone for His Good.

it is true, i think, that each person is used in different ways, at different times.

i don't think that people actually know all the times that they are used. i think perhaps it is best that we only see just enough.

jasonS said...

It's the same lesson--yes. If we are open, God will show and give us a heart for the broken and orphaned just as He has. Another wonderful story (glad this one has a happier ending). Thanks Glynn.