This photo is of Sarah and Josh - brother and sister. Average American teenagers they are not. But God has certainly protected them in such a way that they have been able to grow up fairly normal. These two kids are the product of a relationship gone wrong - living in a chain reaction of drug and alcohol use, homelessness and government assistance. When we met them back in 2003, they were living in the local homeless shetler with their mother. In and out of their life, both their mom and dad were making very poor choices; choices that had a negative impact on these precious kids. Then 8 and 11, Sarah and Josh were fairly accoustomed to bouncing from government subsidized housing to homelessness. Poor grades, poor discipline and a lack of loving guidance had taken root in these two American kids. Once living in an abandoned church with no electricity or water; showering in the rain with a bar of soap and a tattered towel. That's when God stepped in.
The first time we met them, we were having a birthday party at the family homeless shetler (gosh, we didn't even know there were homeless kids. We thought homelessness was reserved for the scraggly-bearded, drunk 'bum' on the park bench). The first time we met them, my husband and I could not sleep that night. We tossed and turned all night, just couldn't shake that picture God had burned in our memory banks of those two precious children. They were beautiful. They didn't look homeless. But they were so desperate for attention and healthy parental affection. So, the next weekend, we were back at the mission, befriending their mother, asking if we could take them to Sunday School and Church with us. She agreed and God's intervention began (although I truly suspect it began long before that).
I will never forget the feeling I had in my heart the very first Sunday that we brought them to our home for lunch after Sunday service. My girls began to set the table and my mother and brother we sitting around sipping tea, waiting on the meal to be served. As we all began to gather around the dining room table, little Sarah asked me, "what are we doing?" Not knowing the impact of what she was asking, I quickly responded, "we are going to have lunch." She looked up at me and said something I will never, ever forget. She said, "Together?" As we all gathered 'round the table, taking our seat in mismatched chairs to crowd in more than 10 people, smiling, laughing and having a good time together, I watched little Sarah, quietly taking in the moment. I could actually hear her thoughts as this scene of family unfolded. It was so foreign to her. So unusual. She had never experienced having a meal together as a family. Let me say that again. At eight years old, Sarah had never experienced sitting down around a table and having a meal as a family. Let that sink into your mind for just a moment.
Another Sunday after church, we took Sarah and Josh out for lunch with the family. To Shoney's. Nothing spectacular - just Shoney's (big family, lots of food, little budget = Shoney's for us). As we entered the dining room of Shoney's to be seated by the hostess, I caught a glimpse of little Sarah from the corner of my eye as we passed by the buffet to be seated. She walked very, very slowly by the food, taking it all in with her beautiful ice-blue eyes. We were seated in the back dining room where a server pushed together a couple of tables to make a big table for our "family" and little Sarah, as usual, was the last child to sit down. After the blessing, we all got up moving toward the buffet to make our plates. All but Sarah. I went over to her chair to walk with her and she said to me, "Tracy, what are we doing?" I said, "we are going to make our own plates." She said, "really!?!" And as we walked toward the buffet she told me she had never been to fancy restaurant before and she had never helped herself to a buffet. This was a first for her. Her first 'fancy' buffet restaurant.
Many more 'firsts' have occurred since that time that God has allowed me to be a part of Sarah's life. You see, since that very first experience at Shoney's, Sarah has been our "adopted" daughter. Living with us as much as she can, while still maintaining contact with her mother. She has and will always be a very important part of our lives as the Hicks family. (Josh is also a very real part of our family, but his story is a little different. I'll resrve that for another day.)
This May, we will be celebrating Sarah's 15th birthday. Christmases, Easters, Thanksgivings, Birthdays, joining the Youth Group. youth Witness Trips. Vacations. Births of Babies. All firsts in the past 7 years. All wonderfully celebrated for a little girl who has grown to capture a real piece of my heart. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. We have really sacraficed to keep a healthy balance of helping her mother provide a roof over her head, staying sober long enough to sign homework papers or other important events. Sarah has been bounced back and forth from her home to ours - always with a focus on keeping HER family in tact. Some days its been easier than others - the long trek taking her across town to a different school system than us adds an extra 30 minutes for me each morning). Has it been worth it? Absolutely so. What a treasure and blessing she is in my life. My daughters love her as (and consider her) their sister. She may have blonde hair and blue eyes, but she is a Hicks through and through.
Sarah is now contemplating college - she has always had a dream to run her own Day Care. She loves little kids and is so good with them. I strongly suspect that somewhere deep down inside she wants to right-the-wrong of her own childhood but she has never verbalized that. But regardless, I am a thankful woman today. Thankful that God has allowed us to be a part of her upbringing. A part of her life. A part of her family. She will be in the 10th grade next year. Her grades and her attendance are markedly better. She has a great shot at getting into a good college. We will support her as long as God provides the means. Both financially and personally through love, family support and kindness. After all, isn't that what the body of Christ is called to do?