To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:2b-3 NIV
I wish that every child would have a loving family without going through the spirit of despair. Sometimes people have to endure messy and terrible situations, especially children, but as sad as that can be, my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude that God does bring beauty from ashes.
Chris will never forget that day in May 1995 when his life took a drastic turn. Because of his parents’ severe drug addiction, he was removed from his home by authorities. He was 5 years old.
“When I said good-bye to them I knew I would never see them again,” Chris explained.
He was placed in foster care, and in just six months he was adopted by a couple who had adopted several other children.
“I was so excited to have a mom and dad again.”
To outsiders, his adoptive parents were model citizens, but behind the closed doors of his new home, life was a nightmare. Chris, who has cerebral palsy, was abused—physically and sexually—almost every day.
“One Sunday evening when I was 13 years old, I heard my father approaching the kitchen. It was 7:06. I will never forget that time because I was supposed to have finished washing the dishes by 7:00, but I was late. I knew what I was in for. First he hit me across my face—knocking me to floor. Then he took off his belt and started beating me. I was crying so hard I could barely breathe. After he was finished I just lay there asking God, ‘Why don’t my parents love me? Why do I have to go through all this?’ I began to lose hope.”
Chris spent nine years enduring abuse from his adoptive parents. He and the 12 other adopted children in his family tried to report what was going on, but to no avail. During his last year with the family, he and the other children were allowed to attend a charter school. They began talking to the school social workers, counselors, and teachers about the abuse, and finally someone listened.
“May 10, 2005, was the best day of my life. I was 15 years old and Child Protective Services removed me from my adoptive family and placed me back in foster care. My life became much better. My new foster parents were so kind and encouraging—they became the mom and dad I had never had before but always wanted.”
Chris credits his new foster family for helping him turn his life around.
“They weren’t just foster parents. They became huge supports in my life, whether it was helping take care of me after multiple leg surgeries, assisting me with homework, or helping me with the transition from high school to college. They sacrificed a lot to help me. They never adopted me, but I still feel I am a part of their family.”
While in high school, Chris enrolled in Bethany Christian Services’ Life Skills program, where he learned things like how to balance a checkbook and develop a personal budget. He soon found himself enrolled at a local university and the tremendous influence that Bethany would have on his life continued through help in applying for financial aid, supplies, and just hours of talking about his life’s direction with his social worker. “It was great to have someone to talk to as I was beginning to form my own identity.”
Chris shares that his Bethany social worker took the role to a whole new level. “It was not enough for him to meet with me the required three times a week. He made sure I was up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the gym and work out with him. He had me over to his house, where I ate all his cereal and lasagna. The food was always free and I was always hungry. He had a gift of making me feel special and helped me understand that I deserved to have a good life. He was not just my social worker but a big brother to me.”
“Through the men I’ve worked with at Bethany, I’ve seen God’s love for me overflow. They have helped me become the person I am today.”
In April, Chris graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and is now pursuing a master of social work degree. He cites Jeremiah 29:11 as a Bible verse that continues to inspire and encourage him: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV).
“I had no way of controlling anything that happened to me, but God gave me hope and a future through Bethany. I never imagined I would be where I am today. I am truly blessed.”