When you grow up in a family of divorce, life is not usually uncomplicated. And rarely is it conducive to a healthy emotional life. As a child and teen, my heart felt the ongoing devastation created when my parents divorced when I was 3 years old. It’s not that I seek to blame them, as I am now married with kids myself and understand how challenging relationships and parenting can be. Yet, at that tender age, I was searching for wholeness, searching to be free from the pain that always haunted my heart and gave my eyes a sad and hollow look in the yearbook photos.
In high school, I left the turbulence of my home life temporarily and sought refuge with an aunt and uncle. I was related to my aunt by blood, but my uncle had recently married into our family. Yet he treated me as his own daughter, (and this after having lost a daughter and son of his own!). This amazing man, disabled after sustaining an injury in the workforce, spent long hours praying for me, counseling me, listening, and writing me beautiful, raw, encouraging letters on scores of yellow legal pad paper. He used to end his sentences with cartoon-like exclamation points, giving a unique zest to his important impartations.
When the time started approaching for the school dance at the end of my junior year, he told me he was hoping to send me off in style. So, one Saturday afternoon, ramped up on pain pills, he cinched up his neck brace, and drove me to the nicest boutique in town to purchase what turned out to be the most exquisite robin’s-egg-blue gown I had ever set eyes on. To my fingertips it felt like angel hair, and it shimmered like a celestial river. To say the least, I was nearly in unbelief that this dress was mine, and that my Uncle Michael would cherish me that much to invest in such a gorgeous, expensive treasure.
The dance came and went, as did several romantic interests. Through each excitement or heartbreak, Uncle Michael was there to listen, help, guide, love, and was the hands and feet of Jesus to me. It was a very healing place where I felt safe. Because I did not have a father in the home while growing up, his presence spoke to my soul about my true worth and value.
My high school years passed and I was off to college. Still, my aunt and uncle remained incredibly faithful to me, pillars of support, examples of what selflessness looks like. My aunt always wanted children and loved my sister and I as if she had given birth to us. She spent untold hours creating delicious meals, talking, exploring God’s Word and sharing her love of folk-art crafts. My uncle continued to write me yellow legal pad letters, complete with whimsical exclamation marks, as well as stories and Scriptures that meant so much. Many a day, I drove that 20 miles or so from my college door just to relax with them in their livingroom, chatting and laughing. But it was always deeper than that; it was a teen girl, absorbing the mentoring of an older generation who cared enough to help mold my life. And I believe that, in the process, the two of them, and especially my uncle, received a certain satisfaction concerning their longing to function as a complete and close family.
Then Uncle Michael became suddenly ill, his body overloaded with inflammation and medications. Though he looked to be in his mid-forties, his body was degenerating rapidly. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency care. His heart failed and he breathed his last here on earth.
I was in the midst of activities at college when I received that tearful call from my aunt. My heart shuddered. The perception of the whirring pace of everything around me came to a chilling standstill as I tried to process those painful words.
My second father was gone. And I cried. I cried because I missed the smell of his mustard-colored Timberland boots. I cried because I missed the way he threw his head back and exposed all his teeth when he laughed. I cried because I longed for one of his super-sized hugs. And I cried because a beautiful heart that had given so much to me had exited and taken its place in Heaven.
Where would I have been, who would I be, without this man’s, this couple’s presence in my life? They were the love of God, lived out, to me. House of Hope Central Virginia (HOHCVA) did not exist when I was navigating through some of my darkest hours. Yet now I realize that what I experienced was much like that of the ministry of the House of Hope Central Virginia, where a teen comes to live, in the shelter of loving hearts who are skilled and blessed with overflowing love.
House of Hope Central Virginia is an incredible ministry that reaches out to troubled teens and their families. Just as I was able to sit down with my uncle or aunt and talk with them, so teens out there can come to the House of Hope Central Virginia and be truly heard. In my time of need I found perspective, hope, and restoration. Had my uncle and aunt not been there to shelter me, I sense that I could have spiraled into an extremely destructive adolescence.
Hurting teens at House of Hope Central Virginia can and do pour out their deepest and most vulnerable inner lives with the counselors who give their time at this ministry. Teens make the transition from depression and brokenness to healing and wholeness, and ultimately into joy and destiny. It is nothing short of a miracle – but it happens all the time at the National House of Hope (which includes the House of Hope Central Virginia). Over the past 3 years, House of Hope Central Virginia has played a major role in the reality of over 40 teens and their families being set free from all manner of heartbreaking issues and scenarios.
But House of Hope Central Virginia is at a crossroads; it needs the funding to finally open the doors of the two residential homes in Central Virginia which are already purchased and waiting to be inhabited by desperate youth. Research has proven that teens in residential ministry settings do far better than teens who merely receive counsel and continue living at home. It’s not always easy for the parents to release their kids, either. It feels much like a catch 22; they dearly need a solution and need a respite from the intensity of interactions with a broken teen, but they also are emotional about releasing their teen into the care of someone else. An anonymous psychologist once said, “For a parent to admit that someone can do a better job with the person they love best in the world is a very humbling place to be.”
And yet, that release of the teen into a healing environment is exactly what is often needed for both sides to be restored. Wisely, counsel and ministry is geared toward the family as a unit, and not just toward the teen.
Parents and teens have shared from the heart about what House of Hope Central Virginia has meant to them. I will share a snapshot of that here. One teen wrote to their counselor, “I miss you a lot. And I love you. Thank you soo much…. I really hope I can come home soon. I really just want to be back with my family terribly. This month has just been bad for me. I promised my mom I wouldn’t run or do anything anymore, and I mean it. I also gave myself to God and I couldn’t be happier! I really hope I can continue to keep meeting with you. I feel close to you, and I’m comfortable with talking to you, and telling you anything.” A mother of a teen girl wrote, “Deeply grateful for all that you have done for Ashley. Your love and sensitivity to the Spirit has been an incredible blessing. You are amazing and I am deeply grateful for you in our lives!”
These words bring tears to my eyes now, because they return me to the memory of my own season of restoration from crisis.
House of Hope Central Virginia is ripe for our support! It’s places like these that our communities need, so that the teen violence, the shooting sprees, and the suffering can be replaced with healing and wholeness, and a resurgence of joy-filled young people who can meaningfully contribute to society!
Thank you for reading, and thank you for opening your hearts even more as I have shared my story! Please help ensure that every teen has this vital opportunity, through Jesus alone, to receive healing and the chance to engage in truly healthy relationships!