Recently someone asked me, regarding our upcoming mission, “Whose idea was this? Was it yours? Was it Josiah’s? How did you all get here?” Surprisingly at that moment, even after totally committing, I didn’t really know how to answer that question. After a while to think on it, all I can really come up with is that it wasn’t either of us. It was something (or someone) much greater. Today I’m thinking of where it all started and that was my sweet Granny. The more I reflect, the more I know there are no coincidences. It was a great blessing that I was born into a family with the most solid, strong, Christian example of a woman I could’ve ever hoped to even meet. What a lady! She was my Christian example. She was something to be reckoned with and fierce in faith even through terrible trials and the pain of numerous battles with cancer. She was always faithful. From the time I was a very small child she was showing me the importance of leading the young ones to the faith. She was the church van our church couldn’t afford; picking up countless families. I had no idea as a kid sitting in the back of that station wagon looking backwards that I was being molded into the person I would strive to become by her EXAMPLE. She never told me the importance of reaching out, she SHOWED me. For that I will forever be nothing short of thankful!
I can’t count the times her kindness was on full display. She always worked tirelessly to bring Jesus to everyone she met. She was it for me. Even after the wonderful years I got to spend with my Godly grandmother and the faith roots that were planted I can’t fool anyone. I have participated in my fair share of shenanigans which have been in direct opposition to God’s plan for me. Through these experiences I’ve suffered the loss of friends who were far too young due to substance abuse and depression. My journey allowed me to see and experience these issues. Many times I was too close for comfort, but God’s hand was over me and allowed me to experience and love and try to offer aid without being so influenced that I followed suit. I was protected from the devastation such big adult issues can have on a young person. This wasn’t because I have great willpower (trust me that’s NOT it) or am any stronger than anyone else. God is the only explanation I can provide for this. God was preparing me with experience and insight to one day be able to reach these same types of youths through my future work. Work….social work. Seems like a curse word some days, but what a journey it's been! Through my work I have the privilege of meeting and working with some of the most resilient, strong, amazing and talented kids and families you could ever hope to meet. I am blessed to walk beside people in the worst days, weeks and months of their lives. On this walk they bless me far more than I could ever bless them. I have met so many wonderful people; clients and co-workers alike who have changed my life I can’t even begin to talk of them all.
In the endless cache of memories one sticks out. I was a juvenile justice case manager for the Department of Children’s Services and I had the best, supportive, supervisor out there. In this role I was able to advocate, really advocate for my kids. I met several kids along this journey who have imprinted my heart even to this date. Some of them have lost their battles. Some of them are thriving. Some of them are still struggling. As a JJ case manager a lot of my time was spent visiting Youth Development Centers, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the social work lingo this is basically a prison of youth offenders; those who have a crime against a person or three felonies. To set the scene this is what you would imagine an adult prison to look like. You can’t walk through one door until the one behind you locks, cells with bunks and metal toilets, razor wire on the fences….you get it. It was here I got to see boys, CHILDREN, locked away. When I would visit one of the boys there who wasn’t even on my caseload or from our region began talking to me stating he saw me there a lot and wondered where I worked because he had been there for an extended period of time with no visitors…not even his worker who was paid to see him. I don’t say this to paint a negative picture of DCS because those are some of the hardest working most dedicated people I’ve ever met, but I say this to emphasize the impact this had on me. I was perhaps the only familiar face (that didn’t work there) this boy recognized. He had no visitors. None. Not even a paid one, but he was expected when his time came to be released just to return to the exact environment which had placed them there with people he hadn’t even seen in over a year. This was not okay with me. I did what I could for him, but I also knew he wasn’t the only one, so what about the rest? Beyond this experience I met a young man who would forever be a part of my story as because of working with him I was able to meet Josiah. Josiah was working at the Boys and Girls Club and had become a mentor to this young man who through the court had become a part of my life as well. It was in talking to Josiah and seeing his passion for helping this kid and all the others that I knew Josiah was it for me. You all probably know this part of the story already so I’ll spare the mushy details and fast forward to a time more recent.
Since meeting Josiah we have been blessed. I mean so blessed. All our preparations to this point were made with the goal of having a family in mind and we are ready. However, after all our preparations and no sign of pregnancy I began to feel an emptiness. I had this home fit for a family, but there was no pitter patter (other than our dog Chance’s paws) and we had hearts full of LOVE for all children so I began praying for God to ensure I used my blessings in the way he intended me to use them when they were given. This led me to firmly believing we should open our home to foster children. We had discussed the kind of foster parents we would be; involved advocates for the whole family and try to keep them within as many of their norms as we could and to introduce them through our love to our faith. We completed the classes and were starting our home study process when we were told because of Josiah’s job and my connections with other DCS personnel we wouldn’t be allowed to have kids from our or the surrounding areas meaning this would greatly limit our ability to be the foster parents we said we were going to be. This deflated my balloon causing us to halt this process. After this we (admittedly mostly Josiah) began praying God would just send us (he was actually very specific) a teenager who was about to enter adulthood who just needed a mentor we could be involved with, more specifically a teenage boy because he has always said no teenage girls under any circumstances. Not long after this on a visit to see my best friend, Hope, we were introduced to this wonderful teenaged GIRL states away from our home who happened to live in our hometown. She was beautiful, smart, polite, and hardworking. After leaving South Carolina we talked all the way home about her and about God’s sense of humor in giving us ALMOST exactly what we had asked for, but he knew she was just what we needed and that later her sweet brother would come along with her. We have been blessed by these two teenagers and are very thankful for their involvement in our lives.
It was after our prayer had been answered that we continued to push our own agenda and found another wonderful program in which we would be able to foster children who were still in the custody of their birth parents, but just be a supportive caregiver to the children while the parents alleviated whatever crisis was keeping them from caring for their children as they wanted to. We completed this process and were ready for whatever, 5-10 kids, bring them on. We were blessed with two beautiful children and the time we had with these kiddos was amazing and we learned so much. So much REAL WORLD PARENT stuff, but it was short lived. It seems as quickly as they came, they were gone and we were heartbroken.Looking back now I see God’s subtle signs perhaps saying “slow down” or “just not now” in regards to kids, but at the time I really thought I was doing what God meant for me to be doing and so it just HURT. After these doors closing however we started to rethink God’s call for us and started to pray that we would see more clearly God’s vision for us and that we would just be open and follow it. We had talked about doing mission trips hundreds of times and it was finally then we shifted our fears into “why not us?”.In reflection of my life and faith journey and trying to figure out where I was supposed to be we found the Salesians and as I learned more about Don Bosco it was confirmed. Just as John Bosco’s mother affectionately called ‘Mama Margaret’ by all, my ‘granny’ was where I first heard the voice of the Master. -“Margaret taught them that work was a privilege and that joy would make the work lighter. She was a woman of character and tenderness. All who knew her called her Mama Margaret. Fathomless was the love she showed her sons, not in coddling words but in deeds; innumerable were the lessons in upright living, Christian fortitude, and fear of God, which she taught by her example. A pillar of goodness, she stood before them as sturdy as the very Alps. At her knee John first heard the voice of the Master calling him to a special assignment.”I see the friends who have been placed into my life as the friends he surrounded himself with as a child. “More than once he came home with a battered cheek or torn shirt and in explanation would say, "But, Mother, those boys aren't really bad. They haven't got a good mother like I have, and they don't know their catechism, and their parents don't take them to church. When I'm with them, they behave better. Please, Mother, may I go with them?" I see his love for children and way of gaining their trust as my passion and I think of my experiences with the boys imprisoned in our own country and state even today who touched my heart and I see yet another story of his life reflected in my own. “In the 1840s the slums of Turin were overrun by the poverty that resulted inevitably from sweatshop factories with their hazardous machinery, child labor, and starvation wages. Walking through these slums, Don Bosco came face to face with his mission. As he visited the prisons with Father Cafasso, the conviction of his vocation seemed to shout within him: "These boys are not bad. Take care of them before they fall into crime--that is your task.”I see a great need for this ministry and I am eager to be able to implement my faith into this work with the children. I love my profession and I know God also led me to it, but there are constraints to my work. Often sharing faith in anyway could mean consequences. I have to work each day trying to preach the gospel without using my words, but I want to be able to grow in my testimony and comfort in being able to use words when they are necessary.“On the feast of Mary Immaculate, December 8, 1841, the first sign came. While vesting for Mass, the priest heard the sacristan shrieking at a poor youngster who had sneaked in to get warm. "Here, call the boy back," cried Don Bosco, "he's my friend." The boy came over to Don Bosco. Don Bosco asked, "What is your Name?" "Bartholomew Garelli" the boy answered. How old are you Bartholomew? "Sixteen," answered the boy. "Can you serve Mass?" "No." "What do you do?" "I am a bricklayer," he responded, head lowered. "Your mother and father," Don Bosco continued. "I am alone," the boy responded sadly. "Can you sing?'" Don Bosco broke in. "Yes I can sing," exclaimed Bartholomew laughing. And that friendship, struck up on the spur of the moment, began Don Bosco's worldwide campaign to bring young people to God. He told Bartholomew to stay for Mass.”Don Bosco was always compassionate. I like to think my experiences and work have taught me a lot about compassion for others, but I am my own worst critic and like Don Bosco whowould often complete somewhat “extreme” penances himself he never forced these on the children. He was kind and compassionate towards them just as someone had been to me at a very tough time in my life stating the words I needed to hear just when I needed them, that we all fall short of the grace of God, but he loves us anyway! "Sanctity is easy!" he would say. He told his Salesians and the young people that God wants us to be happy and to rejoice in the love of Jesus. Just do your duty in school, at home, at work the best you can. Offer your life to God: the happy times and the sad or challenging things.” When I think of having Chastody placed in our lives I smile because although she was an answer to Josiah’s prayer, he made it clear he never wanted TEENAGE GIRLS. When I think of her I think of Don Bosco being led to open his ministry to girls as well. “Don Bosco looked about for tangible proofs of his Lady's intervention. He found it in a women's sodality in a country parish. As he spoke to these young women at a meeting, he was convinced that they were the answer to a prayer.” After meeting her we were convinced too!When I think of our journey with foster care and wanting to take in the children into our home again I am reminded of his passion as shown in the story of Don Bosco’s first contact with an orphan boy. "Please," the boy whined from outside, "I'm hungry. Can I come in?"As he devoured a plate of steaming soup, he told his story: his mother had just died, the farm was taken over by creditors, and he was alone in the world."He'll stay with us," Don Bosco told his fellow priest "But where will he sleep?"the priest interjected, "If necessary, we'll sling a basket from the ceiling for a bed!" laughed Don Bosco. The boy laughed too.”I’m not a saint. I’m just an everyday sinner. I do know, however, that this passion and desire was not planted by me or anyone else. It was placedthere by God and imprinted on me before I was ever born. I hope to be able to do God’s work, not my own. I know I could never do it, but He can and He is with us.
Chastody and I