I was his public school bus driver when he was in about 3rd grade. He came out to the bus and shook his fists and head and screamed "They told me I need therapy!" It seemed he never got along with anybody on the bus.
So, one Saturday I stopped by his house and asked his mother if I could take him to church. I thought we could help him. She very readily agreed. He loved church, even though he got in trouble a lot. Eventually, he trusted Christ as his Savior. He was still a very angry boy. His mother told me that he had been in foster care as a toddler and severely abused by the foster family. She even showed me pictures - my heart ached for Kent. Unfortunately, Kent's mom lost her 4 kids by 3 dads to the foster care system. Kent was in 7th grade. (She lost them due to the behavior of the men she allowed to stay in her home.)
Kent's dad isn't in his life. For a long time they had supervised monthly visits, usually at the agency's office. Now even those have ended.
Kent and his siblings were within a month of returning to their biological mom's home when she was killed in a car wreck. One of the hardest things I have ever done was meeting Kent when he got home from school, along with several case workers and counselors. I was the one who gave him the sad news that his mom had passed away...he just stared. My heart breaks for him again as I type...
When I drop Kent at his house (he now lives with an aunt) after church or after hanging out with me and my family, I tell him that I love him like a son. He usually says "ok" or see you later. So the other day I asked him if it bothered him that I told him I love him. I explained that it means I care about him, not that I "like" him. I was willing to use a different phrase, but I meant it the same way I say it to my 2 sons (who look at Kent like a big brother). He said it was ok for me to say it.
What's going on in his head? And why does he lie to me about one thing or another almost every time I talk with him? He is a freshman this year, but still watches "kid programs" on t.v. (thank God!) While walking through Walmart the other day, he asked me to buy him some "spy" stuff (ages 8 and up). Yet, he's been through more than a lot of adults.
I can pray for Kent. I can help Kent with his homework (when he admits he has some). I can love Kent, but I don't always know how it's going to turn out. The good news - I don't have to know. I just have to ask God to help me teach Kent his "next step" for this week. I have so much hope for Kent! He is a first-born and is great with my kids. He spent Christmas day at our house and he said it was awesome! Joy all over his face. But so many hurdles...
Update: The above was written in January of 2012. Since then, my family and I have begun spending much more time with Kent. One evening I explained to him that nothing he could ever do would make me care about him less. He could do some things that would cause us not to be able to spend time together, but I promised to always care about him unconditionally. He has since begun saying "love you, too" when I tell him I love him, and he behaves more respectfully around me than ever!
In that same conversation, I asked him not to lie to me anymore. I tried to convince him that he did not have to lie for me to accept him. Even if he told me truth I did not want to hear, I would still care about him and be his friend. I meant what I said and he shook my hand and agreed to be honest with me. I'm not convinced he's been perfectly honest (habitual deceit is hard to quit!), but I can't think of one blatant lie he has told me for several months. He is growing!
Unfortunately, Kent has recently failed 9th grade (almost straight F's) even though he made honor roll in 8th grade. When I pressed him to explain what changed, he eventually confided that his father who promised to attend his 8th grade graduation did not show up. I asked why that bothered him since his dad never really was a part of his life and he said "I thought that was a pretty big deal and he could at least show up for that. I kept scanning the audience but I never saw him or my big [half] sister." (This is one reason Next Step does not intend to replace fathers, only stand in the gaps where they are absent. Fathers are powerful forces in their children's lives. Our ultimate desire is that they would love and train their own sons.)
After hearing this story, I promised to stand up for Kent at his High School graduation. The only that would prevent me from being present is whatever would keep me from my own son's graduation (death, hospitalization, etc.). I told him I would like to keep him accountable concerning his grades. I want to be able to be proud of him for the work he did to graduate. I have hope that he will improve next year. We've spent a few hours studying and doing homework together since that conversation, but it was too late to bring up this year's grades.
Last week, I asked Kent if I could point out to him when he was speaking or acting disrespectfully toward me. I affirmed that I didn't think he ever meant any disrespect but sometimes he came across that way. Because my sons look up to him and often imitate him, I told him I wanted permission to correct him when he said or did things I wouldn't want them to do. He agreed to listen when I corrected him, and the same day when I did call him on something he apologized immediately and corrected the wrong. I was very proud of him.
Kent calls me sometimes. He asks to go to church with us often. He frequently wants to come over to our house (and does). He tries to dress appropriately for church and special events (something I could never get him to do voluntarily when I was just his youth pastor!). I have great hope for him and I'm excited to see how God is going to work in his life. Kent has a long way to go before he is a mature Christian, good husband, good father, and contributing citizen, but he does keep taking the next step, and that's the key!
Update: October 2, 2013
Kent came to live with us 5 weeks ago. His foster mom was unexpectedly incarcerated which created an urgent need for
him to be placed in a new home. We agreed to keep him temporarily while a permanent home with his half sister (father's
side) can be arranged. She is in the care of another foster family who is willing to bring Kent into their home. This
experience has been a joy and a challenge. For the first time in 2 years, Kent has gotten a grade above D or F on his
report card! He interacts well with our 3 kids under the age of 5, too. What God has in store we do not know, but His
plan for Kent is perfect.