On a summer evening in June, I sat on a 4-wheeler behind G (my 15-year-old foster daughter). My arms wrapped around her waist as she drove. It had been a stressful week. I was working hard to make preparations for leading VBS, and I had planned a party for G’s birthday…I bought her presents, picked up her ice cream cake, borrowed my friend’s van and picked up 6 of her friends to go roller skating, brought them home for a slumber party, fed them breakfast. I hoped she felt special and that I had done what a mother should do for her.
I was trying to be on my A-game, but the challenges of mothering teenagers were weighing on me. G can be the sweetest girl, but she has a teenager attitude. As much as I knew I shouldn’t take it personally, I felt like the way she spoke to me was DRAINING the life out of me.
So it was nice to have a break, sitting together on the 4-wheeler and having this moment of fun with her. She even leaned back once and kissed my cheek. And then it happened so fast: The back tire went on an uneven surface; she panicked, lost control, and ran the 4-wheeler into a fence post.
I don’t remember flying through the air; I just remember landing on the ground. I was aware of the blood coming out of my nose and mouth, but I didn’t care. I got up and felt instantly relieved that my legs and arms seemed fine. I walked to G, scanning her body to make sure she was okay. I noticed a few scratches on her arm and then saw her eyes were wide as she looked at me. “Mary, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” Her face showed her instant regret and concern. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay; we’re okay.” I turned off the 4-wheeler. I could feel the blood dripping onto my shoes, so I tried to catch it with my hands, which only ended up caking my hands in blood. Then I realized that my shirt and jeans already had blood all over them. All I could think was I want to go home, change my clothes, put them in the washing machine, and lie down.
G looked at me like What should we do now? I looked towards the house. “It’s okay,” I told her. “Someone will come out to help us.”
We were at my grandparents’ house, and several of my relatives had come over for dinner. My uncle Tracy and my cousin’s husband Corey came to us. Corey is a police officer, so I figured he is used to seeing people at accidents. He asked someone to bring me some towels and ice, and then he calmly told me that I needed to go to the ER. His eyes were studying my face, and I could tell he was trying not to alarm me.
My other aunts and uncles came outside:
“Let me see your lip.”
“Oh, honey, you need to sit down.”
Sitting down sounded good. My aunt offered to walk me to the house, but there were even more people in the house. I didn’t want the little kids to see all the blood, and I didn’t want to raise more commotion than I already had. So I walked to my car and sat in the passenger seat.
My aunts started asking G if she was okay. She shrugged and showed the scratch on her shoulder. I sat in my car, holding a towel to my lip and nose and the ice on my forehead. My dad came to me and said he would drive us to the ER. I shook my head—I just wanted to go home.
“Bite the Bullet”
As we drove away, it hit me that this was not the relaxing evening that I had been hoping for. As I was thinking this, the pain started setting in, and the scratches on my head were throbbing. I was so caught up in my own pity party that it took me a few minutes to glance back at G in the backseat.
She was looking out the window. She looked miserable, and I wanted to reach my hand back there to hold hers. But my left hand was holding the towel to my bloody nose and lip, and my right hand was holding the ice on my forehead.
I told my dad that I didn’t want to go to the ER. “The last time I went to the ER, it cost me $1,800. I’m not going.”
But just then, my mom called my phone. Apparently, she had talked to my aunts and uncles who had seen my face, and she insisted that Dad take me to the ER. Everyone was concerned that I might have a concussion, a broken nose, and/or a broken cheekbone.
I asked Dad to call and see if the doctor on call was covered by my insurance. But the person that Dad talked to said they wouldn’t know for sure until a few days later.
Dad looked at my swollen, bloody face, and he said, “You’re just going to have to bite the bullet on this.”
In my frustration and pain, I covered my face with the bloody towel and was getting ready to start crying. But then I heard G say, “Don’t cry, Mary. I can’t see you cry.”
So I took a deep breath, focused my thoughts on anything besides the inevitable expensive bill, and I walked into the ER. Dad told me to go wash the blood off my hands. As I headed toward the bathroom, G said, “I’ll help.”
When I looked in the bathroom mirror, it was the first time I had seen my face in this condition. I knew my lip would be huge because my upper lip always swells up ridiculously any time it’s irritated or injured. But I was pretty surprised when I saw my nose. It was so swollen. My nostrils looked so round. I told G, “I look like a cow; my nose looks like a cow.”
I just stood there as G wet some paper towels with soap and water and gently wiped the blood off my arms and hands. For that brief moment, she was taking care of me instead of me taking care of her.
We admitted G to get checked out just to be cautious. I was pretty sure she didn’t have a concussion or any broken bones, but I wanted her to see the doctor just in case. (I knew her insurance would cover all her expenses.)
Doctor visits are always just a little bit awkward for us. The receptionist, nurses, and doctors always ask me who I am to her. The nurse asked who her parent was, and through my busted lip, I told her that I was G’s mom. Just like every other receptionist, nurse, doctor, and dentist that we had seen over the last 6 months, this nurse looked at me with surprise, obviously thinking that I wasn’t old enough to be her mom. So I clarified, “I’m her foster mom.” I always wonder how it makes the girls feel for us to have to spell it out to everyone all the time.
My mom offered to go with G, and my sister Sara came with me. Once I got into my own room, I no longer needed to be strong in front of G, and I started crying. What if G had gotten hurt badly? That was all I could think about. And then I was angry—I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars for an ER visit! I had just figured some things out with my budget for the girls, and this was a blow to my plan.
The shock and numbness had worn off, and now my body was in pain. Sara stood next to my hospital bed, holding my arm while I tried to get my emotions under control.
While we waited for the doctor, I texted a few of my friends who were leaders at VBS. I told them that G and I had been in an accident, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel tomorrow. I asked if they could cover some of the responsibilities that I usually take care of on the first day of VBS. Of course, my friends texted back that they would help in any way that was needed.
After about an hour, the doctor came in. When he saw me, he said, “Whoa. It looks like you got the worse end of the deal.” He had just checked on G, and because she only had some scratches on her arm and chin, he didn’t expect me to look so bad.
As he examined me, he asked me how old I was and how I had decided to start fostering. He had talked with G in the other room about her biological mom and about her living situation with me, so he was curious about my side of the story.
I told him that I was 28 and that the girls had been with me since January. We chatted a little, and then he said, “Well, you’re quite the humanitarian.”
I laughed. That’s not what I felt like right then—lying in that hospital bed with a busted up face.
He ordered a CT scan to check my face for broken bones. Mom stayed with me while we waited for the results. Dad, Dave, and Sara took G home with them. After an hour or so, the doctor finally came back in to tell me that I didn’t have any broken bones. Feeling relieved, I gave him a thumbs up.
I finally got home from the ER right before midnight. My dad brought G and A back to my house. He chuckled a bit and said, “You look like you were in a fight, and you lost!” Both my parents kissed my forehead before they left that night. Lol. I guess they felt pretty bad for me.
A had been with my sister Rachel and my brother-in-law Brandon that evening. A told me that when they saw my brother’s text of the photo of my face, Brandon said, “We’re lucky she didn’t snap her neck and die.”
That was the first time I realized that I could have died or been paralyzed from the accident. I lay down in bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I kept thinking, Oh my goodness, I LANDED ON MY FACE, but I don’t even have a concussion or any broken bones. As I lay there in the dark, I imagined that as I was flying through the air, an angel had placed his hand on the side of my face and had just let it slide onto the ground, protecting me from impact that could have snapped my neck. It replayed over and over in my mind. It took me a few hours before I finally fell asleep.
Vacation Bible School
The next morning, I woke up super sore, but I knew there was no way I could stay home from work. VBS started at 6:30 p.m. that evening, and 300 children plus 100 volunteers were coming. I needed to make sure that all our loose ends were tied up and ready to go for the evening. I texted my coworkers to tell them about my accident—mostly to give them a fair warning of what my face would look like.
I mostly stayed in my office holding my ice pack as I directed my summer intern and the other VBS leaders.
In the midst of the morning’s hustle, I sat down to text G. She had still been asleep when I had left the house. One of our friends was coming to pick the girls up for lunch and then bring them to the church, but I still felt really bad leaving G there when I knew she would wake up feeling sore and feeling guilty.
G texted back that she felt really sore—that she hurt worse today than last night. Then she asked me how I felt.
“I’m really sore too, and my face looks like a chupacabra.” (G & A had taught me the Spanish word chupacabra. It’s a legendary animal in Latin America that is like an extremely ugly devilish dog. Whenever G & A want to say that they look rough, they will say that they look like a chupacabra.)
G laughed at my choice of words but then said, “omg I am seriously so sorry.”
“I know, honey. I’m not mad at you. Just thankful to God that we’re both okay!!”
“I know. Same.”
I teared up thinking about her alone at home, feeling hurt and guilty. (A was home, but still asleep in the other room.) So my sister Rachel drove to my house and checked on G, giving her some sympathy and some Advil.
As people came into church, they saw my face and exclaimed, “Oh, Mary! What happened?!!” Two of my friends even started crying when they saw me. They hugged me, holding onto me for a few moments because they realized the seriousness of what could have happened.
Our volunteer leaders did an amazing job, and by 5:00 p.m., I felt like everything was ready to go. So I told everyone that I would stay in my office for the rest of the evening because I did NOT want kids to see my face. I didn’t want to be a distraction. I wanted the kids to be able to come in for VBS, have fun, and focus on learning about Jesus.
So I lay on the little loveseat in my office with my ice pack on my face. I could hear the hundreds of kids and volunteers walking and talking in the hallway on the other side of the wall. Part of me wanted to cry because I couldn’t be out there with them. It was bad enough to have this accident, but why did it have to happen during VBS week? But as I lay there, I prayed for the leaders and prayed for the children.
My sister Rachel and my friend Sarah came in and out of my office that evening, giving me updates and also just checking on me. By that point, my lip throbbed from talking to people all day. My whole body was in a lot of pain. (I had quite a few bruises in addition to my face injuries.) Rachel convinced me to leave before VBS was over so that I could make a quick exit and get home to rest. That’s what sisters are for. :)
I wondered why God had allowed this accident to happen, particularly on the night before VBS. But accidents never come at a good time, do they?
I was pretty sure that it was a spiritual attack; I know that Satan tries to discourage me every year around VBS. I believe that Satan hates VBS because so many children are hearing the good news of Jesus and it’s making a deep impression on their young hearts. And this was a pretty big blow to my health, my appearance, and my involvement.
But I can also see how two huge blessings came from this accident. The first is that the accident has given G a healthy fear of what can happen when driving a vehicle. Her mom told me about all the times G had wrecked her bicycle when she was younger because she hadn’t been paying attention. But G is now more cautious and more focused when she practices driving. And she is also very willing to listen to my advice about driving, which I’m sure she would not have been as eager about if she hadn’t wrecked my face. If that accident has saved G from a worse accident down the road, then it was certainly worth it.
The second blessing is that the accident has given me a chance to push the “reset button” on some bad communication habits G and I had gotten into.
I hear that it is pretty typical for teenagers to take out their frustration and speak harshly to their mothers. But G’s disrespectful words left me struggling to be as joyful as I had been before.
Part of this was my fault. I should have corrected her from the beginning. I shouldn’t have let her get away with it for that long. But all I can say is that fostering is very tricky—with all the different dynamics that play into the situation—and I just have to learn things along the way. And because I’m a single mom, there is no one in our home day in and day out, sharing the load of correcting the girls, no one to defend me in the heat of the moment, and no one else for them to answer to when they have been disrespectful to me. So it took me awhile to figure out how I was going to handle these things. And it made me MAJORLY ADMIRE all the single moms in the world who are persevering every day. (If you are a single mom, give yourself a pat on the back and a piece of chocolate today—let’s say it’s from me!)
The night that we were in the ER, I looked at my mom and half-joked, “Maybe this means G will be nice to me this week.” I knew that because of my face, I would receive a lot of sympathy from G—at least until it healed up. :)
My injuries gave me a chance to catch my breath and come up with a game plan to uproot this behavioral pattern before it started back up again. This has improved the quality of our relationship (and the quality of my everyday life!) about a million percent!
Two days after our accident, my friend was taking G to her hair appointment (because I just needed to lie down on the couch and ice my face), and before they left, G turned around and said, “Bye, Mary. I love you.”
I smiled. “I love you too, honey.” Because in that moment, as we were both bruised and swollen and scratched up, knowing that we’d both have scars from this accident, we weren’t too cool to show affection, and we didn’t want to take each other for granted.
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Earlier this year, I was at the courthouse with one of my foster daughters. We sat on the wooden pew in the waiting room. As different families came in to report for their court date, my daughter pointed out which teenagers she knew. She explained to me the reasons why they were in trouble with the law: Drugs. Fist fights. Theft. Child porn. Prostitution.
I looked at their faces: 13 year olds, 14 year olds, 15 year olds, 16 year olds. They looked tough, but they also looked YOUNG!! So young. These were the kids who were growing up about 10 miles from me, living in homes with illegal drugs on the counters and cops showing up at their doors every week.
My foster daughter and I sat next to each other for over an hour, waiting for our turn. She played a game on my phone and kept telling me about memories—some with the kids she knew in the waiting room. Right before it was our turn, a man busted through the courtroom door. He was obviously the father of a child who had just received his sentence. This man was loud—crying and cussing the whole time as he angrily stomped out of the building. Then the lawyer called our names, and we had to walk in as the rest of that family (also angry and crying) was walking out.
My foster daughter was not rattled by this at all, but I was very caught up in this scene. Then when I walked in the courtroom, I saw the boy. I guess he was 15 or 16, but he looked so young. He was shorter than me and had acne on his round face. His hands were handcuffed and shackled to his feet. He was weeping. And I mean weeping. Whatever the judge had just sentenced him to...he was no longer tough and defensive; he was now vulnerable and scared. His sobs filled the courtroom. Because his hands and feet were connected by chains, the kid couldn't even lift his hands to wipe the tears from his face. The officers were trying to escort him out of the room, but it was like he was so distraught that he could barely walk.
I was in shock, just staring at him and blinking back the tears. What if that were my child?
Raise Us Up
It’s been several months since that court hearing, but I will never forget that day. I will never forget that boy.
Since that moment in the courthouse, I feel a sense of responsibility that I have to do something. These kids are living 10 miles from me. I can't ignore it.
My foster daughters lived on the same street and went to the same school with many of the kids that were in the courthouse that day. My girls told me that these kind of kids have "I Don't Care" parents—meaning their parents really don't care what they do, where they go, what they smoke, who they're with, what grades they get. They don't even care whether or not the kids get to school each day.
I believe these parents still love their children, but poverty, violence, substance abuse, etc. have stolen their joy and their energy. So these children are now roaming the streets with no adult supervision. No one is there to listen to them talk about their day. No one is there to protect them from abuse, to pull them back from a fight, or to tell them, "No, don't smoke that—it's bad for your brain! Also, it's illegal! And you can't make good decisions when you're high! And you could get addicted and that's a scary path!! And do you know anyone who does drugs who is able to keep a good, steady job? No, you don't, so make sure you stay away from them so you can be able to be financially secure when you're older!!"
…I don’t have any real answers today. I just have enough faith to ask God to raise us up to be foster parents, youth group leaders, school teachers, tutors, mentors, coaches, social workers, juvenile probation officers, etc. who will be intentional to minister to kids who are vulnerable and at-risk.
The Lord is really stirring something in my heart about this, so I’d appreciate your prayers for me to see what else God is calling me to do here. And today I’ll pray for you, that God would speak to you and help you to show compassion to a young person that He puts in your path.
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.