(Editor’s Note – The story is written in the voice of thirteen-year-old Jacob, the oldest of the two brothers. The story is real, but the names of the children are changed for their privacy and wellbeing. This piece was written to draw attention to the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina offering and the Week of Prayer, Nov. 10-17. )
A Boy’s Dream
I always wanted to go camping. You know, a big adventure for our whole family!
Mom and Dad take me and my little brother Jonah shopping. We pick out our tent, sleeping bags and cooking stuff. I find the best tent, big enough for all four of us. Dad and I look at the fishing gear while Mom and Jonah shop for food. They buy hot dogs and get chocolate bars, marshmallows and graham crackers to make s’mores for dessert. I almost smell it cooking over the campfire!
But it’s only a dream – all of it.
My brother is right where I left him – trying to stay warm by the campfire. My mind has been wandering as I picked up sticks for the fire. We don’t have a dad to help us with the campfire or take us fishing. We don’t really know him because he’s never been a part of our lives. If it wasn’t for me and Jonah, the fire would go out, and it gets really cold at night.
We have a mom, but she stays sleeping in the tent most of the time. She’s been taking too much of her medicine again – she doesn’t know when to stop. And our campsite in the woods isn’t some big family adventure. This is where we live. This is our home.
Maybe Today is the Day
Jonah and I barely make it to school most days. We’re so far behind, it isn’t funny. Today is one of those days where we just happened to wake up in time to catch the bus. The best thing about school is we get to eat – we always save some food for later. We never know when we’ll get to eat again.
We’ve got a lot of extra homework because we’re out so much. Jonah and I try to get as much done on the bus ride after school, but it’s hard when the kids keep making fun of us.
They laugh about our clothes – we wear the same smelly clothes every day. Who knows what they’d say if they knew we take baths in a creek. Nobody wants anything to do with us.
As soon as the bus stops, we grab our backpacks and hurry off. Jonah starts heading for the woods, but I stop him until the bus is out of sight. The driver thinks she’s letting us off near our house. She doesn’t know what’s really going on.
Mom’s probably been sleeping – I bet she let the fire go out. Jonah and I start picking up sticks for tonight’s fire.
Mom promises she’s going to do better and stop taking all that medicine so she can get a job. Maybe, today is the day! Jonah and I will get to the campsite and, this time, she’ll be wide awake. The fire will be warm and she’ll smile and hug us like she used to.
When we arrive at the tent – none of that happened because mom’s gone. She’s not in the tent, by the fire or anywhere. Waiting for us instead is a police officer and a lady. Jonah’s scared. So am I. Could he have taken mom to jail?
He kneels down to talk to us. His voice is calm. “My name is Terry,” he tells us. “Everything is okay. Your mom is safe and we want to make sure you’re safe, too. Is that okay?”
He seems kind, but I’m frightened. I’m worried about Mom and what’s going to happen to us. But I know I’ve got to be brave for Jonah.
“Will you trust me?” the policeman asks.
“Yes, sir,” I say.
“Good, let’s go,” he reaches out his hand.
We start walking out of the woods. The lady with him is right beside us. I still don’t know who she is.
I take one last look at our campsite. Whatever happens, I’m not looking back.
What Home Feels Like
Jonah and I peer out the car window as the lady drives. She’s called a social worker. She helps kids like us who have had a rough time.
We arrive at a place called Baptist Children’s Homes. She says we’ll be living in a cottage with other boys and cottage parents. Jonah’s fidgeting – he’s nervous. I am, too.
The three of us walk up to the door. There are bicycles in the carport and there’s a basketball goal.
We ring the doorbell. A man and a woman open the door and we step inside. “I’d like to introduce you to Jacob and Jonah,” the social worker says as the man and woman reach out to shake our hands.
The man says we can call him Mr. Dathan and he introduces his wife Mrs. Diana. “How about we look at a little bit of the house?” the cottage mom says as we walk into the next room.
It’s so warm here – the way a home should feel. There are photos of kids all over the walls and on the shelves. Everything is colorful and bright.
“This is where the boys gather and we have our meals,” she tells us.
We go from room to room. It is a really big home with a huge table for eating, a big living room, and bedrooms for all the boys.
The next few hours go by fast as Jonah and I settle into the bedroom we’ll share. It is all so new. I wonder what eating at a table feels like? What will taking a shower feel like? What will sleeping in a warm bed feel like?
Mr. Dathan gets us settled in our beds for the night. The clean sheets feel so good. “Good night,” he says as he turns off the light. “We’ll see you in the morning.”
My eyelids become heavy and I think how the cottage parents are really nice. They made us feel safe. My eyes close and I think about that family adventure that fills my dreams.
My Family Adventure
All the kids from all the cottages are outside around a fire pit. We laugh and cut up while Mr. Dathan and Mrs. Diana help the other cottage parents pass out chocolate bars, marshmallows and graham crackers.
Jonah and I pick out our sticks and stuff the biggest marshmallows we can find on the end. As my marshmallow becomes gooey over the fire, I remember how Jonah and I used to pick up sticks for our fire in the woods.
I don’t miss sleeping in the woods or being afraid we wouldn’t have food to eat. But I do miss Mom. Jonah and I talk with her on the phone from time to time. She says she is trying to do better. I sure hope that’s true.
I wish she could see how well we are cared for and how we pray for her every day. She’d hear Mr. Dathan talk about Jesus and hear Mrs. Diana tell us how Jesus loves us. She says that He can heal hurts. I see how the kids here are helped, and I wonder if Jesus can help my mom, too.
I hope mom can one day know how good a home feels and remember what it’s like to be a family. Because that’s what Jonah and I have here at Baptist Children’s Homes – a family.