Friday, May 29, 2009

The REAL Measure of a Person

Every so often you hear of a person who has overcome tremendous odds in order to succeed. The journey was long and at times very lonely, and yet with the goal in sight they persevered forward. My niece, Erin, is one them.

Erin was born to an unwed teenage mother. She was loved dearly by her maternal grandmother and adopted Grandma "Net". Through a series of choices made by her mother she ended up with 3 others siblings and mother who dealt with 2 difficult marriages. Her mother succumb to drugs, depression and isolation forcing everyone out of her life. Erin's stepfather moved from job to job due to drug addictions. The addictions of her parents led them to become in trouble with the law due to theft, fraud, concealed weapons violations, and heavier drug charges. Erin as a young child became the mother to her brothers and sister. She cooked the meals, helped try to clean the home, sent her siblings to school and did her best to make sure that she was in school. She carried a heavy, silent burden and seldom talked about her family whenever she was even allowed to come to family functions.

I'm ashamed to say that my family knew what was going on but due to the way my sister had treated everyone, no one wanted to step in and help. I think each one of us will have to answer for that someday.

Things came to a sudden turning point 2 years ago this month. My mother was dying and in a hospital in Salt Lake City. My life was busy; I was working full time and trying to care for a terminally ill parent. Jake was trying desperately to complete his last class to graduate with his bachelor's degree and between the two of us, we were doing our best as young parents to care for our 2 year old daughter. I had just found out I was pregnant and with that came the mixed emotions of knowing I was going to loose my mother and would be having a child that she would never know.

A couple of weeks before Mom passed away I received a phone call from the police at work saying that my sister and her husband had both been arrested and that I needed to go quickly and pick up their kids. I went to find 4 frightened children sitting in the living room with the police as their parents were handcuffed and shackled on the couch. I quickly grabbed some clothes for the kids and took them to my house. I had just became a "parent" to 4 kids who had needs bigger than I knew how to deal with. I was not mature enough to care for those kids.

It was with a heavy heart that Jake and I made the decision to place the kids in foster care. It was really the best choice for everyone, but the looks on the kids faces as I left them were indescribable. Erin, especially, had a hard time dealing with everything that had just happened to her family. She had tried so hard to keep them together and yet nothing was ever going to be the same.

For a long time I used to blame myself for Nathan's health problems. Was in my fault? Did I eat something wrong? Was it because I was caring for my mother who had a deadly strain of bacteria? No, it was the Lord's plan. I have had no regrets since Nathan was born that we placed those children in foster care. We couldn't have cared for them in the way they needed and Nathan at the same time. They were placed with the best foster parents, Doug & Jane and another mother, Carolyn. What a tremendous impact these adults have had on these children. They have been loved and well cared for. The foster care system truly worked for these children.

Jake and I have kept in contact with Erin and have seen the kids several times in the last two years. Erin's parents have been in and out of jail several times. Even on graduation day, Erin's mother was currently serving more time in jail.

Erin graduated with honors from high school yesterday afternoon. She has learned to love our Heavenly Father and lean on Him for guidance. She is slowly learning that she has worth as a young woman and that if she works hard she can achieve her goals. Graduating from high school is just the first in many great achievements that she is going to make. Statistically Erin should have followed in her mother's choices and been involved in drugs or becoming a young teenage mother. She set her mind on a goal and even though she struggled emotionally these last 2 years she made it! Erin has been accepted to Brigham Young University and will be attending college there.

Jake & I are extremely proud of Erin. What a privelege it is to be her aunt and uncle.


Melissa said...

Wow. Big congrats to Erin!!! What an accomplishemnt. Thanks for sharing!

Nic and Ashley Haws said...

Erin sounds like an AMAZING young woman! What a wonderful person she must be... what a wonderful sister to her siblings. I can't imagine the fear they must have experienced. My heart aches for them. She is a beacon of hope for me. I am always in awe when I see another person overcome such tremendous difficulty. Good for her! I'm so happy for her! Congrats Erin!

The Mom said...

Well, I am now officially tearful after reading your post about Erin. What a heartwarming write up of all of her challenges and how she has risen above them all to be at a good place now, with a promising future. As I have told me kids "it takes a community to raise a child" and don't underestimate that tremendous affect that you and Jake have had on her. I am told that if there is at least one person that cares for someone who is going through challenges, that it can make a big difference in their life. You and Jake I am sure have been that stabalizing force. Truly you can celebrate with her.

Tiffany said...

Steph, I was the realtor to doug and Jane when they got Erin and I can tell you that they were so excited to have her in their family. What a small world. CONGRATS to Erin!!

carolyn q said...

In reading what Erin and her brothers have been through, my heart was heavy. It was also heavy for you in having to make such a hard decision as well. Congrats go to Erin for sticking with it and though it has been hard, she is a champ. I can only imagine as she gets older the closeness you two will have.
I hope that maybe your sister can pull it together someday because she is loosing out on the true treasures of life.

Great news about Nathan too. I am glad that things are going well.


Sarah said...

I remember Erin, she was such a sweet little girl. I'm so happy to see that things are going well for her. Congratulations, Erin!

Steph, I found your blog through Janice's. You have a beautiful family :-)