I watched a mother and her daughter planting flowers together. The mother dug small holes in the ground. The little girl, close by, put the flowers in the holes. I was enjoying their interaction from my front porch as they planted together. I overheard their conversation. Mom said, “go put them over there”. She pointed across the yard to the empty crates that had stored the young plants. The little girl answered “But I don’t want to leave you”.
The scene stirred in me a sudden passion to make a change in our rules at Life Challenge. Until I watched this heartfelt encounter, the mothers could only have their children come to visit and spend the night once a month. Most were grateful for this. But I suddenly understood it was not enough for the mom or the child.
The young mother I saw was Annastacia, one of our students. The precious little girl was her daughter, Abrianna. Children are part of the pain that comes with addiction and need to be part of the healing. How could the child have a voice if he or she were not present? How could the memories be made without the precious moments?
I still have my own memories of being separated from my daughters because of my addiction and bad choices. I still have regrets for the time that was lost. Yet, in spite of myself, I was found by the One who loved me even in my addiction and bad choices. I came to Life Challenge the day I was released from prison. It was not my first time in prison, but thank God it was my last. It has been almost twenty-two years since my salvation experience. Jesus helped me find hope and wholeness.
The simple experience of witnessing the interaction between a mother and her child led me to talk with our Executive Director. He agreed that children should come as often as possible. Soon afterward, I informed the women that those with young children could have their children stay with them every weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.
Soon, Stephanie came into the program along with her two year old son, Nathan. Then came Ashley with her two daughters, Jada and Layla. The latest one to enter Life Challenge is Michelle, who also has a son, Jayce. Now, every weekend we have anywhere from two to five children with their mothers at Life Challenge. Shrieks of delight are heard as the children play in the houses.
The atmosphere is changed and their joy is contagious. When Annastacia was asked to share what it is like for Abrianna to come to Life Challenge she shared the following memories: “I soon realized that these weekends were more than just spending quality time together. I was learning as a mother how to juggle my duties, keep a schedule, how to have patience in teaching Abrianna life lessons. Life Challenge had become my home and it was slowly becoming her home too.”
One Friday, after returning from dinner, I understood how Abrianna really felt about being at Life Challenge. She walked into a staff room and said to a staff member, “Hey Sister Deb, I’m home!”
“Abrianna has become one of the girls. She wakes up when we wake up, she eats when we eat, she even tells the other ladies when it’s time to line up for dinner and she picks someone to pray over the meal. On Saturday she joins me to help with my chores, taking her time out for play of course. Before nap time she will come out with the others to help with yard work because she sees the big girls doing it. The most important part is Abrianna gets to spend time in a Christ-filled environment with her mom. She attends Chapel with us on Saturday mornings, group devotions on Saturday night and church on Sunday. You can sometimes catch her raising her hands during worship and singing along to the chorus “Bless the Lord, oh my Soul”, a song she learned at Life Challenge. If you ask Abrianna today, where does Jesus live? She will tell you with all certainty “Jesus lives in our hearts”.
Annastacia, like many others that come through our doors, only wanted to find release from drugs and alcohol. She found much more: the greatness of God’s grace.. And now we get to see the hand of God move as reunification takes place with the families at Life Challenge.
Last weekend I was walking up the driveway between our homes as I made my way in for the evening. My husband asked me if I had been talking to the children. I asked him how he could tell. He said he could hear it in my voice. I then shared with him how Abrianna had knocked on the window from the neighboring house to get my attention. She waved at me thgough the glass. I paused to exchange funny faces. God uses her to change more than my voice. The Life Challenge children change my heart and soften it with their innocence. Their unrestrained laughter causes me to smile more often as I become part of their small world and I see the faith in their big hearts.
I am privileged to be a part of this great ministry. For over 50 years we have helped to gather the pieces of broken lives as God restores them for his glory. There is such great joy in seeing the transformation in the lives of these mothers and their children through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. God’s word speaks of this in Psalm 115:14, “May the Lord make you increase, both you and your children”