Someone Else’s Child

A street-wise teenager enters hearts and home.

by Janice Thompson

She wasn’t our daughter, though it might have taken more than a quick glance to establish the fact. She bore the same shiny chestnut hair, the same rosy complexion, and a sense of humor that rivaled each of our own three daughters. But she wasn’t our daughter; she was someone else’s child.

Street kid

We first met Betha when she was thirteen. She was a neighborhood kid. She was new to the youth group at church, and my kids had taken a liking to her. Betha wasn’t exactly the kind of teen that a parent would be drawn to immediately. In fact, she was plenty rough around the edges. She was street-wise, having already experienced more of life than our three daughters put together. Our own girls, 15, 17, and 18 at the time, had lived fairly sheltered lives by comparison.

I often asked my daughters about Betha, “Who is she? What are her parents like? Where, exactly, does she live?”

That she kept showing up at our door, day after day, clearly indicated that all was not well at home. But I hadn’t met her parents and knew little about this child who was rapidly becoming “one of mine.” Who was this waif, and why did she have such a desire to be with us? Why had she taken to calling me Mom and treating my own girls more like sisters than friends?

Unraveling

Betha’s story unraveled, not slowly, as some threads do, but abruptly one night. She had just returned home after spending a full day with us when the telephone rang. I had no idea that picking up the phone that night would forever change my life. I answered to a tearful Betha, more frightened little girl than brave young woman. Her voice was laced with panic.

“Mom, my dad is . . . sick. Can you come and drive him to the hospital?”

I didn’t hesitate. Betha needed me; of course I would drive her father to the hospital. I found my way to their house and watched as her dad, frail and thin, got into my car. He looked gravely ill. Betha climbed in the back seat, face pale. As we made our way to the hospital, he began to share his story. I learned, much to my shock, that he was not suffering from the stomach flu, as Betha had suggested, but from alcohol poisoning. He had apparently struggled with alcoholism for years.

I don’t know if it was the alcohol speaking or the fear of impending death, but this man, a complete stranger, continued to speak to me as a friend. He told me of Betha’s mother, who had left him when Betha was five years old, never to be seen or heard from again. He spoke of a faith in God that he clutched to with trembling hand, despite his situation. He bragged about Betha, his precious little girl who had walked hand-in-hand with him down this rocky road.

I peered into the rearview mirror at Betha’s tear-stained face, and suddenly understood . . . everything. She wasn’t a child; she only bore the body of one. Her heart and soul were tainted with the realities of a grown-up world. Her eyes sought mine out in the mirror. They met with silent understanding. She needed me; she needed us.

Battling the bottle

This was not the first time Betha’s father was rushed to the hospital in critical condition that summer, nor would it be the last. His battle with the bottle would continue on for quite some time beyond our initial meeting. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Betha’s dad waffled from one extreme to the other: drinking, not drinking, drinking, not drinking. He shuffled to and from every intensive care unit in town, finally landing in a jail cell for driving while intoxicated.

All the while, Betha stayed with us. We prayed as a family that God would protect her father — heal him, help him — but also recognized that the decision to quit drinking had to be his.

Permanent resident

It was a cool October evening when Betha’s father came to us, asking the question we had known would eventually come: “Would you keep Betha for a year so I can enter a treatment facility?”

We happily agreed. He signed a power of attorney that night, and Betha came to live with us — legally.

Sadly, her father checked himself out of the facility after only four months, hitting the bottle once again. He wandered from state to state, looking for work, looking for peace. In a moment of desperation, he arrived at a Christian facility accustomed to dealing with men in his shoes. He checked himself in and remains to this day in their care.

Completed family

What about Betha? She is a happy, well-adjusted 15-year-old whose most current “care” is whether or not she will get to drive soon. She has had to struggle through the battles that being a child of an alcoholic brings, but is conquering them all with the help of Jesus Christ. She has recommitted her life to Christ and lives daily to please the Him.

Betha sings in the worship team in youth group, attends a Christian school, even played a starring role in a school production last fall. She’s completely family now, arguing and bickering on appropriate occasions, just like our other girls. She has a laugh that could turn any frown upside-down. All in all, she is pure delight.

Betha writes her daddy often, and he sends childhood photos, a signal that he is thinking of her . . . loving her.

And when I overhear people talking about Betha, discussing her “situation,” I am reminded of how far we’ve all come together.

“She’s someone else’s child,” I hear them whisper.

But I correct them quickly. “No,” I respond, looking them squarely in the eye. “She is our daughter.”