I always struggle with how to write about what is happening within our family. To be exposed and raw with people. To put our personal and private lives in such a public forum can be terrifying. But what has happened over the past two weeks has prompted me to write from a place I didn't know existed until now.
Holland has been living in a residential facility for about six months. This was one of the longest placements he had had. Other placements he was removed from for unsafe behavior, or the foster mom couldn't handle him (I never understood why it wasn't a foster family instead of a single parent for these kinds of placements). He had made progress. Measured, real progress that you could see on his face and in his eyes when we saw him for an hour every Saturday. He spoke differently to us and about us when we had parent ed meetings and family counseling. He seemed genuinely concerned about improving himself so he could come home.
Two weeks ago we were at my nephew's birthday party at a park and I got a phone call from him. The day before he had sounded so depressed and sad. I was hopeful because on Sunday he sounded much better. We talked about what he wanted me to bring for the big Luau that was taking place the following Saturday. He asked me to bring the gluten free pizza I make him. And sneak in some candy for him, too, he said. We laughed. He sounded so much better.
That's why on Monday night at midnight, when my mom called me and said that someone from Holland's house was trying to get hold of me and it "wasn't good", I was completely thrown. The night staff called me a few minutes later and told me that Holland had run off with another boy during the staff change. He didn't have any more information for me, except that they were gone and the police had been called.
I didn't understand. We just spoke the night before and he sounded great. Over the next few days, I got bits of information, mixed in with a whole lot of nothing. The boy he ran with had taken off a month before by himself. Holland had actually planned to run with him, but chickened out. The entire facility was placed on a lock down while the boys had to earn their privileges and trust back. Then, I believe, the worst thing possible happened: this young man was allowed back into the program. Holland was drawn to him for whatever reason. And this boy knew it. He took advantage of Holland's "differences" and even told staff he targeted Holland to get him to run away. Apparently Holland was still taken with the idea of getting the hell out of Dodge and the night after I spoke with him, he and this boy ran. There was some thought put into it: they both had clothes on underneath their pajamas. They had no money, no cell phones and no transportation. They just ran, hoping to find their way into Portland. And they did.
Over the next 12 days Super Hero and I and my parents spent time downtown looking for Holland. But what stands out the most, is who were the people that helped us look for Holland. Not one person from my church family helped me look. Sure, lots of people posted "I'm praying for you" on my Facebook wall. I got two phone calls from Holland's Sunday School teachers asking about him. But the people who took actual time out of their lives to physically help us look for Hunter were people that I normally don't count on for support.
When Romania was at the Charter school, I made friends with several moms. One of those moms called me up and said "I will drive you around Portland. Just tell me when". Here was a person that I hadn't seen in over a year. We kept in touch over Facebook through pictures, but our lives hadn't crossed paths in awhile. We printed off some flyers with Holland's info and drove into downtown. I passed out the flyers to food carts and a few homeless people and she would drive around the block and then come pick me up. At one of my stops, I spoke with a homeless couple and asked if they knew where a kid might find food and shelter. He started to explain several places and the addresses. I told him I had no idea where those places were. He looked through his backpack and pulled out a booklet that had a list of all the places where people downtown could get a meal, a place to sleep for the night, emergency care or help finding a job. It also had youth services listed. I thanked him and wished I had something to give him. He promised he would keep an eye out for Holland, as he didn't want such a young kid to end up on the street. My friend and I were able to find a church that was serving a meal to youth and connect with the director who passed out Holland's picture. One girl said she recognized him. Another said he had heard his name. I felt relieved that we had some information.
Another night, a deaf friend of Super Hero's offered to go downtown with him and look around. They went to many of the places in the booklet that I got. I had people (that I had only met on Facebook) contact me and say they had driven around Portland and had not seen him. I had another friend from Romania's charter school say he had spent 4 hours downtown and had not seen him. Another friend that I met about 4 years ago on a mom's chat board, that lives in California, was so heartbroken for us, that she contacted her brother in law that lives in the Vancouver area. The wife emailed me and got a lot of information. They had connections all over the Portland area and she was going to try to see about helping to look for him. I was amazed at all the help that I was getting from people that I barely knew.
And I was saddened by the lack of help from the people that I've known for over 20 years. People that are called to "comfort one another in any affliction". (2 Corinthians 1:4). I've read this passage many times. What does it mean to comfort someone? Sometimes words are enough. Saying "I've been praying for you" makes that person feel the comfort of the Lord. Sometimes in order to comfort someone, it means taking action. It means you get in a car and you drive around Portland and help them look for their son.
You know who else I got help from? The homeless people on the streets of Portland. Every time I walked up to one or a group, they wanted to help. They wanted to know if he was my son and how long he'd been missing. "That's so sad that he's gone. We really hope you find him." They asked to keep the flyers so they would be able to recognize him and call police if they saw him. Police. They were the biggest surprise of this whole story. One time when my dad and I were out there looking, I pulled over the car because we saw several officers talking to a group of homeless guys. I thought, "perfect! I can tell them about the sighting we had this morning from a person that was walking the Portland to Coast race." I walked over to them and waited. Wanna know why I waited? Because one of the cops was having his PICTURE TAKEN with one of the homeless dudes. Thats right. Photo op happening. I waited. Then one of the homeless dudes came over to me and saw the flyer and asked if he could help me. I told him that my son was missing but had been spotted that morning by the Steele Bridge. He was genuinely interested and then turned to the cop with the camera and said, "I think she needs your help." I have never seen a cop be more uninterested in anything in my whole life. He was more interested in capturing his buddy with the homeless dude with dreads than he was in listening to some white girl ramble on about her missing son.
"Yeah. I heard that come through this morning."
"So? What are you doing about it?"
"Our precinct is pretty big."
"What does that mean? Somebody saw him. Aren't you going to go look for him?"
"We'll keep our eyes out for him."
I wanted to shout at him that he should not be wasting his time taking pictures with homeless people, but should be out there searching for my son. But I was afraid of getting arrested for disorderly conduct. I turned to the homeless dude and handed him the flyer and asked him to please keep an eye out for Holland. He promised me he would; "He's too young to be out here!" Got that right!
With the help of many family and friends and lots of conversations with the homeless youth on the streets, we were able to find Holland. It's almost too unbelievable to believe. One tip from a nurse at a facility he stayed at and that recognized him, who called 911, who referred her to non-emergency, who felt the family needed to know so she called a co-worker to make sure we knew from her that Holland was seen at 7 am near the Steele Bridge. All that brings comfort. People DOING something to make sure they are helping out another person.
So the next time you think about how you are going to comfort someone, think about what that person needs. Prayer is always a must. Take everything to the Lord in prayer. But do not leave out action. Do not abandon the person who is suffering; go alongside them and suffer with them.
God of All Comfort
2 Corinthians 1:3- 7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.