What do the group homes mean to me? As the chapter of Release’s residential program closes, I was approached with this question and I must say, I sit in a swirl of emotions as I write. How does one quantify the impact of something so profound, so involved, so completely transformative? How can I convey with proper regard the work I was so privileged and humbled to be a part of? I guess I start at the beginning.

It’s no secret to my friends and family that I entered this job with some apprehension. While I held a passion for residential care, that passion was directed towards younger children. I had one request as I prayed for a new job—no teenagers. Please Lord, no teenagers. I like to imagine He laughed as, in His infinite wisdom, He lead me right into the proverbial belly of the beast as the Intensive Residential Supervisor for Release’s new group home program. 

All too soon, I was surrounded by teenage girls. “How do I connect with these girls? How can I possibly help them?” were thoughts that bounced around in my head more times than I could count. “I’ll help you,” God whispered. I recall very clearly one afternoon about two months in. I was sitting on my couch, crying, wondering what in the world I was thinking after a particularly grueling incident at the homes the night before. “I can’t do this anymore!” I cried out. Through my tears and my pain, I very clearly heard, “Trust me.” So I stayed. Through the hard, long nights, and the joyous celebrations, I stayed. Every time doubt crept in, God was faithful. “Trust me.”

Three years later we come to the end of this chapter in my life. As I reflect on the past three years, parts of my life seem almost surreal. Somewhere along the way, God showed me how incredibly privileged I have been to walk alongside my teens, doing life together and being the instrument He chose to use to heal some part of them. We told every girl that entered our homes that they had to agree to work on their “stuff,” and we would help them figure out how. For some, the change and growth was small. For others, the growth was tremendous. For all of them, the strength and courage they showed on a daily basis was astonishing.

God used the homes and those girls to change me too. From the beginning I was told by veterans of the group homes that I would not be the same on the other end of my residential journey. Some changes, like my decimated sleep schedule, may recover as time passes and I realize those late-night calls are less likely. Other changes, though, have been more profound and will stay with me forever. The love and grace I was called to give my teenagers over and over again deepened my understanding of the love and grace I have been given and am given daily by my Father. The memories I made—water gun fights, cooking dinner together, birthday and graduation parties, laughing at inside jokes, singing at the top of our lungs in the car, supporting that tough phone call, listening to that door slam, sitting with a girl in her deepest, darkest places and helping her through that trauma—those will never leave me either.

So how do I answer the question of what the group homes mean to me? I suppose I could wrap it all up with one word: love. Love is an action. It is challenging, sacrificial, transformative, rewarding, fulfilling, and so many other things. I do know this: I am overwhelmed with gratitude that God led me on this journey, to these people, and these teenagers. I am changed, and I am blessed.