“So how is it going?” Lynnette the social worker asked as she pulled a chair up to the king-sized bed on top of which 10-year-old Maurice sat.
“Good,” Maurice replied.
“That’s good, real good,” she said. “So how’s school coming along?”
“School? School’s OK.”
“That’s good. Making lots of friends?”
“I got lots of friends,” Maurice answered, a little confused.
“When I went to school, I had lots of friends, too,” Lynnette said as she began to tell a little about all the kids she used to hang around with. She was stalling.
There was a rumbling in the room next-door, Maurice’s bedroom. Maurice looked around confused as if to say, what’s going on here? “Well, we’re going to do something different today, you and I,” Lynnette offered. “What do you say if today, we have our talk over at McDonald’s?”
“Oh. OK, I guess,” Maurice answered. The two walked out of Charles and Lisa Harris’ bedroom, Maurice’s foster parents for 7 years. They were standing at the door with ashen faces as Lynnette and Maurice approached. They hugged Maurice as he passed and bid him goodbye. Lisa had to turn her face and walk away.
When Lynnette and Maurice sat down at McDonald’s, the look in her eye was different. “I have to tell you something,” she started. “I know you really like living with the Harrises, right?”
“And I know you mentioned a lot of things about how they treat you really great and you get to ride in the front seat when you do good stuff and they take you to church and Mr. Harris takes you to the flea market and you really like that, right?”
“But you have also said that you asked the Harrises to spank you too—along with Spencer and Gideon, isn’t that correct? You do this because you wanted to be treated like them.”
“Well you see, I write down all the things that you say to me when we meet and report them to some very wise people. And unfortunately, I had to write down the things you said about the Harrises spanking you.”
“Well, that’s against the rules, Maurice. They can’t do that.”
“But I like it when I get spanked. I mean, I don’t like it, but we all get spanked—the brothers and me. It’s OK.”
“But a rule’s a rule, right? You know what happens when someone breaks a rule.”
Maurice looked at Lynnette for a moment with a furrowed brow. She continued. “And so, you know those wise people I told you about? They have decided that what the Harrises have done is so bad that I have to take you away from them.”
“But they’re my family,” Maurice said, panic rising in his voice. “They can spank me. They don’t do it that hard.”
“I’m sorry, Maurice, but I’m taking you to a new home right now. They’re expecting you.”
“What? No! What are you doing?”
“Maurice, please. We have to go.”
“But, we can’t! All my things are there!”
Maurice was wrong. Lynnette had called ahead to the Harrises and told them what she had to do and why. She instructed them to put all his belongings in the trunk of her car when she arrived. There was no turning back now. Maurice was on his way to a new life. Despite his protest, Maurice was taken directly to a new foster home where he promptly found a corner to go and cry and not come out. How could they do this to me? he thought, tears streaming down his cheeks. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Seven years earlier, in 1982, Maurice entered the foster system when he was three years old. When he was placed with the Harrises, it was the perfect match. He was just a few months older than the oldest boy and all of them got along great. He loved Lisa and Charles and found their brand of discipline to be a welcomed thing. If they spanked him like they spanked their boys, it meant he was like one of them, a son. And Maurice wanted to be a son more than anything. He was so close. The Harrises loved Maurice and had planned to adopt him.
Now he was an orphan again.
Maurice spent all his days and nights thinking of the Harrises, his family that he loved and longed for. He knew in his heart they missed him and were sad. He now knew why Mr. Harris looked so sullen and why Mrs. Harris had to walk away. It tore Maurice’s heart in two. He repeatedly told Lynnette that this wasn’t right and that he shouldn’t be there. He told his new foster parents. Nobody seemed to care.
Maurice was too young to devise a plan. He just did what came natural to him, which was, in his own way, to protest. He broke every rule that was given to him by his new foster parents. He fought every directive. To give in, to be good, to submit to authority was to cheat on the Harrises, or as he saw it, to disrespect his mom and dad. As long as he was fighting the system he was calling out to them, holding out hope that they would know or sense in their heart that he was their boy and still fighting for his family.
And fight he did. As time passed and he grew bigger, stronger, more difficult and more belligerent. He beat up other kids. He mobilized them to do what he wanted against the foster family. He was moved from foster house to foster house, from group home to facility never giving up the fight. After 25 placements, he had pushed everyone away, becoming a boy in the system with an asterisk by his name. Trouble. Non-cooperative at all times. Headed for danger. Destined to be a system lifer.
He was big, muscular and someone not to be messed with. He was also strangely strong, as if motivated by something else besides mere aggression. Maurice’s entire existence was a fight, busting at the seams, a declaration by defiance. Six long years after being taken from the Harrises, he was still fighting to go home. And now he was completely alone.
When he was cornered in his room by five men who were sent there to break him, none of them could have foreseen what would happen next. The men tackled and tried to wrestle him to the ground to subdue him. Three hours later, after he moved them from corner to corner while on his back, knocking over everything in their path, the men had to give up. They were bloodied and bruised and completely drained. One of them shook Maurice’s hand later. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
At 15, Maurice landed in juvenile hall. He was just a few months away from being transferred to the Rights of Passage Bootcamp for Troubled Teens in Nevada. One day, he was rounded up for an assignment along with a crowd of other boys. They all sat at desks inside a large room.
“I want you to write a letter of apology to the people who have cared about you and who you have hurt,” the instructor said. The boys put their heads down and began to write. Some time later, the instructor noticed something unusual. Maurice was trembling violently, red-faced, veins pushing to their limit, pencil in hand but not a word on the paper.
The instructor removed all the boys from the room and came to Maurice who looked like a pressure cooker ready to blow. “What’s the matter, young man?” he asked. Tears began to sprout from his eyes, “I realize…there’s nobody in the world…who gives a damn if I live or die.” The instructor decided to give Maurice some time and left him alone in the room—the perfect metaphor for his life. He thought about where he was, how he got there and where he was going. He thought about the downward trajectory of his existence. He thought about the Harrises out there, somewhere. “God,” he cried out, submerged in a jumble of thoughts. “I know I’m destined to die or be put in prison for the rest of my life. But I’m a good person. Please don’t let me go down that path. Please don’t let me be lonely forever.” He put his head down and the sobbing overtook his body. The hulking young man who struck fear in the hearts of the others sat in his chair and cried like a baby.
Suddenly, an inaudible voice spoke to his heart. “Just hold on for what I have for you. I haven’t left you. Just hold on.” Maurice hadn’t heard God speak before, but the voice, the feeling, it was unmistakable. God talked to me! he said to himself.
Two years later, he got out of the foster system. The Harrises were not there to greet him. He went to high school, college, got a job and thought endlessly about the Harrises. He wondered why they never tried to find him. He followed every path he could think of to locate them and always came up empty. He made a trip to the house where they lived together. People Maurice did not know answered the door. They had no knowledge of the Harrises. It seemed they had fallen off the face of the earth.
He thought about that moment when he cried out to God and God answered him. It meant everything to him, even years later. He knew at his core that it was indeed God who had spoken. He wondered if what God was asking him to wait for was guidance to a productive life outside of the system. He was indeed making a successful run at life—one that no one would have predicted. But it still seemed that when God spoke, He meant something more. But what?
In the spring of 2008, when he was 32, he received a message on his Myspace account from a woman named Lisa Godbold. It read: This is your mom. Call me when you get the chance. I love you, son.
When Maurice and Lisa met, the outcome of their meeting was never in question. “I want to be your son,” Maurice said in tears as he gave her the kind of hug that tried to make up for all the years that they had missed.
“I want to be your mother,” Lisa replied, matching Maurice tear for tear. “We tried to find you, but we lost you in the system.”
And so, 22 years after being taken away, Lisa and Maurice walked into a courthouse and he was legally adopted. Maurice was finally a son.
“My story is about a lot of things, I suppose,” he says. “But it’s mainly about this: God has a plan for your life. It won’t always feel like it, but if you just hold on and trust in Him—no matter how down you are—He will reveal it. And the timing will be perfect.” Today Maurice hopes that his file has a second asterisk added to the first. **Wrong about Maurice.
Maurice learned that just a few years after being taken away, Charles Harris died and Lisa remarried and moved away. Lisa, who always considered Maurice her son, never stopped searching for Maurice. Lynnette, the social worker, stated years later that taking Maurice away from the Harrises was the biggest mistake of her career.
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