All God's Children
Last updated 11/14/2016 at 5:01pm
It is hard to know what to tell other people about my life. I have pictures in my head about my young life-my mother pushing me along in a stroller or shopping cart as we search for empty cans and bottles in the garbage bins in Regina. I don't like to think about what I realized later: she was an alcoholic, but she also was sick with AIDS.
She wasn't a bad mother though. My mom, Noella, loved me deeply. She made sure I was fed and dressed properly. I don't know why, but she loved to dress me up in little suits for church. She loved her church, the Miracle Center in Regina. When she was young, her own adoptive mother Dorothy Heath was an evangelist in Winnipeg who worked at a mission called the Lighthouse. My grandma (Dorothy Heath) went to the Sherwood Church in Winnipeg, but also the Miracle Center. She was a great friend of Bishop Van Johnson.
My mother had been adopted by Mrs. Heath and her husband when she was about two. Her birth mother Mary was from Lake St. Martin Reserve and had many children. My mom was the youngest and quite often sick. Mary would bring my mom in when she was sick and leave her with Mrs. Heath until she was better. Mary finally decided it was best for my mom to be kept in Winnipeg with the Heaths and she was adopted.
From what my mom would tell me, my grandma Heath was a saint and never turned her back on her children. She had a birth daughter Jean, and had adopted Christine and Noella. She also took in some foster kids. However, when my mom was five her dad died suddenly and Mrs. Heath became a single mom, still evangelizing, and having to work a couple of jobs as well. This is when one of the foster kids started abusing my mom and giving her alcohol to keep her quiet while she and her friends would repeatedly abuse her instead of caring for her when Mrs. Heath was working.
I know how my mom felt somewhat. I was put into foster care because social services didn't think my mom was a good enough mom. I still think she was better than what I went through. I was only in a couple of foster homes, but in the one I stayed longest I was sexually abused every day for a long time by an older boy in the home. No one believed me, and on the rare times I got to visit my mom I didn't know how to tell her what was happening.
When I was with her, I loved how I was the center of her attention. She would always bathe me if she could and dress me in clean clothes. She would hug me tight and kiss me lots, always telling me no matter what happened to be a good boy. She would feed me and we would talk about special times and people I knew. On really good times we were able to attend church and I got to see Bishop and his wife where I would hear about God. At times I wondered why God didn't help me to come back to my mom where it was safer.
I also would see my older brother Sheldon, who is eighteen years older than me. My mom had planned us that way so that as a single mom she would always have one kid at home. Sheldon had kids that I was uncle to, but they lived with their mom on a reserve near where I was in foster care. Sometimes we were able to see each other at school, which would always make me feel less alone, yet lonely, at the same time.
The world became darker when they stopped my visits to my mom. I didn't understand why people who were all First Nations would keep me from my mom. They would tell me terrible things about my mom, but these were not all true-yes she was a drunk-but had I been with her, the things that happened to me in foster care would never have happened.
I know I was scared, angry, and felt hopeless most of the time. I don't know if I gave up on God helping me. I didn't know what I could do to help myself anymore.
One day though suddenly someone else who was a foster parent came into my life. She was helping my mom stay sober and not give up on getting me back even though we had constantly been told that there was no hope for a child who was a permanent ward of the government to return to their parent.
I started getting overnight visits (with my mom) and lots of love. We never talked about what I went through each time I went back to the foster home-I just had no words because I was only eight and nine and it had been going on forever. I also didn't want my mom to be any sadder than she was or feel it was her fault. The kid that did the stuff to me told me he would kill me if I told. I just wanted to be with my mom and have the whole nightmare stop.
We would go to church and Bishop would tell us that I would come home one day. I wanted to believe it and started praying that what he said would come true. Church was the best feeling besides being with my mom. The people prayed and sang and talked about how God was helping them out of bad things like drugs and alcohol. Bishop would preach loud, long, and hard but I didn't mind. I knew that God used him to help a lot of people and I felt safe at church.
My mom would dress me in a suit, and tell me I looked handsome. Church was like being wrapped up in God's love and the security of being with people who didn't want to hurt each other, yet who were all hurting.
Finally I got to move to a new foster home and see my mom every few days. God answered my prayers and eventually I went home for good with my mom. No one can understand how miraculous that was.
Sadly my mom died a few years later when I was twelve. I am still glad that God answered my prayer and took me home to be with her for that time. Things were never perfect at home, but they were heaven compared to being abused in a foster home and being without my family.
I struggle at times because of what happened to me. I have anger and a lot of sadness, but I am one of two kids in a home with a mom and dad. We go to church and I am loved by God, my family, and myself. Soon I will be a man and I will try to speak of how we should treat each other-whether we are drunk or dying or abused or not-we are all God's children and need help on our journeys.
Joshua went back to live with his mother the fall of 2010 and she died February 1, 2014. She was buried next to her adoptive parents in Winnipeg. Bishop Van Johnson passed on in November 2014.
Joshua Heath is a teen writer from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba. He has experienced much in his young life: abuse, foster care, and homelessness. He became a follower of Jesus before he was ten and was baptized in 2015 at the age of thirteen.
Joshua dreams of one day influencing people not to drink and encouraging them not to give up on seeing their kids if they are in foster care.