Becky Greenhagen kicked up her feet on the pole on her front porch, puffing the last of her cigarette before ashing it into a brick next to her chair, a pile of butts mounting-up like a monthly memorial to the neighborhood: the survivor still lives at this house.
How long have you lived in the neighborhood?
About a year and a half, with my roommates.
What do you think of it?
There’s a lot of traffic, but seems pretty quiet. Animals running around like that (a cat runs across the yard of a house across the street).
Are you a student?
I’m getting my Master’s at UTA in social work. I was at UNT before that, helped start a group called PUSH (Persevere UNTil Success Happens) about foster care.
Wow. Could you elaborate on that, foster care?
I was a foster child.
Two percent get out of high school.
That’s my big thing, is to get them through school and into free housing, and so they don’t have to make it on the street.
Nine out of ten are drug addicts. Alcohol.
I grew up in an abusive environment. I went through 12 homes, until I was emancipated at 17. My parents lost their rights to me. My brother and sister were adopted. I wasn’t. People would say, ‘Oh, we’ll adopt you, we’ll adopt you,” but nobody ever did.
I joined the Navy at age 18. That’s when I came to Texas. I lived in Nebraska.
What was the incentive behind joining the Navy, if any?
I didn’t have anybody.
I went all over the world. We would land aircraft and unload cargo in the Persian gulf. Then we would go party [laughs].
I got back into school two years later and became a chemistry major. I wanted to go to med school and be a surgeon. I always wanted to help people. But it never felt right.
Then one day my friend suggested that I take care of foster children. It never crossed my mind until then.
What happened after that?
I got my internship, and a stack of parents’ sheets would come in: ‘I don’t know how to help my child,’ they would say. I became a qualified mentor to the parents, so that’s what I do. I’m a professional family therapist.
It’s very stressful, very emotional. It’s demanding. It never stops. They need someone.
This kid is nine years old, meth addict because that’s what he was taught to do to survive. So then he makes the stuff. They are ten and have done things and seen things that nobody else would ever know about.
Can you describe the situation for foster children in America?
Eighty percent of foster children are medicated. They are guinea pigs. They’re targeted. Their care-takers aren’t equipped so they give them medicine. Every prescription means more money from the government. On average, every foster child is on three medications.
What about you, did you deal with that?
I was always a very strong and stubborn child. I learned to be a mother at the age of eight. I was a survivor, I had to be. I had never fallen down and struggled. I refused to be like my parents.
I hated school but I was always a straight-A student [laughs0.
I was the odd one. I left. I got out of that cycle.
So where do you work now?
Cumberland’s Children Home. A lady who heard me speak publicly came and asked me if I would like to come visit and speak to the kids. I e-mailed them and basically said, how about I come and speak everyday and get paid? I created my own position.
What happens to foster kids as they age in the system?
They run right back to their family they are taken from. They go back to that environment that they were familiar in. It’s the only stability they have.
I try to tell them, ‘You are no longer forced to be in that environment. You can create your own life.’
How do you cope with failure?
I do all I can do. I can’t save them. I can only do what I can, my best at the end of the day. I tell them, ‘I’m not going to work harder than you do, but if you’re not, there’s another one waiting.
They are trying to figure out who being an adult is. Then the world wants them to be responsible in all these other things, but they don’t even know how to have their own identity yet.
Can you describe the situation in Denton?
On average there are probably 100 children in foster care at all times. Others who are no longer under a caretaker are homeless, going from couch to couch at friends’ houses, sleeping in the hall at school.
There’s not very many facilitators to care for them here. There just aren’t enough resources.
A police officer will arrest the runaway because they are called out to find them, and they wont even respond to calls for 16-year-olds. There’s no point if they are going to keep running.
You said you’ve been through 12 homes. When did that start?
From nine to 17. I saw so many different cultures, issues, religions, morals. I’ve been to 17 different schools.
So relating with people, I’m like a butterfly, but I don’t get attached. There’s not a person, not a human being that’s been in my life from birth to now, that can give an accurate description of who I and what I’ve been through.
I tell my girlfriend some things.
You said that you confronted different religions – did you come to your own conclusion?
I’m a Christian.
I heard of God when I was young. I wasn’t a troublemaker when I was a kid, but I did drugs. It wasn’t until I was 15, that God spoke to me. I became a Christian and my heart changed.
Can you talk about your relationship with God in the midst of trial?
I’ve never had to worry. Something will happen, it always does.
He knew I was strong. He made me that way for a purpose.
So many times, just when I think, ‘Oh, how am I going to do this? Pay bills?’ He’s like, “You think I forgot?” And he always comes through. There’s nothing that can shake me. He reminds me, ‘Every single person that you’ve touched…’ – you never know what one word, what one sentence, what one thing said to that person would make a difference.
I know a guy whose psychiatrist said to him, ‘You won’t live past the age of 21,’ and that one negative comment drove him to say ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.’
My family, everyone back home is saying, ‘You’re going to be a prostitute, an addict.’ They don’t know the Christian Becky, and I’m going to show them.
I remember my second, fourth and sixth grade teachers telling me, ‘You’re too smart to quit school.’ They would never know that because they spend 30 seconds to say that, a person is going to become successful.
I told God my ten-year plan: ‘I want to be a public speaker, get a job after school, work with kids,’ less than a year I had all that. I’m just waiting. I want to go over to some African country. I would do missionary work and have my own orphanage.
How much school do you have left?
I’m done in May. It’s a one-year program.
I see the tattoo, could you explain it?
It’s Psalm 51. People look at my tattoo and say, ‘What the f&^# is that?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I love Jesus Christ. I was messed up and he saved me. You don’t have to get right before you – you don’t come to him all cleaned up. You come to him as you are. He rescued me.’
I’ll say, ‘You can line up everything I love in this world and murder it and I wouldn’t deny him.’
Can you share your experience as a bisexual Christian? Would you ever want to be with a man?
I would. The reason I dress like a man is because I don’t want to be treated like an object. I was abused when I was young, and I don’t trust men. There was this one guy who I thought, ‘Maybe,’ but he didn’t love me for who I was and wanted me to dress a certain way – controlling. I just gave up.
So many Christians get hung up on the externals. They forget that God doesn’t look at the outside but at the heart. He knows my heart. He knows that I want to love, love, love this person and not lust after her. I want to bring her into relationship with God. I want to model what it’s like to be in a relationship with Jesus for her.
I mean, it’s not so much about what sin your not committing as much as it is God knowing you. You can know God but God not know you. It’s about having him inside of you, about talking with him, feeling what he feels. It’s not about being perfect. Nobody is perfect.