Redeemed by love
by Lisa Barnes, Lieutenant –
I was born in Las Vegas. My dad was in security with a casino, and my mom was a Keno runner. They had a one-night stand, and she got pregnant with me. My mom was abused as a child—sexually, physically, emotionally—she was a wreck. She was into drugs and alcohol, selling drugs, stealing and prostitution. Growing up it was always chaotic. I never knew what the day was going to hold.
A chaotic life
When I was about five or six, we lived in Los Angeles. She would walk the streets and take me with her. When she found a client, she would leave me on the street, waiting for her to finish.
My mom is quite the con artist. She never really had a job, but she always got by. I remember when I was about seven going to a church but, before we went in, she stopped, held me by the shoulders and said, “We’re going in this place to get what we need, but we don’t believe what they say. We don’t believe in their God.”
It’s not only that I didn’t know about God, I was told not to believe in God. I was told that we’re on our own, and we’ve got to look out for number one.
Finding love at the Army
We lived in the projects without a car, and one Christmas a woman from The Salvation Army came to our house and dropped off a food box. I remember her bending down and saying, “Lisa, you know we have a youth group at the church. Do you think you’d want to come?”
And I said, “Yeah, I would like to come.” It was scary. I felt vulnerable. I was afraid they would find out who I was, where I lived, or who my mom was and the kinds of things she did. But I wanted to be loved. I thought, “I’m not loved here with my mom, but maybe somebody there could love me,” and I was right!
My social skills were underdeveloped from moving from place to place and not being in school consistently. There’s always the “weird kid” who is on the outside and gets picked on, and I was totally that weird kid. Yet there was still love at The Salvation Army, and companionship and friendship—even for the weird kid. And they loved me enough that I didn’t stay on the outside for long.
Life in crisis
I was a sophomore in high school, and I had never had friends over, because my mom never cleaned the house. Things had started to get a bit better between us, so I thought maybe now I could have a sleepover. I gave my mom two weeks’ notice, saying, “I’m having friends over on this date. Please clean the house. I’ll help you do it.”
She promised, but she didn’t do it. The Friday that the kids were coming over after school, I came home and found the house was still a mess, and she was almost passed out drunk on the couch. I just lost it. I cried, “I don’t ask anything from you. I asked this one thing and you just can’t do it. You knew it was important to me!”
Things got physical. We fought from 4:00 until 11:00—throwing things, screaming at each other, crying, fighting, hair pulling, and then she said, “That’s it!”
She took my backpack, opened the door and shoved me outside saying, “I’m done with you. I don’t want you anymore.”
It was too late to call my pastors, and it was too cold to sleep outside, so I went to the 7-Eleven and called 911. A police officer came, put me in the back seat of his squad car, drove to my house and knocked on the door. When my mom came to the door, he talked to her for a little while. I watched from the squad car and could see him looking inside the house. Then he came back to the car, got a camera from the trunk and took pictures of the house. When he returned to the car he said, “We can’t let you go back in there.”
And I said, “Yeah, that’s right. What did she say?”
“She just said she doesn’t want to deal with you any more,” he reluctantly replied. “That you’re too much trouble.”
I went to the court system on Monday, and my corps officers, Majors Duke and Pam Markham, were there to pick me up and take me home. I was released to their custody, but I was between them and my mom for about a week. I remember lying on the floor of my room, on my face, crying and praying, “God, if you’re real, do something. Take me out of this place. If you can do it, I want to go with them.”
A family at last
Just a few days later they called me into the family room. All the kids were there, and Duke said, “Lisa, we love you, and we’ve prayed about this and talked it over with the family. We’ve spoken to our divisional leaders, and we want you to come with us and be our daughter.”
“This can’t be for real,” I thought. “This can’t really be what I prayed for!” God gave me the desire of my heart—to be their daughter, to be in a safe place with people who loved me and could take care of me. I had to go to court, but the Markhams got legal guardianship just two weeks before leaving for a new appointment in California.
Maybe they saw something in me I couldn’t see at that point—the hope of growing up to be someone. Before that, I had no hope. I don’t know where I would have gone or what I would have done if they hadn’t taken me in. My dad has said, “We don’t give up on people. People will hurt us and let us down, because that’s what they do. But that doesn’t mean we cast them aside.”
Love is the answer
Not everyone can take a young person into their home and raise him or her as their own child. But everyone can accept young people into the church and love them. I don’t know what else we can do in the world but love people. I know this because my parents did that for me. Things weren’t always perfect, but they loved me right where I was. They loved me no matter what—no matter what.
Lieutenant Lisa Barnes and her husband Anthony were commissioned with the God’s Fellow Workers session on June 15, 2008.