Where the Heart Is

When Lisa Ho and her husband, Luong, recognized a leading from God to begin a family some years ago, they never expected the child they would welcome into their home would weigh 189 pounds and wear a size 11 1/2 shoe.

This wasn’t the way the Hos expected to become parents. This child arrived with suitcases and CDs. Midnight feedings have new meaning. But there’s no mistaking the pride and love in Ho’s voice when she talks about the 18-year-old named Tyler who calls her “mom.”
 
Final notice
Tyler needed a place to call home when his mother announced that he would not move with her into her new house. In July, she gave him 40 days to find somewhere to live. This didn’t surprise Tyler too much. For years, Tyler’s mom had told him that when he turned 18, he’d be on his own.

Fact is, Tyler had been on his own for a long time. “I was allowed to eat once a day … usually a hot dog or a bologna sandwich,” he said. Tyler’s mom locked the food in the refrigerator and cupboards. “I was really skinny,” he said. On Sundays Tyler was locked out of the house because it was his mom’s day off.

Tyler was beaten for disobedience. He was put into protective custody after his mother tried to choke him in the presence of his court-appointed advocate. Tyler describes all this matter-of-factly. For Tyler, that was home.

He reveals more emotion when he talks about the night last summer when he came home after a movie at 11 p.m. “There was a storm coming so I wanted to get inside. My mom wouldn’t let me in.” After a pause he continued, “I don’t like thunderstorms.”
 
At home in jail
Tyler was living what he calls a rock star life. “People around me were selling drugs,” he said. “I never did them, never wanted to. But selling was an easy way to make money. Kids looked up to me.”

His father and extended family had little contact with him. Foster care wasn’t readily available for a teenager. So when the abuse got bad enough, Tyler just ran away, only to wind up in a detention center for curfew violation. He preferred jail to living at home.

“I hated being home,” he said. “Home was like a prison. I had to be on guard all the time. Most nights I slept with a pillow over my head just to feel safe.”

Ho, an area director in Delaware, Ohio, met Tyler in the summer of 2002. In order to fill last-minute openings for a trip to Saranac, she contacted a friend at juvenile court who thought Tyler might benefit from a week of camp. Tyler saw it as a way to escape.

At Saranac, Tyler surrendered his heart to the Lord. But once back at home, he couldn’t surrender his lifestyle to God’s will. He disappeared into his old life.
 
A second chance
A year later, it was Tyler who asked his probation officer to go to camp. Ho knew Tyler wasn’t an easy kid at camp the first time, and he showed little interest in being a part of the Christian body. “I wondered if he met the ‘criteria’ for second timers [kids who have already attended a Young Life camp]. We prayed and decided he did. If nothing else, it got him out of the house for a week.”

Beyond that, Tyler was an influential kid. If Tyler’s heart could be changed and redirected to God’s purposes, Ho knew he could inspire kids around him. An intern working with Ho at the time gave the chances of that happening 1,000-to-1.

Thankfully, our God is not a God of chance, but second chances, and this time the camp experience transformed Tyler. He actively participated. He challenged other kids in their faith. And when he retuned home, he abandoned his old lifestyle.
 
Although his home life deteriorated further — his mom left for weeks at a time, he had no money and few friends — Tyler started attending church and Campaigners. He was
reading his Bible and praying. And he talked with Ho and her husband at least twice a week.

So, just a week before school started, when Tyler explained he was losing his home, the Hos told him to pack a bag. “We prayed with him, and then asked him to stay with us until we found him a home,” Ho said. “A few days later, God told us that we were Tyler’s home. We became parents to a teenager — instantly,” she said. “But that’s the way it is in our Christian lives, too. When we become children of God, we are immediately His. We inherit all of His characteristics, but there is a process to appropriate them.”

While Tyler’s mom retains custody of him, the Hos have been appointed his “residential guardians” and de facto parents. As they “catch up” to their parental roles, Tyler is changing people around him.

A family of friends
Instead of dealing drugs, he’s bringing kids to club. Last year, Ho considered closing down club. This year, participation is up to 70 kids. Tyler’s been known to bring five to 10 new kids a week. “It’s weird,” Tyler said, ”Now kids come to me and ask me about God.”

They don’t just ask; they come over. Tyler’s home has become a haven for guys like Melvis, Dre and Digs. Digs lived with the Hos for a period of time while his family set their finances straight. He moved in before the holidays when he had no heat or electricity in his home.
These friends, according to Tyler, “all have hard lives that no one ever knew about.”

They, too, are welcome at the Hos. “[These] blessings have been overwhelming,” Ho said. “We hope our relationship with a biological child will be like this.”

Tyler turned 18 on Thanksgiving Day. Unlike most kids, he’d never had a birthday party. He hadn’t received a gift since he was 7. Last year, the only one to remember Tyler’s birthday was his former middle school principal who gave him a card. The Hos changed all that.

Like other first-time parents planning a birthday party, the Hos went all out. They contacted family, friends and teachers to gather 18 gifts — one celebrating every year of Tyler’s life. And when the Hos and Tyler returned from a Thanksgiving trip to Indiana, Tyler walked through the door and into a surprise party that he’ll never forget.

As great as the party was, the Hos couldn’t top what they’d already given Tyler: a safe place of becoming, the place he calls home.