Article by: Annika Marek-Barta | USA | Instagram
Disclaimer: this story contains details that may be upsetting to some.
I can’t remember when the abuse started. What I do know, though, is that I thought it would never end. I endured pain, suffering, hurtful words and actions at home, caused by the people who were meant to love me most.
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I was a free-spirited toddler, who increasingly became a broken and shattered middle schooler, and eventually ended up as a suicidal and hopeless high schooler.
I didn’t think I could ever find a family to love me or a place to go to, because their hateful narrative shaped my reality. “You’re worthless. If you can find a family that would love you, then go find them. You can leave whenever you want. No one has ever wanted you here.”
At school, I was happy and popular. I loved being able to “act” the part of a successful student and friend. But I quickly realized that my life wasn’t going to change. And if it wasn’t going to change, then I didn’t want to live any longer. I went to bed one night deciding that tomorrow would be my last day alive.
As I went on with what I thought was my last day at school, I was called into my school counselor’s office because she had received concerns from people about my safety and well-being. I played it off as if it was a friend who was in danger. I felt relieved that she believed me and called DHS on speaker to ask what they could do to get “this friend” in a safe home.
I thought I’d give my life another day, as we expected a call back from DHS and because this unexpected turn of events gave me the last ounce of hope I could hold onto. As I got home that day, a life-altering incident occurred as my biological mother attempted to choke me and succeeded in injuring my face. She chased me out, and I ran to the nearest store in pain with a black eye and blood dripping from a cut beneath my eye.
A good friend happened to be at the store. When she asked what happened, I lied and said that I fell, and a branch hit my eye. She didn’t believe me. “Did she do this to you? I always wondered and was worried she was hurting you. This is the third time I have been at the scene of a crime where a friend was abused. I know this is not chance that I was the one who saw you at the store, looking like this.” I knew I couldn’t argue with this divine intervention. She rang our youth pastor and leader.
There I found myself in the middle of a grocery store parking lot, surrounded by police cars and firetrucks, as a scared and confused 17-year-old. My whole entire life changed that night. I was the recipient of a miracle story of rescue.
I was put into foster care in Oregon that night in May 2010. My youth pastors became emergency certified as foster parents. I gratefully got to spend the next couple years living with them and their sons in a home, where I was encouraged in my faith, celebrated, and cared for. I was also surrounded by church family, who invested their time to guide me, walk with me, and love me beyond limits.
I look back and reflect on the summer nights playing outside in the neighborhood, being part of a youth group with such special friendships and having friends sleep over in my own room. I experienced so much newness, and at the same time, I was learning to walk through life while feeling the effects of lifetime trauma. Some days it was crippling and others it was but a faint whisper.
I attended a private Christian university completely on scholarships and graduated in 2015. I started seeing my resilience and finding my identity and purpose.
Then, my time in foster care ended. I lost hope that I would be adopted because I had aged out, so I did all I could to put that dream to rest. Little did I know that a couple that came into my life in 2012 would become the God-answer to my dream of having a forever family.
I built walls up to keep people out, especially those older than me. I tested boundaries and challenged authority. As these two entered my life, they so easily and naturally walked through every wall I put up. I began to trust again. We spent more time together and started identifying each other as siblings.
I was very vocal about my distaste for the labels of “mom” and “dad” and often shared about how I would never use those words in my life. I carried on being their little sister for years. On 31st May 2017, we went to court to get my last name changed to legally identify as family.
As time went on, I started seeing how sensitive my heart had grown towards adoption. I would weep at movies with an adoption storyline. I would see adoption stories and wondered why that couldn’t be my story. I noticed my longing for parents for the first time, and not just parents, but for these two consistent adults who were 10 years older than me to be just that.
Their families have loved me and included me in everything. Their friends have also welcomed me as if they had always known me. They had taken me in as their own since the beginning. They have played those roles all this time. It just took years of healing for my heart to be able to dream of that and accept it. After these realizations, I decided to keep quiet.
But God had a different plan. Early 2019, I was driving with my (now) mom, as she was consoling me about my insecurity of forever being a part of their family. I was scared they would leave me. I was afraid I would be replaced. I was fearful I would be without a family.
“We’d adopt you!” she said. Tears flowed down my face as the person, who has nurtured me the most in my life, spoke words that I thought I would never hear as a 26-year-old, aged-out foster youth, and a formerly abandoned child. I quickly learned that it was something that they had carried in their hearts for years too.
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On 31st May 2019, I was legally adopted in a courtroom surrounded by loved ones. The judge wiped away his tears and thanked us for letting him finish his week with us. He declared, “This is a happy day for the [foster care] system.” A happy day, indeed!
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, over 23,000 teenagers age out of foster care every year. 20% of which will instantly become homeless. Half of the homeless population in the United States has spent time in the foster care system.
I live to make a call to action, where everyone can play a part. Make a meal for a foster family. Add another seat to your table. Open your heart to another life. Volunteer locally. Pray for all involved in foster care and adoption. Bring awareness to those around you. Give an aged-out foster youth a home base to land; a love that chooses them in both the comfortable and the uncomfortable; a display of what family looks like; a care that goes beyond what they have ever known; and a continual reminder that their life matters. Invite them for holidays, birthdays, or maybe even an open invite for whenever they want. To belong is to be known, to be heard, to be seen, to be loved, and to feel worthy. Who will you invite into belonging?
Annika Marek-Barta is a former foster youth who spent 5 years in the system before aging out. At the age of 26, she was adopted as an adult, displaying the truth that we never outgrow the need to belong. She now volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Washington state, does freelance photography and graphic design, and is a part of the Dream Makers team, a nonprofit that comes alongside youth who aged out of the foster care system. Her heart is to advocate for the foster care and adoption realms and to see seats added to tables as the lonely are invited into belonging.