Taming Our Wild Mustang
by Marsha Hubler
I squeezed into a child’s desk in an elementary school in Charleston, South Carolina. The door opened and in rushed 26 wide-eyed second graders. I smiled at them, and they stared at me. Many years had passed since I had first stood in my own second-grade class. Now I had come to observe another teacher.
“Good morning, boys and girls,” she said cheerfully.
“Good morning,” they said back.
I remembered when I’d first heard about this beautiful young lady, ten years earlier.
“She needs guidance,” our youth pastor pleaded. “She’s a good kid, but she ran away from her troubled home. It’s only a matter of time until she gets into bigger trouble.”
“I am so sorry, Pastor,” I said. “We’re so busy with our full-time jobs at the church. We have no time for kids.”
“But anything you could give her would be better than what she has now.”
“We’d have to leave her alone often. What could be worse than a fourteen-year-old at home alone?”
“Please consider it,” the pastor pleaded.
“All right. My husband and I will pray about it.”
The next Sunday morning we staked out a corner pew and watched as Donna came in with a stream of bus kids. She was cute and clean with blue eyes that sparkled. Her blond hair highlighted a smooth complexion littered with freckles.
“She seems harmless enough,” I whispered to my husband. “But I’ve heard that fourteen-year-old foster kids are the pits, especially the girls.”
“Well,” he replied, “she can’t be a moody, sassy, fickle, back-stabbing liar all at one time!”
“Let’s take her to lunch,” I said.
Hamburgers and fries at the local fast-food restaurant did nothing but reveal how much staring, gobbling, and burping one teenager could do in one hour. We asked her questions about school, home, and life in general. No matter what the question, she answered, “Yes, ma’am” or “No, sir” without ever lifting her stare from the table.
My husband and I then stared at each other. Could we take this confused, damaged creature into our home and actually help her?
Later the same day I called our youth pastor. “You win. We’ll take her in.”
Overnight we had a daughter. With school beginning in less than a week, she had nothing presentable to wear. We raided every yard sale in the county, and the church ladies surprised us with a “baby” shower, complete with cake, cards, and most necessities for a teenager girl’s happiness. As we drove home from the shower, “baby,” my husband, and I rode into the sunset, anticipating a lifetime of family bliss, our car loaded with the church’s generosity.
My husband and I had been married well over ten years and were accustomed to solitude and isolated hobbies. However, as the principal of our Christian school, I was adept at loving and disciplining children of all ages, so surely I could handle a teenager one-on-one.
But living with one of the rascals was something else. My training hadn’t included helping a teenage cyclone who had an unbridled will of her own. I rushed to the Christian bookstore and found one book that only remotely addressed my need: How to Break and Train Wild Mustangs. At the same time, Donna appeared to be writing her own book: How to Hoodwink and Hornswaggle Naïve Foster Parents. At church, I found strange solace in singing “Sound the Battle Cry!” while still hearing some of Donna’s words from the previous week echo in my ears: “Bug off, lady” or “True or false, I hate you.” My husband and I asked ourselves, Have we made the biggest mistake of our lives?
But then slowly we saw changes in Donna’s life. At bedtime, I read the Bible to her, and we discussed intimate thoughts about past bad times, lonely nights, and much worse. The three of us— Donna, a stuffed bear I bought that we called Pruneface, and I— drew close in those times together, and love began to weave our hearts together with a devotion for one another that could only come from God. In time, Donna trusted Christ as her Savior, and a brand new teenager with new attitudes and worthy goals emerged.
During the next three years, this wild mustang became a young lady with a testimony of God’s grace in her life. Consistent prayer, love, and discipline molded a potential dropout into a sweet young lady.
Donna’s grades came up and stayed up, she worked on the church bus route, and she held two part-time jobs. Three consecutive years she won first place in poetry recitation at the Christian school state convention. At high school graduation she received the Pastor’s Award for Christian Character and a blue ribbon for the highest math average. She then left us to attend a Christian college, earn her degree, marry a wonderful husband, and find her own place in a classroom. And … she prepared my heart to care for eleven more foster children who needed a good, solid home.
Now, years later, I sat in Donna’s classroom and watched her teach. Over in the corner on a stack of books sat a surprisingly familiar face—a face that looked like a wrinkled prune. The stuffed bear’s head was tilted, and I’m sure I saw him wink. He must have remembered the good times we three had shared.
Donna stood, and the children grew quiet, sensing a special moment.
“Children, I want you to meet my mother,” Donna said, her voice breaking. “And, Mom, don’t forget I love you.”
My beloved daughter picked up her book, cleared her voice, and became the confident, professional teacher once again. “Now, boys and girls, turn to page sixteen in your reading books.”
(Donna and her husband, now in their forties, still reside in Charleston, S.C.)
Marsha Hubler, author of the bestselling Keystone Stables Series from Zonderkidz, lives in central PA with her husband and two dogs. She has a master’s degree in education, over 40 years experience with children of all ages, and presently works with homeschoolers in her home office. Her Keystone Stables books are about foster children and horses. Many of the “fiction” stories are based on actual events from Marsha’s life.
Her latest published work, The Loves of Snyder County Series (Amish/Mennonite fiction by Helping Hands Press), was created out of Marsha’s friendships with many Plain Folk who live in Snyder County.
Visit Marsha at her website