I grew up in Long Island, New York in an upper class Jewish family, who would have ever guessed my life would turn out as it did. I had everything a kid could want. It was perfect. My mom told me I was around 3 when the beatings began. Whenever my dad was in “a mood” he would come looking for me. I was like the punching bag that most guys keep in the garage. As a child, I believed I was a witch in a past life and that the beatings were payment for my sins, hence the name of my book, Punished for Purpose.
I failed to bond to people. The abuse, coupled with the fact that no one was protecting me, solidified my belief that people could not be trusted. I was 13 when my mom left us in search of a new life. That was when my father’s violence escalated. One day he began to beat me failing to notice that I had a friend in the house. Then everything changed. Afraid that he would get in trouble, he hid a handgun and told the police I threatened to kill him with it. I was committed to a mental institution for the criminally insane. I tried to kill myself several times. In order to protect me from myself, they tied me to a bed in a straight jacket in a solitary room and kept me drugged. By the time I was released, the damage was done. On a suicide mission, I spiraled. I was made a ward of the court and sent from group home to group home. Unable to rebound from my circumstances, I started shooting intravenous drugs at the age of 16. The drugs helped to push the memories away. I gave birth to my daughter when I was 19, but even my love for her couldn’t save me. Within a year I was addicted to heroin and started working the streets as a prostitute. My daughter was taken away from me and eventually placed in foster care. On January 5, 1987 after being arrested for prostitution several times, I was taken into the woods by two gunmen and raped severely. Not being able to endure one more beating, I screamed and begged for them to shoot me. That night my life was saved by a stranger and within 24 hours I was in a recovery home. It was there that I began talking about my childhood. I learned that I had protected my father at the price of killing myself. Slowly but surely I began to see that I had value and that ‘maybe’ my dad was wrong. I moved out, got a job and an apartment and got my daughter out of foster care. Afraid that I would use again, I started a meeting at my home for single moms struggling with drug addiction. One night, a new woman showed up. She explained that she was living in a crack house with her 12-year-old daughter. We suggested she go to a recovery home and I offered to watch her daughter. Her daughter was delivered to my door the next day. Her mother never returned to resume custody.
I applied to be her foster parent. When they reviewed my records, they smiled and told me to reapply when I had 7 years sober and suggested I drop her at the children's home. Knowing what it felt like to be left behind, I could not do that. I applied for guardianship, and I won.
By 1996, I had bought our first home. It was at this time that I received a call from a single mom who was allegedly abusing her 4-year-old son and was afraid she might kill him. She asked me for help. She came to my home, where we met with a social worker and he was taken away destined for the children's home. In an attempt to help her son, I applied to be a foster mom. I forgot what happened years ago... This time when they called me from Social Services they said: "It has been seven years. No one ever comes back when we say that. We are approving you." They made me a foster mom!
It was two days before Christmas when the phone rang again. "Is this Lauri? We have you on the list as a foster mom and we have a 15-year-old girl here who has been abused by her father and was left by her mother at birth..." They had me on a list? I could pick up any child, any time?! I could give this little girl a home for Christmas? God had blessed us with one extra room in our new house, so I rushed down there to get her!It was around that time that a man who really believed in me asked me this question “Lauri, Do you know the difference between you and Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King Jr?” I was intrigued. He said, they didn’t just think about doing things, they did them. That’s it. He also said “If you put fleas in a jar and close the cover, they will hit their heads on the lid. After a few hits they will jump short. When you release them from the jar, they will continue to jump “short." No matter how long they’re out of the jar, they will never return to their full potential for fear of hitting their heads. Lauri, you are living your life like you are still in the jar!” That was when everything changed for me, I knew now that I had the power to change not only myself but the world! I have now been a foster mom for 15 years, I have 30 children and 10 grandchildren. My biological daughter graduated from Columbia School of Social Work and works with kids in NYC. I have a foundation in Lake Forest, CA that provides youth exiting foster care to homelessness with safe sober housing and a college education, a street outreach program to help homeless youth, a Venice Beach Resource Center for addicts, homeless youth and youth victim to self trafficking, a national TEXT SOBER service that allows anyone in the nation to text SOBER and their ZIP code to 99000 and receive a response back in 40 seconds with a local recovery home. I am the Author of Punished for Purpose and an Executive at a Fortune 100 Company. THE PROMISES: I realize now I was never being punished for sins in a past life, but rather prepared for the most amazing life imaginable. It is the memories from the darkest times of my life that I must draw from to help the children that enter my door. If I had to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing. (Excerpt from the book):
It was 2am. I heard a noise in the hall bathroom. Unaware of what is happening, I avoided turning on the light. As I reached the bathroom, Rita came into view. Her body was drenched with sweat; her hair was pressed against her face. Screaming and banging her head against the wall with an intensity that it hurt me to witness, I rushed to her. When she saw me she screamed out, “WHY?!!!! Why did my mother leave me? Those men hurt me! I don’t want to sleep! They’re here again! I fucking hate myself!” She slammed her head against the wall over and over again. All of a sudden I am twelve again. I am in the bathroom; my dad is at the door. “I fucking hate you! I hate you God!” My head hits the wall over and over and over again…. Bang! Bang! Bang!
I am shaking. Having processed no thought of what to do next, I am catapulted back into the bathroom with Rita. Do not turn on the light, scary…no light…Talk quietly…No big noises…quiet voices…Do not touch…Touch is scary…
I quietly whisper into the darkness. “I am here with you sweetie…it is okay now…the bad man is gone… We are on the other side now…no more hurt honey…no more bad people here…Please don’t hurt Rita anymore…” The creaking of a door behind me interrupted the intensity of the moment. My eyes now adjusted, I turned my head. I see Mary quietly tiptoeing from her room. Her large eyes tell me she is scared. I put my finger over my lips as if to say, shhhh. Now Yvette is coming. Quietly they collapse to the floor, falling into the darkness by Rita. The only sound is Rita’s heavy rhythmic, breathing. She is rocking back and forth slowly with her arms wrapped tightly around her legs and her head tucked between her knees. The girls gently put their hands on Rita and they too begin to cry. They are hugging each other. Rita lets out a soft cry and hugs them in return.
Although the small room still remained dark, the light in the room that night was undeniably brilliant as we walked together out of the darkness. Wiping the tears from Rita’s face, we all stood up together and walked downstairs.
Although I don’t normally encourage smoking, this is one night I would let the mountains be mountains and the little things lie. As they sat in the garage, passing the cigarette around with their wet faces, I closed my eyes and thanked God.
Thank you God for letting me be twelve again, thank you God for my father. Thank you for my little bathroom so long ago, for it is in the pain of my childhood that I have been blessed with the power to take the hand of a child who is in the darkness; and lead them out. Thank you for having me go before them and showing me the way out…
Lauri L. Burns