The Boys who Stole My Car Keys: A Hope Story | Ep 03

How do you make brave decisions again when your heart’s been broken? After infertility, adoption, and 25+ years of navigating the prison system, guest speaker, Brenda Amodea, is no stranger to pain. Brenda is an author, speaker, pastor and “Godmother” to many. She shares the intimate story of how adopting 4 at-risk boys turned out to be one of the bravest (and most heartbreaking) experiences yet. She shares how sometimes our best decisions are our most painful, and how to walk through it with bravery, faith, and hope. 

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“I heard God very clearly say to me, you’ve been a youth pastor for thousands of teenagers. But these boys, I’m going to ask you to be their parents.” 

Brenda Amodea ,

This is Brenda’s story…

I’ve been a youth pastor for 40 years, and I’ve always loved working with teenagers. I never thought I’d be a parent, but God had other plans. I met a group of boys who became like family to me, and I helped them through some tough times. We even started meeting together to talk about faith. A few years later, I got married and I told the boys first. They were happy for me, but they were worried that my husband would take me away from them. It was a hard conversation, but I knew that God was leading me in this new direction...

In this episode, you will learn the following:

1. Brenda’s journey as ministry leader and youth pastor, which began when she was just 15 years old
2. How Brenda’s life took a “brave” turn when she started a new church during the pandemic
3. The hard decisions and challenges that Jesus has walked Brenda through, which have helped her to be brave

Key topics to listen for (with timestamps):

  • 5:04 | Brenda’s Infertility story
  • 8:36 | The vision: A church for young people
  • 16:06 | From substitute teacher to…mom? The brave decision to adopt 4 at-risk boys
    • Quote to listen out for: “My bravest decision and my hardest decision; what’s hurt me the most but also defined me the most is…”
  • 29:29 | The choice between the safe Christian life and the a life of surrendered YES – 28:29
    • Quote to listen out for: “Prison has been a part of our lives for 20 years now” 

Episode Transcript: 

Jemese: [00:00:10] Hey, friend, welcome to A New Creation Podcast where we’re pointing women toward victory in Christ one Jesus story at a time. My name is Jemese LaChel and I’m your host. Go ahead and get comfortable, get cozy. And let’s dive right into today’s episode. Welcome back to another episode. I’m so excited to hear from our guest, Brenda. Brenda is a pastor, a speaker, a wife and a mom to four men with their own brave stories. And she would tell you that her life is a story of getting her heart smashed and the many times she’s chosen to get back up again anyways. Welcome, Brenda.

Brenda: [00:00:52] Thank you, Jemese, for this invite.

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Jemese: [00:00:10] Hey, friend, welcome to A New Creation Podcast where we’re pointing women toward victory in Christ one Jesus story at a time. My name is Jemese LaChel and I’m your host. Go ahead and get comfortable, get cozy. And let’s dive right into today’s episode. Welcome back to another episode. I’m so excited to hear from our guest, Brenda. Brenda is a pastor, a speaker, a wife and a mom to four men with their own brave stories. And she would tell you that her life is a story of getting her heart smashed and the many times she’s chosen to get back up again anyways. Welcome, Brenda.

Brenda: [00:00:52] Thank you, Jemese, for this invite.

Jemese: [00:00:55] I’m really excited to hear what you have to share with us. And you know, you and I spoke a little bit before we hit record, but I just got this sense that, you know, God has something to impart in us, the listeners. And I’m just really excited to hear what you’ve got to share with us. And really, you know, what does God have to say through you for us?

Brenda: [00:01:22] I, I can. I love my story. I love sharing, and I trust God for what the bigger story is going to be.

Jemese: [00:01:30] So before we begin, I’ve really been led to  start these episodes with a little short prayer. So we didn’t discuss this, but I’m going to put you on the spot Miss Brenda. Would you mind saying a prayer over this episode and our listeners before we begin?

Brenda: [00:01:46] All right. Okay. Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You’re invited into the space to move my heart towards the listeners. To share this larger story you have. For Jemese and I to have this beautiful conversation. But may it leave hope in all those who hear. May they find their soul being touched and a way out of their broken heartedness. I pray this in your name and Amen.

Jemese: [00:02:29] Amen. Thank you so much. So you’ve got quite a story for us today. And and, you know, we’re all about hope stories here and change stories and heart stories. And I just want to dive right in and I’ll just turn the floor over to you. And I want to hear what you’ve got, what you’ve got for us today.

Brenda: [00:02:48] No lead in question, huh?

Jemese: [00:02:50] [laughs] I’m eager! I am so eager to hear from you. I’ve mostly asked people, you know, what’s your Jesus story? Because we really do all have one, whether whether we profess them or not, you know. And so my question is and this this hope story that you have or as what is the the maybe, you know, toughest thing or one of the tougher things that the Lord has really walked you through. Can you share this a little with us? A little bit about that?

Brenda: [00:03:20] Yes. Let me just go back to my first. From experience with Jesus. I was 15 years old and I had a black and white conversion experience that has grounded me and shaped me for my whole life. There was a me before, and then there was a prayer, and then there was a meet after. And the two before and after person it was just overnight. And that’s a whole beautiful story. But I want to fast forward to an even better story. So at the age of 18, again, I was 15. I had this this where I just knew Jesus loved me. At the age of 18, I began volunteering with teens at a church I had just moved to. And by the age of 21, another church had hired me. And by that point I was called into fulltime ministry. And I’ve been working with teenagers for 40 years now as a youth pastor. Oh. I mean, I’d still be working with teenagers except for during COVID. And this little caveat, I got laid off from my church. A lot of COVID upset there and we started a church plant. And I say I’m the lead pastor, but I still think I’m a youth pastor because that’s all I’ve been with my adult life is this. And I say we started a church plant because my husband and some of the parents of the teens of my church that had just laid me off, came to me and asked me to do this.

Brenda: [00:05:02] And so I. You know, you know. I had time to think about this right?  And I said, yes. I said, yes. My husband said yes to this with me. And so I’m pastor of this church that is now designed for teens and 20 somethings, because this is this is who I am. So I believe my whole adult life. Has led me to this to this point, to be this pastor of this church. It’s very different. It’s for teens and 20 somethings. I welcome older, wise Christians because our teens and 20 somethings need that intergenerational mix. And I am loving this new direction. But I want to say that for my whole adult life, I’ve worked with teens, and this is where my story takes an even deeper, graver turn. Because in this process is how I became a parent. I knew early on in my life as far as 18 even, I would never have children. I just knew something was wrong with my body and something was wrong when I thought it was. I was 31 years old, single still. When the doctors figured out what was wrong.

Brenda: [00:06:27] So I had that that moment in the doctor’s room where the doctor had to come in and tell me I was going to be infertile. And she was waiting for. I was not married yet, so I was just waiting for me to fall apart, as most women would. But God had already told me that was never gonna have children. So this was just a part of my plan to become a parent. So I took that apartment. That love was turned around to be a blessing for her. So I ended up consoling her because she was so worried. It was bad news, but it was something I knew already deep in my soul. And it was good to have a diagnosis. It was good to have some kind of hope, because of what a diagnosis does when you’re kind of on a path here for healing. So anyway, that’s a side story I really love. Infertility was never a problem. It  never caused me any grief or anything like that. I know women do struggle with this and the women I’ve had in my church struggle with this and I’ve worked with them through it. But for me, I do not want to belittle the pain, but for me it never was. I have just had other things to work through.

Jemese: [00:07:40] I understand what you’re saying. It’s like, you know, we all have a moment where it tells us to take up our cross, right? And we all have something that we are dealing with, you know?

Brenda: [00:07:50] Yeah.

Jemese: [00:07:51] So I understand completely what you’re saying. It’s not that you’re demeaning it. You had another path.

Brenda: [00:07:58] I did. I had tons of other brave decisions I was making, including so young, becoming a pastor in a church. And the woman this was back in the early eighties, you know, and just there’s just a lot that wasn’t married until I was 33. And there was a lot I could go off on that one thing. Single woman pastor in the church in the eighties. There’s a lot of assumptions.

Jemese: [00:08:23] Right. That’s like a whole episode in and of itself. You know, like. Really that’s like its own overcoming story because you always hear people saying, like, you know, women can’t do this and women can’t do that.

Brenda: [00:08:36] And yes, you know, and I’m going to go back to that conversion experience I had at 15. Just told me God was for me. It was such a pure, life changing experience. And then when it’s called the ministry, I just trusted God through it all. And I just stayed in it. I just stayed in it, and stayed in it, and stayed in it, and followed my call. And it’s been in year 40 of this calling and God has been faithful. It has been very good. It has been very hard. Like I said, it’s all led to the church that we’re planting and growing that is very odd. I think that’s part of the 40 years. We meet on Friday nights. Friday nights also tends to be a lonely night. And here we’re saying, join us. Oh, we also meet through Zoom, by the way. We’re not limited to a zip code because we began during COVID. And so. And so we started meeting over Zoom because also we have a lot of conversation during church. It’s not me teaching to you and giving you my supposed conclusion that I want you to take home with. There was actual conversation during church because I want you to contribute to the conversation. I want to hear doubts. I want to hear the questions that you have so that I know I’m teaching what you need to hear to grow your faith.

Jemese: [00:10:15] Yeah. Oh, that’s incredible. And that’s exactly what, you know, that I believe all all people, regardless of age, but especially the teens, twenties, you know, that’s a time of questioning and coming into oneself and to have access to a place where you can go to get those questions answered that such an answered prayer for so many, I’m sure.

Brenda: [00:10:41] I hope so. And that’s why I invite older Christians to join us, too, because. They have the life experiences to share. It’s not just me with all the answers. They have these life experiences and they have so much to give and so much to teach. And so we began doing COVID, and I didn’t plan this, but now it’s a year and a half old. I have people from ten different states joining us.

Jemese: [00:11:09] Oh, that’s incredible. Look at God.

Brenda: [00:11:12] It was never intended to be multi-state, but technology gives us that opportunity. And there is this this place where people want to ask their questions. And so so here we are. So this is just the fruition of so many brave questions asked along the way. And we have this unique church. But that’s not even the brave part of my story. I know. I know. You story you want me to hear. I got to that yet to say. I just love this church I’m in. I love what we’re doing. I really believe in it. I love seeing the spaces. Light up and having them be heard, and then they get to hear insight from so many other wise people. I just it’s just one of my favorite times right now in my life. So grateful. In a weird way that in that during COVID, I had to make some brave decisions and these brave decisions led to this direction. I’m just very excited about that.

Jemese: [00:12:19] And, you know, I continue to have conversations almost with everywhere I go with so many people saying that God did this incredible thing during this pandemic time, you know, wooing his people and just depositing new ideas and just drawing, drawing us to himself.

Brenda: [00:12:43] If we didn’t slow down. And I think this is so important because the pace of life before the pandemic was not sustainable.

Jemese: [00:12:53] Mm hmm.

Brenda: [00:12:54] And suddenly we had something that happened. We only see in the movies that caused us to stop. And we could either stay busy on social media thumbing through whatever we wanted to come thumb through, or we could stop and listen to what God would have for us when our lives came to a complete standstill. And I think out of that stopping one, we get to re-pace our lives. We’re not we don’t have to go back to that place you were at because really that 2019 pace was unsustainable for so many people.

Jemese: [00:13:31] Yeah.

Brenda: [00:13:33] And we have this choice now to change that pace and not go back to that crazy pace. And we also have the choice to put into practice what God told us in those very quiet times when we were bored, lonely, cooped up.

Jemese: [00:13:50] Oh, yeah.

Brenda: [00:13:51] Stir crazy. God still speaks to us. He speaks to us probably sometimes better when we’re going stir crazy. That can give us new direction, that can give us openings and new decisions. We were just granted–I mean, there was a lot of death involved in this gift. But we were granted a gift to reset our lives. Even the death part, which is I do not again, I do not minimize that either. With a cost of death for this reset. But I pray many people are resetting and finding what God’s direction is and they’re finding the joy I’m finding right now.

Jemese: [00:14:31] Yes, that’s so good. Really what I believe the Lord wants. He wants us to have a safe place to go. He’s not afraid of our questions, you know, and I think a lot of people a lot of people, um, I don’t know  just have this doubt about can I ask God these tough things? Can I ask anybody these tough questions? And, you know, I personally believe that he’s not afraid of our questions. And it’s a matter of having a faithful people who can answer those questions in love and really kind of model the gospel and model Jesus. So I would love it when we get to that, we get some time for you to share a little bit about how we can connect.

Brenda: [00:15:16] Awesome. Okay, I’ll do that. I would love to do that because I want to say, because we have in our church, we have back row people also like everybody, churches are back where people just don’t turn their cameras on. And we’re okay with that.

Jemese: [00:15:30] Yeah.

Brenda: [00:15:31] Just listen to the conversations and hear how we talk to each other, respect each other’s hard questions and come to wisdom. And maybe one week you’ll turn the camera on. But we invite you to be in the back row and turn your camera off. It’s ust fine to do that.

Jemese: [00:15:49] Oh, that’s awesome. So we we kind of hinted at it. Tell us about some of the hard things that Jesus has walked you through that has really helped you know that you can act in bravery and that you can be brave.

Brenda: [00:16:05] Yes. There’s one story I was getting to and I got lost on it. I’m going to get to it. Because this is the story that has defined the most. Now. Like I talked about being a minister in the eighties and a woman. And I had some really. Smashed heart times during that. But those, as awful as they were, were they have prepared me for what was next in my life. My greatest decision and my hardest decision and what has hurt me the most. But it was also defined me the most. So back. I told you I worked for 40 years, pastor. For 27 of those years I’ve been a substitute teacher in a Division One middle school. On purpose. This is where the teens are. This is where the teens are that have more needs and teens in the church. So I would find my spare day and I would be in. And I love this part of my life.In the early nineties, there was a group of boys who attached themselves to me. I’m the cool substitute teacher, by the way. So this happening was not unusual, but because I was the one that would listen to them, ask them questions, pray for them, I was not there. I mean, I helped them get educated because education is such a difference maker in the economy. But I also ,they knew I cared about them. But these boys who were not well behaved, by the way, these boys hung around, were tardy to classes, would sit with me at lunch.

Brenda: [00:17:55] They were. It was it was so different. I saw God’s hands say wake up and look at what’s going on here. And I had no idea because they were they were just a lot. So hard decision number one was to follow what God was doing here, and I had no idea. And I finally found a way to meet their parents and to meet with them off school grounds. And I could, so we could actually talk about things and talk about God, because that was my heart’s intention. And we started doing that. And I’m still single, by the way. We started doing this and. They just kept coming around and they kept inviting me over to their house. I go over to their house. They would literally steal my car so I could stay for hours with them on that drug corner just to sit with them and talk to them. It was God’s hand. So fast forward a couple of years. Still with these boys. Still don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just trying and working and over. They all become they all become Christians. But I also know they have to overcome so much for this faith decision to change their lives. And it was just, it was just more than this weekend we had where they all decided to become Christian. It was going to take so much. And through this, what to do, I heard God very clearly say to me “You’ve been to a your pastor for thousands of teenagers. But these boys. I’m going to ask you to parent.”

Jemese: [00:19:40] Wow

Brenda: [00:19:43] And it was only a couple of months later. Now, in the meantime, I met my husband. We had cleverly introduced him to the boys. And it was awkwardly going wel. I was going to better than I expected.

Jemese: [00:20:01] Yeah

Brenda: [00:20:02] But when we got engaged finally and this was finally and I said yes to this one, I really felt God led me to this one. That was it was he has been right one. We told the boys first. I was so excited to actually say yes to  engagement and to be done with the single part of my life where I had all kinds of factors to worry about all the time. Especially being with boys. As we told the boys first, in my great joy of like, “this is God’s answer.” And they pulled me to the side that very night and said, I will never forget these words, “We like John and all, but we think he’ll be like every other step father and take you away from us.” And suddenly that word God gave me just a few months earlier dake even more sense to me.

Jemese: [00:21:03] Yeah. They had a wounded hearts, right?  I mean, talk about heartbreak. Hearing that. And really, you maybe even recognizing something in them that  they had never really exposed to you before–that vulnerability.

Brenda: [00:21:19] Yes. So we actually planned our wedding with them in mind where they were a part of everything. And then that day, we all married John together.

Jemese: [00:21:33] Oh, that’s so sweet. It was a family coming together, right?

Brenda: [00:21:39] Yes. So I got four boys, by the way. So. So I want to fast forward 25 years because just just in March here, John and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

Jemese: [00:21:53] Oh, congratulations.

Brenda: [00:21:54] Thank you. And that’s quite a accomplishment.

Jemese: [00:21:59] I’m coming up on five years, so I got a ways to go.

Brenda: [00:22:07] So the only thing I wanted to do for our 25th anniversary was to spend time with the boys to reflect on what God has done with this marriage. Because I know there would be no 25 year love story without the boys involved.

Jemese: [00:22:24] Oh, that’s so beautiful.

Brenda: [00:22:27] So I don’t think I want to turn my eyes toward John if I. If he hadn’t tried to win me over through the boys. So they were such a part of our story. And so we we had two days with them for our 25th anniversary. No wives, no grandchildren. By the way, I’ve got six wonderful grandchildren now. And we were just able to reflect on what God has done in over this 25 years. And it was it was fun. It was laughter. It was interesting because the boys shared once again how they didn’t like John. And then we also had the opportunity to share with them how John pursued me, because for them they never considered that. They just knew he popped up and they never considered that I had doubts about marrying John. And why. Why did we get together? How did your parents get together? You know what I mean? They just had all these questions they never, ever asked us before because they were mostly worried about losing me. A couple of years after this happened one of my sons texted me and he said this. This also I’ll never forget. He said, “You know, you’re right. You and John really were not a good match, but God knew what he was doing because I do not see myself without you two in my life.”

Jemese: [00:23:53] Oh, how incredible to hear those words.

Brenda: [00:23:56] I was going to back up to when the boys were 18, 18, 19. They’re all around the same age because they were the same group of friends. We got married at 14, the boys at 14, so it was quite a few years here. But at 18, 19 I noticed them talking to John more and calling John more because now they were men. And now they have somebody they could trust and ask their man questions.

Jemese: [00:24:27] Mm hmm.

Brenda: [00:24:28] And so their identity, well, their loyalty is to me first. And there’s this  you know, never I mean, you’re my mom and you never no one’s going to ever take you away is so strong with them. But their identity is really through John. They found identity as a men through John. And that is a crazy, beautiful, beautiful story.

Jemese: [00:24:57] What a gift. Because, you know, that’s really so important. It’s important to have those role models. You know, and I have often said that, you know, whether by our, you know, parents as our caretakers presence or their absence, they have an influence, you know. And so if for  these young boys, that that that male figure was not there, you know, that influenced them.

Brenda: [00:25:29] Yeah

Jemese: [00:25:29] And how beautiful is it to see that God saw them.God saw that and said You know what, I’m going to provide an answer. You know, you’re not going to you’re not going to have to walk through this life without that male, that male figure, that that male role model that you can sort of call on whenever you need to, because we all need that.

Brenda: [00:25:54] Yes. Which is and I tell them often and we’ve had almost, almost 30 years with these boys now. It has not been smooth. I’ve got more to share about that. It’s not been smooth. And they say to me often, Why did you not leave us? Why did you not leave me when we’ve had to go through some very awful stuff? And I keep going back to, you pursued me. You chose a different life for yourself because you didn’t sit on that drug corner. With just those people. You invited me into that drug corner, and then you followed me to Bible study and you followed me to church. And you followed me to the rest of our lives. You guys, you guys made that choice, so I was never going to leave you no matter what else you ever did with your future.

Jemese: [00:26:53] That’s so incredible. Here I am thinking that we’re here to listen to your new creation story. And really, I’m hearing what an incredible transformation that God has done in everybody’s life, you know.  Those boy’s life has changed forever. Because you said yes, because way back when you said yes, you know, and our yes has an impact on those around us. God’s looking for who is available, who’s available and who’s willing to say, yes, I will follow you, Lord. I will do what you ask me to do.

Brenda: [00:27:31] And because of their pursuit and my. Yes, I now have six awesome grandchildren. But for them, they move on the day they were born, that they were loved and wanted and have known the name of Jesus.

Jemese: [00:27:48] Oh, that’s so beautiful.

Brenda: [00:27:50] Others didn’t have.

Jemese: [00:27:51] Right.

Brenda: [00:27:52] But these children do.

Jemese: [00:27:56] And in that way it’s like, you know, where you’re rewriting the story. It can change. It doesn’t have to be the same generational patterns again and again and again. You know, one yes can change a life way down the line, you know, through the generations. It’s incredible. It’s incredible what God will do, what the Lord will do. And I just think that’s so beautiful. How amazing. Like, there’s no doubt that the Lord had his hand on you guys.

Brenda: [00:28:29] It’s, He does on everybody. But we have this option to take that very vulnerable “Yes.” Or to continue with safe decisions. I mean, you can choose a safe Christian life. You can make it into heaven and you’re going to have this beautiful family, normal life, whatever. You can have that choice. Or you can say yes to that very brave decision, and it could be something even better. But it’s going to hurt. And that’s going to hurt maybe why some people choose that safe option. But it is going to hurt because. These boys had a lot to overcome and still are. Sure, we just had this 25th wedding anniversary, but it was only with two of the four boys because two of them ended up in prison anyway.Prison has been a part of our lives for 24 years now. And that is just one heartbreak after heartbreak after heartbreak. There’s first of all, there’s the crimes that were committed. There’s no innocence here.

Jemese: [00:29:50] Right.

Brenda: [00:29:51] And then there’s a fallout. You know, he’s just realizing that there’s victims out there. There’s the whole criminal justice system, which is not kind. And then there’s the whole prison system which is dehumanizing to my sons It’s dehumanizing to us as visitors. And we are still deep into this system. Because they’re my sons.


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