"I want out of this family or I will end it all," Frannie Trahan told her social worker. A victim of years of mental and physical abuse, Frannie had cut herself and tried to "end it all" before. If someone had told Frannie that she was as worthless as a lump of coal, she would have believed that. But she never would have believed herself to be a "diamond in the rough."
Frannie was born unwanted. Her birth father left when he found out that Frannie's mother was pregnant. Frannie didn't see him until she was 14.
Being raised by an overwhelmed, illiterate mother and stepfather was anything but pleasant. Frannie used survival skills to cope—fighting, swearing, talking back, manipulation.
But at age 9, Frannie began attending a Salvation Army church (corps) in Lynn, Mass. She escaped her difficult home life by going to the Army building every time the doors were open. She attended Sunday school, morning and evening worship, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and youth activities, including mime, dancing, and volleyball. She even visited nursing homes as part of the corps' League of Mercy ministry.
Early on, Frannie asked Jesus into her heart, but she really didn't know what that meant. When she went home, she was still abused, and she was exposed to drunkenness and sexual activity. She continued to swear, lie, and fight.
Briefly, Frannie moved in with her birth father when he reappeared in her life, then lived with one of his ex-wives. With four other teens in that household, some sexually active, Frannie's home life was about as bad as it could get. At this point, she tried to take her own life and ended up in a mental health facility.
Frannie prayed desperately and cried out for help. It came in the form of a visit from Salvation Army Captain Cheriann Stoops and a social worker. The social worker pointed out to Frannie that the only positive thing in her life was The Salvation Army; she asked if anyone in the church could take her in and care for her.
Cheriann and her husband, Captain Kevin Stoops, could think of no family in their congregation that might be an option. Then Cheriann suggested to Kevin that they take Frannie into their home as their daughter. Kevin immediately said, "No! We've just adopted a boy who is now 4 years old. How can we care for a 16-year-old?
"But," he added, "I will pray about it."
God quickly answered that prayer; one week later, on Jan. 23, 1999, Frannie became a part of the Stoops family.
Kevin and Cheriann quickly set down boundaries. They gave Frannie a curfew, limited her TV-watching, and established study times. They also visited her teachers to find out how they could help with her academic problems.
Soon Frannie discovered that she was part of a real family. Four-year-old
Arthur loved having a big sister, and nights around the dinner table instilled in Frannie a clearer concept of God's love and acceptance. For the first time, she began to trust people and to feel wanted and loved. In addition to her new parents and a brother, she now had loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as caring teachers, counselors, and social workers.
When Frannie's parents received the news that the Army would be moving them from Lynn to Pittsburgh, Frannie went along; there, she graduated from high school, got a job, and started college.
The next time the couple received new appointments, this time to New York City, Frannie stayed behind in Pittsburgh to finish college and work as the youth minister at the New Kensington, Pa., Corps.
In May 2006, she graduated from the Community College of Allegheny County with an associate's degree in family and child development. Following graduation, she worked at a day-care center and assisted at the Army's Camp Allegheny. She now works at the Greensburg, Pa., and is growing spiritually.
Frannie's future plans are not crystal clear, but God is working in her life. She definitely wants to touch people's lives, especially teenagers, and let them know that there is hope if they trust in God. She says God may be leading her to be an officer in the Salvation Army.
I am proud to be a grandfather to Frances Maria Trahan Stoops, a.k.a. "Dimple Cheeks" or "DC." She says that without the love, prayers, and help of so many of God's people, she might be a very different young woman today.
God is still forming Frannie, changing her from that "lump of coal" into a beautiful, multi-faceted diamond.
Major Lloyd Stoops, the author, lives in Surprise, Ariz., with his wife, Major Kay Stoops. Frannie's adoptive parents, Majors Kevin and Cheriann Stoops, are stationed in New York City.