Growing 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 home to 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. 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 begged them to shoot me. That night my life was saved by a stranger and within 24 hours I was in a safe shelter.
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.
Two years later, at the age of 26 I took in my first abused teenager. I knew at that time this was my calling. 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 I lifted the lid off my life and starting believing everything was obtainable. I let go of all preconceived limitations. I had a GED education, no practical job skills and within a few years I was earning well over 6 figures and I had five abused teenagers living in my home. Today I am an executive at a Fortune 100 company, an author, an international speaker, I have been a mother to 30 abused teens and I have a nationwide foundation for street kids.
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.
Lauri Burns is a corporate executive at a Fortune 100 company, an inspirational speaker, a mother to over thirty troubled foster children (drugs, prostitution, cutters, eating disorders and behavioral disorders) and the founder of The Teen Project, for homeless youth, which she established in response to her overwhelming feeling that no matter how many teens she fostered, it was never enough. She is a part of Oprah’s Angel Network and has been approached by multiple networks for a feature, movie rights and pilot show. It is her dream that no teen should ever be without a safe home or a family.
(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…