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How a hurting teen and a hoping-to-be mom became no ordinary family

Quentin Shaver felt abandoned by a broken family. When he met Meg Cook, her heart already had a place where he belonged.

When she introduces her son, Meg Cook expects a puzzled response.

Barely five feet, with a dark, youthful complexion and lots of energy, she could easily pass for a recent college graduate. Perhaps even younger.

Then there’s Quentin, a rising high school senior, ready to take on the world.

“How do I walk through and navigate this without it being super awkward?” she says to herself.

The two are no ordinary family.

On Mother’s Day 2016, at the photo booth in the atrium at NewSpring Northeast Columbia, Quentin cheesed for the camera with Meg.

It was an obvious joke.

Anyone who had seen them together — setting up and breaking down the community campus on Sundays; serving in KidSpring — could see there was a special bond. Just like mother and son.

“I would say this is my mom,” Quentin says. “And people would believe it.” 

Then, one day, it just stopped being a joke.

Quentin and Meg in a Mother's Day photo that made a joke of their close relationship serving together. Because of his broken family, Quentin had never experienced a mother's love.

A Chaotic Year

Meg and Quentin’s story is an unlikely one, as it so often is when God’s involved.

The two first met at an event Quentin attended in the fall of 2015 to get connected at the campus.

It had been a chaotic year for Quentin.

On a February day, his regular, teenage life in Lugoff, South Carolina —  high school football, weekend travel baseball, and church youth group on Sundays and Wednesdays — blew up.

His estranged mom called him out of the blue.

“You need to come home, and you need to come right now. Your dad did something really crazy,” his mom told him.

Quentin’s father was running from police in three counties.

He had made up his mind what he was going to do that day. - Quentin

When Quentin was 13, his dad fell off a roof, and he had been treating the chronic pain from his injuries with meds for years.

He got addicted, and, at some point, his doctor decided he wasn’t authorizing any more prescriptions.

So, in what Quentin can only guess was desperation, his dad had driven to a chain pharmacy, and ordered the clerk to give him pain pills.

“I have a gun,” he warned the cashier, cocking his head to an empty hand stuffed in his pocket.

Quentin’s dad fled the scene, but a civilian followed him until police could intercept.

“I remember that morning he gave me enough money to fill up my truck, and he said, ‘I love you, son.’ I knew something wasn’t right. He had made up his mind what he was going to do that day.”

A gun was never found, but he was convicted of strong arm robbery and sentenced to four years in prison.

“It really messed me up when he did what he did,” Quentin says. “He was always the one who taught me right from wrong, and he basically grew me up into the man I am today.”

Quentin was a popular player on his high school football team.  When his father went to prison, he was too embarrassed to tell his teammates.

Running From Shame

Although Quentin’s relationship with his stepmom was always strained, his relationship with his dad was healthy.

He was a great dad, who just did a crazy thing, Quentin says.

“My father, for the most part, would make sure I had everything I needed. He would sit outside for hours and practice [my sports] with me,” he says.

But his dad’s actions still feel like betrayal.

“He’s supposed to be my role model, and he’s in prison now. I don’t have a relationship with him. I don’t talk to him. If he lied to me, I don’t want that community in my life right now.”

Quentin’s dad’s arrest meant a hasty move to his mom’s house, and a new school.

I just remember thinking that I had never had a woman fight for me. - Quentin

Quentin said nothing to his longtime friends at church or his athletic teammates. He even broke up with his girlfriend, afraid she would find out.

He was too ashamed of what his father had done.

“I was so embarrassed. I felt like they were going to judge me. Instead of just dealing with it, and accepting it, I ran from it.”

Quentin had only seen his mom a few times a year since he stopped living with her at the age of 5, and there was no love between them.

“She didn’t buy me birthday or Christmas presents. She didn’t come to my games,” Quentin says.

She and her longtime boyfriend were alcoholics, he was a drug user, and their relationship was abusive, Quentin says. Tempers often flared. Things got smashed.

He didn’t feel loved or cared for in their home.

The boyfriend thought he could buy Quentin’s silence or submission with money.

“He did some pretty awful stuff and crazy stuff,” he says.

Quentin, far right, with Meg at a restaurant after an early start organizing KidSpring equipment for the NewSpring Northeast Columbia campus.

A Place To Belong

Quentin’s involvement at NewSpring had begun reluctantly the summer of 2015, when his best friend had invited him to check out Fuse Summer Kickoff in Columbia.

One of the Fuse staff, a student at the University of South Carolina, quickly took Quentin under his wing on Fuse nights, and he would regularly travel nearly an hour each way to hang out.

The staffer surprised Quentin with a paid-for ticket to Gauntlet, the weeklong annual student summer camp at Daytona Beach.

The experience convinced Quentin NewSpring was where he wanted to belong.

Just a few weeks later, Quentin asked Jesus into his life at the end of a service. By his side, the friend who invited him had risen to his feet to respond to the invitation, too.

“I had head knowledge of Jesus, and I had read the Bible,” Quentin says. “But I didn’t know Jesus.”

At the time, Northeast Columbia, closest to Quentin’s home, was just being established as a house campus, and Meg was a lead volunteer whose heart was sold on getting it off the ground.

Quentin and Meg met at the discovery meeting for people who wanted to take a next step in serving.

I’ve just known since day one that this is what I’ve been called to do. - Meg

With his home life a mess, Quentin couldn’t seem to spend enough time at church.

He arrived early on Sundays to set up, served both morning services in KidSpring, and loaded up the truck afterwards. Then he traveled to the Columbia campus for its evening services.

That was in addition to attending Fuse services on Wednesdays and a discipleship group with the Columbia Fuse pastor.

Meg encouraged him with texts telling him how great he was doing. They would often share phone calls about the arrangements for upcoming services.

“I remember at that time I was super happy. I would do small group and large group and pray with the kids. I was just finding a whole lot of joy in KidSpring.”

Quentin serving in KidSpring. Among many roles, he led worship and small groups, and he also set up and broke down the children's space. 

Opening Up

A turning point in the relationship between Meg and Quentin came at a special meeting of KidSpring volunteers that fall.

Meg decided to share her story: Born to addicts; adopted by her grandparents at the age of 4; struggling with infertility with her husband, Daniel,  for years.

The latter problem was made worse — much worse — because she always imagined that a family of her own would help ease the pain of her past.

In fact, she told the volunteers, when she had first gotten involved at NewSpring in 2014, she refused to serve in KidSpring.

Then, at home after a service — tears flowing, face pressed to the floor — Jesus broke her.

“Just because you can’t have children," Jesus spoke to her heart, ”doesn’t mean they don’t matter.”

At the end of the volunteer meeting, Quentin hung back.

He emptied his heart about the chaos surrounding his living situation.

He was the first student my heart was ever broken for. - Meg

Meg’s empathy was quick and deep.

“I knew I had to tell her about my father and what had been going on in my life, and she started crying,” Quentin says. “I knew I could trust her.”

For the next year, Meg yielded to the mothering instinct she felt around Quentin, and Quentin welcomed it.

“She was telling me that what my father did didn’t define who I am,” Quentin says. “I felt like she actually cared for me. I just remember thinking that I had never had a woman fight for me. My biological mother never fought for me, and my stepmother never fought for me.”

Along with the time they spent together at church, Quentin shared holidays with Meg and Daniel, and she was a constant source of advice.

“We were like really close. I talked to her before I talked to anybody else,” Quentin says.

Secretly, Quentin was waiting for Meg to ask him to stay with her family.

“She would always say, ‘You know you can come stay with us.’ But she never asked me.”

Meg and Quentin cutting loose at Gauntlet 2016. Quentin moved into the Cooks' home immediately after the weeklong student summer camp.

A Spiritual Mom

Then came Gauntlet 2016.

One of the messages she heard contrasted the labels that we put on ourselves with the names given to us by God.

During that service, she heard Jesus call her “mom."

Then a volunteer messaged her: “You may not be a physical mom, but you’re a spiritual mother to every girl at our campus.”

The realization was sudden: “I’m not supposed to be a physical mom, but a spiritual one,” Meg says.

At the end of Gauntlet week, getting off the bus at Spring Valley High School, Quentin was wrecked about the prospect of returning home.

“I feel like it’s time for you to move out,” she said boldly. “I want you to start packing.”

Meg and Daniel discussed the possibility of taking in Quentin.

Without hesitation, Daniel had said, “Yes.”

“I always knew there was something different about him,” Meg says of Quentin. “I heard a lot of stories that were so much like mine, but he was the first student my heart was ever broken for. I’ve just known since day one that this is what I’ve been called to do.”

That Sunday, during lunch with Meg and Daniel and some friends, Quentin was grousing about not having a place to go, as Meg tried to talk through his practical options.

It came to the point where I started to believe her that I was her son — whether I was her blood or not. - Quentin

Afterward in the parking lot, with tears in his eyes, he turned to Meg: “I need you to make the decision for me,” he said.

In the moment, Meg didn’t hesitate.

“I said, you need to go pack, and you need to come to our house. You can stay a week and figure out a next step, but if you want to stay six months, or forever, you need to make that decision.”

“I honestly felt a sigh of relief,” Quentin says.

Meg says something had changed inside her.

“I felt like what a mom would feel, and it’s a feeling I never had before. When you hear how “crazy moms” are, that’s the way I felt. There was no real reason. It’s only Jesus.”

As soon as Quentin moved in, Meg confronted the elephant in the room.

“My heart is to be your mom,” she told him.

“You’ve been more of a mom to me in my last year than my mom has ever been,” he replied.

The Cooks — Meg, and her husband, Daniel, right, and their dog, Norman — used this family photo for Christmas greetings in 2016, the first that featured Quentin.

No Ordinary Family

Since August 2016, that’s how they’ve lived: Mother and son.

It’s no longer a joke, and it’s not a metaphor. It’s real.

"We’ve completely embraced what he is to us. I introduce him as my son,” Meg says.

Says Quentin: “I have a great mother. One day my kids are going to have a great grandmother. I finally got what I dreamed about and always wanted.”

Learning to trust was the hardest for Quentin.

Was this emotion? Was this real? Does she really love me? If she ever had kids would she love me as much as she loved them? What if they kick me out? Quentin thought to himself constantly.

“I didn’t want to get hurt. I was used to getting hurt by my family. I don’t know what the tipping point was, but it came to the point where I started to believe her that I was her son — whether I was her blood or not.”

Meg faced many of the questions any mom would face in trying to raise a child — in a lot less time.

How does he handle his emotions? How does he learn? How do you discipline when he hasn’t had any rules?

“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Meg says. “I remember thinking when he first moved in, 'If he can heal, if he can get safe and get healthy, he’ll be so dangerous for the enemy.'”

I’m very aware that Jesus had a plan in this, and I see what he can do every day.  - Quentin

Meg is awed by the way her husband has embraced Quentin.

As glorious as it is to be given a chance to be a mom, she’s also had to grieve the loss of what she’d imagined it would look like.

She’s found herself wishing he were five or even 14. Instead of 18.

The commitment to Quentin is lifelong. Eventually, they plan to adopt him.

Still, she knows their time living together under one roof is limited. 

“We’ve been given this great gift, but it’s just a short time,” she says of her regret.

For his part, Quentin isn’t looking for this season to end soon. After years dreaming of a career with the U.S. Marines to get away from South Carolina, he’s decided to go to the South Carolina Fire Academy, instead.

It wasn’t a hard decision. Instead of wanting to escape his life, he wants as much time with the Cooks as possible now.

“I don’t have to run from anything any more. There’s no reason for me to run anymore. I realized I didn’t need to start new because Jesus made me new,” Quentin says.

“You don’t run from a blessing. I’m very aware that Jesus had a plan in this, and I see what he can do every day. I have everything I want and everything I’ve ever wanted, and I’m thankful,” he says.

The Cooks know God has entrusted them with a child for life, and they relish all that will mean.

“I'm excited for the day when I get to watch him marry the girl of his dreams and the day I get to hold his kids for the first time,” Meg says. “We will be his parents now and into the future.”

Fishing is one of Quentin's favorite ways to hang out and have fun with the Cooks.

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