Palmer appeared to be on his way to becoming another tragic statistic—a broken life destined for destruction and possibly prison like his stepfather. By the age of 11, he didn't know how to escape his troubles … except to fight back.
"My [biological] father threw me down the stairs, told me I was worthless and that I was never going to amount to anything," Palmer recalls.
Between the ages of 5 and 14, he was forced by the courts to stay at his dad's house, where he was abused verbally, physically, and sexually. He was bullied at school.
Eventually, he started "acting out"—fighting, stealing, visiting and revisiting the principal's office. He even attempted suicide.
"I just didn't feel like anyone loved me," Palmer says. "I was treated for depression, in and out of psychiatric wards, hospitals and juvenile detention centers. I didn't have a lot of friends."
Then his grandparents insisted he go to an Angel Tree® summer camp.
A LOST LAMB
But God had another plan for Palmer. The camp leaders decided not to send him home—and then something happened that changed Palmer's life, forever.
"The chapel at camp had a cross on the wall," Palmer remembers. "And during a worship time I heard about the parable of the lost sheep. It really hit home—all of a sudden I realized I was lost and had a heart of stone. I prayed for the first time in my life, and accepted Christ as my Savior."
"I discovered that Someone loved me, that God cared about me," Palmer remembers. "And even though life was still happening—it was still hard—I learned stuff happens for a reason, good or bad. We have to learn to grow from those experiences."
ONCE A TROUBLEMAKER, NOW A MENTOR
Not only did Palmer give his life to Christ, but he also embarked on a journey that no one else on his father's side of his family had ever taken: he graduated from college.
"God has helped me mature a lot, and it was Angel Tree® that changed me so I could have a relationship with Him. If my stepdad hadn't gone to prison, I would have never gone to camp—I would have never found God. I would have never gone to college and gotten my master's degree in special education."
Eventually, Palmer decided one way to express his love for God was to give back. He became an Angel Tree Camping® counselor and helped kids who were going through the same things he went through.
Now a young man, Palmer remembers Angel Tree providing a place of refuge and safety from life, pain, and brokenness. Today he's determined to help mentor and love kids who are going through trials just like he did so many years ago.
"I used to be one of these kids, and I know what they are going through. When I think of Angel Tree, I'm reminded of the story of Paul in the New Testament. Paul's story was about transformation. If God can turn a heart of stone like Paul's into a heart of love, then He can do the same thing in my life and the lives of these kids as well."