I long ago shelved the fairytale that everyone in America is given the same chances, the same shot at success. It’s just not in any way accurate. Not by a long-shot. Plus, what does success mean?
To simplify this post, let’s just say success looks like a heathy child being born into a loving, caring family. (How many children did we lose before they even had a fighting chance?) As this child progresses from infancy through childhood and moves into adolescence, he is nurtured, loved, and taught discipline and self control by compassionate, selfless caregivers. (More dropping off the chart.) This child was raised with a sense of security that his needs would be met, that he was safe, and that he was free to concentrate on education because there was nothing else to occupy his mental, emotional, spiritual or physical heath and energy. (More and more children, dropped from the success radar, before the school bell sounds each morning.)
You see, everyone is not given the same chance at success. There are many, many people in our own country who are born with the odds stacked so highly against them that to succeed takes a near miracle. As Max Lucado said in his book Outlive Your Life, “In the game of life, many of us who cross home plate do so because we were born on third base. Others aren’t even on a team.”
This afternoon, I discovered an odd benefit to being 5 feet tall. Most benefits to being only 5 feet tall are indeed, odd.
While taking with a walk through our neighborhood with a straggling group of mixed race teenagers, one dribbling a basketball, others with their shirts draped over their shoulder, and all being led by two Littles on their bikes, an angry man darted across the street from his house and started laying into one of the neighborhood teens I was walking with.
I am assuming he probably thought the 5 foot tall girl wearing a t-shirt and long jean shorts was just another kid, because most adults would not speak to a child in the manner he was speaking if the child’s parent was standing right there.
I listened for a few seconds while this man was accusing one of the teens of stealing property. This man was berating the teen, attacking his character and more or less threatening him with police involvement and other consequences for a crime, that as best I understood, the teen being harassed explicated said a few times that he had no involvement in.
It was in that moment that from a place of compassion deep in my heart, a place that holds a special affinity for the teen being publicly (and without proof, mind you) shamed, that the mama bear in me reared her head. It was also at this moment that the man realized I was not, in fact, a child. Oops.
As I walked up to this man and asked what the deal was, he continued in his accusatory tone. He was blaming the teen for doing something he had no proof that he had done. He brought up past transgressions and told him the police would be looking for him.
I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not going to stand there and listen to him berate and threaten a child. If the police needed to talk to the teen, THEY would talk to him. Unless he has proof that this boy stole the property in question, he has no right to take this tone and demeanor with him. I understood that this man was upset about stolen property, but accusing a child simply because “you think they were involved” simply adds insult to injury for this particular child.
I’m sure my own children’s eyes became wide as they saw the “don’t mess with her” look on my face. My first instinct was to protect this child, a child who is far from perfect, but also can never seem to get a leg up before life deals him another blow. This child is not a law-breaking citizen, mind you. Rather, he is boy who, looking for affirmation and love, is easily misled. I am also not talking about a child who does not have consequences for his actions either. He has plenty of those.
I am talking about a child who, metaphorically, wasn’t born on a team.
A child who, as the angry man was quick to admit when I pushed him on it, had no proven involvement in the missing property. A child who, if you got to know him, you may actually start to understand the reasons for some of his quirks and behaviors, and be able to relate more easily.
And then, from another nook in my heart, also in the compassion department…my mouth began uttering words that I seemed to have no control over. Honestly, I had NO idea why these words were coming out of my mouth.
I looked at this man and said point blank, “If you want to make a difference in the lives of these kids, these teens, your threats mean nothing. You should step up and start mentoring them. Do the hard work. They don’t need to get in trouble once again, they need more mentors!”
And something about the words struck a chord. His demeanor changed and he said, “You’re probably right. They do need mentors.”
Friends, everyone is not given the same chances. The stable and loving family that many of us take for granted, is glaringly absent in the homes of SO many. The absence of love, security and a stable community presents itself at a very early age. Only, many of us simply want to observe brokenness from a distance and not get right into the mess where although extremely difficult, is also extremely rewarding.
Without the foundation of security and trust to grow from, is it any wonder our society has so many ills?
This boy, the teen in question, has a good heart, friends. He does. And I have watched him blossom over the past few years. He has been part of our “family” since before our first two adopted children joined us. Yet, so few take the chance to see his heart and so many close door after door in his face. They don’t want to be involved with the hard work it takes to be mentor to a troubled kid.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are some days I simply to don’t have the patience for the shennagins. Yet, God isn’t calling for perfect mentors, he is calling for ones willing to be imperfectly present. Whether informal or formal, our teens need to know there are people who care about them and are willing go to bat for them when needed. Then, once they trust us, they let us in to those broken places in their hearts and God can begin the real healing. It’s all relational. It’s never observational.
There is some good news about this story. This boy, the one accused by the angry man, did not have any involvement in the missing property. Turns out the police had already questioned him and searched his home.
Turns out he has been making good choices and is not associating with the herd of petty thieves that have been roaming and menacing our neighborhood. It turns out that some of the property in question was recovered at another teen’s house. A teen who, probably much like the one my heart goes to, needs more stability, love, and guidance in his life. He also probably needs a healthy dose of consequences as well, I’d imagine. But the consequences and the love go hand in hand if they are to have the desired effect.
Which brings me to the coolest part of this story. When I returned home from my walk, and after having a long discussion with the teen who had been accused on our walk and a few parents of the other kids on the walk, I picked up my phone to call the angry man. I wanted to apologize for the way in which I spoke.
When he answered the phone, this is what he said, “The other night when I was telling my wife about how upset I was about the property getting stolen, she turned to me and said, ‘these boys need mentors if they are going to succeed.’ And then today, you pretty much said the same thing. I think that’s part of the answer to this problem. ”
And this is where I saw God today. Well, I actually saw God through an through the mess, because that is where the secret to the Kingdom resides, in my understanding. But also, I had no idea why on earth I would talking to my (angry) neighbor, in a heated tone, about him stepping up to be a mentor. I had no idea why I was saying anything like that to him, but as it turns out, God had already begun promoting.
I hope he follows through. I hope something good comes out of this for the troubled teens in our neighborhood and our entire community. I will be praying for just that!
Everyone is not given the same chances in life, but part of our calling….as neighbors, communities, schools, and as the church…is to help even the playing field. Even when it involves stepping out of our comfort zones and into someone else’s mess. You never know when you might need someone to step into yours.
As Christians, we are called to love one another and accept one another, as Christ has accepted us. We are called to carry one another’s burdens. Those burdens come in all shapes and sizes, but are more than abundant in our world. We simply need to stop and take the time to pick one up.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. God is found in the messy brokenness of the world. It is an odd reality, but I have found it to be true again and again. But don’t take my word for it, get out there and meet him yourself. Then, please, share your experiences with us. I would love to hear all about it!
Where did you meet God today, in the midst of brokenness?
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. -Galatians 6:1-2