Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lost Boys and Cold Rain

It was cold out that night and the wind was steady from the north. The last ride dropped the two boys off about a mile back at the overpass that took him home. There was nothing around this exit of the interstate, so the only option they had was to get back to the road and start hitchhiking again. Few cars traveled past as the midnight hour came and left. They walked on. The dark morning crept along, and they were tired and hungry walking alone in silence. Then the rain came, a slow drizzle but steady.

It was just another adventure for the boys. I use the word “adventure” because in written form it seems so exciting. Traveling the country, not a worry in the world, no one to tell you what to do or when to do it. It seemed a Huckleberry holiday for the boys when it started, but the excitement was short-lived.

Most boys at 14 and 16 would be in bed on a Tuesday night resting before the next day of school. Many would have had dinner, maybe dessert and some TV. Maybe the other boys would be tired from a baseball game or a night at church youth group. These two boys left just days before after the first day of school; neither was registered there anyway. The youngest of the two walked the hall of the school that first day not knowing where to go or what to do; no one registered him. For most kids the first day of high school is an amazing, scary journey. For him, it was just another day of confusion, disappointment and anger.

Recently I found myself walking a back creek into the woods to a camp site built between the fallen walls of an old barn. I was searching for a boy who had run away a few weeks before. He was seen in the backwoods here, and I wanted a chance to talk with him before the police did.
The makeshift camp had tarps covering two sides of the dilapidated barn. A pair of tents was erected under the rusting tin roof and debris that included burnt wood, broken glass, bike parts and canned foods scattered about. Shuffling around the camp was a thin, short woman who seemed busy. As I began to ask about the boy I was searching for. She responded with a soft crackly voice, “Yes, I know him. He comes here every once in a while. I have not seen him in a few days, though.”

She shared with me that she had cared for him and fed him. She told me how she counseled him to get back to school, to go home because if not he would turn out like her -- 33 and living in a tent in the woods. Amazingly she told me how she had walked the same trails and did the same things he was doing 18 years earlier. Skipping from the same school, confused, rebellious, lost right there in those same woods.

She had made this her home for now, and she cared for the lost boy I was looking for. I was amazed, sad and concerned all at the same time. Why would this boy choose the woods in the cold, rain and dirt over home just blocks away? Why would she choose the same?

In the book of James, 1:27, Christ tells us to care for the widows and the orphans. As a matter of fact I think that the No. 1 thing mentioned in the Bible, over and over, is caring for the widows and orphans. I think that translates to lost kids and homeless, the weaker vessels, the hurting.
I lived a life lost once. I was the young boy who left school that day, my first day of high school. My parents had split, and I refused to go with either one. I was a trouble boy. My father fought alcohol, and my mom was just trying to care for my little brothers and sisters. It is a story so many can tell.

That day as we walked that dark interstate I remember looking across a huge open pasture and seeing a small farmhouse with the porch light on in the distance. I dreamed of going to the house, knocking on the door and being taken in and cared for. I dreamed of a loving, caring family, a warm place to stay, a safe place. I had to decide then and there if I was going to breakdown and cry or stuff away the feelings I was having into a place they would not take me out. I decided to go hard. To this day I struggle allowing the emotions to surface.

I was angry for years that my friends got to be at home, go to school, live a normal life. It wasn’t until just a few years ago I realized that the ministry I now lead, thrive in, live for is the direct result of all that “training” I did on the streets and in those cold, lonely places. I know about not feeling a part of, not understanding why I did something and how much it means to have someone believe in you. I believe we can use our hardships, trials and pains to live out God’s ministry in our lives. Each of us has the authority to tell our story with all the ugliness and beauty because it is our story.

Today, I offer the old farmhouse light to wounded and wandering kids, and it feels right, safe, like God’s plan. What is your story? For what has God trained you? Into whose life are you to speak? If a young woman living in the woods can speak into the life of a lost boy, share her wisdom, her insight, her pain and knowledge, can’t we all?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Steel Wheeled Skateoard and an Elderly Couple

There are many times in my life I wish I had done something differently. I know hindsight is 20/20, but some things just haunt me. I am not talking about the things we do just about every day, foot-in-mouth slip ups, although those can be regretful as well. I am speaking of life-changing things that stay with us.

Once when I was young, I was visiting my mom in Birmingham, Ala. Her home was at the bottom of a tall hill, and the street on which she lived curved from top to bottom past her drive. It was a rough asphalt street with scattered rock and loose gravel. I was much younger, maybe 15 or 16. I found, somewhere around her house, an old skateboard with steel wheels on a small wooden board.

The idea was to get some real speed going as I gracefully cut back and forth across the street. I had rarely ridden a skateboard to that point, but I was young, invincible and, after all, how hard could it be? The ride part was short lived. I don’t think I made it more than a third of the way when I took a dive into the asphalt. I slid across the surface, and it was not pretty. This was a pretty dumb thing to do.

When I first started driving, I lived in Houston, and I got a job as a delivery driver. The traffic back then seemed just as bad as it is today. I remember one day as I crept along in bumper-to-bumper, slow moving traffic when I looked to my right and saw a lady begin to scream. She began to wave her arms around and scream louder. I could only see from a certain angle down into her car through the back window, but I could see the driver, an elderly man, using a stiffened arm to pull on the right side of the steering wheel and they crept over and up into a driveway just next to them.

The older gentleman must have been experiencing a heart attack, and his wife was frightened and didn’t know what to do. In his valor he was trying to maneuver the car off the road. I don’t know what happened after that; the traffic started to move, and I went with it.

To this very day I regret not stopping to help that couple. I replay the video over and over. That was 30 or 40 years ago, and it still bothers me.

The list of things I wish I had done differently is long, but it doesn’t include things like the skateboard wreck; that was just a dumb idea. It is the things from the heart, the things that have been buried there. It is the life-changing moments, many when I could have stepped up and helped, stepped up and made a difference.

So often today you see news or video stories where a hurt person on a sidewalk or street side was ignored. It is not uncommon for you to see people walking past, talking on their cell phones looking the other way as they go by the person in need.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is exactly what I am talking about. Jesus tells us about a man robbed, beaten and lying on the side of the road. Many walk by him, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid the hassle. The man robbed and beaten was a different race or nationality; stopping would have disturbed their personal schedule and maybe cost them something. But there was the Samaritan, the one who took care of him, paid for additional care and a little extra while he was laid up. Jesus tells us that the Samaritan is whom we should model our lives after. That is the model I want to live by, the one where I make decisions like that every time.

Yep, it can be a hassle and inconvenient to help someone or do something out of your comfort zone. The scabs and imbedded gravel in my palms was painful, but I laugh about it now. That day sitting in traffic could have been nothing more than an aggravated old lady yelling at her husband for not being a good driver or maybe she wanted a shake at the Jack in the Box; I don’t think so but maybe.

I feel I know what was happening that day, and I wish I had helped. I am motivated by that today to not let it happen again. Our past experiences are our ministry. You are uniquely qualified to help others because of the lessons, regrets, pains and accomplishments of your past. I can assure you, I know for a fact, that it is a bad idea to get on a steel wheeled skateboard pointed downhill on an asphalt, gravel-covered road for any reason. I am an expert on that topic. I pray that on that day, many years ago, a Samaritan was passing and helped an elderly woman and her husband. I have to rest on that and God’s grace today, and I do.