My sister let me write a guest post over on her awesome blog last week (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/michaboyett/) If you don’t read her blog consistently, you should. Anyway, below is what I wrote:
I started Mission 2540 nearly nine years ago. When we launched it I was bright-eyed, fired up, and ready to change the world – or at least a small corner of Amarillo, Texas.
I met a big group of kids whose family lives were a mess. Abandonment, abuse, hunger, sorrow – you name it, I encountered it. I was convinced that by caring for them and guiding them and introducing them to the love of God, everything would change. Teenage pregnancy would stop. College would be attended. Marriages would take place. Jobs would be had. Success would come.
Nine years later, I’m still waiting to see all that stuff happen. Oh, a few kids have made it to college. Many have graduated high school. But avoiding all the pitfalls that come with being raised in a broken home in the midst of poverty? Not so much. Many of those little girls became pregnant; several of the boys fathered children. Some didn’t even graduate high school. One is in jail right now. Another, based on the number of times he posts pictures of weed on his Facebook wall, may be joining him soon.
Last week, I got a text saying “I’ve decided back to school and do something with my life!” That was cool. And unfortunately, rather rare. Usually, it seems that first group of kids who I’ve watched become a group of grown-ups only contacts me when they’re in trouble.
How do I deal with the frustration of seeing so many lives not going the way I had hoped and dreamed and prayed for? Because, honestly, some days I feel like I’m failing. Last year, I listened to a speech by a local long-time elementary and middle school principal who I admire very much. He’s spent his career turning around schools filled with kids in poverty. And he has watched elementary students who he invested years in and had great hopes for make some of those same bad choices. He said there’s something he always reminds himself of when he encounters this kind of frustration.
“Their stories aren’t written yet.”
He said that phrase and it resonated deep in me. It was a holy moments. As he uttered that phrase I say a bunch of faces.
That teenage mother? Her story isn’t written yet.
The 16 year old boy who keeps skipping school, no matter how much his mom pleads with him, how much I lecture him? His story isn’t written yet.
The 6 grader, raised by his grandmother, seething in anger at his dad for leaving and his mom for ending up in jail? His story isn’t written yet.
The moms and dads who can’t hold down a job and seem to make one bad decision after another? Their stories aren’t written yet either.
My ministry, this little thing God called me to start years ago that continues to grow and change and challenge me? Its story isn’t written yet.
Neither are the lives of my own 3 children. My football player, my artist, and my ballerina. Who knows what the future holds for them? I certainly don’t. I have hopes and prayers and dreams for their stories. But fatherhood quickly taught me that I can’t control everything my children do. I’m not God, as much as I’d love to have sovereign control over their lives. They make choices without me. I can’t be the author, dictating where they go and who their friends are and what they choose to do with those friends.
But I can be a voice. My wife and I plan to remain the strongest voice in the ears of our children. For the kids I work with, I’m just one voice out of many, but I pray I’m a strong enough voice that I at least be heard above the noise.
In John 4, Jesus mentions to his disciples about how some do the hard labor of sowing seeds, while another gets to come in and reap the benefits of the labor. Jesus used the language of his time to essentially say we all play different roles in people’s stories. Sometimes we’re a part of the opening chapters, some during the climax or the exciting plot twists. And for others, thankfully, God allows us to see all the way to the end.
Regardless, I’m learning to be thankful that I get to play a small role in the narrative of some people’s lives. I pray it’s a positive one. I have no idea how long I’ll get to keep doing this, walking through joy and pain and all the emotions in between with the small group of people God has called me to. I’ll keep sowing seeds and then…who knows?
Maybe I’ll get to do some of that reaping. Maybe in 15 years I’ll go visit that young man who’s sitting in a jail cell right now. Only it won’t be a prison but in his home. And I’ll meet his wife and children. And we’ll laugh about his past adventures.
It could happen. After all, his story isn’t written yet. Neither is mine.