You know that old saying "hindsight is 20/20" is so true. There are many things that I wish I could go back and do differently based on the knowledge that I have now. I guess that is very much human nature, and normal as we look back and evaluate how we have responded to different situations in our past. Sometimes we can be pretty hard on ourselves by not taking into account that we didn't have the experience or maturity that we do now.
Now, I have my share of wishing I had done things differently with my kids. Maybe if I had been more patient or maybe if I had let some things go so that I could have spent more time with them. The list is endless, and again I think it is normal to think about the past and ponder and have a few regrets. I am like most people, I think I did the best I could with the knowledge and understanding that I had at that time in my life.Well meaning people in their forties and fifties would say, "You better enjoy them while they are little because they'll be grown before you know it!" I knew that was true...they would indeed someday would grow up and leave home, but at that time in life, my mind just could not grasp that concept!
Oh, do I so understand now! I am now one of those forty somethings quoting that familiar phrase "they'll be grown before you know it" that I heard a million times in my twenties when I had babies. Sometimes I really stop to wonder, "Where did the time go and how did I get here at this time in my life with two married children and a grandbaby on the way!"
In spite of Mark and I being very young parents, (He was 21 and I was 19) we seemed to have caused little damage to our children. I often joke that we all four grew up together. Daniel and Rachel have married wonderful Christian spouses, are faithful and actively involved with the Church, and have occupations that are honorable. I could not ask for any finer children.
My lack of experience and regret as a young parent and preacher's wife came back to haunt me though, one day not too long ago...
I'll have to set the scene for you by explaining events that took place almost fifteen years prior.
We were your typical parents of school age children and like a lot of children at that age, Daniel and Rachel played baseball and softball. It was the passion in that particular town and Mark being the wonderful dad that he is, volunteered to be a coach.
The coach usually ended up also being the chauffeur to some of the children were on the team. We've all seen these poor kids...they are the ones who never have a parent show up for a game or school event. We would pick them up and drop them off after each game and practice. As a result of doing this, they would always be invited to attend church with us and we would offer to pick them up.
One little boy with tousled hair, freckles and a stained uniform and ball cap took us up on the offer.
Now, as the preacher's/ coach's wife, it usually fell my lot to pick up the children for church services. Mark was usually over at the building preparing for the worship service, I was at home with the kids so it just made the most sense at that time. I was your typical frazzled mother who would try to roll my daughter's hair, scrounge up breakfast, find church shoes that had gone missing, etc. and try to get myself ready for church. We had to do all this earlier in the morning so we could get out the door to make a pretty good little drive to pick this little boy up for church. I was not the most organized mother in the world.
You may be asking, "Couldn't you have gotten a member at church to pick him up?" The answer is "Yes, I could have." For some reason I hated to bother others to pick up a little child for church even though it would have been giving them an opportunity to serve and help as well. I thought I had to be the one to do it. (Another lesson I've learned over the years...give people a chance to serve.) I'm sure I was trying to keep others from being "inconvenienced."
This little boy lived way down a country road. Now, I was raised way back in the country so this was all very familiar to me. It was so far back that the old hound dogs would lay in the roads because traffic was so slow. They knew you would just drive around them instead of running over them. The most they would do, is raise their heads just a little to look at you as you drove by. We would pull into the drive and the full length of the dirt drive was not lined by neatly cut grass or shrubs, but old rusted cars, bicycles, every kind of car part or machinery known to mankind was rusted and strewn out across the yard all the way up to the trailer door. The trailer door was always hanging open with another old hound dog laying with it's head partially hanging out the door. I would tap the horn a little and the little boy would come bounding out the door with hair sticking out all over his head, food still crusted around his mouth, and dirt from playing outside the night before still on his face and clothes. He never wore a pair of shoes. I'm not sure he would have worn shoes if you gave him a pair. His poor little feet were filthy and he almost always had big cuts on his toes and some I worried were infected. He would bound into the car and away we would go in a cloud of dust with dogs barking and running along behind us. I never in all the time we picked him up for ball practice or church, saw a single family member.
Church services could be a bit challenging. I had two small children of my own and their daddy was the preacher so that meant he didn't sit with us very much during the service. The little barefoot boy who lived such a carefree life without parental guidance liked to sit at the very front of the auditorium and would get very frustrated if I made him sit with me. This developed into a war of the wills and he was pretty strong willed. I didn't mind him sitting at the front of the auditorium per say, however when he got bored such as in the middle of Mark's sermons, he could provide a lot of entertainment for all those sitting behind him! He could be exhausting to keep an eye on while at church. I, for whatever reason, would not ask for help from other members.
Time went on, me being the frazzled young mother that I was, did not question or worry when my little barefoot boy slowly stopped coming to church after ball season was over. I guess, in my own selfish mind it was sort of a relief. All I had to focus on now was my own family.I didn't have to frantically get the kids ready for church early each Sunday morning to make the drive to pick him up.
I had talked to some of the teachers in our congregation who knew him and knew about his home life and they said Department of Human Resources had been contacted about him and his living conditions, but nothing was really ever done. Time just kept going by and occasionally I would see him at school and we would exchange a few laughs with each other and go on with our lives.Foolishly, I never said anything to him about coming to church.
Time passed by and our paths didn't cross until early one morning, about two years ago, I was working at the hospital and called a young woman back to preop to prepare her for surgery. When she came around the corner, she had her husband with her as well. This man who towered above me, smiled down at me with a freckled smile and wanted to know if I remembered him. It was my barefoot boy all grown up now, and he was wearing shoes! Upon talking with him I learned that he had graduated from high school, gone on to college and he and his wife both were about to graduate! His wife had just recently gave birth to a little boy and they had bought a house in a nearby town.
I was so thrilled and amazed to see the man he had become, but on the other hand, I was so disappointed with myself for not trying harder to keep him coming to church. Why did I selfishly just let him drift away? In spite of all odds, he had managed to complete high school, college, marry, have a baby and purchase a home to care for his family. The only thing he lacked that would have made it all perfect was being a Christian.
Now, I'm not going to think myself such a great person that I might have had enough influence to have kept him coming to church. I do wish I had tried a lot harder. I think I did like a lot of us in church do. I gave up because it was too hard and too much work to keep a little child coming to church. I just could not see the whole picture at that time in my life. I just saw him as a little child, and if truth be told, probably thought that as he got older, he would simply revert to the ways of his parents. I have never been so wrong.
Because of this lesson which was about fifteen years in the making, I have learned the following:
Never write someone off as unreachable or unchangeable due to the circumstances in which they were raised. It is true, most follow the example the were given by their parents, but some when given the chance, want better for their lives just like my little barefoot boy.
Barring some exceptions, a child will one day grow up and become a parent. Make the most of every interaction with them and influence them for the good. Help save their soul now, and you may save countless souls in the future. Jesus knew how important a little child was. (Mark 10:13-16) Could it be He wanted them to come to him so He personally could have a chance to influence their lives for good? Maybe those little children got to tell their own children how Jesus took them in His arms and sat them on his lap when they were little. Talk about a story to tell your grandchildren!
Never be afraid to ask for help when it comes to preserving a soul's chance at eternity in heaven. I should have asked for help from others. If it was too much for me to pick him up for church, I should have asked someone else. I deprived others from being able to influence this child's life for the good. I deprived others of the chance to grow as a Christian.
Some lessons are learned in a few minutes, some a few hours or days. This lesson took a good fifteen years. I know that at age twenty-five I did not understand fully how the act of carrying a little boy to church could greatly impact his future. I just had not been on this earth long enough to follow a small child through it's life until it had grown and become a parent itself. I knew intellectually that they grow and that is what is supposed to happen, but until you actually experience the wonderment of trying to figure out how that little baby all of the sudden became an adult with children of their own you cannot fully appreciate just how quickly it takes place. At age forty-four, however, I have experienced seeing many little ones grow up and establish families of their own. I have learned through life experience to no longer see a little child as just a child, but a future adult, parent and leader in the Lord's church.
We have since moved away from the area where my little barefoot boy lived. I have mentioned him to members of the church that live in his little town. Maybe there is hope yet for he and his little family. Maybe just maybe, I did some good in what little time I spent with him...I know one thing for sure, he taught me a lesson that I will never forget as long as I live.
Oh! One important detail I saved for last! Guess what he told me was going to be when he graduated from college? He answered, "I'm going to be a social worker and work in Children's Services." Who better to understand the plight of a neglected child than my little barefoot boy with freckles?
Thanks for reading,