The here and now

We took the boys to Red Robin to celebrate a successful 1st quarter
of the school year. The boys all did well so we rewarded them
with a burger and endless fries with 'campfire' sauce.
Yesterday, we learned of the tragic and heartbreaking news that an 8th grade schoolmate from Brodie and Jonah’s middle school took his own life. Looking at pictures of this kid we found online after hearing the news, he looks like a very typical young boy with no apparent signs of the ‘pain’ that ultimately was too much for him to bear.

For some reason, we expected to see a kid dressed in black, or with a ‘punk’ style haircut, or with a scowl on his face – something that would make such a desperate act seem at least a little more more foreshadowed, even if still extremely tragic. But instead, we saw pictures of a smiling kid who looked 3 years younger than his 14 years, dressed in a football uniform at practice or smiling with his 5 siblings and parents in the family portrait that served as his Facebook profile.

Of course no suicide, especially by a juvenile, will ever make sense. But still, we sought to ease our horror and shock, or perhaps our fear that it could happen to one of our kids, by finding something that would let us latch onto the fact that ‘we don’t see that in our own boys so therefore we’re safe’. But unfortunately, what we saw only increased the reality that for this family, what appeared on the outside to be a very typical and happy young boy, was in fact a darkness that would overcome him.

I can’t even write this without choking up – how can such a young child already reach such levels of despair? I admit that I was fortunate to live a sheltered life growing up, with a family and parents that loved and supported me, and taught me about God and how to find the real meaning to my life. I get that such an upbringing is more and more of an extreme luxury in this world, but still, I just can’t imagine a 14 year old getting to the point of wanting to end his life. (And yes, I ‘get’ that this is not the first kid this age (or even younger) to make such a decision). But juxtaposed so closely to our boys, with Brodie at that same age and both he and Jonah walking the same halls as that poor boy, it’s just hit close to home for us.

Working with a Christian international relief and development organization, it’s easy to focus on the ‘far away’. Everything I do at work each day is centered around the goal of helping the less fortunate in the furthest corners of the world. We in the West ‘have’, and so we try to help those who ‘don’t have', especially since they also lack any reliable path for ‘having’ in the future.  Having lived there amongst some of those people for awhile, it’s very easy to connect our hearts with them and their plight.

But since we’re living in Colorado for the time being, how should we be impacting those around us? Honestly, returning from living overseas has unknowingly served as a barrier for me to even think about the community here in Colorado Springs, and how God might want to use me and our family here. I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I really don’t think much about the needs around us here. For me, I write this culture and its people off as being in 'the 1%', and therefore somehow the needs here aren't legitimate.  And that translates to our boys too – we talk a lot about being an ‘example’ to their peers…but I haven’t really thought much about encouraging them to be a ‘light’ amidst the darkness that is likely (and now confirmed) around them.

Truthfully, our boys have really struggled to make friends since arriving back from the UK. In their own way, they each feel like they are ‘different’ from most of their peers. As the youngest, Graysen has probably had the easiest time, especially since he has a close-knit soccer team he plays on. (Interestingly, the one close friend Graysen and Jonah have are each the product of a cross-cultural marriage - something that I think our boys are inherently drawn towards. But in general, all three of our boys feel to some extent like they don’t fit in, and can’t seem to make more than acquaintances.

We encourage them to try to stand out for their ‘kindness’ above their ‘coolness’ or ‘funny-ness’, but the concept that there are kids around them in a desperate state and in need of someone who can show them even a glimpse of ‘love’ has been missing in my parental advice. And if I’m really honest, it’s missing in my own life too. One of my EMI colleague’s comments this morning during our morning sharing and prayer time caught my attention, and started me thinking about this. He basically just shared that he was reminded that there are some really hurting people around us, and how we should be compelled to be a source of light for them, even while our work is focused on the suffering in the distance.

So what’s the point here…I guess I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve probably been giving myself somewhat of a ‘pass’ for awhile now. Yes, the work of EMI is important and really growing fast. We’re launching 3 new offices in the coming couple of years, which of course includes several new families joining us to move and start a new life overseas. We’re bringing in local designers into the organization for the purpose of equipping them to magnify the impact, both physically and spiritually, of the work God’s using EMI to do around the world. And, we’re bringing a much needed technical resource that has the potential to significantly multiply the impact of reducing global poverty and spreading the gospel message.

But as a family – and me, as an individual – what am I doing in the here and now? Am I being a source of ‘light’ for the darkness that exists around me? Am I ready to potentially save the life of a young boy or young adult or older adult who might just need someone to show them a bit of love and concern? Sadly, I’m afraid that’s not something that’s been at the forefront of my mind in recent times, to where I wonder if I’d even recognize the telltale signs in a person that help was needed. I think all the time about how best to impact the world through what we’re doing at EMI, but am I looking at all the people between here and there? Am I even looking at the person standing next me on the street?

I pray that this shocking and tragic event somehow awakens me to that realization, that somehow I might be used to bring light to a struggling life. I also pray that I can encourage our boys to the same effect – that yes, even though they’d love to make some good school friends, more importantly, they should be thinking more about how to be a friend to those around them.
The events of the past few days made me realize
how important things like this hike with the
boys really are.
Graysen with a couple of soccer buddies after a recent training.
Jonah is running for school VP later this month.
Our CEO John with intern Terry, helping at the local soup
kitchen our interns (and some staff) volunteer at each Friday.
In Nicaragua, the bridge I helped design earlier
this year for the Young Life 'La Finca' camp.
The completed bridge, with campers enjoying the
new camp feature (and walkway to the new Dining Hall). Each
year, 100's of Nicaraguan kids hear about God's love for them at this
amazing camp. In America, there are 100's if not 1000's of such
camps - but in Nicaragua, such a place is a rarity for kids.


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