He glared at me. Staring me down. “I am not doing that”, he said as he clenched his teeth. He was struggling severely in school with following directions and listening to teachers. He was getting in fights. We were hoping that this summer at Dutton Farm would help him get ready for his upcoming year. I racked my brain quickly to come up with a plan that would help him learn to comply. It was summertime and we were in the garden and he was supposed to water the tomato plants. Nothing difficult or terrible. He was not lazy, and he had done this happily before. Something I was unaware of had upset him, and he was making a statement that he did not trust me and he was in control over his own life. Dutton Farm had been open for about 18 months, and I had faced plenty of these kinds of situations by now. However, I was still naïve, and I am pretty sure that this kid had coined the term ODD (obstinate defiant disorder). He eventually slapped me across the face and then ran. I chased him yelling that everything was going to be okay (maybe trying to convince myself of that), but he hid, and I couldn’t find him. I gave up and walked inside defeated. “I lost him”, I told my mom. She wasn’t disappointed. She wasn’t arrogant. She didn’t even skip a beat. She walked outside, and without even knowing where he was hiding, called his name very loudly and then told him to, “Get over here right now!!!” Within 30 seconds, he comes walking out with his head hung low and tears streaming down his face. The difference. Relationship. Trust. She had known him and been intentionally involved in his life for years. His father was gone and his mother was a drug addict and had walked out on him. Twice. He lives with his grandma who is poor and old. We both knew these things, but she had traveled through darkness with him. She was in the messy of his life. She didn’t just waltz in with superiority trying to save the day and expect him to do as he was told. She walked through pain with him. She fed him, clothed him and invited him into her life, even though he was far from easy. She had been through a long haul with him. She knew so well how to not make it about her. She was willing to let messy in. She now had the hard won honor and privilege of introducing him to Jesus. One boy that had fallen through the cracks of society, and she had gone beyond just being concerned. She knew that Jesus loved this boy and had a plan for his life. She decided to get involved. To make a difference.
After hundreds and hundreds of these encounters, I am now finally learning one of the most valuable lessons that come when you are serving the poor, weak and broken for a long period of time. They unintentionally give me a window deep within my heart. When we work with the least of these for a considerable period of time, they will eventually bring out the selfishness and garbage in us. We don’t like to see these things in ourselves, because then it means that we need to change. They quickly reveal our weaknesses and who we really are inside. I was working with someone who has significant mental illness the other day. She had a meltdown. I had a choice. I could try and pull her out of it and figure out a way to make her okay, or I could just lie next to her and accept that I don’t need to have the answer. It is enough for me just to lie next to her and hold her hand while she screams. I am so glad that I chose to just lay next to her and shut my big mouth! There is another rather rather large man that participates at Dutton Farm who functions at a 4 or 5 year old level continually barges through a group of people without saying excuse me and often times we do not see him coming and our of nowhere disrupts our conversation and spills our coffee, I now try and choose to use it as an opportunity to show grace and patiently help him understand. I have discovered that my worst enemy was not outside of me, but inside! It is easy to get a false view of ourselves when we are in the tidiness of our own home and sitting with others that are just like us. Doing this work is not easy, because there most often are not any solutions to their problems or pain. Through all of this, I had to decide if I was going to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into productivity and ignore the garbage so that I could prove how good I was, or if I was going to be conscious of the evil in my heart and work on being liberated from it! The good news is that loving others that are disabled and broken will give us a front row seat into the heart of God! When I am willing to jump into someone’s mess and stick it out, then I will be able to show them Jesus. Who wouldn’t want to walk the hard road if we knew that we would end up there!?