If I were to write out all the things that have happened in my home over the course of the last couple days or so, even I wouldn’t believe me. It’s like they say, “When it pours, it hurricanes.” (Or something like that…)
Boys Town’s mission statement is “Saving Children, Healing Families.” That’s quite the claim. But how we live into it is by teaching social and life skills to teenagers while modeling and developing healthy relationships with healthy boundaries. This is a weighty task, and it most definitely takes a whole village. Change happens over time, through reputation, through changed environments, through consistency, through individualized strategies, through genuine compassion.
Working with at-risk youth is challenging. Yes, it can be very rewarding, and it is a lot of the time, actually. But the work itself, the lifestyle it requires, it’s not very pretty most of the time. “Saving children” is a heartwarming endeavor, but it is also heartbreaking a lot of the time. My heart has been broken one thousand times over in this role. And it will continue to be broken. I know that.
The success stories publicized are almost fairy tale-esque. From rags to riches, from the homeless shelter to the corporate office, from the city streets to the Super Bowl. These success stories do indeed happen here. And we are so grateful when they do. These are the stories which make good social media campaigns and they are the stories that are used to inspire people to donate to the cause, to the mission of Boys Town started by Father Flanagan all the way back in 1917. We are a charity after all, and without donors these success stories would not be possible.
But for most of our kids, success means that they showed up to class enough times and put in enough effort to graduate from high school. Successful kids at Boys Town learn how to accept help from adults holding them accountable for so many different aspects of their life. They learn how to be assertive in the right ways. They learn how to advocate for themselves, how to control their emotions, how to show respect and appreciation. They know how to live with roommates and cooperate with others in ways that tolerates differences, that shows sensitivity and empathy to others.
To leave Boys Town with those skills, it is a messy road fraught with all sorts of hard lessons learned through practicing these skills over and over and over. It seems a part of human nature that when we are teenagers we are determined to learn things the hard way. That seems to be especially true on this square mile.
Things can get chaotic very quickly. Those who work with at-risk youth know this very well. We get called the nastiest of names, we get spat on, yelled at, pushed around, challenged, threatened, etc. We are not martyrs, but this lifestyle is sometimes very difficult to endure. Sometimes “saving children” means chasing them through a harvested cornfield and pulling them back from running into oncoming traffic. Sometimes it means staying up an entire night with a kid saying that they are possessed by a demon. Sometimes it means sitting at the police station or at the hospital with a kid after bad choices were made.
Ultimately, it means showing up. It means looking at a child in the eyes with compassion while they hiss their insults at us. It is our burden to remember that the antidote to their venomous words and actions is still, and will always be, love. Now, bringing love into the picture makes it sound romantic. This work is not romantic work, and love isn’t always romantic. What love is, is patient. It is kind. It does not envy, and it does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love does not fail.
And so even in the midst of my chaotic week, my very long recent days, I lean into that knowledge and strive to live that out in faith, in hope, to the best of my ability. Because it is only love that endures. And that is where I find my peace and my rest.
Despite not posting photos the last couple days, I have still been looking for and noticing the light each day. But today, on this chilly November morning, I sit in its warmth, which is much needed.