Ready, Fire, Aim
As vice-principal in a large inner-city high school, my job can be a highly emotional one. I work with high-risk teenagers and needy parents. On top of my job as educational leader to my staff, I have the not-so-envied task of leading investigations on criminal activity in the building, doing drug searches, and even having students arrested for the bad choices they have made at my school. These scenarios usually involve the parents who come to my office and witness the police process of arresting their children. They can be highly emotional scenes.
One mother whom I’ve gotten to know well has been witness to this process twice. Her husband, his stepfather, had even kicked him out of the house. But lately her son has been making better choices. I called this mother and her husband to a meeting right before Christmas last year to meet with their son’s guidance counselor and me to discuss some very positive things that had been happening in their son’s life. All seemed to be going well in this meeting until her husband suddenly began rehashing all the terrible things his stepson had been doing and how he would never be able to forgive him and let him back in the house again. When his wife defended her son, the husband turned on her, attacking her parenting skills, berating her lack of education, and spewing all kinds of poison about her worthlessness. The mother, naturally, left the meeting in tears.
Several hours later, the mother was back in my office. We were awaiting a police escort so she could go into her house to get her things. We learned that she had already made an appointment at a women’s shelter and had been planning to leave her abusive husband the night before but that he had begged her to stay. During the course of our meeting, she made the decision to leave him.
In the two hours while we awaited the police escort, God began stirring up something inside me. While my job requires I keep a professional distance from the highly emotional conflicts I deal with, my heart went out to this woman. She had two little children to pick up from a neighboring elementary school. She had saved up $150 over the past several months for just such a day. (Her husband, we found out later, had left my office and emptied out their joint bank account.) She had no friends—her husband did not let her socialize or make friends—and her entire family lived 2,000 miles away. Matthew 25 began to buzz in my ear: “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me” (Matthew 25:45).
How could I send this mother away and happily return to my own family proud I’d turned in a good day’s work?
I called my wife, Karen, who works out of our home, and told her our evening might be a bit disrupted—was she on board? Karen, an angel incarnate when it comes to helping those in need, agreed immediately when she heard the details of the story unfolding in my office. After the police escorted this mother to her house to get her things, I arranged to meet her at her children’s school and invited them to our house. It was four days before Christmas, and we had planned a quiet evening home with our own four children opening some of our Christmas presents. The mother was exhausted, of course, and went to sleep while we entertained her children. We had supper together where we prayed for their family and their uncertain future. The children were confused and upset, of course, but bounced back when we played with them and gave them presents (I am amazed at the resilience of children). Karen had put together a package of personal things for the mother to take with her to the women’s shelter.
There are more details to this story, of course, but the point I want to make is this: there was a moment in my office when I was at a crossroads, when I had a very basic decision to make. It would have been okay to show this mother the door and wish her well. No one would have complained and she would, in all likelihood, have apologized to me for disrupting my day with her marriage problems.
Friends, the more I read Jesus’ teachings, the more I realize we are faced with the possibility of being God’s hands and feet every day and the sad reality is we are so focused on our own lives (at least I am!) that we often don’t see or we ignore the opportunities.
Steve Sjogren, church planter and author of Conspiracy of Kindness, uses the phrase, “Ready, Fire, Aim” to describe what our response needs to be when we find ourselves at these crossroads. Sometimes we need to take a leap of faith and see what God has in store for us when we help others. Sjogren quotes M.C. Richards’s words that “a knowledge of the path cannot be substituted for putting one foot in front of the other.” I like the rebellious nature of this quote in a culture where we are told to take care of all our own needs first.
Phoning my wife and saying, “I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I’d like to invite this family to our house today,” gave me an exhilarating feeling. I believe that at our cores, we all want to help others, but we are unwilling to take the risk.
The mother I invited last Christmas has transformed. She came to see me the other day. She wants desperately to save her marriage and is in counseling with her husband to do so. A high school dropout, she is working on qualifying for a nursing program at our local college. She phoned the other day to see if I would help her on some of her writing assignments.
The Dutch theologian Erasmus said, “Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”
I am inspired by Matthew 25 and the words of Jesus: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me’ ” (Matthew 25:34-36).
With Christmas around the corner, can you think of things you can do deliberately to be the hands and feet of God? The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (http://www.actsofkindness.org/) can help you come up with some ideas to help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and the sick.
Ron DeBoer is vice-principal at Eastwood Collegiate Institute and author of Questions from the Pickle Jar: Teens and Sex (http://www.faithaliveresources.com/pickle).