Showing Grace in the Dark Times
Arizonans for Children is a non-profit organization in Arizona that helps abused, neglected, and abandoned children in the foster system in a variety of programs from offering a visitation center for parent visits to organizing a mentor program. I have been a part of this organization since October. Back in October, I started as a mentor for a teenage boy in a group home. Within a couple months, I picked up a second mentee. In a Facebook post, Mentor Coordinator, Jeff Jayne, made a statement about the change he noticed in my boys. “I see a COMPLETE change in their countenance since Johnny became their mentor. I’ve never seen them so happy. One of them even walked up to me and greeted me by shaking my hand.”
I always say that these boys are more of a blessing to me than I ever could be to them. Seeing them grow makes me so proud. One was an atheist before starting the program with me and the other had not been to church in over 9 years. Yet, now they both are calling me sometime during the week to make sure I am picking them up for church Sunday morning. They both had been doing so great lately with their behaviors. However, just like any human, let alone like any teenage boy would do, he slipped up.
Recently, one of my boys got in a bit of trouble. It deeply affected my heart. I was frustrated, sad, angry, disappointed, and confused. I know he is better than this and I was not sure why he did what he did. It made me feel like a failure as a mentor. I did not know how to approach this situation or approach my mentee when I picked him up the following day, so I texted Jeff to ask him for advice. I asked him how to approach it and he responded with “probably with the same kind of grace you would have wanted in your dark times…”
As I drove to the group home to pick up my mentee, I played in my head every scenario of how I could approach the situation. I could ignore it and let him be the one to bring it up, but there is the chance he wouldn’t and this is not something to be ignored. I could lecture him about it, but then would he actually listen or care? Like Jeff said, I can approach it with the kind of grace I wish I would have gotten this last summer when I was in a dark time. I started thinking of how I wish somebody would approach this situation with me with grace. That’s it. I knew what I was going to say.
I went into the house and went into his room. I sat on his bed and told him to get ready to leave. We walked outside and got into the car. Before I started the car, I told him I am giving him a chance to tell me the full truth of what happened and he did. We let the topic drop as we drove to a Health and Fitness Expo. On the way back, I brought the topic up again in a more subtle way. I told my mentee I am giving him 10 questions he can ask me and I will be completely honest with him and not judge him for asking. His first question, of course, was a joke, but I still counted it. The next question was about girl advice. He likes three girls and does not know how to approach the situation. So we talked about that for a little.
His last question for the day was “why do you spend time with me.” That question nearly broke my heart because I could hear the pain in his voice as he asked it. I explained to him how much I love and care for him. I let him know how proud I am of how much he has grown and let him know that I have been aware of the progress he has made since I started mentoring him. I love him because of who God created him to be and not because of anything he has done or can do.
He got quiet and said that was all the questions he could think of. Now it was my turn. I asked him hard questions. As a preface to my first question, I told him how much I love him and how worried I was about him when I heard he got in trouble. I asked him what he was thinking that led him to his actions that got him in trouble. He replied with “why not, my parents did it.” Poor guy was finding his identity in the mistakes of his parents. I explained to him that he needs to be better than his parents. He needs to stop trying to be “cool” and stop trying to be somebody he is not. I love him for who he is and that is who he needs to be. He has a great heart and a lot of potential.
My next question was “do you think our mentor/mentee relationship has been beneficial to you in anyway?” He responded with a resounding yes. He said he felt like he never had a loving family before and that I provide that for him. He sees me as an older brother. Until I came around, nobody gave him hugs. I love him more than he could understand in a way that he has never experienced before. He got quiet. Then I asked him what was going on in his head. He couldn’t stop thinking about his mistakes. “You are not defined by your mistakes. Your past does not dictate your future.”
My final question was “as your mentor, what can I do to help you heal?” I gave some suggestions and we came up with calling him every other day at a set time just to check in on him. After that, we brainstormed some coping mechanisms for when he is going through a depressive episode such as journaling, sketching, and exercising. Then once again, I explained to him how important he is to me and how loved he is by me and he started to tear up.
My mentee needs grace and love, just like I have at several points in my life. There are many kids in the system that need that agape love. If you have even just 8 hours a month, I implore you to volunteer as a mentor with this organization. You may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world for one person. For more information on this program, visit http://www.arizonansforchildren.org/page/volunteering-with-arizonans-for-children