On September 4 and 5, I had the opportunity to share a little bit of my childhood story on the Focus on the Family broadcast. In case you missed that program, my family life put the “D” in dysfunctional. Evidently, those broadcasts touched a nerve with listeners. I thought I’d give you a sample of just one of the many letters we’ve received echoing the invaluable role of mentors in the midst of a traumatic childhood. This is from a listener in New Virginia, Iowa. “CW” writes:
“My brother and I were raised in an impoverished family in Iowa, never knowing if there would be food in the house or not. My father was verbally abusive and never offered a hug or words of love. My mother withdrew into mental illness and was absent on and off from the family as well. We kids pretty much raised ourselves.”
Let me interrupt her for a moment. As she shared her story, I couldn’t help but flashback to my childhood. My dad was an alcoholic who left us when I was seven. Mom had the Herculean task of raising and providing for five kids as a single parent. At times she worked three jobs just to keep the rent paid and the lights on. Even so, there were days when we didn’t have food to eat.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and we kids were pretty good at improvising. For example, when Mom couldn’t afford milk for breakfast, we’d whip up a pitcher of Kool-Aid to pour over our cornflakes. Sounds kind of gross now, but back then we did what we had to do.
Back to the letter. She writes: “Thanks to caring teachers and neighbors along the way, as well as our belief in God, my brother and I survived to make it on our own in the working world without the benefit of college or support from our parents.”
Again, I could relate to her journey. Mom died when I was just nine and Dad was pretty much out of the picture and then died when I was twelve. Thankfully, my football coach, Paul Moro, took me under his wing by investing in my life both on and off the field. Thanks to Paul, I came to have faith in God, too. I’m convinced that the gift of a good mentor is priceless – I’m eternally grateful for his display of love.
She continues: “I’m writing to say how proud I am of what you’ve done with your life, and how sorry I am that you, too, had adults betray and abandon you. As you told your story, I could see and feel that little boy and all I wanted to do was rescue him. Knowing you’re president of Focus on the Family now is a tribute to God’s grace. Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for your ministry. I send you a hug across the miles as I believe that’s what every child who is hurting needs.”
This letter demonstrates that even though life is hard, we can be the hands of God reaching out to those who hurt. Is there someone in your corner of the world whom you could take under your wing? Maybe it’s taking a child camping with your family, or inviting a child over to share dinner. These simple gestures of kindness can go a long way. Speaking from first hand experience, the benefits of this kind of love and care can change lives forever.