It was cold out that night and the wind was steady from the north. The last ride dropped the two boys off about a mile back at the overpass that took him home. There was nothing around this exit of the interstate, so the only option they had was to get back to the road and start hitchhiking again. Few cars traveled past as the midnight hour came and left. They walked on. The dark morning crept along, and they were tired and hungry walking alone in silence. Then the rain came, a slow drizzle but steady.
It was just another adventure for the boys. I use the word “adventure” because in written form it seems so exciting. Traveling the country, not a worry in the world, no one to tell you what to do or when to do it. It seemed a Huckleberry holiday for the boys when it started, but the excitement was short-lived.
Most boys at 14 and 16 would be in bed on a Tuesday night resting before the next day of school. Many would have had dinner, maybe dessert and some TV. Maybe the other boys would be tired from a baseball game or a night at church youth group. These two boys left just days before after the first day of school; neither was registered there anyway. The youngest of the two walked the hall of the school that first day not knowing where to go or what to do; no one registered him. For most kids the first day of high school is an amazing, scary journey. For him, it was just another day of confusion, disappointment and anger.
Recently I found myself walking a back creek into the woods to a camp site built between the fallen walls of an old barn. I was searching for a boy who had run away a few weeks before. He was seen in the backwoods here, and I wanted a chance to talk with him before the police did.
The makeshift camp had tarps covering two sides of the dilapidated barn. A pair of tents was erected under the rusting tin roof and debris that included burnt wood, broken glass, bike parts and canned foods scattered about. Shuffling around the camp was a thin, short woman who seemed busy. As I began to ask about the boy I was searching for. She responded with a soft crackly voice, “Yes, I know him. He comes here every once in a while. I have not seen him in a few days, though.”
She shared with me that she had cared for him and fed him. She told me how she counseled him to get back to school, to go home because if not he would turn out like her — 33 and living in a tent in the woods. Amazingly she told me how she had walked the same trails and did the same things he was doing 18 years earlier. Skipping from the same school, confused, rebellious, lost right there in those same woods.
She had made this her home for now, and she cared for the lost boy I was looking for. I was amazed, sad and concerned all at the same time. Why would this boy choose the woods in the cold, rain and dirt over home just blocks away? Why would she choose the same?
In the book of James, 1:27, Christ tells us to care for the widows and the orphans. As a matter of fact I think that the No. 1 thing mentioned in the Bible, over and over, is caring for the widows and orphans. I think that translates to lost kids and homeless, the weaker vessels, the hurting.
I lived a life lost once. I was the young boy who left school that day, my first day of high school. My parents had split, and I refused to go with either one. I was a trouble boy. My father fought alcohol, and my mom was just trying to care for my little brothers and sisters. It is a story so many can tell.
That day as we walked that dark interstate I remember looking across a huge open pasture and seeing a small farmhouse with the porch light on in the distance. I dreamed of going to the house, knocking on the door and being taken in and cared for. I dreamed of a loving, caring family, a warm place to stay, a safe place. I had to decide then and there if I was going to breakdown and cry or stuff away the feelings I was having into a place they would not take me out. I decided to go hard. To this day I struggle allowing the emotions to surface.
I was angry for years that my friends got to be at home, go to school, live a normal life. It wasn’t until just a few years ago I realized that the ministry I now lead, thrive in, live for is the direct result of all that “training” I did on the streets and in those cold, lonely places. I know about not feeling a part of, not understanding why I did something and how much it means to have someone believe in you. I believe we can use our hardships, trials and pains to live out God’s ministry in our lives. Each of us has the authority to tell our story with all the ugliness and beauty because it is our story.
Today, I offer the old farmhouse light to wounded and wandering kids, and it feels right, safe, like God’s plan. What is your story? For what has God trained you? Into whose life are you to speak? If a young woman living in the woods can speak into the life of a lost boy, share her wisdom, her insight, her pain and knowledge, can’t we all?