I love breakfast. I’ll eat eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, hash browns, juice, and coffee any time of the day. I’m down for brunch and “brinner” if the opportunity presents itself; it’s delicious. This past Saturday morning I awoke ready for breakfast, so I headed over to the supermarket early to grab my supplies. I was admittedly groggy, as my fourteen-year-old mentee, whom I refer to as my nephew, stayed up with me into the wee hours talking about Jesus, love and life. Despite the fact that we had each had long, tiresome weeks, he and I made a decision five years ago to prioritize our relationship. Despite unfathomable circumstances, including abuse, abandonment, and extreme loss, he recognized at a young age that he had people in his life that were there to see him through. I had just wrapped up a long semester of graduate studies, and he had just started a grueling workout regime in preparation for his upcoming baseball season. Regardless, we put in the time, and now we were going to treat ourselves to our favorite meal before we began our day.
My drive to the store was like a ghost town, with hardly a person in sight. As I turned the corner, however, I viewed a long line of young people outside of a sneaker boutique, an unusual sight at such an early hour. My smartphone informed me that the new Air Jordan IV’s were releasing just in time for Christmas, thus the long line of eager shoe buffs. I’m no sneaker head, but I can appreciate the culture regardless. Once upon a time I received free Nikes every couple of months, in fact. I was admittedly sad when that well ran dry. These days, I’m more focused on feeding mouths, but I can still respect sneaker enthusiasm. As I scanned the line, however, my emotions began to stir. It wasn’t nostalgia, either; it was frustration.
At the very front of the line was Sophia, a young woman in her early twenties. I remembered her well. As a young teenager, she faithfully attended our church’s youth group. I recalled her circumstances were difficult, as her mother had more or less abandoned her children with an aunt and moved across the country with little-to-no communication thereafter. As a teenager, she struggled through school and eventually dropped out. Section 8, welfare, food stamps, and multiple pregnancies came next, and she ultimately relinquished custody of her own children to her aunt before she reached the age of twenty.
Please understand, I’m not opposed to public assistance; these services are in place for a reason. As a social worker I make such referrals on a daily basis and have witnessed their effectiveness in helping people rebound. I’m just not a fan of complacency. If I see a young person with limitless potential concede to a lifestyle of dependency on a system, I do my best to help them embrace that potential and empower them.
I regularly ran into Sophia this past summer, as she often wandered the neighborhood. I always ensured that I greeted her and inquired about her life. The last conversation we had informed me that she was spending her summer “partying and chillin’.” She explained that her aunt cared for her little ones, and that she “stopped in from time to time to say hi to them.” She also informed me that she was unemployed, but that it didn\’t matter because she “still got her (government) checks anyways.”
I invited her back to church every opportunity I got, but she had decidedly chosen her path. I admittedly jumped to conclusions regarding her priorities that morning. Perhaps she was in line to purchase the sneakers as a favor to someone else. Perhaps they were a gift. Perhaps she wasn\’t even in line to purchase sneakers at all. Or perhaps, as I suspected, her priorities were mixed up and she was spending a large percentage of her monthly budget on an arguably frivolous purchase.
My frustration was rooted in the fact that, despite her circumstances, she had been presented option after option as a teenager regarding future stability. She rejected church, school, community support programs, and any other positive influences that may have introduced and instilled values such as personal responsibility and diligence. Instead, her world remained small, and events such as a sneaker release were likely the pinnacle of her week. I was heartbroken, staring at that line. This wasn\’t a matter of placing judgment on shoe enthusiasts; everyone is entitled to a hobby. I wasn\’t placing judgment on Sophia for her lifestyle, either. I was just sad for her. I felt like I was looking through a window to her future. It was as if the world wasn\’t navigable, and the prospect of personal success was too intimidating with insurmountable obstacles, and it was simpler to keep things small. So small, in fact, that her priorities had been reduced to a pair of sneakers.
I can’t tell you how many young adults I know with stories just like Sophia’s. Life dealt her a bad hand of cards, and she folded early. Instead of blazing a path for herself, she took the seemingly easy road leading nowhere.
We all have responsibilities. Education, family, employment, church, and more occupy our lives. I want to encourage you, however, to consider mentoring even just one young person. Sometimes, all it takes is one person believing in one person to change their world. Small pockets of focused time can go a long way in their life. In fact, invite them over and cook them some breakfast.
Romans 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.