Looking Glass Books
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children
in my name welcomes me.”
God wants to work through you to change the life of a child.
He will provide the love, the encouragement, the joy, and the hope. All you have to contribute are arms for hugs, a voice to encourage or to discipline, and time for companionship.
You don’t have to look far to find the child. In fact, your paths will probably cross this week. And when you reach out, your reward will be immeasurable. Every child God touches through you will be changed, even if you don’t see the transformation with your own eyes. And you will be changed by every child God touches through you.
THE FATHERLESS AROUND YOU
I was thirteen years old when God worked through Theo Abby, my Sunday school teacher, to change my life.
In a real sense, I had been “fatherless.”
My father was alive. In fact, he was home every night, and I never knew him to gamble or drink or cheat on my mother. But he never told me, “I love you.” And when I needed help, like when I was sick on a rainy Sunday morning and had to get my newspapers delivered, I knew not to even ask him. He would have gruffly told me no. As I grew toward manhood, my father and I never discussed the difficult issues of life.
Then Theo Abby became my teacher, and he also became my friend. Occasionally he visited Techwood Homes, where I lived, to see me and other boys in our class, and he invited us to go with him and his son Ted to his cabin on Lake Jackson. There he modeled with Ted a loving father-son relationship.
As an adult I remembered Mr. Abby’s example and decided to teach boys Sunday school. Like Mr. Abby, I kept in touch with the boys through the week by inviting the entire class to be my guests at the Dwarf House, my first restaurant, one night a week. I soon began to see how children bursting with potential can wither on the vine without adequate guidance from adults.
Eleven-year-old Harry Brown, whose quiet demeanor reminded me of myself as a child, had a father who was like mine, distant and hard to please. When Mr. Brown abandoned the family altogether, Mrs. Brown was left alone to bring up five boys. She did a remarkable job, and I tried to give Harry special attention in class or during our weekly dinners. I set goals for my class in their Bible reading, and Harry hit every one. His mother and I were encouraging him at every step.
My wife, Jeannette, and I then moved from the neighborhood, and I didn’t see Harry for more than twenty years. By the time we met again, he and his wife, Brenda, had become foster parents, providing the fatherly love and two-parent stability that Harry had missed as a teenager.
When Jeannette and I were led by God to build a foster home, Harry retired from Southern Bell so he and Brenda could become the houseparents. Twenty years into ”retirement,” they are still raising children twelve at a time at WinShape Homes.
God worked an incredible transformation in Harry’s life, and he blessed me with the opportunity to see Harry now blessing others.
Children all around us are growing up without strong positive guidance from their parents, who are busy, distracted, gone, or who choose to be buddies instead of parents to their children. You see these boys and girls playing with your children or grandchildren, or in your church, or in your classroom or Scout troop. They’re a bit quieter or a bit more rambunctious or a bit different from the other children. You may know about trouble in their homes—divorce or the death of a parent or grandparent. Or, like my friend Kevin, they may be in a stable, two-parent home.
THE CHILD OF A BUSY MAN
“My father was a busy person,” Kevin says. “He didn’t spend a lot of time with me.”
Today Kevin is in jail. In fact, he’s spent more than half of his adult life behind bars as society attempts to mend him.
Meanwhile, Kevin’s son has grown up spending even less time with a father than Kevin did. As a result, Kevin says, “He’s a chip off the old block. When he was eight years old he got off the school bus and went down the street taking mail out of mailboxes. He took the envelopes home and opened them up to see if there was anything of value there.”
Ten years later, when Kevin’s son was eighteen, he had already been in and out of jail just like his father. If Kevin’s son has a son, the odds are he will follow the pattern set by his father and grandfather before him. And if you think their situation is unusual, you’re not looking around.
So why did Kevin, whose father was “a busy person,” and Harry, whose father abandoned him, turn out so vastly different? I haven’t found any simple answers, but I have seen one pattern. Every child I know who overcame long odds and grew into a responsible adult points to an adult who stepped into his or her life as a friend, a mentor, and a guide.
We are all, as Kevin described his son, chips off the old block. If parents are not trustworthy, they should not expect their children to be trustworthy. Parents who gamble or drink can expect their children to do the same. I often remind parents, “Don’t be concerned that your children seldom listen to you. But be very concerned that they always see what you do.” And I tell my Sunday school boys, “If you give your parents trouble, you can count on your children giving you trouble.”
A child needs a new model to break the generational cycle, an adult who will show him or her a better way. For some children that better way will be a new way of thinking, and they will need continual positive reinforcement. My prayer is that this book will give you the inspiration and the tools to walk alongside children who need a guiding hand at the critical moments in their young lives. Why don’t you join Harry Brown and me in following Theo Abby’s model? It’s simpler than you might think.
I will share some of the lessons I have learned as a dad, a foster granddad, and a Sunday school teacher, along with thoughts foster home houseparents, Chick-fil-A Operators who work directly with dozens of young people every day, and from Jeannette, who grew up in a home with out a father and relied on her heavenly Father from the age of five.
Every idea that works has its basis in Scripture. Many of the lessons in this book come from Proverbs 22, from which I drew my life verse seventy years ago: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
That chapter in Proverbs also includes the timeless reminder, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Additionally, Proverbs 22 offers advice on common sense, generosity, control of your temper, hard work, quality work, sexual abstinence, money management, corporal punishment, and trust in the Lord, among other things.
I hope the thoughts and illustrations here help you in particular situations, but the best thing you can do to help a child is follow your instinct and God’s leading. Reach out to children sincerely. Reach out in love. Love children into a sense of belonging. Let a child know you care and you’re available to talk—to be a friend. Encourage them honestly, reminding them of their strengths and their opportunities. There are no magic words. All you can do is share a bit of yourself, allow God to use you to plant a seed in a child, and pray that it takes root.
The United States is the world’s leader in fatherless homes.
The results of our actions, according to the Fathers’ Manifesto:
Children from a fatherless home are: