I was asked to speak at a charter school for teenagers in a nearby city. The school was the educational home for students who had been expelled from the inner city, public high school. Ranging in ages from fourteen to eighteen, these were primarily local youths with family in the region. The nearby public high school was known for it’s violent altercations, drug abuse and gang activity. The students at the charter school were considered to be the worst of the worst. They had been given many chances, and had now been bounced to their last possible stop, and on this particular morning they were sitting before me in a lecture hall.
I looked out over their faces, and in doing so, noted the hardened features of the nearly fifty students. Not one smile could be seen in the group. I looked at my notes, and made a quick decision to toss them away. I decided I would listen instead of speak. I figured this could be far more informational for me - rather than for them. I opened the session with a question or two, and soon found their interest level high and their responses well thought out and sincere.
One young man, however, sat near the back and managed to look as disengaged as possible. As the ninety minute presentation progressed, I noticed that he was growing more and more uncomfortable. He squirmed in his seat, doodled on paper and stared out the window. I desperately wanted to hear his story. Approximately sixteen years old, he was a handsome boy - one you may expect to see on a debate team and not in a charter school for disciplinary problems. He did not raise his hand to speak, but I called on him anyway with the next question. “How can you improve your relationships within your family circle,” I asked him. There was an awkward silence that followed. After what seemed like an eternity, he spoke. What followed was something I will never forget. I am sure you will not forget either.
“I hate my dad,” he began. “Hate is a strong word,” I answered back. “Are you sure its the word you mean to use?” “I’m positive,” came the reply. With that, he shared a story which I will try to relate just as I heard it that morning.
My dad works construction, you know? He has his own company. All growing up, I thought he was the coolest. Putting up homes, hospitals or whatever, he could build anything. My dad was my hero. All I ever wanted was to work for him some day. Well, when I was thirteen, my dad asked me if I wanted to go to work with him one morning, It was during summer vacation and he told me I could help him out on a job site. I was so excited.
We got to the job and he pulled up in his pickup. “See that big pile of boards?” he asked. “I want you to stack that neatly over by the trailer.” I told him okay and he left to go check on a job across town. He said he would be back in an hour or two. Well, I got out and started stacking wood. I worked like a dog. I busted my butt. I got the whole pile stacked in about a half an hour. I was done - but I noticed another pile of wood over at the dumpsters, so I figured I would stack that one too. I kept thinking he was going to be so proud of me. I finished the second pile, stacking it by the trailer, just as he pulled in. “Look!” I said. Well, he looked alright and he got ripping mad. He called me an idiot and just about every other name he could come up with, screaming at me - right in my face. He said he only asked me to stack the one pile, that the other was throw away stuff and now it was all mixed together. I didn’t know! I thought he would be happy. He drove me straight home - telling me I was useless. I never want to work for him again. I hate him.
“You know, he was an A student until the 8th grade…” the school principal told me afterward. “Then, he just mentally dropped out. He doesn’t seem to care anymore. That is the first time I ever heard that story, but now we know why.”
What a different life story would have transpired if the father, upon seeing his son’s mistake, had gently corrected him and helped him fix the error? He instead, broke his son’s heart over a pile of wood. Our children are God’s gracious gifts to us. They are to be handled with care. The Heavenly Father dispenses much grace. He is patient and gentle with us, His children. And, He covers our mistakes with a cross made of wood. Just some old boards, really - but they make all the difference in the world.