Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Teach them well?

I've grown rather attached to the teens in my church youth group and one young lady in particular has endeared herself to me. She's been in trouble with the law for minor things, done a few drugs, and has probably been with more than one young man in our community. Her home life is terrible--a mother with a drug problem who's been through more than one abusive marriage--currently sharing her home with eleven people--few of whom are related to her. Her chances of escaping this life aren't good.

And yet, there is a core decency to her that can't be dismissed. A sense that she is really trying and wants to do the right thing. She sings in my son's band, her hand is generally the first one in the air when I ask questions during Bible studies, and when she comes over, she seeks me out to talk to. She is one of those kids you can't help but love.

This evening I crossed paths with her (we'll call her Lisa) in the grocery store, we chatted briefly and I encouraged her to stay in touch by way of e-mail. She was there with her mother and younger sister. Meanwhile another teenage girl I know from subbing at the public school came through. I've known her for sometime too, but always found her to be a little phoney (think Eddie Haskel). We chatted a little too and we all went on our way. She too was with her mother. These people are all from the same neighborhood, by the way.

My nearly-twelve year old son and I were loading groceries into the car when I heard an eruption of foul language coming from the other side of the parking lot. I followed the sound to a shouting match between the other girl and Lisa and--of all things-Lisa's mother and the other girl's mother. I was dumbfounded and couldn't quite believe that all these women young and old alike, would behave this way in public.

I positioned myself about thirty feet away, where Lisa could see me. I wanted her to know that someone who cared how she was acting could see her, but I had no wish get in the middle of the altercation (think Jerry Springer . . . shudder . . .) I don't know if she saw me or not, but she grew quieter, even as her own mother continued to shriek and behave so badly that the manager of the store asked them all to leave. Though there was a parting shot on her part, I had the distinct impression that she was distancing herself from the scene.

My twelve year old was sitting the van waiting for me. His eyes were huge. "What was that?" he asked.

"Some girls who've never been taught how to behave by the mothers who were behaving just as badly."

"That was their mothers with them?" Joseph is fascinated by the human condition and wants to understand all aspects of it. "Grown up women behave like that in real life? Why?"

"Some of them. And I really don't know why."

"Did you ever act like that?"

"What do you think?"

"I think Grammy'd ground you forever if you did that."

"You'd be right." My mother, an outspoken frees spirit, is a Southerner at heart and ever mindful of looking and behaving in a lowly manner. It is one thing to speak your mind and stand up for what you believe. It's another thing to exchange screaming obscenities and threats of physical violence with another person in a public place. We got a lot of speeches about what classy people do and don't do.

Once again, I could see what Lisa is up against, and I am saddened for her sake. Next week she's leaving for Job Corp (trade school combined with high school, job skills and lessons in independent living) and I am praying (yes praying) that this is her way out. That she will decide this is her opportunity toto make better choices, to choose a different life for herself. She's over due a break. I hope she takes it.

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