A study several years ago showed that people make more than 300 decisions every minute they drive a car in city traffic. Speed up, slow down, signal, change lanes, check the mirror, check your gauges, watch your left, keep your eye on the kid with soccer ball, watch the cyclist, answer the phone, constantly monitoring driving conditions to arrive safely and on time.
The man or woman who drives to the top of the corporate heap is the one who demonstrates a strong ability to make right decisions. The tougher the decisions and the more money that rides on the executive’s word, the more he is compensated and the more she is exposed to second guessing and vulnerability.
But we expect that of adults. Somebody has to make the world go round and that lot falls on the shoulders of those who have seen more revolutions than young people.
But young people in care at Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) often have to make decisions that are so big, so momentous, they would immobilize adults with spasms of fear.
Consider these two from early in my presidency:
Elizabeth, who was our pride and joy at Mills Home in Thomasville, came to us when her father died and her alcoholic mother could no longer care for her. Elizabeth exhibited all the problems of a child raised in that environment, but she also displayed an enormous potential. She was smart, attractive and showed a spunky resilience. Elizabeth did well in school. She was popular, scored well in her classes, found an excellent part-time job with Thomasville Furniture Industries. She was on a roll.
Then one day her mother called. She was sick. Would Elizabeth please come home and live with her?
Elizabeth loved her mother. She cringed daily thinking of the life wasted by alcohol and the relationship she could have shared if mother had controlled her desire for liquor. Her mother was sick. She needed Elizabeth and was asking her to come home.
But Elizabeth, by now a high school senior, planning for college, had to consider her own future. She knew if she returned home, she would be nursemaid to a mother she loved but who could only drag her into the hopeless abyss in which she dwelled, dashing her dreams, like her mother’s drinks, “on the rocks.”
At BCH, Elizabeth could maintain her own dreams, her own hopes of ending the cycle of broken homes and shattered lives.
Tough decision for a teen-ager. Tell my mother to take care of herself and live my own life. Or give up my own dreams to care for a mother I love. Elizabeth was not alone.
There’s Joe. Joe was a camper at our Cameron Boys Camp, one of the most innovative and vital programs in the country for boys having the toughest time with life. Joe’s mother separated from Joe’s father. She could not handle Joe at home and his father was being a bad influence on the boy.
Joe was one of 10 children. When the father became mentally unstable and started being violent at home, mother forced him out of the house. She struggled with all the children. Once when driving down the road, she warned the little ones to lock the car door and be careful not to push on it. Then she heard the door unlock, looked in the mirror and saw Joe whispering to his brother and looking like he was about to push him out of the moving car’s door.
Joe did great at school. His teachers didn’t understand how he could appear to be such a problem at home. Apparently the harsh home life, the violence and fear at home split his personality. He could not function with the adults in his life, but at school where the awful problems of domestic violence did not rear their ugly heads, he could handle life.
Joe had to decide whether or not to go to Cameron Boys Camp, some 900 acres of wilderness in Moore County. Now consider this. Boys at Cameron live year round in shelters they design and build themselves. They don’t move into an air-conditioned bunkhouse when the temperature hits 90 – or 100. They don’t move in by the pot-bellied stove when it dips to 40 – or 20. They’re under the constantly-loving but ever-watchful eye of Christian counselors night and day. No shenanigans. When they have a problem with others in their group, the group stops its activity until the boys face the problem and solve it in a non-violent way.
There’s no dad to share a soda with. No mother to manipulate. No TV to pass idle hours. There is, however, the challenge of hard work, self-reliance, learning wilderness skills, and discovering how deep your backbone really grows.
But boys don’t come to Cameron Camp unless they agree to. Joe was just 12. Did you ever have to make a decision like that when you were 12? Or 18? Or 25?
Did you ever have to decide to tell your sick mother you couldn’t take care of her because you have your own dreams. Did you ever have to decide whether to give up the comforts of home and school for the challenge of the wilderness?
Many of the hundreds of children Baptist Children’s Homes serves each year have to make these kinds of decisions. Elizabeth decided to stay. She graduated and is working. Joe decided to go to Cameron. After a year and a half, Joe left camp to go back home. I was there as he bade farewell to his friends and counselors. His challenge at home was just as awesome as it was at camp.
Baptist Children’s Homes always works with custodians and children alike to restore relationships. We’re helping them reach decisions that will affect them positively for the rest of their lives. That’s what “sharing hope…changing lives” is all about.