A Story Of Change
No man is an island. Every choice we make in life has a ripple effect on those around us. This is a foundational truth of our existence and is exemplified quite clearly within the family. Who has not been impacted by others in their own family? Paul Anderson was often quoted as saying, “When the family grows weak, society immediately follows suit.
Jonathan’s parents, Ralph and Sandra, did everything they knew to do to raise their children in a safe home. They made a point to eat meals together as a family. When their boys were small, Sandra volunteered at their school to be near them and their friends. But somehow, somewhere, their son got lost in the culture.
It is easy to miss the effects the culture has on youth until it impacts your child. Then it may as well be happening to you, too. It is no longer just a statistic. It is very personal when it impacts your entire family. That’s because there is nothing we do in life that does not affect someone else. When one member of a family struggles with depression, drugs, alcohol, or any high risk behavior, others in the home are impacted too. It is not simply the sleepless nights that a mom, dad, or a grandparent endures; it influences sisters, brothers, and cousins.
For parents today, navigating the issues facing youth is far different than the world we grew up in. Just like us, Ralph and Sandra could not imagine the challenges teenagers faced. How could they? It was completely foreign to the one they had been teenagers in. Even when they realized something was wrong, they had no idea just how bad things had become. They were shocked to learn about the culture their son lived in.
As they quickly became aware of the reality and challenges their son was facing, it became obvious that Jonathan’s respect for family was dwarfed by the pressures of peer association. Their blindness was not intentional. Like most parents, they underestimated the impact of the culture in the lives of their children and they overestimated their own influence.
The first time they got a call from Jonathan’s school saying he’d been caught smoking marijuana on a school bus, Ralph had him drug tested. He passed the test. No THC showed up in his blood stream. Still, the incident put them on alert. In hind sight, they realized that his behavior was odd and suggested that he was up to something.
Once, after discovering he was missing from his room, Sandra found him hiding in a neighbor’s car. They believed that maybe he was in fact smoking pot. Most kids do, after all. They simply believed he was influenced by other kids, and that he would grow out of it.
They were wrong. Most parents tend to think it is happening to someone else’s child. Unfortunately, it often takes crisis to shatter our reality. Sometimes, our reality is shattered when it is too late.
For Ralph and Sandra, it was almost too late. Reality was far worse than they were even capable of imagining. Jonathan was not only a drug user, but a successful dealer as well. This was not a story of him simply experimenting with pot once or twice; nor was it stealing a few beers. Those behaviors were tame as he preferred cocaine, had used ecstasy, and even heroin.
There came a point, however, when his younger brother David realized it had gotten out of hand. Though Jonathan had been able to hide his actions from his parents for a long time; he was clearly no longer in control.
After he was arrested during his first semester of college, Ralph and Sandra were collecting his things. They were shocked to find $800 cash in his wallet: drug money. They also found a slip of paper with names and numbers scrawled on it: money owed him. How could this have happened? How could their son have become a drug dealer?
During this time, their family was rocked with stress and concern over Jonathan and his legal issues. They worried about his health and future. He was facing serious prison time. He hadn’t been caught as a recreational pot smoker. He had been caught dealing cocaine.
Jonathan’s actions were not just limiting his options. Unintended consequences from our choices often bring about difficult decisions. Jonathan’s parent’s choices had to be measured out with the balance of their entire family in mind. Their other son David was in his senior year of high school and Deeann, Jonathan’s older sister, was away at college. Ralph and Sandra had their careers to manage while navigating unknown waters with their son. They felt woefully incapable.
Jonathan’s choices had created waves in the lives of others. The often repeated phrase that we have come up with; “Boys will be boys, did not adequately cover how just being a boy or going through a phase, had influenced those around him; siblings, parents, grandparents, relatives, classmates, and peers. It was an entire community of people whose lives were adversely impacted by Jonathan. It is always that way.
Change impacts more than one
After Jonathan came to the Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH), the time he had with his family was limited to a four-hour visit each month. When Ralph and Sandra came to the PAYH campus, their son was courteous and happy to see them. He was especially excited to see David. Still, underneath the happy exterior, Ralph and Sandra knew a deep work needed to take place in Jonathan. Even the positive changes they saw in their son didn’t hide the now clear reality of his glaring need for change. It was transformation that had to take place. It would take time and would not happen overnight. Real change always starts slowly. But once it begins, it gains momentum as others join in and begin pushing in the same direction!
As a family, they climbed that slope together, each in their own unique way. Day after day Jonathan was forced to look at himself in the light of honesty and ask, “Who am I really? Sandra learned the value of prayer – she had never prayed so hard before in her life. The change was gradual and no one – not even Jonathan – was certain how it would turn out.
Jonathan was not an island. Just like his drug problem began to affect everyone in his family, his physical and spiritual transformation affected them as well. Though Jonathan was charming and warm, a people person, he had also always been strong willed. Nothing could stop him once he put his mind to something. Now as the effects of the drugs he had used worked out of his system and his mind became clear, his slow and steady climb impacted his family. They could still see the strong will that had always gotten Jonathan into trouble. Now, however, they saw that same determination working to his advantage. Jonathan’s heart became tender again to good things. Tears of repentance for what had once been in his life as well as genuine love for his family welled up in his heart. His renewal in Christ was making a difference.
Since Jonathan completed our program, he has continued to grow. His family has also grown. Now he is a husband and he and his wife, Julia, are expecting their first child in May. Ralph and Sandra have grown stronger in their relationship with each other and in their faith. They see this not as a horrible thing they survived, but as a blessing. They have their son back. They have each other and their other two children. They will soon have another grandchild.
It seems difficult to quantify the difference one person’s life makes, and yet it is impossible to deny. It reaches into the individual’s family and community. Everyone who knows and loves Jonathan is changed. The people who become a part of his new family’s lives will be influenced. Change starts with one. That should give us all hope. And the real good news is that it doesn’t end with one.
22.6 million Americans age 12 or older have
done drugs in the last month.
Millions of families are impacted every day!
We think this has to change!
At the PAYH, we often tell our young men this simple reality: if you do not like your circumstances, change your choices. The same is true for the world in which we live. If we do not like what we see, then we have to change our choices. 100% of us have families. Transformation is Kingdom work. For the Glory of God, we are seeking to minister hope and life so to have influenced the world when we leave. Let the legacy of this generation be that we were a group of individuals, families, and communities that made a lasting change.
Together, we can continue to create stories like this one.
Make a contribution today that will provide another young man this same opportunity.
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Taking What We Learn
Benjamin Franklin penned the words; “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” A key part of learning is to be actively engaged. That can take many forms, as learning is not solely gaining new knowledge.
Typically, we think of learning from the vantage point of a classroom with a teacher at the board providing the lesson. But how much do we really learn if we are simply told what to remember? Real learning takes place when we are engaged. It is the difference between listening to what is being taught and actively discovering what we can learn. What we are truly interested in drives our desire to learn.
Who is the teacher?
Our children enter the world with no knowledge. Their minds are tabula rasa – a blank slate. They come into this complicated world lacking definitions for the words that they hear. From their earliest days, children absorb information, attempting to understand their world and role in it. This is a lifelong process, for them, for us, for everyone.
But the world in which youth live today is radically different than the one in which we grew up. I am not trying to be a prophet of doom nor am I trying to go back to the good ol days. It is simply a reality that things are different. We can all see that around us. But do we really understand the significance of this in the lives of youth?
Children are bombarded with change. The world around them is in constant movement, forcing them to adapt to a rapidly evolving culture and environment. As parents, are we teaching, coaching, and listening to our youth who long to be led, taught, and accepted?
What we are learning by listening
One of the things we have learned by listening to the youth of this and previous generations is that parents often underestimate the culture’s influence while overestimating their own parental influence. If we take what they are saying seriously, this means that parents have an unrealistic view of the world their children live in every day.
We might label that reality as peer pressure, but when the majority of youth are involved in some kind of high risk behavior (porn, sex, drugs), is it really peer pressure anymore? Is it just the sign of the times or a phase youth go through? Is it really a phase when they all see that as normal?
Certainly the answer is no. Honest teens will describe their ever changing normal as confusing, scary, and even unsettling.
Who will be the influencer?
Joseph Joubert wrote in the 1700’s that; “Children have more need of models than of critics. Who are the models that will guide our children through these changing times? Who will come alongside our teens to offer comfort, encouragement, and advice? Even more, who will come alongside parents to do the same?
Adults and youth alike are influenced by people who:
- have qualities that we would like to have.
- inspire us to be successful.
- have wisdom in the areas we need help.
- are readily accessible and available.
- appear to be on our side.
So if this is what we are looking for, then we as parents need to recognize that we must be available, flexible, honest, loving, encouraging, and ready to listen.
As a ministry that listens to youth every day, we are here to partner with you. We take lessons from stories like Jonathan. We listen to teens who tell us what “normal now looks like. We hear parents who call us looking for help. We are told by communities of their struggles helping parents and youth understand their identity, the culture around them, challenges with technology, high-risk behaviors, and an increasing number of suicides across genders and age groups.
We are here as your partner, sharing what we learn and discover every day, so that you might teach and guide those whom you love the most.
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