“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” the mom said, with a catch in her voice. I sat there, not sure how to respond. “She just keeps getting in to trouble.” I struggled to come up with words to respond to the desperation in my friend’s voice.

Her daughter WAS struggling academically and socially. Yet I also saw so many signs of growth and hope in recent days. I shared some of what I was observing in the middle school girl’s life, and a spark of hope flickered for a moment in my friend’s eyes. But then she again shook her head. “Unless we get her out of this failing school, this crowd of friends she’s always around, she’s not going to go far. Lord knows I’ve tried and tried.” Again, a catch in her voice. “My saving grace as a kid was getting bussed to a better school.”

I’ve known this family for a long time. I’ve seen their fortunes rise and fall, watched as family relationships cycled through good times and bad. I’d seen the mom struggle with her other children, and I had shaken my head over her faulty parenting. But in truth, I didn’t know her well.

This time was different. This time, I heard her story. I began to see her life in a new way as she shared about growing up in a rough neighborhood where rats as big as cats invaded their house. She talked about her own love of learning, fueled in part by the Charlotte school system offering bussing so that students in low-income areas could attend thriving schools. And then her parent was injured. My neighbor had to drop out so she could work and support her family. Added to that burden, a lack of stability in her home life and neighborhood led to bad choices, failed dreams.

My friend and I are almost exactly the same age. Yet our lives couldn’t be more different. And I realized how much of my parenting is based off the way I was parented, how my economic future has been ensured by educational opportunities, how my life choices have been guided by the stability I experienced in my home and community.

I didn’t have any easy answers for my friend. We prayed, cried, then bid each other good night. I looked for ways to come alongside and support her and her daughter in the days ahead. But change isn’t coming quickly and I can’t guarantee how the story is going to turn out.

But at least one transformation sprung out of our time together. I heard. I was broken. My quick and easy judgments of her were shaken up. And I realized even more that the privilege of opportunity I have shouldn’t be taken for granted. And that lack of opportunity for my friend shouldn’t be ignored.

“To whom much is given, much is expected.” – Jesus

Top photo by Kevin Houle, used under a Creative Commons license
Lindy’s photo by Saird, used under a Creative Commons license

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