Yesterday, I had a parent-teacher conference for one of my third grade students. It was part of our fall conference schedule to meet with all parents. I didn't anticipate any surprises. This child is never a moment's trouble and always has a smile plastered across his adorable face. He has a great sense of humor and is always neatly dressed. I had never met his mother, but his dad had been at our Open House at the beginning of school. My little friend always had his homework, and he always did well on every assignment. This would be a breeze.
Dad arrived promptly. I gushed on and on about how wonderful his son was. When I asked if he had any questions or concerns, he replied yes. I was somewhat taken aback until he continued.
"I just got out of prison. I've been away for two years. My wife tried to commit suicide and was put in a mental institution. She is out now, but is living in another state. I have complete custody and complete responsibility for my children. I've never had a lot of experience as a dad. I was the money earner. I saw them at night and on the weekends, but I never had to take care of them before. Now, I am everything. I don't know how to cook. I work as many hours as I can to provide for my family and I make pretty decent money. The children are having to be responsible for the cleaning and laundry and such. My son is eating one meal a day, if I can get him to eat. I just found out my daughter is failing four out of five of her subjects in school. I don't have any family around to help. I'm it. I don't know what I am doing, and I need help."
I heard the anguish in his voice and saw the pain in his heart as it splayed across his face. Tears welled up in his eyes as he explained how overwhelmed he felt. And for some reason, he was pouring this all out to me. My heart broke for him, and I offered him all I had--my Hope, my Joy, my Comfort, my Jesus.
He had doubts. He hesitated. "I haven't ever been one to go to church. It's not that I don't believe, because I do. But I just don't fit in church."
And I got the chance to tell him that we do church differently. We aren't much on dressing up. We are a "come as you are" kind of place. Wear your blue jeans and your boots. Camo is fine. You don't have to be fancy at all. We are a bunch of believers just like you...overwhelmed, hurting, abandoned prisoners who have been set free. And we came to Jesus just as we were. He accepted us and made us His hands and feet. His heart on earth.
Now we do life together.
We do life together because life is hard. We rely on each other--all of us--helping each other, holding hands, encouraging one another, taking care of each other's needs, lifting up the hurting.
Because we were never meant to do it alone.