About ten years ago, during some seasons of reflection and learning, I realized one of my driving values was to be a man of my word, to keep my promises. I’m not sure where I learned it. I can’t point to someone in my family that taught me that lesson. But I have come to realize it might be my top value, the virtue that I hold above most else. I want to be known as a man of my word. I want the reputation that when I say I will do something, you can count on it happening.
Something else I’ve come to realize is that reliability might be one of the most important values when fostering. You need to keep your word. You cannot say things and not follow through. Going back on something you say can have a devastating impact. You’ve got to know what your boundaries are. You’ve got to know your limits. It’s one hundred times better to be honest, even when that bit of honesty might hurt in the moment. Fostering isn’t about the moment. It’s about long term. It’s about the future.
In June 2010, I had an opportunity to mentor a kid. At first, it was a decision that was based in the moment. I had just had an amazing week with a pretty likable kid. I wanted to spend more time with him and I knew he didn’t have very many consistent people in his life. But let me completely honest here. If I would have just made that decision just based off my feelings and thinking I was doing a good thing for a kid in need, I would have been making a selfish decision. Mentoring a kid for 6 months because he was likable or because I thought I could make a difference is not enough. It’s a great start, but it’s not enough.
The next thing I needed to consider was what kind of commitment was I ready to make to this 12-year-old? What was his long term need? I decided I could mentor him as long as he needed me in that role. I decided I would make a commitment for the next 6 years or longer. This wasn’t about me and my feelings. This was about a kid who had no one in his life. A kid who needed someone to step up. A kid who needed someone to make a commitment. A kid who needed someone to say, “I’m all in.” So that’s what I did. I went all in.
I made a commitment in my own mind that I would spend 3-4 hours a week with this kid. That I would devote that kind of time to him. Some things got written in my schedule with pencil. My time with him was written in ink.
Professionally I’ve worked with teenagers from really difficult backgrounds. Teens that have been to jail, seen people shot in front of them, starting using illegal substances at age 11. I often ask them if they had a favorite teacher growing up. For those that say yes, I ask what it was about that teacher that made him or her their favorite. Nearly every single one of them say, “They cared.” And for each one of them, it always had to do with that teacher spending extra time, going out of their way to do something for that teen.
Does someone know that you care?
Is there a child or young adult out there that would say your name?
If you answered yes, it is most likely because you not only stepped up and answered the call to love, but it’s also because you followed through on your commitment when things got tough. Many times we have a really great idea and want to make a difference. All of us want to make our life count and be a person who steps up to help. But life gets hard, and those commitments we made a few months ago can sometimes start to feel like too much.
I want to encourage you to rest, don’t quit. Take a breath and recognize what you need to maintain that commitment, and get it. These kids have had so many people quit on them. Don’t join that crowd. Step up. Rise above. Identify what you can do for the long term and stick to it. You can do this. You’re not in it alone. There’s not many of us willing to go the distance but the few of us that are still here are good company. And we need each other to get through the day.
What is your calling?
How do you want to be known?
What reputation will you choose?
Will the virtue of keeping your promises be one that you value above most others?
Like I said before, I don’t know who taught me that lesson, making it a priority to follow through with what I say. But I do want my kids to know they can always count on me. I want my kids to know I’m a man of my word. I’m worthy of their trust. When others have let them down, they know they can always count on me.
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