I have been beyond excited about this project for so long!! As I have tried various times to share these thoughts and feelings, my heart becomes more and more grateful for the sweet people in my life that have acted as lighthouses for me. Truly, without knowing it, these people have led me to light and safety when I needed it most. By simply being who they are, they lifted, guided, and helped me find my way. If you want to read more about it, please read about Angels in my Backyard and please feel free to join in on instagram using #angelsinmybackyard or #mylighthouse. I can’t wait to hear about the angels in YOUR backyard too!
Though I have more stories lined up then shoes in my closet, my heart has been tugging recently to the intense storms that the youth in our society endure right now. I am currently immersed in the study of 11-24 year olds in our society: specifically studying how perfectionism impacts their responses to daily life and how the increase in technological communication impacts their perception of perfection. It is no wonder that I would care so deeply about tweens and teens, I have three kids under the age of 17 who live in my home and all six of my children fall into the age range that I am studying. I have had the sweetest privilege of watching kids come in and out of my house- sometimes in laughter, and sometimes in tears! I LOVE who they are and I find their unconditional love and acceptance of who I am a true gift! I had an extremely difficult day yesterday and a simple note left by one of my daughters’ friends lifted my heart enough to get me out of my pity party! My heart actually cringes each time I hear people make critical comments about “the youth of today”!
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be taught a humbling lesson from one of these young teens who has come in and out of my home over the years. Through a series of events, I was blessed to come face to face with my past and really appreciate just how big the village was that raised me:
We got word that a dear friend of my, then 15 year old, daughter had suddenly passed away. It was a Saturday morning, we were at Day 2 of a Regional High School Swim Team event and she was set to swim 4 events. To say that the word of his death took our breath away would be an understatement. The shock and sorrow permeated our hearts and our home. My testimony gave me the sweet witness that we needed to understand that there was a greater plan and that he had been called home. However strong my testimony was, the tears fell easily and often in our home for several weeks. My daughter was asked by the family to offer a prayer at his funeral which was filled to overcapacity by those whose lives he had touched. This was a funny, talented, athletic kid who had a habit of taking life a little less seriously than the adults in his life might have liked- basically, he was EXACTLY the type of kid that kids his age love to be around.
My first experiences with Montana Brown were a little skewed by the opinion of a neighbor who had known him for years and warned us to keep our daughter away from him.
Though I explained that we appreciated her concern, we were of the opinion that we would get to know him before blindly judging him on the experiences of others. Montana had charisma and a ton of energy- he was funny kid, and kids really liked to be around him. Well, after my daughter had been hanging around him for several months, Montana and I came head to head with his ‘reputation’! I arrived at our local church to pick my daughter up from an activity- Montana was there, and a little disturbance had erupted into the mix of the night. As I gathered my daughter into the car,prepared to patiently hear her side of the story, he did a little dance that I totally misunderstood. With my little human brain and with the words of my neighbor ringing through my head, I made a judgement about what kind of kid this was and quickly declared that my daughter would NEVER hang out with him again!
The next day at school, my daughter confronted Montana with my accusations and explained that I was LIVID at his rudeness and disrespect of all things living! My daughter sent me a text letting me know that she had left NO details out when explaining to him my anger and irritation. In all honesty, I got EVEN MORE angry to know that she had talked to him about my feelings and perception of his character. To my complete surprise, he met me the next day after school in my driveway, where he had waited for over an hour for my arrival. I am going to admit that I was nervous to talk to him, knowing that he knew what I had thought and said about the previous evening. However, instead of defending his position or snapping sarcasm my way, he simply apologized. He explained that he had no intention of offending me and promised that he would be more mindful of his behavior around my daughter and our family. Though he did let me know that I had misinterpreted his actions, he explained that he could see WHY I thought what I did and he would be more careful in the future. I was immediately humbled, not only by his words, but by his example. It took a lot of courage to face me that day- And in all honesty, he didn’t have to do it! My daughter could be sneaky and just meet him at the park, he could show up when I wasn’t home or she could meet him and hang out at other people’s houses! There were plenty of ways they could get around my declaration that they not hang out- but he didn’t follow that path- and to this day, I admire him for that!
That night, my husband and I talked about Montana, his reputation, and his behavior in our home and with our daughter. We realized that there had been a time when we had each been known as “that kid”- you know, “that kid” that the neighbors warn each other about. To our eternal gratitude, there were some who saw past what we looked like, how we sometimes acted, and who our parents were- there were some who unconditionally and without judgment, opened their homes and hearts to us. We both agreed that it was within THESE homes, the homes where we faced no criticism or preconceived judgement that we were able to create the vision of our futures that brought us, first to each other, and subsequently to the life we lead now.
In the end it was this little act of being asked for, and offering, forgiveness that ultimately changed my life forever. I believe with all my heart that his 10 minutes of determination and courage to right my imperceptions set off a domino effect in my life that could never be measured. Though my daughter and Montana followed different paths shortly before his death, we have never lost that vision of who he was in his heart. His light lives on in who I have subsequently become:
First, it brought me to a true appreciation of all the Angels who acted as lighthouses and changed my life; people who truly stood where they were and shined a light for my safety and security. I have carried a lot of baggage from my youth and can honestly say that I couldn’t see this before I met Montana. It feels good to be able to look back over my life and see where angels were carefully placed to protect me and guide me, sometimes even carry me, to where I needed to be.
Second, our friendship and the mourning of his death materialized into a friendship with his siblings and his father. In more ways than I can possibly count- these relationships have brought me peace and resolution to many of my childhood hurts and confusions; those little things that I carried into adulthood, impacting my insecurities, doubts, and fear in ways I didn’t truly understand. I know with all certainty that it is BECAUSE of Montana’s determination to meet me that day, that I was in the right place at the right time to meet his family.
Third, Montana taught me about seeing past the behaviors and into the heart. Montana was not perfect- he died from a first time experimentation with synthetic drugs, but not necessarily his first substance use. But he taught me to see my kids and their friends for who they can be rather than who they might be in the moment. I think we all need to be seen that way- for who lies in our hearts and where our potential can take us. I know I need that. I carry a lot of my own doubts and negative mind chatter- I often need someone cheering me on who will confront my flaw, accept my apology, and move on with me to my future.
As the kids in Montana’s class prepare for their last day of their Junior year of high school, I think of him. I don’t necessarily mourn who he could have been because I believe he is currently exactly where he is supposed to be- but I do think of all the kids in his class and pray with all my might that they know who they are and who they can become. I hope that you can take a moment today to see into the heart of those you love most.