Author Daniel Pink tweeted today that 50% of individuals under the age of 27 in this country don’t have a job. I suppose that’s why we received over 50 qualified resumes for a recent job posting at the Y. It’s a difficult time. It’s even more difficult for those growing up without a Dad in the home, almost 1/3 of the youth in our country living in that suffocating space. According to research, “Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families… (“Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004). The dark clouds can loom for all of us. Just this week at work, I learned of difficult marriages, dying grandparents, aging in-laws, and the loneliness of families separated. These are the things that are tossed around in my mind, like damp clothes in a dark dryer, when I’m focusing on the troubles abounding. When I wake at 3:00 a.m., my mind racing and my heart picking up the pace, I wonder why I’m not resting well and I realize it’s the persistent anxiety rooted in these messy stories of life that surface in the cold, dark hours before dawn.
My friend and colleague stood before Kiwanis and preceded stories of mentoring relationships that are blossoming with stories of those youth who fell through the cracks. They need to know that this work of youth development and life transformation story isn’t mathematical, the formulas don’t always compute. Rather, it’s a journey, a standing in the ditch with another and pointing to something Greater, something hopeful. It’s a choice to be present, to show up.
Esquire.com recently reported on a high-calorie dish to be avoided at all costs. Or, at least consumed sparingly and on the rarest of occasions. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s annual “food porn” list, the Cheesecake Factory offers a 3,020 Bistro Shrimp Pasta. The accompanying 89 grams of saturated fat apparently can stay in a person’s arteries for up to five days. Just reading the description makes my heart constrict, although I remain not-so-secretly tempted to try the dish. Our choice to regularly consume any unhealthy, fat-laden foods is to our detriment. Life context mixed with daily choices is always writing our story, or we can choose differently; new choices writing a new ending.
As I watch throngs of people join the Y in the New Year with intentions of resolution, I realize that life is all about our choices. People join the Y choosing to pursue healthier lives; many make the ongoing choices to remain, even when it’s difficult. Some choose to leave as life-waves of business drown out their desire. It’s all a choice. Sometimes it’s a choice over which we have some control or action, often it’s a choice in how we view the circumstance or respond. Either way, it’s a choice.
Author Ann Voskamp says, “You don’t get to make up most of your story. You get to make peace with it. You don’t get to demand your life, like a given. You get to accept your life, like a gift. Beginnings and middles, they are only yours to embrace, to unwrap like a gift. But you get the endings. You always get the endings. You get the endings and you get to make them a gift back to the Giver.”
Our stories, these daily opportunities for choice - they’re all gifts. Life is messy and it’s not easy. Voskamp notes, “Isn’t everything that is good always hard?” Kiwanis and many other community social clubs can choose to fade slowly into American nostalgia; instead they choose to continue to do the hard work of coming together and giving back for the greater good. We can choose to ruminate on the rashes of bad news spreading through our screens, instead let’s choose to see the bright glimmers of hope and grace and good that permeate the dark. We can choose to over-indulge on American excess, instead let’s choose simplicity, presence, and selflessness. We can choose to numb and medicate our discontent with unhealthy pursuits, instead let’s choose wellness from the physical surface down to the depths of the heart. Let’s spread these life-giving choices to one another, standing together in the messy middles with hope and welcoming these endings (always begetting a new beginning) with gratitude.