When I was an oblivious 16, I met this soccer mama who had it painted on her Keds:
Shoe #1: These 2 feet run
Shoe #2: After my 3 sons.
We ended up with 4.
Four boys. Two girls and four boys, who swelled me out like a melon and nobody tells mothers that: Once labor starts, it never ends.
Four boys that made mountains of laundry like they were tectonic plates, who furiously ravaged the fridge 24/7 and left a never-ending stream of empty plates. A quad of explosive testosterone, a quartet of dirt and wrestling and loud and dreams and books and mess and sweat and inventions.
And, frankly, there were a lot of days I wanted to have it wired up in neon blinking lights on a t-shirt:
These two arms
pull out a lot of this mother’s hair
over her 4 sons.
The one boy that was harder than all the other 5 kids all put together?
The one who made me think he was either headed to delinquency hall, or I was literally headed to an insane asylum, who made me lock myself in the mudroom, slink to the floor and weep a primal grief? At least three times a week?
The kid’s on scholarship. He bought his own house the week before his 18th birthday. That he rents out to 7 other roomates.
He won a grant this past term for his pitch of a new agricultural tech start up. At 19, he has his own team of engineers. A handful of times every week, he messages me: “Love you, Mom. You’re doing great.” He sponsors more than a dozen kids through Compassion. He’s one of my very best friends. One of my very favourite people in the whole wide world. I never want conversations with him to end.
A road always looks one way — until it makes a u-turn.
They don’t tell you that either:
The only way to raise kids — is by never giving up.
His kid brother, who shows up in the tractor seat this May, he’d only scowled and snarled at us.
For about two years straight.
I had failed that kid like the Hindenberg. Crashed and burned of epic proportions. Daily. Ranted when I should have bit my tongue. Hassled when I should have held my peace. Turns out that: Whenever you want to light into someone, is exactly when you should lighten up.
Instead of giving someone a piece of your mind, it turns out far better if you give them a piece of your heart.
I wish I had done that. I wish someone had told me that. There’s support groups for moms of preschoolers, but where’s triage for the moms of teenagers? #MOTS The older our kids become, the greater our isolation can become, because while mothers can instagram and commiserate together over the Terrible Twos — but mothers struggling through a stretch of terrible teens can suffer alone.
Then that same homeschool kid scored in the 99.7 percentile on his ACT.
Was offered a scholarship to his program of choice the week of his 17th birthday.
In mathematical physics. Won the university’s Provincial Roboticon Competition with the design, building and coding of his own robot. Designed and built his own chipboard.
Came home every weekend, hugged his dad and I, laughed loud and made bacon and eggs for the whole crew on Saturday mornings after barn chores. Got ready every Sunday morning with his older brother for gathering as a church around the Bread and the Cup. He wears bowties. Sometimes I just have to lean in a doorway and watch him. He’s become more than I ever dreamed.Redemption is the papery ash that’s falling, turning and uplifting as sparks of pure glory.
This happens. We don’t deserve this and redemption still happens.
And it begs us to never stop looking for it, to always stop and witness it.
* * *
So that kid shows up in the yard the day after his last university exam, asks his dad how he can help?
Yeah, he ends up in a tractor seat — grinning a mile wide and nodding at us.
Ends up stuck at 2 a.m.
Cultivator caught a bit of damp dirt at the edge of the woods.
He calls home, looking for his kid brother.
I’m still up, making up something warm for that 14-year-old kid brother of his who’s just dragged in from the Hurst farm and planting 200 acres of soybeans on his own. Both boys have have been up since 4 am yesterday.
Feeding hogs. Washing down barns. Hooking cultivators on to tractors. Cultivating up a seed bed for hundreds of acres for those seeds.
When a family works shoulder to shoulder through something, they find they can take on just about anything.
Their Dad’s still out there. Still out there going in the field behind the barn, out there underneath a milk moon, on an open tractor, eating dirt up and down the field, trying to get the last of those corn seeds into the ground.
When I took a warm bowl out to the good man, his hands were bone cold.
Levi leaves his steaming plate on the table, heads out to the shed to grab a chain, start up the tractor again, haul over to the Martin farm to pull his big brother out of the field in the middle of the night.
This old ma of theirs, I drive the pick-up tuck out to check on our boys. Stand in the dark and nod them on.
Boy-men. Brothers. The Redeemed and the Rescued and the Remade. Gittin’ ‘er done with their dad. Doing whatever it takes to keep the other one going, get this crop in the ground and get this family through — because, for all our stumbling and wandering, that’s what families do.
Levi and Joshua hook that chain onto a tractor axle in the dark. Their bass voices echo across the field. When did I turn and they grow up like this and how did this miracle of grace bond us all like this?
People can say what they want about teenagers & boys these days. Say what they want about this next generation, say that kids can’t change, that we’re all going to pot here in a hand basket. But I just want to whisper:
There’s a whole generation of young men who are becoming good men.
There are young men who are of great worth, not because they do good yet, but because they are made in the image of a Good and great God — and that alone makes them great young men.
There are young men who need time. Oak trees don’t happen over night. Growing in grace and wisdom and stature isn’t an immediate download — it happens the way a tree grows up: over decades.
There’s a reason why children begin as seeds. It’s okay — it’s okay —- that growth and change take time — it’s supposed to.
There are good young men who simply need someone to tell them that they are that —- who need someone to tell them a dozen times a day, “You’re good at working hard and loving large. You were made for this.”
There are good young men out there who need to be unearthed from low expectations, and made over by relentless grace, and strengthened with daily doses of iron: the nails of service and the Cross of Christ.
There are good young men who need someone to show them they are trustworthy by entrusting them with worthy work, who take the time to inspect their work so they know what to expect, who give them confidence to to do hard things by giving them hard things to do.
Levi hauls his brother out of the mire.
I memorize the boys’ silhouettes in the lunar light.
The two of them stand in a shaft of moon, farm caps pulled low, deciding who will finish up this field now at 3 a.m., who will get up when the 4 a.m. alarm goes in an hour for the barn again and those hungry hogs.
It doesn’t matter if they’ve both been up 22 hours now. It doesn’t matter that there are hours ahead of them and Sunday and rain coming and only so much time to get these seeds into the ground. They’re both bent and bound to not quit now.
Don’t quit now.
There’s a whole generation of the hardest boys who can become the greatest men.
There’s a whole generation of young men who can learn to go till it’s done, work hard days till it’s finished, give each other a hand so no one get’s left behind.
There’s a whole generation of young men who will rise up if we raise our expectations, who can turn over new leaves because we never stop believing in them, who can do hard things because we never give up on them, no matter how hard it gets.When you teach a kid how to work hard, you teach him how to work through whatever’s hard.
Yeah —- there’s more than just a few good young men.
There’s a whole world of them. Headlines could tout them. Facebook streams could flood with them and Instagram could capture them and Twitter could trend with our future men: #GoodYoungMen. And a whole generation of mothers and fathers could do the hallowed work of raising them up. Because a country needs them, a hurting world needs them, an eternity needs them, and the raising up of #GoodYoungMen is no small thing — it’s a hard and holy thing.
When Levi catches a glance of a photo from the field, he leans in over the outlines by the tractors.
“That’s Dad?” I shake my head.
“Oh, that’s Dad?” He points to the other silhouette in his peaked farm hat. “Wait — Dad was planting behind the barn that night,” he straightens up, confused.
“It’s you.” Something’s burning in my throat.
“It’s you and Joshua.”
Levi leans in again over the picture. “Really? We both look like Dad. The way Josh and I are standing. The way we’re walking.”
His mother nods, swallows around this burning ember.
The feet of all our sons run like all the good men ahead of them —
a crop of good young men planted by their Father, for a harvest worth all of a mother’s worn and faithful grace.