This past week my husband and I had the privilege to meet a young man who has had more than a fair share of snags in the road. He has suffered the neglect, abandonment, and death of a parent before he’s even graduated high school. Through that he has also been placed in a loving environment with kind foster parents. He has gone from living on the streets of the inner city to living on the outskirts of a rural village. He has had his scraps and conflicts with the law, those who love him, and his own mind.

When I first met him, it was much like seeing a scared pup. You could catch glimmers of light in his very dark eyes; however, he bolstered himself to keep the shades pulled so you could not dare read his mind. All the while, he gave us clues. I think the best litmus test for working with students is to eat with them. As we gathered for an incredible free offering, all our other students ordered food and one in particular had enough for a to go box—that’s one of our boys that we practically claim as a son. Our new friend just ordered pop. I chided him a bit to order. We had all put in a long day and this was a reward. Yet, he still declined. He sat with a chair between him and the rest of us and just kept checking us all out. Occasionally, I watched this wave of interest and light fall across his face.

As we dropped everyone off after the meal, I kept thinking we have found a young man that has never learned to receive. It’s actually something that has to be taught. If you have children at home and you haven’t worked on it, you need to start. Receiving is not just about showing appreciation for the gift—it involves the mental connection that you realize you need the gift. It’s also connecting that need to someone who wants you to receive what you need. Finally, it’s realizing that someone thinks you are a valuable person and deserve the gift. Eventually, you realize you are deserving of so much more than the gift. You realize you are deserving of love, esteem, joy, kindness, peace and integrity–when a child really gets those things, I think they reach another level of reflecting all of those things back. Eventually, maturity is birthed and you see the fruits of a healthy receiver and giver in an individual’s life.

I think receiving is a hard concept especially for students who have suffered neglect because in order to make it, they have learned to do without. They have also learned to shut down. If we don’t reach them before these concepts are hard-wired, they easily fall into horrible adult habits. Receiving well is not the same as taking. Taking is primal. Taking is a military move. You take when you are forced into a corner. The take is survival. The take is what happens when a family signs up for Christmas at three places. I used to think of them as cheaters  but then I realized they really are just making military moves and the ethics and maturity that follow a healthy receiver never come to mind or habit.

All of this I write to clear my own mind, to lay down a mission for us all: we need to be good receivers. We need to model good receiving. We need to teach good receiving.

Now back to my new young friend, we are coming for him! We want to love him unconditionally. I’m not sure when the turnaround will happen but I am looking forward to the day when he lifts the shades and receives well. Until then, EY will keep at it—modeling love, esteem, joy, kindness, peace and integrity. It’s bound to catch on!