Lessons from the Shelter
My daughter just moved back to Denver after five years in China. The first thing she did, even before renewing her driver’s license, was go to the Dumb Friends League shelter to adopt a dog. And so, for the foreseeable future, my wife and I are no longer empty nesters. We now have both Lindsey and her Australian Shepherd, Jake, in the basement.
Don’t get me wrong. Jake is a great dog. But he comes to us with issues caused by his previous owners. This impacts how we talk to him, engage him, and behave around him. He is easy to love, and our interventions should quickly lead to positive progress in his self-confidence (or is it dog-confidence?) and comfort level around us. But we are committed to whatever it takes because Jake is now an important part of our family.
We initially went to the shelter to check out a 10-month-old Black Lab, Marley, whom we saw on their website. After spending time with Marley, though, we knew his needs were beyond our time and ability. He had been improperly disciplined and even abused, so his behavior was out of control. After we realized Marley was not going to work for Lindsey, we walked through the facility checking out all the available dogs. They all had unique needs; very few were “normal.” Each one would require a different type of caregiving. But the one need shared by all was a family to welcome them, love them, spend time with them, and never give up on them.
As I look back on this experience, it strikes me how similar this is to the call of a youth leader. God places students in our lives. Each one of them is unique. They all have different issues; not many of them are normal (whatever normal is). These issues could be health related, but like many of the dogs we saw, they are typically the result of environmental and familial factors—the system in which they live and those with whom they share the journey.
We now must decide how to respond. Will we, like my daughter did with the many other dogs before choosing Jake, ignore them and walk away? Or will we engage, becoming a part of their life, and joining them on their journey? Will we welcome them into our family—our youth groups and the family of faith? Will we love them, spend time with them, and never give up on them?
I’m sure you will agree with me about what our response should be. We have no choice. It’s our calling, and it’s who we are. So, I encourage and challenge you to keep your eye out for the Jakes God wants you to adopt and come alongside, loving them unconditionally and sharing the journey together.
About the Author
Andy Lawrenson has been in student ministry for 26 years both as a volunteer and paid staff member. Andy and his wife, Misha, have been married for 28 years and have three children: a son in middle school and twin eight-year-olds, a boy and girl. Andy loves getting together with other youth pastors to talk about… Read More