I’m not sure I can say I’ve ever given 100% at anything. That’s one of my great vices or ugly parts of my personality. I tend to over think things. So if I start to think about giving anything 100% I’ll scrutinize, analyze and ultimately decide that I probably could’ve gotten a little more out of the toothpaste tube, studied harder, run faster…something.
Today I read someone’s story. It was the story of a young girl growing up in middle America. She mostly gave 20%. It could’ve been someone I knew, you knew, went to school with, lived down the street from, at the very least a familiar face. I was struck by the matter of fact way she told her story of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse and how “normal” she clearly felt her story was. It’s not the first time I’ve read or heard a story like hers. This time though, as I read, I thought, this could’ve been written by someone I went to High School with. She might’ve been that girl that kept getting suspended or the girl that yelled, “What are you looking at?!!” when I smiled at her in the hallway between classes.
I hoped she wasn’t the girl in my youth group in Illinois that I forgot at the MacDonald’s on our way home from Six Flags. If there’d been a gender change I suppose it could’ve been written by the teen guy in my youth group in South Dakota that I left in Nebraska when he failed for the fifth and final time to make it to the van on time. She could’ve been any of those people that I just couldn’t be bothered to cut any more slack for because they just weren’t giving 100%. This girl couldn’t have been giving 20%.
By her own admission she was constantly in trouble. She’d cut class, ditch church, lie to her family, pick fights with people who did nothing to her, she was a hard ass troublemaker. Exactly the kind of person that would get 0% of my time before I met Grace.
Her story reminded me of a girl I met years ago. I was a visiting care worker in a youth detention centre. She was a teenager who’d done a very bad thing. “Attempted Murder” was just one of her convictions. Over several weeks I got to know her a little, got to hear a little of her story and got to pray with her and ask God to help her out. What she’d done was bad and part of a collection of “bad” things done in a short lifetime. In the paper she was a violent young offender. The paper omitted, and most of us didn’t really care to hear, about the horrific things she’d lived through that had been done to her, and perhaps worse, the loving and ‘normal’ things she’d never experienced.
Here’s what I think right now. I’m thinking about all those people in High School I made fun of, laughed at, ignored, disrespected and didn’t value. I was a kid but it’s a habit that tries to stick with me. I’m thinking of the way our school divided our classes into tracks and the way cliques were almost created for us. I’m wondering if it’s better to be obvious about it the way we were as kids or to be subtle about it the way we are now as adults.
I’m thinking that even if I gave 100% of my effort growing up for grades and activities and relationships and she, this story girl, gave 20%, her 20% was a lot more than my best 100%. She was giving out of lack. I was giving out of plenty. I grew up in a normally dysfunctional family like everyone else, but I at least had some pretty big deposits in my emotional and mental health bank. But when you grow up being physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally abused, if you can find 20% to even go to a whole day of school, attend something you don’t have to be at, care for even one person outside yourself, that’s pretty heroic. It’s like a needy widow woman dropping her last two cents into the offering for the poor.
I think the thing that resonates with me most from her whole story is that she could’ve grown up right next door to me. “Normal” merely describes what we have experienced. And sadly, her story is the normal that a lot of people around me are still growing up in. And even more sadly, my tendency is to judge their efforts by my own efforts, a little like judging what I give to relieve world hunger by comparing it to what Bill Gates does this year.