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Once Matthew had passed his mock entrance exam, I instructed… no, I demanded that he immediately make an appointment to write the real thing at the nearest trades office.
The next day, when we returned from our day of facilitation, I did not even have time to remove my boots before Matthew informed me that he, Matthew, had booked a time to write his Apprenticeship Entrance Exam. This was seen as no small miracle!
I felt like a proud dad! Not that Matthew’s parents were not proud, but I think they were still in shock after having witnessed the amazing transformation of Matthew’s near morbid fear of failing into a never before seen “bring-it-on” attitude. I still get goose bumps thinking about the miraculous transition from the defeated Matthew to one so victorious it was contagious!
What was the key? What was it that was said or done to initiate this miraculous event? There are two things that come to mind.
For starters, even though Matthew undoubtedly knew he was different, no one made a big deal about it. He knew he had intrinsic value as he was. He was never introduced as “having” this or that, as though what made him different was pathogenic. Nobody cited scientific studies on his “condition” or purchased tools or programs from “experts” in order to “fix” him.
He was who he was, valued as such and everyone accepted that. However, there was still something else that he needed, something that is often missed when encouraging children to take control of their lives.
Now, in no way am I accusing Matthew’s parents or family of failure. Indeed, the only reason I was able to “push that button,” so to speak, was that Matthew had been reassured a thousand times of his intrinsic value and worthiness as a son, brother and friend.
Parents need to understand that there are two major things that every child, actually every person, requires to be successful in life and they are not education and/or money. These two things are so important that they often determine the very direction taken in life.
Indeed, whenever listening to people talk about their life history, most will reference these two things as the reason for their success and, unfortunately, often also for their failures.
The first thing needed can be accurately described as a father’s number one responsibility. Everyone needs to be validated as being loved, appreciated and as having intrinsic worth. We have all heard or seen folks who have not gotten this from their dad and most of these stories will break your heart.
However, even though validation is critical, there is one more thing that often separates the “successful” from the “unsuccessful.” Even validated people need someone to believe in them. We can refer to this as a form of secondary validation or more appropriately as affirmation.
This is different from being validated as a worthy individual. It is more about being assured or reassured about one’s future direction.
Anyone can be used of God to say, “I believe in you” or “I believe you can do this.” There is no doubt this most often comes from parents, but for some reason this seems to need additional confirmation from someone outside of the family.
Perhaps it is the familiarity of family members that “disqualifies” them from playing this role. Parents, after all, usually believe in their children no matter what. Rightly or not, outsiders are seen as more “objective” and therefore more “honest.”
That was the simple part I got to play in Matthew’s life. I have no doubt, actually I am convinced because we shared so much time with Matthew’s family that he had been validated by his dad and that his family did believe in him, but I also believe that Matthew’s “condition” prevented many from SAYING so. Perhaps they were not entirely convinced and just did not want to set him up for failure or disappointment.
Again, I am not in any way suggesting that Matthew’s family did not believe in him or failed him in any way. They loved him and did not want to see him hurt.
In any case, I knew what it was like to be “learning challenged,” to be seen as “different” or in a negative or derogatory way. Again, I am not accusing anyone of this.
Even though I doubt Matthew knew the name or title of his “disability,” I am sure that he knew he was different by the way people reacted to him. This is not an indictment against his family, friends and neighbours, but a statement against the systemic treatment of anyone who does not fulfill external standardized expectations.
The secular beliefs of human origin and value have polluted most people’s perspective, including those who subscribe to a Christian world view. We have largely adopted the sentiment that “there-is something-wrong-with this person” in place of the more appropriate “this-person-is-a-creation-of God-and-therefore-valuable” attitude.
When we come to believe that there is something wrong, we look to outside agencies to “fix the misfits” to make them fit a standardized expectation of what a normal human being should be like, rather than unreservedly accepting what God has created and that He will show them their purpose.
This is what causes us to miss the lessons of the Gospel. My modified version of the Bible says that while we were yet “imperfect,” Christ died for us. We are all imperfect, so there is something wrong with each one of us. Do we all need fixing? Matthew was certainly different, yet no different in this respect.
I wholly believe that God does not make mistakes and I trust that the Creator does not abandon anyone. My believing this caused me to see through Matthew’s “issues” and allowed me to believe in him. All I did is sincerely voice what those who loved him believed but had failed to tell him.
I made Matthew promise he would phone me as soon as he received his examination results. A few weeks later I received the most cryptic phone call of my life! The phone rang and as I answered it, I did not receive a “hello” or “how are you?”
Without introduction or fanfare, all I clearly heard was “I passed.” Matthew, the one many thought would never make it past the gate, had kicked the gate open. Unparalleled joy was emanating from both of us, indeed all of us. Oh, what sweet victory!
However, unbeknownst to us all, Matthew had another big hurdle to overcome. It was not an obstacle placed by his “inabilities,” but by systemic hang ups, assumptions and outright stupidity.
I’ll get into this one next week.
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