My son drove his car to the dentist appointment I had scheduled for him and his sister yesterday morning so that he could leave when his appointment was done and I would stay with Abby and take her home. This was the first time my son was driving into this city where our dentist practises. I had to give Alex written directions so that he could leave from there and get to his school where he was meeting a teacher to help him with a power point presentation.
Right after Alex left the dentist, I got a phone call from him telling me he was lost and asking for directions. I explained how to get to the main highway from where I thought he was. Then Abby and I finished up at the dentist and drove home. Later in the day I got another phone call from Alex. He wanted to touch base, let me know where he was, and when he'd be home.
"By the way, I got pulled over by the police," he said.
"Alex!" I clutched the phone and wondered if he had been speeding. He's a pretty good driver,not crazy, not known for racing or anything. What had he done wrong?
"Mom, I got lost after leaving the dentist. I pulled into a parking lot and that's when I called you. But just after I hung up the phone, a cop drove by, saw me parked there, and then circled around and came back. He came up to my window and asked me what I was doing. 'What you got there, son?' he said. He thought I was smoking pot or something like that!"
"That's what cops are always on the lookout for: teenage boys partying in cars. Where exactly were you parked?" I asked.
"Well, it looked like a warehouse or closed up store. I was the only car in the parking lot."
"No wonder the cop was suspicious. What did he say next?"
"After he suggested that I was smoking pot and I told him No, that I was just talking on the phone with my Mom because I was lost and asking for directions, he smiled as if to say, 'Sure you were, kid'. Then he looked at the blankets in the back seat of the car and asked me if I was living out of my car. I told him, 'No, they're there because my Mom makes me keep blankets in the car in case I ever break down and get caught in a blizzard or something."
At this point I was smiling, thinking that the cop must believe my son is an incredible story teller or that my son has an obsessive-compulsive , protective mother!
"Did he believe you about the blankets?" I asked.
"I'm not sure he was getting it, yet, that I'm not that kind of kid. But then he asked me where I was heading, and I told him I was on my way to my school, told him the name of my school- XXXXX Christian School- and that I was going to be helping my Math Teacher with a computer project for his ministry presentation. I think that's when the Cop finally realized that it was all adding up. I really was just a teenager who was lost temporarily. That's all."
"Alex, you're a good kid," I said, choking up with emotion. He could have been a lost teenager- really lost. I would still love him and fight for him to get back on track if he was spiritually and emotionally lost. But as it was, he was just temporarily, physically lost. But this is how it first looked to the cop: a lone car, parked in a deserted parking lot, a teenager in the car, maybe a teen running away, on drugs, living out of his car. But it wasn't that way. Alex's situation looked worse than what it was.
But there are some who look like they're doing better than what they are, yet they're not doing well at all. They're heavy hearted, frightened, or overwhelmed. Some are in a crisis. You may not see them parked alone in a parking lot. You might see them instead rushing to work, partying at a fraternity, working out at the Gym or volunteering at their kids' school. You might see them bringing home a fat paycheck, but also bringing home a heart burdened beyond belief.
I'm glad that cop was just doing his job- checking out a scene that could have been a different story. If someone I love is lost, I want people to help find them. I want to know that people are asking questions, lovingly investigating something that looks suspicious, or something that seems...well, not right.
You may be doing just fine, yet temporarily be lost and confused. But you know you'll be okay if you stay connected with a loved one, if you keep talking to a friend and asking for directions, asking for help, for prayer.
But if you're not doing that well, I know you're not going to wear a sign that says, "I'm in trouble. Please Help Me Out." We are not good at asking for help when we are starting to fall down. And many of us are afraid to ask if we can be of any help. We don't want to intrude. We want to respect people's privacy. We think someone will be offended if we ask how they really are doing.
Ask anyhow. Somebody who is really lost, really hurting, is waiting for you to investigate the scene of their trouble. They need someone who cares and shows they care. But it's not because you're a cop that you're looking into the scene. It's because you're a friend, a mother, a teacher, maybe- and you see that someone might possibly be going down, stumbling, falling. There are not yet obvious signs that they are, but you think you detect a look in their eye of desperation or pain. You see their shoulders sagging. Something isn't quite right. Ask them, "Are you doing okay? Cause if you're not, I care that you're hurting. And I want you to know that."
They may wave you on, laughing that they're just fine. And they may be. Or they may get quiet and then with a deep breath, start to tell you what's wrong. But if they shrug off your concern, or even act like they're offended that you think they are not appearing strong, don't be alarmed that they walk off rejecting your concern. One thing they will not mutter to themselves is "No one cares about me at all"- they can't say that. And it will stick in their mind and heart- that someone really cares about them- even if they're not yet ready to accept it.