By Sally Arnett
"If I never saw this kid again, Lord, I wouldn't be sorry!" I thought. Tears clouded my eyes as I stood in our laundry room. Clenched in both hands were new jeans and a shirt belonging to my 16-year-old stepson, Brett. The clothing was already destroyed from burn holes and vomit stains after a drunken binge.
Exhausted and defeated, I sank to the floor. The clothes were just one more thing Brett had ruined. He had already kicked a large hole in his bedroom wall; his bedcovers were torn. Numerous windows in our house needed repair due to his breaking in to steal money when he chose to live on the street. Yet none of this could compare to the emotional damage Brett had inflicted on our once quiet home.
I knew that Brett's needs were deep, and I had often prayed for wisdom and love. The second greatest commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," had taken on new meaning when Brett came to live with us when he was 12 years old. If I were to love my neighbor, was I not to love my own troubled stepson even more?
During those four years I had dealt with Brett as patiently as possible, but inside I was churning. "I don't want him in my house another day, Lord," I cried as I knelt on the laundry room floor. "I just can't stand him!"
Chest heaving, I poured out my despair. Then God tenderly spoke to me in my weakness. Matthew 25:35-40 rose in my thoughts---Jesus' declaration that when we invite a stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit those in prison, we are doing it as unto Him. For the first time I saw this story in light of the action words. Jesus was saying, "Act. Meet these people's needs. Through your actions you are loving them and Me."
God's encouragement to me that day helped me to gather strength and continue parenting Brett. Still, Brett did not change his behavior.
When Brett was nearly 18, he landed again in Juvenile Hall, this time on suicide watch. Through prayer, my husband, Dave, and I sensed God's leading to send Brett to a boarding school with a high success rate for helping troubled teens.
The psychological training at Brett's school was rigorous. Out of more than 20 people in his class, Brett was one of only five graduates.
At the graduation ceremony the graduates stood one by one to thank those who had helped them. Each graduate held a long-stemmed, white rosebud to give to the person who had meant the most to him or her.
Brett spoke lovingly to his mother and father and for the first time took responsibility for the heartaches he had caused.
Finally Brett spoke to me. "You did so much," he said. "You were always there, no matter what. My mom and dad, I was their kid. But you just got stuck with me. All the same you always showed me such love. And I want you to know that I love you for it."
Stunned, I stood as Brett placed the white rosebud in my hand and hugged me hard.
At that moment I realized the truth in God's words to me. Although I had struggled with silent anger toward my stepson, Brett had seen only my actions.
Love is action. We may not always have positive feelings about certain people in our lives. But we can love them.