The Right Tool
“Get the right tool,” my dad would often yell when I used the back of a screwdriver as a hammer or my nails as tweezers. It was easy for him to say. He had a whole garage full of tools. I was just grabbing for whatever was closest and quickest to get the job done.
Last night when I pulled into my carport I was assaulted by the most vulgar graffitti covering the whole wall in front of me. The kids upstairs have been a problem in the neighborhood for a while. Everybody has been complaining about them. I haven’t seen an adult come or go from the apartment in weeks. Last night it became clear that I couldn’t put off a conversation with them any longer.
I hauled myself up the stairs, stepped over the make shift dog gate, and entered the living room filled with two bunkbeds and the backseat of a mini van acting as a sofa. Five teenagers stared at me as I sat down on the “couch”, a dog on each side of me. “Who’s going to paint downstairs and when?,” I said, skipping over any chit chat.
“It wasn’t us,” one of the girls said.
“I didn’t ask if it was you. I asked when you were going to paint it,” I explained. I really didn’t think that they had done it, but it had to be one of their friends that come and go all night long.
“Let’s just paint it now,” the oldest guy said. “I’ll go buy rollers at the 99 cent store.” He got on his bike and left.
At this point I was pretty surprised. I thought there was going to be more of a fight. I went downstairs to get paint and by the time I got back two of them were standing in the garage with rollers, ready to go. As they painted they began to tell me about themselves, about their family, and their mom being gone all the time. They told me about the kids who did the graffiti and the changes they would like to make. When they finished the garage they went over to the outside wall and started painting over the gang tagging there. They seemed to enjoy the work and sharing about themselves.
As I stood there watching them happily paint, I thought of the focus we place on equipping people in our ministry (www.mikacdc.org). I thought about my dad saying, “Get the right tool.” Here before me I saw how the right tool was bringing out the best in my neighbors. In a simple way, being asked to take responsibility triggered them into action. They were physically equipped with the right tools, but I saw too that they had it in them to do something good, they just needed an opportunity. I wondered if anyone had ever asked them to take responsibility for their building or our community. Chap Clark’s book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers came to mind.
Clark asserts that adults have abandoned teens, that we have left them to raise themselves. The two painters in front of me seemed to be a glaring example of this. My first idea was to tell them to paint and leave them to figure it out but when the oldest so eagerly rode off to buy rollers, it made me want to get together the rest of the equipment and stick around. And now after our visit I want to stick around more.
Maybe there will be other opportunities to work together or get to know each other. It is convicting to see my own ability to judge and become the cranky lady downstairs. Last night my neighbors gave me a chance to reconsider my view of them. They took my reprimand as an invitation and let me into a sliver of their world. Perhaps we can continue equipping each other with the right tools for loving our community.
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