A few years ago, before her weekly show ended, Oprah Winfrey had acclaimed actor Sidney Poitier on as a guest. During the course of the interview she asked him about the poverty he grew up in and how those memories still influenced his life today. The two of them share a similar road. They both grew up in poverty, and they both had to work very hard to achieve the success they now know. How Mr. Poitier responded to her question was powerful.
He opened his suit jacket and pulled a Snickers bar out and showed it to Oprah. “This is always with me. When I was a child there were times where we were starving. We had no food. Even after I grew up, made a living, and could put food on my table, and in abundance, I still lived with the fear that I would not have enough food. I live with that fear even today. So, this candy bar is always in my pocket!”
Lets be honest. We could all identify with that in someway, couldn’t we? It may not be food, and we may not have ever been starving, but there are difficult places in our past that we still hold on to in some way. The same is true for our children. Specifically, if you are an adoptive parent or fostering children from difficult backgrounds, this is true. Some of our kids could tell similar stories as Mr. Poitier’s. Some of them are even working through the recent haunting memories they have lived through.
This hits home for us. Some of our children have come from difficult backgrounds. Some of them were not given the proper nutrition before they came to live with us. Mr. Poitier’s story is eerily similar to some of theirs in some fashion.
But our goal as parents is to not allow the story of their past to determine the story of their future. I remember the day Kristin and I watched that episode of Oprah. We were both struck by what Mr. Poitier said after he showed the candy bar to Oprah. He said, “Oprah, this suit I am wearing is worth thousands of dollars. I have the money to pay for it. In fact, I have the money to pay for many more just like it. I will never be starving again. But that memory lives with me even to this day. I do not let it control my life, but I keep a piece of it close, never to forget where I’ve come from.”
He’s one of the most successful actors of all time. He is worth millions of dollars. And yet, he keeps a candy bar in his thousand dollar suit pocket to remind him. His hunger as a child, and the trauma that comes from an experience like that, does not determine the course of his life now. But he never lets it escape his memory. It doesn’t control him, but it does not leave him either. He remembers it so that he never forgets how valuable having things, such as food, really is.
We can only hope and pray that our children take a similar road. Maybe not the “famous rich actor” road, but the “never forgotten” road. In fact, we must do more than just hope and pray. We must also do. As their parents, we must guide and pour into our children. We must teach them how to memorialize their past but not be controlled by it. We must lead them toward success. It’s a challenge worth taking.
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