Editor’s note: Tim Shelgren, a new missioner, recalls a lesson in Franciscanism—and football—he learned from boys at a group home.
As a 56-year-old American, I hear many of my peers talking about their retirement accounts and soon-to-be retirement dates. I ask myself as I prepare for Formation to be a lay missioner with FMS, am I foolish to go overseas at this point in my life—should I be more concerned with my financial future?
These questions came to mind recently when I made my last of several trips to Goodwill in State College, PA… packed six totes full of bedding, kitchen, and garage belongings into the back of a U-Haul pickup truck… and set out to find storage in my daughter’s barn in Upstate NY. To my name, I now own these totes, a good-quality bicycle, and a Subaru with 145,000 miles on it.
Though I have been downsizing for almost five years now, the level of purging I did recently was more humbling than any I had experienced prior. When feeling this humble—at times even humiliated—I remind myself that I have chosen the Franciscan way for a reason. St. Francis, upon Christ’s lead and His calling, stripped himself of all things worldly and lived humbly among the poor. There, he served the poor. And in doing so, he found God.
I first sensed a similar calling a few months ago while working at a group home for boys in the rural outskirts of State College.
One day early last spring Jeremiah*, a very large 17-year-old boy who didn’t trust me very much, wouldn’t get out of bed. I said to him, “Come on Jeremiah. I promise: if you get out of bed today, I’ll do anything you want to do.” He grumbled into his pillow, “I want to play football.”
Oh no, I thought, I’ve never played football in my life. As a teenager I practiced headstands, rode a unicycle, and did back handsprings. I was always picked last in gym. I never played team sports.
My response to Jeremiah was, “OK, let’s do it. You’re going to have to teach me, though.” Immediately, Jeremiah jumped out of bed and was proud to put himself in the role of teacher/coach.
In the makeshift football field at the boys’ home, Jeremiah eagerly taught me how to hold my arm when throwing the ball, how to count my steps when approaching the ball for a kick, and how to protect the ball after a catch. Jeremiah shined as my football coach, and he knew it! As a result, he made me play football day after day after day.
I could clearly see the joy that Jeremiah was experiencing as he discovered his talent as a coach. He loved bossing me around, telling me to “get mad,” and making me run for long passes during games. His joy somehow gave me the motivation to keep learning. I am more than three times his age and was afraid of potential injury.
After a while, I found myself laughing inside when the boys would organize games and ask me to participate. Recently, two team captains proceeded to pick their players. I heard the first one say, “I want Tim.”
I was picked first? I exclaimed, “WHAT?!”
My captain responded, “Yes, I pick you—you’re fast. Get your *#*# over here.” It took me 40 years to accomplish that feat. Laughing on the outside now, I did as I was told!
Like Francis, I was practicing humility by accompanying people who were suffering. Many of the boys at the home have no parent and no one to love them. And like Francis, I saw God in Jeremiah that afternoon when he picked me first.
It was in that miraculous moment when I heard God ask, “Why would you concern yourself with a financial future when the world is full of Jeremiahs who need attention, who need to be viewed as worthy, who need to discover their talents? And why would you feel humbled when purging your possessions when I am clearly calling you to do so?”
My answer… I won’t. I will remember my Jeremiah miracle as I move forward into Formation among the Franciscans in DC. With one hundred percent confidence I will trust in God as my captain. I believe God has picked me for His team!
*Name has been changed.
Reflection question: When have you set out to help someone else and been surprised by what they had to teach you?