A supersized black kid wearing shorts and a polo shirt, carrying a plastic grocery sack, wandered aimlessly in the frigid night air. He had run from multiple foster homes, most recently from a black family that had gotten him into Briarcrest Christian School. (The football coach had taken one look at Big Mike and seen next season’s star offensive left tackle, not realizing the boy had never touched a football, and was in fact a “big marshmallow.”)
Alone and penniless, Big Mike spent the following weeks just trying to survive. Then one night, alone on a deserted road, an affluent white family, the Tuohys, found Michael and brought him home. “It’s just for one night, right?” Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) asked his wife, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock). Sitting beside me in the theater, my husband chuckled. “I know that look,” he whispered to me. He was right. Michael stayed.
Now, Michael was not good at many things. He could barely read. He didn’t know how to study. He rarely talked. And, much to the chagrin of the football coach, he didn’t know what to do with a football. But he was good at one thing: he had strong, protective instincts. With family, “I’ve got your back.”
And that one, single gift – his drive to protect – set his life’s course with an unforgettable story of second chances and redemption.
Life Behind the Christmas Card
When the Tuohys found Michael on that deserted road, my eyes filled with tears as I thought of the thousands of kids like Michael, who never get a ride home. Thought of how much better this world would be if more families were like Michael’s adoptive family.
There were a million reasons for them not to get involved – what people might think, what Michael might do, the fact that he was a chronic runaway. Despite their best efforts and intentions, they could never hope to relate to him and to assimilate him into their family as a black family would. Indeed, some accused the Tuohys of exploiting and controlling the young man for their own selfish purposes. And yet, they needed only one good reason to act: because Michael needed them.
Blind Side is a heartwarming story, without a doubt. I hope that it will inspire hundreds of families to go out and adopt a teenager in need of a home. And yet, they should also be aware that “life behind the Christmas card” is rarely so idyllic. Most kids touched by the state system don’t fold their sheets neatly on the sofa in the morning. They don’t seat themselves at the dining room table while the rest of the family eats Thanksgiving dinner on TV trays. They do remember the past, and the family from which they were torn so violently and permanently.
And yet, if the past is painful, the future for these children is truly a nightmare in the making. For every Michael Oher, there are hundreds of others who never get that hand up, never have someone to care whether they make something of themselves. Instead they languish in children’s homes, or worse. They become one more name on a social worker’s caseload. If they’re lucky.
And until more families – black, white, and every other color – step forward, willing to risk loving a scared and troubled teenager out of love for Christ, the best we can hope for is that these children never make the headlines for a far more ignoble reason.
Every child deserves a family. Every child deserves a safe and loving home. Every child deserves to grow up with the unshakable conviction that from the moment of conception God had bigger dreams for him than the human mind can conceive. Who will carry that message . . . to just one child?
Copyright 2009 Heidi Hess Saxton