Kind of a Punk

I got an email on my phone from Andrew, it read:

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Just had a call from Veronica for a 15-year-old boy. He was ordered out of his home . . .  Not the easiest kid. Kind of a punk. Runs away but comes back. Has some charges – assault and battery & with dangerous weapon . . . 14 year old girl friend is pregnant.

Veronica at the Department of Children and Families is wonderful. When she calls, she tells us whatever it is that she does know.  It is usually very little, but she is always open and honest.  Even when she tells us things like “kind of a punk” we know that she does so out of love, for each child and for us.  She wants us to be ready for who comes through the door, and for the child, she wants a family that is ready to welcome him or her, whatever the issues.

So I was ready for Horatio when he walked through the door.  I was ready to be tough and have good boundaries.  I was ready to lay down the law while he was with us, and to have our days shifted into a kind of vigilance.

I was not as ready to feel the surge of emotions I felt when I met him.

He came through the door a few hours later.  Before me was a boy, his skin was a toasted tan; he had a mop of soft brown curls, on top of his tilted head.  He was handsome in a boyish way; his imperfections clear, illustrated by a lazy eye that never quite focused.  He had a swagger that somehow held both pride and uncertainty — together.  And he seemed immediately ready to just be present with us, whatever that might mean.

In that moment, I felt a wash of compassion, hope, and love.  He was a kid.  I knew from what we had been told that he had made poor choices, but it seemed like he could be standing at a cross roads, and in that moment and over the days we spent together, who he had been always paled in my heart compared to who he could be.

We both enjoyed Horatio; he was easy to like.  I asked him dozens of questions.  Though he was not an initiator, he always seemed open to talk about what we brought up, so we learned all about Horatio’s past: about being locked up three times and what got him there, about his young girlfriend, who also is his mother’s boyfriend’s daughter, bits about his family, glimpses of eighth grade.  And though lots of it was dismal, I found myself sitting in the emotions of love and hope and possibility.

21596763_160aafd6a7Horatio did leave us for a residential program.  We encouraged him to make great choices from here on out, to embrace this as an opportunity to turn things around.  I hope that he does.  Regardless, I truly just loved the kid.

Days later I was sitting in my Grace Chapel Life Community Group.  We were reading a passage from the Bible, Ephesians 2:1-10.  And it resonated in my spirit, as we read it I saw how I looked at Horatio, “It wasn’t so long ago that you . . . let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.”

I truly did not feel judgment for Horatio, he has not known a life other than the one he has led.  When I looked at him, even though I knew what he had done, none of that mattered to me.

And then I felt an understanding of my own faith that I had never quite felt before.  God sees me, sees you, as I saw Horatio.  He sees the truth of who I am, and yet that is not the central truth about Horatio, about me, or about you.  There is a greater truth about all of us, all of us are more than what we have done.

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”  It is even when we are in that place of difficulty that God is already showing us his mercy, his grace.  We are more than what we have done.  Who we are is already enough.

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Was it a Lie?

Jose came to us because he had lied.

He had been in foster care for eight months.  He was in a really good foster home that had lots of other kids.  And for some reason he had had enough.  So he went to his school counselor and told her that he no longer felt safe in his foster home.

He was removed immediately, though he almost immediately confessed that it was untrue, and he was back in the system.  We were his next stop.

Jose was a jumble of contradictions when he spoke, as if he was trying to figure out the truth when he was telling you something — or maybe not exactly the truth.  It was as if he was trying to figure out what was the right thing to say to you.

I was concerned from the beginning about his self-perceptions.  It seemed as if he didn’t like himself all that much.  And in a moment alone with Andrew he admitted, “People tell me I’m annoying.  Do you think I’m annoying?”  Of course Andrew reassured him right away that he was a super sweet kid, a great person, but those self-doubts, they go deep.

One day, Andrew was working, and after an after-school snack, Jose and I packed up and headed out letterboxing.  Letterboxing is a great activity for kids of all ages.  There are a list of treasure hunts on line, we pick one and head out on a little hike together.  Tell a kid it is a treasure hunt, and they are in.  So with a camera and juice-boxes in hand, we headed into the “haunted forest.”

Jose’s back-story is a heart-breaker.  He was born in Puerto Rico and has a dad who left early on.  It was Jose and his mom for a short time, but she had a number of issues and could not take care of him, so he was placed with his maternal grandmother, here in Massachusetts.  Jose loves his grandmother, she dedicated her life to him, and it was a good life.

Eight months ago his grandmother had a heart attack and a stroke.  She survived, but is unable to live on her own.  She will live the rest of her life in a nursing home.  And Jose?  With no stable relatives, Jose was placed in the foster care system, and the day he was placed with us, it was determined that Jose will be going up for adoption.

As we hiked looking for clues he brought it up.

He wondered what kind of family would adopt him.  I said I didn’t know and asked what kind of family he would like.  Coming from a houseful of kids he was quick to answer, “One without any other kids.”

“Yeah,” I laughed, “I understand.  What else do you think would be good?”
He paused, thinking, “You guys would be fine.” He answered unenthusiastically.
And my heart broke.

I wanted to pause and stop and tell him why he deserves so much more than fine.  I wanted to hug him and tell him, great, we’ll take you; simultaneously, I wanted to shut that down, and explain, no, I was not ready for that . . . numerous emotions for me . . . and it wasn’t about me, not even a little bit.

I steered the conversation away from me and back on to him, assuring him that he is a great kid.  I wanted to empower him and trust with him that there really is a family out there who is perfect for him, one that will open their arms, their home, and the rest of their lives to him.

I told him that there are really good days ahead.

My hope is that I didn’t lie.