Yesterday morning something rather peculiar happened on a lone side street in our rural neighborhood.
Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of an intensive two-week academic catch-up program for our high school students who, even after nearly a year of being under our care, are still experiencing the effects of the incredibly weak academic foundation they brought with them from their experiences in the local public elementary schools.
My husband and I have felt a lot of hype building up to these two weeks of intensive tutoring sessions for our weakest students as we are excited to be able to focus exclusively on those who are in most dire need of help. (Our six academically sound students who passed our 7th-grade program with no problems began their school vacation as of yesterday while the seven who need additional help will be coming for the next two weeks.)
Darwin would be teaching classes on Monday while Miss Ligia, the official 7th grade teacher, would be helping paint the entryway and bathroom of our little high school building. Everyday we would be taking turns between Darwin, Miss Ligia and myself.
Well, 7:00am rolled around and Darwin took attendance (which is extremely easy to do when the group is so small and you intimately know each person!). One of our teenage boys (the one whom I wrote about in the previous blog who shared his testimony in the Christian Leadership class) wasn’t present. I asked the other students if they knew why he hadn’t shown up – please tell me he’s on his deathbed or got an emergency call from China to travel on business! – as one of our other boys shrugged and said he had seen his classmate moping around his family’s porch that morning while the rest of the students began their walk up that long gravel road to our home.
I was alarmed that our M.I.A. student decided to play hookie on such an important day – their performance (and most importantly attendance!) during this two-week intensive program would determine whether or not they passed 7th grade! I thought he had matured quite a bit. Well, I mean, he definitely had. But why would he pull a no-show on the first day? How many times do I need to be reminded that the process of transformation is just that – a process. Everything takes time.
I felt disappointed, as I had sincerely been rooting for the kid to make a big, last-minute redemption of the school year and finish strong.
I shook it off and continued getting all the household business in order before I could leave in our old truck to spend the day in town working on the computer and running errands.
About an hour later as everything was finally in place and I rolled out the front gate, I felt God calling me to pass by our rogue student’s home and see what had happened, why he wasn’t in class. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time we’ve made a house call to go chase down run-away students (See: By God’s Design: Zebras in Honduras), but in my heart I felt as though I shouldn’t have to do so, that by golly he should have just pulled himself up by the bootstraps and gotten his little bum to class on time just like everyone else.
As I rumbled down that rocky road that passes through the little neighborhood where the majority of our students live, I finally gave in and turned the steering wheel down the narrow side road that leads to his home. Yes; God’s will is always greater than my own, and, yes, this young man was going to receive a loving house-call even though he probably didn’t deserve it because we’ve all received a free salvation that we most definitely don’t deserve.
I pulled to a stop a couple paces in front of his house and, suddenly experiencing an unexpected surge of energy and God-given joy, hopped out of the car as several neighbors whom I don’t know observed me carefully from a distance. I threw up my arm in a generous wave and sent them enthusiastic verbal greetings through a big smile, which threw them off as they, in turn, decided to greet me warmly.
I approached the small gate to our student’s home and called a general good-morning greeting through the thin curtain that hung in the front doorway.
Very quickly our student’s older sister, who happens to be the mother of another one of our students, came out to greet me with a big smile and, of course, she immediately knew why I was there. She began rattling off all that had happened that morning – the misunderstandings, the bad attitudes, the self-pity – and that, despite her incessant scolding of her younger brother as she tried to get his butt up and off to school, he wouldn’t budge. He was discouraged and had decided that it wasn’t worth going.
In a culture/neighborhood that is steeped in very low self-esteem and almost zero perseverance, a story such as this one is no longer surprising to me. What is surprising is that God is granting me a healthy dose of compassion for these youth who I used to think just needed a swift kick in the rear and a thorough butt-chewing.
I smiled genuinely as I listened to his very well-intentioned sister. When she started to lose a bit of steam, I asked if I could talk with her brother. He is, after all, 15 years old and should very well be present if and when any butt-chewing should occur.
I caught her off guard when I asked to speak face-to-face with the culprit (aren’t we all used to just getting riled up and gossiping without reaching any kind of actual conclusion?), and she immediately called her little brother’s name three times (really loudly) before he finally appeared from behind the front door’s curtain.
I smiled big when I saw him (He came out! He didn’t hide and refuse to show his face! Let’s count that as a victory! Atta boy!), and he returned the smile, although it was obviously tainted with a bit of shame for having skipped out on a very important responsibility that we are both directly involved in.
I spent a moment or two saying with great sincerity things that have been said to this precious young man dozens of times before: “You can do this. Don’t give up. We truly love and treasure you and are committed to doing everything possible to see you succeed, but you’ve also got to do your part. We love you and really do miss you when you don’t show up.”
In our first couple years of this ministry to broken youth, I thought it absurd and entirely unnecessary that we found ourselves saying the same things over and over to the same people day after day. Can you say ‘broken record’? Can you say ‘broken record’? How many times do we have to reiterate that we love the person, that we believe God has a plan for their life? How many times do we have to give the same advice to someone before they actually believe us, before they put it into action?
My thought on this has changed drastically over the last couple months as the Lord has revealed to me that I, too, have heard the same things over and over for years, and I am still slow to believe. How many times have I read, heard – preached! – that God is love and that He truly loves each one of us enough to have sent Christ to reconcile us with Himself, adopt us as His very own sons and daughters, heirs to an eternal Kingdom brimming with life, justice and joy, and even so in my heart I doubt, think Surely His love is for others, but not for me. It’s too good to be true. Oh, truly I am just like this immature young man, for I must hear the same things over and over again for years, and even so I struggle to receive, to rest in the truth.
And so, before much more time passed, I layed out my ultimatum with intense eyes and joy permeating my voice: “Look, if you don’t go get your butt ready to go to school, I’m gonna start dancing right here in the middle of the street until you get really embarrassed and decide to get ready.”
I had no idea where that came from (I’ve definitely never said anything like that before), and his older sister, very enthusiastic to support any butt-chewing I might be handing out, let out an immediate, “Yeah! You heard her!” before her face contorted oddly, finally realizing the absurdity of what I had said. Huh?
They suddenly both looked at me, eyes ablaze with wonder – was this tall, gangly white woman who is crazy about telling others about God really about to start dancing in public? It couldn’t be so.
To erase any doubt from their minds, I bowed low in a dramatic, silly curtsy and began thrusting my long arms to one side and the other, an undoubtedly awkward mixture of ‘groovy’ and ‘ridiculous.’
I spun in large circles and began some strange combination of fancy footwork that in no way kept the same beat as my wild arm motions.
A small boy on a bicycle rode by me on the street and nearly fell off as his eyes widened and his head swiveled around, unable to believe what he was seeing.
The neighbor ladies who had carefully observed and then greeted me only minutes prior also watched from a distance, alerted by the extremely joyful behavior being displayed. Who on earth would dance so freely – and so terribly! – on their street, especially in the face of such circumstances that typically provoke despair? Why, I must be crazy (or have a hope for this young man that goes beyond the despair of this world.)
My smile grew wider and wider as I informed our beloved student: “You see, I’m gonna keep dancing until you go get ready for school. Yup, I’m gonna keep on embarrassing you…”
Both our student and his adult sister laughed out loud, their eyes aglow with wonder – what an incredibly unusual butt-chewing! – as they watched me from but a couple yards away in their desolate front yard.
I only had to dance another ten seconds or so before he finally nodded his head, fully convinced that I would gladly continue my uncoordinated interpretive dancing until he really did get his butt ready for school.
I gave his sister another big, warm hug and laughed all the way to the car as I then continued on with my errands as planned.
That evening as my husband – who had been the one to give classes that morning while I had been away running errands – and I were talking over dinner, I asked him if our no-show student had arrived after all for his classes. He confirmed that he certainly did arrive and had a fabulous attitude throughout the day.
As Darwin continued to talk to me about that morning’s events in the classroom, he mentioned that it was curious that when the young man arrived late for class, he came through the front door not angry or ashamed but rather with a very innocent grin on his face. Why would that be?
I bit my lip and asked, “…Did he tell you how I convinced him to come to school…?”
Amen! Glory to God!