It was the day of our graduation ceremony and one of our graduates called 20 minutes before it began, to say he wouldn't be attending.
As the volunteers and staff tended to last-minute tech issues and deflated balloons it was not what any of us wanted to hear.
This student had guests coming to see him graduate! Didn't this mean anything to him? Didn't he realize the importance?
Of course, it wasn't the first time we'd heard someone say they weren't showing up. But not coming to class versus not coming to a special ceremony to celebrate his accomplishment? That felt different. Harder to swallow somehow.
A summer course designed to increase quality and purpose in young lives was coming to an end after 8 challenging weeks. Along the way there had been adversity on many levels and the few students that had, against all odds, made it through the program - were being celebrated.
The trials they'd experienced had ranged from typical teen angst, such as not wanting to come to class if your best friend wasn't going to be there. To the kind of angst, most of us know nothing about: like having to pack up your stuff and move from one group home to another group home 20 miles away. New staff, new "friends", new school to get used to.
Truth be told, the fact that any of these students graduated from a program designed to get them ready for adulthood when they've had to be "adult" for far too many years, is a testament to the goodness of God.
Still, it made no sense to us that our 4 walking miracles should be reduced to 3 on graduation day! For the crew of adults who had rallied around these students, it felt in that moment, like it meant more to us than it did the students!
But in order to see the full scope of any piece of art, don't we have to take a few steps back? Truly seeing the larger picture necessitates a bit of distance for us. And looking back, what was happening that morning was indeed what we'd all signed up for: to invest time, concern, and love into people who might decide to turn it all away.
It was a picture of what the love of Jesus looks like time and time again in all of our lives. Jesus extends his grace and mercy towards our seemingly unmoved hearts every day. Sometimes we turn to Him, understanding the gift that He's offering. And sometimes we snub Him completely, shoving His gift back towards his chest - unimpressed by His sacrifice. And in this case, unmoved by celebration.
To invest, to love, and to rally behind students in the midst of tremendous opposition is what anyone working with this population will experience at one point or another. And our experience, as we live out the gospel, is as much about our own sanctification as it is about the youth we serve.
Like most of life, we have to step outside of ourselves to see the larger story. We must place ourselves, as best we can, in the position of the other. In this case, the other, might be someone who has never been encouraged to pursue something noble & high for their life. Someone who has never experienced the kind of love that reaches out for them even when they’re acting in ways that are unworthy of that love.
If this were your story, how might you receive a gospel kind of love when it finally came your way?
The answer is: uncomfortably.
This high, wide, and deep love of Jesus? What a scary thing it would be to have it laid at your feet when the loves you’d known before had been distorted or yanked away completely. How difficult it would be to invest in loving or committing to anything.
And because this is the story for many of the young adults we serve, we see things like skipping class even when it feels good to be there. Or the decision not to show up at their own graduation ceremony because it’s easier to sleep in. It’s easier to not care. Investing is just too hard.
For our students, succumbing to the kind of hope they are shown through the commitment of our instructors, that calls them to higher standards or the love of our Executive Director that pushes through their excuses to get to the real reasons behind their hesitancy, and the diligence of our mentors in getting to know them well...All of it must seem unbelievable. All of it must seem a little untrustworthy.
That student that said he wasn't coming to graduation...He did wind up coming. And we were all delighted that he would change his mind. But larger than that is what God is doing. With every little gesture that says, "We're still here to love you," or "We're not going anywhere," the gospel becomes a little more believable and a little more trustworthy and the love of Jesus becomes a lot more real.
Brandy Wallner serves as the Administrative Assistant & Social Media Coordinator at FHLA. In her role as Social Media Coordinator she creates graphics and writes content for all of our social platforms and is a Contributing Blogger. She lives with her husband in Southern California and is passionate about sharing the Lord's goodness.