"Seriously, you're going to want to make a lot. We have Mr. Skinny Bottomless Pit over here, plus the other six of us guys."
Oh, well. Leftovers aren't a curse. I fried up the huge chunk of hamburg and started dumping in sauces and spices. The kitchen was crammed with guys beatboxing while they washed plates (because, inexplicably, the dishwasher hadn't been run earlier) and setting out taco fixings. I hadn't expected their help with dinner, but that's what always amazes me about the teens I work with. Once "everybody cool", they are so quick to operate as a cohesive force. Perhaps because they lose so much of their identities in their many transitions to different environments, they morph into a strong group identity. Their alliances are strong and deep, as is their joy in just being together. Dinner was happening, so everybody was there.
Everybody except P. He had been in his room since I arrived on shift, and that had been hours ago. He can be pretty quiet sometimes and I didn't want to be too intrusive, so I didn't press the issue. We yelled for him before we ate, but he didn't show.
All that massive lot of food was consumed in 20 minutes flat, with Mr. Skinny Bottomless Pit doing a very convincing taco-attacking-his-face (with his "fourth-OK-maybe-fifth" taco) and gasping, "Believe me, bro! Don't eat 'em! They're disgusting! You don't want them! It's just they all want ME!" We were loading the dishwasher and washing pans when P. descended and started cooking his own dinner without a word to anyone. The other guys gave him a respectful berth and retreated to the basement to watch the football game.
"You need anything?" I asked when the others had gone. He kept his back turned and replied with a slight shake of his head.
He didn't exchange a word with anyone for hours longer. I was told, "Hey, I think P. punched something. Check out his hand." On a scale of one to ten, whatever he was feeling must have been about a 14, because he's the guy who smiles and says, "Hey, man. It's not solving anything" when his peers glorify their wins over rivals in street fights.
I found him in the kitchen and asked him if he wanted anything for his hand. As I bandaged his split knuckles, he started talking. Frustration tensed his ever-quiet tone. "I'm tired of being here, being in state custody with a judge deciding where I live. I want to go home, but my caseworker is talking about recommending I go home and that scares me. I look back on that life and know home isn't good for me. I know I'll..." He turned his brimmed eyes to the ceiling.
I could bandage his hand. I couldn't say words that could magically produce an easier reality for his 17-year-old self. Intelligence, artistic ability, maturity, and a wonderful personality... he has so much. With a stable group of people to fall back on for applause and support for life, the sky really and truly would be the limit for him. Instead, he faces these wrenching decisions alone, with the fact looming that, no matter which decision he makes, he will have to build his future from the ground up. Alone.
And so I fumbled with words that told him he has what it takes to make good choices for himself. That I've never been anything but impressed with him and know he will be alright someday. "Hey, I don't know if it means anything to you, but I'll pray for you."
He joined the crew in watching football and protested, laughing, when the others wanted to start a movie. "I don't care about the game, I just want to keep making fun of the cheerleaders' crazy hair!" Oh, it was just good to have him back again.
If the past year has taught me anything, it is this: redemption burgeons faster than the realization of our own worst nightmares. It fills to capacity the holes bored by loss and leaps splashing over the tops of the heaps of debris thrown above surface. Nothing is beyond the reach of its cleansing. Nothing can't be remade into such vibrance that it stretches the imagination to entertain the possibility that the unwrecked could have been more beautiful.
God's vivacious mercy so undeniable in my heart and in my family gives me hope.
Hope for the teens I work with.
Hope for the child soldiers in Uganda.
Hope for the mother of a former student of mine who is battling cancer after losing her husband.
Hope for the starving in every country.
Hope for those caught in the unending cycle of crime.
Hope for peace.
Hope in a God Who, now, today, is working toward the final restoration of all that sin and brokenness steals from us all.
God with us.
Redemption is here.
And He calls us to have a hand in the healing He is bringing today.
Here's to the possibilities of this year...
the possibilities of today.