I woke up thinking about the students Beve has accumulated (Sounds like a pile of sweaters, doesn't it? Sorry couldn't think of a better word today). Of course, there has been a host of students in his 25 year career, I am not talking about most of them. The majority of the high school students in Beve's caseload pass through his door (his goal each year is to meet with each of his students at least once, which is a huge undertaking since his case load is usually over 430), and head off into their lives. For better or worse. Many for worse, sadly enough. These are the ones who awaken Beve in the middle of the night (I started to write--'keep him awake at night' but nothing keeps him from falling asleep quickly, other than that night last week when he took the Exedrin migraine too late in the evening!). The kids who drop out, the ones whose personal lives are so complicated because of their choices or their parents' choices or--usually--a combination of both, that they have the deck stacked against them before they've begun, these are the kids Beve worries most about. He wonders how, as he ages, he can continue to be relevant to them, can continue to step into their shoes with enough compassion and understanding that they will open up to him and hear him, and not simply see the gray hair on his head.
But every now and then, a kid comes along who becomes a little more to Beve. Or perhaps a better way to say it might be, a kid sees something in Beve that they need. In Mr. W____, as they call him. And even long after high school, when they've stayed in our home, bought Christmas and birthday gifts, and are very much part of our family, they continue to call him Mr. W____. They don't, however, call me Mrs. W____. Not more than once, anyway. I can't abide it. That comes from my childhood, and having called Beve's tall, stately mother by that title for 18 years before I married him. I've just never thought I lived up to the billing (get it--lived up, was tall enough? This over-stating of a pun is intended for my son and his buddies who always find it amusing).
Anyway, I'm thinking today about three girls in particular who have become a bit more than part of Beve's caseload. Each of these girls was on her own to a large extent. Without parental support, for the most part--in other countries, behind bars, or simply unable to care for them. And this absence of a parental figure during these crucial years made them both older and younger than their peers. I don't know if there's any correlation, and I certainly don't imply any where there might not be, but each of these girls is a different ethnicity than Beve. LB, the oldest now, is from Hong Kong. LB's been part of our lives for almost 10 years now. We've lived through a lot with her. Hard times and good times. She's a tenacious survivor, that one. What she lived through in her early years would have brought most of us to our knees, and I'm not talking prayer. But she's like the energizer bunny, she just keeps on going. Then there's V, who my oldest blog readers will remember from the summer she lived with us, is from Zaire, though she was raised in (and has returned to) inner-city Seattle. Oh, V. If anyone could turn hair gray, it would be that one. I can't tell you--I really can't, because I don't know more than hints--of everything she's up to, but she's not a success story. It's a worry. A very sad worry.
The youngest one is C. C is a young Hispanic who just met Beve this year. But these days, she makes a daily appearance in his office, to sit in his rocking chair, rocking furiously as she tells him of all the trouble in her life. A week ago, Beve and I watched C get baptized. It's the custom at our church for any significant person to come forward to greet and hug the newly baptized person when they come down the steps from the pool. So we went forward, and were immediately in a swarm of people waiting to hug C. Even Beve's stature didn't make him stand out in that crowd. Two of her five younger siblings were there, darling little boys with their foster mom, dressed up in suits with their hair slicked back. We met them after the service and they shook our hands solemnly. I asked if they always looked this way, and the mom laughed. C just found out last week that her mother has relinquished her other three siblings to the people they've been living with, so she doesn't know if she'll ever see them again. C's life is hard, and she's a tough customer in it. She made a step of faith last week, though she willingly admits she hasn't the faintest idea what being a Christian actually means. It makes more sense to her to beat someone up than to turn the other cheek, to get mad and even and make a person pay. Forgiveness isn't a concept she knew anything about until she heard about Jesus, and even now, she doesn't understand how to translate that into her everyday life in a world with an alcoholic father and an incarcerated mother. Beve is the kindest man she's ever met, certainly the only stable one. And she recognized it. That's the good thing.
They all did. They recognized stability and kindness and something they didn't get anywhere else. That's more important than those gray hairs on his head. More relevant. Beve asked me if I'd be willing to disciple C, and I agreed. We're going to shop for a study next week. I'm thinking we have to begin at the beginning. And I don't mean Genesis. I'm not really sure what I mean. The basics, I guess. What it means to be a Christian, once a person's made that choice. There's a lot of ground to cover. She's eager, hungry, and raw. Exactly as we all come, when you get right down to it. Sure, some of us have a veneer of polish on us, but beneath, how do we know anything in the beginning? We all begin like baby birds. She helps me remember.