What would make a twelve year old boy accept a hug?
Vacation Bible School, a popular summer children’s program more affectionately known as VBS, is one of my favorite church programs. It’s the one time of year that a local congregation comes together en mass, transforms the church facilities into a fantasy environment, and makes learning about Jesus fun and exciting. It’s a great way to incorporate rookie volunteers and invite non-churched children into the church community.
I think I love VBS the most because of the stories that come out of this marvelous program. All of us – adults and children alike – get to see God’s hand at work as He provides what we need to make this big beautiful event happen and as we see the love of Jesus touch children’s lives.
On the fourth day of one VBS program, I stood in the main hall at the registration table. I turned around and spotted a familiar face.
“Jacob!” I cried. (Jacob isn’t his real name. I need to protect his identity.) I hurried toward him. “I am so glad you are here! I’ve been thinking about you all week.”
The words were heartfelt and spontaneous. In fact, I inwardly kicked myself. Did my enthusiasm betray I knew stuff Jacob probably didn’t want me to know – that his parent, most likely under the influence of something, had screamed at Jacob in their driveway not so many days ago, hurling foul language, insults and threats of physical harm neighbors all around wished they had not heard? That I often saw him wondering the streets of our small town for hours on end with another orphan by day and scorned child by night.
My feelings of delight overrode my sensibilities. I threw my arm around Jacob and squeezed his shoulder. His small arm circled my waist in return. “I’m glad I’m here too.”
My already fragmented heart shattered.
Come on. Think about it. What twelve year old boy would accept and return a hug from a woman old enough to be his mother’s older sister? Okay, dose of reality – old enough to be his grandmother. Most boys that age would barely deign to give me a high five – and then only if they can smack my hand hard enough to convince me of their growing strength and my pain factor. Only a child deprived of what should be as common and expected as food and water would allow himself to be hugged. Only a child who longs to have someone glad he exists would smile and return that embrace. As the deer pants for water, as a wilted flower lifts bedraggled petals at the touch of dew, Jacob was starved for a simple expression of love.
It was almost too easy.
The peaceful cornfields and quiet streets lure our community to believe that every kid in town is happily ensconced in a two-parent family that owns an SUV and a dog, a family whose busy schedule is filled with school, softball and ice cream after the game. It isn’t so. There’s hurting kids like Jacob living around every corner.
Would you pray for us? Jacob has already attended six schools in the last year. We don’t know how long he will walk the streets of this town. Pray that we are open to any opportunity God gives us to make an impact on this young life. Pray that he catch the idea that we love him because Jesus first loved us. Pray that Jesus’ love penetrates into his comprehension so he will rely on Jesus as his source of love wherever he goes next.
Then think about your own neighborhood. Who walks the streets escaping their home life in your town? How can you extend the message that you are really glad to see them and they are important human beings in spite of what home tells them?
It may be as simple as a zip-lock bag of chocolate chip cookies, a shared basketball, a crouch along a roadside culvert as you invite them to your church’s summer program, or, if you dare, a hug.
It makes a difference. And you just might get a hug in return.