Friday, February 22, 2013
The Priest and the Hundred Dollar Bill
Before the priest, before the hundred dollar bill, before the camp weekend, he was simply one of our new teens -- a shorter, round-faced, sweet middle school boy. He came to youth group on Wednesday nights, the friend and neighbor of some teens. Brown hair, dimpled face with a mischievous smile, and a respectful attitude, TJ* seemed like a Southern boy transported to our snowy Minnesota suburb.
He joined us for youth group lessons and football games on the church lawn. In between Bible lessons and dodgeball matches, God gave us a love for this new teen, and we prayed often for him, and our other youth group kids.
One cold October weekend, our junior high piled into an orange and grey school bus and trundled three hours north to a weekend retreat. Two nights into the retreat, our thirty-some students were bundled in with four hundred teens from across Minnesota and Wisconsin in a rustic, metal-heater-gushing lodge. As the man on stage spoke of God's huge love for us, and asked us to bow our heads, I saw a stirring from our long wooden benches. TJ --shorter, middle school TJ, in a room full of middle school and high school peers,with his head up determinedly-- was bravely walking down the orange carpeted aisle. Alone in a room full of strangers, before the youth speaker had fully finished his invitation to come, TJ was coming.
Guitarists and vocalists sang quietly on stage, "It's your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance" and I wiped happy tears from my cheeks. Excitement and joy coursed through me, as I caught my husband's eye and nodded to TJ. A smile broke across his face too, and we closed eyes to thank our amazing Creator who loves us, and calls us, and desires relationship with us.
TJ continued to grow, spiritually and physically. Suddenly a summer later, it seemed, he towered over us, a stocky football player. Hanging around before and after youth group, he asked great questions, spoke of reading his Bible, and leaked joy from his face and smiles.
"I'm talking to my family's priest too," he told us one night. In our youth group, teens came from a variety of community churches and we welcomed them all. "He gave me a book to read," TJ said. "In it I found a hundred dollar bill!"
"Wow! What did you do?" I asked him, wondering about the situation.
"I told the priest and tried to give it back," he responded, "but he said I could have it."
Shaking my head, I grinned at this example of honesty from my teen. One hundred dollars is a lot of money for any of us.
"What do you think you'll do with the hundred dollars?"
"I don't know," he mused, and we talked of other things.
A week or two later, the sight of a blackened house on a familiar street rocked our town. Midnight flames scorched and ruined the family's home. Neighbors with one of our church members, we soon learned details of the occupant kids' ages and needs.
Calling our youth group families, we asked the teens to bring any extra toys or clothing on Wednesday night to share with this family. The generosity of our students astounded us. Bags and bags of animals, toys, dolls, and clothing were carted into our youth area.Towels, shampoos, and soaps arrived, and our piles grew taller.
After talking it over, and praying aloud for the unknown family whose home had burned down, our students decided to drop off the items anonymously, simply giving the credit to God's huge love. In scrawled marker and color crayons, we shared this.
And TJ? He quietly came up to us and opened his wallet. "I'd like them to have this," he said. In his hands was the hundred dollar bill.
Spilled joy. Spilled generosity.
And it gets me over and over again. This amazing Creator who spills lavish love and joy into us, and splashes out to others.
We love working with teens. They amaze us, teach us, and humble us. Think of us tonight, friends? We're headed to an all-night Lock In with our junior high. Pray for energy, stamina, and great times of connecting with our teens.
Linking too with Imperfect Prose.
Photo courtesy of Microsoft clip art.