May 7, 2008

Touching Base

2008 1513 page30 capis picture escaped the handful of photos I scanned—photos waiting to be arranged in their places of honor in my new “Precious Memories” album. So young, with such a vibrant smile. His black wavy hair and penetrating eyes portrayed the bold features of his Italian lineage. His features fairly leaped from the frame to remind me of the days when he would romp in my backyard with Tucker, my Labrador pup. I wonder where he is now? I mused.
I well remember the last place I located him—out on his own, living in an apartment, and just hanging on by an academic thread in college. We talked, and he asked me once again why it is that I keep tracking him down. He could not really comprehend my caring heart.
I first met him as a 13-year-old enrolled in a school for troubled students. He was “street-smart,” having lived in the heart of a big city. But his quick wit and charm did little to mask the little-boy need for someone’s love and care.
When he let his guard slip, his need for love presented itself in many ways, and my “mother’s heart” longed to step in and nurture him to well-being. He had been separated from his own mother when his parents divorced, and while his father loved him, his knowledge of how to effectively parent a teenager was limited.
2008 1513 page30The boy’s quick wit was matched by his equally quick temper, which flared up frequently and kept him in “hot water” with the school’s faculty. But in time he showed progress and learned some life-management skills. He was later transferred to a nearby school that provided opportunities to put his newly learned techniques to use. I watched as he struggled to maintain some semblance of balance. He was 15 then, and we would talk of his freedom to make choices and of his need to choose the positive rather than the negative aspects of life. But he couldn’t seem to dig out of his past.
Two years, two more schools, and a variety of group homes later I caught up with him again, now a ward of the state. We talked of choices he could make in his present situation, gave each other hugs and kisses, and went our separate ways. With a prayer in my heart that he would accept the love of his heavenly Father, I called him several times after that, until once again I was told he had been moved.
State facilities aren’t free to give forwarding addresses, so it was back to calling an elderly relative who had a new address. In contact once again, I assured him of my faith in his abilities and of my love.
So now, as I look again at his smiling face on the picture, I wonder how he is doing. A phone call to his grandmother, now very hard of hearing, results in my getting his new number. I call him and hear his now baritone-rich voice of 20 years exclaiming amazement that I have tracked him down yet again.
He brings me up-to-date on his recent marriage, his enlistment in the Marine Corps, and his soon departure to a war zone. He talks of “the best years of his life”—the years he lived at the school for troubled kids. He talks of our relationship and his appreciation of me and all the people who tried to help him. He talks of his fear of going into a war-torn area. I remind him of God’s love for him, as well as my own. He asks for my continued prayers. We say our goodbyes.
Soon I get a letter from him. He is in the Mediterranean on his way to where he has been deployed. He’s had some time for introspection and says he is thinking serious thoughts. He signs his letter “Love, your son.”
Through my tears I wonder if this might be the turning point in his life. Will he believe that Jesus wants to help him—even now? Especially now?
I’m not sure of the answers to those questions, but I do know that Jesus loves him—and I won’t stop telling him that. It’s what Jesus asks us to do. And the “mother” in me longs for him to recognize that love.
I’ll be “touching base” again.
Feryl Harris is director of the Women’s Ministries Department of the Mountain View Conference in Parkersburg, West Virginia.