About three weeks ago, a “normal” day at CGM proved to be anything but normal. I was making my rounds from one class to the next when I received a text message informing me that a student had been sent out of class for being disruptive and disrespectful. I returned to the lobby to discover that it was the same student that I had threatened to suspend the day before because of his bad behavior. I was livid. He would be suspended for sure today! I gathered the proper disciplinary form and prepared to call his parents. But first, he and I would have a talk. (I will call him “Billy”).
Billy slouched haphazardly in the lobby chair—his baseball cap turned sideways; his manner suggesting that he could not care less that he would be confronted by me for the second time in two days. I approached him and stood towering over him—serious and authoritative. I let him tell his side of the story and it solidified his guilt. “You will be suspended, Billy. Wait here until I fill out your paperwork.” I stormed back into the office to write up the details. As I was writing, the front door to the lobby opened and Billy’s mom entered. She had arrived (unexpected and unscheduled) to pick him up early.
An impromptu meeting was arranged. I told Billy to remove his cap, grab a chair, and join me and his mother in the office. There, I told the story of bad behavior from days ago until present—the fights, the near-fights, the lack of respect, the insubordination, and more. Billy’s mother cried as she listened. She implored her son to not squander the opportunities that Common Ground afforded him. “You know that we need this program, Billy. I am working and in night school. Where will you go if you get kicked out?” I was upset with Billy. I was sad for his mom as she dabbed her eyes with a napkin, now tear saturated, that I had given her earlier. She continued her pleas.
“What’s wrong with you? What more can I do. What more do you want from me? Tell me, Billy! What else can I give you?”
We turned our attention to Billy as he surprised us both by answering.
No way! Did that just happen? Only at the movies do you hear lines like that. But Billy was not acting. His cap, clinched tightly in his fists, was pressed hard up against his face—a face that revealed that he was vulnerable, embarrassed, and in need. I rushed to hold him in my arms. He was crying, his mother was crying, and I was crying. Through my sobs, I heard myself assuring Billy. “I will do better, son. I can be a father figure for you. Don’t cry.” We wept together and earnestly prayed in the office that evening. The disciplinary form was too damp with tears to write on. So Billy didn't get suspended. And no, he didn't get a father. But Billy got a promise—one I intend to keep.
This is one of many, many stories that we find ourselves in throughout the year. It is both heart-wrenching and a great privilege to walk along and bear with those in this community. Not because we are strong while they are weak, rather perhaps, because the more easily seen cracks in the exterior reveal how desperate we all are for help from a great savior.
We used this story in our End of the Year Letter for December 2014.