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when being present is all you can offer

BY Cornelius "CJ" Jackson

Something in her eyes betrayed the frown on her face. Yes, the young eight year-old girl who had just exited the Common Ground Montgomery van was snarling — appearing to be angry and defiant. But sadness in her eyes told a different story. As she made her way to the gymnasium where other energetic kids were running around and playing, it was apparent that she was in no mood for fun. My first thought — she got in trouble on the van ride to the CGM campus. Or maybe some kids were picking at her and she was upset.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?” I asked.

“Nothing!!!”

The sharp reply did not originate from the pouting lips in front of me. Instead, an older girl had closed the distance between me and the young girl, running up from behind her and draping her arm around her shoulders; comforting her, protecting her. They were sisters.

Again, I inquired, “What’s going on?”

The small child’s mouth moved, but the words were inaudible. I stooped down in front of her—my face mere inches from hers. I could see her eyes tearing up quickly; big tears streaming down her round cheeks, splattering the front of her uniform shirt. She repeated her sentence, and I made out what she’d previously exclaimed: “I want my daddy!

Oh... I see.

This is common, familiar; children have bad days and want to call home. They don’t want to be anywhere but in the arms of their mom or on the laps of their dad.

“Maybe we can call your dad. Will that make you feel better?”

More tears - big sadness in her eyes - more tears.

“Our daddy is dead,” said the older sister, the protector.

And then I remembered. It was a few months back, he was murdered in Gibbs Village.

Man — I feel so stupid.

“Come here!” I call out. And I take them both into my arms and try to comfort them — my mind racing, thinking, imagining how a little girl must attempt to process such big pain. How could I focus on a test if death was my distraction? What would my public mood be like if melancholy was my personal acquaintance?

“I got you, baby girl… I got you!”  

2 Corinthians 1:3-4   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

I do thank God for the privilege and the opportunity that CGM gives me to just be present, to be available — even if that is all I can offer.

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UPDATE: In editing, an incorrect scripture reference was cited in the emailed newsletter and PDF. The current PDF available for viewing and download has been corrected.

a story from c.j.

Cornelius "CJ" Jackson

Cornelius "CJ" Jackson

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.

Providence! 

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.

“...A father!”  

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.