“Coming Home” is such a cliché. Remember in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks describes how he loved his deceased wife (I know his words by heart): “It was like coming home. Only to, to no home I’d ever known before….I was just reaching out to take her hand…”
Ahhh. Sleepless in Seattle. I will not blame an overused metaphor on you. You are as delicious as dark chocolate and decaf black tea with milk.
No. Coming home became a cliché the same way that ever other cliché came to exist…because at its core, it’s true. Call me sentimental. It’s ok. I’ve spent the sweetest five days back in the western suburbs of Philadelphia and my days have been full, not simply of people I love. My days have been full of welcome. I’ve felt drawn in. I hope you knew that feeling as a seventeen year old, pulling into the driveway after a long after-school practice. It’s dark and there in the front window, you see the glow of your lit kitchen, where your mom has dinner waiting for you.
I feel that way here. I feel like I haven’t been forgotten. I feel like the light has been left on and dinner is waiting.
I spent last night with forty high school kids in a basement, where we sang classics like “Build Me Up Buttercup,” played an energizing round of “Girls Wrestle for Guys” (it’s as funny to watch as it sounds), and listened to a sixteen year old friend of mine share her story of finding faith in Jesus despite the struggle it’s been for her to live that out. Four years ago, when the juniors I shared ice cream with last night were eighth graders, I showed up awkwardly at softball games, ran the after school creative writing club at the middle school, cheered for kids who didn’t know me at the eighth grade play. When they were freshmen and I was pregnant with August, I puked in the parking lot after the girls hockey game, arrived at that high school day after day to support sporting events with a self-conscious smile, and constantly worried that I looked like a teen pregnancy case while standing outside with kids.
Building Young Life at Radnor High School was difficult. I cried a lot. I threw up a lot (at least for one trimester). I prayed a lot.
I miss those kids. And tonight, as I sat among them for the first time in one year, half the faces in the room were new to me. I felt like a mom. I didn’t feel like one in the sense that I usually do: nurturing and disciplining, feeding and grooming. I felt like a mom in the way that a mother must feel when her son graduates from high school, when he kisses her on the cheek and whispers some grateful truth, just in time to remind her that she didn’t fail in raising him after all.
The process of building this ministry from nothing has always been a communal project: my friends Cat and Josh gave away most of their college free time, parents prayed, people gave financially. It’s felt like parenthood: the dailyness of sacrifice with no guarantee of good results. Heartbreak. Wonder. Hope.
Last night, Cliff, one of Radnor’s newest college-aged volunteer leaders whom I’d never met till we shared lasagna before Young Life club, told a room full of disillusioned, unsatisfied kids that there is a God who is has left that light glowing in the kitchen, a God who has never been satisfied simply waiting. He shared the story of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament, whose father waits day after day for the return of his broken, rebellious child. And when his son was still “a long way off,” he threw aside all sense of self-restraint and ran to welcome his son.
The basement of kids shuffled out and into cars and drove a mile to the nearest pizza shop. I ordered a milk shake and fluttered from table to table, sometimes touching a girl’s hair, sometimes laughing at a joke I already knew, sometimes discussing their crazy teachers and their coming summers. Part of me felt like I’d been here all along.