Friday, September 20, 2013
Taylored Expressions’ Share Joy campaign is bringing joy and encouragement to thousands of people through the donation of handmade greeting cards to various charities and organizations. Our current focus is on providing birthday cards to charities that serve homeless youth and adults. Below is an article written by Taylored Expressions Co-Owner and CEO, Jon VanBruggen.
He was skeptical from the day I met him. A different bed. A different school. A different man saying he cared. Jeremiah had been down this road before and he wasn’t about to be fooled again.
When I first saw Jeremiah he looked like a normal 8 year old: curly short hair, big brown eyes, and a bright white smile that stretched from ear to ear. He loved to offer his two cents on everything, even though he didn’t have two cents to his name. Having spent the better part of his short life moving from city to city with his mother and brothers, he learned to hold things loosely, particularly possessions and people. And by this point in his journey Jeremiah had developed a keen sixth sense for liars.
Having just graduated from seminary, I was in my third week of working for Union Rescue Mission and had shown up everyday at the same time, ready (or so I naively thought) for what the day would hold. As a Youth Assistant, my role was to develop and implement activities that promoted health and wholeness in the youth we served. The primary tool I used was that of modeling a healthy lifestyle (physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and socially). This meant spending eight, ten, even twelve hours a day with kids in either one-on-one or group settings.
So here we stood, Jeremiah and I, on the sidewalk to his apartment.
My consistency was quite curious to Jeremiah. He had seen it before from other men, but not for more than a week or two. I knew he had a question for me and I wanted to give him the space and permission to ask. So we just stood there in silence with the warm California sun beating down on our heads.
One minute passed…then two…then five. It was as if his heart and mind were two wrestlers grappling with each other. One wrestler, his heart, sensed something different in this guy he stood with. He couldn’t articulate it. It just felt different. The other wrestler fought back with statistics. How many of the previous men said they cared? All of them. How many of those guys are still around? None. On and on they fought with neither wrestler giving an inch.
Finally, after nearly ten minutes of silence, Jeremiah spoke. The question came out of his heart as much as it did his mouth.
“Why do you show up ‘round here everyday?”
Ahh, there it was. In all it’s 8 year-old splendor. Jeremiah needed to know why I was there and he needed to know now. There was no going home until he had an answer.
And what was my answer? It began with me turning toward Jeremiah, kneeling down on one knee, and looking straight into his pleading eyes.
“Jeremiah, I show up everyday to remind you that you’re not alone, that you are loved and cared for, and that you matter in this world. There are a lot of other people, people you have never met, who care about you too. They and I care about your future and want you to live the best life possible. I show up everyday to represent those who want to be here but can’t. And quite frankly,
there’s no other place I’d rather be.”
We stared at each other, and then with a couple blinks, Jeremiah turned and started the slow ascent toward home. I trailed him by several paces watching him shuffle his untied high-tops up the sidewalk. As we neared his apartment he stopped just 2 feet from the door. With a big smile he turned his head and shouted over his shoulder, “Then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow!”
And that was it. Our conversation ended there. Never again did Jeremiah ask why I kept showing up to hang out with him.
Over the next several months we continued to bond through the ups and downs of living a life on the mend. During this time we celebrated his 9th birthday, for which I gave him a card Taylor had made. I remember him tearing open the envelope and quickly looking inside to see if there was money or a gift card. To his dismay, there was neither, so he set it aside.
Then one day, without warning or reason, Jeremiah’s mother suddenly decided it was time for them to move on. So in a flurry they packed up their few belongings into two duffle bags and a box and headed down the hill from their apartment toward the bus stop. Up until then, I still wasn’t sure if the words I shared with Jeremiah on that warm summer day made any kind of real impact on him.
Given the abruptness of their departure, I didn’t have time to prepare a farewell gift for them. But, as Jeremiah walked past me for one last inescapable hug, I peered into the top of the box he was carrying and saw something better than any gift I could have handed him that day. On top of his Gameboy, there laid the card I had given him for his birthday several months earlier.
I can’t remember the sentiment I wrote in his card, but seeing that card leave with Jeremiah told me that deep down in his soul he knew he wasn’t alone; that wherever he went, there was someone, in fact a whole lot of someones, who loved him and cared about him. Who knew that a simple birthday card could communicate such a powerful truth?
Apparently Jeremiah did.