So...while my own two kids are away at summer camp, I decided to volunteer in the South Bronx this week. A House on Beekman, my favorite place on earth next to my own home, is doing a four week day camp for kids in the neighborhood. For free. Learning, encouragement, food, friends...elements that make a summer quite different for these kids. Instead of being inside, watching Sponge Bob and eating chips, or being outside on the streets, with no supervision, these kids are here. Chanting "G-R-E-E-N! with the others in their group, creating tree sculptures in craft class, making peanut butter and chocolate "buckeyes" in culinary arts, playing Capture the Flag for the first time. And I've had the honor of being a part of Week One.
Today, my favorite little nine-year-old buddy from Team Green, my assigned group, decided to slap me in the face. He was mad that I made him stay outside to talk after punching a kid for taking his spot in line. He seemed to understand that an apology was necessary, but when the other kid came out, instead of apologizing, he felt threatened. Afraid that he wouldn't get to taste the buckeyes along with his fellow team members. So, he did what he felt was the appropriate expression for his fear and anger. He slapped his leader.
I must admit, I was devastated. I've invested in this kid all week, turning circles and coming up with creative ways to redirect and cultivate goodness, holding his hand and saving him seats and being his biggest fan.
It broke my heart to call the "heavy" for the week to come and have an intervention. I felt like a traitor, even though I knew I had to address the out-of-bounds behavior. All that progress, wiped away in an instant with one spontaneous reaction, lashing out at who-knows-what, striking whoever happened to be in the line of fire in a moment of intense emotion.
He came back a half hour later, apologizing for what he did. I received hugs and assurances that it wouldn't happen again. He grinned the biggest smile I've ever seen when the culinary arts leader assured him that his buckeye was intact, ready for tasting.
And then, on the way to the next rotation, I received this. A kiss, right on the mouth. A sentence that brought more than one tear to my eyes. "I can't believe I hurt my beautiful Sloan. I love you."
And the worship song from the morning came back to me. The lyrics that so many of these kids need to hear, over and over and over again. "No mistake can change your mind." A beautiful reminder that our Heavenly Father loves us so completely, so hard, so perfectly, He will not give up on us. Even when we repeat the words heard at home in anger, trying to elicit a reaction from everyone in earshot. Even when we punch and step on toes and yell at the top of our lungs because someone cut in line or took the pencil we wanted. Even when we slap our favorite leader, because she just happened to be in the way when our heart got all twisted up inside.
And it's only by God's grace that I kissed him back, right on his sweaty, soft forehead and let him know that I love him, too. And I'll continue to love him, even when he runs away from me and I have to run faster than these middle-aged legs would like, just to constrain him and calm him down. I'll love him when he shouts in my face, and cries like a baby, for seemingly no reason at all. I'll love him when I want to leave the room and jump on the subway and ride to my peaceful, orderly home without looking back.
Because that's how I'm loved. No mistake can change your mind. And I make just as many, in my own way.
Here's to grace.