You Can Eat With Me...If You Want
The first time a group of Grace and Main folks set up a party in our local park, Chad showed up after about an hour asking questions about precisely who was allowed to have a hot dog. We let him know that we wanted to share them with whoever wanted them and he nodded slowly, as if considering this new information carefully. As if he was passing this tiny act of grace through the filter of his own experience and wondering what the catch was. After all, we learned that Chad didn’t have very many reasons to trust others.
Chad’s father left him and his mother alone. He lives in a rented room with his mother in a dilapidated home with more than a dozen other people and only a few bathrooms—private space is at a premium and a teenager has little claim to it. His mother is an addict who cares deeply for him and his well-being but is often overwhelmed by the chains of her addiction. He has learned to expect an occasional church group bringing gifts around Christmas or tracts from door to door. In short, Chad had plenty of reasons to doubt everything we were saying. But, he took another chance, cocked one eyebrow, and said, “I want one.” After lunch, he took turns throwing the Frisbee and the football and promising big hits—Babe Ruth style—with whiffle ball bat in hand. Thus, in that nonchalant and unassuming way, we began to build a relationship with a young man in need of redeeming love and grace.
Sure enough he became a fixture in that park anytime we happened to be around, which was regularly. He learned our names and which of us could throw the football far enough for him to catch a “long bomb.” This young man who had every reason not to trust us or expect to see us, helped us welcome youth groups and Passport campers to his park and neighborhood each time we gathered in the park to learn how better to love our neighbors. He started bringing his friends to play and very slowly started telling us some of his own struggling story. In short, as we tried to learn how best to love him, Chad was learning how best to love us and be loved by us. He didn’t need to be told how to do it—sometimes “kids” just get it.
After meeting his mother several times and involving her in the planning and supervision of several of our events in the park, Chad began asking if he could come to our Thursday night dinner. That’s how we ended up with a table full of children from our local neighborhood and Chad by my elbow, chalice in hand, as I raised the bread in the air and proclaimed, “That which I give to you is that which I also received…that on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and broke it saying, ‘Take, eat. This is my body broken for you.”
Chad started asking Matt, one of our leaders, to come pick him up on Thursday when he went to pick people up for dinner. Off they go every Thursday, Matt driving and Chad in the passenger seat, greeting each one of our beloved homeless, near-homeless, poor, and addicted brothers and sisters who need a little help making it to our weekly, open, community meal. He’s also the last one to be dropped off every night after he’s helped Matt drop off each of his friends, as well.
One night, as Chad hopped out of the car he stopped and turned to Matt and invited him to do something holy and blessed. He said, with a casual nature that belied the big leap of faith it took for him to say, “You can come eat with me…if you want.” Matt asked Chad to explain what he meant and Chad said that he thought it would be cool if Matt wanted to come to school and eat lunch with him one day. Matt agreed to do so, and after getting the “all clear” from Chad’s mom, he brought some lunch with him and learned even better how to love our young brother. Though Chad had been having some serious troubles in school, and he still is in some of his subjects, we saw something glorious on his last report card: one big “A.” Chad is a smart young man and has a big, big heart. He took a chance on us in the park and gave us a gift quite unlike any other: the gift of trust and faith.