This past Sunday afternoon, my parents, brothers, and I all went to a graduation party. A girl that my family has grown close to through Awana camp graduated, and we wanted to go support her and enjoy the time.  A lot of our other friends were there, and it was just a really fun time.

One of the other families that was there was one we’d originally met back in 2006. I had met the husband and one or two of the kids then, when he was my co-captain for our team of Awana kids. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to talk with him and his wife for a little while. I’d never met her before, and she seemed quiet.

The day before the graduation open house, I’d sent this man a “happy birthday” post on facebook… nothing major, just the usual message that I write for birthdays on there. But he mentioned that to me several times on Sunday. Probably 4 or 5 times. He was so excited about it. I never knew it meant that much. Never underestimate the power of a kind word, no matter how small a deal it seems.

At camp in 2006, when we first met this man, he seemed kind of not all present. That sounds bad, but it’s the way he came across. He seemed like, if he were a kid, he’d be the last one chosen for the team. Like he didn’t quite fit in. Even as an adult, as one of the counselors. He seemed like somebody you talked with because he’d started a conversation with you, but you didn’t really know what to say, how to respond to him. He seemed like an outcast. As much as everyone tried to ignore that fact and make him a part, make sure to include him, if I am completely honest about it, that’s the way he struck me.

Now here we are, 6 years later. I don’t think I’d seen him at all since ’06 at camp. In fact, I’m fairly certain I hadn’t. My perception of him really hadn’t changed in all that time, but I hadn’t come in contact with him to have any kind of basis for it changing either. Over the past 6 years, whenever he was mentioned in conversations about camp (past camp years and planning for this year alike), he was always paired with a comment. Not any specific comment, but just something along the lines of not knowing what role to give him at camp, not wanting to let him be a counselor, thinking he’s too strict, etc. Along the lines of the fact that he wants so badly to be deeply involved, but everybody basically thinks he needs an “unimportant” role. What it always seemed to boil down to, and I say this because of the look on everybody’s faces and the tone in their voices whenever discussion turned to him, was the way that he just doesn’t fit in. It’s a reaction, however unconscious it may be in some cases, that I have seen in every single person I’ve ever heard mention his name. And sadly, I have to honestly say that includes myself. I hate that it does. I absolutely hate it. And I don’t say that I hate too much.

This past Sunday, as I stood talking with this man and his wife for a good little while, something changed in my heart. It was not immediate, but I pray that it’s permanent… and that it carries over into my perception of others as well.

As we talked together, I began to actually get to know him and his wife. I saw the excitement in his face as he thanked me for the birthday wishes and told everyone that I’d sent him a “happy birthday” message on facebook. I saw his desire to keep a positive attitude about his job, even though I know it’s very emotionally stressful for him working at a prison, and the schedule is physically stressful. I became aware ~ very aware ~ of their need for a friend, their need for love, their need for conversation and a listening ear. For someone to simply accept them. As they are. For someone to love them and to call them friends, not just to be a friend to them. Because there is a huge difference.

I realized the depth of their need for God’s sweet compassion. Not someone to feel sorry for them because they seem simple, but someone to simply love them. To draw them in, draw them close. To see just how deeply precious they truly are.

I saw in their smiles hearts that have been hurt, that have known great pain. And as hard as I know their son’s suicide was on them, as huge as that pain and that impact are, I am certain the pain and quiet hurting is not from that alone. The pain I saw in their smiles was a long time in the making. I am convinced it’s also caused by the way they’ve been treated throughout the course of time. As much as people have tried to include them, to make them welcome and a part, I am so completely certain that they know how others see them and think of them.

Nobody deserves that.

And as I spent time with them on Sunday, something changed in my heart. I know it was completely a God thing, because I could never change my heart on my own, without Him and His urging and transformation. I had never meant to look at them as misfits, but.. it just sort of.. happened. I don’t think anybody has meant to. But that doesn’t make it right or okay.

The change in my heart was so refreshing, and I have thought back to that point on Sunday countless times throughout the past few days since then.

I so honestly enjoyed spending that time with this man and his wife. I enjoyed talking with them and getting to know them a little better. I wish I could better describe what took place inside my heart… but words fail. I think Frank Peretti said it best:

“People are precious, and sometimes we forget that. They’re precious because God made them, and they need friends, they need love. Jesus never teased or hurt anyone, but He loved everybody, even the little and dumb and fat and ugly and weird, and, well, if we all lived like that, then maybe terrible things like we’ve just seen wouldn’t happen.” (from Hangman’s Curse.. I’m not sure all the punctuation, etc is exact, but I’m going from memory..)

I don’t want to forget.

It breaks my heart how we treat others. I don’t want anybody anywhere to ever feel or think that they are unloved or unwanted or unlovely. Or that they just don’t fit. Or that they’re not good enough.. or simply not enough.

This afternoon I went to a wedding where there should have been an additional girl standing on the stage as a bridesmaid… she so should have been there… but she wasn’t. She wasn’t there because I think that she felt unloved.. unlovely.. and that she was not enough. And it made my heart ache terribly, more than I can say, as I watched her sister get married without this sweet girl there.

My prayer is that I will personally keep hold of ~ and live out ~ this transformation and that it will catch flame and spread to others.

I’m not sure exactly what brought it about right now ~ if it would have happened the same way had I come back in contact with them at an earlier time, or if it has sprung from the fairly recent awakening in me of the extent of God’s compassion for the unloved, unlovely, unlovable. With so much of my heart in Nicaragua, I’ve been aware and experiencing His compassion for others for quite a while… but not like this. I feel like He has shown me His compassion ~ or rather, opened my eyes to it ~ in huge new, broader ways than I’d ever imagined. So much in these last few months. There is nothing like it. There is no going back. There can’t be.

I am so so so thankful for the opportunity to go to that party last weekend, and that this man and his family were there also, and that his birthday had been the day before so he had that to start a conversation on multiple occasions. I am so thankful that my God is so patient with me as I learn and relearn what He wants to teach me. I am so thankful for His compassion for us all and that He loves us enough to teach us hard lessons, to make us take long, hard, honest, and sometimes quite uncomfortable looks deep into our own hearts.