I first met Junior while walking one night around the cafeteria at his children’s home. I noticed him up ahead, quietly drawing. I was fascinated by his face. He didn’t know I was there, and he looked relaxed, peaceful. He was leaning against the wall, in his ripped jeans and heavy sweatshirt, lost in his notebook. I guess I could feel guilty about spying on him, but I couldn’t tear myself away. A noise made him stop, and he shoved his drawing in his backpack. No one saw you, I said silently, as he stood up and his old, bored look returned again. Your secret is safe with me.
“What am I going to do?”
It was July, and Junior’s junior high graduation. It was time to make a decision about his future. I wish I knew then what I know now. But I didn’t, so we sat back during this season and watched him flounder in self-discovery.
“I could leave, and get a job. Or, I can go to a technical school…?”
He stood in my kitchen, “Everyone is telling me I should go to work in a factory and earn money. Then I could help my family out. I am not sure what to do. I want to enroll at a vocational tech high school,” Junior continued, looking away. “I found a school where I think I could do ok.”
While some of the other boys in his class were our first students to consider a college preparatory high school program, Isaac climbed on his bus every day and shuffled off to classes that satisfied other people’s expectations for his life, but not his own. It seemed like the ‘right thing’ for a boy with his background, to get a practical skill, but it didn’t energize him.
This is how he moved along for the next couple of years.
“It’s nearing your graduation, Junior, and we are so proud of you. What are you thinking about next?” I started in one day, two years later. “What do you want to do now with your skills?”
He didn’t answer for a long while, finally he sarcastically laughed,
“Nothing. What do I want to do? Draw. That’s all I have ever wanted. I love commercials, and cartoons. I like ads and film and design.”
His voice sounded animated. “Is there somewhere I can go and study that? That’s what I want to do.”
I wanted to hug him for being honest with himself and slug him for waiting until the week of graduation to admit it.
“Sure there is a place to study that, but first, you would have to go to a college prep high school. That’s the track you didn’t choose two years ago. To do that now would mean going into a classroom with 15 year olds, and you will be 18 this summer. You’d have to finish high school, then add a four-year college degree on top of that. I am glad you know now what you want, but it’s a big decision.” I looked at him pleadingly, and then plunged ahead, “Do you want it? You have to want it enough that when it’s hard, you do it anyway. It will take tremendous energy to change your study habits, your expectation of yourself, your capacity to meet new people and be in new environments.”
I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to say all that, I knew it sounded like a threat. “Do you want the big change (the future, a job you love) enough to start with all these daily little changes?”
His big, brown eyes looked so vulnerable. “Yes.”
Junior changed tremendously from the time I first met him. I wonder if change is not becoming more of someone you’ve never been, but instead reversing the world’s impact on who God made you to be.
For Junior, he purposely walked into a situation where he had to prove over and again he deserved to be there. Every time he faced a challenge, (a deadline, a hard professor, a snotty group partner, less money than he wanted for materials) he had a choice to keep at it or quit. Choosing to stay daily built in him confidence where fear had resided.
He demonstrated his growing health the day he enrolled for a graphic design college program. He was saying aloud he had a gift and was willing to learn how to share it. That was a far cry from the boy hiding behind the building with his notebook.
“I have several choices of colleges, can we talk them over?” he was sitting in our living room, with brochures surrounding him.
“There are small community colleges, traditional universities, and of course, the prestigious CEDIM University. It’s world renown for its design program, you know.” What his mouth wasn’t admitting, his eyes confessed. The old Junior would have settled for the program he could finish under the radar. The maturing, changing, engaging Junior looked ready for yet another risk.
His faith carried him to the hardest of all options and saw him through as a CEDIM graduate four years later.
After his college graduation, Junior worked for years, being promoted and traveling for his company. He would come and see us, pulling in with a new car, or showing off what he was working on. We were proud of who he had become and the way he was learning to navigate his relationships and work responsibilities.
“Beth, I need you to get to know her. She is the one.” His eyes sparkled. There was something about the way he talked about this girl that seemed different than anyone else he’d mentioned or brought around in the past. After meeting her on several occasions, I, too, became convinced. Junior was in love and ready to share his life. It was time for another step forward, he already knew how to keep his promise, make a commitment and work through challenges. I knew he was ready for a lifetime covenant.
I flew to Monterrey the day after Thanksgiving, 2016. Junior had chosen our wedding anniversary to marry his bride and wild horses couldn’t have kept me away. As I climbed out of the car and ran to where he was standing in the yard, I hugged him as hard as I had ever remembered doing.
“You came,” he whispered. In response, I stood on my tiptoes and kissed his forehead.
While the bride was being attended by Rosa Porto, Junior’s houseparent while in the Hope Program, I stood around with him, waiting for the outdoor ceremony to begin.
He handed me his boutonniere to pin on his jacket and I could see his hands were shaking.
“You’ve got this,” I assured him. “Like all the other steps you’ve taken before, you know this will be hard, but good. You have proven to yourself and all the rest of us watching, when you want something, you are willing to do what it takes. There will be challenges, but you are one of the most resilient, amazing men I know.”
His hand stilled and his breathing slowed down.
“Tienes razon.” (You are right.) he whispered to me and then made a silly face. “I got this.”
“You’ve got this,” I assured him. “Like all the other steps you’ve taken before, you know this will be hard, but good.”