Last summer, we welcomed a young man named Rob into our home. He'd lost his job, his apartment and had been living in a friend's truck for weeks.
It wasn't even an option. We love Rob. He's a tall, thin, hipster with a shaved head, thick gauges in his ears, tattoos covering his body and a flare for the self-destructive. But if you take the time to look past the crusty exterior and often hostile attitude, there is a quality to this young man; a vulnerability that is endearing.
He usually has something funny to say, is always willing to make funny faces at the kids, be their jungle gym and make them laugh with his seemingly endless ability to burp. Even the dog loves him as he has the perfect length of legs for her to sprawl out on them from head to toe and is always willing to scratch her butt.
My husband met him through a church men's group which Rob was only attending as a condition of being allowed to live in his parent's basement for a few weeks. My husband liked him immediately and soon, Rob was at our house every weekend, watching Steelers games and eating us out of house and home.
I love him but our relationship is confusing. Part of me sees him as a friend and the other part of me sees him as a son; an association that often requires me to dole out heaping doses of tough love and in the process, have my heart broken.
The truth is that under all of those calluses life has given him, there is an amazing person. He is loyal, loving, silly and stuffed with oodles of potential. Most people stop seeing that potential when he quits yet another job or borrows money and never pays it back or calls them hateful names.
He lived with us for a few weeks and during that time, I learned how much pain he'd endured during his life. The question then was not, "why is Rob so screwed up," but, "how is this young man still alive?" I learned that in a way, he and I are not so different. We both project anger as a defense mechanism.
It made me lenient on his often miserably moods. He is prone to a raging and fiery depression that spread through our house like smoke. It choked ever last drop of joy from the air and it often felt like a struggle to love him but we perservered.
The reason we can't quit him is because my husband and I both know the power of redemption, that at some point in our lives we were saved by someone willing to look hard enough to see our potential and give us a shot.
For me, it was the dentist's wife whose house my mother cleaned. She saw a spark of intelligence and offered me a college scholarship that helped me earn a degree. For my husband, it was the man who gave him a job he wasn't qualified for; a job that catapulted him into a lucrative career. Those people changed our lives.
And maybe we don't have much to offer Rob except for a place that he can always call home; a place where we will always welcome, always love and never judge. But there is a part of me that keeps saying to stick with it, that he's going to turn out succesffully but only with our support and us telling him that he can make it.
He came "home" last week after being away for over six months. I didn't know how much I'd missed him until he showed up at our door. I couldn't stop smiling. He brought with him a young woman who he really likes.
We're only ten years older than them but the whole situation felt very "meet the parents." She was delightful; smart, funny, charming. Where he is impulsive and emotional and neurotic, she is responsible, calm and pragmatic. They are a perfect pair. Rob has changed. He's calm and relaxed and probably the happiest I've ever seen him. I couldn't get over how much taller he seemed. He usually crushes my face into his chest but this time I felt like he was squeezing me into his belly. Honestly, I think he seems taller because he's standing up high, proud of what he's achieved over the last year; a new job, a new place to live, a lovely girlfriend but more importantly, happiness.
I couldn't have been a prouder "mama." I know that Rob still has a lot of growing to do but what a pleasure it is to see him on the right course. The heartache was worth it because it's rewarding to go through the ups and downs and see someone come out on top.
We all have some crustiness about us. In our attempt to deal with what life has handed us we often do things that hurt the people around us. We are all in need of having someone in our lives that can see past all of it and focus on that glimmer of hope and potential inside.
The definition of the word invest says, "to devote one's time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result. We did just that and Rob was definitely worth the investment. We all are!