[Editor’s note: today’s post is an excerpt from ‘Jesus Loves You, This I Know’ by Craig Gross and Jason Harper. It was written by Jason.]
In 1995, when I was a youth pastor, a group of students gathered for a birthday party at a local swimming hole, a small lake. We had just finished a series of talks in the group on practicing inclusion, and to put some practical action in play, I challenged everyone to invite people to join them on the journey called life. They started with this informal swimming party.
By the end of the week, Jerrod had committed to go. Invited by Tommy and Mike, two brothers who were kind and loved by all, Jerrod felt safe to go. His involvement in our group to this point had been nominal at best. He was tall and lanky with stringy, dark hair. His parents were older and exceptionally smart, and he had inherited their intelligence.
Jerrod excelled at school. Advanced Placement courses with all “A”s made social connection in our group even more difficult. His asthmatic condition ruled out sports, so his social outlets were few. In our group, he was barely there. Yet Tommy and Mike were committed to getting Jerrod to connect, and the swimming party would be a great first step.
The parking lot at the swimming hole began to fill with high school and some college kids. Music pumped and the group of forty began to swim and jump off the floating pontoon that made the lake a favorite social place. Even Jerrod laid out a towel and flirted with getting into the water.
After a half-hour of prompting, he waded in. No one commented on his ghostly white legs and farmer-tanned arms; they were just glad he was there. Finally, in a courageous lunge, Jerrod dog paddled out to the floating island and some of the students helped him climb out of the water. The swim platform was warmed from the afternoon sun. Jerrod laughed. Others laughed with him and had to remind him to take his swim goggles off his eyes while standing atop the pontoon.
After nearly an hour, some of those who had brought the food and birthday cake came out of the small lake house and hollered to the swimmers to come on up and get some cake. One after another, the confident leaped in. Horse play ensured on the way to the shore. Yet still standing on the pontoon was Jerrod.
As the beach quickly cleared, Jerrod’s towel was the only one left. He had been forgotten. Nobody remembers him calling out. Not one person remembers seeing him singing happy birthday. I imagine that he did not want to seem high maintenance; after all this was his first time out.
The partygoers finished off the cake. Others laughed and joked. Soon the mess was cleaned up and one by one the parking lot emptied. No one remembered or took note that Jerrod’s car was still there. Had anyone looked down on the beach they would have seen his towel was still laid out nicely; meticulous and without a wrinkle. That is how he left it.
Near midnight, my pager went off with a 911 code. I quickly called into the church system and heard the voice of a calm and concerned mother.
“Hello, this is Jerrod’s mom. He has yet to come home from the swim party. Maybe he forgot to call. Please call me if he is with you.” Hearing his mom’s voice on the phone, I quickly began to construct my thoughts. I figured he had left the party with one of his new friends.
Within an hour I had gotten ready, picked up one of my youth leaders, and headed out to Jerrod’s house. He lived in a beautiful home with his folks only two or three miles from the party. As I walked in to their home, concern gripped me. Mom’s calm had moved from patience to panic. It was after midnight.
The only thing I could think to do is call the police and then head over to the swimming hole. His dad offered to go so the two of loaded into my car and drove the short distance.
It was ominous to say the least. My headlights reflected off the lake. A warm humid mist hovered over the water. It seemed like a movie. In moments, it became a horror movie.
Scurrying ahead of his dad, I asked him to go look near the building, to see if Jerrod had left a note. I knew there wouldn’t be one, but I didn’t want his dad to go down to the lake’s edge with me. What if Jerrod was laying there? What if his body was floating? Every worst-case scenario sprinted through my mind.
(to be continued)
Jesus Loves The Forgotten – Jerrod’s Story (Part 1) by XXXchurch.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.