“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” ~1 Peter 2:9
Alivia and I walked back to the Olson house hand in hand. Our sweet moment together had lifted my spirits significantly, but the situation still weighed on my shoulders. While I appreciated them for taking me in and everything, I had a sudden desire for my family.
It surprised me, since I’ve never experienced a feeling like that very often in my life. While it was completely foreign, it was also familiar. All those times my parents didn’t show up for things or they didn’t help me out-- that feeling was there. That I knew I needed them and wanted them to want to be there.
That evening when I watched Mrs. Olson roll her husband into the living room, I realized I wanted my parents to be loving like that. I wanted to have a good, God-built relationship with them, but I didn’t know how. The want in me burned so much it hurt.
I shifted my weight on the cushions of the couch as the pair of them came in to start watching TV with us. Mr. Olson looked contently at Sawyer, Alivia, and I, like it was normal for some kid just to show up at their house. It struck me that none of them made me staying there all that odd or even awkward. I was just one of them and that was that. It was that was from the beginning, never missing a beat to make me feel like this was my home.
I glanced at the family. All of them had smiles on their faces, making the occasional comment about the show. Alivia sat beside her father on the floor as he stroked her hair. Mrs. Olson was beaming at Sawyer as he talked as if he had just won a gold medal.
When he was finished explaining, his mother hugged him with an excited grin. I wondered why my family hadn’t turned out like this, and it hurt. It wasn’t anyone’s fault we weren’t like them it just... Was what it was.
“Hey thank you,” I said in a moment of silence. They all turned toward me and I smiled. “Thanks for doing all of this for me.”
“Why wouldn’t we, dear?” Mrs. Olson asked, tucking a red curl behind her ear.
“I mean, I’m just some random kid Sawyer brought home one day,” I joked, which got Sawyer laughing.
“We’re all about picking up random kids, aren’t we?” Mr. Olson teased, winking at his wife.
“At least we scored one son,” Mrs. Olson replied, squeezing Sawyer’s shoulder. He grinned.
“If we didn’t pick up random kids, I wouldn’t have a brother,” Alivia jumped in.
“Or a boyfriend,” Sawyer commented, nodding at me. Immediately she began blushing, muttering something under her smile.
“I’ll take that role,” I said, laughing.
“In all seriousness though, I didn’t mind picking you up when you were walking home that day,” Sawyer said, shrugging.
“Why?” I asked. “Why me?”
The family exchanged looks, like they shared some terrific inside joke I never picked up on.
“Because I was a random kid too,” Sawyer told me, smiling a bit.
“What do you mean?”
“Sawyer is our foster son,” Mr. Olson revealed, sounding proud. “He was young and we basically found him alone. So we invited him to stay with us. One thing lead to another and here we are, a family.”
“How come I never knew that?” I asked, smiling at the story.
“Never came up,” Sawyer answered, grinning. “They saved my life is what they did. Physically and spiritually. When I saw you walking home from the movies that day, I saw myself.”
I mulled this over in my mind, looking at each one of them thoughtfully. All of them seemed content with the decisions they made. Even if I wasn’t a part of this family, I was still there. By God’s grace to lead a lost guy like me, I was there.
“Thank the great God above you people have a thing for picking up strangers,” I finally said. All of us bursted into laughter.
And the truly funny thing was, it was a legitimate thing to be thankful for.
  
That night before we were about to hit the hay, Sawyer and I went down to his bedroom.
Between the two of us, I think we both knew that at some point, we should start studying again together, even if we already went through one of the Gospels. I didn’t really know about the rest of the Bible though, and without one to study with, I couldn’t really look into it. He grinned at me as we reached his room, a familiar light in his eyes.
“Are we studying again?” I asked hopefully.
“That’s the plan. Want to?”
“Definitely,” I answered, sitting on the floor beside his bed.
Grinning, he walked over to his desk and pulled out a large book, much like the one he had. He handed to me and I gently took it, running my fingers over the cover.
“I meant to give this to you a couple weeks ago, but I forgot, sorry,” he explained, settling beside me. “It’s a study Bible.”
“Sweet,” I said, smiling genuinely. I opened it up and started thumbing though it. Maps and footnotes were all over the place, explaining things that might be confusing. The ribbon held the spot of Mark, so I went there. An envelope was stuck between the pages.
“That’s just for when you need some encouragement. They’re notes from our youth group,” he pointed out, nodding at it.
“This is great!” I exclaimed, excited to begin diving into God’s word again. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome Tin.”
“So what are we reading next?”
“The stunning sequel to the Gospels,” Sawyer started in a low, announcer voice. “From the author of the stunning book of Luke comes a shocking continuation--”
We both broke off in laughter as he started flipping to the next book in his own Bible. I tried to lean over to see where he was going, but he yanked his Bible away from view. I rolled my eyes playful and sat back against the bed.
“Something never seen before by Tin Tin Amble. A huge part of the New Testament--”
“We only have a couple hours for this,” I joked.
“Okay, okay. This book also talks about patience,” he said sarcastically.
I sighed and he chuckled.
“None other than the book of Acts.”
  
We stayed up later than we should’ve.
Neither of us really cared though. A majority of the time was spent studying what we meant to. Eventually we finished and got off topic as normal teenagers would’ve. It felt like I was more dedicated whenever I studied the Bible. Hearing about the beginning of what the apostles had to go through helped me put my life in perspective.
While life wasn’t the grandest at the moment, God still held true to His promises of loving us. Just like He gave them the Holy Spirit, He’d give us grace for our wrongdoings.
The school day was dragging by, forcing me to actually learn something. Even if it only happened several days ago, me being thrown out of my house seemed very disconnected from who I was. I was hardly home anyway, the shock of it all had drained me. I still couldn’t sleep well, Dad’s rage haunting my dreams. My family was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing when I was falling asleep.
I couldn’t shake the uneasiness of seeing Pearl at school. Each day she looked more exhausted than the last, like she had fretted over my fate for the past week. She seemed more troubled about the situation than I was.
However, I had found a secure source of comfort, and she was still living at home, not knowing the peace of mind that could come if she just let Christ in. I reminded myself change takes time. I didn’t accept it over night, so why was I expecting her to?
As I was contemplating how my life had changed in the past week in English class, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I nearly jumped out of my seat, mostly because I was half asleep, but also because I saw who was calling. Quickly, I denied the call to shut off the buzzing noise, then made my escape to the bathroom without question.
I began to panic as I locked myself in the stall. For a moment, I thought about what I was going to do and how I should go about this. I didn’t know what they wanted, it couldn’t be that bad. Or maybe it was, especially if they were calling me during school. I called her back before I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Mom?” I breathed quietly, leaning against the stall door. I listened to someone flush the toilet in the stall beside mine.
“Fletcher, oh my son,” she cried through the phone, sounding relieved.
“Hey, yeah it’s me,” I said, cringing that I sounded so casual. “Are you okay? What’s been happening? Is there anything I can--”
“Please come home,” she pleaded me.
“O-okay?” I stammered, shifting my weight on my feet.
“I convinced your dad to let you. We need you back here, all of us miss you,” she said.
“I’ll come tonight,” I said, smiling to myself. She wanted me back. “I promise.”
“I am so sorry for everything. Pearl and I... We had a discussion about how things have been. I never knew you two didn’t feel cared for by me and your father, I am so sorry--”
“No Mom,” I interrupted, my heart pounding in my chest. “It’s okay. I should’ve told you earlier. But I was just so angry with everything, I didn’t think anyone cared.”
“I care sweetheart, I really do,” she told me, sounding desperate for me to understand. It broke my heart a little, actually.
“I... I believe you,” I said softly, wanting to sincerely. It wasn’t just her fault our family was the way it was. We were all kind of jerks to each other. “And I’ll come home.”
“I’m working on getting your dad to want you to come back. I don’t know if he’s okay with it or not, but he said I could tell you. Oh, and I have some news.”
“What is it?” I asked, trying to sound lighthearted. In reality, I was worried about my father, what he would do if I went back. If he would even acknowledge me.
“I got a job!” she exclaimed.
“Really?” A weight released pressure on my chest. This news seemed to solve a lot of our arguments. Maybe Dad would lay off on the disagreements.
“Only the bad news is that it’s nowhere close to here. I flew there when Grandma moved in.”
“So you’re saying we may have to move?”
A sinking feeling filled my stomach. While life seemed to be everything I wanted it to be -- girlfriend, peace of mind, going back home -- I guess I couldn’t keep it all. I wanted to stay here and build a friendship with Sawyer and continue dating Alivia. I had found a home with them. I wasn’t sure if I could give that up.
“More than likely,” she sighed. “Is that okay with you?”
“Yeah,” I choked out. It took everything in me to agree with her. Our family needed this. If I was the one holding us back from moving toward helping repair ourselves, I don’t know if I could continue living with myself.
I swallowed and sighed. Then I smiled at the ceiling, feeling God’s presence with me briefly.
“Yes Mom,” I said. “That’s fine.”
  
For some reason -- after all the longing to go home and make mends with my family -- I couldn’t find the heart to tell the Olsons I had to go. I don’t know if I could’ve told them I was moving for good, let alone going home. I knew it was for the best, and that it was rude to stay longer than necessary.
I decided as soon as I walked in the door, I should tell them. The sooner the better. Like ripping off a bandaid.
As evening began to settle in and we were all gathering around the table, I realized that it was time. I packed my bag in the guest bedroom, trying not to feel too much about me leaving, almost for good. Who knows how long I had since we would be getting a new house for Mom’s job and everything.
The family was chatty as they filled their plates and sat down, while I just watched in the doorway. I wrung my hands nervously, hoping that it wouldn’t be too upsetting for them to hear. Of course, I was upset already that I had to go, but it was for the best. For my family.
I wouldn’t have said it a month earlier, but nothing beats family.
“Tin, you can come eat with us,” Mr. Olson chuckled, a light in his eye. “You don’t have to stand there like a stranger.”
“Especially since you’ve been here for three days,” Sawyer added.
I cracked a grin, but it didn’t feel real, and I didn’t move from my spot. My stomach churned with a nervous feeling.
“What’s wrong?” Alivia asked, concern crossing her features.
“I can’t,” I said. All of them had their eyes on me, but I was at a loss for words to elaborate.
“Can’t what?” Sawyer prompted me, eyebrows raised.
“My mom called, and she wants me to come home today,” I replied, leaving out the part about me moving for good.
For a moment, they all exchanged looks with each other.
“Which is a good thing,” I said, bringing their attention back. I smiled and felt myself be a little bit more convinced by my own words. “I mean, I love being with you guys and everything, but I’ve been worrying about my family a lot. It’s nice to know they want me home.”
Alivia got up out of her seat and walked over to me. She smiled, looking right into my eyes.
“I’m happy for you. God has heard our many prayers,” she said.
I hugged her tightly as the rest of the family got up. I exchanged goodbyes with all of them, making sure they knew how grateful I was.
“Do you think we’re going to let you go by yourself?” Sawyer asked, laughing a little.
“I don’t want to get you all roped into my family, seriously,” I said. “I don’t know how they’ll react to me coming home.”
“We were already involved when you came to us in the first place,” Mrs. Olson said firmly. “We aren’t going to let you go alone.”
I grinned a little sheepishly. I should’ve known.
  
Only once have I walked into my house without being completely nervous.
Even with the Olsons by my side, urging me to go in, my heart thumped hard within me. The air moved around me as dusk settled in. I stared hard at the doorknob on my front porch, as if I could make it open telepathically. I sighed, closing my eyes momentarily.
“Fletcher,” Alivia said gently. Her hand was on mine and I looked up at her.
Her blue eyes encouraged me. They had so many emotions in them -- sorrow, joy, comfort, love -- that I wondered if I should ever tell them I have to leave eventually. Her fingers squeezed mine, as if to pass on confidence to me. Maybe it was just my heart speeding up, but I felt like it worked.
I opened the door.
It swung open inward revealing the house completely lit up by all the lights in the dining room, kitchen, and den. I held my breath as all movement stopped at the dinner table where my family sat. My father’s back was to me, and he didn’t turn around. A twinge of disappointment hit me.
Then Mom, Grandma, and Pearl all faced the door. Mom immediately jumped up and walked toward me, not even bothering to excuse herself first. I took a deep breath and stepped in, my bag falling off my shoulder to the floor.
Her brown, curly locks like Pearl’s were in a mess. Days of worry showed on her face. Her eyes were heartbroken, hopeless even. I had to manually tell myself to keep it together. Seeing her this tore up to catch sight of me hurt a little inside.
“Mom,” I whispered past the lump in my throat.
“Fletcher, I am so sorry!” she cried instantly, tears slipping from her eyes. But the relief on her face couldn’t be hidden as she pulled me into a tight hug.
I hugged her back, sucking in a shaky breath. I rocked her back and forth while she cried in joy that I was home. The longer we held each other, the more emotional she became.
“Mom, it’s okay, I’m okay,” I said quietly, smiling a little.
“I love you sweetheart,” she breathed, stroking my hair slowly. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.” She still cried harder after that.
Eventually Grandma stood and managed to calm my mother down. I didn’t mind embracing her, hugging her. I hardly had felt that kind of affection before, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t her fault. We were all at fault for our behavior.
Grandma was next. There wasn’t a trace of doubt in her voice when she said, “I knew God would let you come back.”
Me coming back seemed to happen in a flash. The only emotion I remember feeling was a mix between heartbreak and relief. Heartbreak that I hadn’t seen them to give them hope; that I felt I caused this. Relief that none of them were hurt. I managed to keep composure as I scooped Asher into my arms and held Pearl close.
Asher buried his head into my shoulder, wrapping his arms around my neck tightly.
“Tin,” he sighed happily. “Miss you.”
“I missed you too, Squirt,” I said, grinning.
I lifted my eyes from the floor to see my father rising from the table in front of me. I managed a sincere smile, though I was afraid that what happened would repeat itself. Fear struck me that being cast out again would literally kill me. I don’t know if I could’ve taken it.
He didn’t do that though. For once, he looked like he was actually interested in me. He wasn’t angry or upset, just looked slightly confused and a bit curious. I stood straighter, not letting my gaze wander from him. The chatter in the room died down. I realized that this was the first time the Olsons have met all of my family.
“Hi Dad,” I said, at a loss for words at what to say.
He nodded at me, seeming to contemplate his words carefully. Asher shifted in my arms, looking over my shoulder at the Olsons.
“I don’t know what to say,” he finally stated, letting his arms drop from his chest to his sides. His look of surrender surprised me. “I’m... Sorry, Fletcher.”
I blinked, glancing at the floor, feeling my pulse quicken with the words coming out of my mouth.
“I forgive you,” I admitted quietly.
Whatever he was going to say to me next escaped him, and I saw it. It was his turn to raise his eyebrows at me, utterly baffled by my behavior. It wasn’t easy to forgive my father, and even I knew it would still take time, but God gave me another chance. I wasn’t wanting to waste it.
“Well I,” he started, “am hoping we can talk sometime. Father to son.”
His offer struck me. He hardly referred to me as his son -- hardly acknowledged me at all. I realized that what he was handing to me was an opportunity. Not just for him and myself to make mends, but for God to intervene. That was good enough for me.
“Of course,” I answered.
Then he gave me a small smile and left the room, going upstairs. We listened to the bedroom door close softly before I let myself exchange a look with Alivia. The smile on her face reached my heart and I laughed. I actually laughed, startling everyone else in the room.
She walked over, Asher not letting her out of his sights.
“That went better than I expected,” I said.
“God’s pretty cool like that, huh?” she answered, winking at me. She held my arm and I looked at her gratefully.
Somehow, someway, even in my mess of a life, God managed to reach through to me. The dark blinded me, but the light guided me. I saw things I didn’t think were worth my time. Now, those things I don’t think I could live without.
And the gift of grace is one of them.