I am a big fan of Les Miserables. When I was 17, I had three cassette tapes in my car – Phish, DC Talk, and the Les Miserables soundtrack, and I pretty much know every word of all three. And as a Christian, I have always been deeply moved by Jean Valjean’s conversion, the amazing moment where the bishop overwhelms him with the gift of the candlesticks and says, “Use this silver to make yourself an honest man.” Last week, I may have Valjean’d someone.
Two weeks ago, one of our elders pulled me aside at our monthly church gathering and asked if we could put up Billy for the next two weeks. Billy is one of our college students, but unlike the innocent upbringing of many of our Christian college students, Billy grew up with a meth lab in his house. Until a year ago, he was a user himself. During Christmas break, he got in a fight with his parents in which they accused him of being high, to which he responded, “If everyone thinks I’m just a drug user, maybe I should just use.” Sound like Valjean?
We had an open room, we prayed about it, and decided to put Billy up. And as it turns out, Billy has an extensive background in construction. And we happened to have a kitchen floor that was being replaced and a stairwell that was being rebuilt. Bored and grateful, Billy went to work and proceeded to fix our house. I kept insisting he didn’t have to do it and he keep assuring me that he knew that.
As he was packing up on the last night, we decided to give Billy a financial gift out of gratitude. He refused. I told him it was a gift, not a payment. He refused. I told him that if he truly felt bad about it, he could give it to someone who needed it more than him. And he finally cracked and said, “I am just so grateful you guys let me stay here. Nobody does that. I find myself constantly cynical of people in need, but you guys just helped me out. After two weeks of being here, I actually feel myself changing. I don’t think I could do what you guys do. I hope that someday I can.”
It was slightly embarrassing for me as all we did was let him sleep in our house. But it was a reminder that sermons are wonderful and programs are great – but what truly changes people is when we simply choose to be conduits of God’s grace. When we let God’s generosity flow through us to others, everyone is changed. As Billy goes on with life, I hope he knows that he is not prisoner #24601. He is God’s beloved – forgiven, loved, and set free to be just as generous as the God that loves him.