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Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover
Soaking wet and cold from the relentless downpour, I ran through the metal doors into the large white room of the church, fondly called the C.A.V.E., Christians Always Value Everyone. I sure hoped they would value me, a newcomer to Youth Group, and an unfamiliar addition to the various circles of friends. Because I have never been to school, I was clueless about what to expect from this group of teens. As I wondered if I would be accepted, there was no way for me to know that I was the one who would learn the true lesson of valuing everyone. I had grown up hearing the old saying; “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Perhaps more out of habit than actual thought and belief, I had always accepted this wisdom. I wanted to believe it, but the information had never really sunken in. At the time I had no idea, but walking through the doors to the C.A.V.E. would forever change the way I felt about that phrase.
The doors of the C.A.V.E. clicked shut behind me and I looked up to observe the unfamiliar area. Even at first glance, I could see there was a definite social pattern to decode. My mind clicked furiously as I tried to decide where I should sit. I had no idea where I was “supposed” to go, and in my insecurity I did not want to make the wrong choice. A few guys older than me were on one couch, and the most of the girls were squeezed onto another. The third couch contained two nerdy looking boys, who no one seemed interested in. In between the couches were empty chairs. These were obviously uncool to sit in, but I decided an uncool spot would be better than sitting with the wrong group, so I walked up to a chair and sat down. My eyes scanned for any sign of acknowledgement from the group. Nothing. This was going to be interesting.
For the first month I attended youth group, every week was the same. I tried fruitlessly to find my spot on the social ladder, and suffered lonely failure each week. I wanted so badly to be part of the cool crowd, surrounded by friends and admirers. My desire to be liked was strong, and I soon forgot the saying I had been told so many times. I watched how the “cool” kids treated others, especially the two nerdy boys I had noticed during my first time at youth group. These kids were not good books, but I had become too focused on the gaudy covers to care.
I may have forgotten my lesson on not judging people, but lucky for me, there was someone who hadn’t. Joseph Nelson was not cool. He wasn’t interested in the things the cool kids were, and most of the teens ignored him. When people did interact with him, it was more likely than not an unkind interaction. Unfortunately, this was also the position I was in. While I spent all of my time trying to befriend the cool kids, Joseph, invisible to the popular crowd, was living up to the true standards of the C.A.V.E.
The next week started out just like all of the weeks before it. I tried to wiggle my way into the ranks of the popular girls, and failed once again. My hopes were dimming, and after trying to join the conversation for a while, I gave up and turned away, ready to retreat to loneliness for the rest of the night. However, standing in the path to solitude was Joseph, hoping to welcome me and be the friend I wanted so badly. He was ready to do the uncool thing and befriend me, but I was not willing to do the same.
Joseph didn’t give up however, and the more I started to talk to him, the clearer I was able to see the person underneath the uncool image. I started to see that Joseph was more than a dorky kid – he was a guy with a kind heart and a willingness to accept everybody for who they are inside. As I got to know Joseph better, I realized he was right. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how you talk, or where you rank on the social ladder. All that matters is what is on the inside.
Finally I opened my mind and my heart, and I started to see people how they really were. Being cool was no longer my goal, and I was able to let go of the images of the cool teenagers I had created in my mind.
Once I started to hang out with Joseph, and really be his friend without regard for how it would affect my status, I really started to enjoy myself at youth group. Looking past what was on the outside, and enjoying the person inside Joseph taught me a valuable lesson- that saying I had ignored was true, and it really is the inside that matters.
A couple of months later, if my belief needed to be affirmed, it was when my dog died. A member of our family for fifteen years, we were going to put her down on Thursday. When I came into youth group on Wednesday, I was understandably upset. During the time in which everyone would tell the group about their week, I shared what was happening with my dog.
I had hoped talking to the group would make me feel less upset, but when I received the same “Oh, I’m sorry”s as those who were depressed by poor test grades, it was hard to bear.
“These people really don’t care.” I thought.
Just then, when my spirits had plunged into the depths of despair, Joseph came through for me once again. He gave me a pat on the back and said, “It’s okay. Remember, life is good.” A shaky smile lifted the corners of my mouth, causing the tears to roll away, leaving nothing but small water paths on my face. That kindness was all I needed, and by the time I went home, Joseph had me laughing, marching toward the sad day with the armor of friendship and the strength of a smile.
I have come a long way since the day I walked through the doors to Youth Group. Joseph and I are now best friends, and he has helped me laugh my way through several other rough times. I have moved away, but I still keep in touch with the guy who taught me never to judge.
Even though I am in a different state, I think I have become a true member of the C.A.V.E., valuing and accepting everyone for who they are inside. And it didn’t stop with Joseph. What I learned from his friendship has led me to many other great friends, including those who seemed invisible. No longer is the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover” just a phrase. Who a person is on the inside is much more important than their outside appearance, and I live by this every day. To think it all started with a gesture of kindness by someone no one seemed to care about.