Young Life Lite

The Icing on the Cupcakes

With a shoestring budget and a volunteer-led team in an urban setting, Glendale, Ariz., Young Life is welcoming more than 100 kids a week to club. And in that beautiful sea of faces, one in particular has become precious to the Glendale leadership team.

Charlie seemed like an unlikely kid — or at the very least a “furthest out kid.” He attends an alternative school in Glendale where he is guided by an IEP (individualized education program) created for kids with learning disabilities. Living in a kind of poverty that most of us cannot imagine, Charlie has struggled with self-image and anger issues which once landed him in jail. But at the root of it, according to leader Kim Tobey, “Charlie has struggled to believe that in spite of it all, he is loved unconditionally by our Savior. No one ever shared with him the love of Jesus. And so he continued in this battle, ‘Am I worthy?’”

A team of Young Life leaders joined that battle on Charlie’s behalf. The first was a Young Life leader who was dating Charlie’s brother. Naturally, she invited Charlie to club. He agreed but he positioned himself in the back of the room where he could make an easy exit. As the weeks went by, Charlie moved from the back of the room into the midst of a team of guy leaders who sat shoulder-to-shoulder with him in club and in friendship.

Wanting to include Charlie as a closer part of their community, his new friends invited him to leadership meetings. “Our leaders have rallied around Charlie, they’ve promoted him to ‘junior leader’ and walked alongside of him to help him believe in himself and ultimately to understand the hope and grace of Christ,” said Tobey.

This summer, Charlie turned 17. Not a milestone birthday for most high school kids, but Charlie’s college-age leader friends wanted to throw him a party. Glendale supporters, Ty and Michelle Lorts, opened up their home and swimming pool, to host an informal gathering. This was a simple affair, no DJ, decorations or gift bags for guests. This party featured burgers on the grill, plastic squirt guns and store-bought cupcakes.

According to Tobey, that evening “Charlie laughed his contagious laugh and used those 99-cent squirt guns like they were full-throttle, high-powered Nerf water propellers!” 

Eventually the guys toweled off and gathered for dinner and dessert. After the assembled group sang a simple chorus of “Happy Birthday”               around a paper tray of candlelit cupcakes, Charlie shared a little more about his past. He hadn’t had a birthday cake since he was five and he’d never had a birthday party with friends.

And on this birthday — before the candles were lit — the battle was won.

Charlie understood the truth of the prophet’s proclamation that God was not only with him; God delighted in him. God Himself rejoiced over him with singing (see Zephaniah 3:17). And the chorus of “Happy Birthday” that his friends sang to Charlie that night?

That was the icing on the cupcakes.