She clenched her fists and squeezed her eyes tightly.  I wasn’t sure if she was shaking on purpose, or involuntarily. But she was definitely upset. And hurt. And heart-broken. Her heart seemed as closed as those little fists of hers.

When I first met Claudia, a few days earlier, it took quite some effort to learn her name. She didn’t want to share anything. It was as if she was coasting along in life like a slow moving cloud- without purpose or particular direction, and heavy with darkness that only she – perhaps – understood.

She had come to the youth conference because… Well, I’m not really sure why she came. Maybe it was on a dare. Maybe because an invitation from an acquaintance was taken to heart. Or maybe, she came just because there was nowhere else to turn, and nowhere else to go.

Her hair was not conventional. Nor were her clothes, her approach, or her attitude. Even though several youth tried to befriend her over the four day conference, she sent them away – shooing them as though they were bothersome flies.

The night before, we had enjoyed a beautiful testimony meeting. The youth were dressed in Sunday best. Including Claudia. But her ‘best’ was different and distinctive from the other young women and young men.  She sat alone and sulked.  But she was listening.  Of this, there was no doubt.

Now we stood together, with her as close to me as she had allowed any human being to invade her personal space. And now a few tears dripped down her cheeks.

She pulled out a couple of pictures – one was her mother. The other, her brother. Both of them were dead.  The mother, from an overdose. The brother, a victim of a hit-and-run.

She was only ten when her mom died, with her brother’s accident coming the very next year. Now, at the ripe old age of seventeen, the cocoon she had wound around her heart was so thick that I marveled at her sharing those pictures with me. Then she began to talk. And Talk. Cry some more. Then talk.

I learned a lot about Claudia that day. The spirit she had allowed herself to feel at the youth conference had penetrated a certain wall. The testimony meeting had been her “aha” moment. Emotions, held in check for years, came to the surface. Hurt and wounding and guilt and pain raised their heads, and then the desire to shed some of those feelings grew. She was ready to take a chance on life- here and now- again. I prayed that, as we all left that conference, she would continue to heal.

It isn’t Claudia that I’m writing about, though. I learned more about myself than I did that young woman.  And because of her, I have worked these many years to speak to young people whenever I can, to connect with them, and learn from them.

These are a few things I learned from Claudia:

  • I learned we can be very close together and yet not touch one another at all, unless we rely on the Spirit to allow us to do so.
  • I came to understand a deeper meaning to Gandhi’s quote, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
  • I learned that I should never say “Never” when it comes to a young person [or person of any age] finally “coming to themselves” and allowing the sunlight of goodness and truth inside.
  • I learned that persistence pays off. I only followed, cajoled, spoke to, and worked with Claudia for four days. With some of my own children, it has been years. And so it goes…..   I will persist!
  • When love is in our hearts, we can see all kinds of shiny good stuff that gets covered up by judgment or wrongful first impressions.
  • God is over all. His loving intent to help us help others will guide our thoughts, prayers, words, and actions as we try to figure out some way to make a difference in another’s life.

I never saw Claudia again. I know nothing of what direction she took, nor whether or not she accepted the truths of the gospel. I am thankful for that young woman. She taught me life-long lessons for which I am grateful.  Open hearts always overcome closed fists!