I really do. I love them. The ones other people warn you about. The ones who swear sometimes and say outrageous things and give their parents heart attacks. The ones who are a worry.

I love them because I know them. I am them. There but for grace, you know? Without these parents and that church and those friends and this Jesus, I’d have been one. Well, a worse one than I was. I was plenty bad enough. I know I scared them a bit, my parents, with the drinking and the boyfriends and all. Not that there were tons of either (the drinking or the boys), but enough to frighten them a little.

But I never inhaled. Really. A little second-hand buzz, maybe, but that was it. Honest.

I love them, those bad kids, because I married one. But that’s his story. Let’s just say there’s some not-very-nice-for-a-church-boy stuff back there in the pages of history. Ask him some time.

And I love them because I’ve raised them. These boys. Not always angels, but so precious. Sometimes good guys, sometimes bullies. Heroes in training, but mistake-makers like the rest of us.

There is a special space in my heart for the bad kids.

I think of the kid I’ve known pretty much his whole life. The sweet, chubby-cheeked angel who spent hours in our home, who is now that gangly guy traveling a shady path, cigarette hanging out of his mouth and jeans hanging off his scrawny butt. He still stops to talk, though, and I see the who-he-might-be hiding behind the sunglasses and hair.

I think of the teenaged boy from the broken home, who comes to church and sunday school and youth group. He’s not the easy kid to have around, but he’s there. He shows up. He needs us.

I think of the kid who couldn’t make it through Vacation Bible School. All angry and defiant and running away, and so I called his foster mom to come and get him. And we waited in the church kitchen with a bowl of ice cream, and I wet a cloth and washed his face, and his head went back against his chair and his eyes closed and he whispered, I remember my mom doing that. And my heart broke again for the bad kids.

I think of the silly girls and the silly things they do and the silly stuff they post on Facebook. I think of the silly boys and the hormones and how so many of them are growing themselves up, without much help.

These kids. These hearts. These souls. These children. These people. These minds. These creations.

These beautiful, awful, precious, angry, difficult, silly, challenging, hurting, crazy, wonderful kids.

Just them, and they need to be loved.