When we invest in each other, we determine our future.
This is a deeply reflective line near the conclusion of the PureFlix film “Discarded Things,” which was released last year. I have had on-and-off subscriptions to PureFlix, but the trailer for this movie kept popping up in the YouTube commercials in between listening to my gospel mixes. Yes, I patiently endure the YouTube ads, since I feel that I am already paying enough for my other streaming platforms. If I’m not vigilant with my dollars, all these streaming subscriptions could end up mirroring my past cable bill. But I was drawn to “Discarded Things” because of its major theme of restoration from brokenness, the miracle in how God refines what others deem as waste.
The film’s plot revolves around a middle-aged woman named Grace Wyatt (Karen Abercrombie), who is enjoying a sterling career in academia as a music professor but for decades has suppressed the mental abuse she suffered from her father. In one night, Grace’s life is shattered when her husband is killed in a car accident. She spirals into a six-month depression and becomes addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs.
The painful memories from her childhood reemerge as psychological triggers and she loses her university position, but she finds the strength to complete rehab and takes a job teaching music therapy to at-risk youth who live in a federally funded home. Like Grace, each one of these kids is broken from tragic events, but she eventually earns their trust and inspires them to put their setbacks behind and dream big.
Now, in real life, it would take a little longer to get through to troubled teens than in the time span “Discarded Things” shows, and other parts of the story seem a little rushed. Yet, the message of the essential need for a loving community to invest in young people who have been cast off comes across strong.
I have a close friend who works in a crisis center that provides emergency shelter and transitional living for youth ages 12 to 17. Watching “Discarded Things” reminded me of the daily challenges on her job in caring for kids who have been wounded by the vices of the streets and are unwanted by their families.
These kids have been traumatized by emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Many are reluctant to trust case workers who sincerely want to help. Many have been strung out on drugs. Many battle suicidal thoughts.
“Discarded Things” did not address teen suicide, but it would not be far-fetched to think that it wouldn’t cross the minds of the young people entrusted to Grace’s care. Within the past decade, teen suicide has been on the rise, and it is the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. Self-harm incidents have also increased, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last July one in four young adults thought about killing themselves mainly due to the stress of the pandemic.
“Discarded Things” provides a glimpse of the ongoing, personal struggles at-risk youth were wrestling with pre-COVID. Just imagine how these struggles are intensified now for kids who desperately need the services of social workers to be placed in foster care or in facilities that offer critical youth outreach support. The difficulties that child welfare agencies and protection services are facing while implementing coronavirus protocols are frustrating and could be life-threatening for some teens if their cases are delayed in the system.
Grace and the staff she worked with were confronted with the possibility of losing financial backing from one of their largest grants, something that could also happen to youth crisis centers that heavily depend on private and public funds with budgets being tight.
“Discarded Things” does have a happy ending, as is the case with many faith-based dramas that delve into the sensitive issues of addiction and hopelessness. For Grace, her emotional and spiritual healing come as the result of sewing into the lives of the youth who needed her. She learns that “life is a tapestry” woven from failure and stumbling blocks, disappointments that God can mend and use for ministry.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc