I’ve been working at a short-term residential facility for young children for the past year or so. One of the things they don’t prepare you for is how much you will come to know and love these kids – spending 30-40 hours a week with them, teaching, preparing meals, playing games, resolving conflicts, teaching them to share, helping them learn to deal with disappointment and frustration, doing laundry, reading bedtime stories, playing cars, taking field trips to the museum, the park, the dentist, the lake, or the movies, soothing hurts and putting on band-aids, getting punched and bitten, getting hugs and hearing them scream your name with joy when you arrive at the movie theater, or walk into the home, and being smothered as they run across the room to leap into you… I didn’t quite expect to lose my heart like this. Not here. Not doing this.
I don’t have any kids of my own, so I don’t fully understand the depths of this formless, irrational, crazy love that parents have for their children. But I do know what it means to love another – to love them so much that you would do whatever is needed for their good. And everyday, I am taught more and more about what it means to love in that way – not in the way that is easy for me, but in the way that calls me to sacrifice, to service, to death to self, to doing what is hard, and what I would rather not do so that another can grow and thrive and step into all that they can be – all that they were made to be – all that God has in store for them.
There are two brothers who have been living at our facility for the better part of half a year. Due to the many complications in their case – in their family life – our site has been their home. And it has been one of the joys of the past year to walk alongside them as they slowly heal from the deep wounds in their past. It is a slow process. Brutally slow. Behavior that they have learned over the years to cope with continuous violence and abuse does not just go away once they are in a safe place. The learning curve is tremendous.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been punched, bitten, kicked, cursed at, threatened, and yelled at by these two boys. This is how they’ve learned to express their anger and their fear, and this is how they’ve learned to interact when limits are put in their path.
“Why did you punch him?”
“Because I wanted to ride the trike, and he wouldn’t let me. I WANT to!!!”
One lashes out in anger and rage at being hurt time and time again by someone who should have cared for him. The other runs and hides and cowers in fear. This is what they’ve learned. This is the hand they’ve been dealt. This is the reality of their life, and the work to overcome that will be hard. Their wounds have been deep, and while they may heal, the scars will remain.
But I also can’t remember all the times that they’ve run up to me, smiles, hugs, proudly showing me how they’ve learned to write their name, or the art project they’ve finished, or the fact that they went to the dentist and didn’t have a meltdown EVEN WHEN they had to get shots!
This is the fruit of love – of sacrifice – of presence – of not giving up and leaving and letting them wallow in their brokenness. Love seeks out the other. Love steps into that reality and does not let go, does not give up, does not wash its hands of us and just let us go our own way, further and further from life, from joy, from beauty, from goodness. Love fights for us. Love shows up. Love gives. Love doesn’t give up. Love never fails.
It would be easier sometimes to walk away. I get tired of being bitten, of being yelled at, of being told that they wish I was dead and would just leave them alone. I hope – I LONG – for the day when they are healed. But until they are, I won’t leave them there.
This past Monday afternoon I found myself with a few close friends, heads bowed in prayer, thinking of these two brothers – and my heart broke. I wept. Thinking of their future – hoping good things for them – knowing that as much as I love them now, soon they will be going on to a different place – and praying, praying, praying desperately for a home that is loving, that will show them the love and the limits and the grace and the consistency and the hope that they need.
And I know that as much as I love them, the God who created them, who formed them and shaped them and breathed life into their fragile yet resilient selves – this God loves them more. If I will not step away when it is hard, how much more will God stay – work – move – draw them to the source of all good?
Because this love of mine is a shadow of the reality. It is a picture, a dim reflection, a small appetizer of the great banquet that awaits us all one day. I choose to believe in that. I choose to place my hope in the goodness and love of a God who gives all and more for us, the children of his hands and the apple of his eye, who opens possibilities and Easters both our joyous days and our dark, lonely nights.
God has come. God is love. God gives. God is with us. God has risen. God will not give up.
This is very good news.