The best stories make you cry, laugh till you cry, scare you, anger you, and then make you glad again. These are the stories I return to over and over again. I crack the cover, knowing the ending, but wanting to savor the middle.
My life is a story. Your life is a story. I know how my story will end, but I don’t know the details of the middle. Your middle is a muddle too. Sometimes it’s hard and beautiful and ugly and impressive. Even the parts of life that make us sad and mad have a place in our life. If we want to live life well, we must learn to embrace the beautiful hard.
Sometimes I want to be the hero and sometimes I want to be rescued. Recently, however, I wasn’t the hero or the rescuer nor an observant bystander, but I had an opportunity to love the “least of these.” The “least of these” are those children whose parent’s are unable to care for their children and it’s the children whose hearts have known too much pain and known burdens they shouldn’t bear.
Last week, God intersected my heart with two other hearts. My heart shattered into pieces and in the shattering I saw grace in action. I saw the power of love. I saw the power of time. I saw that despite the pain in this world, God is still with us.
For five days, I poured life and love into the dry parched places of their hearts. Their eyes lost the wary look and gained laughter for a few days. We splashed in a lake, made tu-tu’s, played dress up and participated in a jungle safari including snakes, bearded dragons, and turtles. And yes, these snakes hugged necks and crawled up arms and elicited squeals and giggles.
My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I watched these two little girls laugh with abandon and then in the next instance pull the curtain down over their heart.
Trust: It doesn’t come easy once it’s been broken.
Hope: It flickers and sputters.
Joy: It’s foreign and fleeting.
But for one week out of the summer, these children–the ignored, the forgotten, the hurt– experience safe relationships with safe adults. For some of these, the memories made at camp will be their only good memories from their childhood. For one week, these children were told they were special and worthy of time and attention. This one week of love and laughter and carefree living changes lives for the better. It breaks cycles and starts new ones.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
It’s far too easy to reduce religion to where we spend our Sundays and how we worship. It’s easy because running smack dab into the hard awakens us to pain. And we’re a society of pain-avoiders. But Jesus ran toward pain for you and me. He suffered so that we might know joy, and hope, and trust. If he can do this for us, how can we not do this for others?
Yes, I was uncomfortable. I was hot. And the lake was green and smelly. I wondered if I made a difference in these girls’ lives. I remembered things I’d rather forget. I grew reacquainted with tears. I felt inept, ineffective, and ingrown. But God called me to love. He called me to reach the children’s hearts and so I ran toward the suffering of the hurting and wrapped my arms and heart wide around them.
We can reach out to the kid next door whose mom is working three jobs to put food on the table or we can volunteer in children’s ministry in our local church. Often there are children who feel orphaned because of the lack of involvement of their parent’s in their lives and a kind word is like a cup of cold water to a dry heart.
God gives us opportunities to plant seeds of hope, love, and trust in children’s lives and then he takes the seeds we’ve planted and he waters them and makes them grow. I had to say goodbye to my campers and I don’t know their tomorrows, but I know who holds all of our tomorrows and he’s amazing at his job.