He sits all folded up around himself as he curls up on the grass in the middle of the open field in front of us.
He won’t sit up or look up or even respond as different ones bend low beside him, trying to coax him out of himself and that protective wall already building around his small frame.
We are driving away from camp in an hour, and he doesn’t want to leave.
We drive up into the mountains this past weekend with 90 other kids and 20 some adults and we get out of the inner city and the noise and the chaos and it’s inevitable: When everything familiar is taken away, defenses come down and need comes rushing out.
There is no way to prepare for it, only to know it will come.
The many trips to the nurse’s office with exaggerated injuries gives testament to this – it’s not the bandage these small hearts need, it’s the attention.
They need to know they are seen and heard.
That they matter.
This year, the net was flung wide, past the walls of Madison House and out into the community. The prayer was that many would come to hear and to know that Jesus loves them.
There are stories I can’t even comprehend. I hear the words with my ears and I see the faces with my eyes and I can’t connect it to reality. There are groups of children literally left to fend for themselves, some as young as 5 and 6 years old.
I look at Elias turning 6 in two weeks, exhausted and just needing his mama, curling up beside me on the chairs and falling asleep in the middle of music and yelling and laughter. He doesn’t even make it until bedtime before he’s snoring and in his makeshift bed, he has an accident and he needs help to clean himself up. Tony and his cabin counselor walk him up to his bunk in the dark and I can’t imagine him all alone trying to fend for himself.
But this is the reality around us.
Earlier, as the light starts fading, I strap Zee to my back, pass her a cookie and we start hiking up a well worn trail. I know where I am headed and why.
About half way, she starts kicking my sides, she’s already yelling about the rushing water. It’s a small stream, but to her it’s a river and so we stand there together listening to the sound. It’s about all I can do to hold it together as the words of that hymn start winding their way in my mind.
When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul”.
In the days leading up to this weekend filled with stories of rejection and unwanted children and fractured families, a little one in our church family died in a tragic accident. A little one who was very much wanted and desperately loved.
And there are no words. Juxtaposed against each other, there is no making sense, no comfort, no relief from the pain or the grief of any of it.
The suddenness of it takes me back to our own dark days of unwanted grieving and while my own little one yells about the water and pats my head, I place my feet back on the trail and start climbing up again; I know where I am going.
And it’s not the real cross, His blood didn’t stain the wood on this tree, but as I round the bend and it comes into view through the trees, I could kneel right there on the sharp rocks and not leave this place.
It’s an instrument of such gruesome torture, and yet it pulls me near.
This life at times feels like a torture of sorts – a never ending wheel of pain.
Is this why the Cross brings comfort?
I stood in the kitchen of Madison House this past week with one of our middle school boys. And there are words still on the wall from Christmas and he was standing there reading them while I was wiping down tables,
Hey, Kimberley! What does that mean? What does it mean that Wise Men still seek Him?
I stand next to him with a dirty rag in my hand and he asks me if people are still actually looking for Jesus, if they can actually find where He lives here in this world.
Zee is trying to slam a door somewhere as we talk about Jesus and what it means to seek after Him, as I feel inadequate with all of his big questions, but knowing that the wisest thing I can do is to point this boy who is more young man back to Christ.
So this is what I do this weekend, when my heart is aching because of all of this pain, I go to the place that reminds me of all of our sin and pain Jesus took on.
There is a verse in 1 Peter that I have been praying over our own family this year,
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree,
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
By His wounds you have been healed.
I don’t think the Cross makes sense of our suffering – there are situations and pain that go beyond words and that our minds will never be able to wrap around. But there is the pain that Jesus went through that brings healing and comfort to our own unbearable wounds, that takes the depth of our sin and utterly forgives it. That takes the ugliness of horror and somehow opens our eyes to His beauty in middle of the unthinkable.
Tony and I had to leave a little early from the camp to meet waiting parents and set up for our arriving kids, but as we were walking away I saw that small boy curled up still on the grass, still not wanting to go home. His situation still unchanged. But he wasn’t alone. Sitting beside him was the tall frame of his counselor, leaning into the pain of the situation with him.
And I think back to the conversation in the kitchen this week, the voice of that young man asking me if people still look for Jesus where He lives today. And the truth becomes crystal clear as the dirt flies up behind our van –
When our pain encounters the horrific beauty of the cross and our lives become His own, He lives in the very spaces we are. He comes near in all our situations because He is already here. Emmanuel isn’t just for the beauty of Christmas, He is with us in everything we face as we sit with one another in sorrow and in joy.
The stars peeked out in the spaces between the tall trees last night, Zee lifting her finger to point at the outline of the Big Dipper dipping precariously in the wrong direction – light boldly shining, not allowing the darkness to take over…