Last year our family had the privilege to live on the property of a large group home for children. Sometimes when I would mention this to people their eyebrows would go up.
“Is that some kind of Juvenal Detention facility?” They would ask as if frightened.
Of course, these kids should be in JD. They are the kids who have had the worst that life can give them. All faced abuse; sexual, physical or emotional. Their parents, and all of their relatives, are either dead or so troubled that they can’t care for them. Some kids have been abandoned, others forcible removed from their homes. The stories of these kids lives churns my stomach. They should be in JD, I would be if I was in their place. But they aren’t. These kids are wonderful and hopeful. They have learned to adapt, to roll with the punches, to keep going when life beats them up, literally.
This week in our reading group we are starting The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. It is essentially a poetic memoir of her time spent in Benedictine monasteries. In the beginning pages she talks about dealing with grief,
. . . true strength can emerge in the worst of times, when the known world is collapsing. . . She goes on to quote Gregory the Great, My mind is divided . . . torn to pieces by so many problems.
I can imagine one of the kids saying this as they try so hard to contain their emotions and not let the pain they have experienced destroy their future. Sometimes they succeed, other times they are overcome, the grief they battle is so strong.
And we live in a frightening world. A world where death is a guarantee. A world that doesn’t care how sweet or innocent you are. These kids know it. They have lived it. And they inspire me because in the midst of this they still wake up every morning. They have no one, but they still get dressed and go to school. They still love to ride horses and learn to cook. They still play basketball and dance. They are still kids who want to live their lives well.
The truth is, I live in fear. I cower at the slightest hint of disaster. I have to do deep breathing exercises just get through an annual check up . I am afraid of dying, I am afraid of my daughter getting sick or lost. I am afraid for my husband and sister and all the people I love. I want nothing but to keep everyone safe, but this isn’t possible in the world we live in and these kids can testify to that.
I would love to take away their pain. I would love to heal them. God how I wish I could heal them. God how I wish I could find each of them a family that would love them and walk them through their pain and tell them that they aren’t alone. I wish you could see how their faces light up at the prospect of being adopted. How much they long to be part of a family.
Everyday, Norris says we are called to, “take up life in the ruins.” The ruins looks different for each of us, for some it is life in a group home, for others it is caring for a sick child, others infertility, loss of job, or divorce. For some it is the small nagging things, working each day wondering if life will ever amount to anything.
Norris reminds us how God spoke to her through Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an age old love . . . Again I will build you, and you shall be built . . . ”
When I look around and see these kids surviving, when I watch you take care of your child, when you are brave enough to share your grief and then I see you carry on when I know you are broken-hearted, it shows me that God is real. And, while I would do anything to spare us suffering, I know that heart break comes to each of us. When I see you and when I see these kids it gives me hope that maybe, as it comes to me, I will be able to live through it, or at least to die well.
It is humbling to accept loss, to grieve, and go on and still love God. It requires that we accept that He is sovereign, that He loves us and that He still allowed us to suffer. To stop loving Him would be to give up all hope and to let go of the only true Comforter. And so we love Him, and in our grief we cling to Him or at least we reach to Him from a distance. This is taking up life in the ruins, that we are alive through grief that seems like it should have killed us. Some days I want more, but some days this is enough. I am alive, God is here, and that is enough.