It was just one tear. One tear in the midst of thousands. While the others fell on the deaf ears of the concrete floor, this one well placed tear stopped time. Although the tear didn’t hold the solution to the injustice, it was a bold statement of sharing in her pain. Perhaps it was the most powerful tear I’ve ever cried.
It started with a meltdown. A five year old trying to process the deep pain of a life I can’t even imagine enduring. We went to our safe room to give her space to cry it out. Her tears turned into screams of anger, looking for things to destroy, anything to express the depth of her agony. I became the target. As she glared at me and spat and yelled I stood, unwavering, simply reminding her of God’s fingerprints in her life. At UCA we pray and labor to fight lies with Truth. The Truth was causing the frenzy inside her to erupt, and now she decided God was to blame for all of this. If I’m honest, that thought had crossed my mind as well. Over and over we have to answer the impossible question of how can a loving God allow all this brokenness. But this moment wasn’t the time for apologetics, instead I held my arms open inviting her in to their safety. She accepted the invitation and buried her head on my shoulder. Violent sobs shook her small body as I prayed gently in her ear. This moment I believe was God’s gift of grace to me, because what happened next I was not prepared to handle.
The sobbing stopped. Her body went limp. She took a deep breath. Like a body builder she flexed every muscle in her body and with deep conviction looked me in the eye and boldly stated, “you want me to die.” Before I could react she threw herself out of my arms in an attempt to hurt herself. This game went on for what seemed like an eternity. She would roll and convulse and scream and in her fatigue she would run to my arms and weep on my shoulder. When she got her strength back, she would tell me how everyone, including herself, wanted her to die, and then the fit of rage would continue.
I was weak. I felt utterly helpless. All the training and wisdom I had ever received about deescalation and restraints and counseling seemed to evaporate from my mind. I prayed deeply.
As was the routine, she ran into my arms helplessly tired. As she hugged me tight a tiny tear formed in my eye. I blinked fiercely trying to force it back but despite my best effort, it slipped out and forcefully hit her hand. As it rolled off her hand I wanted to crawl into a hole. I feared the tear would communicate that I was done with her, that she had broken me, that her pain was too big and it was going to win. But as I looked into her eyes I saw life coming back into her. Our eyes locked for longer than I’d ever looked into a child's eyes before. Neither of us had much to say but through our teary eyes we both understood that the other one felt the injustice of the world and it hurt them too. We were hurting together and we found some camaraderie in that. My heart literally ached for hours. I have never begged for heaven to come close as much as I did in that moment.
As bizarre as it might seem to share such a heavy reality on Thanksgiving, it’s in these moments we are most thankful for the team of people who surround UCA and the hope that unites us together. These raw moments-- the ones where we see the effects of injustice and brokeness on the little ones we love so much-- are the moments we are most grateful for the privilege of speaking the chain-shattering truth of Jesus. These moments are also the ones we are remind us we are not alone in this hard, beautiful work. When we feel at a loss, there are volunteers who have made deep commitments to the UCA scholars. People who take scholars shopping when they need new shoes, people who open their home up for the weekend to provide some needed stability, people who spend hours reading alongside scholars, people who cook delicious food, people who spend hours praying, people who are sacrificially giving to insure the doors stay open, and people who are walking alongside us as staff reminding us of who God has called us to be. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of this team.
It’s in moments like these where we deeply remember the calling God has given us. We see the deep need for UCA to exist and to stand tall and firm for kids. And we see Jesus reigning over it all. Over the pain and over death and sin and all the injustice he proclaims that one day it will be no more. One day every tear from every eye will be wiped away by the nail-scarred hands of the Savior who’s death is making all the sad things come untrue. And for that we are unceasingly thankful.