**Names are often changed in this blog to honor the dignity of our residents.
I walked up the shamefully uneven sidewalk toward the unmistakably secure institution. With each step I took, I noticed that the weeds had already begun to fill the cracks and were quietly announcing Spring. Hope can be seen anywhere, if you are searching. I approached the entrance of the emergency shelter for under-aged girls, as I have many times before. As usual, I am on the look-out for hope! Certain environments try to trick us into believing that hope is not here or cannot be found (and this awful shelter is certainly one of those places!). Today, the Lord would generously offer me an enormous helping of hope that would seek me out, and serenade me to a place of humility that would be leveling.
I signed in and waited for the young girl (the one that I would be interviewing as a possible resident at HoP) to be escorted in to the room where I was sitting. As I sat, I imagined and prayed. I always ask the Lord for His eyes, and great clarity. I already had a sense that this girl would be a perfect fit for our program. Our program requires a minuscule degree of internal readiness for change. Did I mention minuscule? I literally mean minuscule! All we need is a teeny, tiny seedling of desire and we can nourish that thing to full bloom with: an ounce of the child's cooperation, all the unfailing love that we can muster (that is the love of God flowing through our frailty) and immeasurable mounds of Supernatural healing!
As the loud turning of the doorknob startled me back to the present, the commercial safety door swung wide. The staff member (whom I have come to know and love) presented the brightest introduction that I had yet seen at this facility! "Hey Maggie! This is Angelina!" This young lady was a sturdy 5'6" and her smile immediately lit the room! Her hot pink, too small glasses were mangled and hanging by a thread lots and lots of scotch tape. It was obvious that her lens was quite strong, and that going without glasses was not an option if she were to manage on her own. Unfortunately, that's exactly where she has, ONCE AGAIN, found herself...alone.
She sat with a nervous excitement in the chair adjacent to me and made fleeting eye-contact. She knew why I was there. I could see the wonderings spinning in her mind...would she be "good enough"? Would she be acceptable? Would I want her? Still smiling, although much more sheepishly, she waited for me to engage and set the tone. As soon as we were alone, I began by warmly greeting her and making the room feel as safe as I could. I engaged her fear and addressed it head on. I complimented her from every angle, without patronizing her. She began to open up about her life and the death of her mother (when she was only three years old), and then two years later, the death of her guardian-her grandmother. How she now, six years later, found herself back in foster care because the adoptive father had been abusing her and using her as "The Help". She had a dimly lit sense of self and it grew dimmer still as she reminisced about her past losses and trauma.
I sprinkled our undeniably formal chat with questions that would make her feel like the sweet, normal 14-year-old girl that she is. We talked about: favorite colors, boys, subjects in school that are a total drag, television shows, what makes her sad, her favorite food (ice cream!) and what three foods she would love to live without (broccoli, broccoli and broccoli)! When children come from really hard places, and extreme neglect, food is a very. big. issue!
As our time together began to wind down, I asked her if there was anything that she was really good at. She seemed to sit up a little straighter, and with a confidence that she had not yet revealed, she asked: "want me to show you?" Of course I nearly jumped out of the chair at the offer. She closed her eyes and solemnly cleared her throat. She began to sing. I knew immediately that this was a MOMENT that I would not soon forget! She sang "I Smile", by Kirk Franklin.
She started her solo midway through the song with these lyrics:
Today's a new day, but there is no sunshine
Nothing but clouds, and it's dark in my heart
And it feels like a cold night
Today's a new day, where are my blue skies
Where is the love and the joy that you promised me
Tell me it's alright
I almost gave up, but a power that I can't explain
Fell from heaven like a shower
She proceeded to close it out with: "I smile...See, I smile...Smile." It was all I could do to maintain my composure in the sacred moment. I dared not burst into the ugly cry and recklessly bleed my selfish emotions all over her. This dear child, with her lap full of loss and life full of trauma, was singing to me about why she smiles and her reason for hope. I was disgusted with myself and the simplicity with which I become distracted by disappointment. Lord, please forgive me. I will try much harder to keep my holy "smile"!