Last week I had the honor of speaking in chapel at my alma mater, Valley Christian. This is what I shared at the middle school.
I’m lying in a big field of grass. I love looking at the blue sky and all the funny shapes in the puffy clouds. I love the feeling of the soft grass underneath me and I feel a little breeze tickling my nose. It’s still pretty early in the day and the coolness of the grass feels good when I know the sun will make me very hot in a little while. I can hear some kids talking and laughing on the other side of the field. Maybe they’re on their way to school. Or maybe it’s Saturday. I wish those kids would come a little closer so I could hear what they’re laughing about and maybe I would think it’s funny too.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been here, but the sun is warming up and I’m starting to feel a little pebble in the grass under my left shoulder. Once you notice something like that, it’s hard to get your mind off it, you know? Every minute I lie here, I think it just digs deeper into my skin, like that pebble knows how hot it will be in a little while and it’s looking for a nice shady spot to spend the day. Find another spot, pebble! I just need something else to take my mind off of it, and then it won’t bother me so much. Think about the soft grass, think about the pretty clouds, don’t think about the pebble. Don’t think about the pebble. Well, there’s something different, a little tickle on my leg. Tickles feel better than poky pebbles, so I’ll think about that. The tiny little tickle is moving around my leg and hey, I think I feel a few more now. All kind of tickly and moving this way and that on my leg and, oh, now there’s one on my tummy and a few on my arm, too. Uh oh. I’ve felt this before. You know what I think this is? Ants! This could turn out one of three ways for me. I’m really hoping for the first way, which is the ants get bored and find somewhere else to march around. The second way is they call in the rest of the ants and pretty soon the tickles are just itchy and irritating because there are too many of them. But the third way, I really, really hope it’s not the third way. Because the third way is they are not regular ants. The third way is fire ants. They never bite right away, they kind of wait until they’re all ready in position and then they all bite together. I don’t know how such an itty bitty little insect can give me such big, terrible pain. I gotta get my mind off these ants. Okay, think about the pebble. Think about the pebble.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Sit up! Roll off that pebble and brush those ants away! Don’t just lie there in the grass! Right? And you know what, I wish with all my heart that I could. I tell my hand over and over to brush off those ants, to reach for that pebble, I will it with all my might, but it just doesn’t work. Every so often, I can get my hand to move, but it never goes where I want it to. It never does anything useful for me. And I wish with all my heart that I could call out to those kids over there. Even if I can’t get myself out of this, they could at least move me away from the ants and the pebble. Oh man, if they would stay with me for a while! But that’s probably asking too much.
Anyway, let me start over, from the beginning. I never knew my mother. Well, that’s not entirely true. I spent 8 months inside her tummy. I think I was supposed to stay longer, but I didn’t really have much choice in all that. I could tell then how much she loved me. I could feel her love warming me and nourishing me. I could hear her voice, and though I couldn’t make out the words, I knew she was talking to me. I was so happy. We were so happy.
But after I was born, I never saw her. I’m pretty sure of that, since I never heard someone with her same beautiful voice. Nobody ever told me what happened to my mother who loved me. Maybe they didn’t think I would understand. And actually, I’m not sure I want to know. After seeing the reactions of some other people who met me, maybe she stopped loving me after she saw me and wanted to have a new and better family instead. But I also hear about many mothers who die when they have babies, and that would mean I killed her, right? I don’t want it to be either of those things, so most of the time I try not to think about my mother at all.
I live with my dad. I love him. He’s the only dad I have. And I think he tries to be a good dad, but when I look in his eyes, he’s usually not looking back at me. His eyes are tired and kind of empty. Sometimes, his eyes are frustrated or even angry. I’m pretty sure that’s my fault. I think he probably agrees with me that it’s my fault mother’s not here anymore. But sometimes, sometimes when he looks at me, I see love. My insides are full of butterflies when I see love in his eyes. I want to give him a huge hug. If he would just lift me into his lap, I could lean into my dad and hear his heart beating and try to match my breathing to his and that might even be better than a hug. I try to let him know that I see his love and that I love him too, to make the love stay in his eyes. I want to do whatever I can to make him happy, to make him proud of me. I want more than anything to make my dad proud. It’s hard to think of how I could do that.
The thing is I’m different than the other kids. I hear them say “handicapped” a lot and it never sounds like a good thing. My right arm and leg can move around a little, but never where I tell them to. My left arm and leg are stuck in a sort of bent position. It feels sore and crampy most of the time. Sometimes when they wash me up really good, they start to stretch out my arms and legs. That feels sooo good! It seems like everyone else can take care of themselves, but I need someone to feed me, to dress me, to clean me up after I make a mess in my shorts. My voice never seems to make it out of my mouth, so I can’t tell anyone when I need something. I just have to wait for them to notice. Sometimes that takes a while so I tried out some different ways to get their attention. I tried kind of wiggling my body and I figured out how to make a loud noise like yelling. I guess other people don’t like when I do those things, because when I get too loud or wiggly, dad makes me drink something that really burns my throat when I swallow. Then I feel kinda funny and tired for a while, but I’m not loud or wiggly.
All the neighbors go to school, but nobody ever took me there. It’s not far away, so I can hear them reciting their lessons. Sometimes I wonder what kind of things I could learn in school. I’ll probably never find out, though. There are some other kids who don’t go to school. They are helping their moms and dads by working in the garden or selling things in the market. If I can’t go to school, I wish I could help my dad. Maybe that would make him happy. He goes to work sometimes. I know it’s hard to find work to do every day. He tried to take me with him one day when I was littler. I think he was making cement blocks that day. I’m not sure what I did wrong but if dad wanted to work there again, he couldn’t bring me along anymore. Of course, he still has to work. How else will we eat and pay for our room in this house? So when he hears about some work he can do, I stay home. As he’s leaving in the morning, I can see many things in his eyes. I see relief, and sadness, and guilt. Sometimes I can tell he’s trying not to look at me when he leaves. Probably because he doesn’t like feeling sad and guilty. I guess I’m pretty good at noticing other people’s feelings. I just wish someone else could know mine. I wish someone knew how much I love hearing the church music that drifts down to my house on Sunday mornings, how I wish I could clap and dance when I hear the music or even go to church and hear the music up close. I wish someone knew how much it hurts when I’m lying in one place all day, how my bones feel like they’ll push right through my skin and my skin starts feeling numb and bruisey. I wish someone knew how smart I am, how I understand what everyone is saying, the good things and the mean things and the in between things. I wish someone knew how much I miss my mother, how sorry I am because it’s my fault she’s not here. I wish someone knew how much I love my dad, and how I want more than anything to feel him loving me back.
That reminds me, where is my dad? It must’ve been a few hours since he brought me here to this field. I’m used to being in our room alone, but I don’t get outside very often, especially not by myself. My dad should be back by now, shouldn’t he? Maybe if I get loud and wiggly, someone will notice me here. Maybe they’ll know where my dad went. Right? And then he’ll come back, right? He’ll come to find me? We’ll go back home together? Dad?
Advent season has just begun, which marks a time of waiting expectantly for the birth of Jesus. The miracle of Christmas is that Jesus came to save us, right? “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death” Hebrews 2:14. But there’s another aspect of Christmas that’s really, really special. When you listened to the boy’s story, you settled into his skin in the grassy field and got a glimpse of what his life, his mind, his heart are really like. His joys and pleasures, his pain and loneliness, his hope and longing, his guilt and fear. You could almost feel that pebble in your shoulder and the ants on your leg. You started to feel the panic he felt not knowing if his dad would come back for him. You began to understand or empathize with him and that understanding fills you with compassion for him. But God isn’t just imagining what our lives are like. He doesn’t just think about the joys, sorrows, and temptations that we experience. No, “The word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). He willingly took on human form. He put on bones and skin and started right from the beginning, listening to Mary’s loving voice from her womb. If we pick up where we left off in Hebrews 2, we read this: “16-18 It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.” Another translation says “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” Jesus’ role as high priest makes him the mediator between us and God, but we don’t have a mediator that doesn’t really understand what we’re going through. We have a mediator who is compassionate and merciful because he chose to put on human flesh and understands exactly what we’re going through.
So what is the pebble in your shoulder? What is bothering you or hurting you? What are your hopes and dreams? What do you feel guilty about and what do you fear? What is it you think nobody else really understands? Isn’t it wonderful that God the Father sees all these parts of you, but God the Son, our high priest and mediator, actually feels them?
I don’t want to leave you all hanging in suspense, because the story I told you is actually a true story. That little boy never saw his dad again. The field where he was lying is across the street from Children of the Promise, where I work with my husband in Haiti. The guy who checks people in at the gate saw him later that day and we admitted him into our care. Many times our social workers have looked for his dad. They’ve found his neighbors and heard bits and pieces about their life through them. And now he lives with us in the Promise House. A special house at Children of the Promise for kids who need extra help and care, who don’t have biological families to care for them anymore, and have a harder time finding families to adopt them than some of the more “typical” kids. Even when our efforts to communicate with our kids and understand their needs fall short, they have a merciful and faithful high priest who fully understands them. You and I, we have a merciful and faithful high priest who understands us when we feel like nobody else does.