Saturday, 23 August 2014

Goodbye Part Two

Saying goodbye to my beautiful children


Goodbyes suck.

This was what ran through my mind as I sat on the floor, trying to comfort the eight sobbing girls surrounding me. It was our last time as a group together, and so I had taken the opportunity to pray for each of them and tell them the things that I wanted them to remember the most. I told them that they were beautiful, that they were valuable, and most importantly - that the creator of the universe loved them despite the things that the world said made them unlovable.

"Fancy, I don't want you to go!"
My heart broke as I watched the tears run down the faces of my sweet little girls. Soon, almost every one of them was crying. And not quiet, sniffling tears, but shoulder-shaking, hiccuping sobs. I let them crawl onto my lap and held as many as I could in my arms as I rubbed their backs and tried to comfort them while holding my own tears at bay. I told them over and over that I was not leaving because I didn't love them anymore, but because God had different plans for me for the upcoming year, and I had to go. At this one girl turned to me and said between sobs,
"Just call...your mom...and get force stay!"

At one point, a fellow leader walked in to the room, but stopped short when she saw the soggy mess of whimpering girls before her. "Is everything okay?!"
Before I could answer, one of my girls cried out, "No! We're having a meltdown!"

Looking back now, the whole scene is rather comical, but in the moment I felt like sobbing along with them. I felt like crying that no, things were not okay, because these girls were my family, and I loved them, and now I had to leave, and how was I supposed to leave my own children and be okay?!

Eventually one of the girls ended up vomiting because she had cried so much, but then she started laughing, and pretty soon the whole group was giggling, and the moment of sadness had been turned into one of joy.

Tough Boy

"Fancy, when you leave I'm going to cry tears of joy!"

I just shook my head at Tough Boy. In the last few days of camp, many tears had been shed by my darling, sentimental children. However, Tough Boy had assured me many times that when I left he would not care. Instead, he reminded me that he was strong and brave and "didn't need nobody". And yet it was this same boy who always invited me to sit with him, rested his head on my shoulder when no one was watching, and stuck closer to my side than any of the other boys. I knew that Tough Boy liked me, yet it was as if by verbally denying any type of affection, he was disqualifying his actions. In other words, if he sounded tough, maybe he wouldn't feel so vulnerable inside. 

And it broke my heart, because at only ten years old Tough Boy was the only man of his home, and so he had to always be strong, always be brave. At ten years old, Tough boy had resolved it was better to love from a distance, to hold people at arm's length so they could not hurt you. At ten years old, Tough Boy had decided that love was not worth the pain.

However, as is the case with human condition, Tough Boy loved in spite of himself. As hard as he tried not to feel, not to love, his flesh - which is so desirous of affection - could not help but love and be loved.

Perhaps this was the realization that caused the heart-breaking goodbye he experienced.
It was the very last day of summer camp, and we were walking the kids home to their houses for the last time. Once they were signed out, most of the children ran out of their houses and followed us leaders to the community center where we debriefed the day. This was followed by many tears and hugs and promises to text or call or visit.

As the goodbyes came to a close, the children and began to disperse and make their way back to their homes. Only two of my girls and Tough Boy remained. They decided to walk me to my bus stop, and as I prepared to cross the street I gave the two girls one last hug which caused them to start crying again. As I tried to comfort them, Tough Boy laughed, "boo hoo now I'm going to cry!"
I just smiled and shook my head, "Stop fronting, I know you're not actually crying."
I said goodbye and turned to go when I heard a broken voice cry out,
"No Fancy! I'm serious, don't leave me!"
I turned and what I saw is an image that I will never forget.

There was Tough Boy, standing on the corner of the street, tears streaming down his dark cheeks. His faded black sweater that was a few sizes too big hung loosely off his shoulder and he used one of the long sleeves to wipe his nose. His shoulders shook with silent sobs, and his voice came again, this time quieter and with more pain than a child should ever know:
"Please Fancy...don't go".

My heart broke. I wrapped Not-So-Tough-Boy in a big hug and held him tightly as he sobbed quietly into my shirt. Tears sprang to my own eyes, and I prayed quietly for this young boy. I prayed that he would defy the odds; that the statistics about fatherless, at-risk children would not prove true for him. I pulled away and squatted down so that I was at eye level with tough boy. Wiping a tear from his face, I tried to make my voice as steady as I could as I said,
"I need you to listen close to me, okay? You're not a bad kid - don't let anyone ever tell you that. God loves you, and I do too. Please remember that...promise me you'll remember that."


The children and youth of Warden Woods have changed my life. Other than my immediate family, I love them more than I have loved anybody in my entire life. Even after days where they have frustrated me to no end, I realize that I love them more than ever before. There is nothing they could ever do that would make me stop loving them. And it is through this realization that I have come to understand Christ's love even more - his unconditional, relentless love.


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