Last night was a blessing. Not one of those fill-your-heart-with-warm-feelings-of-comfort-and-joy kind of blessings. No, last night was rather painful. I spent the evening with a group of girls in a juvenile hall facility for an early Thanksgiving dinner. The volunteers each headed a small table of four girls so we could bond with them on a more personal and intimate level. In between the main course and desserts, we showed them a short video titled “Father’s Love Letter,” and I gave a short talk about their true beauty and worth – how they possess it, how no one can take it away from them, and how that alone meant that they have a power to overcome their seemingly hopeless situations.
I’ve given talks before. And I’ve worked with juvenile hall boys before. But this was the first time I worked with girls, and the first time I spoke to a group of girls who have been through…well, things unfathomable to me. I dreaded the evening...and I definitely did NOT want to stand up in front of them all. Not because I didn’t want to affirm them – I do with my entire being. It was just so so painful. Painful because as I was preparing the things I wanted to say to them the evening before, I broke down in tears as I realized that I still had a hard time accepting these things in my own heart – how could I tell these girls, who have been through so much worse than I, to do so? Painful because as I listened to the girls at my table talk about their lives, I could see the sorrow and loneliness in their eyes. The anger. The hurt. The despair. It reminded me of my own despair in my own dark days when my heart was closed and I didn’t believe in God’s love for me. And if I felt those things with such intensity, how much more these girls must feel. How high must be the walls they’ve built around their fragile hearts. How could I tell them to not be brought down by the things they’ve done, and those that have been done to them?
BY HIS GRACE
But I know that it was by God’s grace alone that I took the first steps to turn back to Him. And it will be by His grace that these girls will be made new. And that’s a comforting thing, because He is strong and His grace is powerful beyond our comprehension. So I went up there and asked the Holy Spirit to speak to them. There were so many things I wanted to say. So many things I wanted them to understand. But words alone are never enough.
I only pray that tonight they experienced God in some small way that is enough to open their hearts.
No, words alone are never enough. I only pray that tonight they experienced God in some small way that is enough to put a crack in those walls. I am eternally grateful that the girls at my table were so sweet. In the beginning they didn’t say much and felt uncomfortable with me. By dessert we were giggling at each other’s silly attitudes and complementing each other’s qualities. These girls were friends beforehand, and I was blessed they let me in on a bit of that friendship.
“THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS…
In just a few hours’ time, I of course can’t possibly know all they’ve been through. Yes, I know a bit of the crimes they committed to land them in this place, but I cannot imagine what could have happened to have driven them to the things they did. I know that many of these girls have been (repeatedly) raped. Many have been trafficked/prostituted. And a handful have committed murder/attempted murder/some other violence. But details aren’t necessary, because God’s love is unceasing, despite all that. The girls at my table are truly beautiful. I’m glad I gave my talk, because at the least it allowed my table to open up to me a bit more.
[Crying] was a good thing because that allowed many of the girls the feeling of safety to cry and be vulnerable as well, which is the first them to them letting down their walls.
I was determined not to get emotional during the evening. I tried so hard to not cry during my sharing, because I wanted to affirm them with strength and hope, not reflect any of their despair. But I broke down. In the end, one volunteer said it was a good thing because that allowed many of the girls the feeling of safety to cry and be vulnerable as well, which is the first them to them letting down their walls. If this is true, I am grateful. After the talk, we went around the tables to share what we were thankful about this year. So many said they were thankful that they were caught, because if not, they “would be dead by now.”
…AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT.”
I tried holding in my emotions after that, and managed up until the point when the last girl left the room and we had to clean up. And then the tears came again. And when I got home, I turned to Jesus for comfort and the tears kept coming. I felt this deep sadness and emptiness that I couldn’t really comprehend or explain. It was reminiscent of the loneliness I used to feel, only I had forgotten just how painful it was to carry this around day-to-day. I wish I had the power to take away some of their sorrows. I don’t. But you know what? Jesus does. And He did.
I realize that this love I feel is absolutely nothing compared to Jesus’s self-sacrificial love. How amazing that is! I can never fully understand it, but last night I was allowed to feel a small small fraction of it and I was overwhelmed. He felt ALL the suffering I felt in my dark days, and He took it away from me. He feels all that these girls feel, to the very depths of their hearts. And He is continually fighting for their love, as He is for all of our love. And that is a beautiful thing.
If you guys are reading this, please pray for Nikki, Maddie, Crystal, and Celeste, as well as all the girls who were there. They are wonderfully made, and they are precious. I wish I could have given each of them a hug, but that was prohibited by probation. Instead, I will pray their guardian angels continue to watch over them and protect them from physical and spiritual harm. And that Our Lady continues to cover them in her mantel of motherly love. Last night has only made it more clear how important the message of authentic love and beauty is. I pray that whenever I have the opportunity to speak about this, that I do so with love and gentleness, so that girls like them (and boys as well) open the doors to their hearts just enough for Jesus to enter.
God promises us, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5). That’s a reassuring thing.