There are some things you can’t erase from your memory, no matter how hard you try. When working with kids, there are many, many moments you would gladly choose to remember and even relive. Yet even though these moments happen often, the ones that mark you are the haunting moments where you see the pain that is living in a child’s heart. It is those moments that seem to mark you more deeply. I had an encounter with a young boy last week which has stuck with me through my busy schedule, through the surprise reconstruction of our entry way at Palm House, and through the moments of peace when my reflection has turned to center around this encounter…
We let the children play in the rain last week and it was a delightful success. To all those concerned parents who are now nervous that their children may come to Palm House and catch a cold, they did indeed all have jackets and we kept them warm with laughter and play. All parties were perfectly warm, content, and experiencing joy! I gave some of our smaller children a box of sidewalk chalk to decorate our front walkway with their creative masterpieces. It didn’t take long for one of our older boys to decide that graffiti isn’t too far from sidewalk design and he wanted to try his hand at it. I encouraged him to release his inner artist and then quickly headed off to wrangle/play with a few other boys who had come outside.
Numbers began to dwindle as the lesson was soon to start and there was dessert to be had. As the crowd of children outside began to thin, I saw the older boy finishing his “art.” You would think that when water meets chalk, it would wash it away and cause the words to fade, but instead the rain was causing the chalk to have a painted effect that made the words, “Dead Inside,” almost dance off the pavement. I looked from my sweet little boy, who is caring, easy-going and obedient, to the word etched in more than just our chalk - those words must be etched upon his heart. I walked over and reached for the chalk in his damp fingers. I knelt down over his words and asked him if he knew that there were similar words written in scripture thousands of years ago. That there was a man named Jesus who walked up to dead people and loved them back to life. I explained to him that no matter what kind of dead you feel, you can let Jesus love you back to life.
This little boy looked down at me through his hair that always seems to cover his big brown eyes and quickly explained that he “just wrote it - it doesn’t mean anything.” So I began to write my own message, and while doing so, I explained that now, it means everything. You can feel “dead inside” and come to life through Christ. I reached up and moved the hair from his eyes and then stood and pulled him into a hug. As I held him in my arms, I prayed that my arms would be like a seal, forever branding that message into him: Jesus can love you to a life you never knew possible. As he pulled away from my arms, he reached for the chalk and turned his drawing of the grim reaper’s staff into an “&” sign, "Dead inside & Alive in Christ" There are times when your words feel like a tiny drop of light in their bucket of darkness, and then there are times where the message of love can overturn the darkness completely.