Even though our rooms are overflowing and it seems at times there are more kids than any of us as staff can handle together, there are faces that you come to expect each day - smiles and voices that you suddenly realize haven't been seen or heard by anyone for a few days.
When a couple of weeks pass, I pull out my pen and slowly write each name under the one above it.
There is a mama and her family here in town who loves strong...who is strong. I know the secret of her strength, because I know Him too, and she opens her heart and her home to kids who need somewhere safe and there have been some kids that we have known who have ended up under her roof and her care - who have been enveloped in peace and the love of Jesus the moment they have walked through her door.
She has a list too.
I've seen the growing expanse of it when I pick up my kids from their Friday mornings with her, their names painted up on the walls of her home - I've seen the names I recognize and I know that they have been loved deeply here and I am grateful for all the ways God crosses paths. Grateful for the ones in this community who have said "yes" to the uncomfortable and the awkward. "Yes" to the hard and the heartbreaking. "Yes" to the loving and the praying and the entrusting, not only of these children they don't know, but the entrusting of their own children into the Hands and ways of a good God Who asks us to love like He does.
The last couple of weeks have been difficult - I think I can write that down here.
Feeling as though I'm fraying on the edges, I've only wanted to hide out in my home. We've been sick, off and on, and I've been thankful. Thankful for the moments that meant I could curl up with my littlest and let her sleep on me on the couch. Thankful for vomit and sore throats and fevers and all of the extra snuggling that meant. Thankful for the volunteers who took one look at me after a bout of food poisoning and sent *me* home, telling me they had everything under control.
When the edges are raw, I want to retreat, and for about a week I could.
But the next week pressed in harder and by the time this past Friday finally came, I thought we were all going to collapse.
Spring bursts onto the scene, but so does violence in this place we find ourselves. A double murder happens just down the road a ways, police presence is thick. We hear yelling and screaming and gun shots and I see the color red everywhere - caps, shirts, shoes, shorts - and I find myself double checking our own attire before we head out for the day; the red bag I take with me to work gets replaced by a gifted brown backpack.
The overthinking everything rounds my shoulders in weariness.
I don't remember ever reading anywhere how lonely ministry can be. Surrounded by many, pressed in on all sides by children desperate to be seen, but it can still be so lonely.
I see it in my own children when we venture out past the inner city - their struggle to find where they fit.
They see and hear things that are much different here. My oldest daughter leans against me one evening last week, sobbing because of the horrors that her friends right here experience and bravely share with her tender heart...how do you voice that outside of the inner city to your peers? I watch my children flail at times, trying to get their footing...and it breaks my heart. I know that God is using this, that this is part of His plan for their lives for the good works He has planned for them, but I don't know how to help them through these moments where they feel like misfits - like the odd one out.
But isn't this a feeling common to everyone?
It's just worn differently, depending on who and where you are.
Sure, it's easy to see in a Red or Blue shirt, in the woman strung out on drugs, on that man who walks by our house, desperate to get rid of his demons by trying to drown them in the alcohol in that bottle he carries around.
I wear my glasses.
Now, there are times I wear them because I genuinely need to - contacts aren't as comfortable anymore, no matter how many brands I try,
but there are days when I put my glasses on to put a wall up between me and the world outside. As though that one small barrier will make my smile stronger.
Because things are easier to carry around, to wear. Being bold and vulnerable and saying to the person across from you that you are a mess is just...well...
And who has time to be bothered anymore?
Everyone is running around like the world is on fire, because it feels as though it actually is.
And our alone-ness feels as though it is going to consume us and it's so much easier to just play one more round of the newest game on the newest app on your phone.
But the hiding it just hardens us...
at least, it hardens me.
The kids all went fishing this past weekend at a local Kid Fish event put on a by a number of people who go to our church. Madison House packed over 40 kids into a couple of vans and they reeled in a good number of trout.
I opened the door to a little boy who proudly carried the fish my girls caught in Ziploc bags right up into my home. Marched across the threshold and through the school room and up to the kitchen counter and plopped them down on the counter.
Plopped them so hard the bag burst open and fish...juice...went everywhere.
And I watched his face fall.
I still want to cry over it all - not the spilled and watery fish liquid, but over how I reacted. I love this kid like he is part of our family. I love how brave he was and how comfortable he is just to walk right in my door...but in the trying to hold it all together, I became brittle and it took absolutely nothing at all to break me into shards.
Our shards always break outward, hurting those closest to us.
It doesn't seem to matter how deeply I know this, I always seem to forget when I am most weary.
There's a portion of verses in Exodus, when the Hebrew slaves are groaning over their burdens in the heat of Egypt, that always jumps out at me - seems to come to my mind most when I feel most alone, and it's simply this:
Their names are written down, because they are seen and known - not just by me...not just by her - they are known by Jesus and should I ever be given the opportunity to sit down with one of these children who came by everyday and then just didn't - I want to be able to pull out my Bible and show them this - show them that they have never been forgotten; they have been prayed over and loved still, no matter how much time has passed.
The One Who is Most High and Almighty, He sees you and me. He sees each one that feels most alone and forgotten - the one who feels like the misfit and outside of everything. But He doesn't just see - He knows - and in the knowing, He came near...He is near.
Monday is less than an hour away and a new week will begin. Madison House will be open and who knows how many children will press in close and yell and push to be seen.
My edges, they still feel a tad raw, a bit frayed. I'll admit here that I feel a bit of a mess.
But it's the raw and frayed edges that open my eyes to the beauty of Jesus. In Him I'm not alone and when I press into that, I can point the other raw and frayed ones to His love that took on our grief and our sorrows, our pain and our sickness. The One Who wears our names in the scars on His Hands.
There isn't a pen in the world that can beat that.