Re-reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and thinking about all that children are capable of enduring and surviving.
“He came in every night and sat with her. The first couple of times, he simply stayed – a stranger to kill the aloneness. A few nights after that, he whispered, ‘Shhhhh, I’m here, it’s all right.’ After three weeks, he held her. Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness. The girl knew from the outset that Hans Hubermann would always appear midscream, and he would not leave.”
Acts 6-7: Stephen described as “filled with grace and power”
This season of “healthy at home” when some children are home but not surrounded by health.
To all the Liesels living through this pandemic with silent suffering and a small hope still burning within you:
From the comfort of my home office, I hear the noises of lunch wrapping up. Daddy just got home from work, carrying one of the kids’ favorite lunches from a local restaurant. The boys squealed when they saw the extra special treat: two lemonades and a Sprite. I can hear them yelling Harry Potter spells at each other from where I sit at my desk. Daddy has been reading the whole Harry Potter series to them while we’re quarantining at home.
Their bellies are full.
Their pace is energetic.
They are safe, warm, free, and know themselves to be loved.
I imagine that it might delight and pain you to witness this scene – the verbalized love, steady safety, appropriate boundaries, affirmation of self, and challenge to grow.
You might be wishing for any of these. You might find yourself pleading for one day where you can breathe free and feel safe. Instead of special drinks of lemonade or a special read-aloud of your favorite book, you are hoping for some small miracles.
An adult to relent in their steady stream of punishment.
A parent to take a night off from numbing their pain with alcohol or pills.
A teacher to see the bruises on your shoulders over a “Google Meet” with your class.
A neighbor to hear the screams that are loudest around late afternoon.
A sibling to check in on you after a late-night visit from the family friend.
A mom to reach out to your foster parents to check on how you’re doing.
I worry about you. I’m angry at the ways adults can so significantly wound the children in their care – the children dependent upon them to be raised and saved.
I grieve for you. I’m sad that you don’t get to see your favorite teacher who greets you with a smile and affirms your brilliance as you work on reading aloud in class.
I weep for you. I’m aware that this is a time of waiting. You are waiting for time to pass, for the next nightmare, for a miracle.
I know we tend to think of great adults with public platforms and prophetic voices (like Stephen from Acts 6-7) as people filled with grace and power, but I want you to know that I see you as someone filled with grace and power. I see you as someone worth noticing, knowing, and listening to.
You may not receive grace from others. You receive condemnation, measured love, and manipulative affection. You can only imagine what it would be like to receive unconditional, steady gentle warmth, and never-ending connection. But you are filled with grace because you are enduring the gravest of transgressions, but you are still here. You sense deep down that there is a soul within you that is loved, held, and soaked in grace. This persistent voice of self-compassion sustains you over the long nights.
Others took from you the power to escape and seek safety. You may feel unable to make a change. It stings the most when an opportunity to get help presents itself, but you do not feel ready to make the big step. The attachment you feel to the adults in your life is too complicated for you to understand right now. But you are filled with power because you are enduring the gravest of transgressions, but you are still here. You have developed the capacity to survive, to keep going, to persist. You are masterful at resurrecting – a gift that will serve you your whole life long. Standing back up is your superhero power.
Filled with grace and power, you are doing great wonders and signs – even if you don’t realize it. We know it to be true. You are a beautiful blossom that is enduring the harshest of winters. You are vibrant color living amidst an unresolved mess and numbed landscape. You are alive and surrounded, I believe, by a God who deeply loves you and bestows you worth and wonder.
During this moment of social distance and “healthy” (for some of us) at home, I send you my love across however many doorsteps, miles, and borders needed to reach you as you hide in your closet and practice your deep breaths.
I’m taking some deep breaths, too, as I write this. Perhaps as we breathe slowly in and out, our souls can connect for a mere moment, and you can know I’m rooting for you – child of God, filled with grace and power. Maybe I’m making up this connection that we share. Or perhaps God is just mysterious and beautiful and transcendent enough for the bond of love to unite us as One.
Either way, as I breathe deeply, I remember you, and I trust again that our God is by your side, filling you with whatever peace you’re able to soak up during these calm moments in the dark.
We love you. We are praying for your endurance. Whenever we see the chance to appear midscream, may we run to you and never leave.