What does it feel like to sentence someone to death? While I'm certainly not 100% certain... I feel like today, I did just that. Not necessarily a literal death, but hope died today in my office for one young man.
He's one of the most intelligent, charismatic, beautiful young men that has ever set foot on our campus. This young man... I've been walking with him for 3 years. We've walked through major abuse, removal, reunification, pornography, lying, stealing, and now even more difficult things that not only effect him, but innocent people, too. We've done counseling... time away... controlled environment... mercy... discipline... only to find a heart that has hardened by life's hurts.
What I wouldn't give to go back 10 years... hold him when he was young... feed him when his mother was too sick to do it... nurture him when his father died. correct him when he came home late, or was choosing bad friends... sing over him songs of love... tell him that Jesus loves him... and that he is certainly special because he was GOOD.
His burdens of life have become too much. Addictions in place of self control, deception in place of honesty... but even now... I'm still holding on to the truth that Jesus can.
Jesus can change a man. I need a Saul to Paul experience with this one.
While it looks as if I have given up, be assured, I have not. It is sometimes in life's greatest disappointments, trials, or disciplines that true change can occur. It isn't one I like to hand out, but when all other options have been through... again and again and again... one has to stop sewing seed on the rock.
As I saw him walk out of our office... I could barely stand it. I felt like the father to the prodigal son... no... the mother. Painful. Hoping one day, we will see him again in a better condition. The reality is, however, unless something changes... he is walking out to a very long road... where education will be difficult to find, jobs impossible, food will be rare.
I can't stand it. I feel like I have sentenced him to a hopeless life. I held his mother's hand... and we cried together... recounting how many times we've begged him to do the right things... no remorse... no promise of change. Hope died for her today. Hopes she had for her son's life. No one wants to be the mother to Saul... Judas... Samson... but the truth is... it could be any one of us.
So today is a sad day for me. One of our firstborn children has left our program heading into a life that isn't promising of hope apart from Jesus. I can't stand it. I also can't rescue him. I've tried. I've failed. But Jesus...
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with CHRIST..." Eph 2: 4-5
Home again... the early morning chatter on the farm before harvest, the smell of laundry from outside, the dust settling on every square inch of me, and oh the children. Yesterday someone said "the mother of the village must be home because there were very few children here and now, they are everywhere." Mother of the Village. I'm not sure about that title... but I certainly know it takes a village.
While all these things are the beauty that settle around me... nothing compares to yesterday. One of my bigs has proven to have such deep love for his birth family. We always know it is there. We encourage it, and quite frankly, love them a lot as well. (seriously, his grandmother is one of my favorite people I've met here)
Unprompted, on our time away, he thoughtfully gathered gifts for each one of his family members, especially the children. "will this fit?" He would ask. Thought. Time. His own money.
Yesterday was the delivery. He has never forgotten them. He carries his birth family with him through life. I can see this. He carefully bagged each bag for each family member. I could see the anticipation and excitement building.
He was gone for maybe 2 hours. Upon his return, he had some cousins with him, which he had never invited over. We welcomed them, and said they were welcome in. He showed them his home... taught them how to play games, and laughed and laughed. They are the ones he grew up with. The ones before us. They are his family.
Afterwards, he and I were able to talk a bit about his visit. I could see that the burden of their need weighs so heavily upon him. There were things that were unsettling to him, where he coached even older family members to be more responsible and mature. He said "how can you not help?" That is love. That's the love that makes someone come outside of themselves... their own selfishness... and give. "You can give without love, but cannot love without giving" a pastor recently told me.
To see my son, who once felt he had nothing to give... give in such a generous way... without being prompted or guided... is amazing.
I believe that so many people have been reading about the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and the sadness of lives taken from this disease. My heart is breaking for so many... especially fellow missionaries who are serving in Sierra Leone that we know and love so much, along with Lifesong Liberia. They are currently packing up and evacuating their home and ministry until it is safe for them to return. I can't imagine what they are going through and the thoughts and emotions they are experiencing. To have the luxury of leaving alone... can make you feel guilt ridden and broken. To be uncertain of if the faces and people you have served with... cried with... laughed with... will be there upon your return... unimaginable. The children...the widows...the ministry leaders...
The love that Christ gives them to love is truly unconditional, deep, and real.
Please pray for the people of West Africa, and for the health care workers who are literally putting their lives at risk each day... some even loosing their lives to save others.
The suffering is real... the people are real... this is impacting people we love dearly. Please pray with us. Pray for a SUPERNATURAL healing and eradication of this disease. Pray God sized stories are formed and that HE alone would be glorified even in suffering.
I can't imagine leaving the children I LOVE like my own under these circumstances. Pray for Tom and Becky who serve and are sent from our church body. Pray for Lifesong Liberia and the children there that we serve.
p.s. People have asked about us and Ebola. There are no reported cases in our area of Africa. We are literally 3,000 miles from this disease... that's the distance from New York to California.