Redeeming Tears

I can still see his little eyes, full of tears, full of searching. I can still feel the weight of the world upon his little shoulders. I can still remember the way he held on to the moment, not ready to let the world back in.

I can still remember all of it because it was a moment that changes everything.

Every day we wake, we make choices, and we interact with the world around us. Some days are exceptional, others are overwhelming, and still others seem to pass without notice neither refreshing nor disturbing the soul. And though every day is different, they are all the same. Each and every day, without fail and without warning, could be the day that changes our entire life; a day when our eyes are opened and our future is shifted.

In my life, these days are driven by moments when everything comes together to show me something I needed to learn, remember or have the courage to face. As I shared a few blog entries ago, these moments come frequently and powerfully in Nicaragua. Many of those moments are just between me and God, but sometimes they are shared with others and that makes them even more special.

This was one of those moments.

The Beginning of the Story

I have just returned from a two week trip to Nicaragua. For 8 of those days a group of 10 Aggies joined us and the work we are doing. For two of those days we worked in the city of Tipitapa doing a census of the neighborhood in the morning and putting on a VBS for the kids in the afternoon. During those two days we had the chance to invest in the children of the neighborhood and God moved in significant, tangible ways.

I think everyone on the team would agree with me that those two days were both exceptional and overwhelming.

As we conducted the census every morning we broke into three teams. Each team took different houses on each street. As we went the children we met would talk and play with each group. Many of those kids then became a part of the team themselves, helping with the scales, the tape measures, knocking on doors, telling us names and ages, and providing a never ending accompaniment of joy.

As we went our group grew and grew, and the second day was larger than the first. I never could get an exact count but I do know that at one point on the second day there were close to 50 kids hanging around the three teams. The picture to the right is an example (there are only 27 kids in this one but you get the idea).

Needless to say we had a chance to invest in these children and their hearts in a significant way and the group really took advantage of it. I saw Aggies constantly carrying little kids, holding their hands, playing games, hugging, smiling, and giving themselves away to these precious children. The kids, in turn, were doing the same and loved every single second of it.

Though there were large groups of kids with each team, most of us had one or two kids in particular that we really bonded with or that really bonded with our team. One of those children for me and my team was a little boy who we will call David.

The Invitation

We were visiting a family before getting started with the census when David first walked up. He had a tough swagger going on and looked at me, gave me the Nicaraguan “tough guy” head nod, and just stood there watching.

David and I have a little bit of history together, but not much. I have seen him many times, but have never spent significant time with him. I didn’t know his back story or what his home life was like. I just recognized his face – not just in the sense of what he looks like, but also in the sense of what his eyes and facial expressions were saying about the life he lives.

I have seen the same look in many boys and young men that come from homes where they are not told they are loved, where they are not told they are good and strong, where they are abused physically, where they are told they are worthless, and where they are forced into adulthood well before their time. It is a look that is meant to project toughness, but instead provides a window to the longing to be loved that is lurking just under the surface, constantly causing him to question his own strength and abilities, and to never really know who or whose he is. It is a look that cuts me to the core because I know the devastation it can wreak if it is not addressed.

We needed to move the van to another part of the neighborhood so we all loaded up. He asked if he could go with us and I told him that we would love to take him with us but we didn’t have permission from his parents to ride in the van. He nodded and stepped back. I expected him to follow the van to where we were going as most of the other kids would do, but he didn’t. After all the Aggies were in the van I walked around to the driver side and saw him walking down the road with his head down, deeply saddened by not being able to go with us.

I was crushed.

I prayed ferociously that God would give me the chance to mend the wound I had unintentionally inflicted. I hurried to the put the van into gear so that I could reach him before he got too far off. We reached him just in time, I rolled down my window and shouted to him, “Hey! We need your help to get everything done if you want to work with us. Just come over to the leader house and we will put you to work!”

I expected him to shrug me off or to stay sad, but he didn’t. Instead he gave me a huge smile and took off running towards his house. I was shocked. In fact, right now, thinking about it, knowing what happened later, I am getting tears in my eyes.

Working Together

The next thing I know he is working with us. He is helping, he is cautiously joking, and he is watching everyone and everything we do. I could tell he was searching, intently watching when we hugged a child and intently listening when we told a child something good about them.

The next thing I know he has lost all toughness, all façade, and is a little boy. He began playing, hugging, smiling, laughing, and being a part of the group of these crazy Christians that loved him before they even knew him.

It was beautiful.

He continued to stay involved throughout the VBS and before we left for the day we had a chance to talk.

“Thank you for working with us today. You were a huge help!” I said.

He smiled and looked down. He looked back up and asked, “What time will you start tomorrow?”

“9:30 am!”

He looked down again, then looked at me with a serious face again. The weight of his circumstances was back on his shoulders, he looked uneasy, and I could tell what he was going to say next meant something to him. “Can I work again tomorrow?”

What a beautiful question! Even now I have a huge smile of gratitude that God allowed me to answer it, to be part of this little boy’s story. I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him right in the eye and said, “We wouldn’t be able to do it without you.”

He took a second, as if expecting me to start laughing or saying I was just joking, that he was useless, worthless, and we didn’t want him around us. Then, after a moment of silence when I said nothing else he let a little smile creep across his face.

Redemption commenced.

The Next Day

He spent the whole next day with us and it was beautiful to watch. It was as if I could see the truth penetrating his heart and replacing so many harsh, horrible words and actions that had been part of his life with kindness, love and hope.

But then came the end of the second day, when we had to leave. Walter wrapped up the event telling all the kids very important truths about how much they are loved by God and us and I watched him listen. It was hitting home.

Then he looked at me and saw me watching him. I smiled, he smiled, and I motioned for him to come over.

No words were spoken. No words were needed. He just walked over and leaned his back against me. I wrapped my arm around him and we just stood there while kids and Aggies ran around laughing, hugging and saying goodbye. It was a moment where, I believe for us both, the world disappeared and all that was left was that simple embrace and what it meant.

I prayed desperately for him, for the man he would be, for the lessons he would learn and that God would not let him ever forget how much he is loved.

A few minutes later I got called away to help with something and I had to leave him. I, in my little faith, was so scared that God was letting him go. That he would be alone for this important moment. But God was bigger than that. He brought exactly what he needed: a second heart to confirm the truths that was tender enough to empathize with him and help him bear his burden.

I finished what I needed to do and turned to find him. What I found was one of the Aggies with her arms around him, pouring out love through two arms wrapped protectively around him, allowing him to let himself be weak, to need love, and to accept that he was lovable, that we loved him, and, most importantly, that God loved him.

I watched as both their eyes filled with tears. I saw him look at her cry, realize it was ok, let his eyes fill with tears, and take rest in the arms of love.

Redemption in process.

Verbalizing Love

Most of the kids had walked off by now, but a small number were still left. So to end the day we circled up and sat down on the ground together. Up until this moment actions were enough, but I needed him and the other kids to HEAR how much God loved them, how much we loved them. So I began to speak the words on my heart.

As I told them that we loved them, I made eye contact with him. He was crying and he looked down immediately. I knew there were other kids to speak truth to, and I would get to them, but right now this boy needed to know that a man can cry, that Jesus himself wept, and God is a healer who feels the same sadness, cries alongside his children, and provides the truth to their hearts that heals their wounds.

So my eyes stayed right where they were. He looked up again, and this time held my gaze. In perfect timing as only God can do, it was right as I said, “Always remember that God loves you, that we love you, and that will never change.”

His nose crinkled. His brow furrowed. The tears came again. But this time he believed. I realize I have no proof of that, that I can’t possibly say that with certainty, and that there is really no way to know what he was even thinking.

But I have faith in a God that loves ferociously, thoroughly, and perfectly. And in that moment I saw that Love transcend everything that was and become that which is larger than life itself.

Redemption accomplished.

What I Believe

I don’t dare to think that single moment has forever reshaped David’s life. I know he will face challenges, heartbreak, and overwhelming situations. I know that after we told him bye he had to go back to the very same home that made him cry at a unique feeling of love that strangers shared in just two days. I know his road is hard.

But I also know the vastness of our God’s provision, I know His faithfulness that never ends, and I know his omnipotent love that conquers and enables all. And in those things I find rest that David will find peace, strength, and love.

As I reflected about those hopes, the Lord placed a small poem on my heart. I will end this portion of the story (as I have great hopes my next trip will continue the narrative of love being written) with that poem:

Tears will fall, from life’s deep stains.
Tears will fall, with loss and gains.
Tears will fall, from all our pains.
Tears will fall, but joy remains.
Tears will fall, but hope sustains.
Tears will fall, but love still reigns.

Thank you to everyone that came down, that prayed for our trip, that supported us financially, that sent down donations, hugs and love, and for everyone that cares about these precious children and the plight they face. Your love has helped bring redeeming love that changes everything.

Merry Christmas from us at With One Hope and may the God that sustains, that provides, that heals, and that loves us with a fervor unmatched bless your time together as a family.

Chris & the With One Hope Team

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