The Carnival She’s Longing For

Dear little girl,

You run and push and tease and bully and the other kids don’t like you. You disregard all authority and rules and choose to follow your own. Your behavior screams out for attention, but not the kind you’re looking for. You are left unsatisfied. You’re crying for love. But it seems so out of reach. Oh how I see your longing. Your craving. Your desperation. Oh how your heart must ache.

The school carnival was today. Parents came to pick up the other kids and take them off smiling and running to the elementary event of the year. You cried and screamed, tantrumed on the floor. You kicked the doors, kicked the backpacks on the floor. You wanted to go to the carnival right then because it had just begun. But your mother hadn’t come for you yet. I’m sorry we couldn’t take you. I’m sorry that no one came for you right at the start. Oh how sad you must have felt to hear the laughter and giddiness and see the bustle and not be a part of it.

Soon all of the other kids were picked up and indulging in the carnival’s riches, except for you. We walked back to the cafeteria to await your mother’s arrival. On our way we passed through the carnival hallway. You probably still remember it: tables of cookies and bars and pie and cake. Eager lines formed to buy tickets. Entire families all out for the grand event. Kids grinning with anticipation and indulgence. We stole a minute in the gym, the hub of the affair. Games and prizes, artists drawing caricatures, laughter and delighted squeals, tickets and treats. You stood in wide-eyed fascination and amazement. The air buzzed with excitement. A childlike ecstasy overwhelmed even me, at twenty three.  We stood and watched, taking it all in. It seemed to call to us, to reel us in. To enrapture us with its tempting thrill and pleasure. I snapped back to reality and realized we had to leave. We tapped your shoulder and turned you to walk back out into the quiet hallway, locked off from the carnival. It was blank, hushed, silent, reminding that this was not where the party was. That we were missing out. Even the cafeteria was emptier with the tables all rolled out for the celebration, a constant reminder of what we were missing. You waited at the window, walked on top of a lone table, and refused to pay attention to our warnings. After a while, I ignored your behavior and began to talk with you and ask you questions. Your eyes were wide with a glint of confusion, as if to say, “You’re talking to me? You want to know about me? You aren’t yelling at me? You’re engaging with me and I’m not in trouble?” I asked you all sorts of questions about your favorite things. I remember that you liked mangos and green beans, and the color violet. Which is different than purple, because it’s brighter, like pink and purple mixed together. If you could have any pet, you’d want a king cobra so you could bring it to school and scare and attack everyone. “Everyone’s mean to me. So I’d bring him with me.” You played absentmindedly with a set of miniature silver handcuffs. This was your toy, ironically; your mother was recently arrested and spent time in jail. You were sent off to a foster family for a bit. Now you’re back at home. Your entire world has been taken, twisted, and distorted far too many times for an eight year old. This should not be your reality. This should not be your childhood and these should not be your memories. But they are. And so cautiously and slowly you moved toward me as you realized I cared and was interested in you, fiddling with your handcuffs and telling me about king cobras.

The minutes passed slowly and you grew more impatient. A PTO mom came by, rosy with excitement and asked when your parents were coming. “I can give you some free tickets now if you want to go get her started at the carnival…!” she graciously offered. We told her we couldn’t and had to wait here until you were picked up. You told us that your mom had forgotten about the carnival and didn’t know it was today. That she probably wouldn’t take you. We said that maybe you’d be surprised and she would go with you, that she just needed to be reminded that it was today. You fearfully asked if we were going to tell her about your earlier tantrum. We assured you that we wouldn’t, but would simply tell her that you were upset earlier because you wanted to go to the carnival. I think as the minutes passed more slowly, our own hearts began anxiously hoping for you. We silently resolved to say whatever we could, just short of telling your mother how cruel it would be if she refused. You softly but desperately pleaded, “Will you tell her that I really want to go to the carnival? Because I really want to. Will you tell her that??” We promised we would.

The clock ticked past our closing time. We waited and waited. At this point there was only 45 minutes left of the carnival. “Will she spare even that, those 45 minutes for her daughter?” I wondered. We called and she flippantly said she was in the parking lot. She came in and you frantically struggled to get your shoes on to meet her down the long hallway. I helped you tie your shoe as fast as I could. Your anxious eyes revealed a heart beating desperately and with great urgency. You just wanted to get to her. You ran down the hall. I didn’t hear what was said, but I didn’t have to. Your shaking sobs and wailing told me. Tears surged out of your angry, lonely, and abandoned eyes. Your mother scolded harshly, “Quit crying! You’re lucky we went roller-skating last week. We’re not going to the carnival. No!” She scrawled her name on the sign out sheet and wrote the time. Fifteen minutes past pick up. You stood behind pleading and crying. “Knock it off! That’s enough! We’re not going. C’mon, get in the car.” Her words jabbed even me, so harsh and punishing. It was as if she didn’t even hear you, didn’t even care.

Couldn’t she see your desperate pleading eyes? Your longings and pleas? Your calloused heart from abrasive rejection? Oh little girl, I saw you! I longed to take you into my arms and hug you and lavish you with joy. To bring you to the carnival and share in your excitement and wonder and glee.

I numbly walked to my car and turned the key. “Why does this hurt me so much?” I prayed. “It’s just a carnival. It’s not a big deal. Just two hours of elementary spoiling and sugar. But is it really about the carnival?” It was so much more. I saw your deeply rooted pain, oozing out in despicable nastiness and defiance. Behavior rising from a crying heart, only to be shut up with rejection and punishment. I saw your fear and wonder at positive attention. Your pure longing and desire, completely discarded. Oh little girl, how I wish I could give you the world! But even more, I want you to know the safety and refuge in the love of One who made you. The One who knows you, you knows your desires. The One who longs to bless you. To hold you. To love you. To teach you. To surprise you with joy. To lavish you with singing. To celebrate you. Oh little girl, how this Daddy delights in you! I want you to know!

Oh little girl, I’ve only known you for an hour, but I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I am praying for you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. My heart weeps for your tender throbbing pain. I can’t do anything but pray. And so I will. Our God is greater than all of this. And to Him I will plead for you.


The one who tied your shoes


Lord, will she ever know you? Oh Jesus, I beg of you to make yourself known. That she will know love and know the One who can fill her with life, never to be taken away. Please satisfy her deep hunger and thirst, her parched starvation. Oh good Father, hold her like she’s never been held. And don’t let her go.

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