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.

Therefore I will not lose heart

Here I sit, with my personal computer, in my regular routine, in my quaint little apartment above a cozy cafe, my stomach full, and my body well. I am comfortable. Oh how quickly I forget. It wasn’t that long ago that this reality fell away and I entered into something else. Something completely different. No resemblance to this place, this comfort, at all.  And I thought I would never forget. I thought that this was the pivotal moment and my life would turn around. And it was. It did. But now I am here. Far from the place where stories and pain and joy and grief were sewn onto my heart. And I remain unaffected. I live as though it never happened. I brush the elementary kids off my arms at work and sigh at their stories and am absent of patience. I move through life undisturbed by the brokenness of those I am close with. I do my duty and all that’s expected of me and am done. I hate that. It’s not me. I am more than that. God has done a beautiful work in me and I refuse to let routine and apathy take over my compassion and love. I want to live in full remembrance of where I’ve been and what I have learned. 

So I look back and read what I wrote then. I allow myself to feel and remember. And I am moved. 

July 20, 2012

Morning at Shishu Bhavan, one of the Mother Teresa homes for children. 

We walked into the courtyard, totally clueless as to where to go, so we wandered until we found one of the sisters and got our assignment for the day. We would be with the “toddlers”…the healthier children up for adoption. We walked in, no one really noticed. I found a place on the floor and two girls “read”/ memory-vomited nursery rhymes to me in their little school uniforms. I went with one of the sisters to drop them off at their school. I held the hand of a girl about 8 years old. She had plastic glasses and her short dress uniform, high socks, and black shoes. I held her fisted hand as she clung onto the two pieces of candy the sister had given her for the day. As we walked I was so frustrated. I felt lost and unwelcome. And the girl walked so slowly…dawdled along, twisting her body to watch the things and people we passed. When she turned to look, her leg also turned, which made her limp awkwardly and even more slowly. She almost ran into a pole and then again into a bamboo ladder that men were carrying down the street. I was irritated and even said under my breath, “What is your problem? Seriously, let’s walk normally and just get there!” I recognized this hardness and impatience and anger…I prayed “Jesus, I need you. I want to see you here. I don’t know how to love them.  Why can’t I love this girl? I feel so frustrated.” We continued down a little ally and up a dark staircase to the classroom (I literally pulled her up some of the stairs…I showed no love to that child). The classroom was worn and old and faded and dusty. I hate that…why couldn’t they have nice things and beautiful schools like the ones I had?

I came back to the playroom. The toddlers all wore yellow patterned clothes…simple and handmade. They didn’t like the plastic glasses they wore, strapped to their heads with a plastic spiral or a coated wire, and most of the kids tried to take them off. The kids were bald…all shaven heads. It must be easier to take care of…and cleaner. It was shaving day today. Even the girls lost their pretty curls or tiny pigtails. Their heads looked misshapen and awkward. I hated the fighting cries as they went off with the sisters to the little designated shaving room. I peeked in once…the sister holding him across her lap, so calm as she moved the razor across the head of the screaming child. I rocked one boy in the plastic chair horse. He had no expression or emotion, no reactions. His legs were lifeless and so were his eyes. He stared at nothing…jerking his heavy head forward and back to rock the horse. He didn’t like to be touched. I saw him later on the floor alone, rocking back and forth. A sister came by and said, “He is so lazy and needs to walk.” So for the rest of the time he was held by his arms, his body dangling without the support of his legs. 

All of a sudden they all were taken away to eat. I sat and waited, hung some laundry out on the terrace and thought about all of my frustration. I was frustrated with the kids, but also with the sisters. Yes, they played with the kids and held them and kissed them, but it didn’t feel intimate. Not like a parent’s love. But they aren’t the parents. These kids are still waiting for parents. How long will they wait? My anger is at the system and the situation, but I still feel bitter toward the people who are a part of it. It’s easier to be angry at people than at systems. 

I entered the small room where lunch was being served and was hit with a carrot and a glob of rice. I looked to where it flew from and the boy just smirked at me. I sat on the grimy rice floor and began to feed a girl, who soon got whisked away to be shaved. I watched the volunteer next to me feed two kids. She smiled and laughed. The little boy blew raspberry kisses on her arm and touched her face. He pulled her face close and kissed her cheek with his smiling rice coated lips. She fed them without frustration or routine. He ran off to get a bald Barbie doll head to play with. She didn’t look at it disgustedly, but joined him in his play as she continued to feed him. He got up and came to me, held my face, kissed me, smiled and sat back down. He didn’t even know me, but gave me love.

Soon the girl came back, shaven head. I tied a soggy bib around her neck and she sat down in front of the pie tin and spoon full of cold rice and chicken mush that resembled a chunky sort of vomit. I lifted the spoon full of food to her mouth as I had seen the others do. She opened her mouth mechanically and I put the spoon of mush in and scraped it off with her teeth. She sat with it in her mouth, her eyes absent of all life or thought…pure loneliness and lifelessness. Soon she chewed and slowly swallowed. I had to put more in her mouth. I hated it. “Why can’t she be fed and loved. Where are her parents? What is this, God? Why? Why can’t she be loved more?” I held back tears as I looked on this child…holding the mush in her mouth thoughtlessly and blankly. “Would she even know how to be loved? If she were adopted, what would she do? Would she know how to eat? Will she ever know that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be?” I fed her a few more spoonfuls, getting frustrated because my heart hurt so much. “C’mon, chew chew swallow. Eat this. I know it’s disgusting. I’m sorry I have only this to give you.” I thought of Matthew 25, “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” It felt dumb…”Okay, so I’m feeding you Jesus. Literally feeding you in the least of these. But its gross and this isn’t right and I want to love you more but I physically don’t know how and can’t right now.” Soon it was time to leave. I didn’t finish feeding her…I just left.  I hate that I dropped everything and left…will this child ever know real love?

Tonight we prayed as a group and read 2 Corinthians 4. The verse that stood out to me was verse 16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” Today I saw my outwardness, my sinful, gross, disgusting heart. My selfishness and ugliness was apparent. I was ashamed of myself. But I was reminded that through this I am being renewed inwardly. My heart is changing. Rid me of myself, God. That’s what I prayed, and you are answering. You are changing me. Give me grace and teach me how to have grace for myself. Continue to reveal my outwardliness and rid me of this sinfulness. I want to be more like you, Jesus. 


Anger in love


Kolkata. July 24, 2012

 Matthew 13:47-50  

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind,  which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Anger rises up in me when I read this. All the fish brought in and then separated…some thrown into the furnace. The wicked from among the just. I think about the people here–who’d be thrown? So much of their idol worship and the injustice is because they just don’t know the truth. They are forced to live in survival because of the darkness and evil here. They were created pure, but evil has corrupted them. It’s not their fault. 

I held a two month old baby today while I was in the slum and he fell asleep in my arms. He was so light and warm, innocent, precious, and beautiful. I kissed his forehead. God created him and knows him here. He really was beautiful. He is loved here in the slum. The power was out in the small school room, so the younger kids came up and fanned me and baby with notebooks and slates to keep us cool. They are still so innocent too. But they are growing up in this place… evil is so present here in this slum. It’s not their fault they are growing up here in this system. It’s not fair that they could grow up to be rickshaw pullers because of intractable poverty. The men who fight, who cheat, who assault, who swear and murder and kill…they all once were innocent children. They were babies once. They were held and kissed and cuddled. And now they are living wickedly and are corrupted and would be of the fish cast into the furnace.

Jesus, I don’t understand. I want to know. I want to understand your love and justice for these people. If you come back now, most of these people would be cast out. It breaks my heart and makes me angry. I have fallen in love with these people. I dream of this place being beautiful and worshipful. I prayed as I looked at the dirty rotten road that one day it will be a street of gold. That the billboards would declare your life and glory and love. That the people would be full of joy and their eyes full of life. I have the deepest desire for this place to be renewed and restored…and that not one of these people would be absent from it when it is restored. One of the things I fear is that your kingdom will come in full and this city will be empty. Jesus, have compassion on these people. Have VICTORY over this place…I want them to know, to LIVE! Jesus…let it be done. Save your people. Crush the evil and oppression. I love these people…and my heart aches to think that they would be thrown away. It’s not their fault! It’s the system, the evil, the demons, Satan’s sly quiet destruction. God, these tears and this desperation shows me that this love is real. Help me understand your justice. Give me wisdom. Turn my anger and sadness into righteous emotion. 

When your kingdom comes, may the trains be just as full and the streets just as loud with the children flooding over everything with beautiful joy and laughter.


Spirit reign, flood into these thirsty hearts again. Jesus come. You’ll come.