The summer I was 21 I spent volunteering with my Grandparents at a Children’s Home somewhere down in Georgia, under those famous pines. I had recently been laid off at my job due to budget cuts and rather then have me mope around my apartment all summer, my parent’s graciously offered to help me fund a little mission trip. I would start by meeting my Grandparents down in Florida. After which, we would drive their RV over to Georgia to volunteer at this particular Children’s Home as they did every few years.
I agreed and before I knew it we were pulling into the huge acreage homestead that housed this special ministry. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I loved missions but I had never really done this kind before. You see, like I mentioned I was with my Grandparents so the kind of work we were going to do was fairly foreign to me. I was used to manual labor when I participated in mission trips. Painting, vigorous cleaning, building things, moving furniture, that type of thing. My Grandparent’s were elderly even then, so we were set up to do things like, chat with the teenage girls there, serve meals, scrapbook, and sort baby clothes.
After about a week I was feeling pretty good. I was getting the hang of it, I was comfortable. Then, however, my Grandma had a great idea. Knowing my love for all things beauty and feminine related, she suggested that I go around to each of the different houses that held the girls and give them homemade facials, maybe do their makeup if they wanted. Something to make them feel special.
At this Children’s Home they had the boys and girls separated in different houses. Each house held a different purpose and function for those that lived there. All the houses had names according to what type of kids they housed and what type of behavior, or emotional needs these kids had. See, the kids that lived in this place had either been removed from their home lives because it was such a bad situation, had been kicked out and forced to leave, or abandon and were now wards of the state. They wouldn’t have had anywhere to go. They were, essentially, homeless, unloved and unwanted.
No one had ever made them feel special. No one had ever made them feel wanted. As I started to learn this that week, I became all the more eager to get started.
The first house I started at was The Elizabeth Home. My Grandma had drawn me a little map, most of the housing grounds were within walking distance, so armed with my map and my supplies I set out to make these girls feel special.
The Elizabeth Home, Grandma had told me, was for pregnant and unwed mothers. Girls who had gotten themselves into a spot and were discarded once family and friends learned of it.
A little sad, I thought but still I was fairly confident it wouldn’t be anything too disturbing and I could brighten the day.
As I walked in, I remember for some reason feeling slightly intimidated. Intimidated and isolated. I was the only one in the whole house it seemed! Until I noticed a friendly looking receptionist. Breathing a sigh of relief I made my way over, announced who I was and why I was there. She kindly informed me that the girl I would be visiting/making to feel special today was in a birthing class, (given freely by that particular Home to all the girls who desired it,) and would be out in just a few minutes.
After being invited to have a seat, I was looking out at those trees, (Wisconsin has some great ones, but Georgia does deserve those songs!) Startled by some voices, I shifted towards the sound. It was the teacher of the birthing class, and the girl I was to see that day, I presumed, as I heard medical terms being spoken. Not wanting to eavesdrop but curious about the girl I was going to have to sit and make small talk with for over an hour, I wanted to hear what she might be like.
As their conversation continued, I remember starting to feel alarmed. Something wasn’t right here. The girl’s voice was asking too many questions that a pregnant woman, even a pregnant teenager, should know. Questions that any girl who’s in the prime of her teenage hood and beyond would definitely know already about her own body and the little body growing inside her.
I heard the teacher patiently answer her questions, calmly with no hint of alarm. Maybe they’re friends, maybe the girl’s just joking or something I thought to myself. Wait and see. Fidgeting, as I started to think that my coming here to do a little facial couldn’t come close to the seriousness and severity of what this house held, I waited for her class to conclude.
Within a minute or two, the teacher came out, followed by the girl and her sizeable baby bump and introduced me to her. I smiled. I shook her hand. But I was no longer sure of this easy, breezy assignment I had been given.
We settled in and I started the facial by gently washing her face. Mostly just to get all the makeup off. Makeup that was worn heavy and thick, as if she was trying to create an armor of sorts. She feels protected by all that makeup I thought. What am I going to talk about, I wondered. We chatted uneasily at first to say the least.
However by the end of the facial I thought it seemed to be going well. We had hit on a few topics that we had in common even. At that point I was cleaning up, and I offhandedly asked her what year she was.
I assumed she’d know what I was talking about. I had never been very good at guessing age, but I figured she was maybe a junior, or senior in high school, a bit younger then me. Around there anyway.
Right away I noticed something was wrong. Her face kind of scrunched up and she didn’t answer me. She seemed to be thinking hard, or was confused, I couldn’t tell which. I quickly tried another form of the question, thinking maybe they phrased it differently down here in Georgia then in Wisconsin. So I asked, what year in high school are you?
She blinked still innocent eyes at me, and said, “I just finished 5th grade. I’m going into 6th this fall.”
This girl that I had chatted with for over an hour, talked about chick flicks and our favorite type of pizza, was no more then 12 years old. I was stunned. My brain felt numb, except for the part that screamed at me that it wasn’t even possible. After a moment I realized it was, in fact, very possible. But I just couldn’t grasp it. She was such a little girl with a grown woman’s job to do. All her questions that came floating down the hall to me earlier now made sense.
It was by the grace of God alone that my mouth didn’t fall open. And it was by that same grace that hers did.
As if someone had sounded a bell that gave her freedom from any of her previous restraints, she started talking. Talked about the boy who had said he loved her, but only wanted one thing and was gone before she could even be confused as to the foreign symptoms that were showing up in her body. Talked about how her dad was abusive, how he had up and left, how her mom couldn’t stand the sight of her, pregnant or not.
Her words fell on my soft heart. And to this day; they break it.
I wish I could say I gave her some encouraging words. I wish I could say I held her as she teared up. To be honest, I don’t even remember what I said in response.
I do remember her slight smile at me as I left though.
And I remember sobbing on the path I walked, back to the RV.
Sometimes we feel like God isn’t involved anymore. I felt like that on that day. I felt like He had left her, and maybe me as well, as we sat there across from each other. One girl who had followed all the rules, felt all the love, who loved and knew a great God. The other, who had felt all the opposite things her entire young life.
Why? I don’t know. But I do know, and it took me awhile to see this, that God was in that seemingly desolate girl’s life. He was, and He still is. There’s proof, I discovered.
The proof that she was even in The Elizabeth Home, that she had that great birthing teacher, that nice receptionist to see every day, those lovely trees that I’m jealous of, and even my awkward, yet at times, fun visit. Even her sharing her story. And while I don’t have the power to make it better as I so badly wanted to do as I sat there next to her, countless prayers have gone up from me for that girl and her baby whose names I no longer remember or even had the chance to know.
God is in our messes. He is in yours and mine. He is in hers. And He was most definitely, I now know, in The Elizabeth Home that day.
~You are loved, my friend.