When I was seven, I was sitting in the lunchroom next to a little girl whose hair and face were dirty. One of the teachers came by and slipped her some food because she didn’t have a lunch. I opened my beautifully packed lunch and a handwritten note from my mom fell out. I hid the note so the other little girl wouldn’t see it and hoped that I could be like that teacher someday. When I was eleven, a friend disclosed abuse to me for the first time. Throughout middle school, a few more friends shared stories of abuse with me, stories that we had to take to the adults. I remember asking God why they were telling me, and why they had horrific stories to tell at all.
I have always known that my ‘calling’ was to work with kids who were hurting. As a child, I believed that God loved every kid, but wondered why so many of them weren’t seeing it from the adults who were supposed to keep them safe. So I wanted to be there, I wanted to be safe.
I pursued a career in mental health and have worked in public schools for a number of years, because I’m not sure there’s a better place to ‘be there’ for kids who may not have safety in their lives. I love working in the schools, but I am often at odds with God over the raw heartbreak that plays out in the lives of children that I work with who seem forgotten.
Forgotten children come late on the first day of school, without anything to eat for lunch, without their hair brushed. They don’t know luxuries like receiving a handwritten note in their lunch. I have often asked God how I’m supposed to revel in His love, in all the experiences in my life that have made me feel so seen and deeply valued, when I serve children who no one seems to see. I have wondered if God sees them, and if He does, how they can sit in my office and say things like, “No one wants me,” “I’m just in the way,” “My mom chose her abusive boyfriend over me,” and “It’s okay, it’s always been this way, I’m used to it by now.”
I have been able to attend a number of Collide events over the past few years, but one that I will never forget is the ‘Back to School’ themed day that Collide hosted last fall. For obvious reasons, this theme resonated with me on many levels. The details were lovely…the old-fashioned chalkboard on the stage, apples on the welcome table. School was a common experience that everyone in the room shared, from a range of positive and negative lenses that only a lifetime of individual moments can create.
I remember looking around the room that day and wondering who in the room had been forgotten when they were a child. With that many women in one room, you can do the math… a large percentage have experienced sexual abuse, a smaller percentage have experienced physical abuse. Domestic violence statistics alone tell us that there are likely women in any large gathering currently experiencing abuse.
I resumed my classic struggle with God, by announcing to Him that I appreciated the lovely day (that may have been serendipitously designed just for me!), I really did, but I still wasn’t okay. I couldn’t reconcile a loving, all-knowing, powerful God with the Rolodex in my mind filled with the stories of horror and pain from little, beautiful humans who have trusted me with their hearts.
In typical Collide fashion, the entire day was filled with beautifully designed details and stories that enveloped everyone in the room. By the time we made it to lunch, I found myself reminding God we were not okay. How was I supposed to abandon myself to loving Him when access to Him sometimes felt so exclusive? I opened my lunch and a small slip of paper fell out. I picked it up and looked closer at it. It was a hand-written note. My eyes filled with tears. I looked around and saw other women opening their notes, some smiled briefly, a few held onto them for a minute. Every woman there that day got her thoughtful, intentional, handwritten note. I felt like God was whispering to me, “I make all things new.” In that moment I felt a deep assurance that it is never too late for God to reach into the areas of our lives that make us feel forgotten and bring a tiny bit of peace.
Human suffering is layered and complex. Receiving that note did not reconcile all the heartbreak I’ve sat witness to, but it was the beginning of a lovely awakening for me. The gift that Collide gives me every time I experience an aspect of it is the space to identify areas of my life that are broken without making me feel shame or hopelessness. Slowly, God has used that space to peel back the layers I’ve used to shield myself from the pain of the work I know He’s called me to. The beauty of Collide’s ministry is that I feel the juxtaposition of God’s acceptance of me right where I am, and His compelling invitation to lead me to a place that is richer, deeper, more examined, more lovely. Collide is a collection of hand-written notes that God has used as a salve on the scattered pieces of my soul.