So some of our kid volunteers had never been around African-American kids before and they were nervous, I could tell. But I was thrilled at their willingness to venture out of their comfort zone and experience kids much like themselves with hopes and dreams and talents and smiles. Kids with energy and God-love and a sense of wonder. And the blend reminded me of my piano where black and white keys join together in compositions of beauty, reflecting God’s glory.
I love these kids from Milwaukee. They spill out of their vans each summer with smiles wide and arms out, inviting hugs. They don’t live with the economic privilege and safety like those of us 45 minutes north but they are full of love and appreciation for new opportunities.
This year, a third had never been on a farm. A fourth had never been near a horse. Most who had been on a farm and seen a horse attended our camp before. I remember the first year we held camp and learned that most had never seen a cow or an open field or even Lake Michigan which, for where they live, is only a couple miles to the east. Asphalt and sidewalks and rundown houses are their lot. Drugs dealers and gangs and the highest murder rate in Milwaukee—this is their claim to fame.
But these are CHILDREN! These are God’s gifts! And inside, they want what we all want—love and peace and joy. And safety. When we think about our own vulnerability, we have nothing on these kids where sirens are the norm and gunshots wake at night and how does one grow up and follow God in such a war-zone?
Sometimes I think we’re just plain crazy. That our family is just plain nuts for thinking we can make a difference in any life—in even ONE life—when they have to return to their chaos at the end of the day.
And then I remember . . .
I’m white. And I grew up in an upper-middle-class family. And we lived in nice houses in safe neighborhoods with manicured lawns and no drugs on the streets and no gunshots outside. But the hood and the burbs are not that different at the core. In upper-middle-class America, our trauma happens most often inside well-to-do homes, on the inside of insulated walls where people can’t see and people can’t hear the voice shots that kill souls. And they can’t see the alcohol consumed to cover the pain. And middle-class, upper-class—we all have the same problems but we’re pretty and we’re clean—ON THE OUTSIDE—and we pretend that we’re oh, so different from the ghetto—all the while we rot from the inside out with the same angst, the same pain, the same soul-sin of every human regardless of color or economic status.
I know. I’ve counseled the rich. I’ve counseled the rich who are dirt poor on the inside and know it. I’ve sat with the poverty stricken of soul and seen how they would—give—anything—to find peace of mind that money—cannot—buy.
And that’s why I don’t charge anymore. That’s why I volunteer under the roof of a church and offer healing peace for free. Because we all should have access to God, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we all have access to the freedom of heart and mind and soul that only God can give? Shouldn’t we all have access to conduits of grace?
Yes. I believe so. And so, I give grace because grace is what has been given to me—for free—by God, the giver of all grace. He doesn’t charge by the hour. He doesn’t charge at all.
When I see these kids—their bright smiles—their overflowing joy—even their fear in mounting a 1,200 pound horse and trusting they will be safe—I think of how God has done the same for me. He has drawn me out of my comfort zone and into His grace. Because we can’t really experience the extent of God’s grace until we leave our comfort zones. Until we leave the place where we end and God begins—the place where all—we—are—is—just—not—enough and we go searching for something, for anything, for Someone, who is enough. Who is big enough? Who is powerful enough? Who is wise enough?
Our God of glory. Our glorious God.
He is our hope. He is our peace. He is our joy.
And so they rode horses and we encouraged the fearful.
And just as the last child came off the horse . . .
It poured. Right when the forecast said it would start. It poured. The heavens opened and God rained down. So we fled to the garage and had to change plans. Lunch bags crinkled open while quilts were laid down and the place for cars became a place of grace. We prayed and gave thanks for rains that grow crops that give lunch. And we ate.
And then the potatoes came out. Musical potatoes—a mix of hot-potato and musical chairs—an impromptu game to delight after eating while still pouring outside.
And then we sang glory to God. Black and white holding hands in garage—raising hands in praise of God’s glory . . .
Whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
To see hands lifted high in praise of God’s glory—black and white hands together, swaying side to side. I saw God in black and white faces—with grace all over—a moving canvas of glory.
And then we prayed. And they left. And after a while, after she rode her horse, Grace came up to my writing corner to talk.
Yes, her name is Grace. And she told me how she had never been around black people before and how they were nice and sweet and how she was scared at first. And she started talking about God—how she believed but she didn’t go to church and how she wanted to know more about God. And I was transported back to the time when I was her age, exactly, and I was asking the same of an older friend, exactly . . .
So I told her how we were alike. How I came from a home where divorce happened and step-parents entered my life and how I found God and how God changed my life. And she started to cry—soft and slow tears, wiping each away with a delicate swipe of her finger, embarrassed. And my heart swelled and opened like the sky had an hour before. Tears trickled down my cheek because when God gives you these moments—they’re holy—and you know it. I prayed for words and for heart to touch heart and I saw in her twelve-year-old eyes the longing. I asked her if she knew what her name meant. And she didn’t know the meaning of “grace”. So I told her. I told her how much God loves her—how much God cares about her brokenness—how much God wants her to be close to Him, to become whole in Him and all she has to do is receive His gift of grace. I told her about John, the closest friend of Jesus. I told her I would give her a Bible because she wanted to know more and she only had a watered-down children’s Bible but she is a good reader and she wants—something—more. I told her how I was her age when I read the Bible for the first time and found Jesus. And her eyes swelled all watery again. I asked her if she wanted me to pray for her, trembling as I stepped out in faith. And she said . . .
And so I did. She stepped closer to me and I took her small smooth-skinned hand in my own—much older, wrinkled, and age-spotted. And I prayed for her—for her family—for God to bless them all. And as I opened my eyes, she opened hers and looked straight into mine. And she smiled. And I saw peace and hope in Grace. Sometimes a thousand words can’t say what the eyes can say.
Oh my God, You are too marvelous for words! To bring a twelve-year-old girl into my little writing corner of the world and initiate such a holy conversation, such a holy communion . . .
You are so marvelous—so good—so WILDLY awesome!
Circle completed so many years later—a twelve year old who wanted to read your Word for the first time—who wanted to know You more. An older woman now, telling of your Word to a twelve year old so many years after. Really? You are that PERFECT? I fall down and worship You, flat on my face. Too magnificent for words, You are.
Tomorrow? Nature Camp. Day Two. What will come? I don’t know exactly. But I trust. It will be AWESOME. Because we’ve invited the Awesome God to attend and lead and show us . . .
And He always delights.