One of my favourite places to serve in Chicago was Casa Central. This organization was a social service program for the Hispanic people of Chicago. From parenting seminars to ESL classes for new immigrants to daycare, this agency filled a hugely significant need in the community. One of the most special programs was the 'summer school' they offered to elementary school-aged children.
I had the absolute pleasure of serving one week at Casa Central. We played games, led crafts, danced and sang, ate, and adventured with the kids there. And these kids were completely lovely -- fun, passionate, spirited, and boisterous. They were inner-city kids with attitude, and I loved it.
There was a particular group of little girls I noticed right away. Four little spitfires, all of whom, I eventually learned, had unique and beautiful personalities. I instantly wanted to be their friend.
I remember it taking me a while to get "in" with them, though. Picture it: the somewhat reserved, fair-skinned blonde girl in a sea of lively olive-skinned, raven-haired Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans... I asked if I could join them in their game of Chinese jumprope, and when I didn't quite perform up to par, oh, I heard about it! The ring leader of this little group, Alex, wasn't shy about letting me know how awful I was at her game. To be honest, I sort of felt like I was transported back to grade four and had just been mocked by the pretty, popular girl. Strange, but true. So I decided to man up, show them that I was, in fact, cool, and kick some Chinese jumprope ass!
And I did! I impressed them so much that they welcomed me into their posse. Alex was still a little apprehensive about me, but for whatever reason, I decided in that moment that she was my favourite. (Or did God decide that for me?)
The days passed and we had great fun together. I had managed to get to know these little girls; I asked them questions about their families and homes and the things they liked to do for fun, cuddled with them, giggled with them, and fell in love. They were exceptional. But my heart truly yearned for Alex -- the nine-year old girl with a fortress built around her heart. I just couldn't seem to connect with her like I did with the other girls, and yet strangely, she was the one I most wanted to love. Then, out of nowhere, during a post-lunch quiet time, God intervened.
The kids were all lying on their little mats scattered across the classroom floor, and I could see that some of the CSM youth were beside them, rubbing their backs and quietly whispering. I inched closer to Alex, who at this point still hadn't so much as smiled at me, and asked her if I could rub her back. I was surprised when she said yes. So there I sat, cross-legged and silent, while Alex lay on her side, her back facing me, and I rubbed her back. I started to ask her questions about her family and what her house was like. She was suddenly very honest and soft. She told me about them, about her parents and her brother, about the rat problem in her house and how she was afraid to open the oven because the last time she did, she found a family of dead rats inside. Alex said she never wanted to grow up and become an adult. I asked her why. She told me, in the most innocent yet worldly way, that adults worry all the time. They worry about paying the bills, worry about not having enough money, and worry that the police will show up at the house again. If someone were to take a photograph of Alex's perception of life, this was it. Anxiety. Poverty. Violence. Unrest.
I nearly cried when I heard such big ideas come from such a little girl. She was only nine, and it broke my heart that she already knew so much of the hardships of life. I immediately realized how blessed and gracious my childhood had been, especially in contrast to Alex's, and felt it unfair and confusing that she had to live like this. No child should ever dread growing up for these reasons. No child should have to live in the overflow of her parents' stress and anxiety. And when it really comes down to it, no child should ever have to be the victim of injustice.
These are the thoughts that stir in me when I think about Alex. I am so grateful for that small window of clarity and openness with her, because not only did I get to catch a small glimpse of her world, but I saw a piece of her heart. And consequently, the heart of so many children in the inner-city. We love until we break down walls, we love until injustice falls.
Who I Am
1 month ago