My apparently rapid descent unnerved some of my closest friends, and most of us were not speaking for one reason or another. I quit my job and moved back to Cleveland (home). I began applying to schools and filling my spare time with water aerobics classes. Like I said, it was a bad time (but who knew water aerobics was so efficient?! For real... my abs thank you, 64 year old water aerobics instructor).
Anyways, back to me, cold and lonely in Cleveland while my fiance was in Va, finishing his school year. One night, my mom asked me to help her at the place she volunteers. This place happens to be our church, Grace, and the volunteering involved watching special needs kids for 4 hours on a Saturday night. Or at least that's what I thought it would be. "Maybe if I go help out these kids, I will feel better about how horrible I am. Plus, they probably really do need my help."
So, I pulled my hair back, put on a big comfy sweatshirt, leggings, and some boots, and out into the Cleveland snow I went. Lisa (my mom), and I drove to the church. The car was quiet and the windshield wipers struggled to keep the sleet from blocking our view. I felt lonely. My heart tightened in my chest as I fought back tears. I thought about the past few months and all of the people I'd dissapointed. I hated me. I wanted to stop messing up. I was alone in my head with my narcissist thoughts. Yet for some reason, I couldn't figure out why, for the first time in my life, I couldn't read, work, exercise, or laugh this pain away. I was blind.
I'd always believed in God, but I wasn't acting like I did. Most of the time when I prayed, it felt insincere, or, at worst, hurried role-play. Now, for the first time in my spiritual life, when I prayed - there was complete silence. A shut door. God had enough of me, finally. With these thoughts, I stepped into the church.
That night I was assigned to a small girl with a gene-deficiency named Alayna. She was tiny for her age, and upon first glance, she looked like a normal, little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl. She couldn't speak much, but when she did, she would find one thing to focus on and repeat that word or small phrase for an hour or so until she found a new focus. Upon meeting me, she was shy. After I spoke with her dad for a few minutes, she came out from behind his leg and pointed at the cardinal tattoo on my arm and squeaked: "Red bird." I smiled at her and she smiled back. I had a new friend.
That night we watched a magician, I helped her open a juice box, encouraged her to ask for the pink cupcake on her own, and introduced her to other little kids. We played kickball, and when it was our turn to kick, the ball went flying and she clung to the front of me like a little monkey with her legs wrapped around my waist and screamed shrilly as I ran the bases.
Later that night, we went downstairs for music time. The coordinator went around handing out simple instruments to all the kids. The music started and, at first, most of the kids were shy. Then, the zoo broke loose. First two of the older kids went up front. They were both chunky boys, around age 14 or 15, one black and one white. They held hands and jumped up and down. Soon they had to break their grasp of friendship, as the white boy, with his cheeks completely flushed to red, bent down and slapped the floor and then jumped to the ceiling, wailing with the music. Every time he bent to slap the floor, his neon blue jogging pants slid down and his belly popped out, but he didn't care. He just kept dancing and whooping "Praise the Lord." The taller, thinner, black boy walked around the front of the room just shaking his head back and forth, humming and repeating "That's right... that's right."
Alayna perched timidly on the edge of my knees. For about 30 minutes, she had been repeating the words over and over "my church, my church." I don't know what brought that phrase to her mind, but I just shook my head at her and said, "That's right, Alayna. Your church." I felt like I was saying something really true.
Finally, Alayna mustered the courage to get up, and she walked to the stage, through the chaos, and stood perfectly still with her hand to her mouth, wide eyes sloped up at the guitar player.
Alone, I was left to inspect the rest of the crowd. I hadn't been singing, and I still wasn't, but I smiled. I looked down to the floor and saw a little boy with blonde hair and big, broken and taped glasses sitting at my feet. His left arm hung limp and heavy to the ground like a dead weight. For a moment, he seemed perplexed about how to join the fun. His eyes scanned the floor. I wanted to hand him an instrument, but I couldn't see anything that looked like he'd be able to play. "Oh no, I thought. How do I help this kid?" But before I could feel bad for one more second, he figured it out on his own. The little boy put his fingers to his lips and made a loud buzzing noise, slapping his lips up and down with his own little hand. Spit went flying, his cheeks got red, and he buzzed away, praising God.
I blinked back tears and watched in wonder. "And I thought that I was coming here to help them...." my mind hummed.
In that moment, I think I began to see a bit more clearly.
Preston always tells me that suffering isn't a bad thing.
That night I watched disabled and autistic children praising God of their own accord. These are kids who we see to be suffering. But what I saw that night was not suffering, it was a room full of children completely unaware of themselves, eyes open to the beauty before them. What a blessing.
I love you Bronny!