Thursday, November 29, 2012


"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real, you don't mind being hurt."
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

It was a part of Emily's ministry that I never expected. . .when I thought of her loving orphaned children until they found their forever home, I wasn't really thinking that would so often mean their Forever Home. Yesterday, Sweet Zuena went home to the arms of Jesus, taking a piece of Emily's heart forever. 

Sometimes, I just shake my head and wonder how she does it. How does she lose a child she has loved so freely and so well, and have the courage to open her heart again to the next child who comes to her gate? The need in Uganda is so great, the neglect of those with disabilities so staggering, that the reality is that no matter how much the women of Ekisa are hurting over the loss of their sweet and sassy little Zuena more children will soon come. Needing love just as much as Zuena did, whether anyone's heart feels ready yet to provide it or not. The scar of losing a child might not show on the outside, but I can only imagine that the pain is as real as any physical wound someone could afflict, and stays for far longer than the rest of the world could see or understand. Being Real hurts.

"Does it happen all at once, like being would up," the Rabbit asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

When we love a child, and a child loves us, we are doing exactly what we have been called to do on this earth. Love means we try again. We forgive. We give second chances. We keep vigil by the bedside. We share laughter. We give hope. We leave the light on.

And like the threadbare Rabbit, we let ourselves be loved, hugged, used, wrinkled, stretched- literally and figuratively, dragged, prodded, snuggled, and kissed. 

Changed forever.

It can be glorious, and it isn't always easy, and yes. . .sometimes it hurts, but when you're Real, it's just a part of the deal. Being a parent means letting your heart live outside of your body, and if anyone understands that, it's God. He gave His son up for all of us, and when Jesus rose to heaven to join His Father again, He rose up. . .scars and all. Signs of the greatest Love. And at the end of our lives, when we go to our Forever Home, won't it be good to know that we chose love- that we have loved and loved well? We can know that all the scars we bear, both seen and unseen, are a sign of love. 

My whole family hurts today because Emily is hurting. It's hard to think about it or even talk about it. I can't even tell the boys yet because then it will feel too real. I wish that we could jump on a plane and give her big hugs and help her through this loss, but I know that God will send just the right people, right there, right now, to be with her and her staff and comfort them as they mourn.

So, Em, just think about the Velveteen Rabbit- I know Mom read it to you, too. :) Even when it hurts, keep loving. Love until your hair rubs off, and your eyes fall out, and your joints are loose. It's worth it. Eternally. We love you.

"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies ... the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. 

Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking." - Henri Nouwen