We opened last week. Opened is a grand word, and it wasn’t an especially grand beginning. I woke up tired and began. Three little ones joined my three – one cried and barely talked all morning, the other lapped up cuddles like she was thirsty. We served porridge with a lump of jam, we put out the yellow play dough, we wrapped them in blankets for rest time. The one who cried stopped crying, the swings were loved, the reading session was a disaster, the children softened hour by hour. The sun shone and the air was warm, sweet. We dropped them home.
Eight days we’ve been running now, and it is full and tiring and stretching, but there is ease and loveliness too. That is a blessing. There is still pushing, an occasional hit, a little swearing. But it has been as if the magic of this back garden – the sun, the gentle breeze, the singing and the stroking of their heads – has covered them so far, and they haven’t fought it. It’s early days and it’s quite possible that familiarity will create space for the ugliness of pain to surface. But for now, He is a rest to us all.
I still wake up in the mornings wondering how on earth I am to climb this mountain. All of my children can still need nurturing at night, and the baby will certainly wake at least twice. I wake up exhausted, in a daze, reaching for tea and for strength, and I think, not only do my own little ones need a day full of love when I am empty, but other ones are coming too. They are all coming empty. But I remember I am not the filler, just a faciliator, and He is good. And there is nothing to do but to peel back the duvet and put one step in front of the other. This day,I say to myself, this day I will see the goodness of the Lord.
Whilst the preschool hours are even sweeter than I’d anticipated, it is also true that the after-hours are harder on my soul than I’d prepared for. These tiny treasures slip out of our car in the afternoon into houses where there is pain and confusion, ready and waiting for them. They come from homes battling substance abuse, alcoholism and domestic abuse. I knew that before we started, but there is something about watching with your own eyes the face of a young child disappear into a home where you know they will hurt. The most searing moments for me have been when I drop one of these precious ones home and there is no one to officially receive her, she just drifts into the backyard of shacks filled with all sorts of wrongdoing. No one will put her to sleep. She is three years old.
We were at the beach on Saturday morning, early and sweaty. It felt good to swim in the icy blue water and sit in the hot sand. It was there I shared about our first days at school with a friend, as we watched our kids digging and splashing. And it slipped out of my mouth: I just can’t believe that we as adults are letting this happen. It is absolutely on our watch. And even I – the one with the fundraising video and the little school in the turbulent neighbourhood – want to recoil because it is just so heartbreaking. Their lives haunt me, all the time. I find it hard to pray without seeing their faces. I want to step back, I want to distance myself. But that is not courage, and it is certainly not love. It seems they are so often interlocked, courage and love, and how sometimes we wish we could change that, but it is not the way of God.
But look. Look at the way the light shines across the garden. Look at them all, squeezed in the hammock and giggling. Look at her painting, she is so gifted at that, who would have known? And look at that one, starting to chatter to herself, like she’s found a bit of joy. Look at my eldest, she was so lost on the first day, and now she is playing games with them and I think they could be friends. Look, this house is startlingly beautiful, it is filled with little treasures and Jesus’ presence and I can’t even contain the hope I feel all the time. Another little one joins us tomorrow, her mother is bringing her. And who knows, maybe the mothers will see and believe, with a bit of time. That would change everything.
I look at their faces, the ones who have seen more than they should, and received so, so much less than they should. They are determined, riding the bike, riding the purple scooter. They want to conquer the monkey bars. Arms stretched out, one in front of the other, gritting their teeth. They need help, yes for now, but maybe soon they will work their way across themselves. With grit and strength. With practice every single day. Every single day, I tell myself, as I wake up again to stir the porridge, put out the paints. They will get strong, I believe it, and I will see them cross over to the other side.