He ran up to me and hugged me, and I could feel the weakness in his arms. And his face had aged, just enough that it reminded me of how time passes.
Even when you wish it wouldn’t. Even when a little boy is dying.
There were days that I scolded God for not taking care of his children. There were parents who went to jail and families who moved. There was so much pain on such small faces, and I used to be mad. “Where were you, God?” I asked Him when I saw siblings struggling to keep it together as their father walked out of their lives without a backward glance. I asked Him as I held them close and told them how much I loved them, and He reminded me “I’m right here.”
And this small boy is dragging me around the playground, pointing things out and asking me “do you remember, do you remember, do you remember?” I laugh. “I was there, buddy, of course I remember.”
We were here. We wiped away tears on hard days and celebrated every small victory. We hugged and held and spun jump rope. But Thursday after Thursday we were here. And He was with us. And when we had failed tests and broken hearts and worn out bodies He was here. Every Thursday. With us.
When you set out to serve God, you expect to see mountains move and lives change and everything be different. But maybe, four years later, you come back and see a bunch of hurting kids who still need the touch of God in their lives. But you come back, and you see that there are still faces among them reaching, touching, holding, laughing…The faces change but the presence remains. And the voice of God comes again and reminds you that He is still here. For these kids. For these helpers. For this city. Seasons change, we graduate, we move away, we move in. But through it all, God has been here. There has never been a day when He was not before us and after us and around us. Never a day when He wasn’t holding, reaching, laughing. And I scream at Him that He has forgotten me, and He laughs and tells me that of course He hasn’t. The faces change, but He is here, in my life.
The grace is that we have been here with Him. We have learned to be faithful in this one small thing. To these small people. They have smeared fingerprints on our hearts. We are here. He is here. And we’re like this little boy begging to help hand out snacks. We are eager to please and to help. And He smiles at us and tells us He is proud. He sees us learning to be open. To be constant.
I’ve heard people say that there is little constancy in poverty. You move, you change schools, your family drifts in and out. Volunteers and agency drift in and out. Life shifts and changes, and you hang on with everything you have. And a group of college kids doesn’t change all that. But we are here. We can hold and reach and touch and laugh. We can be a steady, dependable thing. Like God is a steady, dependable thing. We can be His arms and eyes and ears.
It’s been almost a year, and his face still recognizes mine. He still runs forward and hugs me tight. He asks if I remember, and I do. And the words I’ve shouted about God’s absence and doubt start to fade, and I remember that He is here with me. That He remembers. That He longs for these moments with me.
We offer service, sometimes, like we’re magical. Like we can waltz in and spray Jesus around with a fire hose, and everything will be better. And sometimes I wish we would come like the rain, instead. Faithful. Soft. That we would find this rhythm of God’s presence and that we would just be that…present.
Can you go to a place once a week for four years, have conversations, give hugs, play in the dirt, share food, can you do all this and not be deeply changed? It’s a simple obedience. It’s a small incarnation. And surely your constant, dependable presence will not instantly change the way this world works. But never think it is for nothing. It can change you. It can change the people around you.
Because time passes. And the little boy is dying, and the time is gone and you can’t have it back. But you can know that you were present, and that you were a solid thing, and that maybe, for a moment, he has seen Jesus somewhere in your eyes.