It is so hard to choose what stories to tell you, which ones best characterize what it was like for us to be there in Ghana. During the school year Emerson had shared with his Kindergarten class about his Big Dream for Africa and his friends in Ghana. Thanks to his amazing teacher and school staff, his story really caught fire. His teacher asked Emerson's class to write letters to the Kindergarten class in Ghana which we could take to deliver on our trip. It was such a special exercise in compassion, awareness, and the connection of children on separate sides of the planet.
And four days into our trip, we were able to go to the Kindergarten classroom and share the letters with the kids there. What a gift that was! Emerson told them that we love and care for them, and that they have a class full of kids back in Chicago who know about them and will not forget them. When we handed out the letters, the kids were so excited. They kept asking, "Do I really get to keep this? This is just for me?" So precious. And then their teacher handed out paper and pencils and invited the children to write letters back to their new friends.
Last week we met Emerson's Kindergarten teacher for lunch and gave him the stories and photos and letters. To think that a new pen-pal relationship between the classrooms is being cultivated, and with that a connection and sort of commitment to one another as well. How do we raise socially responsible children in our corner of the world, often laden with excess and over-stimulation? We tell our stories. We engage. We don't need to protect our kids from the truth as long as we deliver the truth in an age-appropriate manner. One thing I've realized about Emerson through this experience is that he is capable of grasping more of the real reality than I would have assumed.
Recently at bedtime, he was praying for his friends in Ghana. He got really passionate and earnestly begged God, "Great good father - please give my friends a family. I know they can't be adopted right now, but they have a family and I want to make sure they know that they are loved..." and then he stopped praying and said, "Mom, one time when we were playing soccer together, one of the kids got hit with the ball and started crying. He was shouting, 'Mommy! Mommy!' and it made my heart so sad because - he doesn't have a mommy." You guys - in his own six year old way, he gets it. He sees what is going on here. He knows kids should be in loving safe families. He recognizes the injustice playing out - these kids should have their needs met, they ought to be able to go to school, to learn and have the opportunity to hope for a better future. And when they get hurt, they should have a mommy to run to for comfort.
He is six and he gets it. Why on earth would I want to shelter him from that? Yes, it was hard for me to hear what he'd witnessed. It broke my heart to hear how his heart broke. But it broke from a place of compassion and to me, that is beautiful. He wasn't overwhelmed - it wasn't too much for him to handle. It was sad and it was hard, but it compelled him to a place of compassion and prayer. Isn't that an incredible lesson to learn at six years old? Is that how I interact with the hard sad things I face in my life? I hope so. I want to meet pain with empathy. I want to meet hard things with prayer. I want to be able to enter into another's story the way my son did in Ghana.
It's the covert blessing of living in this imperfect world, that you can't possibly get through this life without bumps and bruises. Our edges are overlapping with painful stories all the time. This isn't something you can avoid. You can't keep your kids from this either. You can prolong their ignorance for a little longer, but at some point they are going to encounter pain. And how will they be equipped to deal with it when they do? What tools are we, as parents, providing for them? Friends, I don't have the answers and I am learning as I go, just like you are. But I do know I want to empower my children to navigate the hard things with compassion and faith. I want them to learn to trust that the ache will lead them to the love. Because the love is never far from the ache.
With all the horrible hate and war and anger spilling over in the world right now, it can feel overwhelming for us and prevent us from engaging it at all. I find it helps to look for the first responders when I find myself heartbroken after reading of some atrocity like what is happening in Gaza or Russia or in our own backyard. There are always those first responders, the ones who are not afraid to use their voices and their hands and feet to begin the brave work of mending the broken, of crying out for peace, of interceding on behalf of those who know not what they do. Compassion and prayer ought be our first response to the sorrow we see. I'm thankful I took my son to Africa so that I could learn from him this lesson.