“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”-John 20:29
We stood in a circle. Our right hands made into fists as our arms were extended into the middle of the circle, like the hub of a human wheel, one placed upon the other as each of us bowed our heads in prayer. The boys like to call the configuration the “popcorn prayer,” a term they coined on their own. With the first of the young men that began, the next would continue the prayer until it came around the circle to the last person.
In the past, we would have had a morning devotional before going to breakfast, followed by a closing prayer. But this day was different, it was late Sunday afternoon. Unlike the times before, today they asked that we all pray together before we said our final goodbyes. In unison, they asked that I close us out by saying the last prayer.
It was one of the most poignant moments of my life, humbling to the core; it was their last request.
I had come to say goodbye, a goodwill gesture that was sincerely from the heart. It had been a tumultuous month, one that had left me more than tired. Several weeks earlier, when I had shared with my supervisor that God was leading my life’s journey away from Crossnore, I also asked that if they needed any extra help, I told him that I would be willing to fill in if needed. He thanked me for that offer.
At Crossnore, there is always a need.
And so, after many sleep-deprived and beleaguered days, my footsteps carried me one last time from one end of the Crossnore campus to the other. Those young men had left an undeniable mark upon my heart. For many of the children at Crossnore, their pasts are much like our own, better left behind. Many are at the home because of no fault of their own, and with that, you immediately seek to find the source of the mindset that acts out in ways that are not normal; because if anything, the trauma through which they have survived are anything but normal. It was because of this and much more that I couldn’t leave without at least letting them know that I would miss them.
Along my path that somber Sunday afternoon, the majestic oaks that had at one time provided comforting shade during the hotter months, had now given way to become barren, twisted towering bones, reaching to the azure blue sky above. They too, showed empathy for my departure, like elders who had seen so many come and go, telling me in their own way that they would forever be with me. The chilly winds blew leaves across my path as I made it to the all teen boy’s cottage. Many would prefer another assignment than to have to deal with young men at their age.
My own experience was quite different.
From the outset, once they realized I wasn’t going to be a push-over, we began to connect. One might wonder if it had been the many years of working with the Scouts that allowed me to understand them? Perhaps you might ask, was it because of the time spent working with the Junior Appalachian Musician program? Or, maybe, you might conjecture, it was teaching High School math to teens their age that helped me cope? Whatever the reason one might attribute my connection to those boys, I believe it was the hand of the Lord who had put me there for that season, as short as it may have been. The reason I felt it was God, was because it wasn’t until I asked to share the devotional with them that I could see something new; a change in their demeanor toward my presence. It was when one of the young men-(the one that had been there the longest, over 6 years to be exact)- opened up to me, that their reactions began to make me take notice. They said that because of his years of tenure at the home, he had become so hardened that he would purposely keep you at bay, knowing that before long, you too would fall by the wayside.
Who could blame him?
He had seen so many come and go. And up to that point, he could have just as well said the same thing about me. But when he would purposely make it a point to greet me or go out of his way to tell me to have a nice day, it became apparent that God had moved him, through me, in spite of who I was. All of these thoughts swirled around in my head like the fallen leaves upon the ground that cold, blustery afternoon.
There had been so much to contemplate. For if the walk had been days, there would have been enough recent memories and experiences to occupy my thoughts the full breadth of the journey.
Recently, one of my new colleagues at the college asked, “How are you today?”
I replied, as I so often do these days, “I am blessed, I hope you are?”
He then later asked what I had meant by the word “Blessed.”
The question stopped me in my tracks.
My mind flashed back to the beginning of the summer and the terrible drought, and trials that my life had encountered. Through the loss of a job, loss of income, loss of medical coverage, to the near-fatal illness, to the days of unanswered prayers. The doubts and troubles piled up like logs against the bridge when the river rises. One by one, their pressure building until they either burst through or until they are swept over the bridge by higher waters. My life had become that bridge, inundated by the flooding trials that seemed to come, one after the other, each one building upon the other. At one point, the bad news had become so common that it became laughable. “Just how much more could one take and still survive,” I began to ask? My life began to feel a little like Job in the struggles, and a lot like Joseph at the bottom of the dry well; there was nowhere to go but up.
Then, like once before in my life when it seemed as if all hope was lost, God answered. I don’t recall the exact day or time, but there was a sense that only a few may know or understand. Like a warm wave cascading over your soul, the feeling of things that are about to change washes over you, and it is then that you know deep in your heart that it is going to be okay. It’s moments like that when Hebrews 11:1 makes perfect sense, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
My sweet co-teacher, Mrs. Rush, said it best last year when she was trying to comfort me about having to leave the school when she said, “God is going to answer your prayers in a way that is going to be far greater than your wildest expectations.” She continued, “The answer won’t come soon, but rather, it will probably be at the last moment when you feel like all hope is gone. It is then that He will finally give you an answer.”
She was as prophetic as anyone I have ever known. Was God speaking through her? I don’t know, but to this day, I have to believe he was.
To answer my colleague, my mind dug through those countless days of anguish and despair, and the words began to form. They had to pass through the filter of that prayer with those boys in the Cottage as we all stood around in the circle and prayed. The memory of what happened during that prayer still lingered in my soul.
From the bottom of my feet, the sensation began. As God poured the words through my lips, the Holy Spirit began to fill my body like a pitcher is filled from the bottom up. The electricity began to rise through my legs, torso, and eventually put my arm into the pile of hands. The words continued to speak as my entire body began to tremble. Attempting to retain my composure, I pressed on, asking God for this moment to never end. “They have to feel this,” my mind reflected while scriptures began to flow from my heart and out my mouth. The warmth of tears streaming down my face began to mix with the emotions in my voice until we finally said, “Amen.”
As I stepped back, wiping the tears from my eyes, the emotional toll was not just my own, for it was apparent in their eyes as well. My head was spinning as I tried to find a way to say goodbye. Once more, there was yet another reason to never forget, as they asked for a hug. In my heart, the pain of saying goodbye was a burden that must have shown. One of the boys raced to his room and brought out one of his most cherished items, a UNC flag. In the spur of the moment, I asked if we could have them all sign it, “As a memento,” I said. They all happily agreed, and each one took great care to make sure their name was visible. In a way, it was as if they wanted to make that indelible mark upon my heart; one, like the permanent marker upon the flag, that would never fade away.
Those multitudes of thoughts swirled around in my head as my colleague must have wondered why it was so difficult to answer a simple question about what I meant by being ‘Blessed.’ It was as Jesus had said to Thomas at that moment when he finally realized that he as standing in the presence of our risen Savoir. After putting his hand through the hole in Jesus’ side, his head suddenly became faint. The room began to spin. Stepping back, trying to regain his balance, he stared in awe at Son of Man, God in the flesh, who had now defeated death. He was speechless. Jesus said to him, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Yes, blessed are we that have not seen and yet have believed. But this was only one part of being blessed to which Christ spoke The sermon on the mount was full of blessings, enough to know that when we walk with Him, when we realize we have found our path only because He has led us upon it, it is then we truly know that we are blessed.
To my colleague, I finally said that one should be thankful for being in a place to which they had never realized they would be in life, by no cause or fault of their own.
He respectfully nodded in response.
To live or die is gain, and to know Him, Christ, our Savior, is to be blessed beyond measure.
To all things we should be grateful, and most importantly,
Thanks be to God.
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”-Matthew 5:1-11