Holy Places are Dark Places. It is life and strength,
not knowledge and words, that we get in them. CS Lewis
There are many days that I look at him and cannot imagine how he has survived. How in the world did he live through 4 years of horror? How has he come out the other side with even a semblance of normalcy? I spent a grand total of 13 hours at his orphanage spread over the span of 6 days and I am changed. Just my brief exposure has blanketed my heart with a cloying darkness every time I remember. It seems to be the little things that get me, that make me relive those 13 hours, 780 minutes, or 46,800 seconds. A sound, a smell, even silence. Those are the moments where I am transported back to the days sitting with him in his glass-walled room. Isn’t it amazing how moments in time can suspend across a lifespan? Glistening drops of memories cling to the thin web; a recognized sound or smell vibrates the thread and the drops burst within the mind as a caustic reminder of his darkness.
Israel’s darkness is filled with urine and bleach, silence and monotony, loneliness and unchanging routine. Days and night within a crib, quietly marking time with the passing of dark and light, liquid meals and diaper changes. No children’s laughter or friendly voices, just the silence of an orphanage that remains dark, even in the light of day. This is the darkness that made me wish the visits in his orphanage were shorter. I am ashamed to admit that I dreaded every visit and mentally struggled through every moment I sat beside him. When I walked into that building, every fiber of my being wanted to run. My soul oppressed and weary, would return to my hotel after a two hour visit, where I collapsed in exhaustion and slept until evening. Each visit that week brought new horrors, culminating in a visit to what is called the laying room, which was filled with dying children. Tiny glass cells containing dying children, who were not silent. No, the rooms were punctuated with moans and cries from babies who could not move and their bodies conformed to the hard mattress pads with bed sores to the bone. Enlarged heads and seeping wounds. This is what I can’t unsee, can’t unhear, can’t UNDO. Today I am lost in my safe world, with my comfortable job, and beautiful children because I sat in the dark. I drink from the cup of a privileged life and it no longer tastes sweet to my lips. It is bitter, and I am LOST. I try not to return to a world where babies are cast aside because of imperfections. A place that transfers a 4 year old to an institution, and inflicts trauma and pain on the weakest. I don’t know how to help and so I sit and pray and wait and watch….I watch my little miracle boy pulled from the darkness. And I wonder at his ability to carry on and do so with a light in his smile and love in his touch. How is it that he can smile, laugh, and learn? A child sitting in silence for hours on end, deprived of interaction. How has he come out the other side, and I am the one who keeps returning?
He has survived because as he struggled to live, his will hardened to stone and within that dark there was HOPE, there was holy.
The other night as I was tucking him in with our nightly ritual of warm covers, kisses and prayers, he stopped me and said “tuck in Minion”. And he smiled as he grabbed the yellow stuffed doll with the bulging, crazy eyes. His little fingers stroked the doll’s face as he covered the minion with his favorite blankie. He bent down and whispered, “night, night minion, I love you” as his lips kissed the top of the doll’s head. I held back a sob, as my little boy, home six months turned to me, pointed at his chest and said, “Israel’s night, night” and I then tucked in this little wisp of a boy. My son who is so full of love and gives it freely. A child who crawled from the depths of darkness, a resilient child who endured so much pain and heartache and is an example to us all about this thing called HOPE.
“Holy places must be dark places.” This is a reassurance that none of us are too broken, or too damaged to experience God. In fact, I know that God delights in working with the broken and the lost. He sees the orphan and He is sitting right there with them in the dark. God sat with my son for four years in that dark place. God sat with an unknown, unwanted child and marked time with a sun that rose every morning and a moon that came each night. He sat with Israel and waited, because He had already whispered adoption to the heart of a mommy across the world. A mommy who was terrified to bring home a child that was so broken. And maybe I was the one truly living in the dark, the darkness of contentment and apathy. How far away are we from God when we have built our pretty, clean alters and place God in our polished and pretty places? Maybe we sit there and never realize that He is not sitting with us. Maybe God is sitting and waiting for us to hear a whisper, a calm voice beckoning us to the dark places. He wants us to leave our polished lives and faithfully step into the dark places to rescue and ransom lives.
Israel was never taught words or knowledge by the orphanage staff. Israel was never given any education or teaching. However, God sat with this small boy and taught him life and strength. And now Israel, one voice in the dark, is teaching hope. This little boy, is our example of how darkness can be turned to light. And when we are sitting in our dark places remember that Holy is found in the dark. And in that dark and scary place, He is sitting right beside you, marking time until the sun rises again.
It’s like the sound of a chuckle in the darkness.
The sense that some shattering and disarming simplicity is the real answer.