Social work and play therapy, orphan care, motherhood, the Father heart of God, suffering in the world, the value of a child and the hope of a Savior…These are things I contemplated as I lay awake in bed and the following is my attempt to capture it all as it tumbled out of my heart.

I miss my kids. No, I’ve never had children. But I’ve loved many of them. And tonight I can’t stop thinking about 12 special kids who took pieces of my heart when I had to say goodbye to them in Chicago. You see, last year this time I was preparing my heart and my play therapy kit to enter a school in a “bad neighborhood” where I would meet the children I prayed God would bring to me for clinical services.

As an aside, the fact that these kids lived in a rough part of town only motivated me more to reach out to them specifically. Because I want to help those most in need. But don’t get me wrong, there is brokenness and depravity in every home and every neighborhood.  I would never want to paint them in a negative light if it added to the stigma such kids already face because of their life circumstances. So while in many ways some of these kids are victims and in need of rescue, they are strong, courageous, and full of so much to offer the world. Yet because they are often overlooked I am drawn to them.

Back to last school year, before I knew it, I had too many children wanting to spend time with me and not enough of me to go around. My client list had to stop at twelve, who I trust God handpicked for me. I spent hours with each child throughout the school year when I did my best to facilitate their growth and healing. Moments I’ve had with them are some of the most fulfilling I’ve had in my life. Some were terribly difficult too. I would lay awake some nights thinking about them, planning my sessions mentally to address their needs, crying as I replayed the things they’d told me or the pain I’d seen in their eyes, and sometimes secretly wishing I could pick them up out of the brokenness where they dwell and place them into the world of love and safety they deserve. Which is what kept me going in those times. The fact that I could provide a place for them to retreat every week, just for 45 minutes, but at least for a time. Where they could be safe, breathe deeply, play freely, be reminded of their value, and heal a little at a time. Sometimes I saw the ugliness of sin that had damaged their worlds revealed in their play. Sometimes I would become an object for the child to release the pent up anger and pain upon. It hurt, but it was good. I wanted to take on their pain and let them see that they were loved no matter how ugly their burdens.

Which, now that I think about it, is actually a lot like the way God sees me… Not to say I was always a Godly therapist to those kids because I had plenty of faults. I didn’t always react in the right way, have the perfect insight, or do the right thing when they brought me their fear, struggle, and anger. But God feels our pain so much more deeply than my best attempt at empathy can achieve. No wonder he died so quickly on that cross for us. One person’s pain can seem unbearable at times so I can’t imagine carrying the pain of the world and knowing it intimately. Yet, He not only cries with me knowingly, but He knows exactly how to bandage me up to make me healthier than ever. My motives for binding up kids’ wounds were not always pure. I like to be needed. It’s partly noble because I genuinely want to help others and to bring relief to weary souls. But its partly prideful because in so doing I feel good about what I did. And while it can be a thankless job, kids often repay you tenfold with their love, admiration, and affection. I miss walking into the building where I was greeted by multiple “Hey Ms. Tello”s accompanied by wide grins. And the inquisitive, “Can I come with you?” from a child who generally has a hard time trusting another human being. And while I didn’t solicit them, I especially miss the excited bear hugs! As well as the timid but motivated ones since those usually came from a giver whose act of reaching out was a courageous indication of renewed hope and healing.

Every child has the right to know he or she is precious. And it has always broken my heart when they get less. If I think too long about all the mistreated children across the globe I become overwhelmed and angry. It’s not what our Father intended. And I wish I could make it stop. But I then have to struggle with the tension of doing what I can to provide love, hope, and healing to the kids who need it most without playing the savior. In many ways I believe my heart’s cry to rescue them is an echo of the Heavenly Father’s. He weeps over those who are uncared for because He seriously loves the little children. And He has charged His church with the responsibility to care for them in response. But we are human and only capable of helping while resting ourselves in the arms of Jesus. The best thing we can do for hurting children is carry them to the foot of the cross. And I guess that’s why I’m here today, in Ohio, missing my kids.

God allowed me to taste a gift and passion He has placed in me when He connected my heart to the children whose faces float across my mind as I write. But now He has me here on my way to another country where my sole purpose will be to build relationship and use my social work skills as vehicles to carry others to Him. I can’t save them, but I can take them to the One who can. One who loves them so much more deeply than I ever could. One who loves me with the same unquenched affection. Regardless of my self inflicted scars and wounds of the world. He wraps His arms around me and I am safe in His arms.

So Jesus, I still long to provide a safe place for kids who don’t have one. Perhaps I’ll be able to provide it through therapy to kids and kids in adult bodies in days to come. And maybe someday you’ll entrust us with a little one (or two..or ten), who has been forgotten and scarred by a harsh world, but can discover the joy of adoption into a family of love. Hopefully our home can be a place that reflects the beauty of what You provide for us spiritually. We have longed for the opportunity since I can remember, to welcome such a child into our hearts and lives, but it hasn’t been time yet. And while we aren’t pursuing parenthood, I look forward to the day when I can introduce the children of Your choosing to You, my Heavenly Daddy, who always calls me to Himself and rescues me from unnecessary harm. Until then, make me more like you: the Wonderful Counselor and perfect Father. A better reflection of You because I rest in You, my Hope and my Refuge (Psalm 62:5-8).

Your daughter, Erika

A Song about Being Safe in His Arms