Eighteen months ago Shandra slept at the House of Light. The house is an aftercare refuge for girls who have been traumatized. One of the newly rescued girls screamed and sobbed all night, caught between nightmares and restless sleep. The nuns and the girls know these nights. And they know that sometimes all they can do is pray, hold, and be present through the dark until the morning. I think Shandra tried to prepare me as we drove to the house, but there are no words for the anguish caused by this evil.
We were prepared for the tasks of the day. The young members of our team, Girls of Grit and Determination, had sourced and purchased the other items we were taking.
We had a computer, printer/scanner, embroidery machine, fabric and other items in the trunk. We carried hoops and parts on our laps. I still had the embroidery sample cloth in my hand and was writing and rewriting lessons in my head. I wanted to introduce sewing and embroidery concepts in a way that unfolded logically and was easy to grasp. The rest of the team discussed strategies for setting up the other equipment and plans for the day. We were very prepared for the tasks ahead, but emotions are unpredictable.
We were welcomed with warm greetings and with tea. Shandra asked me to do a short presentation to all the nuns gathered around the table. When I pulled out the sample cloth, Sister Parmila (who is in charge of tailoring and teaching sewing) held it in her hands, shook her head and cried, "God is so kind!" (Definitely a theme for this trip). Soon they were dreaming of the possibilities (another trip theme).
After tea, we unpacked everything. The girls formed an excited throng around us that moved when we moved. One of the girls who couldn't stop smiling, took over the camera and took pictures of everyone. Like a photographer at a wedding, she organized portrait groups and bounced from room to room carrying delight with her. The House of Light was a flurry of activity: sewing lessons, computer lessons, everyone moving loudly, laughing.
Shandra smiled sometimes. She hugged sometimes. She nodded sometimes. She was present, but still. She was very still.
Shandra carried this special kind of Stillness born of Wonder.
I heard it in her voice as we drove away. I hear it in her voice even now. "Did you see her?" she asked. "The Girl Who Couldn't Stop Smiling? That was the girl who 18 months ago couldn't even stand. Her spirit was so broken, so crumpled, she was a puddle in the corner during the day and sobbed throughout the night."
There were other stories of healing and growth: a girl trained as a teacher who found work and now lives strong, one finishing her training as a mechanic while we were there, another preparing to take exams that will open up more educational opportunities. The girls and nuns are a family formed by trauma and love.
I think that everyone involved in this project has asked some variation of this question at some point, "Is love enough?" Are we doing enough? Are we moving fast enough? Are the care givers skilled enough? These are important questions, but they are flurry questions. Perhaps the answers are in the stillness.
Through the dark.
Until the morning.