She called me to tell me she was hungry.
Like a child who comes home from school and says, “Mom, I’m hungry and we don’t have anything to eat!” But not actually like that at all.
This child hasn’t had a mom – or anyone – to cry to or to be fed by since she was 12. That’s when she found herself living alone in a shack with her 8-year old brother. Now she’s 21 and has a child of her own.
When she calls to say she’s hungry, she’s speaking as a head of a household with an empty stomach and a burden of responsibility.
I brought food, and we sat down on her porch to pine over her baby’s preschool graduation photo and to talk about her empty house. I asked her why she ran out of food this month so I could help her make plans for next month, especially important with the brutal, beastly nature of December around here.
Her culture’s oppressive roots teach them to survive in dark corners behind dark stories brought on by dark skin. You’re not supposed to ask why someone ran out of money, especially when you look like I look and she looks like she looks. But, with counter-cultural candidness, this hungry child-mom held nothing back.
She told me that two of her cousins had just come to live with her and her 18-year old brother. One is 14 and in 5th grade, the other is 19 and in 10th grade. These cousins have no parents, no birth certificates. She’s already run around the social services circuits to seek help, only to be repeatedly rejected. Now she has a house full of teenage boys, and everyone in the house is a student. No income, no parents, and no food.
Suddenly, the small bags of groceries I had carried in seemed wildly insufficient. My heart sunk to the pit of my not-empty stomach. Yet this hungry girl on the porch of this empty house was not despairing or panicking. I assessed the circumstances and could only say, “I don’t know what to say. What is God saying to you?”
Without hesitation, this little girl left alone to survive in a grown-up world said, “They are staying with us, and God is making a big family. We will help each other.”
Her house and her stomach are empty.
And everything in the world seems to be against her.
But she sits on that porch and does not see what she doesn’t have.
She doesn’t see two more mouths to feed, broken systems with no birth certificates, and no way to maintain her household.
She sees family.
She sees hope.
She looks in that empty house, and sees that it’s full.
She no longer defines herself as an orphan.
She says, “God is making a big family. We will help each other.”
I want to be like her on this Thanksgiving Day. I want to look in empty houses, empty hearts, and empty eyes, and to call out family and fullness. I want to see family when I join hands over a meal, when I pass out plates at an after-school program, when I hear their stories, and when I tell my own. I want to be all up in that family helping each other.
She’s right. God is making a big family.
He says to make some space because they’re coming home! More mouths to feed and all of their broken baggage in tow. “It’s a big family. We will help each other.”
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back…”
We bring our empty, and He makes us full.
I run out of room in my hands and my heart, and He gives me His.
Father, let me see full, and let me see family.