I sit looking at two stuffed bears sitting side by side. Two bears well-loved by two boys who love each other.
One is my son’s bear. For six years, this blue bear has been his constant companion. He drags it around the house and on all of his boyhood adventures. He sleeps with it, eats beside it and perches it next to him for every story, TV show and car ride. When misplaced, the entire household goes into panic mode until it is found.
This tattered bear tells a story and the story is this: a little boy finds courage when he grips this talisman of safety. A little boy finds comfort when he clings to this token of softness in his soft little world. A little boy cherishes this bear.
The other stuffed bear belongs to a boy we have hosted through Safe Families multiple times. My children gave him this bear about a year ago during a visit. It was meant to bring him comfort during his stay and remind him that we loved him when he went home. And after just one year, I was surprised to notice that it looks just as worn as my son’s bear.
This particular little boy has a heart overflowing with love for his family. I have watched him carefully cut waffles into tiny bites for his siblings, proudly announcing that his mom taught him to do it that way – because if you cut the pieces small enough, you feel full after just one. I’ve witnessed him comfort his little sister, gingerly tucking her into bed in this strange home with all the care and concern of a protective brother only to find him asleep by her side the next morning. I’ve seen him protect and defend his brother during squabbles. And I’ve seen him light with joy and tenderly coo at his baby brother.
This is a boy who bravely bears the weight of his family’s world on his eight-year-old shoulders.
But I have also seen evidence of trauma in his reactions to conflict. I’ve diffused flashes of anger and wiped hot tears from cries of injustice. I’ve ministered to a heart hungry for attention and affirmation. I’ve rocked and consoled and whispered love into a tender, bruised spirit thirsty for grace.
His tattered bear also tells a story and the story is this: a courageous little boy, longing for safety, has clung to this bear. A little boy, who tries so hard to be strong, secretly finds comfort in this token of softness in a hard world. A little boy cherishes this bear.
Driving the kids home after their last visit, I received a call from my husband that the boy had forgotten his bear. I asked the boy if I should turn around – because this would be a crisis moment in my son’s world. But he just smiled shyly and told me he left his bear at my house on purpose. He murmured that he hoped I could fix the missing eye and give it back the next time he visited me.
Ahh so that was it. The bear needed some time at my house. Some time for healing and restoration. And perhaps … just maybe … a reason for the boy to return.
I was honored that he entrusted me with his bear. A coincidence I did not miss.
As I sat alone and sewed new eyes on the worn out bear, the tears began to fall. I decided to stitch eyes that can’t be broken off. A silly attempt to provide something permanent for a child tossed in a storm of constant change.
With each stitch, I prayed for this little family who has become so dear to me. For a mom who deeply loves her children and is brave enough to ask for help when she needs it. For the kids to not harden from the all hard in their lives. And for a little boy who needs healing and restoration every bit as much as this bear.
I wish that it were this easy to patch up the hearts of the kids we encounter. I wish a week with me with some stitches and a little tender loving care could repair the tatters and wounds that often run deep.
But then again, tatters tell a story. A complex story of hurt and love and hard and soft and a journey that is their own.
And the truth is, we all have tatters.
So for now, I’ll just stitch the bits and pieces of their lives that God asks me to stitch.
I’ll cuddle and affirm and speak truth into their precious hearts when I can. I’ll try to be intentional about maintaining contact and being a source of encouragement to their mother. I’ll offer as much grace as I am humanly able to give.
And I’ll pray for God to continue to do the real work of restoration and healing in their lives. As only He can.