Unstained, Unhampered, Spotless
Can you solve this riddle?
intelligent, holy, unique
manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
unhampered, beneficent, firm,
all-powerful, all-seeing, pervading all spirits…
“She penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God, and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty… She is a spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness… She renews everything while herself perduring. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses all constellation of stars…”
Wisdom: it’s the rain to a parched heart and the air to my daily breathing. It’s necessary for success in laboring for the Lord and required for resilience that feeds my survival. It keeps me from giving up while enabling me to let go. To let go and let God. Especially during weeks like this one.
Saturday, Dec. 6th
Leah(fake name) seemed to be having a difficult couple days. She was rather moody and seemed like nothing could lift her spirits no matter what we said or did. Her recent depression and mood swings have valid reasons—past sexual abuse and separation from family are just a couple, and I could only will away the inner turmoil she was in. Still, it was frustrating that she wasn’t letting me or anyone else help, especially because she had recently been quite grateful and open to help. Her dramatic elevation of negativity irritated me and when she acted out like a 12 year old to get attention, I ignored her. I was not about to feed into her “pity me” party after all the progress we had recently gone through. Months ago, Leah had asked me to write her a song with a happy ending, “A song about anything as long as it ends happy,” she requested. I had put it off for so long, but now I needed to put my emotions for her down on paper. So, while the other girls were watching silent TV (the old tv we have in the girls home doesn’t have sound, so they call it “watching an album” as if they are watching pictures instead) I shut myself in my room and worked hard on writing her a new song. If my conversation with her isn’t getting through, maybe music, which she loves more than anything will break through to her.
She’s buried under silence
of memories from that night
when a man left her lifeless,
her hopes and dreams now muted cries …
I was interrupted with a knock on the door. Emily came into my room and said, “Leah wants to know if…” and made a request of me.
“No,” I answered succinctly and went back to my writing. Emily was taken a little off guard and paused for a moment as if she were waiting for me to say I was joking. “No, I already told her no. And the answer is most definitely no if she can’t come in here herself and ask,” I explained. Emily quietly shut the door.
All that’s left is fear that haunts her
Sick of suffering, she’d rather die
All alone the emptiness taunts her
Not believing I’ll fight for her life…
I heard a door slam. Probably Leah, I thought. I went back to my paper and finished the lyrics.
There’s a love that’s unfailing
There’s a truth that’s unchanging
There’s a hope that’s unending
Oh what I would do, to give this to you
Satisfied, I sang it out on guitar. I think this will really help! I thought, and I left my room, hopeful of giving some encouragement to Leah without feeding her fire of attention-getting.
I opened the door and saw Leah lying on the bed asleep. She was facing away from the door, the opposite way of how she normally sleeps in her lower bunk. One leg was sprawled near the edge of the bed so that her ankle was hanging off the mattress.
“Leah,” I said excitedly, knowing that she had just gotten into bed not more than 15 minutes earlier and couldn’t be that deeply asleep. But she didn’t answer. “Leah, I finished my song for you, want to hear it?”
I stepped closer to the bed but nearly tripped on something at my feet. Empty pill bottles lay on the floor by her near-empty water bottle. I paused and assessed the scene. Two pill bottles were upright and empty, another was knocked on its side, also empty. A bag of half-filled pills also lay next to the water bottle.
My first thought was obvious; she’s attempting suicide. But while my heart was in my throat and I nearly had a panic attack, my gut told me something was strange about the way the bottles were laid out, as if they were set up meticulously on a stage, and I doubted Leah consumed all of the pills. Still, I obviously had to be sure. I shook her, but she didn’t move. My heart started pounding faster as the worst passed through my mind. Did she take the pills? Is this her dying body?!
I saw a folded up piece of paper at her feet that said, “To whoever finds this note, please give it to _________.” Though tempted to read it, I refused to touch the letter at first. I refused to believe the dark thoughts clouding me. Instead, I demanded the sleeping Leah get out of bed. I shook her harder for the third time and when she moved, my breath deflated my chest like a popped balloon. Phew, I thought, she’s still alive. I rolled her over but she covered her face with her hands. “Leah, get up,” I exhaled in a sing-song voice, trying to cover the terror that was still in my throat. “I have the song you asked for.” I didn’t say anything about the pills or the letter, pretending I didn’t see them. “Come to my room so I can sing it.”
She slowly got up, turning so I couldn’t see her face and marched out of the room ahead of me. When we got to my room, she sank down on Titi’s bed and let her head fall in her hands, waiting for my song. I played part of it and when I finished, she said quietly, “That was really good, Mama Kate.” That’s when I knew she was okay. And that’s when I started reprimanding her.
“So is that a suicide note in there?” I said suddenly.
She shook her head no.
“Really? What about the pills? What are you trying to do, Leah?” my voice rose in transparent anger.
“Nothing,” she responded.
“Did you take the pills?” I asked in anxiety, though deep down something told me she hadn’t.
“Then look at me,” I demanded. But she refused to let me see her face.
“So, did you do all this for attention? To scare me? Or to actually kill yourself?”
“To kill myself…” she said quietly. “But I didn’t take the pills yet.”
“Where are they?”
“Under my pillow.”
“Go, show me, and get rid of them right now.”
“I already flushed them,” she changed her story.
‘“Leah, first you took them, then you didn’t, next they’re under your pillow, and now you flushed them? Where are they?” I grew impatient.
“Mama Kate, can I just go get rid of them myself?”
She grumbled, got up, and darted out of my room. I followed at her heels as she fell back on her bed to dig for the pills. She handed me a small box filled with them. Phew again, I thought. So, she didn’t take them. But how do I know these are all of them? How do I know she didn’t take any? She was still acting so strange that I couldn’t be sure. I disposed of the pills and came back to her and asked again if she had taken any. She said no, but I was so nervous I didn’t know if I could believe her. What if she did take them and I believed her that she didn’t? By morning she’d be dead and it’d be my fault.
“I’m taking you to the hospital,” I said suddenly.
“No,” she spat. “I’m not going.”
“Well, you made it look like you took pills so how do I know you’re okay, Leah? How can I trust you?”
“I don’t need to go to the hospital. I didn’t take any. It wasn’t going to work,” she confessed. She was probably right. The pills she wanted to take were old HIV pills and a mix of another kind. It would have done grave damage, but not quickly. And she would have suffered for awhile first. Unfortunately, she had another attempt with other pills in the past, and she knew the pills she had access to here wouldn’t do damage fast enough.
I held back tears and a fistful of anger at the same time. She lay back down on the couch and claimed she was going to sleep there tonight.
“Convince me that you’re okay, Leah,” I sighed.
“I’m fine,” she grumbled. “Good night.”
“I’m not convinced.”
She just shrugged and pulled a blanket up to her ears.
“Fine,” I said, “Then I’ll stay up until I know you are.” I left the room to retrieve my journal and book and came back out and sat on the adjacent couch. I scribbled frustrations in my journal about how it was such a long day and all I wanted was to sleep. Instead it was already past midnight and I had to will myself awake to make sure Leah was okay. I prayed and talked to God, and I just felt his peace reassure me to place Leah in His hands and not to take the burden on myself. So I entrusted her to God and the wisdom I felt telling me that she was fine and didn’t take any pills. Finally, I climbed in bed and fell asleep, praying for more and more wisdom to get me through.
Monday, Dec. 8th
Two days later, an unrecognized number sang my phone’s standard ring tone. I frowned at the unknown number and paused, deciding whether or not to answer it. Too often, far too often, I get calls from random numbers, asking for help. It’s not that I’m sick of helping people, but their requests are of money, mostly all for school fees. I don’t even know these people but they get my number from someone and ask for help. I’m not a walking ATM machine, and I’m not here for handouts. I’m here for relationships, for hope, and for healing. So, I started just ignoring any unknown numbers unless they call repeatedly in a short period of time because that usually means it’s someone I know calling from a different number or the person really, really needs help.
I let the phone ring a few more times and then answered. It was a police officer on the other end.
“Hello, m’am,” he greeted politely. “I’m Simelane from the police station.”
My stomach did a loop-dee-loop. Great, what happened now? I feared his reason for calling.
“I’m calling on behalf of Tracy (fake name for one of our girls). You are her guardian, correct?”
Tracy had just left two days ago with her mother to enjoy the holidays back at home. “Yes, I’m her guardian.”
“Okay, great. I’m the officer in charge of her case,” he continued. Tracy had been raped and the trial was finally being brought to court. “She, um…well, she broke down yesterday at court and she had to leave. I’m afraid if she can’t testify we won’t be able to carry out the case,” he explained.
“Well, she’s with her mom right now for the holidays,” I said, “But please let me know what I can do to help.”
He was very thankful and said Tracy wanted me at the next court trial. He explained she was to see the counselor at the end of the week and then would continue trial the following week. “I will let you know when we need you there,” he said and hung up.
I was devastated for Tracy. This poor, far too young girl, who had been raped a year ago now has to be the one to testify against a man who stripped the life from her—a man she thought she’d never have to face again, a man who would walk free if she couldn’t hold it together at the next trial.
Wednesday, Dec. 10th
By mid-week, over half of the house was emptied of the girls who went home for the holidays. A few girls now remain in the house, ones who don’t have anyone—not even an aunt, uncle, or relative—to spend the holidays with or ones whose home environments aren’t safe, even for a week-long visit.
Wendy (fake name) was one of the girls who had already gone home with her mother, a young 30 some year old who found out her daughter was in Manzini (not Mozambique like she thought) with her abusive father and step-mother (before being moved into this home this year). Her mother, who took great joy in finding her daughter, came to the girls home to spend some time with us before taking Wendy home for the holidays. Several days later, she contacted Gogo with some alarming news. Gogo contacted Titi, and Titi had the grave duty of relaying it to me.
“I have sad news, sisi,” Titi said. “Wendy is pregnant. Her mother just found out.”
I felt like an arrow hit me between the ribs. Pregnant? No! My thoughts raced on, thinking of our sweet 13 year old who had blossomed miraculously in these past several months, going from a timid, fearing-for-her-life, never smiling girl to a giggling, bubbling, intelligent, joke-telling young teenager. Before coming into the home just five months ago, she had been raped several times walking home from school. Additionally, she was also abused and beat ruthlessly by her father, and there was speculation that he had raped her, too. Now, out of the walls of our home, Wendy finds out the past that she had run from and felt rescued from is now still growing in her womb.
Thursday-Friday, Dec. 11th-12th
To wrap up the week, I faced my own battle of pain as a friend, who once was more, spent two whole days, sacrificing his time and energy to help me out doing things for the girls. Sitting in the passenger seat as he drove us around, it was hard not to imagine what life would have been like with him always at my side. Just his presence, his laugh, the way he looks at me can set my heart at ease. He had told me a week prior, “You’re still number one on my list.” I laughed to myself, knowing I could never be with a man who has a list. I’m not going to be number one on anyone’s list, I thought, I should be the only one.
As if my week wasn’t heavy enough to handle, news from back home about some of my American kids was extremely unsettling. A boy, who told me awhile ago that he had been “locked up” and had relapsed again, recently messaged to say things just weren’t getting better, but he won’t take my advice even though he reaches out for help. Another two of my girls whom I had poured so much into while I was in the States both remain dabbling into drugs and other things that temporarily satisfy, and one’s extreme behavior with guys and drugs is painfully disappointing. Not to mention broken friendships, unforgiveness and fist fights. If I hadn’t invested so much it wouldn’t hurt so much. Sometimes I wonder if it was all wasted efforts and I should have poured into those with more fertile soil, but then I remember it is not me who causes growth. One plants, one waters, “but only God causes growth…” 1 Corinthians 3:7
So, as Wisdom tells me to do, I offer up all of these whom I dearly love both near and far, who have varying battles of pain and darkness; without giving up, I let them go into the Hands of hope—the only hands that can heal, save, and satisfy.
And then I pray for the wisdom that “penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God, and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty… She is a spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness… She renews everything while herself perduring.”
Wisdom will be my survival pack.