When Positives Aren’t Always Positives
I always try to see the positives to any situation, or at least to understand it. I preach to all my students Atticus’ Finch quote to “climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it.” But there’s one positive I never wanted to see, and that’s the two-line positive of a pregnancy test.
“It’s positive, see?” the lab nurse showed me umtfwana wami’s pregnancy test results. I turned from the test result and just stared at her in shock.
“No, no,” she said angrily and pushed past me and out the door. I was far too upset to care to follow. Luckily, Kiley was at the clinic with me to help another girl, so when I came out with a stunned face and shook my head yes, she ordered me to sit down to collect myself.
“Where’d she go?” Kiley asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. I really didn’t care at that point. “She stormed out and left.”
“Should I go get her?” Kiley asked.
Kiley left while I sat with another girl we were helping. I couldn’t hold it together, though; I couldn’t hold in the tears so I walked outside and bawled. I couldn’t believe it. After six years of helping this girl, how could this happen again? This was one situation I was sure had no positives.
It was like the roof above me had collapsed as I thought about what this would now mean for Tenele, her kids, me, the girls at the house, all of us. According to house policy, Tenele would need to be removed as soon as possible, but where would she go? What would happen to her kids? It seemed we were back at square one. All of my “success” with Tenele the past few years now meant nothing as all the people who told me not to help her because she wouldn’t really change could now laugh at my foolishness and say, “I told you so.” Where had I gone wrong? Had I really been foolish in helping her? Why did this happen? The questions flooded me. We had given her a new start, a roof over her head, safety, food, clothes, and education… My thoughts and tears were interrupted by Kiley’s phone call.
“Kate, she just keeps walking away. She’s bawling and telling me to just leave her. I just keep walking with her but she won’t listen to me. We’re making quite the scene. Can you come get us with the car? Maybe she’ll get in then.”
“I doubt it,” I muttered, “But yes I’ll come.” I didn’t want to. I was tired of pursuing Tenele, especially after we had had such an incredible few weeks together, praying every night and living daily life together.
When I saw where they were, I was still so angry, I didn’t even care that Tenele was crying. I parked the car and walked over to her, where Kiley was trying to comfort her and people were staring as they passed by.
“Tenele, let’s go,” I said coldly. “Get in the car.” I gently put my hand on her back.
“No,” she cried. “Just leave me.”
After refusing to move towards the car, Kiley and I switched places. I wrapped my arms around her as she hid her head in her arms and tried pulling away. I tightened my grip around her so she couldn’t get away while Kiley went to pull the car closer. I told her wasn’t going to leave her no matter how many times she told me to. When she realized I meant what I said, she finally let me pull her and lift her into our van. She kept her head hidden in her arms or hands as she cried violently. I comforted her little, enough for her to know I still loved her, but the tears wouldn’t stop pouring down my own face, too.
That night, my mom had sent me a text message with a quote from Mother Teresa that said, “What is demanded of me in this moment for the person in front of me?” I asked God right then and the answer was quick and succinct: “grace.” But I didn’t want to hear about grace at that point. “How many times, God?” I asked. “That’s what I’ve been giving her this whole time and it’s clearly not working! Whatever love and grace I gave her obviously didn’t do what I thought it would.” But the quote came back again the following day.
The next morning, Ayanda spoke to me as Tenele’s representative since Tenele still couldn’t face me. She said Tenele wanted to talk, so the three of us went on a walk. Tenele handed me a letter, our greatest form of communication. Every word I read I cried harder. The three of us had stopped walking so I could read the letter. When Tenele saw me crying and shaking she came over timidly and put her arms around me. “Mama, please don’t cry,” she started choking up, “please, please don’t cry,” she begged. I wasn’t sure who I was crying harder for, Tenele or myself. Her letter was heart-wrenching and she was weighted down with so much shame and fear. Mother Teresa’s quote came back to me and I asked God, again, what is demanded of me in this moment for Tenele. The answer was the same he gave last night, a five letter word: grace. Grace was demanded. My pride and hurt had to disappear so God’s grace could be granted to His child as He demanded. I didn’t want to, I fought it for a while, but finally, I put my hands on Tenele’s cheeks and lifted her face so she would look at me. “I forgive you, Tenele.”
She sobbed in my arms, but it was a good sob. It was clearly what she needed to feel restored hope. To not result to living in shame and taking her own life as she been planning. Things didn’t change completely in that moment, but I could feel God holding both of us together. In the days that followed, there were still battles with hopelessness and shame; she felt unworthy of being helped and told me she would leave and never see me again so I could help others instead of her. Again, my own sweet mother, had sent me a text about Mary Magdalene and reminded me that she was one of the closest women to Jesus, one of the first to find out He had risen, and she had been a prostitute whom seven demons were cast out of her. Tenele refused to listen to truth for awhile until I told her about Mary Magdalene. Silent tears poured out and she found hope in knowing she, too, could be close like that to Jesus, and that her past wouldn’t prevent her from being united with Christ again.
Because of the support of my dear friends, I was able to keep my own hope in a painful situation. There was still no peace knowing that I would be separated from my child, when I had waited six years for something that was now being torn from me because of a poor decision of her own. Because of her choices, we all would suffer part of the consequences. I couldn’t imagine living in the house without Tenele. She was the reason, the inspiration for the home, and to have her gone would mean part of my heart would be forever missing. I still couldn’t see how anything good could come from this situation, but that’s where God always seems to excel. Where we see hopelessness and pain, He sees opportunity for his glory, and that’s exactly what happened in the following days.