“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16
I have put off writing about the little girl in the red dress for too long. Not sure why, maybe because she touched a nerve that is still raw, deep down inside of me. A place that I never go to. A place that I need to go to. She also touched my heart in a way that I never expected.
I travel often to places around the world and see things that most people never see. I experience things most people don’t even know exist. I’m not bragging, I’m simply stating a fact. Most people never get past the “escaped llamas” or the stupid “what color is the dress?” fanatisicm of social media. What I’m trying to say, is that I have moved off the beaten path many times. My job forces me into difficult and dark places. I have to condition my heart to not “feel” everything, to not turn into a pile of mush at every situation. I am asked to lead others into these places. I am tasked to keep them safe. I am forced to be strong for them.
So strength will rule the day in most situations. While others are moved to tears and grown men are sobbing like little girls, I don’t get the luxury of showing my emotions. There are even times when I have questioned God about the condition of my heart. I know to guard it. I know it is from the heart that everything flows from. But I still have to ask – “is my heart ok?”. “Have I grown so calloused and so guarded that I can no longer feel sympathy or empathy?”.
And then a little girl in a red dress will show up on the scene. She’s not the first. And I am certain that she will not be the last. Sometimes it’s not a little girl at all. Sometimes it’s a little boy or a young man. Sometimes it’s a grown man or woman. But those are stories for another time.
I noticed her immediately as I stepped off the bus. For some reason I was the first one through the lines of children gathered to greet us. The children had formed a gauntlet for us to walk through. They all had on their finest clothes and their warmest smiles. The little girl in the bright red dress stood out as she stood between the children. She knelt in front of me and handed me a bouquet of roses and caught me off guard. I didn’t want a child to bow to me. I don’t want anyone to bow before me. This is courtesy that is reserved for kings, not for men like me. I was immediately honored and humbled in the same instant.
The little girl in the red dress took my hand and escorted me into the church. So with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in one hand and a beautiful girl in a red dress in the other, we walked together. And I knew that she had captured everyone’s attention. All eyes were on the tall “mzungu” (white man) and the precious girl in the red dress. She was and is a captivating child.
I leaned down and asked her what her name was and she replied in the sweetest voice, “it is Mariam”. This is not a name I would forget. The little girl in the red dress is Mariam. The rest of our team often commented over the next ten days about the “little girl in the red dress” but I knew her as Mariam.
Mariam stayed with me throughout the day. When I was asked to speak a few words to the members of the church she was at my side. When I set the microphone down she would pick it up and say a few words of her own. When I took a seat she climbed into my lap. She climbed into my arms at every opportunity. My arms would tire and I would set her down. She would let me rest and climb back into them again. This went on all through the day. I would hold her and I would grow tired and set her down.
The one place that she climbed into that I will never grow weary of holding her is in my heart. We stood outside at one point in the afternoon and there she was again, in my arms, hugging my neck.
Our host Lillian, asked her “do you like this guy?”.
She said “of course I do.”
“Why do you like this guy?”
“Because he is a good man!”
“Are you sure?”
And Mariam replied with certainty, “Of course I am sure!”
And my heart melted. The melting started when she spoke the words “because he is a good man”. A good man? Who is good? No one is good, but only God! But for a moment I felt good. And my arms didn’t grow tired. I never wanted to let this precious little girl in the red dress down. I didn’t want to let go of this captivating child that had captured my heart. I was there to bring hope and encouragement to her, not the other way around.
This is Mariam and this is her story. This is the little girl that I had been storing up my tears for. And a dear friend of mine reminded me recently that Mariam and a million other kids just like her probably don’t have anyone shedding tears over their lives. In my friend’s words, “it makes me feel like all this crying is somehow a divine entrusting instead of an emotional breakdown”. And then she asked, “does that make sense?”
Nothing has made more sense to me in my entire life.
I had been told on this trip that the reason we are to write has nothing to do with us, we are to be good stewards of the stories that are told to us. We owe it to those that have no voice to make their stories known, to tell the stories that are entrusted to us. To make them known and to make them remembered. I agree with my friend to a point… I pray that the stories I tell will capture the dignity and the beauty of every Mariam in the world. To make sure they are never forgotten. To make sure they are prayed for. To make sure they are loved. To make sure that tears are being shed over their lives. Yes, I believe all of this.
But I also believe that I write for myself. I write to tell their stories and to make them known. But I also write to guard my heart, to keep it tender and to help me to make sense of my own tears. I write so I will never forget Mariam, the girl in the red dress.