This week, I sat with forty inner-city children around a Christmas Tree. The children are part of a gang-prevention mentoring program. I sat among friends like Jacob and Jill and Tanner and Bruce and Jed and Marcus, who came to The Mentoring Project and said they wanted to help.
Heroes like Wayland and Ashley and TG were there, police officers working behind the scenes with the FACT program, giving troubled kids a second chance.
Each child was called to the Christmas Tree.
There they received a personalized gift. Then, they named someone whom they would give a present. Here were some of their gifts:
I would give my father a puppy, because he lives alone and needs someone to love him. – Carlos, 9
I would give my grandmother a younger life, so she could be around longer and love me. – Liza, 10
I would give something special to my mentor, Mrs. Michelle, because she helps me and is always by my side. – Tasha, 12
I would give a father-and-son trip to my dad, so I could spend time with him. – Tanner, 15
Each child opened his or her soul to dream.
These were pure, unfiltered, bright dreams. The light of these pure dreams warmed the room. There were beautifully awkward pauses, filled with emotion, as each child reached somewhere deep to pull out their small offering of hope.
After each child shared, they went back to their seat and were swarmed with hugs and high fives. As if the other children instinctively knew to say, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
It was beautiful. Children cried. Adults cried too.
One adult stood up and tried to speak. “I love your dreams” was all she could say, and then she was overtaken with emotion. Without hesitation, the nearest child leapt to her feet and embraced her.
“You need a hug,” the girl said.
But I came to the Christmas party torn. I sat there filled with sadness and rage over the breaking news of the Peshawar children—the bloody shoe that could fit my daughters foot. The Sydney shootings. #ICantBreathe. Ferguson Riots. Don’t Shoot. Tamir Rice.
I was overwhelmed by the senseless horror of it all.
I didn’t feel like being at a Christmas party, wearing an ugly sweater, drinking egg nog or opening presents. This idea of Christmas felt shallow and meaningless and insensitive and hopeless. I was losing my grip on the delicate fabric of hopeful dreams, and was becoming Langston Hughes’ “broken-winged bird.”
But I found something that night. Or perhaps, something found me.
Something beautiful was coming from the mouths of these children: Hope. Their stories were laced with hope. Hope filled their pure-heart dreams. Hope was seen in their smiles and comforts. Hope in their potential, in their future, in their now.
The whispers of hope are louder than the gunshots of reckless evil. The flowers of hope blooms over the ashes of bombed-out rubble. And the songs of hope hum quietly in the fragile dreams of children, against the dissonance of terrorism and insanity.
We see the madness of today and hope for a better tomorrow. We don’t know exactly how to hope or how to express it. But whether we realize it or not, we all hope and wait for Hope to return. This Advent, we need him again—to restore and reconcile and bring justice and grace and peace. This is the Christmas Story - a story of pursuing Hope.
This is our potent hope. That beyond us and bigger than us is a coming newness. A newness too powerful to imagine or express, a newness found in the fragile dreams of hopeful children. This Christmas, may hope find you again.