Summary: Seeking the Lord’s guidance during times of loss and grief.
YOUNG GIRL AT COVENANT HOUSE WITH PAINT CAN OF MOTHER’S ASHES
Some years ago I read the story of a young girl that came what became well known as Covenant House here in L.A….
“She came to our front door Tuesday morning, dressed in dirty rags, holding a little aluminum paint can in her arms.
From the second she stepped inside our shelter, she mystified us. Whatever she did, wherever she went, the paint can never left her hands.
When Kathy sat in the crisis shelter, the can sat in her arms. She took the can with her to the cafeteria that first morning she ate, and to bed with her that first night she slept.
When she stepped into the shower, the can was only a few feet away. When the tiny homeless girl dressed, the can rested alongside her feet.
"I’m sorry, this is mine," she told our counselors, whenever we asked her about it. "This can belongs to me."
"Do you want to tell me what’s in it, Kathy," I’d ask her? "Um, not today," she said, "not today."
When Kathy was sad, or angry or hurt--which happened a lot--she took her paint can to a quiet dorm room on the 3rd floor. Many times on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, I’d pass by her room, and watch her rock gently back and forth, the can in her arms. Sometimes she’d talk to the paint can in low whispers.
I’ve been around troubled kids all my life, (over 43,000 homeless kids will come to our shelters this year!). I’m used to seeing them carry stuffed animals (some of the roughest, toughest kids at Covenant House have a stuffed animal). Every kid has something-needs something - to hold.
But a paint can? I could feel alarm bells ringing in my head.
Early this morning, I decided to "accidentally" run into her again. "Would you like to join me for breakfast?" I said. "That would be great," she said.
For a few minutes we sat in a corner of our cafeteria, talking quietly over the din of 150 ravenous homeless kids. Then I took a deep breath, and plunged into it....
"Kathy, that’s a really nice can. What’s in it?" For a long time, Kathy didn’t answer. She rocked back and forth, her hair swaying across her shoulders. Then she looked over at me, tears in her eyes.
"It’s my mother," she said.
"Oh," I said. "What do you mean, it’s your mother?" I asked.
"It’s my mother’s ashes," she said. "I went and got them from the funeral home. See, I even asked them to put a label right here on the side. It has her name on it."
Kathy held the can up before my eyes. A little label on the side chronicled all that remained of her mother: date of birth, date of death, name. That was it. Then Kathy pulled the can close, and hugged it.
"I never really knew my mother, Sister," Kathy told me. "I mean, she threw me in the garbage two days after I was born." (We checked Kathy’s story. Sure enough the year Kathy was born, the New York newspapers ran a story, saying that police had found a little infant girl in a dumpster--and yes, it was two days after Kathy was born.)
"I ended up living in a lot of foster homes, mad at my mother," Kathy said. "But then, I decided I was going to try to find her. I got lucky--someone knew where she was living. I went to her house."
"She wasn’t there, Sister," she said. "My mother was in the hospital. She had AIDS. She was dying."
"I went to the hospital, and I got to meet her the day before she died. My mother told me she loved me, Sister," Kathy said crying. "She told me she loved me." (We double-checked Kathy’s story ... every word of it was true. -Covenant House of California+
> Not only has that story always been a painful one as I consider the tragic loss such a young girl faced and had to process… but it captures something of the losses each of us may face in varying degree through life.
> We’re all going to have some paint cans in our lives… someone / thing we lose too early.
· Death of a parent … special friend…child…. or perhaps more relationally than physically… the death of a marriage or relationship…. a career or potential…dreams. We are facing losses here as a community. Most of you who attended last Sundays afternoon meeting or received and read our regular mailing this week… are aware of plans for Katherine, our associate pastor, to lead a church plant to Madison Wisconsin… and the Harlans, also on our staff, to likely face moving.