Dear Little Girl,
I was eating ice cream when I saw you.
You had the saddest face I’ve ever seen on someone’s daughter and you were only seven. You were tiny as though you haven’t been fed properly. Your hair was pulled tight into a ponytail and your eyes were red from crying.
I heard your mother first, I heard her talking to you and your brothers, but mostly you, in a voice no human should use with another. A mean voice full of contempt and self-hatred. You were being loud and shrill and a forced-kind of playful because you knew it wouldn’t last long and then your granddad sat down. I heard him coming, yelling at his grown son who was yelling back, and you were all so tense.
I was eating ice cream with my mum and dad and brothers and sisters and our family at the picnic table behind yours, and your granddad came and sat beside you and you were saying you wanted to pet the dog you’d just seen. And he yelled at you for that.
Your mother left, went into the ice cream shop, and then you said something else and I could see your granddad visibly shaking in anger. He stood, and you started to scream. And he yanked you by the arm across the road, and then we heard a slap.
Your auntie and uncle at the picnic table with the rest of the children not doing anything.
I looked too late. I didn’t see him hit you but you were sitting at the foot of a tree across the road screaming and weeping and I stood by the road wanting to cross but so afraid of him and not sure what to say. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, while you wept, and you saw me and I stared into your eyes and your sobs calmed for a minute. Because I know Jesus was standing in my place doing what I couldn’t, but I should have done more.
Your mother showed up then, and your granddad bent to brush the grass off your knees and you screamed and jumped away from him. I’m not sure why your knees were dirty. Did he make you kneel by the tree while he hit you?
And your mother just nodded while your granddad explained things and then you all made it back to the picnic table. Your eyes redder than before.
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We were all silent and stunned. We were too silent. We were Christians eating ice cream at a picnic table while you were being abused and I should have done something.
I have never been more ashamed.
Love is not a word. It is an action. And if God is love, and we abide in God, then we are love. And love stands up for people like you, and I didn’t. I stood there and looked, but I should have done more.
I should have been brave enough to walk across the street and stare into the face of the evil that was hurting you. I should have told him he needed to hit me before he could hit you. I should have…
And I’m so desperately sorry.
I can only pray for you now. You haunt my dreams. I see your skinny little face and I want so badly to hug you and let down your hair from its tight ponytail and feed you nutritious meals. I want to let you play, for hours on end, and we’ll get you a puppy. You can pet him as much as you want and I’ll never speak a mean word to you and this is what you deserve, precious child. You are God’s creation and he is your true father and we cannot choose our parents, but our Heavenly Father has chosen us. He has chosen you. And He loves you with a very gentle, kind love that saves. A kind of love that delights in your stories instead of telling you to shut up.
A child who is taught to be seen and not heard will spend her whole life trying to find her voice.
And I know you will. I know you’ll spend your life trying to find it, but I pray that when you finally do, you’ll use it to help others. As I should have done.
I sinned that day, dear child. I sinned by not standing up for you. And I will never not stand up for someone again. I will dare to appear foolish. I will put myself in harm’s way because you are worth it.
The children of the earth are worth it.
With all my heart, and begging for your forgiveness, and praying for you always,