We stood in two lines, older and taller ones in the back, and tried not to be nervous. We nodded our heads with the plinking of the piano and waved at our parents and grandparents. The children’s choir director smiled and took a deep breath, raised her hands, and then … we sang:
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world!”
We sang the same song over again, louder on the second round at the bidding of our leader. When we finished, we leaped down off the pulpit area and scampered to our pews beside parents and grandparents. We beamed with smiles. The deacons and ushers rumbled out their amens. The grandmothers handed us pep-o-mints and sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. The mothers dabbed at tears and gave us looks of pride with an undercurrent of stern warning to be still and reverent during the sermon.
I had never personally seen a child as red as a tomato, or as yellow as corn, but I knew that if there was such a child, Jesus loved him or her.
I can remember, growing up, I always knew I was loved.
I always had love, even when I had a hard time seeing it. Grandmother Robinson lavished upon me comments that told me I was the apple of her eye and she’d point to clothes in her stack of catalogues and say she wanted to get me that. Grandfather Robinson squeezed my shoulders and called me darling and let me ride his horses. My Meme and Papaw let us come to the city and trick-or-treat, or fed us with fried fish and homemade hushpuppies and fried banana peppers. and they’d take us to Gatlinburg every year. Momma and Daddy loved me enough to sprinkle budding promises of ‘yes’ into a field of ‘no, because I said so.’
I never doubted I was loved or cherished. I never doubted that Jesus loved me, loved me enough to even die for me on a cross.
This past weekend, early on Saturday morning, a Camry from Baltimore veered off the left shoulder of the I-64 Westbound lane, overcorrected, and slammed into a truck from my hometown, also traveling in the westbound lane. Both vehicles went off the road. The truck flipped, ejecting a thirteen year old girl from the cab of the truck. The girl’s name was Emily Sams.
As hard as it is to pray this, I pray that she died immediately. I pray that she didn’t have a second of fear and awareness. I pray that she didn’t know she was going to die.
I heard the news that Emily Sams died from my own thirteen year old daughter named Emily. They were schoolmates.
Just a few hours after the crash, social media lit up with the news. Emily Sams’ Instagram account was flooded with comments of love and loss. Parents and students leapt into memorial action and made buttons for the students who were supposed to be getting ready for the Eighth Grade Dance that night. Prayer requests for Emily’s mother, Shella, and her father, Jeff, were sent on their Facebook rounds. Shella’s body had been shattered in the crash. Jeff was hurt, but going to make it.
As a mother to four, my heart ached with what this would do to their hearts, once they knew what had happened to their child. A child who was so loved.
And she was, indeed, loved.
Not only was there a rally on social media, but there were rallies in person. The staff and teachers and school administrators gathered counselors for the students. They held a candlelight vigil and released balloons. Everyone in our town, it seemed, re-posted pictures of this lovely little girl.
At the dinner table on the night that Emily Sams died, according to our custom, our family held hands and prayed. We prayed for her family. After the prayer, my eldest said he had to stay off all his news feeds on social media because the only thing people were posting about was this eighth grader.
My mother’s heart wanted to remind him of compassion and how people express grief in different ways, and that maybe he should consider that. And then, my son spoke again and it silenced us all.
“There was a kid at the high school who killed himself last year and nobody did anything for him,” he said.
And then my heart packed up that statement and carried it around. It was wrapped up in paper that, when crinkled, sounded an awful lot like “Jesus Loves The Little Children.”
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight …
It is easy to love the lovely, isn’t it?
Emily Sams was just voted MVP of her volleyball team. She smiled at everyone. She was pretty and smart and dressed right. She was a member of a church and her Instagram garnered well over a hundred likes, even on a slow day. A year from now people will remember her name. Maybe they will even plant a tree on campus and place a little plaque next to it In Memory Of.
Don’t get me wrong. These are all good things. But the kid from the high school who killed himself? Even my kids can’t remember his name.
He wasn’t an MVP. He was simply … invisible.
He was one in the midst of the ‘all’.
So today, when I pray for the children, I will have a little something different to consider. I will consider ALL the children.
In my heart, I will whisper they are the apples of my eye.
In my heart, I will imagine that if I had a horse, I will let them ride it.
In my heart, I will squeeze them around the shoulder and call them darling.
In my heart, I will bring them home and feed them from my own table, and in my heart, I will take them on vacations just so they can know they are special enough to be taken away and given rest for a while.
Most importantly, I will sing to them that Jesus loves them, too.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45 (ESV)
If the red and yellow, black and white are precious in His sight, then the red and yellow, black and white should be precious in my sight as well.
And in my heart, I will water the little tree that God planted there this weekend. It’s right next to the plaque that reads: All the Children of the World.