"Fatherless and nameless still,
fallen heart and broken -
will there ever be a place
where I belong..."
I was ten, and as broken inside as a child could be. At four I was given a name I'd never heard myself called before, and was told that one of the people I thought loved me most -- didn't. I was told that I would never see him again. No explanation, just new name, new dad, new home.
Can you spell devastation? I couldn't, but I knew it's color, tone, and temperature. The only thing that mitigated the reach of it's cold horror, was my little sister. She was my hope. She was the thread of belonging that kept me alive to myself.
When I first heard Chris Rice's "Belong" a few years ago, I couldn't listen to it. It was too hard. I wanted to stay here -- in the light of who I am today. But the other day a friend posted a link to "Belong" on Facebook, and I knew I had to write this piece.
As a little girl I had only brief flashes of God. As a toddler, my aunt and uncle took me to Sunday School whenever I visited them. And during my darkest hours I would remember walking from their church to the town bakery for crumb buns.
I loved watching the powdered sugar falling on my black patent-leather shoes as we made our way along the cobbled sidewalk -- one hand in hers, one wrapped around my pastry. Those Sundays stayed with me, not because of the sweets, but because I associated those memories with a feeling of belonging to the "something bigger than myself," I was learning about in Sunday School.
My grandmother would also take me to Sunday School when I visited her. Afterwards, we'd return to the her yellow bungalow on a shady street. We'd eat our lunch on the sun porch and then water the African violets that covered every window sill in her sunny kitchen. I associated caring for plants with home, and a sense of belonging to something safe, sure, and alive with beauty.
When my family moved far away from both my aunt and grandmother, I gathered those memories of belonging close to my heart, and tried to share them with my sister in every way I could. We moved often, but she and I always shared a bed and dreams of home. I always knew that I belonged to her, and with her.
There were many dark nights when I would curl myself around her, and silently recount all the ways that we were whole. We had our mother's love, our growing family of siblings, but most importantly, we had each other. We were smart and creative -- we liked to draw and dance; she was very strong, and I could read faster than anyone we knew. I could spell and she was the best runner -- ever.
Then one day everything changed. Our parents started going to church -- the same kind of church that my grandmother and aunt had taken me to as a toddler. Our younger siblings were going to Sunday School with us and we were became part of a community of people who believed that God was real, people were good, and Love heals. It was a whole new world for us.
My sister and I were not really as alone and vulnerable as I had long-feared. I didn't have to be afraid that someday we might have to fend for ourselves in a dark, cold world -- one where loved ones could disappear in the breath of a moment. We had God and He loved us. He had all the power in the universe, and he knew our every thought. He wanted only good for us. We would be okay.
One day, in Sunday School, my teacher read a sentence from Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. It said, in part:
"...the author has often remembered
our Master’s love for little children,
and understood how truly such as they
belong to the heavenly kingdom."
That may seem like "just a sentence" to some readers, but to me -- as a child who wasn't even sure who she was anymore -- it was a "place" I could cling to -- it was where my sister and I really belonged. It was a place in time and eternity that no one could take from us.
Now, I won't say that this sense of belonging was always easy to remember. Over the years I've struggled mightily with suggestions of rejection, abandonment, feeling untethered and homeless. But always, right around the corner, was the memory of belonging to a "heavenly kingdom" where the Master loves his little children.
And if you are thinking, "I don't really know anyone who feels like that..." Don't be so sure. I was not a waif. My clothes were always clean, my mother loved me, and I was surrounded by siblings I adored. But I was starving for this sense of belonging -- to know that I was not a random piece of human fluff, tossed indiscriminately by the winds of chance and circumstance.
Today, as I navigate each moment's responsibilities, decisions, and appointments -- being a neighbor, mom, volunteer, wife, daughter, sister, colleague -- I try to remember that just because someone seems to "have it all together," doesn't mean they aren't hungry for that same sense of belonging I was so desperate to feel. There is nothing more wonderful than knowing you belong to a broader spiritual community -- a family of Love -- warm, all-inclusive, impartial, and universal. This is the kingdom of heaven, and it exists within us all -- regardless of socio-economics, religion, culture, race, or gender. In this kingdom, we are united to one another as siblings of one common Parent.
It's a sense of belonging that even the most lonely person on earth has access to -- right this very second.