Words are powerful.  Even more so the images that accompany them.  Consider the word shelter.  For many of us, this word reminds us of safety and home.  But what if we add just one word…emergencyEmergency Shelter brings much different imagery. One final word moves us even further from protective pictures of safety and home… children’s.

Before my first visit to an Emergency Children’s Shelter, my imagination created snapshots in preparation for the experience-a clean building, professional staff, play areas, a visiting room.  In my mind the scene played out-a greeting from a smiling worker, thanking me for coming.  An onsite visit in a comfortable, nicely decorated area.  After all, this facility was providing care for children who had experienced trauma.

“Reality is the state of things as they actually appear, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined.”

When map quest directed me to turn down a gravel road blocked by an iron gate, my previous notions of what the day would bring began to fade.  A quick phone call put me back on track, giving two guiding landmarks.  Passing the second landmark, I noticed an older, run-down, unassuming house.  This couldn’t be right, I kept driving…dead end.  Cautiously turning around, I knew in my heart that old house was the place.  I noticed “Private Property” and “Video Surveillance” postings in the yard as I parked.  In crept feelings of nervousness and uncertainty.

Taking a deep breath, I walked to the door, spoke to the cat on the porch, and rang the bell. A calm, quiet proprietor answered. The precious young person I was visiting nervously stood at the back of the house.  My visions of a visit on the premises vanished as I spotted a backpack on the table.  My young friend was ready to go!  Now there were completely different reasons to be nervous.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  Concerns quickly faded with smiles, hugs, and laughter.

My earlier thoughts of shelter as concrete began to fade. Perhaps the word shelter should instead bring to mind promises of our Father and memories of people He places in our path.  Although these new, less tangible images give me courage for future visits, the words emergency and children’s remain.  Those words continue to hold much sadness and many unanswered questions.  Tempering them with the word shelter however, allows tiny bits of light to break through the clouds.

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…” 

Isaiah 25:4


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