By: Kasey Huss   |   Posted: February 21, 2022

Near to the Brokenhearted

Written by Kasey Huss
A woman in a pink shirt, is holding her son who is wearing blue. They are next to a woven bamboo door.

I’m going to be honest. I was totally naive when I first picked out my sponsored child’s picture from the sea of packets at a Compassion event. When I signed up to be a sponsor, I was sincere and well intentioned. But truthfully, I thought I was entering something purely transactional. I would send money that would help a child, and my family would get to correspond with them in return. I hadn’t considered the complexities of poverty. I didn’t realize that I had just opened the door that invited the pain of poverty into my world. And I never fathomed how this little girl and her family would become such an important part of our lives.

Maribela was too young to write early in our sponsorship journey, so her mother, Lilibeth, provided updates about her daughter. Maribela faithfully sent us drawings of coconut trees and flowers. Lilabeth and I would share about our kids like friends on a park bench, often apologizing that it had been so long since we last spoke. Maribela was learning to read. So was my daughter! Maribela was a picky eater but liked noodles best. Sounds familiar.

At the end of each of Lilabeth’s letters, she would tell me that she was praying for me and my family. I was amazed that she not only prayed for us, but somehow knew exactly what to pray for. I am still overwhelmed by the image of this weary mother thousands of miles away, kneeling on her dirt floor praying for my good. Indeed, I had no idea what I had signed up for.

Poverty sent a sucker punch the day I got a shocking letter from Lilibeth. What I expected was a simple update on Maribela’s progress and some fabulous crayon kid art. What I read was far different.

“Here we are trying to rise up little by little from the ghastly past.”

What did this beautiful yet heart-wrenching translation mean? I unfolded the letter and straightened it out on my kitchen counter. Lilibeth continued, “It’s painful for a mother to lose her child. We’ve been together for 22 years. My world is like falling apart.”

The kids were running around the house, my husband was bringing in the groceries, but all I could do was stand there with letter in hand as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.

“Maribela keeps on crying during nighttime. Especially before she goes to bed, I hear her crying. She keeps on having dreams about her brother.”

Precious Maribela. Please God, comfort her now!

“We received the help you extended for our family. I was able to buy groceries and personal things for Maribela. Thank you so much. I pray for your family that you are safe. Respectfully yours, Lilibeth.”

I stood there stunned, clutching the words of gratitude she had found in the midst of unimaginable grief. This was not what I thought I had signed up for. Death had entered the picture and reminded me that this is real life. This sponsorship is not a sterile transaction, but a mingling of hearts in messy and broken places. How in the world was I going to respond?

Let Her Lead

Looking of the shoulder of a woman writing a letter

I wanted to reply to this letter promptly, but how to respond was beyond me. I clenched my eyes closed, trying to find someplace to start in the dark. I had so many questions. Had the translator missed some pieces of her story? Had Lilibeth omitted details, afraid to burden me with too much information? I wanted to know what happened. How long had her son been sick? Did he have access to medical care?

I imagined myself crawling up onto a park bench next to Lilibeth and watching our girls play in the park. We were worlds apart, but in that moment, I wanted to be the friend she needed. I decided to let her lead. I wouldn’t ask for information, but I decided to take whatever she shared with me as a gift. I only wanted to know what she felt like she could trust me with. I chose to respond to what I knew and made peace with the fact that it was enough. Her heartache was beyond my comprehension and no detail would help me empathize more.

“My heart is broken for you at the news of your son’s passing,” I wrote. “A mother should never have to bury her child. I am so sorry.” My pen stuck on the period at the end of the sentence and bled into the paper. What do I say next? I know enough about pain that platitudes often just feel petty. And I wasn’t sure how much hope her heart was ready to receive. I chose to let her lead and take her cues. I chose to simply show up as best as I could with her in her pain. I would sit with her on that park bench.

Lean Into Scripture

As I struggled to find the right words, I recalled a Psalm that had comforted me during a difficult time. “The Bible tells us that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted,” I wrote. Psalm 34:18 is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture because it meets us in our pain. It reminds us that God sits with us on that park bench too. It doesn’t rush to promises of hope, it doesn’t fix the hurt. It just reminds us of the nearness of our God. When words fail me, God’s Word never does.

Keep Loving Well

I sent my letter the next day. I refused to let interruptions get in the way of replying quickly to this one. I wanted her to know I was here and that she is seen in her pain now. And I think the best way I can continue to love her well is to keep showing up for her and Maribela every month, every birthday, every Christmas and in every crisis that might arise. Life changes, but I want her to know my support won’t. I will continue to prioritize their sponsorship in my life and in my budget. I want to be a mirror, although an imperfect one, of God’s faithfulness. And I won’t put poverty in a neat box anymore. I welcome all the messy places in and will sit near, with my God, to the brokenhearted.