We all need a place we should visit often in order to understand the meaningfulness of the things we are busy with in relation to other things. Be it a physical place, a memory, an event like the current migration crisis, anything that reminds us of what is fundamentally important in this big world and makes us see our struggles in a new light.
Heneka Haven is this place for me. From the outside, it is a house like any other on a quiet street in the east of Pretoria. However, when you walk through the front gate and take a ‘short right’, you will find twelve little children, most of them abandoned at birth because of physical and mental damage, some of them grossly neglected as babies, another heartbreakingly abused. This house is the only house they have ever known, their place of safety. Hanna, the housemother, her husband, the caretakers and volunteers are their only family. Their worlds are as big as the house. This house is not a place of luxury, on the contrary, almost every day is a struggle to make ends meet. But the complete and unconditional love in action that resides there makes it a beacon of God’s dream for this world.
A few months ago, we said goodbye to Thulani, who died after a long illness. He was born on 6 July 2005 to a very young mother. She tried her best to care for him at first, but sought help from social workers in 2006 after becoming worried about him. It was established that he was deaf, blind and had brain and severe cerebral damage. His mother agreed that he be placed in a special care unit. Thulani was placed at Heneka Haven in 2006 when he was just over a year old.
Thulani means ‘be quiet, be comforted’. He touched our lives profoundly without ever saying a word or doing a single deed. By his presence alone, he fulfilled the role that God gave him, one of comforter and quiet, calm presence in this world. I, for one, can testify that his presence always comforted me. His gentle, quiet spirit brought peace and stability in the house, even when he was suffering, which was often. His unique smile and sounds were the source of much joy and laughter. He was the ‘grandpa’, as I believe he truly looked out for the younger ones.
While preparing for the funeral, Belinda Anderson, his first social worker, sent this to Hanna:
“The fact that Thulani was loved and accepted just as he was sustained him. As a young social worker, I believed the many times doctors told us he would not live past the age of two. Then four, then eight. I remember stroking his cheek and watching a little smile flicker briefly onto his face, and being really touched by that simple response to love. He has stayed with me since those days 12 years ago, and I often remember the importance of love and acceptance for children who have nothing else to rely on. With no hearing or eyesight, the only thing Thulani could rely on was the unconditional love he received at the house. I thank you for what you meant to him. You were the mother to him that he needed but could never have. You gave him a wonderful life. He was able to live out his days surrounded by love and warmth and kindness.”
Ah, there is nothing in this world quite like perspective. I need it desperately, especially when it comes to my kids.
When my thoughts regarding my struggles with life, family, finances, the past, myself or whatever keep me occupied to the point of exhaustion? These children teach me that the simple things in life are what matters. Their pure simplicity and innocence are magic. Every time I visit there, I find complete peace with myself and my issues.
When I worry that I’m simply not enough or am not doing enough? These kids are thankful for the tiniest gesture of love, they thrive on the smallest amount of time spent with them. Their faces light up when they just sit on my lap for a few minutes. As was the case with Thulani, more than often my gentle, quiet presence is enough.
What do my kids need in order to thrive? Unconditional love and acceptance, that’s it. They need to understand that their mere existence, the result of a Father’s love, is more than adequate for me to love and accept them. No deed can ever make me love them more.
Finally, in the words of Karen Zoid, one of my favourite Afrikaans artists, freely translated:
“When you think that life is one big struggle? Reach out and help another who has less than you.”
This is the secret in finding perspective. And the younger we learn this, the better.