I have a photo that I treasure, that I have carried with me on so many moves. It is a picture of when I first started mentoring a family of Somali Bantu girls, it was taken at a brown and barren school playground at the height of summer. Me, with short brown hair, squinting into the sun, arms draped awkwardly around the girls, being a good volunteer. The girls stare straight into the camera, no smiles, all fierceness. At that time, I was living with a friend on the outer edges of Portland, sleeping hard at night and spending most of my days at Bible College or my Starbucks job or hanging out with refugees. But this day I had driven the girls over to my neck of the woods to play at the park across the street. Someone, I don't remember who, but probably my roommate who I call Jan in my book (the person who first introduced me to the refugees), took my picture with the three girls. Sometimes, even to this day, one of the younger two will pick up the picture and make a comment about it, how young they looked, how they weren't wearing headscarves yet.
Today, I walked by that exact same spot. It's over a decade later, and my daughter now attends that same elementary school. Would I have ever guessed at the cycles of my life? This picture I have carried and prayed over as if it were an icon, keeping me close to these girls even as they spread out, ever farther away from me--I have come back to it. That grass, that broken playground equipment, is now a part of my home. I walk around the edges of the school, and I see the kids running and hear their shrieks from long distances away. Oh, the great cloud of witnesses must look like this. Little children, of every size and color, pumping their legs as fast as they can, hoping to break free of all that constrains them.