The Ache of Empty Arms

January 21, 2011 | 25 comments

There’s no mistaking this ache.

It’s the longing of a mother. It’s the dull ache of empty arms. He has been a stranger, this son with a name: Claudel.

I keep a two-inch-tall photo of him on my desk.

I already knew this much of him, but this was all I knew: He is part man, part boy. (I don’t know how old.) His father died two years ago, and his mother has lived in a tent since the earthquake hit Haiti a year ago. Claudel needed an education and one meal a day. We heard of him through friends at the mission.

He lives with three men
barely men
in a tin shack,
in a sagging village,
in a broken country.

He needed help, and we signed a check.

But still, he was a stranger.

Now there’s an envelope.

The envelope holds his words, his heart spilled out on a page. A friend brought the envelope tonight.

“He wanted to thank you,” she says, smiling. I look at my beaming friend. I’m about to give birth to a new love, and this friend is my midwife.

And this is the moment when the ache begins — when she pushes the envelope across the table to the mama in labor.

I smooth the envelope against the table with my palm. It’s the same way I smooth my girls’ hair in the morning.

We are not strangers anymore. I just want to hold that child. I hold an envelope.

My question tumbles out. I’m a mama who has to know: “Does he love the Lord?”

Her eyes dance. And she reaches a hand for mine: “They all do, Jennifer. All four of them.” Her words pop like firecrackers. “You should SEE how they love the Lord! Oh, Jennifer…”

I nod, tearful. I’m grateful for a son in the slums who is grace-wealthy. God made my son a rich man.

Wistful, I push my thumb and forefinger into the envelope. I pull out two photographs, and shake my head, and I let out all my breath in one long puff: Why didn’t I send any photographs? I should have known better. What kind of mother …

My friend, she knows. “It’s OK, Jennifer. Later, later …”

I see him standing in the church, holding the Bible. I see him, kneeling in his new school uniform.

He’s beautiful. I’m smitten.

“You will love him,” my friend says. And I know I already do.

It was just a check. We didn’t break the bank. It didn’t hurt. Just $30 a month, and Claudel is going to school and eating one square meal a day.

And my friend just kept saying it over and over again: “They are so grateful. They are so grateful.”

We didn’t even send a picture.

The woman — a part-time missionary, part-time Iowa farm wife — met them while in Haiti last year. She returns to Haiti frequently, most recently over Christmas. The four young men invited her over to their one room a couple weeks ago while she was there, and they set a place at a table for her — as a way to thank us.

She tells me this. I cry.

They borrowed a tablecloth, and plastic lawn chairs, and real china with Christmas trees. They served beet salad and rice. And they wrote letters to me and to the other sponsors to send home to Iowa with my friend. Men used crayons to draw hearts.

The brother writes a letter to us: “We have nothing to give you … but hope.” And I can think of no better gift than this. I think: Perhaps they are richer than I?

My friend says their country needs these men. She calls them future leaders.

“They are going to be fine Haitian men, Jennifer,” she says.

I unfold a small paper rectangle. Claudel has drawn his crayon heart in green. I devour his words.

“I am excited to see you take care of me!” And then my heart sinks. “I feel sad because I wanted to see some picture of you, but I can’t.”

My friend pats my hand again. “Later, later …”

He writes more, and I feel the bottom of the room drop out, and I wish I could sink through the floor and find a tunnel to a broken village in Haiti. I need to hold a boy.

He writes to tell us who we are: “Now I know that you are my mom and dad! I thank you for helping me. I am praying all the time that God can keep you safe in everything you do!”

I am uncorked, undone. And the ache finds its way past the lump in my throat to roll down my cheeks.

“I love you mom and dad. I love you mom and dad.” He writes it twice.

“You are in my heart.”

And you, Claudel, are in ours.

I’m sending pictures. We love you. Son.

We support Claudel monthly through Mission of Hope: Haiti. Their mission statement:
“As an organization following Jesus Christ, Mission of Hope exists to bring life transformation to every man, woman, and child in Haiti. We desire to serve the nation of Haiti, and see lives changed.”

This is a mission that we are closely linked to through many friends who actively serve there. To learn more about Mission of Hope, click here.

Would you consider sponsoring a child? You may click here.

Submitted as part of the adoption/orphan-care series at The High Calling. Check out the series by clicking here.

by | January 21, 2011 | 25 comments


  1. Shaunie Friday--Up the Sunbeam

    This is so beautiful Jennifer! Praying for God to lead us out of this years-long financial desert so we can do this wonderful kind of giving again–I hate not being able to do this!! I know how we feel about our girl in India, Suganya, and how it touches our hearts to see her pictures and her greetings to us in her own handwriting and the art she does. God bless Claudel and his friends and use them to rescue Haiti from its sorrow! God bless Jennifer, his mom!

  2. Brock S. Henning

    Jennifer, if you're going to make a man cry every time I read your blog, I may have to quit stopping by! Kidding, obviously (but not about the tears). 😉

  3. Joan Davis

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Your posting shares hope for the prayers we have been lifting up for the children of Haiti.

    Blessings to you! Joan


    I have been staring at this post off and on for hours now. My heart is broken, yet at the same time full of hope and happiness.
    In November I financially adopted a teenage girl through Compassion. This has encouraged me to send her a letter (or four or twelve) and let her know that even though I can't see her, I love her. I'm not old enough to be her mom… but maybe I could be her big sister from a distance. I'd like that.
    God bless you. May yo ube able to hold your son one day on this side of Heaven.
    ~ Heather Joy

  5. S. Etole

    Oh … tears for all of you and your love extended.

  6. Nancy

    Before we were able to travel to the Philippines to bring him home, all I had was one grainy picture of my son, taken at the children's home which was caring for him. I couldn't believe how deeply I fell in love, just by holding his picture in my hands. When we were told he had been hospitalized for dehydration, my heart grieved for my dear boy, half a world away in the hospital without his mama. So, I absolutely get this. Now I'm hoping to sponsor a Compassion child from the Philippines and fall in love all over again.

  7. elaine @ peace for the journey

    Well just go on and make me cry today…

    Prayers for your new son and for your involvement therein. God is doing a good work in Haiti; more than a check can purchase. Thank God for the indescribable gift of salvation and hope that still breathes a witness as fresh as it did that first Easter morning… 2000 years ago.


  8. Lyla Lindquist

    Of course he's yours.

    He uses a green crayon.

    I might have to go dig up a green crayon to write his name next to a cryptic word on an index card.

  9. amy

    if you could see my face you would see my smile.

    i just want to smile at you jennifer.

  10. Beth.. One Blessed Nana

    Beautiful. I felt his love for you and yours for him, Jennifer. I know that he will be a strong man of God because of what you have done for him through the love of our Savior.

  11. Beth E.

    Well, I am just boohooing all over my keyboard! What a touching post, Jennifer, and what joy it brings to know that these young men love the Lord and have hope through Him.

    Claudel looks like a fine young man! He is so handsome, and his letter reveals such a kind and caring heart…I'm thinking he takes after his mother.

  12. Megan Willome

    I have trouble with the photo thing, too. I feel your pain, sister!

  13. Catherine Love

    Hope … the gift your support gives to them, returned back to you with love and green crayon hearts, perfect!

    Thank you for the smile today,the tears of joy, and the hope that comes from seeing how the little gifts we give are often made into huge blessings when we give them in His name!
    Catherine 🙂

  14. Lisa Marie

    I feel the same way about my sponsored child, Daniela Beatriz, from Brazil. I started sponsoring her through Christian Children's Fund in 2003 or 2004, I forget… she was just four years old. I continue to give a measly $24 a month and she gets to go to school and have good healthcare and meals. I get pictures, letters, and though there is a language barrier, I know she prays for me – they all do (they tell me in letters… before I got married, she kept asking me if I was going to get married…I feel so blessed by her and boy is she big now! 🙂 I am so glad you are blessed by your new son.

  15. Linda

    We sponsor a young boy Albania Jennifer. We have grown to love him so much. I believe we get far more than we can ever give him.
    Thank you for the "tweet"! I tried to send you one too, but I'm not sure I did it correctly (can't seem to get comfortable with Twitter for some reason) – so thank you so much!

  16. David Rupert

    It only takes one child to make us realize that we aren't alone…

  17. Jennifer

    Your words, that picture–it breaks me and leaves me in tears.

  18. Diana

    What a wonderful blog, it brought tears to my eyes. My husband and I have too sponsored a child and it is very fulfilling. May God bless Claudel and his friends as well as you and your family.

    God bless.

  19. L.L. Barkat

    It doesn't break the bank, but it does break the heart… in both sorrow and joy. I It doesn't break the bank, but it does break the heart… in both sorrow and joy. I loved this. 🙂

    Did you add it to our Simply Linked at THC, under Caring for the Little Ones? :)loved this. 🙂

  20. Graceful

    Oh Jennifer. Such beauty here. Such hope and raw, glorious truth. You are wonderful, wonderful friend! To help! To love! I love you even more for this!!

  21. Amber

    *tear!!! 😉 I am so in love with your writing!!! Thank you sister in Christ.

  22. iliveinanantbed

    I'm weeping, of course! Such beautiful Love. Thank you for being a conduit to your new son! Thank you for the words of your testimony.

  23. Connie Mace

    "He writes more, and I feel the bottom of the room drop out, and I wish I could sink through the floor and find a tunnel to a broken village in Haiti. I need to hold a boy."…oh Jennifer…this is the feeling and your words describe it perfectly.

    Bob Pierce, a missionary said,"Let my heart be broken for the things that break The Heart of GOD."

  24. Dan King

    I think that this is one of the best blog posts that I've read in a while! And I appreciate that it speaks to how much of an impact people can have in the area of orphan care for such a small sacrifice.

    Powerful dude. #fistbump

  25. Lydia

    So beautiful – your story and your heart. God bless you and your family -including Claudel, your grace and hope-wealthy son.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest