Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Decorated Sheds

They dot the American landscape.

You find them behind houses, attached to garages, tucked away in woods. Churches use them. Schools. Businesses.  Parks.
They keep firewood dry. They house lawn mowers, tractors and garden tools.  They are transformed into workshops. They provide extra storage for a family's treasures.  They contain bikes and recreational equipment. They can even become a child's playhouse.  Their uses are endless.
Useful for storage, work or play.
I've written this post in my head a thousand trillion times since December 2013, when I crossed the ocean to visit our Lost Boys.
But I've never been able to get the words to come together in any kind of a coherent pattern.

Four years ago we said goodbye to the iron gates of Aaron's former institution.

Four years later, the boys who remain locked behind those gates continue to haunt me.  110 Lost Boys hidden away in a facility that, for all intents and purposes, remains closed to the outside world.

Last year I walked back through those iron gates. 

The cold was bitter on the day my driver/translator and I made the three-hour trip to Aaron's former home-- in a car with a broken heater.  We were chilled down to the very marrow of our bones. But the joy of returning helped keep the cold at bay.  

I was doing what I had never thought possible: I was walking back into that closed institute, and I was being welcomed by the director herself.

Given her attitude when we left there four years before, my reception seemed surreal.

She allowed me to visit with 25 of the highest-functioning boys. For about 45 minutes, I watched them take part in a celebration for children with mental and physical disabilities. They held a puppet show, played games and danced. Each boy also received gifts, including the ones I brought-- one matchbox car each from a collection donated by our friends back home.

The irony of that celebration was not lost on me. 

Although the director was nervous about my camera, she did allow me to snap a few pictures.  It was so hard to restrain myself, with 25 boys in that room.

Many of the boys had been in Aaron's group.

Many we had watched and loved from afar for the six weeks we were there.
So many memories.
Even four years later, these few pictures still bring tears to my eyes. 

Each one precious. Precious.
After showing me the boys, the director showed me the grounds.
The landscaping had changed quite a bit in four years. The caretakers had added animal sculptures made of painted tires, placing them in the flower beds throughout the grounds.
Instead of the barren, empty grounds from four years ago, now swans, giraffes and crocodiles dotted the landscape.
The broken walkways that had tripped Aaron so many times had been repaired.
But landscaping and walkways weren't the best of what the director had to show me. Her proudest achievement was the improvements to the sheds.
These sheds.
Sheds used not for storage, but for boys. Storage sheds for boys.
Sheds that formed the backdrop for the six weeks we spent there with Aaron. 
To us, those sheds have become a potent symbol of what Aaron left behind-- the miserable life he would have lived if God hadn't tapped on our hearts with the message that he needed us.
Sheds where boys sit all day, when the weather is warm enough. With no toys and no books, only benches and dirty rugs. With no words and no music, only the muffled sounds of unseen vehicles passing by outside. Where boys do nothing but stare into space all day. Crying when they're upset, although no one listens. Hitting themselves when they're angry, although no one cares. 20 boys to a shed, spending all day, every day confined to the sort of facility we reserve for tools and firewood.
The director wanted me to see the great improvements they had made to their sheds. 

Each one had been transformed on the outside. The drab, blank outside walls had been replaced with happy scenes of animals and people.

One of the caretakers had spent a lot of time and effort painting those sheds.

She showed me almost all of them. Some newly built, and some of the same old ones that haunted our memories. 
She didn't mind my taking pictures of the sheds. In this case, pictures were good. Pictures showed how much they had done to brighten up the landscape.
I was glad to see the painted sheds, and glad for the freedom to take pictures. 
But deep in my heart I ached. Ah, those sheds!
With their bright, cheerful paint on the outside-- there to impress visitors like me, to convince us that this is a good, caring institution. 
And they DO care. They do care for the boys. 
Aaron was not starving when we adopted him. He was fed, clothed and in decent shape. His caretakers had done what they could for him.
Knowing this, I smiled as I snapped these pictures, nodding in admiration of her decorated sheds.
But as I nodded, my heart ached.
Because inside the sheds, where the boys sit day by day, there is no paint.  The walls are still bare of anything but rude benches. The floors still bare of anything but dirty rugs.
So day after endless day, the boys inside continue to stare at blank walls.  Because the paint is for those outside, not inside. 
Decorated on the outside, but still empty on the inside.
Well-decorated sheds.
I agree that painted sheds are better than the drab, unpainted sheds of Aaron's past.

And I absolutely agree that they care for the boys, and give them as much as they can. Unfortunately, theirs is a poor institution set in the middle of nowhere. What little money they have must be spent on bare necessities. They are also understaffed, with only about 2 caretakers for every 20 boys. Confining the boys to sheds allows one caretaker to watch over them while the other attends to cleaning and other duties.
Painting the sheds is their way to make it better.  Happier. 
But the mindless life inside those sheds marches on. The paint provides no relief from the nothingness of their lives.  Neither do the decorated sculptures, which sit in gardens where the boys rarely go.
I have written this post a million trillion times in my head since December 2013.
I have struggled with knowing how to convey the joy of being there with the ache that I carried out of those iron gates.
I only saw 25 boys.  25 boys out of 110.  Out of the four boys listed on Reece's Rainbow I only was able to see Grady. Frail, tender, sweet Grady.  Pearson, Dagmar and Porter were hidden from me. 
I was so close but so far away.
At one point in our tour we were standing outside the laying down building. The untouchable building.  Filled with boys who never mingle with the general population.  I stood with the director outside the laying down building and admired the newly built shed in front of it. While we stood outside in the bitter-cold, well over 40 boys lay inside those walls. Alone. Lonely. Was Porter inside there?  I wanted so badly to ask her to let me go in.  Love on the boys.  See them too.
  Thirty minutes later I sat in her office eating lunch and while we talked I watched the 40 boys we weren't allowed to see making their way to lunch. I KNEW many of those boys.  How many hours had Rob and I watched those boys make their journey to the eating shed.  Pearson was in that group. Dagmar.  I wanted to be brave. I wanted to be bold.  I wanted to beg her to let me see them too.  We knew so many of them. But I sat quiet. Too timid.  To afraid to ruin the pleasant moments we were having.
The boys I didn't see makes writing this post gut-wrenching. 
Much has changed there, and yet nothing has changed.
The closed iron gates are still closed.
The ministry team has been turned away many more times than they have been allowed in. 
The boys still sit in a world of nothing inside decorated sheds and colorful walkways.
Four years later only three of those boys have a chance to get out. 
The other 107 boys will spend the rest of their time there sitting inside decorated sheds or laying in the laying down rooms.  Many will die there.  The rest will be transferred out to an adult facility where they will live until they die.
Grady has hope.
He has hope and a future.  His family has been moving mountains to get him out of those sheds and into the world of the living.
Please support them so that their financial burden is eased!!  They are not fully funded yet!!
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


  1. What a beautiful, beautiful written-from-the-depths-of-your-heart post, Julia! It's going to be amazing to watch those two boys come home. We've been meaning to donate to the fundraiser and just did.

  2. My oldest son who is special needs is 39. He was adopted at 7. He is 4 months older than my first birth child I had her when I was 19.( My daughter, now in Heaven, car accident at 28.) I am so proud to be my oldest son's Mamma. He has grown into a fine young man, regardless of his problems, he is created by God. :o) When I saw the first picture in this post my heart swelled with LOVE! I truly admired these young men. I would be bursting with pride to be the Mamma for any one of them. How beautiful to see what fine young men they grew into from such adorable boys. Thank You for sharing that!


Loving words from kind people make our hearts glad!