I sat in a tiny chair, legs tucked underneath a tiny desk, hands folded on the surface and head down. I looked to my left to see a young first grader Ashley mimicking my behavior. Her face was composed but her eyes held a glimmer of a smile. Beside me was a girl who had been forced to grow up too fast.

Throughout the week at Shepherd I had the chance to talk with Ashley several times. She told me about her family; her aunt had just moved away this week and her and her brothers had gotten a new bunk bed to share between the three of them. Ashley didn’t play childish games during recess. She didn’t participate in wacky Wednesday or pajama Tuesday during spirit week. She is subdued, respectful, quiet. Ashley has faced hardships and conflicts that have pressured and shortened her childhood. However, Ashley has persevered. She doesn’t wear silly clothes to school, but she laughs at my silly faces during quiet time (I might not be the best influence 🙂 ). She doesn’t doodle on her homework, but she hides behind me giggling and shrieking during dodgeball. She runs up and tackles me during recess, she laughs and skips around the playground- at 8 years old she has grown up, but she has not lost her grasp on joy.

This is a common theme at Shepherd. The first grade classroom I was in was full of children who are not always allowed to be children. They have faced conflict, threats to their danger, and lack of resources. They have been pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. They have endured hardships and yet this week they have taught me so much about joy.

The children of Shepherd reminded myself and my team that joy is everything. They embodied the joy of the Lord in the way that children do- through their laughter, their curiosity, their acceptance, and their hospitality. They refreshed my soul and reminded me that through the business, through the heartache, and through the trials of life, joy remains. Joy continues, it refreshes, it encourages, and it reflects the attitude of Christ.

Tonight my team sat around singing worship songs. We sang gospel music and clapped along, we sang children’s songs with motions and old 90’s worship songs we hadn’t heard in ages. We got up and danced around laughing and praising the Lord. This is just one example of the ways in which the Lord allowed us to feel His joy this week.

I have loved this week. Through the ministry of Shepherd, through my team, and through the children of God has allowed me to see his joy in new and refreshing ways.

-Nicki Mortland

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