Adoption. It is a beautiful beginning. It is the creation of a forever family. Last week, one of our little boys went home to his forever family. Mario was abandoned by his mother when he was a baby. His mom asked a woman to watch him for a minute and never came back. He lived at Shalom for the last year and was in the baby house with me when I lived there. He has the CUTEST smile and is a sweet little boy. He has a lot of character and I started calling him the “boss.” (He’ll actually point at his chest if you ask him who the boss is. It’s kind of awesome.)
Two weeks ago his Mom and Dad first came to meet him. They loved him immediately. How could you not really. His Mom came almost every day after that and he went home with them a week and a half later. During that transition process he started calling them “Mommy” and “Daddy” and would get very excited every time they came to see him. They left him a picture of all three of them to put above his bed and if you asked him where his Mom was, he would proudly take you to his bed to point and show you. It was a joy to watch.
One day, after he showed me the picture. The house Mom and I were talking about how crazy it was that his new Mom looked so much like him. “I mean she’s not his real Mom but there’s just so much similar,” she said. I thought for a second and then said, “She is his real Mom. That’s his Mom.” We both contemplated that for a second and then laughed. It’s a cheesy moment but it was so great. We got to witness Mario go home to his REAL MOM.
I went to a conference a few weeks ago on adoption. The country of Guatemala is working hard to get churches and organizations involved in advocating for adoption. It was actually a really great conference and we got to hear from several parents who had adopted children in Guatemala. They talked about their struggles and they talked about their joys but the thing that stuck with me the most was what one of the Moms said when asked about her advice towards adoptive parents, “What is most important to remember is that these children are not Plan B. They should never be treated as Plan B. They need to be seen as your Plan A because when you adopt them, you are their only plan.” Mario went home with his Plan A.
I know that my time at Casa Shalom is not permanent. I will not be here for the rest of my life and I’m looking forward to when I can be Plan A for a child.
This has been a crazy month. I mean, FULL of ups and downs. But this is what I’ve been coming back to:
Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say; and
Keep me out of Your way.
Father Mychal Judge - FDNY - died 9/11/01
I don’t remember where I got this quote from. I don’t remember when. But it’s on a sticky note on the dashboard of my computer and I have looked at it countless times in the last month. I pray that this would be my attitude as I continue to serve here at Casa Shalom.
I knew that this post was coming but it’s taken me a long time to actually be able to sit down and write it. On July 2, 2014, at six months, our beautiful baby boy, Juan Jose, went to be with Jesus. I listened to the voicemail saying I needed to call the directors and knew immediately. I didn’t know what to say to make it any better and knew that nothing I did really could make it any better, so I stumbled through the phone call and was left speechless. That same night I went with a friend to meet another friend’s new babies. They were twins, premature, just like Juan Jose. I sat there, holding the sweet baby girl and whispered to her how blessed she was to be born here in America. For a while, I viewed this as a true look at how horrible the medical system in Guatemala is. I blamed the fact that Juan Jose was released from the hospital at 3 pounds and that his lungs never could have properly formed by then as the reasoning for this horrible occurrence. But that wasn’t enough. I had so looked forward to watching him grow. I was awaiting those first few steps, watching his toddler years, seeing him grow stronger and healthier and those hopes were gone.
Several days later, I broke down crying to my sister. I was upset that his life was cut short, that I couldn’t be there, that I didn’t know how to really process what had happened. It’s taken several weeks to be able to truly wrap my head around it but this one thing has stuck with me. He was God’s baby first and our baby second. This is what Jenny had told me when we first talked after the memorial service. Those were the words she had repeated to herself in the hospital and those are the words I began repeating to myself here in the US. Whenever someone asked about him, that is what I would tell them. And this is what I’ve found: That phrase rings true. Yes, the medical system didn’t work but he wasn’t ours to keep. God wanted Juan Jose to be with him and so he went. He can grow stronger and healthier with God at his side and it is such a blessing to know that as he learns to walk, he will do so peacefully and free of any pain.
I can’t begin to understand what it’s like for a parent to lose a child. I’ve watched it play out on television or in movies but I still can only see how they feel, I can’t say I know it. Still, I see these kids as mine. When I talk about them I say, “our kids.” I call them my own and losing one was painful. But, he’s not mine. He was always God’s first and He shared Juan Jose with me and everyone else at Casa Shalom. I’m so very thankful He did.
His first day at Casa Shalom.
So I have been home two weeks now. I came home to futbol fever in the U.S., which has in my opinion, been the best possible way to come home. There are the immediate reliefs: I can drink the tap water, I can brush my teeth, my shower is automatically hot, and wow, the water pressure is insane! Then there are the immediate weird feelings, no one speaks Spanish here, I haven’t had black beans in days, and why do I still want to put my toilet paper in the trash?
It’s funny because I have seen facebook posts and instagram pictures for months of how my friends are doing and what life is like here. I have been excited to come home and finally be able to spend time with them. I have been a little too excited for In-n-Out and homemade chocolate chip cookies. However, I am home and happy….and I miss all the kids. At the end of every day it is weird to think one more day has gone by where I have not been there, where I have not seen them or heard how they were doing. One more day I have gone without hugs from every kid that passes.
I went to the Apple store the other day and the person who helped me saw a picture of me and some of the kids on my laptop’s desktop. She asked about it and I explained. Her response, “Oh, so your heart is there, and you’re here.” I’ve never had a stranger understand it so well. My heart is there.
The thing is, my heart is in many places. My heart is in Casa Shalom, Elk Grove, Azusa, Camp Barnabas, and some places I’ve never even been but my friends are there, so now my heart is too. God has taken me to so many beautiful places and I’ve met so many wonderful people that really no matter where I am, my heart is also going to be in other places.
Unfortunately, I can’t be in 10 places at once but I can be present and loving where I am. My day-to-day life in Guatemala is a constant opportunity to show God’s love. But, so is my life here in Elk Grove. I’ve been reading The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen and I recently read, “The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of your self. “
With my heart in so many places it is easy to be torn and confused. But I know that I am going back to Guatemala and I will see those kids again. For these next few weeks I am home, I need to be present here. I left my heart in Guatemala but there is still plenty of my heart that lives here in the United States too.
I’m missing these two for sure.
As I’ve been here, I’ve done my best to count my blessings as often as possible. When there’s no hot water and I have to take a cold bucket bath, I am thankful for water. Fried egg with green beans is not my favorite meal, but I remind myself to be thankful that I have food. Originally I wouldn’t have though of an ice cold bath as something to be thankful for but I am aware now of the significance of each of these blessings. Everyday I am blessed and there are plenty of things I have to be thankful for.
These past two weeks I was given even more reason to be thankful. For the past five months, I have lived in the baby house in a side room with it’s own bathroom. This bathroom has given me a lot of problems but nothing like last week. Water started leaking out of the wall and so they decided to take apart the tub to find the leak. Over the next couple of days they deconstructed the outer brick of the tub and they took out the tub itself. They also exposed the pipes of the shower.
This is Christian sitting in my tub, in the middle of the room.
Then, at 5am one morning (the time that the water is turned on) a pipe broke in the shower and started spraying water, with ferocity, into my room. I jumped out of bed and ran to find the leak. However, in my panicked early morning state, my first thought was to try to jump the stream of water to get in. That didn’t work and there was really no way to avoid getting an early morning shower. I ran to get a blanket and my phone and used the blanket to shield the water downwards into the bathroom and the phone to call for help. About ten minutes later the water was finally turned off, I was soaked and my room was left with a new puddle of water.
Over the next several days, they continued to work on my bathroom but with always the same result, water would leak every night. Finally they decided to rip up the floor and find the leak below. They found a sinkhole. After that they realized that actually, my whole room was sinking and that the floor was falling. I moved out that very day.
In all of this, I had to keep reminding myself that there was still so much to be thankful for. I was having problems with the plumbing but at least I have plumbing, blessing. I had to move all of my stuff out but my friend offered to let me stay with her, blessing. My entire room had to be taken apart (which had even bigger sinkholes underneath) but at Casa Shalom we have incredible maintenance guys to do that, blessing. The fact that all of that craziness happened so that we could find the sinkhole before my room caved in while I was sleeping, is a huge blessing.
There are blessings all around and plenty of things to be thankful for here. Sometimes being thankful requires me looking for the ways that I am being blessed, but no matter what, I can find them.
For example, Yoselin.
It is amazing what words can mean to someone. We hear this all the time. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I have to share the ways in which I’ve seen it recently.
There’s a little girl in the Angelitos house named Zuly. She is 4 years old and has some speech and special needs. She is super fun and I get to have a class with her once a week. Recently, I read a sponsor’s letter to her and at the end it said, “I want you to know that you are a very special girl.” “Why?!” she half-screamed (she kind of has one volume – loud). For a second, I didn’t know what to say. “You’re special because God made you that way.” It was the only thing I could think of to tell her but her question surprised me. So many of these kids do not understand their value and how truly loved they are.
Chepe is a boy I wrote about on here before. He was one of my student’s the last time I was here and he is a rambunctious 12-year-old boy. I love him. And recently I told him so. “I love you,” I said. “What, no? No, no.” So, I started to tell him as often as I could. It took several times before he finally accepted it. Those words weren’t acceptable to him. He couldn’t process that I would love him. But, those words are important to him. I can see it plainly on his face when I tell him.
It can be hard to love consistently and to constantly break down the walls that these kids put up and then take down, day in and out. What is hardest, is that they don’t feel loved. It breaks my heart but I am also so blessed to be able to tell Chepe and Zuly and so many others daily that they are loved, to be able to tell these kids that they are special and that they are important. Because, those words can be powerful.
There was a book I read again, and again, and again as a nanny this past summer. Caps for Sale. It’s a great book, especially the 20th time.
I thought of this book the other day when I was thinking about all of the different hats I can wear here on a daily basis: teacher, secretary, event organizer, intern, translator, Mom, friend, big sister, confidant and sometimes jungle gym. My job can switch so quickly. Secretary to friend. Teacher to translator. Jungle gym to Mom. It can be exhausting some days to keep track. We run around doing all different kinds of jobs and by the end of the day I wouldn’t even be able to tell you that I got anything for my actual job done (those are probably the best days). Regardless of what my day looks like, my favorite job here is friend. I get to be a friend/big sister to over 100 kids every day. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like it and I wouldn’t sell that cap for anything.
The days here have their ups and downs. Living with 85 kids is a lot of fun but it can be difficult at times. Also, I love Guatemala, but boy are some things frustrating here. It’s every day life. Nothing is perfect.
Still, every meal here I have the chance to sit down with these kids, hear about their days, exchange stories, and talk abut nothing. At any time I could walk around and find kids playing basketball, marbles, or soccer. Some are climbing trees, listening to music or playing with cars. In my house the toddlers are running around like crazy, squealing as they go. It is pure joy to watch these things happen and to be a part of them as they do.
Some of these kids have experienced things I can’t even begin to understand or imagine. Some of them have lost parents or have been disappointed by them in countless ways. There is sadness and there is pain but there is also great JOY.
This picture was an accident. Yovani was using the camera on Jenny’s phone to look at the food he had on his face. Captured: joy.
I have the weirdest assortment of a family here. First, my Dad. Meet Victor.
He’s 11 years old and the one thing that makes him my Dad is that he has the same name as my real Dad in the United States. At first, he just laughed and laughed whenever I called him Dad, but now he’s made it his own. He talks to me about keeping my room clean. He’s told me he will punish me if I’m not on my best behavior and he’s told the other Americans to let him know if I act out. Recently while doing his chores he told me he was making money so that I would be able to eat. He’s already got the Dad jokes down.
Next, my brother. Miguel.
Miguel is the boy my parents sponsor and therefore my little brother. It’s really the best. I can always count on him to run over and give me a hug. We talked once about the importance of brothers. He told me that I needed a brother because they help you and that he was going to do that for me. Oh, my heart.
It’s kind of a weird mix to have a dad and a brother of the same age but I think it works. I love being able to see these two on a daily basis. They bring my so much joy and it’s nice to know I have family nearby. :)
So I’ve been here a month. The one word that comes to mind when I think back on this month, “perspective.” In the weeks building up to my trip, I was nervous. Oh, how I was nervous. And now, looking back, I can’t imagine why. Of course, those first few nights alone in my room with the rats in the rafters were a tad unnerving, but I LOVE it here.
When I left last year, my grandma posed this question, “Did you leave a piece of your heart there?” I knew my answer right away. “Yes.” It was so hard for me to return home, to leave all the wonderful people I met here and to leave this country.
But then, the longer I was away, the less I felt that piece missing, the more I loved my comfortable life in the states, and as it got closer, the more nervous I was to return to a life that I knew wasn’t easy.
A month into my time here I can truly say, I found that missing piece. My heart is so full. I am completely happy to be here. My perspective has changed and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Even more, the kids have taught me something, yet again. One of my first days here one of the other Americans and I were talking about how hungry we were for dinner. Then she said, “But you know, I always feel bad saying that. One day I told one of the kids that I was really hungry and they said ‘Have you never gone a day without food?’”
Woah. That put my life into perspective. I have never gone a day without food. I repeat that in my head when my shower is too cold, when I’m hungry or when I’m freezing in our heater-less office. Most of these kids have experienced more hardships in their short lives than I have in my 23 years. I can endure these small things because I love these children and I love this place. Perspective.
Yeah, they’re adorable.