Intimacy. We all crave it. We want to be known deeply. We want the safety of knowing we will be loved in our most vulnerable state, with all of our rough edges, ugliness, and imperfections. This vulnerability is also the most terrifying part of loving and being loved well. Intimacy demands vulnerability and courage to open our hearts to the possibility of being rejected or wounded. As relationships reach profound depth, the inevitable pang of rejection or injury will cut deeper. Truthfully, it’s risky either way. Deep relationships come at the cost of being wounded, but keeping our relationships at surface level comes at a great cost too… loneliness.
Our kids are no different. They come to us with bruised bodies and broken hearts. They yearn for love and safety in their relationships, but are terrified of being vulnerable again. The last time that happened, the ones who were supposed to give them this unconditional love, instead abandoned, wounded, and burned them. As a result, they have become master architects of building fortresses around their shattered hearts. Injuries to the body heal with time, but the emotional wounds can remain raw, locked away in the secret chambers of the soul that nobody else knows about.
This is Elias. He is our newest child and was dropped off by the governmental social service about a week ago with minimal information (as always). He started out a very quiet and cautious little guy. While he initially elected to withdraw from speaking very much, his body spoke volumes about his story. He came covered in bruises, cuts, and scabs from head to toe. This little boy has been through his own version of hell.
Yaser David took him under his wing on day one, and Elias warmed up quickly to him. They have been together all week, playing contently with cars, on the trampoline, or just sitting with their arms around each other. I mean it is JUST PRECIOUS. It warms my heart to see Elias smiling and laughing, and gives me hope for the healing work Jesus will do in him.
I haven’t asked him his story yet, because he’s not ready. He’s very wary of adults (because adults have hurt him deeply), and so we are slowly building our relationship together. A couple of days ago I began that process and we played with my therapy sandbox. As we worked on building sand shapes, we also started building trust. He seemed so conflicted over wanting to play with my sandbox and wanting to escape spending time with me. He was cautious and tense, but began to relax after about 15 minutes. While molding the sand together we chatted about our favorite colors, ice cream flavors, and other light-hearted topics.
Then a couple days later we had an incident right before quiet time (a mandated time of rest in our home before we go to church). He was playing with a water gun, and I told him it was time to come inside, and he responded with… “No. I don’t want to. I’m going to stay out here.” I knelt down next to him and said, “Hey Elias. Here in this house, everyone rests before church. It’s a rule. And we all have to follow the rules.” He shrugged his shoulders seemingly ready to go, and then said, “No. I’m not going.” I was not expecting this much pushback from our once cautious little guy, but he is evidently becoming more comfortable. Maybe too comfortable. We went back and forth for a few times, and he ended up in time out. He sat in the chair and silently cried, later telling me he wanted to go back to his dad’s house. My heart sank, and two thoughts came to mind: 1) he prefers to return to his abusive situation than to live with us. And 2) I suck at my job. It’s going to take so long to recover our relationship after this.
I sent him to bed after that, and he was still crying. My heart broke for the little guy, knowing how difficult it is to leave a known situation (however terrible) and enter a new home, with new kids, new adults, and new rules.
It’s not an idealistic process in any way. I think some people think these kids are so grateful to leave the hell they came from, that they follow rules well and give lots of hugs and kisses. No way José. It takes time. It’s awkward, messy, and imperfect. The kids bring zero physical belongings, but all their emotional baggage and it’s put on display through their behaviors. Each kid needs a different approach to their brokenness, and often we adults fumble through the process of figuring it out with them too.
I was discouraged for a few days, wondering if I handled that well with where he is at. Did I give enough grace? Could I have said it in a different way that would have made him want to go, and he wouldn’t have had to sit in time out? He was in the wrong for sure, outright defying my authority… but I know he’s still learning and that takes time and grace.
But then just last night, we had a breakthrough over cough drops of all things. I gave Geovany one for his sore throat, and Elias approached me hand outstretched and said, “Give me one.” (we’re going to work on manners one of these days, I swear). “No man, this is medicine. You’re not sick are you?” I said with a smile. He demanded again, “Give me one.” So I took his hand, and just as he thought I’d place a cough drop in it, I planted a big kiss instead.
His eyes grew wide and he ripped his hand from mine, but then a hint of a smile flashed on his face for a moment. He held his hand out again for a cough drop, and I planted another kiss. This time a giggle escaped his lips, and he put his hand out again firmly nodding at the cough drops. I kissed his hand several more times, followed by more laughter. Then when he realized he wasn’t going to get a cough drop, he did the most peculiar thing. He tilted his face towards me, tapped his cheek twice, put his hands on his hips, and waited. Is he asking me for a kiss on the cheek? Surely not… oh, um well… okay.. Here goes. I stooped down to his level and gave him a big smacker drawing out the noise for a few seconds. He gave me a satisfied grin and skipped away leaving me standing there, dumbfounded still holding cough drops in my hand.
Later as we were watching our Tuesday night movie, I laid down near him. I don’t even know how long I was there, but then he looked at me pensively. Just as I was wondering what he was thinking, he reached for my hand. He tried several times awkwardly putting his tiny hand in mine, but when I tightened my hand around his he would pull it out and tried again. He ended up putting two fingers in my light grip and seemed satisfied with that returning his attention to the movie. I mean how sweet is that?!
Y’all this whole process is weird and messy… and I think it always will be. Its broken
adults loving broken children. All of us are impacted by wounds and rejection, but need to be loved, nonetheless. The fight for their hearts is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it’s SO worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d jump headfirst into the messy parts of loving these kids a hundred more times if I get only a few of these sweet moments.
And in the process of loving them, I’m reminded of how I have first been loved. I’m reminded of all the messy and ugly things my Savior endured for intimacy with me. He became a living sacrifice to save me from the separation my sin created between us. He died so I could experience safety, unconditional love, and depth in my relationship with Him. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” While we were still sinners. Y’all that means he saw us in our ugliest moments, and he chose us then, knowing the cost. So because I have been loved fully, I will do my best to reflect that same love to these little ones… even when they defy me on the front lawn with a water gun in hand.
I’ve also been reminded this week of just how much our kids have overcome. They come to us with bruised bodies and broken hearts armored up to the hilt. They all have their little heart castle, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever really reach them. Hopelessness tends to infect me with doubt from time to time, but this week I looked at Elias and felt hope. I looked at his stature void of confidence. I looked at his eyes, plagued with anxiety even when he’s playing. I looked at the scabs beginning to heal on his arms. I look at all the brokenness this little guy hasn’t learned to hide yet, and I recognized that most of our children started out just like him. Our kids still have their heart castles, but I think they’ve shrunken over time. They all still guard their deepest wounds diligently but some have opened up parts of themselves to the vulnerability profound love demands. I’ve witnessed healing come in the form of confidence, knowing their worth, and giving love out of the abundance they have received. And just like parts of them have healed through the love of Christ in our home, I see Elias infected with the same love and I have hope.
The whole court scene has calmed down this month, which I’m so thankful for. I needed a break from the tension and anxiety that comes with each hearing. Lucrecia’s brother is still pursuing adoption of her and her sister. They have visited several times, and have one more visit until we begin the transition process. The girls are anxious about it, and so are we… but we are trusting God to bring to light any evil that may be lurking for them in that home. Granted, it could be a really great placement. This family could love the girls really well, and I pray that’s the case if they end up adopting them. Please be praying for wisdom and clarity in this process for these precious girls.
Thanks to y’alls generosity, I have finally purchased a vehicle! It’s a 2005 Honda CRV and it’ in good condition! I’m so blessed!! Whether it’s taking kids on errands, taking Fermina out for coffee, or grocery shopping (and having all the eggs in tact when I get home!!)… I’m so thankful! Thank you all so much for your contributions, prayers, and encouragement. And a big thank you to Shane for taking me car shopping, and thoroughly evaluating each vehicle. I couldn’t have done this without him!
Please pray for Elias. He is coming out of his shell more and more each day, but I know that his wounds run deep. I’ll be working with him this week, and asking him about his story. Please pray that the Lord would give him the courage to speak truthfully and clearly about what’s happened to him, so we can advocate for him well in court.
We had a health scare with Jimmy a couple weeks ago. He had severe pain on his right side, and we ended up taking him to the hospital where he stayed for three days. An ultrasound revealed gallstones, and we began a discussion about taking his gallbladder out. I consulted a friend of mine, Jenna Paul, who is well acquainted with the medical field and ministry in Latin America. She told me that taking the gall bladder out is a rule of 3 – 1/3 get better, 1/3 stay the same, and 1/3 get worse. Also, once a gall bladder is removed, the body can no longer digest fats well, so he’d have to follow a strict fat free diet for the rest of his life. We took him to get a second opinion, and the new ultrasound reveals no gallstones! I don’t know how that happened, maybe it was a flub on the part of the first ultrasound tech, or maybe God answers our prayers and healed him! Regardless, we know God’s sovereign hand has been over this whole process with Jimmy, and we are so thankful for these results! Please also pray that if there IS something else serious going on in his body, that it would come to light before it becomes an emergent situation.
I’ve also got a new roommate in my home, Reina! She is 19-years-old and is sweet as can be. She is finishing high school, working full-time, and loves Jesus with her whole heart. I’m so blessed by her presence in my home. She gives me lessons sometimes on cooking traditional foods from this region, and we laugh together at my failure to do it well. She is kind and encouraging, with big dreams to serve the Lord. She wants to serve as a medical missionary in Africa or India and will be pursuing a nursing degree this next year. She told me the other day after she’s done that for a while, she wants to open her own children’s home. WOWZA. What a gal! She has lived with me since the beginning of the month and will be leaving soon to live with a new Guatemalan family. I’m excited for her to build deep relationships with people from her country that will help her for the rest of her life, but I’ll be sad to see her go. This new family are good people, but they do not know the Lord. She works for them and knows them well, already having deeply rooted relationships with the members of the family. Pray that Reina’s passion for the Lord does not burn out, and that she is able to witness and lead this family to Christ.