From day 1 Maria has been a little firecracker, lighting up the room at unexpected moments and keeping us on our toes. She is equal parts loving and sassy. Her infectious laughter (much like mine the kids have told me) is so loud it can be heard from most anywhere in the home. She’s crazy, crazier even than Virginia (which I didn’t think was possible)… but she fills all around her with warmth and love.
She made her grand entrance on Superbowl Sunday, February 2, 2020… a day I will never forget as my home-team (Go Chiefs!) won the super bowl, and this tiny person also ate four plates of food. When she first arrived, she seemed like most other children on their first day—wary and anxious. She sat on the couch studying her surroundings and cautiously watching us sign and stamp the necessary legal documents. During this time, I tested the waters to see how guarded she may be. I introduced myself, asked her a few questions, and made a handful of jokes accompanied by silly faces. I saw quick little smiles and heard some stifled giggles, which gave me hope that she would warm up quickly in the home.
Once everything was settled, I stepped outside with the PGN representative to get the inside scoop. I learned that her mother died when she was a toddler, and she was raised in a children’s home until the age of 6. Her aunt and uncle adopted her, and she lived with them for three years in an extremely abusive and neglectful environment. Several days before she was brought to our home, her aunt kicked her out, because she “didn’t want her anymore”. Maria was distraught, but found her way to a neighbor’s home where she stayed for two days until the PGN were notified. (Please note, these neighbors are not just “the next house over” like in the American suburbs. It would more likely be the distance of homes in rural Kansas, but in a mountainous landscape up or down a steep hill.)
After the PGN left, I returned to the living room where she was still sitting. Her hair was matted, and she was covered in dirt. I knelt down to her level, and told her about the big party we were going to have for the football game, but first we have to be clean. One of our board members, Fawn Brents, was visiting our home, so the two of us took her together to the bathroom for her first shower here. I helped her out of her faja and huipil (traditional Guatemala clothing), and took note of the bruises, welts, and scars on her body to later use in our case for her courting hearing.
As I turned on the water to start the shower, I waited for the hot water to come… and then I remembered that all the hot water is gone after everyone has taken their showers in the mornings. This would be a chilly one, but it’s probably not out of the norm from what she used in the mountains.
She cautiously reached a hand into the stream of cold water, quickly withdrawing it with uncontrolled shrill laughter and shrieks. I bathed her as quickly as I could, the three of us laughing all the way. When we had finished Fawn wrapped a towel around her shivering body, and we dressed her in a brand new dress. I introduced her to Virginia, and asked Virginia to give her a tour. Previously, Virginia had been very curious about the new girl. She kept offering her own clothes or shoes for Maria to borrow, since Maria only came with what she was wearing. For a kid in a children’s home with little personal space or belongings… this is a BIG deal.
Virginia happily took her by the hand, and the two skipped off together like they’ve been friends their whole lives.
I later learned that she grew up at a children’s home about two hours from ours, and I knew several of the directors! They were very helpful in filling the gaps in her story, and providing information we needed for her file. Additionally, they warned us about some of her medical challenges. It is pretty obvious that Maria may have some kind of disability, but we just weren’t sure what exactly it would entail. At the age of 9, she has behaviors more congruent with a 5 or 6-year-old child. She has some limitations in her motor skills, a speech impediment, struggles academically, and a few other challenges. The biggest news to us, was that she has a long history of seizures, which the director at the children’s home was able to shed a lot of light on. As far as we know, she has not taken any medication since leaving their care (in 2017). We asked the staff to watch her carefully, and the staff in charge of the girl’s room recognized that she had focal seizures multiple times a week.
A couple of weeks after her arrival in our home, she had a convulsive seizure at school. She was taken to the hospital, and we immediately set an appointment with a children’s neurologist who specializes in seizures in Quetzaltenango (a.k.a. Xela). We took her the following week, and he prescribed her medication and an MRI. The first medication and dosage had some negative side effects including extreme grogginess and outbursts of anger. We adjusted to a different medication and dosage, which have been really helpful for her! She has had far fewer focal seizures, and no convulsive seizures since starting this medication!
Little Maria is a handful for sure. She’s opinionated, and stubborn. She knows what she wants, and wants it right then. Respect doesn’t come easily for her, and she’s one of the few little children who will still defy me to my face. About a week after she had been living with us, Maria and another girl were teasing each other, and they were both starting to push the boundaries of being funny. They were both equally at fault, so I pulled the “if you both don’t cut it out, you both will go to time out” speech. Maria started to giggle, and said “No you won’t.”
She hadn’t been with us that long yet, so I decided to be gracious and patient. I knelt down to her level and explained that one of the most important rules of the home is to be respectful… “so when an adult tells you to do something, you need to do it… and with a respectful attitude.”
“No.” she replied, still giggling. I gave it another shot in case she wasn’t understanding me… but it became clear very quickly that she did understand, and just didn’t agree with me. So I sat her in a chair for five minutes, and then pulled her aside for a talk. The giggles were gone now, and she sported an angry furrowed brow. I recounted the importance of respect in this home, and then asked her, “so what is the most important rule in the home?”
“No.” she replied again. “Is that a ‘no’ you don’t understand? Or ‘no’ you don’t want to tell me?” I replied calmly. “No, I don’t want to tell you.” Her strong spirit will serve her well some day, but I don’t understand how this tiny person thinks she is going to win in a battle of wit and time with a grown woman… yet, here we are. I gave her five more minutes to really think through this situation she was in, so back to the chair she went. Lunch had also begun at the beginning of her time-out, and I know how much this girl loves to eat.
When I returned the second time, she seemed more sobered than anything… though her brow was still slightly furrowed in frustration. She was quite amiable, and ready to answer questions and discuss respect. She apologized, we hugged it out, and then she skipped off to eat her lunch.
Though she can be stubborn and willful, I love this little girl to pieces! The one thing that I admire most about this child, is her knowledge of her worth. At the age of 9, she has experienced far more pain than I have in my 25 years of life. She lost her mother, never knew her father, and then was neglected, beaten cruelly, and abandoned by her new “mom and dad” that were supposed to be a new beginning of growing up loved. In spite of everything she has been through, she doesn’t doubt for one moment that she is loved. When she sees me from across the room, I hear her signature squeal followed by my name (jumbled a little by her speech impediment). “Ooo-lech!” She says. That’s my name now. O-lech (with a hard “ch” sound at the end). Without a second thought she throws herself into my arms. I’ve been nearly knocked off my feet a few times, so I’ve learned to brace for her love.
I’m reminded that as a child of God, I should approach the throne with the same confidence. Regardless of the circumstances in life or choices, my status as His child does not change. It’s easy to get caught up in the whims of business or the turmoil of tragedy and lose sight of my identity in Him. I’ve found myself doubting His love for me in recent times when I was really struggling. Are you still there? Do you still love me? Are you going to leave me? But even in my fickleness he is faithful and patient, never failing to lead me back to Him with truth and grace. I wonder, how different my life would look if I took Maria’s approach to love with Him both when life flows seamlessly and when each day burdened with sorrow and challenges.
Maria doesn’t wait to see if she is accepted, she assumes it because she has seen evidence of my love time and time again. She doesn’t check in to make sure we are good, or to see if I changed my mind. She just knows that she is loved and is thrilled to bask in it. Even when I am impatient and fail her, she comes back moments later unaffected. Multiple times a day, she calls out to me, “O-lech!”, like it’s the first time she’s seen me (even if she had just had that same encounter with me half an hour ago). She doesn’t ever dial back the intensity, because being loved and the object of affection brings her such joy. It’s like she feels totally secure and safe in it. She may be a little nutty, but there is not a fickle bone in that girl’s body.
Today on Good Friday, I am reminded of the true unconditional love I have in Christ. I heard on an audiobook recently, “We are so terribly bad, that God sent Jesus to die for us… but we or so completely loved, that He was glad to do it.” I have recently seen a lot of posts cluttering my Instagram and Facebook newsfeed, presenting this idea of worthiness. I see recollections of painful struggles, but followed quickly by “I am worthy. I am a treasure. So I don’t need to feel this way.” Respectfully, I disagree. No one is worthy of love, because all of us are so terribly bad that the only way God could have any sort of relationship with us, is to send His perfect son to die in our place. If anything, that makes us unworthy of anything good… let alone God’s perfect love and grace.
But Jesus became the last sacrificial lamb for all of humanity, and the only part we can play in this story is to passively accept the work already completed for us. And in doing so, all of our sin (past, present, and future) is covered by His blood. But make no mistake, it is not by anything good we have done… but only the good He has done. We are not worthy of God’s love, but that doesn’t change how much He loves us.
If you really want to see a picture of God’s love, take a look through the Old Testament. Israel constantly rejects and abuses God’s love. They only come running back to Him when things get tough, treating God as a life raft… only to be used for emergencies. Israel, was not worthy of God’s love by any stretch. But He was merciful, and renewed His covenant with them every time… ultimately providing a way for them to be with Him for eternity, no renewal needed. We are just like Israel, unfaithful and abusive of the sacrifice that has been made on our behalf… but in spite of it all He died anyway out of His immense love for us. And that love, is what should transform our view of our relationship with God and transform our approach to life. God considered unity with sinners like us a worthy reason to send His son to die.
So today I invite you all to remember with me, the sacrifice of a perfect life, for our imperfect one. Our unworthiness, and that we are so terrible that Christ died so we could ultimately be with Him. And that God in His mercy, chooses to pour out His unconditional love and mercy upon an underserving humanity. And knowing this, we can accept God’s delight in us without question. We can accept our status as His children. We can run into His arms, knowing He will be there every time. And knowing this, we can love like Maria does.