As many of you have seen on my Facebook and Instagram, we’ve had some big changes in the house within the last couple of weeks. On the 25th of July, we had one child leave, and four more arrive. When Jorge left, it was a big surprise to us all. You see we often have audiences for our children, because the Guatemalan government with UNICEF has been pushing for children to be in a family unit and not an “institution” (which I agree, would be ideal in most cases). The issue is that they don’t recognize that we don’t function as an institution, but as a family. At Casa de mi Padre…
We go all out to celebrate birthdays and Christmas.
We send them to camp for a week.
We pay tuition for them to attend a private Christian school where they will receive a good education.
We keep an eye on their grades, and make sure no one slips through the cracks.
We attend church as a family.
We throw huge Quincenarias (15th birthday party… it’s a big deal in Latin America!) for our girls turning into young women.
We have family devotions in the morning and evening.
We take them on family vacations, so they can experience more of their beautiful country.
We give out hugs and kisses liberally.
We tell them that we love them often.
The children here know they are loved. Casa de mi Padre is not just any institution, it is a home. A family.
I understand how this would be confusing to many of the government officials, because of the establishments they have created for orphans. The living conditions are horrible, with too many children crammed in that the staff cannot contain the chaos. Children fight often and steal from one another. Food is rationed. The older boys and guards rape the girls. They pack several children into one twin bed. These children are housed and treated like animals. The media recently reported an event within the last few months where 40 girls died in a fire that they set in their own dormitory in a desperate effort to escape their prison. Those government-run institutions are dreadful, and with those conditions in mind I’d advocate for them to be in a home as well. But we don’t function like that.
Jorge had been with us for 6 years, which is why it was such a shock that someone actually showed up for his audience. We often wonder with some of our younger ones who have been with us only a short time, but he was one we thought we’d raise to adulthood. Prior to coming to Casa de mi Padre, he was shuffled from one abusive home to another. He left us as a 13-year-old, having lived half of his life in our loving home. He went to live with his sister, which I think will be a good situation for him. She seems like a kind person, professes to be a Christian, has a good job, and was moved by the children’s tearful goodbyes.
Our hope for this house is to take in the children who have nowhere else to go, with no appropriate family member to take them in, and raise them into adults who will be movers and shakers in their communities. Our hope is that they will share the gospel, make disciples, advocate for the poor, and change the culture of oppression and abuse that is so common in families here. When Jorge left, I struggled with whether I should be happy or concerned for him. I’m happy that he has a “family unit”, which I know is beneficial (and something he had begun to desire). But I wonder if he will lose sight of God as he grows into a young man in these formative adolescent years. Regardless of my feelings, I will cling to the fact that God is good, sovereign, and loves Jorge more vastly than any of us here do. And therefore, I will trust the Lord with his life. I will intercede for him in prayer, and ask God to continually draw him near and keep him unstained from the world. I do, however, have an inkling that this was all the Lord’s timing. Jorge’s absence left us the perfect number of beds for the new four little ones who have stolen our hearts.
Shane picked them up in Guatemala City and got home around 10 o’clock that night. No sooner had he put the van in park, then David came flying out and wrapped his arms around my waist. Surprised by his lack of fear or shyness, it took me a second to return the favor. Then came Reina, who was quite a bit more timid then he, but smiling nonetheless. Joel (our newest intern) stepped out holding little Yeni. I looked around for the fourth thinking I must have missed one, and then peeked into the van and saw a small form curled up in one of the seats sleeping peacefully.
I gently shook her awake, and her little eyelids fluttered open revealing beautiful brown doe eyes. I beckoned for her to come with me, and she reached for me to hold her. I picked her up, and she hugged my neck with such fierceness my breathing was slightly restricted (let me tell you, that is one strong little girl, body and will!). And we just stayed like that for quite some time. She clung to me as we gave them a brief tour, only letting go to crawl into bed.
I’ve learned bits and pieces of their story over the last two weeks, as they came with very few documents. The timeline is still a little fuzzy for me, but I know enough to grasp the pain they’ve experienced. Their mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute. She had a revolving door of men coming through their tiny studio apartment, and when she wasn’t tending to them she was drinking. This left Reina in charge of the other three much of the time. They also spent some time living with their father and stepmother for a bit, who used their fists to correct unwanted behaviors. Eventually, they grew tired of them, and sent them to live with grandma. They lived with her for a few months, but she couldn’t control or afford 4 wild little children (even though she loved them) so she surrendered them to our care.
All 23 of the children here have captured my heart in different ways, but little Virginia has completely stolen it from the first squeeze/death grip. She is affectionate, thoughtful, adventurous, and so so full of joy. I mean look at this little nugget…
I’m often struck by how much I love her, most often in the seemingly mundane moments. It happens when she steps off the bus after school and runs to me with arms open wide. It happens when she takes my hand walking down to the soccer field, and when she crawls into my lap. I’m struck, and then bewildered at how a mother or father could not love this darling girl. She deserves so much more than that. She deserves to feel safe and loved.
Therefore, I will accept her slobbery, sticky, post-candy kisses… because she has the right to give love and be loved in return. Her mother may have dismissed her affections, but I will not.
I will abandon my dignity to make her laugh, because her laughter should outweigh her tears.
I will be patient when I correct her rebelliousness, because she should know the difference between loving discipline and abuse.
I will hug her tight and tell her I love her every chance I get, because she should know she is wanted and valued here.
I will stop mid-task to give her my attention, because she should know that her words are valued.
I will scoop her up and kiss her boo-boos, because that’s what everyone else who has a caring mom gets.
I will hold her in my arms, even when they ache, because she should know where she is safe.
I will do all of this and more, because she is worth it. And I want her to know her worth.
I would give her the whole stinking world if I could.