Something happens when the God of the universe points out you’re living in a box. You notice it. Immediately it becomes tight and constrained and not nearly as comfortable as before. Claustrophobia kicks in and you find yourself wanting to tear off the sides and breathe! Only it’s not that easy. You not only see it surrounding you, but you see the boxes that others live in and you are desperate for them to be freed, also! But again, it’s not that easy. First, they have to see that they are in a box.
It was the second day, the first full day, in Guatemala and we were headed to church.. I don’t know what I expected, a church like the ones I have visited in Mexico and grew up attending in small country villages in Korea? But, the church we attended was huge! Mega.. To borrow a commonly used term. It seated thousands in an enclosed ampitheater, with engaging praise music, a huge information desk in the lobby, and familiar literature about what the church believes and what they have to offer all age groups of all kinds. It was a great place to get lost if you needed, a place where an orphan or cast-aside girl could blend in and maybe find a home.
I say that because we discovered on our bus ride that the girls hadn’t always gone to this church. They were once attending a church just outside the gates of their home which was far more convenient. Only, the church was not acting like the Body of Christ – they were discriminated against, not allowed to attend regular Sunday school, and consistently left out intentionally as if something was wrong with them – bearing the stigma of another person’s judgement cast in ignorance.
Looking around us, my two team partners and I found ourselves separated from our leaders, but we were in church and we saw one of the girls. She spotted us, smiled nervously, and apologized that she didn’t want to sit with us but with her friend that she only saw on Sunday (Please! I totally understood! We were there a week; this was her friend. No offense taken!).
I sat in my folding theater seat and took in my surroundings. I’m a watcher, an observer, I like to see where I am and absorb what I am experiencing. Again I heard the voice of God, “Look around at your family!” And, I did. I drank them in: families, children, men, women, girls, arms lifted up offering praise to my Daddy! Our Daddy! And I wondered, as I looked at their faces – some longing, some basking in His glow, others looking around them – “Do you see the box? Do you like it there? Are you content or tearing at it’s walls like me?”
After the service, we left, and I watched as families filed out, laughing, hugging, moms and dads and sons and daughters, sisters and brothers going home. I looked at the girls we were with.. Did that ever hurt? Did these glimpses of family sometimes feel like a stab in the heart that longs for that kind of connection and love? I knew it must. Maybe not for all of them, but no doubt most felt that pain. My compassion for them grew afresh, and whether or not I fully realized it, that was the moment I pulled back. My whole life I’d had people come in and out of my life and that had left bitter scars and pain and reluctance to trust. That was throughout decades, these little girls welcomed teams from America and beyond every week during the summer and often during the year! What scars might that leave, what issues would they later face? I decided I would love them and pray for them and serve them in anyway available or necessary, but I wouldn’t expect them to open their hearts to me, not again, not to a stranger, only to watch me walk away in 4 days. That wasn’t fair. I wanted to protect their little hearts.
We jumped back on the bus full of smiling faces, girls chattering and whispering, no doubt discussing life just like all teenagers and little girls the world over. I sat by Lucy – precious, beautiful Lucia whose smile and eyes twinkled with shy delight. “What’s your favorite color?” she asked. Strange. But then I understood, she was practicing her English. And the fleeting thought came, “When was the last time I answered that question?” I was stumped but she was waiting so I said, “Green.” She smiled; she agreed. I said, “There are so many shades!” I don’t know if she knew what I was saying but she nodded like she did. I asked her name. “Lucia,” she replied in her most beautiful Hispanic accent. I attempted, “Lucheeya.” She smiled, “Yes, but they call me Lucy.” Plain Lucy. I preferred Lucia, there was nothing plain about her.
In the corner of my eye I see another little girl resting on one of the seats, she has a phone to her ear and she is singing. I know her name already, because she is an entertainer, knows no stranger that I can see, and immediately she looks fun and mischievous. “Sarai!” Lucy teased as her singing voice got louder. (You have to say it with an accent, “Sara-ee.”) A daughter of promise… One of a whole bus full. She smiles at me, “You like Selena Gomez?” and sings a snippet of her song. I recognize it as the very same song my daughters belt out through the halls of our house. “Si!” She smiled and cocked her eyes daring me to say no to her next favorite, “Justin Beiber?” Having understood the threat, I answered, “Si!” before she belted out into what would be her song of choice for the rest of the week “Baby, baby, baby, Ohhhh like Baby baby..” She fell back on her seat, phone back to her ear, absorbed in her music world.
She wore gold stiletto heels, and a flower in her hair. She looked to be twelve dressed like a woman. I felt her injury distinctly though I didn’t yet know her story. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Fernanda.” She giggled, and shyly smiled. Her freckles and light skin reminded me of my daughter, Lily. Angel Kisses…our term for freckles. Did she know that? Did she know that her freckles were beautiful? She propped herself on the side of the seat, standing up, and watched me. I was new. I kind of felt like an intruder in their world. Not that they made me feel that way, but I didn’t understand their language and they didn’t know anything about me, or I them. She rattled something to Lucy, who smiled and looked out the window. “What’s your name?” she asked turning her attention to me. “Leslie” I answered. “Leslie” she repeated. (My name sounds so much more beautiful in an accent.) “Si!” I smiled. “Leslie,” she whispered as she slid into the seat behind me. She was trying to remember. That meant the world to me.
Veronica had been standing beside me the whole time, watching me talk to the others, politely listening, and always, when she caught my eye, smiling. I found her captivating. Lucy had told me her name, so I asked her, “What’s your favorite color?” She smiled, “Azul!” then she swallowed and repeated in English, “Blue.” I smiled and let her brown eyes pull me in, “It’s beautiful.” She smiled and said, “You’re beautiful.” I was touched and smitten.
My box wasn’t gonna last the week. His love for me and my love for the world around me was compelling me to reach for so much more. The walls I wanted to hide behind were of the weakest plaster.. I felt incredible love for these girls – His love – and with each look, smile, or awkward name pronunciation, I prayed, and still pray, that He is Who they saw.