I am home. I have been for over a week now. The suitcases are empty. The coffee has all been delivered. The laundry is (almost) caught up. The house is (almost) back in order. The pictures have all been printed, photo-journaled, and the photo album on its new coffee table home, a display and a reminder. And yet here I sit, still trying to figure out what happened 10 days and 1900 miles ago. I was not even going to go on this trip and now, as it was last year, I am afraid that life won’t ever be the same again. Then again, I am even more afraid that it will. Does that even make sense?
“How was it?” A question so easily asked, but the weight of the explanation that it compels me to give is so large. A full emotional explanation would be impossible. The far reaching effects and implications of this week are continuing to unfold and make themselves just barely visible. Whisps of smoke and hope that slip through clenched fingers just when you think you are able to begin to make sense of them.
What can I tell about this place except that it will break you. This sickening feeling of broken-hearted-joyfulness is one that I just want to hold on to, to not forget, to not let fade, even as the cover lays closed on the photo album and days turn to weeks. God is doing a mighty work within the walls of Casa Bernabe and the walls of my heart. I cannot escape being overwhelmed by that. This is the collective experience of two trips and many a servants’ heart, not only mine. Tears. Lots and lots of tears. Not sweet, leaking eye tears but ugly, crying sobs. Broken hurts but broken heals. My heart has been mended back together, stronger and patched with the tapestry of this beautiful country, the smiles of a group of boys and love from this woven together family. It changes you, being broken, and not everyone will understand it.
This shy boy, who’s simple words have shattered me has also shown me a love within myself that I don’t understand. A love I didn’t know I was capable of, a love that is bigger than me and hopes in the impossible. A love that I wasn’t looking for but now can’t imagine living without, whatever that ends up looking like.
This was a hard trip. It was both emotionally and physically draining. My body and my heart would hurt at the end of the day. As a team we accomplished much, crossing many items off of a “to do” list and yet barley scratching the surface. We spent a day hauling metal roofing up the hill towards the clinic, being able to take part in a double blessing as Casa Samuel got a new roof and the old roofing was to be given away to families outside the orphanage who could use it. Painting the art room and offices were a welcome change of project after the roofing. Paintbrushes and rollers aren’t nearly as heavy as sheet metal. The monotony of a wall preferable to the monotony of a hill.
In addition, throughout the week, members of our team took turns traveling two hours away to build a 10 x 10 block structure so that three children from Casa Bernabe could be reunited with their family. These days were tough, filled with manual labor that our bodies and minds were not accustomed to. On my day, concrete day, I hauled countless buckets of sand and gravel down a steep and twisty path and then pulled buckets of water, necessary for the concrete, up from the well until my muscles protested and ached. As I walked the hill throughout the day, I watched young girls wash laundry by hand, young boys carry back breaking loads of wood to sell, old women cook over fires on the ground, and at the end of the day I walked away carrying the weight of their reality. There is so much about this day that my heart continues to struggle though reconciling. And yet, there is the certain knowledge that God’s love was evident in every bucket of sand and water we hauled.
As hard as some days were though the trip was filled with the lightness of laughter, the sheer unbridled joy from the kids that is so contagious. It was hard, but we had fun. Be it through a mouth full of marshmallows while playing chubby-bunny with the kids on the basketball court, pitting team against team during an afternoon of paintball with a group of teenage boys, sharing a meal of a Big Mac and fries, coloring a picture, kicking a soccer ball, or celebrating the week with an ice cream party and some whip cream antics, we had fun! New relationships were built and others were grown. The language barrier disappears in these situations – laughter is universal! Love trumps all!
The highlight of my week though was not some big, sparkly, grand gesture moment. My highlight was being, not just invited, but welcomed, into a home close to my heart, given space on the couch to sit shoulder to shoulder, surrounded by family, to do something as simple as watch a movie. As I sat there, the awkward, visiting American, who has a tendency to just smile and nod dumbly was gone. God worked this beautiful moment (with a little help from English movie subtitles) that touched the deepest part of my heart where we were sharing life, normal, everyday, life and I didn’t want it to end. This moment wasn’t planned or staged or organized and for that I am so grateful. Come in friend and share life.
I wasn’t going on this trip. The timing, financing, and lack of preparation were all wrong. Saying no to this last minute opportunity to fill a vacant spot, just 3 weeks after the holidays, in the midst of moving our family of 4 and living in the mess of major home renovations, was certainly understandable. But I went and now I am home and I know that these few paragraphs and strung together words can’t do justice to what God is (and has been) doing. The picture is so big.
More than anything, here is what I want to convey to you from this trip. I don’t want to be Jonah. Traveling in the belly of a whale, while more spacious than economy class, is not preferable to being available and obedient to God. “No” is many times the easy answer. “No” may even be the answer that makes the most sense in our orderly lives, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right answer. Two questions that He has asked me in my past have been resurrected and keep cycling through my head. First, “If not you, then who?” and “Do you trust me?” Seriously God? This wasn’t new information, just a much-needed reminder.
Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I gave more of myself during this trip than I would have imagined possible, but you just do it. You keep moving, hauling one more piece of roofing up the hill or one more bucket of sand down, you keep saying “Yes” to what God asks you to do. You give until it hurts, love until you think your heart will break, and God makes it possible to just keep going, giving, moving, serving and loving. In the exhaustion, physical and emotional, you begin to see more of Him and less of you.
God needs you. It’s ok to be wary, be cautious, be scared. Just make yourself available.