Monday, July 15, 2013

Love When We Need It Most

One day I went to bed feeling a little down. I had a long tiring day of Hogar daily life and was feeling very drained. I found myself longing for someone to take care of me just for once.  I was thinking about how all day long I comfort the girls, hug them, console them, carry them, and wipe their tears etc.  At the end of the day it would be nice to have someone to do that for me once in a while.

I started to think about single parents and how they do this every day of their lives. Single parents give, give, and give to their children while working at the same time to support their children. Who is there to support the single parent and the end of the day, and give a hug of reassurance and comfort?

So I started praying to God about this, and I told him, " I know you are all I need, and I know you are what can and will give me the comfort I need, but I just cannot feel it so please help me right now.¨

The next morning I woke up, went through my day without even thinking about how I felt and what I had prayed for the night before.  In the afternoon, I was leaving the computer room and I slammed my thumb in the door. It immediately bruised and I could feel it throbbing as my response is a bad word, luckily the girls do not understand English. The pain just made me want to sit on the ground, hold my thumb, and not talk to anyone. It is impossible, however, to be alone in the Hogar. One of the 11 year old girls who was with me at the time yells, "Chris! Chris! Estas Bien?´´ (You Okay?).  I said yes through tears on the floor not wanting to be noticed, so she states" I am going to go Michelle!" I told her no it is fine (I hate people seeing me cry- I felt like a baby). So when she ran away to get Michelle, two other little ones ran out instead yelling my name "CHRIS!" They tell me to go get ice right away. I am then walking down the hall to the kitchen accompanied by one other little girl (11 years) as she rubs my back the entire time, the other 10 year old girl who reached for my hand as she tells me a story about how she had done the same thing when she was little and how she knows how much it hurt. Then another girl shows up when we are at the fridge to help me scrape the frost off the fridge as my "ice."

Later that night when I went to write in my journal and I saw what I had written the night before: about how I had been feeling alone, longed to be comforted, and was tired of giving and working nonstop. Then I realized God answered my prayers, he knew I needed some comfort physically not just spiritually, and slamming my finger in the door was the answer to my prayers. The way the girls responded, how concerned they were about just a simple thumb...the important thing to them was that it was my thumb.  So they took care of me, and comforted me. I did not realize it until later that night about how loved I am, and how much of a family we are here through thick and thin.

I would like to say thank you to all single parents out there for the work you do and the life you live for your children. I cannot begin to imagine how tough it can be. The truth is God will always put people, even if it is the children, in our lives to help when we need it the most, only sometimes we have to open our eyes to recognize when our prayers are answered. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Our Girls

I have been finding out more and more of the stories of the girls that I serve and love. Sometimes my mind will not let me comprehend their stories because I think it is just too much for one mind to handle. So I focus on how they are doing now and how much love I can show them from our heavenly Father, instead of focusing on their past.  Sometimes, however, the stories of their past will creep up on me at random moments and before I know it I am biting back tears and trying my hardest not to run over and hold them as tight as I can, while I am simply looking at them dancing and having fun. This is just how my mind has been dealing with the knowledge of these girls past; I can’t control my defense mechanisms.

When the new girls come, their pasts are not so much in the past but extremely recent hurts and pains. We have had 9 new little girls come in past two months and I learn their stories as soon as they come. The past 2 weeks have been extremely difficult as we have 4 new little ones during this time. Two of these girls are 6 years old and look like they are between ages 3 and 4, one of them the other day was wearing a onesie the other day. Bad emotions of anger and frustration overwhelm me suddenly as their mom comes to our door asking to see her daughters…this is after the social worker had found the two girls sleeping in a alone in a trash can on the street.

I did not want to feel these emotions as I know it is not right to judge others, but it is very hard not to judge after daily seeing the effects of neglect, malnourishment, and abuse on these girls. I have to pray that God will grant me the grace to not pass judgment but allow me to only give my prayers and love to this woman. Their mother will be visiting tomorrow, Saturday, and since I will be the only one here working I get to be the one to talk to her. I pray that God can grant me the grace to do this, especially how I have had to talk to her daughters this week about how stealing is wrong (they have a problem with stealing things)… things change inside of you when you have to tell a child “I know you probably had to steal food and money in past to survive but here you are safe and you do not have to do that anymore. We will help teach you what is right and what is wrong but you have to be open to learning, and all you have to do is ask when you want something, you do not have to take anymore.”

Yesterday I went to pick up the 20 girls ages 10 and under from school in the afternoon.  After about 5 minutes I sent all of them back as I waited for the last 2 to come out. Five more minutes went by and I grew a little worried, eventually 20 minutes went by and I was panicking. Not because I have become some over anxious mom figure who thinks the worst of people and outrageously think that they have been kidnapped. I become scared because the threat here is real, these two sisters have 3 older brothers in the next town over who are notorious robbers and have done horrific things to them. These girls JUST got here, so who knows if their family is looking for them, and we are right down the road. All of these thoughts flood my mind and I started to think, ‘calm down, you are over reacting,’ but then quickly I realized…I am not in the U.S., I am not being over-protective, this is a very real possibility. This harsh reality check of where I am and what these girls come from hit me hard, and I cannot even explain the fear and other emotions that I felt even if I tried.

The girls were safe, and had walked around a different side of school and back home because they are not accustomed yet to waiting for someone to pick them up.  Surprise, these girls are not used to other people thinking about them and caring about them, so why would they wait for us to come when they are so used to being on their own? 

I would like to ask whoever is reading this for their prayers for our girls here, prayers for healing, and prayers that they one day can feel God’s true and only love and the love of others. When I say “our girls,” I do not mean just mine, the people who work here, and God’s. When I say “our” I mean yours, mine, your cousin’s, your mother’s, these girls belong to everyone here on this Earth because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, even if you are a believer or not. I just happen to be serving these girls daily with my whole entire being, but all of us can help serve spiritually. The great thing about prayer is that you do not have to be a believer; God will still hear you and believe in you even if you do not believe in him, so maybe just give it a try and if possible add in prayers for our girls here.

And since these girls are Our Girls, I will share some little fun facts about them…they love love love to dance especially choreographic dance together. The teenagers love Korean music, films, tv shows, and boys…but only South Koreans not North Koreans as they think the ones from the South are nicer (sorry if that offends anyone). A lot of the girls are absolutely amazing artists, and I wonder how they could of learned to draw the way they do, it is a gift from God. There is one girl who loves bugs, animals, and anything living, she loves to pick up these huge cockroach/beetle things and put them on her shirt and walk around with them. One day she had it in her pocket and told me to put my hand in her pocket, I stupidly without thinking did. One girl can not wait to get her homework done to have time to research the wars that have occurred and are presently occurring  in the world...she is 12. When the little ones fight and hit each other, as soon as they sorry they are holding hands, skipping, and inseparable for the rest of the day. Try and think of all the little quirky things that your loved children, nieces, and nephews do and remember that these girls, your sisters in Christ that you have never met, have them to. 

Other Prayer Intentions: For the girls’ safety from future harm, whether that harm be physical and/or mental. Prayers as well for all current and future Salesian mission projects, it is unimaginable to think where these girls could and would be without this Home. Some days, or most days, I get overwhelmed being one of three staff/parental figures for 44 girls (yes that is 3 adults for 44 children). It is impossible to do everything you want to with the girls to keep them well spiritually, academically, and physically (hygine). Despite the fact that we are understaffed with no resources to hire any more workers, this Home is still a place for the girls to escape the evil people and things in their lives and hopefully feel love.  The Salesians are absolutely amazing and their work is so crucial to literally saving lives of children throughout the world.  Everyone can give to this work spiritually, so please all prayers are welcomed and so very appreciated. Whoever feels in their heart that God is calling them to give materially as well, I can help find information on donations. Thank you all and may God’s love and peace be with you.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Best. Present. Ever.
Thank you Paul, Tori, and Wyatt!
Yes, there is a box of milk duds missing, one of the berger cookie boxes is only half full, and don't even get me started on the ginger bread cookies...

Friday, February 22, 2013

To God Be The Glory

I cannot even begin to express all the wonderful and amazing things God has done in my life. One of the most beautiful and at times, hardest, things about mission is that we are not meant to do it alone and in fact can not do it alone. The only possible person to give us the strength, support, and daily graces to be present and fulfill the mission is God. No one else can fulfill us the way He can, not even friends or family. I knew this in my head before I came on mission, but experiencing this truth and relying on it every single day is unbelievable.

For those of you who do not know exactly what I do, I live and work in a Hogar, a home for 40 abandoned at risk girls...soon to be 46. However, I can not simply label this "work." It is giving EVERYTHING to these girls; emotions, love, taking away pride and giving humility, personal life and space, energy, the good, the bad, and literally everything else I have of myself. In December there were 2 Sisters, 1 worker, and us volunteers. Well things are getting short staffed now, and there are only 3 total adults (including me) working here and the chef to run everything. We are used to having a one hour break during the day, and two hours if you are the one to wake up the girls that morning at 6am...the day usually ends around 9:30pm. Luckily, we have one day off each week, mondays, as the Sister here works off of God's strength 7 days a week.

This past week, with all the parent back to school meetings, there was no room in the schedule for breaks. I was worried at first because I knew there was no way I would be able to accomplish what I needed to each day on my own human efforts. Then I started to get really excited because this meant that every little success there was during the day, was not my own but God's. It was time to let everything over to Him and run head first into the day with everything I had to give, knowing it would not be sufficient, and let God take over. The graces of peace, joy, love, and ENERGY that were and are given to me is just overwhelming and beautiful. I am literally experiencing miracles daily, why was I ever worried? Especially when the Lord is the one who said we are His instruments, so I should never rely on my own efforts, but instead trust that the Lord will give success to the work of my hands...the hands He gave me. If we are called to be His instruments, which every single one of us is, then we are called to be in constant Communion with the Lord and His Spirit...this means our very being, purpose, and existence is in fact a miracle.

Another point to make is when I talk about my own efforts and giving everything I have, I am just giving the gifts that God has given me. So it is never simply my own efforts when I say this, but it is God's work. A wise missioner who served for quite some time said this, at the end of the day it is not what did I do today but What Did God Do Today?

I am going to try and practice this at the end of each day, and I know I will recognize so many more miracles   that happen each day that are somehow overlooked during the times of my frustrations at not being able to control the girls, homesickness, or sadness at how I reacted to a situation. Instead, we need to focus on the "little" miracles that happen daily, even though no miracle is just seems that way because it is missed. For instance, an 8 year old girl who does her homework daily without anyone reminding her, how is it possible for someone this age to have that type of self-management? Or a little smile that I happen to catch from a girl who usually tells me she hates and not to talk to her. Or being able to wait outside the kindergarten classroom to pick up our girl, while the other parents have to wait outside the school...and I get to watch her walk out of class, her face brighten with a huge smile as she seems me, breaks hands with her friend, and run to me screaming my name and jump into my arms.

I then think about where this little girl would be at that very moment if not in my arms and in our home. I saw her and her sisters when they first came to the Hogar after leaving their "home." The littlest one, 4 years old, ran through the door that day and into my arms, but then I noticed her busted lip. When we take them to their new rooms, show them their beds, the bathroom, and the shower. We had to show them how to use the toliet as they asked for rocks instead of toliet paper. When showering the littlest one I noticed her dirtied and bloodied skin and the hand print bruises on her back that are the size of an adult's. I later came to know their story and background which I will not share. I think about these things as she is in my arms after being able to go to class and get an education now, and a home away from people who made her suffer and with people who care about her. The Lord has given me the gift of being able to be one of the people in her life for now to take care of her, and 40 other children as well, and I could not ask for a better present to start my next year of life! ( Also, this little girl I get to pick up from kindergarten and I have the same birthday, it is meant to be :) ).

I could easily focus on the sufferings of these girls past and the daily hardships and responsibilities that kids in the U.S. simply do not have to worry about and I did not need to worry about. Instead, I need to focus on how I can show these girls the presence of God in their lives, for that is the only thing that can heal them and give them joy in their lives. These are the miracles and joys of my life here, and as hard as it can be at me very hard, I still would not trade it for the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Power of Touch

At first I would like to begin by apologizing for not writing for two and a half months, but what a crazy and wonderful two and a half months it has been! Not only have I not written a blog during this time but I also have not really written in my journal too much as well. I was using legitimate excuses, but still excuses nonetheless, of being too tired and working too much to have time to write. So as I finally find some personal time in complete silence today, I begin to write in my journal. It is hard to try and write all the events that have happened over this time, so I tried to organize it into the challenges I have had and the times I am thankful for.

I began writing the challenges because I wanted to end my journal entry on a good note, the things I am thankful for. I will be honest all I have gotten through in my journal is the first part, the challenges. However, what I did not realize is that I can not divide my journey thus far into dichotomous categories of challenges and gratitude. For with every single challenge I have written down, there is something I am thankful for within that challenge or something that happened shortly after that I am thankful for. Not that I am encouraging not writing for months on end, but if I had written each daily event as it had happened I would not of been able to look back at all the connections of each event and tie together how thankful I am for each challenging event and my entire experience here. Especially how thankful I am for much I have learned and still have yet to learn. The girls here make the best teachers :).

I would like to explain more clearly as this so far has been pretty abstract, through one of the many lessons I have learned, and this is the lesson of touch. There are many different types of touch but when I say touch I mean physically letting someone know that you acknowledge their presence. Touch is not only to show that you acknowledge their presence, but acknowledge that their presence is a beautiful presence worthy to literally and physically reach out to. 

Through the many challenges I have written, which can involve 20 hormonal teenage girls explosively blowing up at you over something so finial as where they are going to pray the rosary, a girl having a complete meltdown over during homework, or three ten year olds in time out trying to escape and accidently busting your toe in the process, I was always brought to thinking what happened right after that, or what has happened between that specific girl and I later. When I reflect, I am brought to a time I have physically held a crying 16 year old for 45 minutes on the bus ride home and using my sleeve to wipe her nose and tears; a time when I am sitting in the bleachers watching some of the girls graduate from high school as the little girl next to me leans on me and puts her head on my chest as the day before she told me she hated me; and a time when I am physically here to put my shirt around a little girl who has just gone to the bathroom in her dress and I am able to give her a hug, tell her its okay, and help her wash her defecated clothes.

 What has taught me even more so how important this sense of touch and being physically present is, are the times when the girls have reached out to me. For instance, I am having a bad day and feeling overwhelmed, so I go to my room to cry and pull myself together in less than five minutes. When I return downstairs to work a little 8 year old looks at me and says, ¨Were you crying?¨ I find myself telling her the truth before I know it and say, ¨Yes.¨ She looks at me with a concerned look for a second, smiles, takes me by the hand, and says, ¨Let´s go do my homework.¨ Or a time when I sit down next to a girl during a slide show and she is the one to put her arm around me with her head on top of mine. There was a time yesterday, when I passed out on the floor of the salon outside because my body was physically done after working 3 days in a row alone and taking care of 41 children without hardly any breaks. I wake up to a little girl jumping on me from behind and showering my face with nonstop kisses. I keep my eyes closed enjoying every single one, and open my eyes to the bright white cotton candy cloud against the clear blue sky, and the sun illuminating all the pink and yellow hibiscus trees in the garden and I simply think, ¨I am in heaven.¨ She says, ¨Dar me un beso,¨ (Give me a kiss), I do and I close my eyes as I hear her running away giggling to go join her friends again, and I think again, ´I am in heaven.´´

After the experiences of being able to touch lives and have my life touched even more so, I can see how important physical touch and presence to others really is. It shows someone that you acknowledge them as a person, a person you love, that they are worth your attention, that you care about them, and they are beautiful from the inside and out. And all it takes is a squeeze of the shoulder, a pat on the back, a random hug, holding hands, or a kiss to have someone know that they are worthy to be loved and are loved. The sense of touch is so important that God has made us so our brain releases oxytocin every time we engage in touch. God even made it so that when a baby is born the top of their head release this same chemical so the mother is drawn to touch and love her baby. Touch is important. 

As I will be working on physically reaching out to every single girl every day over my next year, and waking them up each morning the same way I was woken up yesterday in the salon, I would like encourage who ever is reading this to reach out to someone this week. Whether that person is a coworker, a friend, a family member, or a loved one, there will always be some type of appropriate physical touch you can give to show that person that they are worthy and loved. Sometimes it may not be received if they are not used to it, as many of the girls here do not always receive what I have to give, but trust me it does make a difference. Pay attention as well to those who touch your lives and give thanks for them,  just as I am able to give thanks for the 41 crazy angels in my life.