The girl in the Red Shoes
Dawn breaks once again, and I have already begun to feel the exhaustion settling into my bones seeping in from the chilly nights. My body wakes me a little bit later than normal, but once again I am dressed before the mob of students from team Barnabas stampedes camp like wild Indians pouncing on tents and blasting music.
I anticipate another message from Pastor Josh. The wonderful daily encouragement begins to blend into one stream of consciousness each sermon no longer its own, but a contribution to the ones before. Pastor Josh tackles the “Inadequacy of Us” to love others from another angle.
As Pastor Josh speaks it seem directly to me, I cannot help but remember a mentor friend. He knew the Bible by heart and delighted to answer the hardest question I had. He requested them from me, “What is the hardest question you have?” he would ask me, but I reflect on his sudden death and the blow it left on my life. My hero was destroyed and he left me to navigate my small world and to answer my big questions alone. I see just a little bit better now. I am reminded that these heroes are human too. They have their own small worlds and big questions, but I had to ask, “Which heroes serve the heroes of the faith?” Pastor Josh describes us as “wounded healers” the phrase based on a book by Henri Nouwen. Yet again I reflect on the wise words of my team mate. We connect through our imperfections, and if all people desire and need fellowship and connection, then we heal by sharing our imperfections. The healing process begins with someone willing to listen.
That is my superpower and that is how I am going to love.
One thing I respect about the Spanish culture and which becomes intensely real for me as I interact with the people of México is that they face life. By that I mean when the trials come entire communities unite and support one another. With the death of a loved one they hold back no emotion laying their bodies over the caskets of loved ones sobbing publically for hours until fatigue and weakness wears them out, but as far as I have seen, they heal sooner. At seventeen years old, the death of our family friend was the first funeral I ever attended, and I choked down my salty tears. Others did too. Why can’t we allow the tears to come instead of choking ourselves and attempting to keep our makeup from running down our faces…(why women wear make up to funerals beats me.) Why does it seem that in America crying suggests weakness, but this is not about me despite the many questions I ask… The people of México and other parts of Latin America allow community to help heal them. They are the wounded healers who have suffered but have the ability to heal when others suffer the same inflictions.
A new train of thought takes me to the youth I will see in a few hours. What kind of story am I writing right now and what kind of story can I write by living boldly? Heroes are not the only ones whose stories make the best comic books. The people on the metro, in the grocery store, and down the road have some unbelievable stories. We, the majority, are the wounded healers who every day decide how we live our lives. The life we live in the present is how our stories will be remembered…how great and powerful they are to be read by others or how boring and “safe” they are to be dismissed by the world. Living and experiencing gains us credibility. Doesn’t the world prefer stories about people who do the impossible or who live vicariously? Doesn’t every great story have a profound plot? I tell myself, “Before packing into the vans, I will be bold, brave, and I will smile in the face of discouragement, danger, and exhaustion.” Most of all I will listen. I treasure in my heart the passage from Ecclesiastes 3.
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time or peace.
The vans bounce over the disintegrating pavement roads and we turn down a side street into some of the worst of Mexicali. Loose dogs roam everywhere, their bellies swollen with milk for baby pups hidden away somewhere. Piling out of the vans a large locked gate separates Una Salida orphanage and the world of Mexicali. A girl of 16 named María greets us with a mop in hand and a beautiful face. She invites us in.
Slowly, curious girls enter the living room area; curiosity marks their pleasant interesting features. Our translators tell the group the age and name of each girl. I know behind each face is a story of a girl who has seen more than I can even dream in my darkest nightmares. Nightmares for me are only a dream. Nightmares for them walked very close at some point in the past and even today flicker across the trail ahead causing painful remembrances of the past. Nothing that I have seen compares to what these youth have gone through and yet looking around the room I know I don’t need to know those horrors to love them like I love my own sisters.
After introductions several ice breaker games have us all on the ground laughing and rolling in the dust as we try to get up from awkward seated positions. On the count of three my teammate and I rise immediately off the ground on command, our arms linked, and our backs pushing off each other. We win the round and we jump up and down like crazy monkeys grinning and slapping hands.
I don’t know when it happened, but at some point during the day I found myself followed by a girl named Milagros. She wears a precious bow in her air and lets her dark wavy hair caress her face. I think it all started with a selfie.
Side by side on the couch, we take turns making stupid faces at the camera, taking a picture, and laughing hysterically. Maybe it all started with the fruit roll up I shared with her. Maybe just a look or a smile, but as soon becomes habit, we sit on the couch together when the team leads the devotional time. She stares at Lucero our translator who shares her testimony, and a certain urgency lights in her eyes. She takes my hand in her own.
Four o’clock comes and we pack up. Milagros stays close. She fears I won’t return. “Pronto,” I say. Soon.
Evening brings a frigid wind after a sprinkling of rain. I linger at the warm wash tubs before joining the supper line, my thoughts consumed with Milagros and her precious, innocent face. I take my bowl of soup and hunk of bread to my chair to join our team. “When are they coming?” someone asks.
“Who?” I interrogate.
“Una Salida, the orphanage is coming!”
“Milagros,” I whisper.
Una Salida arrived and Milagros sought me as eagerly as I sought her. I initially sat on the ground surrounded by the other members of the Orphanage both the boys and the girls, but I looked back, and she beckoned. For two hours we held hands bouncing to the rhythm of the praise music besides 300 other students or listening to a message.
During this time she wrote me this.
Thank you for all that you are, a caring, incredible girl. You make me laugh, cry, and have joy. I am always for you and I love you…your sister has beautiful hair (I showed pictures) and I hope that you have a good trip. You are in my heart, and you fill it.
Thank you for everything,
I go to sleep with thoughts of Milagros and cannot bear Thursday departure. “How is it even fair?” I ask. Although my Mother taught me life is not fair, I slept with guilt knowing I had comforts to retreat to—a home, a loving family, a world where I had experienced little sadness. As I recalled their future aspirations while drifting off to sleep, all that I desired for myself involved loving people like these.