Thank you to everyone who made our trip so special. We will always remember Dec. 2012 and Jan 2013 – so many memories made!
In the car on the way to clubs, an 11 year old boy says, “Leslie, my mom’s still gone.”
His mom went to Nicaragua weeks ago and Seth* has been staying with his older sister.
“Wow, that’s a really long time – you must miss her,” I said in reply.
Seth turned his head sharply up and away, “No!” He put on his tough face – he can’t admit to missing his mom.
Messages are all around us. Children, like sponges, are constantly absorbing the messages sent to them. The message this boy has received – and it’s been reinforced over and over – is that he cannot show any signs of weakness or vulnerability. He must maintain a tough exterior at all costs…
And it costs him dearly.
Later on during the session, our tutor comes over to the club room, “Leslie, I don’t know what to do about Seth. I can’t help him!”
She went on to explain that he was making a mistake in his math work and was unable to accept that he was doing it wrong. He refused to believe that what he was doing was wrong, even when shown through logic and with a calculator that it was incorrect. Instead he just completely shut down.
I came out to see Seth sitting outside the door slumped against the wall holding his backpack.
I sat down next to him and asked for eye contact. Once I was able to get his eyes looking into mine I said, “Seth, you don’t have to be in control. I know you feel like you have to take care of yourself and stay in control of everything. So much responsibility is on your shoulders. But here, in this place, you can let it go. Let go of your control and let your teacher teach you. Here you can just be a kid.”
He stayed connected with me and shook his head in acknowledgment. I waited with him quietly until he felt better. Then we slowly took his notebook out, when he was ready, and looked at it together. He was able to see now that he was making a mistake. We sat and did a few problems together until he felt comfortable and then he went back to his tutoring session. He finished it well.
When a child cannot be vulnerable, when a child can’t trust others, that child also can’t learn. His development is impaired.
Children learn and develop in the context of loving relationships.
Without that, it goes off track.
That’s why we provide children in our program tutoring sessions and also a club focusing on learning to trust and have relationships. That’s why we make home visits a central part of what we do. We make relationships our top priority. Everything else falls into place around that.
Lord, take this time. It’s yours. Use us. Let us be conduits of your love. Whatever these children need, whatever you want to give them in these next hours, here we are. Use us. We are available, to be your hands and feet. Anything that would get in the way – our pride, our boredom, our distractions, we lay it down now. Wake us up, let us be alive, alert, engaging, connecting. Use us, Lord. This time is yours. Have your way.
She appears in the window and immediately starts pounding on the glass store front.
I open the door and she throws herself carelessly into the room and lunges to the toy town of Fisher Price Little People all nicely arranged. She tips over houses and tosses cars.
No space between thought and action.
“Jocelyn!” I exclaim, “I’m so glad to see you!”
“What do you want to do?” I’m trying to redirect her from destruction to a productive activity.
She darts toward the felt board corner. Palms up, she roughly wipes all the felt board pieces off, taking down a carefully designed picture.
She pulls all the pieces under her, sits on them and then cries for the last small felt board of ocean creatures that another girl is trying to save from her path of destruction.
She is not content until she has every felt piece. She starts trying to dress people and cries out, “ROPA!” (Clothes)
I begin to hand her pieces of felt clothing for her people, but she’s frustrated already that she can’t get the clothes on right.
We need to see this girl more often, I’m thinking, She needs something everyday.
Out of the corner of her eye she sees another girl has chosen to play with Viewmaster. She snatches the Viewmaster out of the girl’s hand and shoves discs in the slot. She tips over the container of discs, scattering them across the floor.
She shows me pictures from her viewmaster, shows her friend pictures, cries when her friend finds a princess disc.
The afternoon proceeds and we begin to play with a dollhouse. But another girl approaches to play as well and Jocelyn loses it.
She begins thrashing on the floor. Flailing limbs.
Body limp, she crumples on the floor sobbing.
I begin to rub her back as she sobs.
I keep rubbing and stroking her hair.
The minutes tick by. The room is tense. The other staff are doing amazing engaging with the rest of the children, keeping them focused, as I sit rubbing the back of a sobbing child.
Slowly, cautiously, I ask. “Can I give you a hug?”
She lets me hold her and we’re sitting on the floor, just rocking and rocking.
She begins a steady wail of, “Quiero jugar sola, Quiero jugar sola…” over and over and over. (I want to play alone, I want to play alone).
And it’s not about the dollhouse anymore, or anything, it’s just a steady cry of I want to play alone, I want to play alone.
I echo back to her what she is saying. I want her to know that I hear her. This 3rd youngest sibling of 8, living in a one-room, tin shack, all she can cry over and over is, “I want to play alone.”
I look around and see through her eyes. It’s all too much. The toys, the doll house, the bright colors. It’s just too much for a little five-year-old who has nothing.
We rock and rock and she sobs and sobs.
I don’t rush her or shush her. I want her to have this time to just cry if she wants, in a safe, secure, comforting place. Because that’s what Jesus does for me.
And after awhile, her eyes clear, she settles.
We find a simple wooden puzzle of animals and build it over and over again and again.
As she puts an animal in it’s place she says, “Toma culo!” (jackass) and laughs.
At the end of club, she doesn’t want to leave so she gives us all the finger, saying, “Toma esta!” (take this), again laughing to herself at her cleverness. She knows how to use big words and she knows it.
We pray and thank God for this day, for this group, for all of our friends here today. We hug, we carry her off to the car to take her home.
And inside, I’m at peace, trusting, knowing, that our prayers have been heard and answered. That this little girl received what she needed, what Jesus wanted to give her in the short hour and half that we have with her.
And we’ll do it again next week. And the week after, and the week after that. And we’ll continue. We’ll be with this little one. We’ll watch her grow, we’ll help her in school, we’ll walk beside her and keep demonstrating Christ’s love until she knows it deep down, believes it, lives it.
I’m hanging all my hopes on this and with this faith I keep moving forward.
This work is hard. Sometimes it just hits you in the gut. What you’re up against.
As we get closer and deeper with the children, it’s like peeling back layers of an onion. Finding out more and more – the depths of what is actually happening here. And it’s devastating.
“God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
Ephesians 6:10-18, The Message
I felt like a cheer-leader this morning. Walking alongside kids in the parade, cheering, snapping their photos, greeting moms, squealing about how cute their kids are.
My boys rushed ahead of me pointing out friends, “There’s so-and-so!” “Look mom, over there – it’s this and that person!”
Community events are great. It’s a chance to let children shine and show the families how much we value them and their children.
When you’re marching in a parade, it’s really special to look out in the crowd and see someone you know, smiling, giving you a thumbs up, cheering for you. Those are important things in the life of a child. Those are things that build up, that stick with, that build their self worth and view of themselves. Small things, but consistently, over time, these are things that change a life.
Today… in bits and pieces.
We make so many mistakes. All the time.
“It’s o.k. to make mistakes.” It’s what I always tell my kids.
Lord cover our mistakes. Your love covers a multitude of sins. Your love makes up for practically anything.
So many faces flashing by in the hallway after church. Smiling, brown faces, eyes lit up, happy. So many hugs. I can’t believe they’re all here! And so many with their moms, brothers, sisters, families. The church was packed. And children’s church even more so.
Moms with their hair straightened, make-up on, cute outfits, coming for the first time to hear God’s message and be a part of the church family. Wow. Just wow.
We had a pinata at our picnic and it was just too overwhelming for one special boy. He has really poor impulse control and just lost it, lashing out and fighting anyone within reach. Scott had to restrain him.
“You’re angry,’ I said. “Really, really angry.” His eyes connected with mine for a moment and I saw his body physically release a little. “You wanted to be the first one to hit the piñata, is that right? You really like piñatas.”
He nodded his head. “And now you’re so mad you want to hit everyone in the whole park!”
“Yeah!” He said.
“Can I give you a hug?” I gave him a big hug and felt him relax even more. In the meantime the piñata was broken and kids dove for candy. He wept bitterly because he missed it.
“It’s o.k. to cry,” I told him. Scott got some candy for him and he was o.k. Face red and tear stained, but at least he wasn’t raging and trying to fight the whole world single-handedly.
We laughed about it afterwards. The piñata, that is. Because it was a complete disaster! It fell from the string, split open and children dove on top of each other grabbing for candy, others sobbing.
“I’m so sorry, Leslie,” Karen said. “It was totally my fault.” I just laughed.
Because, you know, at least she tried something!
She planned some games and organized a piñata. Yeah, maybe it didn’t go totally according to plan. But it was something special. An effort made. And it’s a message that says, “You’re special to me. You’re worth my investment of time, money and effort.”
The moms in the community see that, the kids see it. They feel it. It’s powerful. These consistent messages, sent again and again over time are what will change this community. Messages of value sent in a disaster piñata!
Those are my thoughts for the day… typed in less than 10 minutes… just because.