Monday, July 16, 2012

a day in the life

We started this morning by taking two of the children from Lactantes outside to try to practice using straws, in hopes of gaining more muscle control and, ultimately, the ability to consume meals through a straw to minimize choking and messiness. Tatiana was more concerned with taking her arm brace off, and Jenny seemed overwhelmed by the whole idea, so we decided to give those two little ones a break. We brought out Reina next, and she was a bundle of joy! She responded to the straw being in her mouth really well, though she didn’t suck on it yet, but with practice, we think she might be able to!

Next came one of our favorite times, feeding the children in Lactantes. One of the niñeras gave me a spoon and a bowl and asked me to feed Sonia. I quickly realized that the spoon was at least ten times too big for her little mouth, but I tried it anyway, not wanting to offend the niñera for her choice in spoon size. The poor girl was making hardly any progress. A few minutes into feeding, the same niñera walked over to me laughing, realizing the problem, and had a spoon much more fit for Sonia’s mouth.

So we continued feeding, and then I noticed something big, dark, and fast out of the corner of my eye. That is never a good sign. The following events happened something like this:

Me: “Eeeee! Melissa!” I pointed behind her.
Melissa: something along the lines of “Oh my gosh!” as she runs in the opposite direction, since it was coming right for her.
Niñera : “Que paso?!” (What happened?)
Melissa: “Una cuca!” (A cockroach)

No more words came after that. Just me, Melissa, and two niñeras dancing around as this giant cockroach weaved in and out underneath the kids’ wheelchairs. The most wonderful part was the children laughing, as they were just simply enjoying their lunch, and all of a sudden the people feeding them were dancing around with their bowls of food still in hand.

The only time a cockroach has ever been a fun experience. :)

Around 1:30, 40 of us piled into two vans to head to the local stadium. There were 19 of us in our un-air conditioned van. Thank Jesus for windows and fast drivers.

We arrived at the stadium and I was so reminded of being at the Special Olympics. The only thing missing was a crowd of 100 Camp Barnabas staffers going crazy in the stands, cheering them on. There was ball throwing for those in wheelchairs, a little jumping obstacle course for some of the others, and down at the other end was the super intense stuff for the people in wheelchairs with extremely buff arms.

I spent the afternoon with the obstacle course group, and we started off with warm-ups. I spent this time coaxing Xiomara on my left to participate as she found anything and everything to stall time until she only had to do the last 2 or 3 in a set of 10, and on my right I was preventing Anita from falling into the little concrete ditch behind us as she was having too much fun laying on her back and whipping her legs over her head.

(Bear with me. I didn't feel like hauling my big camera to the stadium, so today's pictures were taken on my phone).

Warm-up stretches

Obstacle Course

Then we got to run.  I was blessed to be Anita’s running partner. Seriously. Blessed. I stinking love that girl. That was the most fun lap I have ever ran in my entire life. She refused to take her backpack off (or should I say frontpack, as she insisted on carrying it on the front), and she held my hand screaming and laughing the whole way. Any time she stopped, I threw my arms up in cheering motion saying “Puedes hacerlo!” (You can do it). She immediately picked right back up with a big grin on her face.

We left around 4, and I had the seat on the ride home that faced backward, looking over all 19 sweaty, hot, exhausted bodies that still mustered up the energy to sing out the back window (Carmencita), whistle and blow kisses to Melissa and random pedestrians (Memo), and make eye contact with me all the way from the back row and immediately begin dancing (Xiomara).

How am I ever going to leave this place?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

humbled. overjoyed. in love.

I was serious when I asked the Lord to humble me this summer. He took it seriously too.

There have been countless moments where all I can do is laugh. Laugh at the humor of the situations the Lord brings me to. Laugh at the words I say incorrectly. Laugh at my overall failure to understand someone speaking to me in Spanish, and the looks on their faces when they realize I don’t speak Spanish—bless their hearts.

The other week, a sweet woman approached me at the grocery store. She was talking to me in Spanish, and though I typically can follow a conversation pretty well, she was talking so fast that I am confident I looked like a deer in headlights with a big cheesy smile, not having a clue what she was saying. I could tell she was talking about my skirt, but I also could tell that she was telling me something important and not just complimenting it. Before I could say anything, she walked away with a smile, so I said “gracias” and smiled back.

Later on, I told Melissa and her aunt about this incident and how I didn’t know what this woman was trying to tell me. Her aunt then told me that she knew, and that the lady was trying to tell me that my purse pulled up my skirt in the back when I walked, revealing a lot more than I ever intended.

That’s one way to reinforce my need to practice Spanish.

The residents don’t seem to mind my broken Spanish. Most nights I spend outside the residents’ dormitories, where some of the older ones stay up later than the rest and hang out. I was talking to a big group the other night, and when I couldn’t think of the word I wanted to say, I said “Ah, mi espanol es no bueno” and laughed. Geovanny, the handsome and bright young man who is unable to speak, threw his arms up, smiled, and pulled me in for a hug. This was his way of acknowledging the truth in that statement, but letting me know he didn’t mind.

I’m falling in love with these beautiful people more and more each day. I’m falling in love with their free spirits and their hearts too big for their little bodies to contain. I’m falling in love with their ability to love so unconditionally. I’m falling in love with their joy that floods out of every ounce of their being, and their ability to find that joy so easily. There is so much to be admired in these children of God, so much that I can only hope rubs off onto me after spending so much time with them this summer.

I wish I could tell you everything about every resident. I want to tell you about Xiomara's tremendous belly laugh when you dramatically pretend that something minor hurt terribly (i.e. bumping heads during a hug). I want to tell you about Vladimir, the boy with autism who runs laps in the same grassy area all day every day, and without being asked, stops running to voluntarily push residents in wheelchairs to lunch, even though he doesn't eat with everyone else.  I want to tell you about Midgeli, and the way she runs to you yelling "mami!", and rarely lets you walk away without a surprise pinch on the butt. I want to tell you about Anita, and my overwhelming mix of anxiety and joy as she comes around, not knowing when she will next give a hug so big that takes us both to the ground (I'm almost out of fingers to keep track of how many times this has happened), but I adore her too much to not want to spend time with her anytime she is around. I want to tell you about every single person out here. My heart is yearning for all of my family and friends to get to meet these people who are stealing my heart, one day at a time.

I. Am. In. Love.

The next sequence of pictures tells a story that was too sweet to not share. Anita was sitting on the bench on a morning that there was a party being thrown, and she turned around to find Melissa and me behind her. Her smile tripled in size and she scooted her way off the bench to come dance with us, beaming and practically screaming with excitement the whole way through.

This is Bri, a special education teacher from Illinois who has been a part of the Hogar family for several years. She was only with us for a few short weeks, but it was so sweet to see how much the residents lit up when they saw her. 

Nahum brings out the best in us ;) 

Humbled. Overjoyed. In love. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

treasures in plastic bags

This morning I sat with Vilma, a 53-year old woman with Down syndrome. She had been sitting alone, and welcomed my presence with a smile and a tiny giggle as she pat the concrete ledge beside her, saving a spot for me. She is non-verbal, but does not lack any means of expression. She pointed to a plastic bag sitting by her feet, cuing me to look inside. As I started to peek inside, her smile doubled in size, as she was clearly excited to show me the contents in the bag. What I found is not what I expected. Inside another plastic bag, wrapped in even more plastic was a bar of soap. I smelled it, and she rubbed her hands together as if she were washing her hands, and then clapped and laughed because she was so proud of her bar of soap. She then wanted me to keep looking, to which I found more miscellaneous, mostly dysfunctional objects. But they were her treasures.  I expressed my deep, intense interest in her bar of soap and other treasures, for this woman portrayed a strong sense of confidence that she needed to hold onto.

This was not the first plastic bag of knick knacks I’ve seen around the orphanage. Another girl, Margoth, carries a bag almost identical to Vilma’s. Both are plastic, ripping on the sides, and full of unrelated objects—ripped up newspapers, broken and worn out make-up bags, and empty water bottles. Margoth carries her bag around as if it is her child, never letting it out of her sight or hands. Many afternoons, I find Margoth sitting in a chair outside her dormitory, taking objects in and out of her bag with no apparent motive. At first thought, I wondered what it was about these bags that was so special. They seemed so insignificant. Then it clicked. The contents in those bags are really the only things they can claim as theirs in life. They share clothes with others. They share rooms with 4-5 other girls. They share shoes, bedding, most everything. Nothing they have here is truly “theirs”, so when they receive something that is, they cherish that item. And therefore, it is significant. It is significant and meaningful to them and there needs to be no other reason than those as to why those bags are so precious.

The Lord gave me a beautiful analogy (those who know me know I’m a sucker for analogies, and I love when the Lord gives me a new one to dwell on). We are nothing but the plastic bags. Often times we are broken, falling apart, and worn out (sometimes even dysfunctional :)). But the Lord holds us like a child. He never loses sight of us. He treasures us. He wants to show others the beauty He sees in us, and He never grows tired of displaying His prized creation. We belong to Him, just as these plastic bags belong to these women.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

dancing with grace

I keep pinching myself, just to make sure this is real life, just to make sure I'm actually here.

I am.

This country is beautiful. Absolutely, take your breath away, is this real life kind of beautiful.

I'm living in the volunteer dormitory on the orphanage grounds, which has 12 different rooms for volunteers. Seeing as I'm the only volunteer living here, I had several options. They narrowed down to these two choices: I could either have a bigger bed with the view of a stone wall, or I could have a little twin size bed in a room that had more bugs than the rest, but had a view of the mountains and volcanoes. Naturally, I chose the view.

There's even sweet little truths posted on my door already.
Oh, did I mention that I'm blessed with the most wonderful partner?! You'd never know we met for the first time just last week. Her name is Melissa, and I don't know where I'd be without her! Literally. I'd probably be lost wandering the streets of San Salvador. She is my translator when I don't know what's being said and a girl who loves and adores these residents just as much as I do. I couldn't ask for a better partner!  This is her and one of the sweet girls we get to work with this summer.

Though we will soon start teaching afternoon classes, we have been spending our days getting a feel for things and building relationships with the residents. We have a lot of amazing people to get to know, and let me tell you, the process of getting to know them has been incredible.

They are beautiful. Perfect.

We have spent a lot of our time feeding children in the Lactantes, which is the area in which many of the younger residents live. They are all in wheelchairs, non-verbal, and the most beautiful children I have ever laid eyes on. Feeding doesn't sound like much of a big deal, but because of their physical condition, eating is a struggle. They are on a soft food diet (each meal has the consistency of cream of wheat), and it often takes several hours just to feed the children one meal. We have learned how sweet of a bonding time it is to feed them. They will laugh for no apparent reason, and laugh some more, cry a little bit, but nothing a little tender loving care can't fix, and then laugh again. 

I am blessed to work with such beautiful children of the Lord. I say children, but that includes the adults as well. They are just as beautiful and perfect...and have some spunky, hilarious personalities!

One of my favorite times of the day is mornings when we get to spend time at the Rancho, where the residents hang out and we get to spend time with them individually or in small groups. This morning, I learned the key to Steven's heart: bubbles and beads. Lucky for me, I had both.

Today was the 25th anniversary of the Hogar being founded, so needless to say, we celebrated! And boy, did they dance. They danced their little hearts out.

With special musical appearances by Nahum and Memo (seriously, these boys had some mad skills)

Somebody danced a little too hard.

The girls out here have some crazy jewelry making skills, and we have had a blast making necklaces and bracelets in the afternoons. 

And the rest of my time has been spent hanging out with the beautiful people of the Hogar. 

The children (and adults) here make it worth every single language challenge I've faced. I'm blessed to spend my summer with these children God made so stinking perfectly. Seriously, nothing beats waking up in the morning and going to sit in the sun having conversations through communication books with Geovanny and Alonso, just a few of the older boys who are non-verbal yet brilliant, or spending hours feeding children in the Lactantes who are also non-verbal, yet find ways to laugh throughout the whole thing. It's worth every single moment, even when I end up with food on my face as a result of a tremendous giggle from a child, or say the wrong word to one of the older residents, because all of those situations make them laugh and those are irreplaceable moments that I cherish so much.

"The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and the lilies of the field -- simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest