I would like to say I overslept accidentally, but the reality is I ignored my alarm. I thought about the plane that would take me from my house in a few hours and I hit the snooze button. I stared at the wall, unmoving.
Todd whispered that it was time, and I stood, legs weak and mind racing. I went through the motions of putting on my clothes and makeup, and after a few minutes I heard footsteps coming and tried to pull myself together for them. Look brave. Act like it’s not a big deal that we’re leaving today.
“I’m scared, mommy.” Abby said as soon as she walked in the bathroom.
I turned her to face the mirror and while my hands unconsciously braided her hair, I asked what she was the most concerned about. She snapped the hair tie on her wrist, rocking side to side.
“I don’t want to see the people who live on the street.”
I steadied her head with my hands, straightening her up so I could finish the braid.
Her eyes met mine in the mirror.
“I can understand that. Is there anything else?”
She shook her head, but her shoulders stayed high and locked.
“Maybe there is, but you just don’t know how to say it. You think?”
I reached my hand out and she handed me the rubber band, nodding as tears filled her eyes.
“You’re moving, baby. Stop moving. Mommy’s trying to get it steady.” It was easier to tell her to stop moving than to admit my hands were shaking.
“Just stay still, hon.” I felt the tears, the knot in my stomach; the paralyzation that comes from fear.
I couldn’t move.
But somehow I did. Somehow we did.
All day yesterday I watched that braid as it drifted just ahead of me through airport terminals. I watched as she twisted it in circles, round and round, when we met our Compassion team, and while she slept for a few minutes on our flight, I marveled at how long it had gotten.
When she was 2, I struggled for ponytails. As soon as the sprout of hair poked its way out, I was armed with bobby pins, bows, and a wet comb.
It’s a rite of passage, I suppose.
As we finally settled into our hotel last night, unpacked, talked, and decompressed a little, it was nearly 2 am. I tucked them in with assurances of what the Lord was going to do, and I prayed while they slept. I watched her silhouette rise and fall while cars honked and the television whispered Spanish, her braid lying long across her pillow while she dreamed.
I didn’t know what to expect from today, so all I told them was that we were here to love and the rest would fall into place. Abby asked if she would have to talk to anyone and I told her she wouldn’t. I made a joke about how they wouldn’t understand her anyway and she giggled. But I wanted her to know that there was no pressure on her to have conversations or interactions that she wasn’t comfortable with, and that nobody was expecting anything from her.
She held my hand on the long bus ride over to the first Compassion project and stared out the window.
“There they are, mommy.” She whispered, never turning away from them.
I squeezed her hand.
“We’re just here to love them, babe. We aren’t going to be afraid.”
“I don’t know how to love them.” She replied.
“You will.” I kissed her head and let her watch as I pointed out the hills and the children and the colors that belied crushing circumstances.
When the bus finally stopped, I knew she would be hesitant, so I stood up like it was another day in life and walked off like I had done it a million times.
For the record, it helped me too.
The moving, I mean.
One foot, then the next. It’s the best I could do.
As we walked into the church, we heard loud cheering and saw flags waving while radiant faces welcomed us. We listened to several people speak and watched all of the little ones wander around us. I could tell she was warming up but maybe not quite ready to jump into things. A bit of time passed and a woman asked if she wanted to help hand out food to the kids. She shook her head no and looked at the ground.
Many of you don’t know this about my Abby. She is gregarious, funny, deliciously kind…but as far as anything where she would stand out and be in front of a group, she freezes. In her weekly tutorial class, her stomach stays in knots anticipating “presentation time.” When her name is called she just says, “I can’t,” and the teacher moves to the next child. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to “perform” in any way on this trip, so I just let her sit and soak it all up.
I let her be still.
She’ll know when to move.
“What do we do after this, mommy?” She asked.
“We are going to go to the home of one of these kids and meet a family.”
“Inside their house?”
“Yes, baby.” I said.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for her, and as we filed into the tiny room a few minutes later, I watched her sway from side to side. I tapped a chair on the far side of the room where we could sit together and listen.
While the woman (Lily) explained that her husband had recently been taken by police officers and wrongfully imprisoned, her son played quietly and her infant daughter slept on her lap. The translator winced as she explained that there had been an accident about a month ago, where the the little girl had been left in the care of a relative and had stepped into a pot of boiling water. As Lily peeled the sock back from her daughter’s foot, I saw the scars and tried not to gasp audibly.
Abby stared at her, eyes wide, and I wondered if this had all been a mistake.
Why did we come? We could be home, safe and sound, life humming at its normal pace.
She’s still a little girl with a little braid and a little heart.
And this is a room with a plastic tarp as a ceiling and flies swarming in the dust.
What kind of mother brings her daughter into this?
I wonder if other moms might not say the same-if it seems noble and important and they ignore the nagging sense that this might hurt their children instead of inspire them.
In an instant, I saw Lily’s eyes cloud over she cradled her daughter, and the words looped together in my mind, speaking peace to my mother’s heart.
You love yours the way she loves hers.
Let Me do the rest.
As they led us into open area in the back of the home, I watched as tiny shirts danced from the clothesline and a teacher from the center helped the boy wash his hands.
Despite the fact that my children have rarely seen a sight this desperate, even in movies, I prayed a simple prayer.
Make their eyes blind to anything but love, and make them brave enough to act on it.
Before we left Lily’s home, we took some time to pray for her.
Abby cowered behind me.
Eyes closed, I asked the Lord to intercede for this sweet woman, and to provide for her and remind her that He is present. As the team continued, I opened my eyes just long enough to see that Abby had moved. She was standing, eyes wrinkled shut in prayer, with her hand rubbing Lily’s arm. Incredulous at her courage, I watched her fingers drift up and down, tenderly, honestly…the purity of the moment startled me.
This is how love moves.
It braids, it rocks, it comforts, it mourns, it whispers through prisoner’s bars if need be…
It breathes hope and it braves runways.
It says “we” instead of “they.”
Every step we take in the direction of compassion brings us closer to the the cross, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the Gospel more clearly illustrated in my life.
Just after the prayer, Abby embraced Lily in a way that makes words choke in insufficiency.
It moves us, this kind of love.
A thousand sermons could never preach what you did today, my Abby-girl.
It isn’t an obligation, but rather a privilege. And at the risk of sounding pushy, I’ll say it anyway.
You have the opportunity to touch a life right this second.
She’s nine years old and she made love move today.