Compassion International, Peru 2012

Love Like This

Todd will be the first to tell you I’m a terrible unpacker.

I traveled a lot this Fall, and more often than not, my suitcase sat by my bed untouched until I was preparing to leave again. I would take out a few things and put a few more in, but the suitcase was never empty in between.

As a child I used to watch my father fold his business clothes neatly, one shirt on another, breathing in the smell of his aftershave as the zipper wound around the edges. While I hated the fact that he was leaving, I loved the way it was packed. It was so organized and simple. It narrowed a complicated life into sections and pockets, and it was so manageable that way.

There’s something to be said about a freshly packed suitcase.

But there’s always the mess of coming home. Trying to make your life fit back on the hangers and realizing it isn’t as easy as reaching in and tucking away. There’s washing and ironing and folding to be done, and the closet already seems full. It’s so much work to make it all right again, and it makes me imagine life looking like it did a few days ago.

It’ll never be the same, I think.

I’m tempted to leave it alone and let the memories steep a little longer.


I didn’t know how I reached for her until I saw the photographs, and my heart crumpled at the shape of my hand on her head. I’m cupping her face as I would any of my own children, but I’ve only known her for an instant.

Who can explain a love like this?

I hold a backpack we brought for her, and tell her I can’t wait to spend time with her. We spend hours at her school and I follow the backpack left and right, down the corridors and stairs that know her fingers and feet.

We learn that we will get to see her house today, and I feel every shade of emotion possible. My family sponsors many children through Compassion, but I have never seen their beds and their tables. While I am aware that it will affect me emotionally, I can’t prepare myself for the moment she points and smiles, saying “Here it is!” while Abby and Ellie follow her in.

I watch the backpack in the doorway and I take a minute to breathe before I go in.

I finally do, and find a place on a couch in the main room, smiling as she plays with the girls and soaking in the reality of her world. Before I can take it all in, she sits beside me and takes the backpack off. She points to the zipper and I remember that we told her we would open it when we got to her house.

I nod and we all watch as she pulls out the crayons, the coloring books, the slinky, and all the other art supplies and fun things we packed away late one night in Nashville. Her face lights up as she spots the nail polish and before I know it, the three girls have settled at the table and are giggling and painting like it’s any other day with any other friend.

Then the coloring comes out and they relocate to just outside the front door as I learn from her brothers what life looks like here. It’s hard to hear the details, but I am grateful to know what she’s up against. Eventually it is time for us to leave and the girls come back in so we can say goodbye to her family. Fernanda sits on my lap and I reach to zip her backpack, fighting tears as I realize she has put all of the cellophane, empty boxes, and meaningless tags inside with the rest of it.

Then again, who am I to presume I know trash from treasure? 

I tell her I am afraid to fly. I tell her that I do it because I know God has a plan for my life and I want to be obedient to His calling. I tell her that He has a plan for her life too, and I don’t want her to be afraid. My fingers unclasp a necklace Todd gave me to encourage me in a difficult season, and I slip the chain around her neck. I tell her what it says (“I am not afraid…I was born to do this” {Joan of Arc}), and I see her expression change for a moment before she buries her head in my chest and hugs me. It’s the first unprompted hug we’ve shared, and I get lost in it.

It’s real.” She whispers, and the translator gives me her words.

She tucks it under her shirt and I pray over her.

We will be taking her to the zoo the following day, so we know it’s a short goodbye. Still, as we board the bus and look out the windows, she is watching us intently. As the motor starts, the girls wave and we see her reach in her jacket as we pull away.

She pulls out the necklace, holds it up like an unspoken promise, and then hides it deep again while we drift out of eyesight.

Although I may never find the words to describe this moment (I can’t imagine I will), something in me shifted.

Try as I might to empty this suitcase, I know one thing for certain.

It will never be the same.


She wears her backpack to the zoo the following day, and I smile as she sorts through it all. She has obviously taken everything out and played with it, but has taken care to put every last bit back inside.

An airplane flies over and she points to it. I tell her that I will be riding on one that night and her face drops. She asks if I can stay for one more day and I tell her I wish I could. I tell her I will write and pray and God willing, I will see her again. She smiles at that and asks “How?” I tell her God can do anything, and she nods like she believes me.

When it’s time to say goodbye, I try not to cry. I do pretty well until I tell her not to forget to write us and she lifts her pinky in the air, smiling. I had taught her about “pinky promises” during lunch and apparently she wanted me to know she took it seriously.

We must have hugged and said goodbye twenty times or more, until finally her backpack was so far in the distance that it was just a speck of pink to my eye.

It was so arranged when we came, I think. So orderly and neat.

It’s better this way, though…

As the days pass, I think of Fernanda and her fingers smoothing her sweater over her new necklace while she grinned like a sweet little Cheshire cat.

She loved the necklace, but not because it was something she could show off.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Oftentimes we share what should be sacred, and shout what was more beautiful in the silence.

The deepest, most valuable moments of this life are not given to us to be given away again.

We tell our stories, we share our hearts, we live passionately and openly with the community the Lord gives us-absolutely.

But every now and then, we recognize that He has given us a moment, a word, a glimpse of Himself, an unspoken promise that is far too wonderful to try and explain.

So we smile, smooth our sweaters, and honor Him, fingers tracing the outline of grace.


His fingers are delicate and swift, clasping the ends together while I read the words through tears.

Don’t be afraid, love. You were born to do this…

“It’s real,” I whisper, pressing into Him with gratitude.

It will never be the same.

He knows I don’t feel worthy of the gift, and He reminds me gently that I am no position to recognize trash from treasure.

His fingers cup around my face, and I feel deeply known despite every reason I shouldn’t.

It’s home, this place so far away…

Who can explain a love like this?

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