“Please, I’d love to see you,” she messaged after I told her we were in Mexico.
“We’ll meet you in the morning, where?”
“Meet us at the church.”
“Yes, we’ll see you and everyone in the morning.”
I wake up, it’s the day after my birthday. Andrew is already downstairs making my tea, I see the sea outside, it is silent in the house. I open the glass sliding door and feel the cool breeze on my body. I remember the experiences from the day before, the dust and the horses, the kind faced man in his shop filled with people he is feeding while he smiled and welcomed my family, the Holy Spirit entering my heart and my children’s. We aren’t far from home, but it feels worlds away and I feel calm and safe here.
Andrew reemerges up the Mexican tile stairs, taking them two by two as he leaps, steam lifting and curling off the mug to greet me, I welcome the mug in my cooled hands on the balcony, the light growing brighter off the ocean.
“Go,” I tell him. He surfs one last time while here. The boys join me in their pajamas, there’s nothing better than their warm, sleepy selves fresh from sleep, like a time machine when they were babies who needed only to have their warm bodies held. They lay in the enormous, white bed with me, and when they start buzzing with their true energy, they join me on the balcony to spot daddy.
“OH!!! THERE HE IS!!!”
Maria and I start packing up, the little 3 get dressed, but mostly play. We make our daily smoothie, take out trashes, track down shoes. We always pack with as little as possible for this exact moment.
Andrew returns, downs his smoothie, loads up bikes and our one cooler.
We drive to the church, only a little late.
The church is a mix of older white people, and Mexicans as it is a protestant church. There are booths similar to a restaurant along the sides, the children start waving, and the older ones come to hug us, we all try to be quiet through our excitement because the service had already begun. They had never met Poppy before, and everyone is trying to get a good look, touch her or hug, muffled squeals. She soaks it up, surrounded by new best friends in a new church in a language she doesn’t speak, she feels right at home.
At first, the service feels old fashioned, and I disengage. But then –wait–it’s my choice to let God in or not, to worship him or not. I do know these songs after all, from long ago. I close my eyes, I can connect with God, it’s my choice. I sing quietly, and He is present. His Spirit is here.
After the children are invited to children’s church. “We haven’t seen this church worship like this in a long time,” the woman says after, the Spirit must have met us all…
We walk to the back with all the kids, all the ones with parents, and kids without. The older girls guiding, some sassy, some kindly. Some kind eyed older white women lines up cookies as one starts speaking in Spanish about how much God loves each of these children. My children sit silent among them, not understanding, but eyeing the round off-brand oreos in yellow or brown in flimsy plastic trays.
“God loves you so much, he is always with you, he delights in you,” she is telling them. Some children are listening, some are not. I search their faces, do they know? Can they know. Some children are so hurt, so broken, that they can’t even begin to hear God’s love. I look at their faces, willing them to know their worth, but then the lesson is over, and it’s time for cookies. The children sit perfectly still in the tiny, old building, except mine who are buzzing excited. Each child thanks the ladies for the cookies and juice, they put in a VHS cassette of children singing, it’s pretty cute.
After church we can fully greet everyone. Eduardo, the orphanage director meets Poppy for the first time. Nadia invites Maria to ride on the orphanage bus, an old school bus painted white with blue trim.
“Of course,” I tell her. She and Nadia take hands, while Finley bursts into tears. All the girls surround him, “I want to go on the bus with Nadia, too!” I ask Nadia how he drives, but Xaiso interrupts rolling her eyes, “Like an old grandpa! It’s so annoying!” We walk with all the children onto the bus. The little ones sit with big ones, shy Maria is with friends talking. Finley quickly takes a seat, hopeful.
Andrew and I nod and ask Nadia to sit with him, Finley and Nadia look like they won the lottery.
We take a crying Elijah and Poppy to their car seats and strap them in. Maybe one day they will ride the orphanage bus, but not today. They cry while we pull out and drive through empty fields and hills for a full 5 minutes until they fall asleep.
When they wake up, we’re here, Los Angelitos. Eduardo is setting everyone up with an after church snack, chips and salsa.
Poppy assures us this day couldn’t improve.
With so many children, there is a birthday celebration each time we go down. There is a large cake set out, and Finley inspects it often.
Andrew is always so popular, he would shrug if someone asked him why, or even say, “I’m not,” but the truth is he is because he says yes to them. He sees them. When they reach to him, he reaches back. He tells them “Yes,” with his time, his smile, his kindness. But he never knows its.
“Yep, still good guys…don’t worry, the cake is still here…”
Elijah bumps his eye brow. A motherless girl wraps some ice first in a plastic bag, to protect him from wetness, then in a clothe to protect him from the cold.
Silently he holds his chin gently in her hand and holds the ice to his face, humbly, without hurry to rejoin the games. All without a word she nurtures him and loves his pain away.
It’s Xaiso who is asked to make lunch. She is 21 and grew up here. She rolls her eyes and slams her phone away and stuffs it into her tight jeans and complains while laying out lunch meat. She has been sassy since she was 9. She used to run her fingers along her ears and tell me she wants piercings all the way up.
“What, you hate making lunch?” I ask her, spreading mayo with her.
“Uggh, it’s just annoying, why didn’t he ask someone else?”
“You know,” I say quietly, while looking at the sandwiches, “You know he loves you,” I tell her of the man who is the father to them all.
Her fortress softens, and more gently, “I know…” a hint of kindness.
Everyone loves him, he is so gentle and kind, his heart broken at times as some of the girls grow with a variety of choices as young adults. But he never waivers as he cares for them all.
Finley offers to pass out lunch to everyone.
The mom in me wants to fill them with veggies and fruit, so I raid the cooler in our car. The children don’t hide their disinterest in them.
“It’s a race, who can eat them the fastest.”
And they’re gone
On the drive to the orphanage I had felt the prompting of the Spirit to speak to someone, not a command, but a filling, and I wondered who was meant to hear it. I had assumed it would be Nadia or Xaiso, my long time girls on the verge of adulthood, an important time. Girls circle around me in the kitchen, I prod them about boyfriends and schools and they explode in giggles. I start speaking truth, time is short I tell myself, they need to know how important they are, their intrinsic value, but it’s not how I expect. Nadia, knows, so she nods politely, Xaiso has no interest and averts her eyes before hopping on her phone to argue with a boy and yelling at him, “MI COLA!” They then they are both up and start making tea, my words hang in the air, “Oh well,” I think.
But, someone, silent is still there at the table. She has been the whole time. She had been silent all day, sort of in the shadows, even hiding her face behind her hair, safe and hidden with the shadows she made. She smiles at me, a smile I hadn’t seen until now. I smile back.
I ask her about her heart, she shrugs, confused.
We talk and she begins to cry. I do too. Her tears surprise her, she spends most of her time ignoring or coping, “That pain is real,” I tell her. “It’s something never meant for you.”
She had always thought she had deserved it.