Holding a baby at the orphanage in Huehuetenango
Just a quick note...
We've been asked over and over again how we've created such a ridiculously awesome life.
We've analyzed how it happened, and it's the basis of our book on Living Deliberately.
Life never turns out the way you think it will.
Greg and I had been married less than a year when we decided to adopt. We'd been 'trying' to get pregnant, but it hadn't happened yet, so we decided, "Why wait?"
Really, it was God's doing. Kyah was meant to be a part of our family. Just after our one year anniversary we submitted our adoption papers. Four months later she was born and joined our family at only five days old.
Eighteen months later her little brother was born. And then they just kept coming.
We'd always talked about adopting again, so that Kyah wasn't the 'only one'. That was the 'plan'. But life is what happens while you're busy making plans.
There never seemed to be a chance to adopt again. The babies just kept coming. We did look into adopting in the Dominican Republic. Greg talked about doing it in Belize.
But really, I'm ready to be done. At least that's what I've been telling Greg (and God) for quite some time now (in fact, before Atlas was born).
I love Atlas. He's so much fun, and has so much love to give me. Yet there's a three year gap between he and his older sister, and this time around, I've really begun to realize how much work babies are!
Sleepless nights, countless diaper changes. Feeding, dressing, bathing - you have to do everything for them. And traveling with babies - wow! I never remembered how challenging it is.
So although Greg still makes occasional "I think we should adopt again" comments, I've kept all thoughts of such nonsense out of my head.
Sometimes I wonder if God has different plans.
On a recent trip to Xela, we drove on to Huehuetenango to visit an orphanage - Fundacion Salvacion.
I've been to orphanages before. I know what to expect. But I'm still always shocked by the stories I hear:
- Newborn babies being found in garbage dumpsters.
- Mentally challenged women being raped, resulting in two or three unwanted children.
- Prostitute mothers who drug their child so they won't wake up while she brings men home at night.
- Children beat to the point of being bloody and bruised.
- Little bellies going hungry without enough food to eat.
Comprehend for a moment what that actually means. Can you imagine anything like that happening to one of your children? It would be a life-altering tragedy.
I grew up somewhere between poor and middle class. Sometimes I felt that my life was 'tough' because funds were tight, and it seemed that we were at the 'low' end of the scale.
At times I felt deprived because we couldn't have the latest and greatest, or buy name-brand clothes. I remember one time we received a bag of hand-me-downs that had a pair of Guess Jeans just my size - except they were for boys. You could tell they were for boys, because the boys' Guess symbol had a green triangle, and the girls had red.
I REALLY wanted to have a pair of Guess Jeans, but I was too embarrassed to wear boys jeans. So I painted the triangle with red finger-nail polish. I think only a few people noticed.
That's the kind of things that consumed my thoughts - name-brand clothes, 'fitting in' and never 'being cool enough'. I wanted to be able to buy Discman's and the newest CD's. That's what my peers were concerned with. That was the world we knew. That's what mattered to me.
I didn't know how good I had it. I never experienced anything close to the stories of these kids.
Back at the orphanage in Huehue, we play with the children and hold babies.
I was holding this little girl (above), when Aaliyah (5) asked for a turn. I sat the baby on her lap and she held on tight.
After a few minutes, the baby's small, soft brown eyes looked up at me, and then around at each of the faces in the room, searching for one that was familiar. She was looking for 'mommy', the one recognizable face that you can always count on, the one 'sure thing' in the world.
All at once my heart broke with the forcible reminder that she has no mommy. I'm sure she recognizes the faces of the women who work there and care for her. But how could they ever replace 'mother' - the one person who holds you and cuddles you and kisses your 'owies' and tucks you in at night and reads you stories?
Despite what I thought I 'lacked' in coolness during my childhood, I had what counted most - a roof over my head, food to eat and a mom and dad that loved and taught me.
This sweet, innocent baby looks around in vain for that familiar face, and then she starts to cry. I pick her up and hold her close, trying in vain to comfort her. She whimpers and wails, longing for a person she doesn't even know, but instinctively craves.
My heart aches and tears well up in my eyes. My little children have me to look to everyday. Who does this little girl have?
Then powerfully the feeling comes, "I could be a mommy to a child like this. I have love to give. I could be there for a little one that otherwise would spend the rest of their life searching in vain for a face they might not find."
A frightening and soul-resonating thought.
Outside in the courtyard, I share my experience with my husband. I tell him about the pitiful plight of a baby without loving parents.
"Maybe we should adopt a baby," I say to him, but then the 'rational', 'logical' me retorts. "But I DON'T want to adopt a baby. They're so much work! And we're so busy already."
It's hard to be unselfish, to do more, to be more, to make a difference in the world. Those are no small orders. It's easy to stay comfortable and to 'take on less'.
For most of my life I lived in a little bubble, comfortable in my temperature controlled, pest-controlled, HOA regulated house in a suburbia neighborhood surrounded with people just like me. I thought about how I wanted to paint my living room, what decorations I should buy, if we could get a new car, and worried about my 'problems' - things like not having enough money to pay the mortgage or the car payments.
If I did hear about 'real' problems in the world - like starving children or sex-trafficking - I behaved like Scrooge, telling the Spirit of Christmas Present to 'cover' up Ignorance and Want. "I do not wish to see them."
The words of Tracy Kidder ring too true,
There are lots of miserable places [and situations] in the world. The way to live comfortably is to not think about them.”
That's why travel has rocked my world. It's gotten me out of my 'little corner of the earth' and has given me new images and ideas to think about. Traveling for the first time at the age of nineteen to Tijuana, Mexico actually shocked me, because I encountered poverty for the first time. I never knew there were places in the world like that. It wasn't until I began to travel with my own four children that I realized, most of the world is like that.
The world has a lot of ugliness and a lot of problems that need solving. I can't try to pretend they don't exist just because it makes me uncomfortable.
Only one of these children lives with parents who love him
I may not see the ugliness, or think about it, but it's still there. Someone's child is going hungry tonight, even if it's not yours. Some woman is being abused. Somebody's mother is sick.
Children starve. Babies are abandoned. Women are raped. Disease. Poverty. Illiteracy. Violence. This stuff really does happen.
In the words of the Spirit of Christmas Present,
Beware them, for they spell the downfall of you, and all who deny their existence.”
Travel has helped me learn to not close my eyes to the ugliness in the world, but to begin to look it squarely in the face.
Even looking at it in the face, it's still hard to 'do' something about it. And do I really want to anyway. It seems like an awfully big responsibility. And a whole lot of work. I have enough to worry about already. Like the bills. And my books. And raising my own kids. And what about my career?
But I don't have to be overwhelmed by all the 'bad' things in the world, and more importantly, of my own perceived inability (or desire) to 'do anything' about it. I may not know what to do, but at the very least, I can acknowledge that it exists.
I can open my eyes. I can give it some serious thought and allow my heart and soul to be touched by it. I can even shed a few tears.
I can't save this baby, or any other baby at this orphanage. Guatemalan law doesn't allow you to adopt a child you know. You can't make any requests (and you have to be a resident of Guatemala to adopt here).
But that doesn't mean I can't allow myself to be touched by these children and their tragic stories. I can still open my heart. I can allow myself to be 'disturbed'. Perhaps their story will influence my future decisions. Connecting with them creates a ripple effect that will influence the life of someone else, maybe a future child. I do my part by remaining open and willing to act if and when the time is right.
There's so much heartache, suffering and 'wrong' in the world that sometimes it seems too overwhelming.
But shutting our eyes to it doesn't make it go away. We can't help everyone. We can't fix everything. But we can open our eyes and our hearts and allow ourselves to be affected.
And if we wonder, "Why doesn't somebody do something about ________?' Well, you're somebody. Why don't you do it? Even if it helps just one person, it will matter to them. And maybe their children. And their children's children. It can make a difference.
Brooks Baumgartner had his perfect life planned out. He attended a prestigious university in California, graduated as Valedictorian, and had a career path all lined up.
Then he took a trip to Guatemala for spring break, and volunteered and Fundacion Salvacion. His heart was touched, "Jesus messed me up," he says.
Changing his life plans, he moved to Guatemala, and started MoreThanCompassion.org, giving everything he has to making sure these kids have a chance at life:
There's always a possibility for change. The more we allow ourselves to feel the pain and suffering of others.. the more we realize the true nature of the world we live in, and the more we see how interconnected our stories truly are. Then it is no longer about 'their' story, but about 'our' story."
We all have a contribution to make. We all have a story to tell.
How will 'our' story end? Will we adopt again? Will it be here in Guatemala? Never say never. Only God knows.
However 'our story' turns out, these children will be a part of it.
What will be your story?
This post is part of a series on Humanitarian Work:
- I’m a DESPICABLE Human Being! Face to Face with Poverty in Panajachel, Guatemala
- What’s the One ‘Change That You Want to See in the World’? : Orphanage Visit in Solola, Guatemala
PLEASE check out MoreThanCompassion.org, and get involved if you feel inspired to do so.
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