The Guys

Photos taken 12/26/11


Dad and Stevy returned to the USA yesterday


but we all had a wonderful time


while they were here!

~Natalia

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The Sala

The sun had long since disappeared, and with the dark had come the cold. The Casa Hogar is a long, outdoor hallway, with three bedrooms, a sala, a kitchen and a bathroom lining the neat stretch of white tile. Open-air hallway because it’s Mexico. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get chilly.

Earlier in the evening, my family had been at the Casa Hogar with me. We had enjoyed cookies and frosting with the kids, and then spent some time coloring, talking, and hanging out.

But it was night now, and my mother, father, sisters, and brother had scrambled into the little silver car and driven back to Manuel and Tere’s house. Back to dinner. Back to bath. Back to bed.

I had chosen to stay for a bit.

I hurried up the dark hall, stepping carefully and quickly across the tiled floor; months spent at the Casa Hogar have taught me that worn-out TOMS and slick tile do not a great match make. I slipped into the now-dark kitchen and felt a tinge of fear at being alone in the pitch-black room. I felt along the wall, the faint light of the moon shining through the window, and flicked the light on. The room instantly illuminated in flat yellow light, I grabbed a new roll of toilet paper, flipped the light back off, and scurried back down the hall to the two-stall bathroom.

Minutes later, and the toilet paper back where it belongs, I pushed my hands deeper into my jacket pockets and ran yet further down the hallway. Past Room 1, where 12 of the older girls sleep. Past Room 2, where I once spent a Sunday afternoon, and stopped in front of the Sala.

I tapped on the door, both a warning to those who I knew were standing on the other side of the brown door, as well as a request; I’m coming in. May I come in? I clicked the door open and gently pushed. In the dimly lit room, I could barely make out the forms of children and teens moving out of the way.

I slipped through the barely open door, whispering thanks to the young ones who had moved, patting a head, a cheek, as I squeezed into the room.

The sala, filled as it was with more than 40 people, was toasty warm, and I shivered as I stepped inside, as if shaking off the cold that lurked on the other side of the door. Couches line the sala, with an open space in the middle, and the TV in front of the room. As light from the TV flashed across the room, I stepped carefully across tan tiled floor. Around a pile of young boys wrapped comfortably in their blankets, over the sleeping form of another young child.

Pressed against the back of the room, tucked in between a blue love seat and a little wooden bench, sat a fat brown couch. Three of the women who work at the Casa Hogar, women who care for and love the children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, women who I both respect and love, sat cozily on the brown couch. Stepping around one last child, I arrived at the brown couch and settled into my spot between the women. A green fleece blanket lay across the three other couch occupants, and I pulled the thick fabric back up around me and nestled deeper into the cozy warmth of the couch.

The Christmas tree flashed colored lights in the corner, children and adolescents across the room breathed, slept, and watched the movie. Whispered comments could occasionally be heard across the room, as we laughed and sighed, smiled and cried along with the movie. It was warm and comfortable there in the sala, surrounded by loved ones both young and old, and it was a wonderful Christmas night.

~Natalia

What I Know it Should Be

Sometime late this afternoon, as the setting sun spewed orange and pink streaks over the landscape, I found myself squeezed comfortably into the back of the car with the little ones, my mother, and Kenia. Kenia had recently arrived back from work, and had spent the bus ride reading Watchman Nee’s Character of God’s Workman.

In between the usual banter and laughter that often characterizes our friendship, I paused to ask what the book was about. She glanced out the car window for a second, where yellow dust swirled up and down the street, then, looking back at me, summarized the book, up to where she had read.

I was surprised by the depth to which she had captured the message of the book, as well as her ability to reiterate what she had read, and I felt a tinge of guilt, as well. While there’s nothing wrong with re-reading the Hunger Games over break, somehow it’s not quite as soul-filling as anything with the words “character” and “God” in the title.

When someone talks to us, there are three things that we need to do, Kenia said as we bumped over the dry dirt road. We need to listen to what they are saying, listen to what they are telling us, and listen to what their spirit is telling us.

She had barely gotten to the second step when I my heart sank a little bit; I can honestly claim that I listen to people. If I want to hear and understand, especially here where the only English Speakers I encounter are my family, I need to listen. So I do. But do I listen to what they are telling me? Am I actually listening?

Debatable.

The last instruction is to listen to what their spirit is saying, listen to what the person on the other end of the conversation is communicating without using words. As soon as I heard this, I knew that I didn’t do it, at least, not nearly as often as I should.

The instructions were not, “do these things when you really love a person and when you want to show them respect”. But rather, do these things.

Many of you who have been following Lead Me Where may remember when I reevaluated how I see and interact with the people around me. Sparked mainly by the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I ripped apart my interactions with those around me, and spent weeks obsessing over infusing my conversations with love and respect. I wanted each person that I spoke with, each person that I shared words and time with, to feel the love of Christ simply in the way I looked at them, the way I listened to them.

And to be honest, that desire has slipped to the back of my mind as of late. I have been distracted by school, work, Mexico, life, and I believe that it’s taken away from my interactions. I don’t believe that all my conversations, all the words I have shared in the past month or two have been for naught, but I don’t think they have been all that they could have been.

Kenia’s reading was a bit of a reminder for me. Maybe even a wake up call. In the hours since our conversation, as I thought more and more about how I am to listen, a feeling of purpose began stirring in me. I liked having the purpose of showing love. In the weeks and months that I strived so hard, sometimes even too hard, to ooze the love of Christ to everyone I met, I knew what I was working towards.

I’ve missed that lately. I can’t help but feel a little bit like many of my daily interactions have shriveled into meaninglessness. What is the person on the other end getting from this? Are we filling time and space with nothing? Or are we going somewhere?

Are the words that I say, is the way that I listen, getting us somewhere at all?

Because I believe that it should.

I’m thankful that Kenia’s reading Watchman Nee’s book, and that God lead her to share just the bit that I needed to hear. I’m saddened that I have allowed myself to become distracted from what interacting- listening- really should be, but I’m becoming increasingly motivated to bring it back to what I know it should be.

God help me.

~Natalia

Merry Christmas!

We hope you had a wonderful day celebrating Jesus Christ’s incarnation! May you continue to celebrate Him over the next 364 days, as well!

~Natalia and family

I Love These Faces

…and the hearts that go with them.

~Natalia

Right?

I suppose I’m in one of those little phases wherein I have yet to allow the life that swirling around me to fully sink in. I’m scampering from event to project to conversation, and my mind is not quite able to capture everything, untangle it, and absorb it.

I know somewhere in my head that I’m supposed to properly process and comprehend what is going on in and around me, but sometimes, deep in my heart, I doubt that this is true.

Maybe I don’t actually need to be able to “get” myself and the world before I step out to live another day, another hour, another experience.

But in the end, it always works such that I need to step back, to slow down, to stretch out the thoughts, words, and emotions that fill my mind and heart and make sense of them.

Right?

~Natalia

Church Night

I arrived at church this evening shortly after the service started, and slipped into the tiled santuary as the congregation stood to sing a hymn. I approached the five rows that the Casa Hogar occupies and catching her eye, motioned to Hermana Deysi.

Where do I sit?

Sit here, she indicated the far end of her pew, so you can help me with the little ones. I nodded and she leaned back so that I could scoot into my place. Past Enrique, past little Giovani and past Beatriz, her hair tied neatly with a blue bow. I settled into the space between Luis, acknowledged my presence with a smile, and Samanta, who patted my hand with her little one.

From where I sat in the back row, I could see the backs of forty dark-haired heads. Johana with her hair down, tamed only by a headband balanced atop her jet black hair. In between dressing and pony-tailing the little ones, Rubi had found time to pull her short locks into a tight bun on the side of her head, graced with a black bow. The row just in front of me was occupied by young boys, packed shoulder to shoulder, their gelled hair glinting in the fading evening light.

Sitting on either side of me, my seven-year-old charges behaved marvelously; standing and sitting, praying and singing as the service progressed. After several rounds of stand, sing a hymn, sit, stand, repeat, we opened our Bibles and the pastor lead the congregation in reading the evening’s passage. The passage read and the prayer said, we sunk once again onto the pews, silence settling over the huge room as the pastor prepared to speak.

The sermon was a rare bilingual sermon, with a visiting pastor preaching in English and Pastor Ramos translating into Spanish. As the pastor mentioned various passages throughout the message, Luis leaned towards me, Can I look for them? he asked, extending his small, dark hand for my blue Bible. I nodded and handed him the book, which he accepted happily and began to flip through, studying the page titles in his quest for 2 Chronicles.

Minutes later, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Glancing down at Samanta, I had to supress a smile as her little head nodded back and forth in the beginning stages of sleep. Her eyes were closed but every time her head fell forward, she would pop back up, her eyes momentarily opening, startled awake by her own sleep.

For a moment, I let her continue to sway back and forth, while I considered how best to handle the situation. Decided, I reached over and laid her head gently against the back of the pew.

Less than a minute later, I felt something bump my arm. I looked down to see the girl’s head, her cropped hair slightly tousled, resting against my arm. This time I could not supress my smile, as she heaved a sleepy sigh and sunk a little deeper into her seat and against my arm.

The rest of the sermon passed without incident, and as the message came to a close, the congregation rose to sing a closing hymn. As I eased her head off my arm, Samanta’s eyes fluttered open. She nodded as I motioned for her to stand, and obediently, although sleepily, rose to her feet. Luis, my Bible set gently on the pew next to him, stood as well, singing boisterously along with the choir director.

A hour later, back at the Casa Hogar, it was time for me to leave. My brother and father had arrived, and greetings and high fives, hugs and kisses had been exchanged. My mother and I, along with a handful of the older girls, had served dinner, and the children were trickling out of the dining room and into their bedrooms, to change, to bed, to sleep.

As I skidded down the open-air hallway, yelling good-byes into bedrooms and kissing cheeks as I passed, Samanta came bolting out. Clad in pajamas, her toothbrush in hand, the little one was on a mission for the bathroom. Adios, I said, wrapping one arm around her in a quick hug before sending her on her way. But she stopped, and turned to face me, her unusually light eyes reflecting the light from the bulbs that line the hallway. She motioned for me to lean down, which I did, bending until we were eye to eye. She grinned, revealing a mix of adult teeth and baby teeth, and wrapped her arms around my neck, her little arms squeezing tightly.

Moments later, she let go, but not before turning to kiss me on the cheek. We said goodbye again, and then she skipped off to scrub her little teeth, and I continued down the hall, laughing as girls yelled their goodbyes through the screened windows and young boys jumped out of their bedrooms to say goodnight.

I always enjoy church nights here in Mexico, and tonight was no exception.

See you tomorrow, Casa Hogar.

~Natalia

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