The tools were scattered between the three new dorm rooms but the ceiling fans are hung and the large mirrors are securely fastened to the wall. Two and a half year old Sarah follows me while I moved from room to room. Her job is to collect and hide my tools and torment 3-year-old Angel. Periodically I hear shrieks of laughter as the children play on the second story, gated balcony. Sometimes the laughter turns to momentary tears but the disputes are easily solved and quickly forgotten between these two children in our crisis center.
It is late afternoon and I have other work to do but as I lock the last of the tools in the storage closet I hear the words that always stop me in my tracks, “poppy poppy.” Sarah is behind me and when I turn around she is standing on her tiptoes with her arms held high. I can see the change in her countenance. There is no more interest in tools or torment she simply wants to be held.
I love this time of day in the Amazon Rain Forest. The sun is low in the sky, the leaves on our fruit trees are brilliant with color and the breeze begins to sweep away the stifling afternoon heat. I hear the parrots across the soccer field begin to dialog; an occasional squawk with a chuckle or “hola” mixed in, not so different really than Sarah and Angel. I know that in a few moments we will stand under the tree and join their conversation. Sarah will direct me there by pointing her delicate finger and repeating. “Loro, Loro,” the Spanish word for parrot.
She laughs when I pick her up and swing her around, all in one motion. Her light brown hair trails behind her in the breeze. It is much longer than it was 8 months ago when her mother knocked on our door asking for help. Our circle is complete and as I draw her close she puts her tiny hands on my face and studies her own reflection in my sunglasses. Now, comes the moment that has happened a thousand times and simple words still can't describe it. Her little arms slip around my neck and she lays her cheek on my shoulder. I know she is not down for the final count but it is coming soon. The ritual has begun. I will follow my melting heart into another world. Sarah, sleeping in my arms, will take me there.
She props her chin on my shoulder and she follows our journey as we descend the steps. I can't see her eyes but I know them well. I smile to myself. Each time she closes them, her eyelids become heavier as if she is only a few blinks away from dreamland and I am already there.
Usually we explore the grounds. She has a fascination with the fishpond and chicken coop. At any moment I expected her head to rise and her finger to point. I often answer her Spanish requests in English. She is learning two languages “Poppy, pollito, pollito.” “Yes, Sarah, lets go see the little chickens.” By the time we reached the bottom step she is silent.
The chickens still cluck, the parrots still squawk, there are motorcars droning in the distance but the two of us are far away. I start up the hill to the living room… now comes my favorite part.
The building is rustic. There is an uneven cement floor, and open beams support the rusting tin roof. We never intended to keep kids here but there were so many children with nowhere to go, so this became their refuge.
In the last year this old building has been the center of activity. Flimsy plywood panels create small rooms against one wall. There is one larger room that housed as many as five teenage girls and three babies. Bunk beds and cribs were all touching each other and personal items stacked on makeshift shelves but never one word of complaint. This place is home, and the kids who live here are experiencing the extravagant luxury of unconditional love.
Now I am looking for a comfortable seat and realize that they have all been moved to some other area of the property, likely for an impromptu gathering under a coconut tree or the front porch of the new building for a group study session or late-night girl talk. I drag a straight-back, iron-framed chair close to the fan, fumble with the switch and sit down. The dust-covered blades blur as the sound of the motor and breeze blend together in a low, steady hum. Sarah’s hair blows against my cheek, her breathing is rhythmic and the highlight of my day has begun.
The time comes and goes, like the people passing through the room. Now, I notice that the sunlight has moved across the floor, turned orange and is much lower in the sky. The daydream ends as I begin to feel the sharp pain in my back and dull ache in my legs. This straight backed, re-bar built, chair was not designed for comfort but I will stay as long as I can.
If time could stand still, now would be perfect. A sleeping child in my arms, once hungry, vulnerable and at risk, now rescued, protected, and content.... This moment is worth the pain.
There are snapshots of life that are impossible to duplicate and though there will be many more with Sarah, this is the one that is most important now. When it ends it will be a memory, like a good book with a surprise ending, or a brilliant sunset quickly fading. The pain of the steel chair is increasing and then a simple thought comes to my mind.
There was a day long ago when the creator of this world held His children with outstretched arms. He was suspended on a rustic cross of rough hewn wood, it was the defining event in history; the threshold of conflict and peace. The Universe would see clearly, once and for all, the climax of righteousness and evil.
An exhausted human race can now choose to rest in the arms that brought victory. We can now dream of another world far away. We can see the eyes of Jesus as the wind blows the hair back from His blood stained face. The significance of this event is clear to Him. Everything human tells Him to come down from that cross…. but everything divine says that this moment is worth the pain.