guat's up | the final installment

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I have thought long and hard about how to end this series. It’s been three years since I went to Guatemala and after my trip, I began to write about it. It’s been a long journey of writing (partially because writing isn’t my strong suit and the last few years have been full of other adventures.) But I felt like this story needed an ending, as all good stories do. I’ve written so many parts over the years that I think you all deserve how the story ends, how my trip ended. I need to write that for myself, for closure. Because believe it or not, three years later, I still don’t really have closure for that trip. It changed my life and I’m still not over it… in the best way possible. 

The final weeks of our time in Guatemala were bittersweet. I had never been away from my family for more than a week before I went and I was missing them like crazy. However, the kids at the orphanage had stolen my heart, they were a piece of me. Some days, my love for them overwhelmed me and I had to sit down to recover myself. I had never felt this way about anyone outside of my family. My heart was pulled towards them and their stories. 

I also had (and have!) such a love for the staff of Casa Bernabé. These people, day in and day out, sacrificed themselves and loved these children with their entire selves. I’ve never met such kind, others focused souls. They are all talented, energetic, wonderful human beings. My Spanish was improving as the days went on and I had broken conversations with a few of the adults throughout these last weeks. 

With about a week and a half left, Taylor (my friend who worked with me in the toddler house) and I were given the task of watching the kids while the staff had a meeting in the main building. It was the two of us, watching fourteen kids, for a few hours. I could say, “What could go wrong?” but I think that would give away where this story is going. ;) You have to understand something about these kids, they are great kids. They are ages 2-5 so yes, they have temper tantrums. They get upset, and fall down on the ground. They don’t like being told what to do sometimes. But for the most part, they are obedient children. That ALL went out the window when Taylor and I were in charge. Bedtime? Nightmare. Forget about it. After about 2 hours of trying to keep them in bed, we had them all sitting in the hallway in “timeout.” They were in timeout until the staff came out of their meeting. Both of us felt horrible, we were exhausted from disciplining fourteen kids all night and listening to them disobey. If we’re being honest, I said a few things I know I didn’t mean and I regret. I felt discouraged, this is one of the last things these kids will remember about me? A few angry words said in the heat of the moment and me sticking them in timeout for disobedience? GREAT. 

After their house parents came back and everyone was worn out from resisting authority for so long, they finally settled down. Taylor was with the girls, I was with the boys. I was saying goodnight to each one, rubbing their backs and giving them goodnight hugs, and it hit me. I love these kids. I just watched them be disobedient for two. straight. hours. and when I look into their sleepy eyes, all I feel is love for them. My heart beats out of my chest because I’ve never felt a bigger love. I remember my thought being, in those moments, “How much more must God love me?” When I was at my literal worst, headed for hell, God’s heart was beating for me. He was intent on buying my back so that I could be close to Him. What a picture of His beautiful love. 

Below are some photos of what I like to call, “When 35 kids are bored and it’s hot outside!” A homemade slip n’ slide turned muddy/soapy hill. It was amazingly fun and many muddy water fights were to be had. I laugh when I think about this because the kids in the toddler house joined the party a little later. They started out by watching their friends longingly, glancing back at me every so often as if to say, “Pleeeeease can we play with them?” I finally gave in when I realized I wasn’t going to win this one. We all ended up winning in the end, even though clean up time was crazy. :) 

The second to last day that my team was in Guatemala, we (along with the staff and another team) took the entire orphanage to a water park. There was a team from the United States that was closely connected to the orphanage and every year, they gave this special treat to the kids. Is it overwhelming to take 150 kids to a water park? Yes. But I’ve never had more fun. Imagine 150 children screaming, laughing, splashing, swimming, and having the time of their lives? I can’t think of anything more enjoyable to observe. 

I haven’t told you about the most special part about my entire summer yet, probably because I haven’t been able to find words to properly express how I feel about it. There was a little boy in my house, we’ll call him A, and he was three years old. He was the sweetest child I have ever met and reminded me of my brother back home which I think is why I connected so deeply with him. He followed me around, sat next to me at lunch, always sat on my lap during movies, and called me, “Eyyie” because double L’s are pronounced as a “Y” sound in Spanish. It was the most precious thing.

The Last Night. It deserves to be capitalized because it is the most memorable night of our trip for me (right after Disobedient Kids Night. ;)). We had been telling the kids we were leaving all week, preparing them, and ourselves, for the imminent departure. It had been sad all week, but it hit us all that last night. We were saying our last goodbyes, it was strangely quiet in the boys room that night. I said goodnight and I love you to each of the boys, one at a time. As I was about to leave the room, I heard a soft whimpering coming from A’s bed. My heart sank because I knew what he was crying about. I went over to him and said in Spanish, “Do you not want me to leave?” He shook his head and said, “No.” I lost it, I really did. I started to cry and I told him I loved him so much, God loved him, and I would never forget him. I gave him a hug and left the room. The house mom, Amanda, met me in the hallway with a hug and said, “It’s never easy.” I cried into her shoulder. 

I’ve never forgotten, and I won’t ever forget, their smiling faces, big hearts, and amazing energy. I was pushed out of my comfort zone to places I didn’t even know I could go. My heart grew fifteen sizes that summer out of pure love. I guess that's how God works. When we step out in faith and do what He's called us to do, He changes us. It's not like He can’t work in our hometowns, of course He does. I think it's special though, when we go out of our comfort zone and follow Him and only have Him to lean on. When we are without familiarity, we only have Him.

That's what I learned here in Guatemala. I have God always. In the good, the bad, the horrible, the uncomfortable, the ease, He's there. He's always carrying me and giving me strength for the next step even if I'm not thinking about Him. 

Thank you for following along with my story. This is a deeply important time in my life, one that changed me from the inside out. It’s a “core memory” for me, the summer after I graduated high-school. Inviting you all to experience this story with me has been a deeply humbling experience. Your support and kind words have brought me to tears, at times. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m deeply grateful that you all have allowed me to share this story with you. (No, I’m not crying! You are!)