My body’s alarm clock woke me up at 6:50 am. I was so excited to meet the rest of my team and start out a full week in Guatemala. The day before, we had walked to the Texaco up the street and had bought cookies for the new team AS A PEACE OFFERING. I’m kidding. Sort of. But really. We made cards for them and set it all out on the main table in the comedor. Ben made jokes about how the boys would probably be so mean. Tori talked excitedly about meeting everyone. I quietly colored flowers and the words, “Welcome! We’re glad you are here!” on the front of the white pieces of cardstock. We waited. And waited. Where are they. I’m so nervous and excited and I want to see them all! Suddenly I heard the bus. THEY ARE HERE!!! I ran outside like an excited three year old and waited for them in the front of the building. The yellow school bus pulled up and I saw all of their faces peering through the window. I waved shyly. As they all tumbled out, I recognized each face from Facebook. Hi there, I’m Ellie! Hi! It’s so wonderful to finally meet you in person! Slowly, we all made our way indoors and got the girls all settled in. I watched on the sidelines as they all unpacked and walked around and became acquainted with the room. I was dubbed “The Girl Who Knew The Wifi Password” so I gave it out and felt important. I remember sitting on my bed and watching Lauren, who was right across from me, unpack. I saw Aubrey pick the end bunk by the window and Melissa got the one at my feet. Or the one by my feet. I don’t know how to make that less awkward. Anyway... they were here. Minus two. Kaley and Beka were coming later that day.
Everyone got the full tour of the campus and I stuck like glue to Tori. Everyone was extremely nice, but I didn’t really know them. This is the school, and the soccer field. People pulled out their cameras. Photographers! On our team! I got excited. I made some stupid comment about how I’m glad I wasn’t going to be the only “obnoxious picture taker” on the trip. We moved on. Juan Manuel, the house dad for one of the girls houses pulled a few of us away from the group and we went on a hike through the woods. Honestly, I was a bit freaked out. I didn’t remember who this person was (Tori did) so at first I thought some random man was taking us through the woods. (For real. Ha.) I followed quietly. I didn’t understand a word of what Juan Manuel and Tori were talking about. So I just enjoyed the walk and watched Aubrey take pictures. We walked on a well beaten path along the border of the orphanage campus. We came out of the woods into the garden. It was beautiful in the light. Tori translated for us and said that some of our job would be to weed the garden every day. I bent down and gently tugged at the green shoots that were sticking up from the fertile soil. They released easily. A few stems turned into a whole row and I found the activity of weeding strangely therapeutic. Aubrey snapped some more pictures and I brushed the dirt off of my hands. Walking back up to the cancha, we met the rest of the team and went inside to hang out for a while. Some people went to the baby house, Ben mowed the lawn, and other people were torn between exploring and resting.
playing cards became a regular thing. "MAU MAU."
I remember the next few days going by so slowly, yet feeling like time was escaping me. Kaley and Beka flew in, quite a few hours later than expected. They had landed in El Salvador because their plane had run out of gas (Aubrey: “You can’t just land someone in the wrong country!”) so they settled in. We prayed about which houses we would be assigned to. I was torn. Toddler house or a girls house? Ultimately, we didn’t make the decision, we just gave input. But our preferences weighed heavily on the outcome, so it was a big deal. We had our evening devotions and that was the night we had to give our first two choices. I still had no idea. Melissa, I have no idea what to say. “Well, what about that dream you had? Who were you working with in that dream?” I hadn’t thought about that. Toddlers. I was working with toddlers. “Okay then! I think that should be your first choice.”
On Tuesday, I found out that I was indeed, assigned to the toddler house for the summer. I had no idea, NO IDEA, how much working there would refine and grow me as a person. But I digress. :)
So I was excited to get working! 14 toddlers ages 2-6? BRING IT. We met the house parents, Billy and Amanda. We met a few of the kids. The precious children. We began work that day. Thankfully, we were eased into it. A Christian local middle-school came in and had a full day of games and fun with all the niños. The weather was perfect: clear skies and comfortable temperatures. It was technically winter in Guatemala... haha I was loving it. My eyes darted and searched for all of our kiddos. I watched their smiles, and laughter, and utter joy spill out as they ran around and played. This is the joy of the Lord. This is what it’s all about.
I wrote this on my blog that week, “God is very present here. This campus is such a place of beauty and love for the Lord. The staff here is absolutely incredible. My team is ohmygracious wonderful. The kids, well, there aren't any words for how precious and sweet each child is. God loves them all and you can't help but adore them as well.”
The next day, I found myself sitting in my bunk, sipping water and eating peanut butter crackers that Lauren had kindly provided. Something hadn’t agreed with me the night before and I had thrown up during the night (TMI?). It’ll blow over! I’m already feeling better. Do you see where this is going?
Imagine my surprise when on Thursday when I woke up feeling the sickest I have ever felt in my life. I have never felt such sickness. Have I said that? It was the worst feeling ever. I was flat on my back for the whole day. WHY!! I JUST STARTED WORKING! MY FIRST “REAL” DAY AND I AM IN MY BED. I honestly thought, “Why did I come here? I could spend time in my bed at home if I wanted to.” All that talk about trusting God? I could definitely say at that moment, “Easier said than done.” Even when I was in the bathroom (...) God gave me the strength to cry out to him. God, I honestly can’t even handle this right now. I don’t know what’s going on. Just make it stop. But in the meantime, please give me comfort. Give me peace. I really really need you right now. I can honestly say I have never been in a lower place before in my life. I felt like I had been beaten to the ground (it was really bad).
I’m just going to say right now that I learned in those 24 hours I was on my deathbed (okay okay...) that GOD. IS. FAITHFUL. Even though I felt horrible, I was at peace. I know people say that and you’re all like, “Yeah that’s cliche.” But it’s true. It’s the peace that passes all understanding. It’s that weird combination of, “This stinks but I’m okay with it.” It’s that awesome and horrifying feeling and giving up your life completely. You have no control over it. I mean hey, if I was in charge of my life, I would have gone to Guatemala and worked my tail off the whole summer. I wouldn’t have chosen to be sick for the first day! BUT thank goodness I’m not in charge of my own life! That would be a disaster. God’s plans are perfect. He is faithful. He is perfectly good. And being sick was good for me in that moment. Looking back, I can see that it broke me and humbled me to a place I needed to be. I needed to acknowledge God as the sole owner of my life. My team was right there by my side the whole time, bringing me Gatorade (I drank more Gatorade in those 24 hours than I ever had in my life previously) and praying for me. I just love them a lot.
team meetings were always interesting.
That night, I rallied myself to get to group devotions. I needed to be with my team. I could feel the battle between God and my selfish desires raging inside of my soul and I needed fellowship. I needed support. Dear God, fill me up again tonight. I always loved group devotions because a) my team is AWESOME and b) I was always encouraged. Laughter was always present. They passed out chocolate covered bananas and I took a bite. Not my cup of tea, plus, oh yeah! I’m allergic to bananas. I quietly exited the room (probably during a really important part, I don’t really remember that) and got a Benadryl. The rest of the night was spent in a haze that is Benadryl working on a weak mind. I don’t know if anything I said was coherent. But it was good to be out of my bed and with some of my favorite people. I needed that. Even in a drugged state. I slept really well that night.
Friday was my first full day! I was pumped to get going. I was feeling so much better and the 24 hour stomach bug seemed to have passed! I got to Casa Alabanza (House of Praise) around 7:40 in the morning with Taylor by my side. We were assigned to the same house (BEST THING EVER. YOU WILL HEAR MORE ABOUT HER LATER.) The ten older kids went to school and we had the preschool kids all morning. School let out at 12, lunch at 1, nap at 2. We got a two hour break from 2-4 and it became one of the best parts of the day. You need rest when working with toddlers, I’m just saying. The rest of the afternoon involved playing and getting to know the kids. My Spanish was HA. That’s all I can say. But it got better. Toddlers understand. They love to hear you mess up but they forgive you and help you.
I ended that day fulfilled, tired, happy, and extremely satisfied. One day done? A lot more to go. And I was looking forward to it. Another excerpt from my blog: “A scripture that has been serving me lately is Romans 12:2. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transferred by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Lately, if I have been tempted to complain, I remind myself of truth and ‘renew my mind.’ This is so good for my soul. To complain is to not be thankful and to not be thankful is to doubt God's goodness in my life. I am so grateful for grace and people to support me in this. Thank you all again so much for your constant prayers. As Melissa said today, "Isn't it cool that we all know of people praying for our team?" It's very cool.”
I went to bed excited for the weekend. I was working (Taylor and I took turns working each weekend) and I would be able to get to know the house parents better because they were working that weekend too! At approximately 11pm that night, after having an hour of good sleep, I woke up. Extremely sick to my stomach, super uncomfortable, and needing to throw up. Oh my gosh, here we go again. Folks, it wasn’t over. THE GNARLY BEAST WAS BACK.