Several nights ago — three nights after our 10-year-old fireball received two new siblings, to be exact – Gleny lay face-down in her top bunk with her face toward the wall, crying. I had seen her through the girls’ open door as I strode through the living room on some important expedition to sweep or fold laundry, so I snuck in and patted her on the back.
“Gleny, do you want to talk?”
She lifted her puffy face from her pink pillow case and spat her response in my direction: “But in private!”
I motioned with my hands for her to get up, so she pushed herself up and began to scoot lethargically toward the built-in ladder on her wooden bunkbed. I reached up and took her into my arms, her little legs wrapped around my waist and her face buried in my shoulder as I carried her to the room that is normally off-limits for the kids – Mom and Dad’s bedroom.
I sat her down beside me on our bed, and she leaned into me and began to weep harder than she had been when she was alone on her top bunk. I held her for a while before asking gently, “What happened? Is there something you want to tell me?”
Without lifting her head, she said in a one-word-runs-into-the-next type of way, “Today when we went shopping for clothes, you said that I couldn’t buy a dress because we were only shopping for Jackeline. After that I didn’t want to talk with you anymore, and that’s why I didn’t laugh very much.”
By God’s grace, I’ve got enough experience in 15 short months to already be a veteran with these types of situations. I responded, “I’m so sorry, Gleny. But you know what?”
For the first time during our whole conversation she lifted her head up, which I then placed in my hands. “I’m so proud of you that you could use your words to tell me what it is that’s bothering you. And I’m sorry that you feel so frustrated. It definitely wasn’t my intention to frustrate you.”
A glimmer of something sparked in her eyes before she folded back into my lap and continued weeping.
This little girl has a long record of screaming at adults in public, viciously telling Brayan – the other young man who moved into our family last February – to leave, making big scenes with emotional breakdowns when we have guests in the house, and allowing her mouth to get her in a whole lot of trouble, so this quiet, sincere moment reflected God’s gift of peace that He is steadily bestowing upon her stormy soul. I, too, felt like weeping, but for joy.
Without falling into the easy trap of trying to “fix” her sadness or explain her out of it, I opened my mouth and said what I felt God had given me to say: “Gleny? You know what?”
Once again, she lifted her head and allowed her eyes to bare into mine, calming down momentarily. “I cannot fill you, Gleny.”
With that she doubled over and began to sob, harder this time. I continued, knowing that she was listening. “Gleny, we could go on a ‘date’ everyday, and I could buy you 100 dresses and hug and kiss you all the time, but it still wouldn’t be enough. I cannot fill you. I’m just a person. I’m limited.”
“Gleny, only God can fill you. He is the only One who is limitless. I cannot be with you all the time, fulfill your every need. It’s impossible. But He can.” Carefully, without stating the obvious, the very thing that is probably screaming in her thoughts – that I have four other kids to care for in addition to her – I continued, “I have to spend time with Dad, too. I have to work. I have chores to do. I get tired, hungry. I’m just a person. I cannot fill you. I wish I could, but I can’t. You’ve got to look to God for that.” I felt like I was addressing not only her but also myself, for I, too, oftentimes look to other people or external situations to fill me. Oh, how many times have I wrongly become sulky and frustrated with my husband for not being able to ‘fill’ me!
A few moments later I asked, “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
She immediately responded, “No. That’s all,” and I knew she meant it. She sat up, calming down as she looked around our small, comfy room with chipped blue paint on the walls.
Then I picked her back up, carrying her out in similar fashion as she had entered, but this time with more understanding between the two of us. I entered her room, passing by her two older sisters who sat at their wooden desk, working on a puzzle together. I glanced down at them, exchanging knowing smiles, and deposited their little sister in her top bunk to rest.
Less than an hour later we all sat around our long wooden table in the kitchen after dinner, Darwin and I laughing as we watched Jason, Josue and Gleny stage an intense battle with the long pieces of Styrofoam that had come in the box with our new fridge the day before. Gleny led the troops valiantly as Jason hunted wild animals with his Styrofoam bow and arrow to feed his family.
I felt joy surge in my chest, in awe of just how literally He does fill us, has filled me. More than once Gleny took her eyes off her imaginative play with her little brothers to look over at me and smile, and I felt like she and I understood something perhaps for the first time: He definitely does use us to meet one another’s needs, but we’re only the tools. It’s not about me, and it’s not about her. It’s about God’s glory working in and through us, filling us.