This past Saturday, July ninth, was little Gabriela’s one-year anniversary since moving into our home.
Although her annual landmark was written in large print on our family calendar hung on our living room wall, the day honestly came and went without much hoopla. Get up early, everyone does their chores, eat together, wash dishes, study God’s Word in our dining room, counsel the kids through various mini-crisis throughout the day, wash more dishes, seek one another out in love and forgiveness, spend a few hours supporting the older ones in their studies, watch a movie in the evening as a family.
In years past we celebrated not every year but every month a child was with us, for everything was so new and so difficult that each day survived was an incredible triumph. I remember celebrating Dayana, Gleny and Jason’s two-month, five-month, eight-month, year- and two-year anniversary with big poster boards, tender hugs, hand-written love notes, cake, balloons, and the like.
Now, however, with a bustling household of eight live-ins and even more students and Christian laborers, all of whom have many birthdays and countless anniversaries, the celebrations are becoming less extravagant as our days are now much more full of planned activity than they were before.
So on Gaby’s one-year anniversary as she and I walked hand-in-hand out to Dingo’s pen to fill up his dog bowl together, the Lord utilized that small time-frame to open my mind beyond the daily, the immediate, and allow the memories of an entire year spent with Gaby to flood over me, receiving each one with a heavy-laden gratitude, rattled by joy.
Gaby, whom one year ago I had met for the first time, that little ANGEL IN THE WHITE DRESS with the shaved head, the dozens of bald patches that revealed peach-colored scalp all over. Gaby, that skinny little girl who had been so hammered by pain and darkness that there wasn’t much little girl left at all. Jaded prostitute in the body of a malnourished seven-year-old, a mere babe who’d undergone more than many adult women do in a lifetime.
Screaming, profanity, undressing in public, sexual talk, running off, stealing, destroying books and toys, lying, kicking.
Gaby, who months after having moved in began to shed the first of many, many layers of pain and anger, leaving her an empty shell, a little ghost. All she had known was rape, sexual games, abuse, neglect. So you take all that away, and what’s left? She was our hollow little girl who we desperately wanted to fill with the Father’s love.
Alas, in many ways she still is.
Gaby, who even now, one year later, is still so desperately broken. Her psychologist informed me just a few days ago that Gaby has made many strides and is mentally now on the level of the average 3-year-old. And before?
Oh, Gaby, our little girl who the world has treated as trash and who still struggles to understand, to receive, when we tell her she’s a princess of the King. Gaby who still wets the bed and struggles to put into practice appropriate sexual norms and whose fine motor skills are still so terribly far behind. Can’t draw a square, can’t hold a pencil or a fork properly. Can hardly open a door. Doesn’t know the alphabet, can’t write her name. Miraculously learned the colors, can count to 10 with help. Loves singing in Darwin’s choir, has learned to pray for others in her broken, hard-to-understand way of talking.
So she and I walked this past Saturday, hand-in-hand, as we always do, as she eagerly offered to help me fill up Dingo’s dog bowl. She loves to help me. I’m her favorite person, after all, which is an incredibly demanding blessing. She physically looks to be eight or nine or ten years old (she has no birth certificate, no record of her existence in this country’s vast archives) but has the intense emotional needs of a toddler, you see. I hold her heavy body in my long arms, kiss her on the forehead and nose, bounce her on my knees, cradle her now-quite-large body as you would a baby.
And it’s never enough.
She wants to be in my arms all the time, under my skin, in my womb.
As we’re hugging each other or as I’m cradling her, she’ll look me in the eyes and whimper, “I miss you, Mom.” I want to cry to the heavens, “How do you miss me?! I’m right here! I cannot be any closer! Oh, Father, fill up this little one because I simply cannot! Fill her with Your love! We need You, Father!”
Crossing our grassy front yard together on Saturday, wearily contemplating the utter fullness of this past year with her in all of our ups and downs, all our little triumphs that when marked on paper or pronounced aloud seem like nothing at all, I asked God what He thought about all this, about Gaby.
After all, I’ve asked the World and I’ve asked myself quite a few times and, honestly, the answer isn’t very encouraging. She’s got the body of a third-grader but the mind of a three-year-old. She may never fully recuperate, may end up living with us for the rest of her life as she struggles onward well into her teens and adulthood with promiscuous sexual behavior, theft and destruction. She may never learn to talk correctly, may present these incredibly intense emotional needs for many years to come without any apparent result. She´s a heavy load that no one can carry.
Gaby and I were nearing Dingo’s pen. Not a moment after having asked God what He thought of our Gaby and the work we are doing of raising her, He sliced through my whirlwind of woes with this piercing question:
“Are you loving her, and are you teaching her to love Me?”
Borne somewhere in the deepest recesses of my inner being — overcoming the daily exhaustion and general discouragement like a powerful wind — a peace blew over every corner of my being and my busy thoughts were immediately settled as I recognized the truth:
We had reached Dingo’s pen in a few short steps that to me expanded into eternity. She was probably chattering on about this and that, always with her stubby little hand firmly grasped in mine, but I did’t hear her in that moment. What I heard, my inner being completely stilled, was this:
“Then all that is being done with and for Gabriela is a success. The purpose of the entire universe is to love Me with all that you are and to love one another as yourselves. If you are doing that and teaching Gaby to do the same, you are fulfilling the one and only purpose I have set for mankind to fulfill. Nothing else matters.¨
So we continue onward with great hope, a hope not placed in Gaby and her performance (or even her behavior, which in the two days since her anniversary has been utterly atrocious), but a great hope — a pure hope, one that cannot be grabbed and dirtied by this world — in the God who is love, the God who revealed Himself to mankind as a poor, humble, powerful man who gave Himself up for us, taking on the punishment we deserve. This same God who calls us simply to love — not to change the world, invent something new or reach great heights of human ‘success.’ We are simply to love — love Him with all that we have and all that we are, and love one another as we love ourselves.
And in all of our imperfect efforts of loving, failing, seeking forgiveness and returning to love again, He is pleased. If Gaby never learns to assimilate into normal, productive adult society, if she’s always a step behind but is being shown God’s love and being taught to love Him in return, her life will be a raging success. I imagine Him jumping for joy, cheering us on as perhaps the world mocks, asks for more.
So our journey with Gaby is one of God’s slow miracles, etched out over time and with the promise of great eternal rewards.
And when I am tempted to become impatient, when I tempted to give in to despair, to want to push her hard and fast toward ‘normalty,’ I ask that God might remind me of what He taught me just two days ago out at Dingo’s pen with Gaby’s hand in mine: