Why loiter at the edge of the dock, instead of diving in? Why wade in slowly, instead of plunging beneath the waves? Why do we so often feel the need to gradually warm ourselves up to the new heat, instead of giving ourselves a chance to immerse completely, totally, and without reservation?
Well, today we decided to abandon the wading. Operating on an intense lack of sleep and severe altitude adjustment, we dove straight into difficult. We visited an orphanage called Luz Y Vida. It's not only an orphanage, though. It's an orphanage for abandoned, severely disabled children.
These kids live with blindness, deafness, paralysis, tumours, permanent brain damage, deformed faces and appendages, muscular dystrophy, down syndrome, and many other physical and mental struggles. These are the kids that represent Luz Y Vida. Did I mention that the name translates to Light and Life ?
We toured the place which held many, many people- some were babies, and others were old enough to have facial hair. This place is their morning, noon, and night. This place is their life. We calmed the flailing limbs and howling little voices. We held the paralyzed hands. We spoke to the seemingly vacant. We fed them, tickled them, held them, played with them, and loved on them. In return, they broke our hearts.
It was hard feeding little Maya spoonful after spoonful of bland soup, while little Maria had to be content with the feeding tube inserted in her stomach. She would smack her lips and reach for the spoon, wanting just a taste of actual food, but I couldn't give it to her. It was hard talking to little Diana, who was bound to her wheelchair and feeding tube, strapped in tight to combat her uncontrollable motions.
But when I handed little Maria a small stuffed panda, things reversed. Laughter is the universal language of joy, and Maria's was just as heartfelt and full of life as any 'healthy' child. And when I told Diana, in very broken Spanish, that she was beautiful, the smile that spread across her face was even bigger and more precious than any smile I had ever seen before.
Today there were a million lows, and a million-and-one highs. I could list so many more moments from the orphanage that spoke to me. I could talk in great detail about the little boys who spent more time clinging onto us than on the ground. I could talk in great detail about what it was like to be kissed half to death by children who had just met me, and then immediately having to say good-bye. I could talk in great detail about what the place looked like, the different conditions we witnessed, and all the special encounters, but I'm going to fast forward a little bit instead, seeing as there are at least 13 girls asleep in this room, and I am about ready to hit the hay.
After lunch, we piled on the bus and began a four-hour drive into the mountains of Colombia. I was on my knees, sitting on the edge of my seat, trying my hardest not to blink. The tropical landscape that covered the beautiful mountains can speak for themselves. If I try to describe the beauty, I may only diminish it. What I will say is this: It stole my heart. My legs were on pins and needles but I loved every moment of the twisting drive.
We arrived at La Mesa, and are here for two nights. We met the kids, ate some scrumptious food, completely failed at soccer, and settled into our rooms. Going through our highs and lows as a team, something struck me. I was so completely engrossed by today's drive. I was and still am so completely absorbed in the beauty of this mountainous village, and will be so sad to leave on Monday. I was enthralled. I loved every moment of the trip and the perfect evening that followed... and I got to experience it because I am not paralyzed, lying on a mattress, being fed by a tube, listening to the sounds of sickness for years on end.
Another thing that hit me was the age of some of the orphans this morning. Our team was much more willing to spend time with the younger kids... but we shied away from those that looked closer to our age. Maya, the partial-paralytic that I spoon-fed, reminded me so much of a woman I had seen in Calgary a long while back. Hunched over, frail-looking, and wheelchair bound, I had tried my best not to look. Just like the rest of the public, I didn't want to stare. I didn't want to acknowledge the hardship. I wanted to be polite and socially acceptable.
But that beautiful woman was once a loving little girl like Maya. The little ones are usually the loved ones. Mission teams visit and bring clothes, toys, books, and candy to the little niños. They're cute, so people love to hold them and talk to them. What happens to our responses as they grow older? Do we feel guilty? Are we filled with pity? I can tell you, one thing we are often NOT filled with is compassion.
Grace knows no bounds. Love has no conditions. Mercy is blind to colour, gender, physical ability, and age. Compassion should be infinite, so why isn't ours?
Luz Y Vida, to the unsaved soul, is an oxymoron. It looks like the exact opposite of Light and Life. However, today I found true light and life in Diana's dazzling smile, Maya's soft words, and Maria's laughter.
When I encountered these kids, I knew I was encountering Christ. He taught me today what it means to give just a cup of cold water in His name. It felt like nothing. We felt useless. But God was smiling.