“Happiness is not something you find at the end of the road…it is here, now.” – Anonymous
When I think of my time here – truly reflect on it – I see that the struggles have been overwhelmed by little joys. There are so many reasons being here makes me joyful – so many reasons to be happy. Here are my top 32 (fair warning, this will be long):
“Y” (age 5) – He has the most adorable mad face. He wants to be a people pleaser, but his rebelliousness usually wins out. He looks at his “Papi” “M” with a look that says, “You are my ULTIMATE hero.” It almost makes me cry every time I see it.
“Y” (age 5) – She loves balloons and will throw tantrums when she does not get enough of them at celebrations. She gives the best hugs. She jumps rope backward – with the rope hitting the ground behind her. When I sit with her at morning prayer, she pulls my arm around her and looks up at me with her huge brown eyes pleading for my love and attention. She loves to dance with me at fiestas – but she has not yet mastered the bachata so we probably look like dancing Muppets. She has a special relationship with Tía “E,” whom she calls “mamá” and she seems to trust her implicitly. One day she changed clothes after school and was caught wearing a pink pair of shorts inside out with a pink shirt inside out AND backwards. When Beto (fellow missionary) picked her up by her feet one day, instead of doing an handstand, she grabbed onto the bottom of his shorts such that he had to say several times, “Let go of my pants!!!”
“R” (age almost 7) – She hugs me with all her might and then just lets go and lets me hold her up. When she first got here, she cried during our holy hour and I was blessed with the chance to comfort her and draw her close. Shas the most beautiful laugh and smile. She is so, so well-behaved. I often share a song book with her, tracking the words with my finger so that she can follow along (she is learning to read). On the way to sing “Happy Birthday” to her older sister, she and her brother walked arm in arm and called themselves the “two little embracing monkeys.”
“M” (age 8) – One day when I was working with his “brother,” he got so excited that I had brought puzzles and wanted to participate also. When the beisbolistas left after baseball camp to return to the US, he asked if I was leaving too and it broke my heart (he had only been with us a week and did not realize the concept of a long-term missionary). His is the loudest voice heard singing at prayer – and he is almost always completely off-key.
“J” (age 9) – During my first weeks here, he would often stop me as I walked past his house and tell me, “no puedes pasar” (you cannot pass). I will never forget the time he attempted to put staples on my chair for me to sit on during English class – luckily I caught him before he had placed them.
“L” (age 10) – When she first arrived, she had never prayed a rosary and I remember helping her that first week by letting her hold my rosary and showing her how to follow along – and her big brown eyes looked up at me, silently questioning if she should move a bead. She is such a sweet and feisty little girl.
“C” (age 10) – She loves to dance and is a surprisingly good dancer. She always offers up her own petitions aloud at prayer – and that innocence and lack of embarrassment always impresses me as well as the fact that she often prays for others. She is always singing the loudest. She is unafraid to hug her siblings and make her love for them known.
“B” (age 11) – She is just so pretty. She always forgets to call me “Profa” during English classes at school. She is quite a stubborn and defiant young lady and she has made it very clear that she strongly dislikes me – but by so doing has given me the challenge to love anyway.
“E” (age 11) – During my first few weeks here, she painted my nails and attempted to teach me how to jump rope – entering into the already turning rope. Whenever she is excited, she talks super fast until she has to stop to catch her breath.
“L” (age 11) – Early on in my time here, she did my hair in an “Elsa braid” and then taught me how to fishtail braid. She always runs to hug Tía “G” and also Sor “E,” demonstrating a longing for affection. She is so scattered all the time. She loves her older sister so much (almost to the point of smothering her). When she painted my nails, it lasted longer than usual because it meant enough to me to leave it on.
“S” (age 11) – She has the most beautiful smile and a delightfully mischievous personality. When I was entering the sea slowly one morning, she walked toward me and proceeded to start a splash war which lasted until I was totally soaked. She enjoys playing goalie when kicking around the soccer ball, but she will also take a break to do headstands with me on the campo.
“G” (age 12) – Honestly, this young lady challenges me more than any of our other kids due to her attitude, disrespect, and defiance (mainly due to the background from which she came to us). She has the most beautiful brown eyes and her facial expressions convey deep emotions. She has this quiet underlying need for love. I remember how proud she was when I first taught her to make a bracelet and she saw that hers came out well. I live for those moments during piano lessons when I can tell she truly enjoys playing the piano despite her constant complaints when I come to pick her up for lessons or practice times. When the beisbolistas came to put on a baseball camp for our kids, I was eating lunch with one of them in her house and was playing the role of translator – how awkward it was to translate her flirtatious “You have pretty eyes, you smell good, etc.” when she was directing these comments at a man in his forties.
“K” (age 12) – I am never sure whether she likes or dislikes me. She tried making bracelets even though that is not her type of thing and then she wrote me the sweetest note thanking me for teaching her to make a bracelet. I tried to teach her to do a cartwheel once – that did not go so well as she was too afraid to trust me to help her kick her legs over. She once came over to make pizza with Kevin and Beto (my fellow missionaries) and was singing as she cooked. She has this apathetic, “whatever” attitude, but deep down, I know she cares and I know there is more to her than meets the eye.
“B” (age 13) – He is so prayerful – I think he might want to be a priest one day. He is a fun-loving jokester. His ability to walk the slack line amazes me. I love his eagerness to perform various ministries at spiritual events.
“D” (age 13) – He is just all over the place and quite mischievous. He once tricked my fellow missionary Marie into believing that the spicy “chile” sauce was just a slightly spicier version of ketchup (you can imagine the result). He must have gone through a growth spurt recently as all of his pants are too short.
“J P” (age 13) – I don’t know this young man as well as I would like too, mainly because he is so quiet, but I already really respect him because he is intelligent, very polite and well-behaved, and a hard worker.
“Á” (age 14) – He can easily kick my butt at chess, but one time when we played and I was losing miserably, he gave me a break. He and I also enjoy playing speed. He drives me nuts with piano lessons because I have to fight to get him to read his notebook where I write down the things he needs to focus on. He has the tendency to say “no hom’be” and “pucha.”
“J” (age 14) – He finally convinced me to try the slack line, but that did not work out too well. I will never forget the time he teased me by chasing me with a chicken. He is a trickster and loves to have fun. He keeps me laughing with his antics.
“D” (age 14) – This beautiful young lady amazes me – she has this serenity about her and you know after meeting her that it comes from her deep faith. She is an incredibly devout young woman with a Marian witness. Though she has yet to be confirmed (I believe that will happen later this year), she already has a deep devotion to her faith and a strong desire to one day become a religious sister. She is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. She is not afraid to enter into deeper conversations with me – she once showed me photos of her growing up and she has shared her faith with me. She comes alive at any religious event. She knows all the songs in the “cancionero” and is not afraid to sing them for me. I know she carries a lot of worries inside that she never shows.
“J” (age almost 15) – This young man is another of our quiet children who I do not know as well as I would like, but he seems to have a maturity above his years. He is respectful, patient, and caring with an occasional comical side.
“J M” (age almost 15) – This kid is the typical awkward teenager. He has an obvious need for motherly affection and tends to look for it in awkward ways (i.e. standing/”falling” a bit too close to me for comfort during our pick-up truck rides to church).
“M” (age 15) – First of all, “M” is gorgeous; she has a very reserved personality, but is also quiet helpful – she was a huge aid during PAVI (work program) while helping me to wash kinder chairs and tables to ready the room for the year. She also can often be seen stealing Marie’s (fellow missionary) cancionero and turning it to the correct page before handing it back.
“B” (age 15) – “B” seems to me to be somewhat of a tomboy. She is a super sweet young lady – one who always greets me by name upon entering our house to take something out of the refrigerator we share. She also danced so tenderly with our youngest girl at her quinceañera (15th birthday party). I will always remember her asking me if I would chase and catch a chicken for her (presumably to kill and eat later) because she was a bit freaked out by this. I attempted but the end result was that the dog caught it first haha.
“J” (age 15) – This young lady is incredibly good at English and not so shy about demonstrating her ability to speak. At my first quinceañera at the Finca, she was the one who taught me to dance bachata. Actually, when I arrived at the Finca, “J” was the first one to invite me to sit with her/talk to me. This sweet chica also helped me beautifully mend a teddy bear for my kinders.
“N” (age 15) – This chica is quite a character; she is accident-prone, though she always takes it in good stride; she speaks Spanglish with me; she can point with her lips (a Honduran thing) here better than anyone else I’ve met to date; she loves to bake and her donas (donuts) are beyond compare; she has the sweetest relationship with my fellow missionary Marie and it is adorable to see.
“R” (age 16) – This young man has a wonderful smile and a huge heart. He always greets me by name cheerfully when he sees me. He has big dreams – he wants to be a doctor one day, and I can say from what I know of him that he will one day make a fantastic doctor. I remember when we (the missionaries) went to sing him “Happy Birthday” on the evening of his birthday only to find him asleep – we had to wake him up for his birthday song.
“D” (age 16) – Even in my short time at the Finca, I have seen this young man become more and more of a leader – a leader of the youth group, a leader of the drum performance welcome for the beisbolistas, and a leader in other ways. “D” also has big dreams – he wants to go into the military.
“B” (age 16) – I am always happy to see “B” enter the house to grab something from the refrigerator – both because she is so sweet but also because her interactions with Kevin in these moments are so hilarious as he speaks to her in English and she replies in Spanish. She has a very pleasant personality and is a very genuine young woman. One evening she and I were talking about phrases I knew in other languages because she needed to make a list of any phrases she could come up with in any other language – and she was amazed at how many words/phrases I know.
“J I” (age 17) – “J I” is a very nice and polite young man. He is an example for his peers. He also dresses better than most of our boys – especially for Sunday mass.
“M” (age 18) – “M” is a beautiful young lady – especially when she smiles. I see her as a leader for her peers – demonstrating politeness, working hard to prepare to give a tour in English to the beisbolistas, and even offering to wash linens from the church for one of the Franciscan Sisters.
“C” (age 18) – “C” is so hard to describe because he has a personality that is larger than life. He is easily the best non-native English-speaker at the Finca. He is a happy-go-lucky young man. But the best glimpse I have had of “C’s” personality was on the night we were in Trujillo later than normal for mass. We were headed home in the dark in the back of a pick-up truck holding down the tarp protecting us from the pouring rain and “C” pulled out an mp3 player and started playing a song by Enrique Iglesias and dancing like crazy, making it the best car ride ever. “C” is also good at writing songs to familiar tunes – even in English.
“S” (age 24) – “S” is still an enigma to me. She is our oldest Finca child by several years – but “S” will probably remain with us for life because she has an intellectual disability which has caused some delays and leaves her more vulnerable than most. She brings to the Finca pure joy, for she can find joy in the simplest of things – a coloring book and crayons, shouting, calling a dog, giving a hug, playing with an Elsa doll, reading a child’s book and more. She has a wonderful laugh and loves affection – but she will get to know you on her own terms and will distance herself from groups, preferring one-one-one attention.
So you see, it is the children who fill my time at the Finca with joy. I realize this on a deeper level the more I spend time with them. They are the reasons I am here and they are the reasons that I will get up and keep going every day – even when 5:15 seems really early, even when I don’t feel like it, even when it’s hard, even when I am drenched in sweat with no time for a shower. Because they are worth it.
Spanish Words of the Day: razóm = reason, felicidad = happiness, treinta y dos = 32 🙂