The air had that greyish-orange late afternoon glow that makes everything kind of hazy and dreamlike. There was a little crisp of cold in the air and I was in a hurry. I needed to get to the store to pick up a few last things and then hurry down to the house for Thanksgiving dinner. When I saw her I didn't really want to stop in fact, at first I didn't. But then that insistent, between my shoulders voice spoke up and I asked the moto driver to turn around.
I will be eternally grateful, for the rest of my life, that I did. Everything I had ever dreamed of for my future changed in that moment and I had no idea.
The first thing I noticed were her stick thin legs, the second was the belly upon which she rested. Following the belly I saw tiny arms and the face of a woman that is now burned into my memory forever.
Even though I didn't really want to and I didn't really have time God captured me for these 2 daughters of His as I gathered them and brought them into my home. I listened to her words and they told a a story that seems as old as time, I've heard it over and over for almost 6 years. A man who left, a baby crying for milk that couldn't be given, a tiny family sleeping wherever a space could be found. The way she spoke and the sound of her voice, something connected in me and my burnt out fire for this part of Haiti sparked to life again.
As we sat in my living room that day she told me how she had left home before the sun came up that morning, borrowing the 50gourds (aprox. $1.25) for a taptap up the mountain to search for an orphanage that would be willing to take her youngest daughter. Tears filled her eyes as she told me over and over again “I have no other choice, there is no chance for her anymore. If she stays with me I know she will die.” I looked at the tiny girl in her arms and I knew that she was right. Maybe not today, or tomorrow or even next week but this baby would die of malnutrition if something didn't change for her. She looked me in the eye and begged me to take her daughter. I looked back and whispered to her my idea for both of them. Again, her eyes shined with tears, this time over the idea that maybe, just maybe, she would get to keep her daughter.
That afternoon when she turned to leave she kissed her baby goodbye it wasn't forever like she had thought it would be. I agreed to take Christella for an initial 6 weeks, to give her time to get her healthy and gain some weight. When she had recovered from her malnutrition, Christella would return home with her mother.
There is no other word to describe Christella but joy. There isn't a person who came in contact with her that wasn't fully enthralled by her presence. To know her was to be filled with her contagious joy. Yes, caring for her was hard work but the reward, unlike most work that I do here, was instantaneous. Waking up in the middle of the night to sneak in extra calories became something I looked forward to when I knew I would be greeted by her giggles and singing when the bottle was finished. That girl, despite all the pain and sickness that plagued her body, was filled with joy every second of every day.
The initial 6 weeks came and went and Christella was doing great but still just not quite ready (or maybe, selfishly, we just weren't ready to face saying goodbye just yet!). Emily was caring for her at the time and we decided that another 2 weeks would give her that extra little boost that she needed. At the end of her 8th week in our care it was finally time to send our girl home.
From 10lbs at one year old to 15lbs just 8 weeks later! That scrawny, sick little girl became a chubby, giggling toddler, crawling backwards and trying to stand on her now strong little legs. Our little joy filled Christella had gotten what she needed for this season. With a brave face and a few hidden, secret tears we sent her on her way. Prayers the only thing we could send with our ti chape, our little survivor.
And now tonight, as I write this there is the newborn smell and soft breath of a baby boy lying across my lap. The son that I didn't know I needed, that has filled a corner of my heart that I never knew was empty. He is breathtaking and joy.
His, although intensely woven into this one, is a story for another day.