We shuffled up to the front of the church and found a place to sit. The row in front of us was full of girls dressed in red and white. Kati explained that she taught many of these girls from a nearby orphanage last year. They seemed to enjoy her familiar face and conversation.
The Christmas Eve service was just about to start. I looked behind to see the church almost completely full and when I turned forward again there standing before us was this little girl. She was one of the girls from the front row. Her dress was a lacy white with a red satin sash. She wore the traditional white socks and black shoes. Her hair was in braids. She couldn't have been more than 3 years old. She smiled up at Jason and I. Her eyes locked with ours. She uplifted her arms to Jason so he picked up her stocky little frame. She smiled and snuggled into him quietly.
Orphans often seem tired and/or needy to me. They are desperate for attention, affection and rest. Her situation is kind of unique but then again maybe not. She belongs to a well-run organization but she'll never be eligible for adoption. Every part of her life will be quite institutionalized. Caring for orphans is such a tricky subject. You wish there was a clear cut, black and white solution. Don't get me wrong there are definitely right and wrong answers, but it's not always super clear. One thing is for sure, God never is grey about His love for them. He speaks boldly, consistently and passionately about loving them from the Old Testament to the New. He loves them. He is for them with special grace.
The service was in full swing. She'd reach one arm to touch me and one to touch Jason until she decided to try my lap out. She liked flipping through the pages of the old hymnal and even snuggled with it. Sometimes it was upside down but the idea of a book in her lap with pages between her fingertips was significant. Her nose was drippy leaving behind crusty white above her lip. One of the leaders leaned over and wiped her nose lovingly with a smile. Jason also grabbed a kleenex for her. She would blow and vigorously rub her nose on it. She couldn't decide if she wanted to watch the service proceed, it wasn't the most captivating for a 3 year old, or if she wanted to sleep. She flipped from observing to laying her head over my shoulder. She rubbed my watch and my necklace between her fingers like many kids are curious about accessories. She'd look up and smiled until it was returned. I asked her if she was tired and she'd nod her head. Pretty soon she'd be looking over at Makayla and Ethan for a responsive smile. Her attention would divert when they returned the quiet greeting.
This was the hard and heavy emotional reality for me. This little girl doesn't know or have a family of her own. A family to celebrate life and victories with. A family to make mistakes with, know the power of forgiveness within and the opportunities to grow together in deep, long-lasting relationships. She'll never know the familiarity of those relationships, like the relationship of siblings. It was too heavy for my thoughts to stay there. I'd just be here. Right now, I was here in PAP, Haiti at a Christmas Eve service and for whatever reason she decided we'd be a comfy place for her to snuggle into. I mean, God decided and put one of His orphans on our lap for the evening. Thinking about anything other than this was too big for me.
She started picking at the back of her head and every so often checking her little finger. After observing her consistency I had Jason take a peek at the source of her trouble. A dry, flaky patch of skin was itchy. It could've been ringworm so I advised that she not touch it any more. She smiled and stopped. Three-fourths of the way through the service she said the only thing she said all night. Looking straight into my eyes she whispered, "pee-pee." I asked, "You have to go pee-pee?" She nodded with concern. I set her down on the floor and leaned over the lady in charge of their group. She quickly found an assistant to take her. My lap took a break while she was gone. It's been awhile since I've had toddler age kids on my lap for that long. Even nieces and nephews snuggle up for such a short time comparatively.
The service was extremely well done and I really enjoyed it but my heart and thoughts kept floating back to God and how often He talks about orphans. He even says that we are like orphans; promising to not leave us. Salvation is a beautiful picture of adoption. When He came as a baby, it was planned from before time began, that He'd bring to the Father His children through His perfect life and sacrificial death. He is familiar with all of our weaknesses and didn't consider it robbery to set aside the glory of God to become man. He too was 3 years old once. He experienced the brokenness of the world and the harshness of sin's effects. Then Psalm 139 ran through my mind. He created this little girl in her mother's womb. All of her days are numbered. He knows her thoughts and the numbers of curly hairs on her head.
She was back from her bathroom break. The leader encouraged her to sit on her lab but she politely shook her head no and stood, starring off; seemingly waiting for something. Finally, she smiled over at me and walked across the isle. She knew all along where she'd like to return to and waited until it seemed acceptable. My lap once again accommodated her. He arms had scars from mosquito bites and a couple of open sores from itching past scabs. She was so super chubby and snuggly. Her big brown eyes wrestled between sleep and alertness.
All of a sudden their row made a quick exit. It was dark outside and quite late for a group of younger kids to be out. The program was almost finished - it was time for them to return. The main nanny, who grew up in the same orphanage and now works there, spoke a few Creole words to them with hands held out. They clasped on and left.
I felt like I should give a last hug good-bye and promise to pray for her...maybe visit her too. But all too quickly the good-work was finished. I knew God to say, "Good job for giving her a lap and place of belonging, that's what I wanted for her and you. Pray for her."
I'm reminded today of Eshli, God's big heart for her and the power of prayer. Often times it is the "little" good works found within the nooks and crannies of a day that are outside of our "job description" that most powerfully bring down the Kingdom of God to earth from heaven (both in our hearts and theirs). My heart was equally blessed, if not more, by this little girl and God at work in it.
"Prayer does not fit us for the greater work. It is the greater work." -Oswald Chambers