I was absent from one of the most transformative events in my life. It happened to my husband while in Guatemala but left an indelible print on me and I’ve never been the same since.
Back in the day when we believed visiting Guatemala regularly would bring lasting change to the country, we often included orphanage visits as part of our “missions” week. (Anecdotally, our views on short term mission trips and their purpose and product have morphed significantly since those early days. For deeper probing, here are a few resources: Relevant Magazine, The Poor Will be Glad and When Helping Hurts)
On this particular visit, Paul and his fellow well-intentioned travelers decided to stop at a new orphanage that was home for children with special needs. No one in the group could have anticipated what they were about to see.
He described the place to me as a small home made up of three adjoining rooms. The first and last rooms were filled with beds for the children – the middle room served as their dining room, lounge and play room. The place was lit too brightly by flickering overhead fluorescent lights and smelled of urine and vomit. The staff barely noticed yet another American “tourist” group stopping in; so with lack of direction, the group migrated to the playroom hoping to play with the kids.
Paul held back. He described some kind of supernatural power drawing him to the sleeping quarters made up of rows of beds and cribs.
He heard her before he saw her. Her shallow, slow breathing rattled and gurgled with every breath. Next, he smelled her. It was a hideous combination of bad breath, urine, and body odor. Although the crib was abnormally large, Paul expected to find an infant. It was, after all, a crib.
When he peered in, he was quite taken aback by the sight.
Her name was Corinna and she was 10 years old and that crib had been her whole world her entire life. She was born severely handicapped and has never walked, talked, fed herself or even sat upright. She stairs blankly to the left – always to the left because her head is stuck that way. Without provision of physical, recreational or occupational therapy to the residents their bones and muscles and brains just atrophy away day after day.
Corinna was not hooked up to any machine or life-assisting devices. She just existed. Her stiff and contorted body pained Paul to even look. But instead of pulling away, he felt compelled to lean in. He put his head right in front of hers. He stroked her hair, he talked to her, and he prayed for her.
She barely blinked.
A few days later back in Michigan, Paul recounted this experience to me: “Cindy, it was like there was no one there – she was so vacant. And yet, I felt the presence of God with her. All I could think was this: God loves this precious one. She has been bed-ridden her whole life, she has never said a word and never will. She, by all practical purposes, is brain dead. She can do absolutely nothing for herself. She can do absolutely nothing for others – to show appreciation, to show love, to enjoy life, or – especially – to secure her salvation. And yet, God still loves her as much as he loves anybody. God actually sent his son to DIE for Corinna – to give her this life that seems so unlived. God’s love just blew me away as I sat holding Corinna’s hand. The beauty of that moment made me weep with love for her and for what an amazing God we serve.”
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Paul and I tried to take a walk together today, but we had to stop frequently so I could catch my breath. I told him to just do the talking because I’m no longer able to walk and talk at the same time.
My medications are causing me more problems than I care to share. And I’d quit the whole lot of them if I didn’t believe in some weird medical-background-way they’re helping me live longer.
And with each tiny sign of deterioration I feel a little less whole, less human. A little less significant. A little less worthy.
And on my bad days I worry. I worry that I haven’t done enough. I worry that I haven’t said enough or shared enough with my kids. I worry that I didn’t accomplish much or do enough good. I worry that I’ll never finish my book and I’ll never have anything of significance to leave behind. I worry that within a generation or two people will forget me and that my life didn’t matter.
Then I worry that I worry about such stupid stuff.
But today I remembered Corinna. She who lay there in a crib for 10 years and never once actually “did” a single thing. Although she could barely move, she reminds me of how much God loves each and every one of us – his precious creation, made in HIS image – and that he would have died for us even if we were the only one.
I believe Jesus whispered in her ear every single day, “You are my beloved, Corinna. Of you, I am especially pleased.”
And I wonder how is it that I keep returning to my old patterns of fear and doubt and anger and resentment for my sucky lot in life – because, when I remember Corinna, I remember that I, too, am Jesus’ beloved, no matter what I am able to do or not do, say or not say, be or not be.
Yes, Jesus loves me. This I know.