Angel-girl is one of 80+ students in EA programs this year. As we continue to grow we are constantly looking for more ways to express to each of them how precious and valuable they are. We know that setting aside quality time, and listening well, are both important ways to communicate value.
Many of our students live in a kind of war zone. They fight against conflicting emotions that they do not understand. Most want nothing more than to belong in family and be seen, but growing up in a fragmented, abusive, or chaotic family, allows little space for feeling valued. Another pain that grows inside them is that of watching their parents suffer, and feeling powerless to help.
We are watching one of our own in just this place right now. She is 15 years old. She makes great decisions one day and horrible ones the next.
Recently, angel-girl, Irma, Ana and I (Tony Kay) sat down together. We wanted to hear this angel's heart. Beginning with a few words of reassurance and offering her the respect that she needs to grow in confidence, we began.
Precious angel-girl. We are here to walk with you, to support you as you find your way through. You have a voice that should be heard. There has been some tough stuff going on in your world, lately. You have taken some risks; we’ve helped you find some peace in the aftermath. What is weighing most on your heart right now? Are there some plans that you would like to make? Are you thinking about staying overnight at Casa Esperanza still?
Yes, I want to.
She says quietly, under her breath, head bowed down.
We love having you here in the evenings, sweetheart. You are a blessing to our EA family. The resources required to care for your personal needs and your school uniform are here for you. We want you to stay, be well-fed, and be able to focus on your studies. But, love, in order to be able to offer you this support you will need to agree to begin taking birth control. With your decision to become sexually active, we cannot risk the lives, the reputations, of the men who work here or of the institution itself should you become pregnant.
She responds empathetically, clearly understanding the risk to people that she cares about. She understands the importance of the reputation of the institution too. She cares about its ability to continue to provide service to others, including her younger siblings. Her spirit is closing down right in front of us.
There is silence for a moment, all of us with heavy hearts. Everything inside us wants to protect this angel. But this is her life and she is determined to retain whatever control that she can. We must respect her attempts, counsel as she will allow, and commit to being there if she falls.
I will stay home, then. She is resigned to it.
What are your thoughts about school, honey?
I want to keep going, to finish.
I smile. She knows what I am thinking and returns my non-verbal message with a shy smile.
Angel-girl, you are so stinkin' smart. Ever since you were little you have excelled in school, always at the top of your class. You amazed me when I first heard you pick up a book and read out loud. That was almost seven years ago. You brought the book to life with your voice. The scholarship you receive from EA for your school tuition is well invested. You can learn whatever profession you would like to do. But your attendance. . .it has been sporadic this year. To keep your scholarship you have to make it to school on a regular basis. You know, honey, that there are others who need the scholarship that you have. We have to be just.
There is no hint of manipulation in my words. I share with her adult to adult. She understands. Her heart is beautiful. Her mind is stubborn, self-protective, and it is so hard for her to make and keep commitments in the world in which she lives.
She suggests maybe she should just attend the community school as often as she is able to do so. We can see that she feels threatened and defensive. Who wouldn't? We work to re-assure her and give her time to think about options. But it is too much, really, right now. And we understand.
Let’s give it to the end of this month. Your tuition is paid through then. We can talk again and see what you are thinking and if you have some other ideas that we can support you in accomplishing.
Esperanza School is open to you, whatever you decide. Please come here to study, enjoy mealtimes, and continue friendships.
The conversation is just plain painful for all of us. We all feel sad together: Irma, Ana, me and angel-girl.
Sweetheart, no matter what, we are committed to walking with you. You have our love. It won't go away. Through the Launching Leaders program Ana is available to help you reach your education and career goals. But beyond that, her heart is here to listen, to offer guidance where you have doubts.
She smiles. She knows. But her head is still hung low.
What else is on your mind, sweetness?
I am worried about my mom’s health.
She goes on to explain the symptoms that concern her.
My heart cracks open so wide that I don’t think I can bear it. She loves her momma. I have never been sure. But she does. She loves her momma. Despite it all, she loves her momma.
Oh honey, you know how much I love your momma, too. She has been a special person to me for almost 10 years now. I am so sorry. We will strategize together to find a way to let us help her. We are not going away from her either.
We empathize with her. We all love her strong, funny, crazy, stubborn momma. She knows it. We talk together and express compassion as a team, the four of us.
Then she lifts up her head. She makes eye contact. She is one of us and she feels it. She experiences community and shared grief.
Pray with us for this angel-girl. Her situation is desperate. Pray for the national and missionary staff at Esperanza de Ana. Almost everyday we live second-hand trauma and it takes its toll. Even in the grief we find gladness. Everyday we lift our eyes to see God on His throne. Everyday we remind ourselves that we are His servants and that He will be the one that completes the good work that He began.