As I watch her walk down the gravel road I can’t help but smile. She’s taking her turn with the staff psychologist - working through her past, passing the office on the way. I follow her as she passes by, the smile never leaving my face. I remember her first day. She was the girl who wouldn’t smile. The girl who wouldn’t show fear and certainly wouldn’t show joy. Her guard was up, her street-sense on high alert. I could read the apprehension in her body language. She was the girl that wouldn’t be here long, so no sense in making a connection or getting comfortable with these strangers.
She had learned to survive on her own. She doesn’t need help from anyone; especially from this place where she was forced to move. She doesn’t belong here. The street is her friend and companion. She’s done just fine on her own. This new place is foreign. With its rules and walls, how could she be comfortable? She can’t come and go as she pleases, nor avoid the adults that act like they care. She will not allow them in. She will not allow herself to trust. Trust hurts, it disappoints, it fails.
She will serve her sentence in this place, though this was not her choice. She was brave, she was smart, she was hardened. She could have continued her survival on the street. But now she is forced to sit at a table, go to school, sleep in a bed. She is forced to interact with adults, to obey them, to respect them. She has chores, responsibilities, and homework. She has friends, sisters, parents, a family.
As time passes she learns to deal with the change. Bathing becomes a good thing. Regular meals become expected. Learning becomes fun. She begins to see truth in things she thought a lie. She has let her guard down and people in. Slowly. First her house mom, then her dad. For the first time she has a best friend. A friend who is also a sister. Her smile is no longer a stranger to her, her trust a blooming flower. She is learning to love and to be loved.
I never thought she would trust me. I am a stranger, a man, a gringo. I watched her keep her distance, I saw her watching me interact with the other kids. She was curious, but hesitant. It wasn’t until she allowed me to push her on the swing that I earned her trust. That I was willing to play with her and invest my time in her, was all she needed. Since then she runs to me for a hug and to ask me how I am. Normally a change such as this would be unusual, but God allows me to see it almost everyday. He is alive in the hearts of the kids that are sent to us.
She makes me smile because of who she was and who she is. It makes me think of how God the Father must smile because of who I was and who I am now. She makes me smile because I see myself in her. I used to try to do things my own way too. I didn’t trust, I didn’t let others get close, I didn’t let my guard down. But just as she allowed love to change her, I did too. Instead of trying to make it on my own, I have allowed the God of the universe to take care of me. She has learned to accept the love she deserves and so have I.