I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I’m sure, but time is flying by. The days seem long which is normal here, but the weeks feel so short. It is already Sunday and we are ready to start a new week again tomorrow.
Last week was filled with all kinds of happiness and sadness, laughs and tears. It was the last week of programs. That came as a shock to me since I didn’t realize that until late Monday. Unfortunately, Jafeth (my replacement with the preschoolers) only got to do the program with me a few days. I know that wasn’t the best training he could have gotten. He will be OK though, he’ll just learn quite rapidly next year on his own of what works for him and the kids. On the last day of programs Thursday, I was standing in the bathroom putting my make-up on. When I am by myself, I enjoy praying aloud and talking to God as if he were standing next to me. So as I was thanking God for the opportunity of being the preschool teacher over the last year or so, I just lost it. There I was, attempting to put make-up on, while crying uncontrollably and having it all come right back off. When Jafeth and I started the morning program, Jafeth asked whether we should sing songs or not. I remember saying “it’s up to you Jafeth, the program is almost yours since this is my last day.” I almost teared up then at the thought of it. After our afternoon class, I went to bring my computer upstairs to the apartment like I always do. Instead of heading back downstairs, I just had to spend some time sitting by myself. I cried and cried and cried over it all. I’m someone who rarely cries and is not very emotional, but I knew this moment would come. The thing is, I know the kids will be in good hands next year. Unfortunately, right now all I can think about is how I am going to miss them like crazy. I hate that I won’t be here to see their accomplishments and improvements, to encourage them, to see them on their first day of school next year, etc. But it is what it is, and right now it is difficult.
Friday was a cheerful day, and thank God for that. We spent the day decorating the mission for Christmas. I have to say that while I may have been the one to buy the decorations and clearly I love how it all looks, everyone else thinks so too! Even though everything is garnet and gold, I’m not being biased here. The church looks the best I have ever seen it for Christmas. The morning of decorating kicked off with Jenny and I going to buy the Christmas trees. This is the wildest thing. I asked Jenny where we would go to buy the tree this year. She said it was pretty far and hard to explain how to get there. That’s when I decided to go with her so I could go ahead and buy our tree for the apartment at the same time. In my mind, I was thinking as soon as she said far and complicated that it must be the place Jessica took us last year to get our tree. Sure enough, that’s the place we pulled up to. I looked around and didn’t see any Christmas trees. The guy was on the phone when we pulled up so we sat in the car and waited. I told Jenny the story of going to this exact place last year and there being no trees left and we had to head to another tree lot back the other direction. I even jokingly told her that this guy was about to direct us to the same place as last year since there were clearly no trees here.
After he got off the phone, Jenny went to ask him where the trees were. I sat in the car waiting patiently and watching. When Jenny got back in the car she told me that he didn’t have any trees and that we could go to Los Jardines because they still had them. I asked her where that was and she said by her house meaning we’d have to go back where we came from and then some to get to this place. I asked Jenny if she knew what déjà vu was and she said “si,” and repeated the same thing back to me but with a Spanish accent. We started driving to this other place and the moment we pulled up, it was the craziest feeling. It was the same exact place that we bought the tree last year.
Once we parked the car, we hiked down to start walking through the maze of trees. Jenny and I were like two kids in a candy store. She asked the man to show us the biggest trees they had. We must have walked through dozens and dozens of trees. We saw several we liked but trying to back track to wherever those were was impossible. Finally, we picked two large ones and the guy started to saw them down. I don’t think we were really paying attention to size because the tree for the church can be as big as they come. But the one for the apartment was also quite large. I think we ended up taking a foot and a half off the trunk to get it to fit inside.
When we got back to the mission, Maiko asked if he should take the tree up to the apartment. I said sure, that would be nice. Let me start by saying that they don’t use tree stands here, they use five gallon buckets with rocks and sand in them to hold the tree. Last year, Pabel graciously did this for us. This year, that guy goes on vacation right at Christmas tree hunting time! Ideally, we would have set the tree out on the carport until we found our bucket and got everything together. Now I know Maiko was trying to help which is why I can’t get even slightly upset about this. Half an hour later after the tree was taken upstairs, I walked up to the apartment to see this ginormous tree laying in the middle of the floor with green sprigs and needles everywhere. We’re all quite fortunate that that was just his mess and Mack didn’t go nuts on the tree in that thirty minutes or so that it was left unattended on our living room floor. When Andrew came upstairs later that day, he actually asked me “what are the chances that we can just leave this like this until Pabel gets in on Monday?” Not good.
What I loved about decorating the mission this year was how many mothers and teenagers showed up to help the staff. Everyone jumped in to help do something. Jenny and I put Ronald and Vinicio in charge of getting the tree in the bucket and settled. Yorlana and Erika were going to start decorating the stage. Others started to unpack all of our Christmas décor to get organized. And Jenny and I were off to buy more stuff! Before we left, I did a quick peek at the unpacked boxes of decorations. I didn’t see the special ornaments that we normally put up. I asked Jenny to be sure we put them back in those boxes last year and she said yes. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I knew Larry and Cheryl’s matching ornaments were part of that group. We decided we’d look for them once we got back from the store. Neither of us said anything to anybody about it but when we returned and everything was sorted out even more, Jaikel came up to me and said that he couldn’t find Cheryl’s ornament, only Larry’s. Sometimes, with all the new staff and changes that have taken place this year, it’s nice to have some of the people who have been around for years to notice things like that. To me, it was quite thoughtful that he knew those were always special ornaments for the tree and he looked thoroughly for them. There was a genuine sense of disappointment when he realized one of them might be lost.
The afternoon was filled with more decorating. Everything truly looked wonderful and it was such a nice collaborative effort. I will say that I really only adjusted, or “corrected” if you will, a few minor decorations when people weren’t looking. I think that’s a pretty big deal for me since I tend to be a little obsessive. It reminds me of something I saw on Pinterest recently that says “I’m not really a control freak… but can I show you the right way to do that?” To have that many people decorating in all kinds of different ways, some putting ornaments in a linear direction on the tree, and others clumping things all together, I did really well with it.
That night, we had a sleepover for the tween girls. This was a nice end of year event to do with them and especially so since I won’t be here next year. We ordered pizza, played games, painted nails, made bracelets, and just hung out. Sometime after midnight, we circled up to talk as a group. The girl who was going to give the message that evening had to leave early on. While we were all together, I took the opportunity to share a couple of verses with them and give them my farewell message, if you will. I shared Psalm 139:14 with them because I think that’s an important verse for every teenage girl to learn and believe. Several of them are sixth graders who will go on to high school next year. I shared with them how easy it is to make decisions that are based on what everyone else is doing and not what God would have them do, so be careful. I encouraged them to stay involved, make good decisions, and work hard next year. For some reason, I felt the need to let them know that even if I come back to visit next year and hear that so-and-so is into this now or hanging out with the wrong crowd or whatever the case may be, that I would never give up on any of them. And I know that their leaders that will be here next year won’t either. I read Jeremiah 29:11 to them and told them that I would forever share that great hope for all of their futures and lives. I told them how proud I was of them and how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know them all. I let them know that I will always pray for them and love them from afar in the United States, but to always remember that they will always have people here in this mission who love them. At that point, half the group was crying, which was not my intent. So I said, why don’t we get up and do something fun? And everyone got up and started a dance party.
Tomorrow starts another week here, one of just a few left. There’s much to do before Christmas comes. I have to share this precious moment I had with Cristhel a couple of weeks back. We have a million Cristhels here but this one is Hierguth’s little sister so I am sure she has heard from him about what the inside of the apartment is like. We were sitting at a table one day in the classroom and she ushered me closer. This child whispers nearly everything to me that she says and is unbelievably meek. She has spent the better part of her short life living in fear. One day, if God gives me the go ahead to do it, I will share their family’s story as I know it would open many people’s eyes to real life here in Bajo Tejares. But for now, just a handful of us know what their lives have been like and we’ll keep it that way. Anyways, when I leaned across the table, she whispered in my ear “is it true that your house is filled with Christmas presents?” I smiled back at her and said “yes, yes it is!”