Casa Trip Day 3: They are weak but He is strong

Posted on January 18, 2011

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Imagine being a young child in 1st or 2nd grade again. Now imagine driving to the doctor with your parents. When you get to the doctor’s office, imagine that your parents send you out of the car and into the doctor’s office and tell you that they’ll be coming right behind you in a few minutes. Now imagine that your parents never did what they said they would do and you’re left standing in some doctor’s office with no parents, no home, and only the clothes on your back.

This is the story of one of the older boys I was hanging with at Casa. Casa is full of stories like this, many of which are even more horrendous. Gil could tell you countless Casa stories of tragedy that ended in redemption as well as stories of hope and progress that ended in despair. When John heard this morning during our meeting with Gil that one of the Casa girls that he had come to love deeply was recently forced to leave Casa for reasons outside of Gil’s and Casa’s control but were not in her best interests, you could see John’s blood begin to boil. “If I found her out there, I’d adopt her tomorrow,” John said. I believe him.

Today was a great day for lots of reasons. Kurt and I made lots of progress out in the storage area, our Arvada group went into town with Gil and Becky for a KILLER dinner at a place called Tacos y Salsas in a bigger town outside of Anahuac called Cuauhtemoc (which also reminded me of parts of LA), but most of all, it was a good day because I could really sense that a lot of the boys were beginning to warm up to me (young and old). As I’ve said before, I didn’t want to force myself on them, but I wanted to make sure that I was at least presenting myself as someone who was approachable now that they’d had a couple of days to get used to my ugly mug around the place. Nearly every girl was still a little bit nervous around me with one little four-year-old exception named Anahi. More on her tomorrow.

During our craft time (painting a window ornament) I walked around and tried to help all of them, complimenting each kid’s work and making them laugh with my crappy Spanish. My ornament was a dog. As I painted it, I decided to give my dog blue paws, which a few of the kids found to be pretty amusing.

After our ornaments were done, the younger boys started to hang out with me when they realized that I was just as willing to pick them up and toss them around as the other men in our group were. Before long, Austin, Tyler, John and myself were like rides at an amusement park with boys lining up for their turn to be hoisted into the air, wrestled with, tickled or hugged. One boy in particular named Oscar just could not get enough of being lifted up and tossed around like a rag doll. He would run around 90 miles an hour with the biggest smile on his face, chase you around and jump on you until you lifted him up in the air again. Such joy in that little guy’s heart. Here are some pictures of the one and only Oscar.

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When our arms started getting tired, I started another very mature game with the boys: pointing at them and accusing them of smelling bad. “Smell” is one of the only words I know in Spanish, so I could say “Tu hueles mal” (you smell bad) and they thought it was funny. When they would tell me that I smelled bad, I would look completely shocked, smell my arm pit and let out a sigh of satisfaction that you might expect from someone who just took a whiff of a dozen roses. They would crack up. “Yo huelo bien. Muy bien,” I would say. We would go back and forth for forever about who smelled the worst. They thought it was hilarious, so I just rolled with it. The joke lasted all week long and never got old to them. By the end of the week, we were only telling each other that we smelled good.

Each weekday afternoon, all of the kids get together in the common room of their dorm areas for some “devotional time”- a time where they recite some scriptures, watch some Christian-type videos and sing some songs. For some reason it didn’t happen yesterday, so today was my first “devo” with them. When I walked in, the movie portion of devo time had already begun. When I found my seat, Oscar and “Emily’s” Francisco (who I talked about yesterday) shouted “Travis!” in the middle of the movie and ran over to me to sit in my lap. The boys would play with my fingers, touch my face, hug me, even kiss me. They were so relaxed with me that both of them even fell asleep on me at one point. It felt good to let the Casa kids be physical with me and know that Gil was 100% supportive of it. Gil knows they need the hugs and kisses.

When it came time to sing, they sang some songs in Spanish, and I was impressed that they knew a few songs in English as well.  But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the lesson I learned when we sang “Jesus Loves Me.” In case you don’t know this song, it’s a song that lots of Christians teach their children because of its child-like text and simple (a.k.a. pentatonic) melody. The words go like this:

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

The Bible tells me so.

These children- children with no parents, children who have been abused, children who have absolutely nothing- were singing “they are weak, but He is strong.” These kids aren’t just weak; they’re utterly and completely helpless. Remeber fun-loving Oscar from a couple paragraphs ago? His parents died in a flood. What does he have that hasn’t been given to him? Nothing. What can he do for himself? Nothing. When he came to Casa, everyone says that he was unbelievably sad and confused, no doubt traumatized by the loss of his parents. But now look at him. Full of joy. And as he sat there in my lap asleep during singing time, I realized that I’ve been singing this song the wrong way my entire life.

When I’ve sung “they are weak” for the past 25+ years, I don’t think I’ve ever been honest with myself about how truly weak I am. Too often I think that my weakness is more like the difference between me being able to bench press 200 lbs. and God being my spotter to get me up to the 300 lbs I need for a given task, and that with training, I can someday be able to carry more of the load. I guess that’s the American in me. But when you’re face to face with these Casa kids and their helplessness, you realize that our Spiritual Reality is no different. I am helpless. I can do nothing for myself. I am an orphan because of sin, and in His infinite mercy, Jesus- the Christ- has adopted me. Alone I can bench press 0 lbs. no matter how hard I try, but He can lift the weight of the entire world onto a cross. Maybe “Jesus loves me” isn’t a good song to teach our children after all. “They are weak but He is strong” gives us too much credit, and doesn’t give Jesus nearly enough.

As I realized the depth of my need for Jesus in that moment for possibly the first time, I held my tears back hoping that I could avoid crying in front of the kids. I normally don’t try to hide my tears (even though I tend to cry more than most people), but crying in front of them wasn’t an option. What was the point? I couldn’t talk to them about it, and even if I was fluent in Spanish, they were too young possibly comprehend the depth of my reflection in that moment. If I cried, they wouldn’t understand.

But then again, maybe they would.

At dinner, I sat with the boys again, even though this adorable little four-year-old girl named Anahi continued to ask me to join her. It’s pretty hard saying no to a little girl that’s as cute as she is, but I had to do what I had to do. Juan Peeblee and company were enjoyable as usual. The weather had been incredibly windy (as in “blowing over cars and causing fatalities on the highways” windy) so we hadn’t been able to go outside and play sports like the older boys had been wanting to (they seemed to be pretty disappointed about this, and I was no different). Stuck inside we entertained ourselves by talking to each other and joking some more about people smelling “mal” and smelling “bien” to pass the time. And before we knew it, it was time for the kids leave for the night.

And there was morning and there was evening: the third day.

Tomorrow, you’ll get to know Anahi a little bit better. But fair warning: the more you get to know her, the harder it might be to let her go.



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Posted in: Casa Trip, Faith, Life