te amo: nicaragua reflections

Kids deserve to be kids. 

They deserve to laugh. They deserve to play. They deserve to use their imaginations. 

They deserve nice things. They deserve good food in their bellies. They deserve abundant love. 

For a week, I had the opportunity to both capture and partake in some of these kids-being-kids moments. I made some Nicaraguan children laugh at my nonexistent Spanish, chased a few more around a playground, and for others I just sat and shared their presence.

I now have a camera roll full of bright smiles, squinted, laughing eyes and joyful faces. 

But every few photos, I come across a somber, dramatic straight face; one with distant eyes and suppressed expression. Little girls with the most beautiful faces contorted themselves into a sober mugshot, little boys posing as unhappily aged little men with an air of forced toughness.

The juxtaposition of those serious personas on a child I just saw cheerfully chasing a friend a moment prior threw me for a loop.

I don’t know why they’d prefer to be seen in this light, but by the same token of things I don’t know, I don’t know their story. I don’t know their hearts. I don’t know their language. 

I only know their names, and even that only accounts for some. 

Again, I think kids deserve to be kids. 

They deserve peace. They deserve pleasant pasts. They deserve bright futures.

They deserve a listening ear. They deserve wise mentorship. They deserve to be invested in.

My heart breaks thinking that these little ones may have been forced to grow up too fast. My heart breaks thinking of their abandonment, their hostile upbringings, the hardships they may have faced at such young ages. 

My heart breaks thinking of their loneliness, the guilt they may be placing on themselves, the negative self image they could be fostering.

My seven days in Nicaragua taught me the importance of trying, of risking, of connecting. 

I never considered myself a kid person; I barely consider myself a people person. I tend to keep myself, I fear rejection (even from seven-year-olds), I think I’m awkward at conversation and I run out of breath embarrassingly quickly in a game of tag.

But I’m realizing that even those weaknesses can be used for good, I needed only to allow them to do so. I, as I’m sure most of us do, need only the humility and confidence  to believe that we can be used for something great.

We as humans say we don’t like change, but if we’re honest enough with ourselves, we’ll recognize how much of a lie that is. We like change, but we don’t like being changed.

Recognizing this distinction made me think whether or not it would be different if we allowed ourselves to change; quite literally granted ourselves permission to abandon the battered shells of our identity in the pursuit of something greater.

Practically speaking, this meant that I could erase the lies I’ve been telling myself such as I can’t carry conversation, that I can’t connect well with others, that these kids wouldn’t care or want to spend time with me.

We, too, deserve to be kids. 

We deserve the chance to let go—of our pasts, our imperfections, our expectations. We deserve the opportunity to be goofy, to laugh until we cry. We deserve to unapologetically enjoy Welches fruit snacks and gummy bear vitamins if we feel so compelled.

We deserve to have fun, to rest in good company. We deserve to be free of the unfair restraints of which we shackle ourselves. We deserve to scribble over the unflattering self portraits we’ve blindly drawn if we want to.

Sharing a moment in these kids’ lives was both simultaneolsy a joy and a personal discomfort. In the past I’ve been self-conscious about my poor Spanish, I’ve been self-conscious about my looking stupid, I’m self conscious about potential rejection.

But this week wasn’t about how I felt; this mission wasn’t about me in the slightest. 

Having the opportunity to invest in these kids’ lives, to make their day, to potentially be their only friend for a week is not only a blessing but a privilege.

We, too, deserve to be kids. 

We deserve to recreate our identities, to meditate on truth. We deserve to enjoy the simple things. We deserve to set aside our preconceived notions of ourselves, let loose and run across mounds of mulch on a playground. 

We are deserving of a child-like faith in grace, second chances and sweet redemption.

We are the most free when we are gentle with ourselves, when we allow ourselves to step out of our comfort zones and grow past the old, undated versions of who exactly we think we are.

I stepped off of the orphanage compound in Puerto Cabezas with an even greater love for those kids and that country than my first visit last summer. I left with “te amo” pouring from my lips and tears from my eyes.

God willing it won’t be the last.

I can only hope I helped those kids understand their value and importance in this world, and whether or not they intended to or realized it, they helped me to remember mine.

All photos taken by Me.

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