I was nervous to meet her. How would I act? What would I say? I could ask her what her favorite color is or what her school is like. What if I run out of simple questions to ask her? Would I meet her mom and dad? Does she have a mom and dad? Would she think I was crazy if I hugged her? I don’t want her to think I’m crazy, or weird, or ugly. This would be so much easier if I could speak Spanish. (sigh)
Then I saw her. She was so innocent and timid… a sweet timid. Her eyes sparkled, even behind their shield of shyness. She wasn’t wearing a dress like I assumed (why did I assume that?). She had small hoop earring in her ears, like the kind I have back at home. She had a track jacket/sweat-suit kind of outfit on. Her hair was back in a ponytail. The way I dressed for years in elementary school.
We sat on the stairs outside the World Vision center for children with special needs and disabilities – another experience branded in my heart forever. Noelia sat beside me. Her mom and dad sat on each side of us.
I introduced myself, probably more formally than I really needed to. It was only seconds before we were all laughing and giggling between my poor and broken Spanish and our translator’s messages to them, thanks to my always-impractical commentary.
It was so easy to build a bond with Noelia’s family, not that I imagined it to be difficult. Actually, I just thought it wouldn’t necessarily happen – a bond between a Bolivian family and a 23-year-old American… not too typical, I thought. But it wasn’t at all the reality of what I experienced. Two families, world’s apart in every way, bonded by a shared love for one little girl – the little girl I sponsored from a web page on my couch in Puyallup, WA weeks earlier.
I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. I half expected an answer somewhere between a princess and a doctor (both of which are still aspirations of my own). Instead, she told me she wants to be a basketball star when she grows up. She plays on a community team right now with other children from her school. I can’t help but feel like I’m entirely the wrong person to relate to when it comes to her dream. I stopped playing basketball in the eighth grade after sitting on the bench most of the year. After that, I decided to stick with softball and volleyball. On the other hand, it must entirely be God’s plan to bless me with a sponsored child with an athlete’s heart. (If you know my husband at all, you know sports aren’t really his thing. Now I have Noelia to share the interest with.)
Before I left for Bolivia, I shopped around Target, Ross, Walmart… all were disappointments in my search for a little book bag I could fill with small gifts and give Noelia when I met her. My saving grace was my Aunt Mel. The Thursday before I left, she came into town with the most perfect bag with two presents for Noelia from my 11-year-old twin cousins – a homemade bracelet from McKenzie and Abby’s favorite Tinkerbell doll.
As I sat on the steps with Noelia, her father and her pulled out each gift I added to the bag before I left: crayons, a coloring book, flashcards, some candy, and pink nail polish. It felt a little like Christmas morning, if not for Noelia, for me. I felt excited knowing Noelia would have things to remind her of me even when I left. I hoped they would remind her of me.
She held the Tinkerbell doll and I put the bracelet on her wrist. She smiled the smile that is worth more than a million emotions and joys in my heart. There are not words to describe it.
Painting her tiny fingernails with her mom and dad sitting beside me, Noelia was so sweetly shy and precious in every way possible. Having her arms wrapped around me reminded me of my own nephew and I knew at that moment Noelia and I were family forever.
It all happens so fast when you’re there. So quickly, you wish you could go back and slow down each moment in time to really enjoy the experience, and fully extract the joy from each second.
Even still, every second with Noelia gave me years filled with joy and a lifetime of blessing knowing her and loving her. If even just from afar.
Now, she is the face I see every time I think of Bolivia and her hug is the warmth I feel in my heart every time another child is sponsored.
Please, please sponsor a child in Bolivia like Noelia. Your heart will never be the same.
And don’t miss these posts from some of my fave people — EE, theoutdoorwife, and Deb on meeting their sponsored children in Bolivia, too. And Sarah’s special post. **Each photo represents a story. Click on the photo for the rest of the post.