Holiday times always seem to be an emotional roller coaster for many people to begin with. Then go ahead and add in what life may throw at you. This past week has been just that for many. Many of you reading this blog know my story of how I got here, at least from what all happened in the States before I came for my 3 month trip. But there’s more to the story. One from how the people in Guatemala pulled my heart. I started coming in 2011 on short trips when I could cram my 80 hours into a week before and a week after with some days off in between. Sleep is overrated anyway, right? That’s what you’re supposed to do on the plane. When I started coming, I was visiting friends who work with kids in orphanages and children’s homes. I loved the break and playing with kids. But I felt like something was missing. I’m a nurse. I wanted to help with patient care some way, but didn’t have the connections yet. One trip here, I was called by a friend who worked in a clinic and asked if I wanted to join her. Sure! And that was the start of getting involved with the medical world here.
Later, when back in the States, I heard about a sweet boy named Mateo, who was placed into the care of Dawn, a missionary friend of mine. Every breakfast and any time he exerted himself, he would turn pale, blue, short of breath, and all but pass out. His way of recovering from these episodes was to squat against the wall. We figured out that he needed open heart surgery ASAP to repair congenital defects. That started the process of them trying to get the surgery done in Guatemala. Meanwhile, docs I worked with had some connections stateside to see if he could come to the states to have his surgery done. It was a race to see which happened first. He was finally scheduled for his surgery around Thanksgiving time in Guatemala and I booked my flights to help care for him and help Dawn, who was caring for him and 3 other children.
Mateo stole my heart immediately. His sweet smile. Amazing laugh. His determination to play, but couldn’t run without having chest pain and about passing out. So he found other ways to play, including lying at my feet or in my lap. One morning, he was eating breakfast, and began to have one of his episodes: turned pale. Then blue. Started to whimper. Gasping for air. We got him out of his chair and had him squat. I squatted down with him, telling him to stay calm and that he’s going to be ok. He looked at me, let out a cry, and started to pass out. I scooped him up, carried him to the couch, and had him all curled up on my chest. He continued to cry for a bit that his chest hurt. I just rubbed his back, prayed for him, and he fell asleep for hours, lying on me. At this point, he had been turned away for heart surgery multiple times for random reasons and we just prayed he would get it done soon. His little heart couldn’t take much more. Finally, a few weeks later, he was able to receive it.
Meanwhile, I had more time with him, the 3 other kids, and Dawn. We talked and talked...and talked about our futures. How I was seriously feeling a tug to come and do what she’s doing: fostering kids who needed a safe place. How I would love to start a clinic. Take in kids who had medical issues. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready to quit my job in the emergency department. I wasn’t sure if I could do all of that on my own and felt like I needed more support around me to be able to accomplish all of that. But having Mateo curled up on my lap, having the other kids snuggle with you well after their bedtime because they are scared and need some love and security, it just felt right.
Each trip after his heart surgery, I always visited Mateo and his awesome siblings. He looked amazing after surgery! Lips pink instead of purple. Seeing him run, laugh, be able to be a kid, and even just do something so simple like eat breakfast without passing out, was an amazing thing to witness! After some time, a judge decided to send him and one of his sisters back with his mother. Many who lived relatively close to them continued to stand up and advocate for him and his sister. We all continued to pray for them.
These past few days have been emotional for sure. Hearing that Mateo had a heart attack, went into a coma, heart failure, losing blood, needing a heart transplant, knowing half of what he and his siblings have been through. He had been through more than most people have in a lifetime. Being a small part of his 6 years of life have been such a huge blessing to me. He was the start of feeling the call to move to Guatemala. He touched my life and so many others as well. So many people fought for him and his siblings, trying to keep them safe, show them the love of a family. He has more “family” than he realized probably.
Yesterday, my family and I went out to Semuc Champy. Honestly, I was running from my emotions. I didn’t want to be at home, thinking about how Mateo was no longer with us. Yes, it’s amazing to think about how he’s completely healed in heaven, no longer in pain, suffering, dealing with trauma. How he is safe for eternity and can no longer be hurt. But it still hurts us, being left behind. But you know, running from my emotions didn’t really work. They followed. I spent a lot of time praying and this is what I felt God speaking to me:
People were commenting on my pictures of him about his smile and how much joy he had. He went through so much pain, physically and emotionally, and he still had joy, a smile, laughed. So, look for the simple things in life. It’s not always going to be pretty. But we can choose joy, choose to find the silver lining in things. So, perfect timing for “New Year resolutions:” I want to choose joy. Find the good in things. Learn the lessons God is trying to teach me and listen to Him. We have so many blessings, even in the midst of pain and sadness. But ask God to open your eyes to them and to focus on Him through everything.
Mateo, sweet boy, thank you for teaching me so much, for preparing me for moving here, taking in kids who needed a safe place, starting medical clinics, and the million other things we do in this ministry. You stole my heart years ago when we met and I never imagined my life to have turned out the way it has. But I’m so grateful for my life now: for my husband, kids, ministry, many new friends who have become family, our supporters/ encouragers/ prayer warriors. Now, Mateo, you are HOME. Safe. Healed. Whole.