10 years old

She came to us with her little sister, in the wee hours of the morning just about a month ago. My staff had found her in the wet, leaking flooded waiting room of a government hospital. We had been monitoring her mother’s latest baby who had pneumonia but we didn’t know about these siblings. My staff brought her and her little sister back to Gentle Hands, cold, wet, and exhausted. The mother had left in the night-  to do what, no one knew. But the 10 year old had been left in charge of the baby who lay fighting for life in the NICU.

The baby was discharged a few days ago- dropped off by the mother at the door late on Friday afternoon in the middle of the typhoon. She said little and left almost immediately. The baby? A whole other story. You would think being discharged means being well. Not in this country.

But it’s Monday now. The mother is back to pick up her kids that we have cared for for a month. The ten year old, she wants. The baby, she doesn’t want. But then we learn how of 6 children, there are actually three fathers. And the abuse that they have suffered at the hands of these step-fathers is heartbreaking. But in this situation, I cannot keep this child if the mother is determined to take her back.

And so now I hold her little face in my hands. I have had little interaction with this girl. Quite on purpose. On some level, I convinced myself it was for her sake. I didn’t want her to attach to me because I didn’t know if I would be able to keep her. It would be hard for her to say goodbye.

The ugly truth is, I didn’t want to attach to her because letting her go back to a mother who wasn’t’ really able to meet her needs, would be so hard. It hurts to watch children suffer. I am convicted of my own selfishness. Who am I to decide when to hold back love or not.

She is standing now, in front of me, ready to go. Her eyes are so deep.

“Are you afraid?” I ask.

“I am“, she says, holding my eyes with hers.

‘What will you do when you are afraid?” I ask her, biting my own lip.

“Mama Judy taught me how to pray. I will pray.”

I hold her hands. Tears run down her cheeks. “Jesus will never leave your side. Do you know that?”

“Yes, Teacher Bunny taught me that”, she whispers.

“You are a brave little girl. You are strong. Jesus loves you and He sees everything. His angels will protect you. But if you need me…”

I wrap my arms around her and she melts into me. Her sobs are silent. It is a long embrace. But not nearly long enough. Her mother is impatiently waiting at the door. I have to let her go.

I scribble my contact numbers on a piece of paper for her to hide in her pocket. She smiles, just a little. “I know how to use a cell phone”, she whispers. “I was counting on that”, I whisper back.

She wipes her eyes. But the tears do not seem to notice. She wipes them again and I embrace her one more time. She smiles and they leave.

I watch them walk down the street, my heart aching. The mother is not holding her hand.

But she doesn’t need to. There is an angel on either side of that little girl, holding either hand.