Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Eyes to Listen and Hearts to Respond

The activity I did the most while in Texas was listen. This may seem odd, since I didn't know much Spanish when I arrived and most of what I listened to was in Spanish.  But I learned other ways to listen. When words don't make sense, when there is a language barrier, a deeper sort of listening sets in. I learned to listen with my eyes.

The showers at the respite center.
About 3 weeks before I left Texas we went back to the Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite Center for the last time (not sure what that is? Click here to see my blog post on it). I was helping with the showers when a woman emerged and sat down to put on her shoes. I don't know what prompted her, but she launched into her story immediately after sitting down. I couldn't understand most of what she said, but I could understand her gestures, her emotions, and the pain in her eyes. She had a heavy burden she needed to unload, and she chose me. I didn't need to know what her words meant to know what she said, what she was feeling, and what she needed. And even though I couldn't say much more than a few sentences to her, she didn't need me to give her a lecture or to babble on. She needed me to listen intently with my eyes trained on hers, touch her arm gently, and reassure her of her safety. And that much I could do without knowing much Spanish. We are a part of the human family and we have a universal language of love.

That same night, I met a brother and sister who crossed a river in their journey to arrive to the US. Their clothes were still wet and they wanted desperately to take a shower. They couldn't stay apart from each other very long because the boy couldn't hear or speak and his sister communicated with him using gestures in some kind of home-grown sign language. She said he never went to school and just learned this at home. Despite all of this hardship, he had a constant smile on his face. And even though we could not communicate with words, or even gestures, his eyes spoke. He could not stop looking at me. And I didn't want to look away because he made me uncomfortable. I didn't want him to feel shame. So I looked back, with love. His eyes spoke of curiosity, of kindness, and of loneliness. I hope that my eyes spoke too, and that they spoke of love.

Maria's son tried to take a picture of us on my last day in Texas.
L to R: Sr. Nicole, Sr. Marla, Sr. Maxine
Listening was also an important part of visiting the Colonias (neighborhoods in Spanish). One of the women we accompanied was Maria (click here for another story about Maria). Maria has internalized much of what her abusive husband has told her over the years. Each time we met, we listened to Maria and her needs, her fears, her evident love for her children. We comforted her in her sorrow and pain and we laughed with her in her joys. On the last day I visited her, she told us about each of her children and what they are like. Light danced in her eyes as she thought about each one and how she loved them. She described with great detail how each child is with her, how they care for each other, and what their passions are. I could see a reflection of God's unconditional love in her as she thought about her most precious possessions, her children. Listening to her was not about the stories she told, it was about being present to her, taking an interest in her life, and showing her the unconditional love she showed her children. Since she doesn't get much in the way of unconditional love from her husband, she is unable to visit her parents, and limited in who she can talk with, we were her only source of friendship and love. Upon parting and reassuring her that we would always be with each other, I told her that I loved her. She paused and said, "Te quiero mucho porque me quieres sin conocerme." or in English, "I love you very much because you loved me without knowing me."

Her pain, her fear, her inadequacies were evident in that one sentence. And the power of God's love allowed me to be a conduit and show Maria what is possible with God. Unconditional love has not been a part of her reality and I am humbled to have been able to show her a first glimpse of it. I could not have done that without listening to Maria and slowly building a relationship with her over time.