Oddly enough, the first time I saw her I didn’t see her face. All I could see were her feet. They were dirty, no, filthy but tanned by the Guatemalan sun. Her shoes were torn, weathered and tattered at the sole. The big toe on her left foot touched the soil instead of the sole. She was dressed in the traditional indigenous dress; a hand-woven skirt and a detailed blouse. It too was weathered and likely worn by several women before her. She had long brown hair, bright eyes and a crooked smile. Through the Guatemalan grime of the remote village, she was a loveable and beautiful 9-year-old girl. I could tell she was well liked as 3 other similarly dressed children huddled close to her as she sheltered them from the rain.
We were on site to where we were building a home for a poverty stricken family. Very poor indeed, and like others in the community very much in need. Our task for the afternoon was to unload the pre-built walls and prepare to assemble them into a house. The walls were about 4’x8’ and very heavy. We had just unloaded the first of two loads of walls when I saw her.
She was kind but resistant when I approached her. No English, and me ‘poquito’ Spanish. I pointed to her feet and kneeled in front of her to look closer. She wasn’t embarrassed but curious, as were the other children who had begun to gather to take a look. I used my hands and finger stretch to estimate a shoe size – from tip of thumb to tip of pinky.
While I was kneeling, I noticed the state of the other children’s feet. Warts. Corns. Curling toenails. Filth. Shoes disintegrating and literally rotting off of their feet. Shoes 3 sizes too small. Toes hanging over the edge of sandals. Entire soles missing. Holes in rubber boots.
The children showed me their feet and I took estimated measurements, certain we had children’s shoes back at the teams home base.
Fortunately, we had a pair of girls shoes that were ‘tip of thumb to tip of pinky’ in size as well as other children’s shoes. I loaded a duffle bag and took it with us as we made our way back to the site with the second load of walls for the build a home project.
The children greeted us and by the time we had returned, word had spread and more children arrived to show us their feet. I found my brown haired and brown-eyed girl. She was speaking in Spanish, shaking her head and waving her finger “NO!” to me. I was shocked. I sat back on my heels and looked at her dumbfounded. Then I understood. She pointed to her friend’s feet and then pointed to the shoes as if to say “No, give those shoes to my friend. She needs them more.” Upon inspection, indeed her friend needed shoes but what was I to do? I found myself judging whose shoes were worse. I had only one pair of shoes, and two needy girls. Both girls were wearing equally atrocious shoes. I looked up at my friend and shook my head “NO.” I held my hand to my heart as I said in plain English, “God wants good blessings in your life. These shoes are for you. You are deserving of these shoes and they are a token of God’s love for you. You are worthy. I’m giving these shoes to you.”
It amazes me when God speaks through the heart, language doesn’t exist. I knew she understood as the tears rolled down her dirty cheeks. She allowed me to slip off her old shoes and fit her with the new. I tied the laces slowly so she could see how it was done. I suspected that she had never worn tie-ups before. Before she walked away with her friend she hugged me and said, “Gracias.” I never asked her name.
Bombarded by other children and more needs, we tended to as many as we could until we ran out of shoes. It is difficult, heartbreaking and unbearably painful with guilt to drive away without serving them all.
It was 3 days later when I returned to the same remote village. I was busy with the team finishing the details on the build a home project when I felt her touch my arm and then take my hand. I let her lead me just a few steps away from the worksite and she began to tie a hand-woven friendship bracelet on my wrist. It was likely made from left over threads from a project that her mother was weaving, but it was beautiful. She told me in Spanish “I made this for you. God Bless You.” When the heart speaks.
“Comma se yama?”
We hugged. Not like a stranger hug, but a hug that was deep, like holding on to a lifeline. It was sincere, desperate and full of love. I’ve never been hugged like that in all my life.
I discovered through a translator that Soulme was one of 4 children. The middle two children go to school and Soulme stays home with the youngest as mom and dad work the fields. She cares for the children; always putting others needs ahead of her own. Soulme has never had anything new or anything just for her. She is reliable, trustworthy and responsible often helping other children in the community that are left home alone to fend for themselves when mom and dad go off to work.
Soulme taught me many things that day. She showed me how to be in the present moment to look around and assess others needs. She showed me sacrifice, being willing to give at the expense of herself. She showed me surrender by accepting God’s gift of shoes. She showed me compassion and love for others completely and selflessly.
The greatest gift that Soulme gave me wasn’t the bracelet believe it or not. It wasn’t even in the act of giving the bracelet, or the deepest hug. Her gift was in the making of the bracelet. Her intention of showing God’s love for me. She used what little she had and wove each stitch with her smile, compassion, her faith and God’s love.
I’m sure that Soulme’s life has shifted, not only because she can step in comfort, but also because she knows that she steps with God and is deserving of His love. Through Soulme, what I know to be true is this: God loves me.
Thank you Soulme for sharing the greatest gift of all.