Elephant Woman

I cry, I’m a crier, it’s true. I cry when I’m so full of happiness that it bubbles over in the form of salty water, streaking down my cheeks. I cry every time God whispers into my spirit those most beautiful of words, “I love you, Beloved.” And holy moly you should have seen me the first time I watched Titanic: WHYYYY *gasps for breath* DID JACK *sobs* HAVE TO DIEEEE???? *wails*” That is not even an exaggeration, unfortunately.

But I remember when I became a Momma to a hot pink room full of tiny girls, and one of my first convictions was,

“I cannot let them see me cry.”

I thought my girls needed to see that their Mami was STRONG, so there was no way I was going to let them know about the secret of my raging emotions.

When Anahi had to move out of our hot pink oasis, I held her as she cried but I waited until she was gone before I let my own tears loose. The night I sat in a circle with six of my little daughters and a realization slashed through my heart like a butcher’s knife that I was the only virgin in the room, I waited until they were fast asleep before that waterfall came crashing out of me. During the months I prepared them for the day I would leave, I never let them see how much it hurt me. Not even when Mina told me she wanted to live in Chile because “that’s where you’ll be.” And on the night before I left them, when I held each of them in my arms, one by one, and Mina let her heart break wide open as she sobbed and begged me, “Mami don’t leave me, Mami don’t leave me…” Even then, even then I didn’t let her see how it was killing me too.

I was amazed at my ability to guard them from my tears, and proud of myself for being so strong for them. There was only one time, one time during that summer when I couldn’t keep it in. Chela was leaving with her adoptive family, the very family that she had been taken away from because of their physical abuse to her. I was terrified. I was scared and angry because I knew there was no guarantee that Chela was going to be okay with them that time around. Her adoptive Momma came to me, she grabbed my hands, and she promised me she was going to take such good care of our girl. And I couldn’t keep it in. Tears fell down my face and I felt like such a FAILURE, I failed to keep it together; I failed to show my girls an image of strength and tenacity in the midst of dealing with something difficult.

A year and a half later I was back with my daughters, but only for a month. It was beautiful. Mina was there, Marichuy, Angela, Anahi & Yessenia too. Even Chela. She was back, because her Momma had broken that promise she had sworn to me the day I cried, the day I thought I failed. The night that I needed to pack to return to Colombia, I was so tired. I was exhausted, physically but mostly emotionally. I was leaving them again. I was leaving in obedience to God, but not because it was what I wanted. So I sat on the floor and opened up my big empty suitcase, and Yessenia climbed in and curled up inside. My Yessenia, who struggles so much to express herself in words but I knew exactly what she was saying to me, “Mami don’t leave me again.” And I broke. I sat there and straight up ugly cried over my Babygirl.

Maribel rushed in and shooed Yessenia out of my suitcase because that’s so often our reaction to emotion, isn’t it? To fix it, to make it better, or at least make it seem better. But my dear friend Maribel couldn’t fix it, because grief isn’t something to be fixed. It’s something to be felt, something to live through, something to walk through with God because grief is the road that leads to healing, if we allow God to piece us back together on that journey.

I left Mexico again, I flew back to Colombia, I moved into Kiwi House, and one of the first things that stuck out to me there was that showing emotions was encouraged. I accompanied Bibi one night when she went to pray with our then seven-year-old boy, J. I was there to listen, and what I heard her pray was this, “God.. help J to express what he feels, if he needs to laugh, that he can laugh, and if he needs to cry, that he can cry.”

One day I was sitting on the sofa, reading my Bible when something reminded me of my girls and my tears began a flowin’. J saw me, and was all: “Why you cryin’?!” and I was all guarded and said that I had just read something that made me cry. Bibi heard me tell him that and later she said to me, “You can be honest with them that you’re sad, it’s good for them to know that it’s okay to be sad and to cry.”

I was all: whaaa?! But I knew she was right. I knew she was speaking the truth to me, so I stopped trying to “keep it together.” And I began to tell an honest story with my tears. Unashamed. No longer feeling that I was failing every time I let my guard down.

Kiwi House has seen me cry on Father’s Day when I missed my Daddy, and on Christmas Eve when my whole family was together except for me. Kiwi has seen me cry when I’ve missed Mexico and they’ve seen me cry when their behavior has hardcore hurt my feelings. And I’ve been able to be honest with them and say, “I miss my Mom too, just like you miss yours, and it’s okay to cry about it.”

What’s the shortest verse in the Bible again? Oh yeah, I remember: “Jesus wept.” Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, even knowing that He was about to bring him back to life. Jesus saw the depth of the grief that Lazarus’ family was feeling and He chose to weep there, in front of them, with them. Surely then, there is something holy in that, in being vulnerable with one another, vulnerable enough to weep.

One day I was walking through these busy Bogota streets when I saw an elephant ring for sale. I stopped to look closer and I remembered something beautiful about those breathtakingly strong creatures: they cry.

I bought that ring, and every time I see it on my finger I remember the truth that strength & sensitivity can coexist beautifully together. Strong doesn’t mean the absence of vulnerablity, in fact I think the opposite is true.

It takes tremendous strength to be vulnerable.

Recently I was remembering that day with Yessenia inside my suitcase, and I didn’t feel like I failed her anymore. I smiled, because I am so thankful she could see me break open like that. I am so thankful she saw that her Mami loved her and was going to miss her every bit as fiercely as she was going to miss me. And I hope she never forgets the moment she saw that she was worthy of being wept over.



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