I over think things. My mother will tell you I always have. I think it helps me be more intentional in my actions and my words. Unfortunately, it also keeps me from just getting a project done - it brings out the perfectionist in me. And sometimes, I stop short of the ending. I have been thinking and thinking about how to tell one story in particular - how to tell it perfectly. The story of a relationship - a relationship that lasted only one day, beginning to end. The story of one little girl and her amazing gift to me. I feel undeserving of her story. I want to do it (her) justice in how I replay it in words here in this space. But I also know that, like Ramona said, if I do not tell her story, then it (she) does not exist.
So last night I got a very clear message to "Just tell the story, stupid!". Do not over think it. There is beauty in its simplicity. So, here I go again...telling another story from Nicaragua. Plain and simple.
On the first full day in Nicaragua, we loaded up the kids from the orphanage onto the bus and headed out to the beach for a day of fun. Upon arriving, Joe, my friend and our fearless leader, told us that there are always some persistent peddlers outside the hotel where we would be eating, changing, etc. And that he had set up a specific time for them to enter into the patio area and sell their wares to us. And sure enough, as soon as we walked onto the beach and around the corner into the courtyard of the hotel, they lined up. "You like?" one woman repeated over and over again, showing us her necklaces and hemp bracelets. One woman (the woman with the apron in the photo above) was selling water in little baggies.
Then I noticed a young lady (a girl really) who had a plastic strainer filled with painted shell animals. She looked at me and said "You buy"? I answered in my broken Spanish, "Later, at 2:30, the special time to buy". After a few minutes of trying to getting that idea across, she had negotiated a deal for me to ONLY buy from her. I told her in not these exact words, but that if I was going to buy some goofy, painted shell animal souvenirs, that I would ONLY buy them from her. She was not asking much for them and in intended to buy one from her at the special buying time to help her out.
I went on my way, playing with the kids who had come with us on the bus - hunting for the biggest conch shells, jumping the waves, collecting these pretty little pink mollusk shells and making sand drip sandcastles. At first I had not noticed her. But wherever I went, she followed me. When I was in the water, she was close by on the beach. Despite my explanations of the fact that my wallet being in my bag, inside the hotel area, and I couldn't buy anything at that exact moment if I wanted to, she followed me. When I went in the hotel area for lunch with the kids, she was right outside the gate, her eyes glued to me through the holes in the cinder block fence. I even tried using , Kyra, one of the translators, to tell her that if she needed to go down the beach to sell to someone else, that she could. And I promised to buy a painted shell animal from her at 2:30. And yet, when I walked down the beach with one of "our" kids, she was constantly 100 paces behind us. Watching.
Seeing a group of kind hearted (read that sucker) gringos, an ice cream vendor showed up. And someone from our team, I don't even remember who now, bought a round of ice cream for all of the kids - those that came with us from the orphanage, the young cowboys selling horseback rides, and the little girl selling the painted shell animals too. She and I started talking. At first about ice cream. "Do you like ice cream?" "What is your favorite ice cream flavor?" And then I asked what her name was. After asking the same question two more times, I still didn't get it correct. I told myself it was something along the lines of Anna Sarah, hoping to be able to remember. She was so quiet and shy. She told me she was twelve years old. She did not want to share much more with me until I asked her to show me the animals she was selling. She showed me that she had poodles, chickens, turtles and one frog. She told me they were two American dollars each. I thought to myself that $2 sounded pretty inexpensive for something that would sell for $5 easy here at the oceanfront in Virginia Beach. Just to keep the conversation going, I asked her how many she had. She shrugged her shoulders and began counting them. Nine animals in all.
And then it happened. I lost my mind. Seriously. I do not know what came over me, but I found myself asking her if I could buy her whole lot for twenty dollars.
"Twenty American dollars?" she asked me.
"Yes, twenty dollars." I replied. As I calculated that in my mind, $20 was even more than she was originally asking. The deal-maker in me could have gotten her down to at least a dollar per animal I think. Her original price was probably inflated anyway, knowing that rich American gringos have money.The bargain hunter in me was confused. But I was not thinking with my head at that point. Something else, someone else had taken over the conversation. I reached out my hand to show that we had a deal and we shook on it.
She smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen in my entire life...bigger than any smile my boys have ever given me. I asked her what she would do now that she had sold all of the animals. She told me that she would get the day off. I asked her if she would show me where to find the biggest, best shells on the beach. She smiled again and tucked the strainer of sold goods under her arm with one hand and took my hand with the other. We headed off down the beach together to an area I had been earlier in the day - the same place we had been finding tons of the pink mollusk shells.
While we walked and searched, she told me that she lived with her mother who was at work at the time. She went to school only two days a week because that was all they could afford. She told me that she was sad sometimes because they did not have the things they needed. Making and selling the shell animals was all she could to to help her mother. All the while we were collecting little shells - the pink ones, brown scallop shells, round twisted shells. I asked where the big shells were, holding my hands out to show I wanted to find big conch shells to take back to my boys at home as souvenirs.
She shook her head as if to say, "you silly American. Don't you know the most valuable ones are the tiny ones that everyone passes by.
She told me that she made the animals from the shells she found on the beach and that while I was looking for the biggest shells, it was the smaller ones that were more valuable. Big shells are just big shells, they are pretty. But from the tiniest shells, you could make frogs and turtles, poodles and chickens. She showed me that there were in fact two kinds of pink shells. She showed me the differences in each and every tiny shell. This one was for the feet of the chicken and this one was for the head of the turtle. Each one with their own special, unique purpose. Come to find out she was eight years old and not twelve. 2:30 p.m. passed and she and I didn't even notice. Time was suspended.
When it was time to go, I took her inside the patio area of the hotel and pulled out a $20 bill. I showed it to her and rolled it up as tight as I could and slipped it in the palm of her hand. She took the money and shoved it down into the waistband of her underwear. I told her to be careful with it. She nodded. She laid out the animals in order of their species...the chickens first, then the poodles and the turtles and lastly the one little frog. I carefully rolled them up in the only thing I had, my sand covered shorts and my towel and placed them into my backpack. When I looked up, she was gone and I said quiet prayer that she would make it home with the money, no one around her the wiser.
There are so many things to be learned from this one encounter with this one little girl. Too many lessons to pick just one or two. And the lessons of this brief friendship are still being revealed to me. It was not just a chance meeting between she and I ... it was a divine encounter. One orchestrated by the Creator of the Universe. The same One who created the beach, the shells, the waves, this little girl and me. Here are some of the thoughts that are rolling around in my head since our meeting.
- The most valuable people to God are those who are easily passed by. It is not those who are big an bold and noticed easily. The most valuable people to God are those who are small, poor, weak and often forgotten. Who does society and specifically the American society value? Are those the same people I value. Who does my family value?
- People in need need more than our money. Yes, they need food and clothing and shelter. Absolutely. But after our handshake, she could have said..."now let's go get your money first and then I'll show you the shells". But she didn't. She valued the relationship more than the money. The amazing part of my gift to her was that she was able to give something back to me - the give and take of a real relationship.
- If the above is true and people need to know they have value. How does this lesson relate to how our country treats our poor. Since this is an election year, it has me examining our approach to throwing money at the problems in our society. In the world. Does this really solve the problem? Even temporarily?
- God meets you sometimes when you least expect it...often through a child. I already know this from watching my own boys, but this story just strengthened what I have already known.
- This was the best $20 I have ever spent. What else could I do with $20?
- I have been thinking about how this pertains to the relationships I have with people in my own life. The superficial ones...I mean the ones with people I see everyday - my neighbor who plays salsa music too loud, my postman who always has a smile, the woman who answers the phone when I call the church office. What would happen if I just took a moment to ask them about their family, asked them to share their story? I know it isn't possible all the time, but what if it happened once a day. Once a week. Once a month.
- Beauty is most often found in small, unique moments of the day. I was looking for the biggest shells on the beach and all the while missing out on the most beautiful ones. The tiny ones, each with their own unique purpose. How many of God's small, amazing gifts am I missing each day while asking for big ones?
- This time could have been just another shell animal sale to her and just another souvenir purchase to me. But the miracle happened when I committed to buying everything she had. Only then did she smile, take my hand and begin our walk down the beach. Only then was her story fully shared. How would things change if I said (and really meant it) "God, give me all that you've got. I'm ready to pay more than you ask. I will make the extra sacrifice. What do you have to show me?
- Approach life with open arms, you just might receive more than you can even hold on to.
It would be a miracle if I ever ran into this little girl again. But after our first encounter, I know...anything is possible if God is in the mix.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this story. If you got something different out of it, I would love for you to share in the comments section below. This is the kind of story that has layers, and I feel like I am uncovering them one at a time. Do you feel like her story applies to an area of your life? I would love to know if you don't mind sharing with me (and the rest of blogland).
Have a great weekend! Blessings dear friends!