“I need words as wide as sky.”
“I need language wide as this longing inside.”
“And I need a voice, bigger than mine.”
“And I need a song to sing to you, that I’ve yet to find.”
“I need you, to be here now, to hear me now”
David Crowder Band – lyrics to “I Need Words”
Have you ever had one of those days when you felt like God was trying to get your attention?
I had a day like that recently. The message was loud and clear, and it came from a variety of sources.
Over and over, like a dripping faucet at times, blunt encouragement at others. Today, the voices were soft but strong; strong because they came from trusted sources. And what I heard them say was… write. Simply write. At times it was a gentle reminder or a question; “when will you be writing again?” At times it was bolder; “You are a writer, you need to write! You have all the material in the world!” And then there was the constant ache within myself, that quiet voice that said; “You have a story to tell.”
And so I pray that you will indulge me as I do my best to tell this story…
It was my second trip to Ecuador in two months. I asked myself more than once, what the purpose was, for me to be on this trip. I knew the basic reasons; I was there in the event of an emergency, I was there as a liaison between the Ecuador staff and the American guests. I was there to promote Compassion International. But there had to be a bigger reason to send me all this way a second time in less than two months.
I found my reason in the face of a little boy named Bryan.
Bryan was one of the overlooked. And I think I noticed him partly because for the first time in a very long time, I was overlooked. As a leader, I had grown accustomed to doing most of the speaking, making most of the decisions. This trip was different. The decisions were being made by the senior Pastor. Pastor Donnie was the one that was being asked to speak. It was him that the team looked to for direction. It was him that the churches wanted to hear from. And that is exactly as it should have been. This was his church, members from his congregation; it was natural for them to look to him for direction. He is their shepherd and I was an outsider to this flock. Don’t get me wrong! What I am trying to explain is a very natural scenario. This is what I expected.
What I didn’t expect, is that sting of feeling overlooked, of feeling unnecessary. I made myself useful in many ways behind the scenes, but I could not shake that sense of not being needed. And that may be exactly what God wanted me to feel.
I connected with Bryan immediately, it was as if I was drawn to him, and he was drawn to me. I leaned down to say hello to him and ask him his name. It was quickly apparent that he could not speak. He had no voice, only a quiet grunt issued forth. A tutor from the Student Center told me that his name was Bryan and that he could not talk but he could understand me. How could we communicate if he could not talk and I couldn’t speak his language? How would he understand?
Bryan couldn’t understand a word I said, and I didn’t say much; but he did understand my smile, my embrace. He understood kindness.
We spent that first day with a handful of children and parents from the area. This first visit was to expose the American guests to Compassion’s Child Survival Program. Moms and babies were there to greet us and show us everything they were learning at the center. Their pride was evident, their enthusiasm was infectious. We loved on the moms, and we loved on the babies, and I loved on little Bryan. It wasn’t much, just a hug now and then and a smile when he would run near me.
The group split up and we visited the homes of some of the moms from the project. We were gone for about an hour and returned to the center for lunch. When we returned, Bryan was there to greet me. I wished I could tell you that he had a smile on his face, but Bryan’s face was disfigured and he couldn’t smile; his expression never changed, frozen into a twisted mass of nerveless muscle. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastic in his greeting. He would dart in to wherever I was sitting, grab a hug and dart away again; maybe to tell the other children in his own way that he had a new friend.
It was during lunch that I think Bryan knew that I accepted him just the way he was. He climbed into my lap as I was finishing my meal and enjoying a cold soda. I took a sip and handed the bottle to Bryan. He took a sip and handed the bottle back to me. This was a moment of decision, and some of you reading this may be shuddering to think what came next. I took the next sip and Bryan seemed satisfied with that.
It may not have been his first taste of cola, but I am fairly certain that it was the first time he had shared a cola from the same bottle with a stranger. I couldn’t see it on his face, but Bryan seemed delighted from that point on. He handed the bottle to me once more to make sure that I had had enough. I took one last sip and Bryan dashed away with the bottle of cold soda in hand. I think he wanted everyone else to see that he had something for the first time that no one else had.
The afternoon passed quickly with presentations from the project staff and conversations with the Pastor. We left late in the afternoon, hot and tired, ready to get back to the hotel. I thought of Bryan some more that evening, hoping I had shown him the heart of Jesus; wondering if I had done enough.
The next day we returned to the same project; physically refreshed and spiritually expectant. I was ready for another day of playing with the kids, interacting with the parents, encouraging the staff. I barely had stepped off the bus when I noticed flailing arms bundled in a red shirt running towards me. It was Bryan. He ran past all the other members of our team and came straight to me. I scooped him up and gave him a hug. The rest of the team declared Bryan as “Bobby’s buddy” the rest of the trip.
And Bryan was my buddy for the rest of the day. He never let me out of his sight and I kept an eye on him too. There were many more children at the Student Center today. This was a regular day for them to attend. They were excited, anticipating this visit for many weeks. We were once again greeted with toy horns, the kind people blow annoyingly at birthday parties or New Year’s Eve festivities. Today the sound was far from annoying; it was music to my ears.
So much excitement from the children and staff that you would have thought it was New Year’s Eve! Kids running and shouting, looking forward to what their guests may have brought with them all the way from America. Bubbles and balloons and stickers made their way out of backpacks and canvas bags. Wooden cars and trucks lovingly carved by a church member were quickly snatched up. Team members were swarmed by eager hands, grabbing for candies and plastic toys.
And I saw Bryan from the corner of my eye, trying to make his way with outstretched hands; reaching for the gifts that the others seemed so excited to receive. He wasn’t as big or as strong as some of the other kids and by the time he made it to the giver, the presents were gone.
I found one of the team members who was frantically trying to stay afloat on this sea of kids, and asked if he had anything else to give away. He was more than happy to offload some of his precious cargo. He handed me a package of balloons, the big ones that are attached to a large rubber band and become a punching ball. Off I went to give them away and immediately was swarmed by children and parents. They weren’t even sure what I was giving away but they knew that they wanted one.
The balloons were gone as fast I could blow them up, tie them off and demonstrate how to use them. Bryan tried valiantly to make his way to me, to tug on my shirt so I would see him. He didn’t know that I had never taken my eye off of him. The last balloon was being fought over, parents trying to get my attention, the word aqui, aqui (here, here) being shouted from every direction. You already know where the last balloon went, it was saved for Bryan.
Bryan ran off with his prize, in sheer delight; at least that is how I imagined him running off. And I felt grateful that I could provide him with this simple pleasure.
A few minutes passed by and I felt a tug on my shirt, it was Bryan again; pointing to a large boy that had taken his balloon. I took Bryan over to the boy and in broken Spanish and clumsy hand gestures; I made him give the balloon back. Now before you start thinking about wanting to give the bully a smack; you need to know that he was Bryan’s older brother. And older brother was looking out for him.
A new round of enthusiasm captured my attention as kids began to shriek with delight, popping bubbles and swarming one of the team members. Round after round of bubbles went into the air with children jumping and swinging their arms to pop them. As I was taking some pictures of these gusts of mirth and glee; I felt a familiar tug on my shirt. There he was again. He couldn’t scream in pleasure like the other kids and he had no other way to get my attention. But he did understand the joy that was being experienced. He did not know that with every tug on my sleeve, was an even bigger tug on my heart!
I reached down to Bryan and lifted him higher than any of the other kids. He towered over them now! His little hands and arms began to swing at every bubble that came his way. I was so busy laughing with all of the children that I didn’t see one of those hands swiping at the bubbles; until I felt a smack right across my face! The bubbles stopped for a moment as the bubble blower and I laughed hysterically. Bryan was laughing too, I know he was; we just couldn’t hear it. I felt it though.
Our day with the children came to a close; we said our goodbyes and gave final hugs. I held Bryan in my arms a few more times, did my best to tell him that I loved him. The words were barely recognizable but I like to think that Bryan understood.
I have thought of Bryan many times since that trip, thought of him on the plane ride home. As I was saying a prayer silently at my seat, a song came over my headset…the melody so sweet and the words so pure…”I need words as wide as sky.”
And I thought about Bryan and how I wanted real words for the boy who can’t say them…heartbreaking…beautiful…soul crushing words. I just wanted to give him words. Bryan was not the loudest, the funniest, the tallest or the strongest boy. But he deserves to be remembered, to be seen, to have dignity brought to him. And as much as I like to think that I was there for Bryan, to make things right for him for a little while, to let him lean on me and put his arm around my neck… I was the one that was profoundly given to on this journey. Every time he ran to me, every time he tugged on my shirt, every sip of my cola…reminded me that I had walked on sacred ground once again. And I saw Bryan as a little flower on this holy, parched piece of dirt. And I saw that God had broken my heart and spilled extravagant love on that ground and on those children, and on Bryan. I pray that those flowers will grow, that ground will stay watered, and the words will endure…
“For, all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” 1Peter 1:24
“A life without love, is it worth living?”…
“And if a heart can’t share what it was meant to”…
“And if the burdens we bear are never sent to”…
“Our one True Love.”
“Then the love that we share isn’t worthy of giving… at all.”
From a series of poems rescued from little scraps of paper tucked away deep in the heart…