My most recent trip to visit New Hope Girls was amazing beyond expectations. The kind of trip I’m still carrying with me a full week later. An experience that has left my mind churning on all I experienced and learned. It’s funny though, the true “ah-ha” moments are often experienced with a bit of a time delay. It is so wonderfully intense when I am there, that I don’t always realize what I’m learning and being impacted by. There was, however, one situation that was strikingly powerful as it happened- it involved one of the most beautiful, sweet, and smart little girls I’ve ever met – and a pickle.
For the sake of this story, and protecting her identity, we are going to call my little friend Ana. Ana is the newest girl to join the New Hope Girls family and she is in a painful and broken place. She has come to us after experiencing the ultimate betrayal and exploitation – and she is only five. When I was there, she was not yet in school because her trauma-induced behavior was impacting her ability to attend local schools. She is angry, hurt, afraid, anxious – she has been through the worst – and her behavior is often a reflection of that.
Although I know getting her in school is super important, I’m thankful for God’s timing and how it meant that I got to spend time with Ana. I was at New Hope Girls to help with updating and renovating the newest Safe House and Ana joined us as we worked. She was noticeably shy when she first walked in, turning her face from ours, refusing eye contact, hiding behind the leg of a familiar adult. However, as her time with us continued, she began to open up.
We all took a break for lunch and sat outside at a picnic table. Ana had already eaten but joined us as we ate our sandwiches, chips (or chicharones, mmmm), and pickles. Joy, the Founder and Executive Director of New Hope Girls, was sitting next to Ana. She offered her a little pickle (pepinillo) and asked if Ana had ever tried one. She shook her head no. Ana took the little pickle and took a tiny little nibble. Joy asked if she liked it. Ana looked up at her and nodded “yes.” We all continued chatting and visiting, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed Ana bringing the pickle to her mouth but making very little progress consuming it – she was taking little mousey nibbles.
Joy then offered Ana a glass of water and she also nodded yes to that. I noticed she was then taking sips of water between little nibbles of her little pickle. I told Joy I didn’t think Ana liked the pickle, so she asked Ana again – “¿Te gusta el pepinillo?” Once again, Ana nodded yes, that she did.
Lunch ended. We picked up our paintbrushes. We got back to work.
A short while later, a call from home prompted me to put my brush down and excuse myself to take the call. I sat outside in the same area we had eaten lunch. As I checked in with my family, a little something under the picnic table caught my eye. It was the little pickle Ana had been nibbling on, peeking out at me from the edge of the picnic table.
She didn’t like the pepinillo.
Sure, it is common for a kiddo to not like a pickle. Their acidic and sour flavors surely aren’t for everyone. But, think about how fervently she feigned liking it. An entire meal passed with her maintaining a position of – yes, I like this pickle. My kids would have instantly tried it, put it down, and vocalized that they do not like the pickle. But my kids have the privilege of a loving household where they never have to wonder if they are safe. They can say they don’t like pickles without fear over how they may be treated on the other side of that revelation.
At that moment, I realized, she doesn’t know she’s truly safe yet. She doesn’t know that her rescue was for real. She doesn’t understand that she can hate the pickle, tell us she hates the pickle, and still remain just as wonderful and safe as if the pickle was her new favorite food.
But there will come a day that she knows she can tell us. Because in the little time I was there, I watched Joy come alongside her in subtle but powerful ways to promote healing and identity restoration.
A Calm Force of Love
There was a paradox to how Joy’s quiet calm brought a force of love into Ana’s life that helped her see it is different now. Joy sat beside Ana and helped her write the letters in her name. She sat patiently and was simply present for Ana as they drew on a whiteboard. She encouraged her and I watched Ana smile as the beauty of Joy’s words washed over her.
I followed Joy’s lead and sat with Ana, as she taught me new Spanish words by drawing the picture for me and then saying the word. Before the first day was over she was chatting up a storm, as she drew pictures of her dream playhouse and told us all about what she would put in her kitchen, office, and room.
I was able to witness those early days of healing and am honored I got to meet this powerful overcomer, as her new journey begins. Although my heart grieves for the unthinkable trauma Ana has experienced, I’m overjoyed by her new redemptive reality. Ana’s rescue has come and she is in a place of refuge. She is in a place in which she will be loved and supported as she walks through the painful mess of healing and transforms into every bit of who God created her to be.