This post has come out of several days of praying and pondering. There are no pictures. And I apologize for the length of it, but it comes from my heart.
A Very Long Backstory (why we go to Cuba)
When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a mother with 12 children, some of my own, the rest I wanted to adopt. From an early age, my ultimate dream was to adopt children that nobody else wanted.
I carried that dream well into early adulthood, to the point where a group of like-minded women would gather in prayer several times a week to pray for husbands who would support our dreams. One by one, the other women in the group met their future husbands, got married and started raising children.
But not me. While I went to coffee houses and prayer meetings with male friends, none of those men were the right one for me. And so I waited. And waited. And waited.
The years rolled by, life evolved me down unexpected roads and dusty detours that included struggles with chronic depression that sometimes flared up into full-blown clinical depression. With each new breakdown and each new spiral into despair, I could feel the dream of adopting children slipping away. I knew that people with depression and mental illness were not eligible to adopt. And as the years rolled by and I felt more and more like “damaged goods”, even the dream of meeting a man who would want to marry me, much less have children with me, seemed utterly impossible.
Then when my doctor advised me that ultrasounds and extensive testing showed that there was a very high probability that I would never be able to have my own children, well, my entire life shattered, and felt utterly empty and worthless…the dream I had carried in my heart since early childhood had been a cruel joke. There was no hope of any of it ever happening. My chances of finding a man who would want such seriously “damaged goods” were reduced to zero.
And so I was forced to face up to that reality and forced to choose another direction for myself. Since I had also often dreamed of being a missionary, I began to investigate the possibility of becoming a nun, sending out letters to various convents. But again, because of my history of mental breakdowns, all of the responses, though gentle, were nevertheless rejection letters.
How utterly cruel it was to me to see all of these doors being closed in my face. My life felt unspeakably empty and lonely. I was sinking into another quicksand of despair, and this time, there would be no reason to fight, because without the hope of having children and/or a life-mate, what could tempt me to keep wanting to live?
Still, I wasn’t going down without a fight. I kept busy with my job and my work in the church, including prayer meetings several nights a week, And I prayed. I would prostrate myself on the floor of my apartment, praying for purpose, praying for help through the oft-times unbearable loneliness.
In total frustration and as a last resort, I wrote a letter to God, asking Him, once again, for a husband. I wrote out all of the things I wanted in this man, and the list was long. When I was finished, I folded up the letter into a paper airplane and sent it off the balcony of my 14th floor apartment. And left it in God’s hands. And waited.
The answer to my letter arrived not long after. His name was Andre and we’ve been together now for 21 years. Andre brought with him everything on my list…a patient, kind, generous heart who loved doing the dishes (yes, that last one was actually on the list). The list had been long, and Andre was everything on that list. Andre had already had two children from his first marriage and was not interested in having more, so my inability to have children was no problem for him. And by this time, the years of depression and breakdowns had broken down my desire to have children of my own anyway, though I did still feel the void in my life.
But that void would quickly be filled in a way that I could never have imagined or dreamed. Because the other thing that Andre brought with him was Cuba. Andre’s family had long been visiting Cuba and had “adopted” an entire family there. At first I was leery, but it didn’t matter because my job prohibited me from going there anyway. But in 2003, when I had to leave work for medical reasons, I was finally free to go to Cuba and meet these people who owned such a huge part of my husband’s heart.
The moment we walked into Sarah’s house, I knew I was home. The love was tangible, the welcome was genuine and warm. As woman after woman came and embraced me with warm, kind smiles and caring eyes, I could actually feel “healing” happening inside of me. At that time I spoke no Spanish at all, and so it was frustrating for all of us not to be able to talk with each other. Nevertheless, there was no doubt in my mind and heart that I had found my niche.
And when we got home, and I began to process what I had just experienced, I could feel a new spark igniting deep within me. These people were so loving and kind, and happy, yet their lives were difficult, primarily because they lacked even the simplest things that we here take for granted. I could feel something burning within me that I had not felt in decades…passion, purpose, niche, home.
That was eleven years ago and that sense of purpose and niched-ness has never wavered…in fact, with every return to Cuba, I am convinced beyond doubt that this is exactly where we’re meant to be. All year, the passion to help make their lives a little easier, a little less burdensome for them, fuels our shopping sprees, looking for those “simple” things that will help them in their daily lives. Things as simple as battery chargers, so they can have decent batteries to run their flashlights when the power goes out, as it often does there. Oven mitts so they have something to use to grab those hot pots off their single-burner stoves. Shoes for their children, because the shoes that they buy in Cuba are cheaply made and fall apart after only a few wears. Toothbrushes, for the same reason. The list is long, but so is our commitment to do what we can.
Some people have questioned our involvement there, have not been able to understand the passion to help our friends there. In the past couple of weeks, I have felt the disapproval and questioning of how we choose to “help”. And it has caused me to second-guess myself and second-guess our reasons for doing what we do. The second-guessing has caused me a great deal of angst and even a bit of despair, because first, we mean no harm, we truly do only want to help our friends in the ways that they themselves have shared with us their need for the help; secondly, this little corner of the world IS my passion and has been my “raison d’etre” for eleven years now, and I admit that I would be utterly lost and inconsolably sad if I were to discover that our being there was more hindrance than help, more destructive than good. And so with great anxiety, but honest searching for the truth, I’ve prayed and pondered.
And the result is this blog.
The truth about our being in Cuba and spending time with this family is our truth. Nobody else needs – or is meant to – feel that it is their truth too. It has never been my intention in sharing our Cuba experience to any way ask or imply or challenge anyone else to feel that same truth or that spark of passion. We all have our own spark, our own corner of the world to look after, I believe that we have each been given our own spark for something, for some little corner of the world…if you have children of your own, then it will probably be your own home and family, or maybe your grandchildren are your passion, maybe it’s Africa or Guatemala or Haiti, maybe it‘s the animal shelter down the road, or the nearest food bank…each of us has been given that spark to help and make a difference in whatever little corner of the world we feel ourselves drawn into. My spark, my passion, my little corner of the world is this remote little corner of Cuba.
I don’t need or want to have to defend our actions to anyone else…I’m ultimately the one who has to define for myself whether anything is good and right for me. I already know to the depths of my being that it is good and right for us to be there. I believe that these are the children that I have always wanted to “adopt” and the family that I have always dreamed of having in my life. We miss each other when we’re apart, and we all feel, they and us, most at home when we’re together.
Love is at the core of who we are and why we are where we are.
Being together, being family together, being home with each other is not only right, it’s good, very, very good.
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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2014. All rights reserved.
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