Give Your Best Anyway
“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.” –Mother Teresa
On Sept. 2nd, I wrote in my journal, “It seems like the problems are so large, how do you even help these girls without hurting in the process?”
For the past two weeks, I feel like I’ve been running on empty…but somehow still running. All you stay at home moms, I don’t know how you do it. Really, I’m exhausted. The girls have been on school break, so most of them went home to family members, except Nonhlanhla, Sindi, Ayanda, Welile, and Lucia and Luciano. I was so excited for this to be a “break” for me, too, but instead it seemed like more work than having a full house. Many secrets were brought to light over this break about the behaviors of a number of the older girls. There will be definite disciplinary actions awaiting the girls when they return from break.
It’s not easy coming up with consequences. It’s not like in the States where there are so many things (car keys, cell phone, computer, iPod, etc.) you can take away from a kid, and there’s really no point in “grounding” because they don’t really spend time outside the house anyway, other than to and from school. Finding proper ways and creative ways to discipline has been in itself exhausting, and sometimes the problems combined seem too big to even worry about facing. There are reasons why these girls are acting the way they are and living in deceit and darkness. They don’t come from easy lives and all are jaded and scarred in more ways than one. Daniel Walker wrote that sexual abuse is the worst crime against humanity because it robs the person of her soul, her pride, her worthiness; it “murders the person but leaves their bodies alive.” Why would one of these girls even care about discipline if they feel they have nothing left anymore?
I’m trying to find the balance between grace and punishment, because I still have high standards for my girls. There are reasons but not excuses. I don’t excuse their behavior but I try to understand it first. That, too, gets frustrating because others see that as me being too “soft” or inadvertently encouraging bad behavior. A couple of the girls themselves see that I am a very empathetic person and take advantage of it by inflating their stories, exaggerating, or flat out lying, and that makes me feel like giving up. Yet, I still have the solid few that despite their own horror story of a past remain righteous, obedient, faithful, and committed. Too much focus on the negative takes away the glory of the positives, so I don’t want to take away from everything they’ve done for me; for, they have provided me some incredible “proud mama” moments recently:
The other night, I dismissed everyone for bed but stayed out in the living room. The girls thought I went to my room and was asleep, so they stayed up for quite some time. I could’ve taken this as another frustrating moment because I had told them all to go to sleep because it was already late. However, as I listened, I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt. Nonhlanhla and Sindi (blood sisters) were “practicing” English words to some worship songs I had written down for them. They were singing softly but got louder as they somehow randomly broke out in a Whitney Houston song. Then they prayed aloud in SiSwati and then continued singing and laughing with each other. At 1:00 a.m., I finally closed my journal and went into their room. Nonhlanhla quickly put her notebook down and Sindi pretended she was asleep. “That was so beautiful,” I told them.
“Oh, thank you, Mom!” Nonhlanhla beamed.
“I hate to make this end, but you really need your sleep,” I replied.
“Yes, Mom,” Sindi smiled and kissed my cheek goodnight.
I took the girls with me to do some singing and praying at the Hope House; even Gogo Martha wanted to come! Melissa went with me to each little house to invited the residents to the circle pavilion for preaching and worship (a pastor was there to preach as well). I had my guitar so we sang some fun songs and the girls were interacting with the residents to get them to dance and laugh. The pastor did a mini sermon on John 10:10 “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy,” and he did a phenomenal job. After he finished Ayanda whispered to me, “Can I say something, too?” At my eager “yes,” she stood up, sweetly greeted the group, and began preaching on Psalm 23:1. She was beaming, the most beautiful I’ve seen her. For, as Scripture says, “Those who look to Him are radiant and will never be ashamed.” #proudmama
One morning, I sat outside playing with Lucia and Luciano for awhile. Sindi and Welile came to join us. I had my basketball, so we were rolling it and bouncing it around. Then Welile asked how to dribble the ball like I do during games. It turned into an unexpected basketball coaching session, and the girls were amazed at how I could dribble the ball between my legs. After trying themselves for quite some time, Welile yelled to me, “Mama Kate! Look! Look!” and she proceeded to successfully dribble the ball between her legs. #proudmama
Lucia is not even three years old yet. She HAND washes her own underwear, she sweeps the floor, she tries to pick up her little brother (who’s almost bigger than her!), and she speaks two languages. Her English has gotten increasingly better; in fact, she speaks better English than some of the older girls! For example, she conjugates verbs correctly, which the older girls struggle to do. The other day, she was on the couch and wanted to jump off. “Mama Kate, Mama Kate, Mama Kate,” she pesters me until I look, “I’m jumping!” I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just, “I jump,” but she had the verb correct. She repeats much of what we say or do, which we have to be careful about of course. I didn’t realize how much I said this to her, but I tell Lucia, “Girl, you’re cray cray,” when she’s being crazy (which is almost always). Well, the other day I was driving and all of a sudden I hear “Cway, cway! Cway, cway!” in my ear. I turn and there she is giggling to get my attention. Naturally, I can’t stop laughing because it’s so stinking cute, but now she uses that to her advantage, so when I’m scolding her she’ll smile and say, “Cway, cway” to get me to laugh. That little stinker. Still, it’s a #proudmamamoment.
Since Tenele hadn’t been around for my basketball games, she and Melissa came to watch a pick-up game at the local university. After the game, I treated the girls to some KFC dinner since we had missed supper time. Tenele and Melissa had a heart to heart, mostly in English, which was surprising! Tenele shared about her past and opened up to Melissa to encourage her to walk in righteousness. It was absolutely amazing. Tenele’s transformation as of lately has been astounding. Her time at Project Canaan was exactly what she needed to mature her and mold her into the leader she is now. She identifies herself as one of the “problem” girls in the home, but she wants to have a house meeting and talk to everyone about how to walk in the light and not in darkness. Melissa soaked up what Tenele had to say and she in turn also asked me if she could say something to the other older girls on my behalf. #proudmama
Because Tenele has been raised in abuse, that’s often how she disciplined her own kids. It’s taken me a long time to try to break Tenele of this habit that is a part of their culture in Swaziland to beat children. I can judge much of Tenele’s heart and character based on how she’s treating her children. Since she has moved back from Project Canaan, it has been a complete turnaround. I have given her support, advice, and have shown her how I’ve been disciplining them, especially Lucia. She actually listens to me and follows my advice! She’s been a phenomenal mother, and she is adorable with Luciano, who says, “Ma-mah, Ma-Mah,” in the cutest voice ever! #proudgrandma
Lastly, still concerning Tenele’s new freedom and walking in the light, she said something to me the other night that counters my frustration I talked about at the beginning of this post. She said to me, “Mom? I know I’ve disappointed you so many times, but because God give you the pure heart and heart forgiving, you keep fighting for me. Other people look at us (girls in the home) and say, ‘Ah, forget them. I’m tired of them,’ and they give up on us.” She was encouraging better behavior from the girls but empowering me at the same time to not give up on them. #proudmama
So, as Mother Teresa says, even when my best isn’t enough and I want to give up, I will choose to give my best anyway.