Will I Recognize Her?


She loved her two years working in Austin at a homeless shelter for immigrant women and children. From there she went to the border of Guatemala and Mexico to work in the Human Rights office of a migrant shelter.We started traveling to developing countries, including some that were not so safe, when she was four years old. Fear is not our go to but her being in Norco territory working with migrants had me a bit unnerved. She called home upon her arrival. I could hear the shock in her voice. The place was “austere.” My mother’s heart quivered. I shared my concern. She replied, “Mom, you know I’m nervous, too. If you say it, it makes it worse, so please don’t say it again.” I didn’t. Instead, I prayed.One of her responsibilities at the shelter was to do what’s called “intake.” Basically, she listened to the story of men, women, and children who had journeyed from Central America to the shelter. There is a basic route the migrants take, and drug dealers and bandits know it and lay in wait. She asked standard questions for the purpose of discovering if they had encountered any human rights violations along the way. Human rights violations like rape, sexual assault, robbery, murder, or coercion are to be reported to the UN. When I asked how many had experienced such violations, she responded in a matter-of-fact voice, “Every single person!”For example, three seventeen-year-old boys were walking the route when bandits jumped them and raped one of the boys. She took the victim to the hospital for care and then found the doctor shaming the young man for not reporting it quicker. She reminded the doctor that he hadn’t reported it three days ago because he was walking on a road in another country!She also cleaned their feet, showing them how to pop their blisters so as not to get an infection in their feet. She picked up 20-40 migrants in the truck and witnessed their joy that they didn’t have to walk the last several miles. She patrolled the route ensuring human rights of the migrants. She protested when the Police Commissioner ignored the rape of a 17-year-old girl and later the murder of a male migrant. She advised migrants on their legal rights and helped them get the legal documents they needed.Christmas was spent with the other volunteers cooking for all the migrants, guards, and cooks. Over three hundred people were served on a $75 budget. On Easter, many of us experienced the Passion Week by walking through stations in our churches. She walked three days from Guatemala to the shelter with the Friar and others. They wanted to experience what it was like to walk the route of those walking up from Central America.She learned to live on rice and beans, sleep in a hammock, go without water, walk to and fro to work in 108-degree heat (with no air conditioning upon arrival at either work or home), and work in an office with limited resources.I won’t lie. There were a few nights I woke with fear running through my body. At times my mind would go to the "What ifs." What if she’s raped or killed? My whole being ached, but I didn’t tell her. Instead, I prayed.Several times I sensed what I considered signs of secondary trauma. I called her brother, who was meeting her for a few days in Bogotá, to share my concerns. He agreed. She would travel all day to meet up with him. Three hours on a bus to a small airport in southern Mexico. A flight to Mexico City then to Bogotá where she’d wait until midnight for her brother’s flight to arrive. All day I kept track of where she was and where he was. The clocking was ticking down until she’d be in the presence of one of us. I didn’t realize how much I was holding in until I finally read his text, “I’ve got her and we are safe.” I cried.It had been 6 months since I’d seen her. When I stood at the gate waiting for her to get off her plane, I wondered, “Will I be able to recognize her in this huge crowd?” It reminded me of the night she was born. I gave birth in an hour, and she was cold. The doctor let me hold her for a bit then took her to warm up under an incubator. After several hours I started that what if thing again. What if they accidentally switch her with another baby and I don’t remember what she looked like? I panicked and insisted they bring her to me immediately. Turns out I did recognize her after all. Twenty-five years later I was wondering the same thing. It occurred to me that God never asks that question. He knows his kids. Turns out I did too.We spent two weeks together traveling Rome, Venice, and the coast of Croatia. We ate great pasta and bread and drank wine. In the mornings we’d have coffee and walk to the local farmers market for fresh veggies and fruit. We visited historical sites, kayaked, and hiked beautiful mountains. We wanted to create space for her to process. As her parents, we wanted to listen, learn, and laugh with her. We had no answers for what she had just experienced, no explanations for why or how or what was next, just us simply being present with her.We didn’t talk about her work all the time, but along the way she’d share one story and then another. She giggled as she shared about the blind woman who had been at the shelter for a while. She shared how each night, just as they got all the women settled in their room, the blind woman would sit up and start to lecture. (At the shelter there is a room for women, unattended minors and a room for LBGQT while the male population sleeps outside in the courtyard.)For forty-five minutes the blind woman would instruct the new female arrivals the ropes of the shelter. She’d finish, and they could finally get everyone to sleep. This woman would drive me nuts! But not my daughter, she saw it as a way of giving her voice, dignity and a purpose while living in a shelter. I asked Madison why this woman had remained in the shelter rather than move on like the others. She replied, “Because her son transitioned to a girl while there and there is no safe place for them to go.” She shared about one of the cooks, the guards, the kids playing, the dancing on Saturday nights. She shared that the LGBTQ community, the most persecuted on the route, would freely come up to the Friar and address him  as “Papa Fry.” She continued to say that the Friar treated every person who walked through their gates with dignity.And she told me that she marveled at these people’s faith and hope. When she asked them where they were heading, most responded, “Wherever God takes me.” Faith. Hope. Resilience. Courage. I, on the other hand, was marveling at hers.