I never expected that the most spiritually enlightening moments at Ghost Ranch would occur through spending time with little children.
When I arrived, I thought that I wanted to work with high schoolers. After all, my favorite activities include hiking and poetry writing and yoga, so I thought that I could only share my passions with older youth, right? I also thought that pre-K would not be interesting enough, or would be too intimidating by the out-of-control tantrums that sometimes take place.
Thank goodness, I was wrong. The little ones have converted me into a more patient, gentle, and play-loving self than I ever expected.
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The blessing of this week has been working with two to six year olds, mostly two pairs of young sisters that live with us in the Ghost Ranch community. As children of Ghost Ranch staff, they are able to meet God in the wilderness in hiking desert trails, they are free to explore and play with other children all summer, and they dress as creatively and colorfully as anyone can imagine. We have spent hours painting, tumbling, even dancing on the night of the 4th of July! In every interaction, I have been filled with awe of their free spirited beauty.
Why are children so free? Consider this: before we go to school, the voice of the world has not yet indoctrinated us into believing that our behavior has to conform to patterned rules. In school, we cannot climb trees or paint on desks or dress with superhero ballet costumes. But on the Ranch, there are different rules – as long as you are safe, you are free to be as creative and imaginative as you would like. The children at the Ranch have shown me the freedom of growing up without television, as they have found their own way of playing and adventuring!
The other best part about working with younger kids: simple toys. No need for big, grand scale activities – just find some clay and kids can be entertained for hours. Children know the joy of the moment, and their presence has reconnected me to God, here and now – in the fingerpaint and the stream waters.
Other amazing gifts of children:
They are not afraid to speak what the need (and cry incessantly at times). They do not pretend to know everything. They have no ulterior motives. They ask questions and notice how the world works on subtle levels. They make brushing teeth into an adventure. They are not inhibited by the thought of keeping one’s clothes clean. They know what is just and they feel deeply for others’ pain. They can get on stage and sing a simple tune and take everyone’s breath away. They pray with sincere hearts. They are not afraid of doing what is unordinary to be true to themselves. They leave me with these questions:
What do I truly need, and what am I afraid to say? How do I long to play?
In training for our position, we learned about early childhood development and it changed my perspective entirely on who I am. I learned that we learn to trust or fear the world within the first year of our existence – in this way, our thought patterns are entirely conditioned. I also was astonished to learn that children know how to parent before they can talk; we innately know how to love! Further, all children need a secure basis of home and encouragement to explore independently in order to develop as secure adults. Our first three years inform the rest of our lives as we learn how to love, explore the world, and be ourselves. More than I ever thought, children who are raised with a sense of independence and support are able to be themselves in their truest essence – wonder-filled and wonderful.
I am so grateful for the pure heart of the every young child I have met this summer. They have filled me with the Light. Their innocence and genuine love for life have already transformed me, and I look forward to more adventures this week!
In closing, I share a poem that came last evening after working with little Zia.
Today, God spoke through a two year old.
On a hazy morning following a night of New Mexican storms, my eyes were worn with weariness. I didn’t know what to do with myself, in the midst of ten children covered in paint with dirty arms hanging on my scraped legs and an infant in my lap.
Her name is Zia. This is a story of her grace.
She has blue eyes that pour into mine with a streak of rebellious laughter as she fills her cardboard masterpiece with purple creases until a paintbrush ceases to be necessary – as soon as Zia sees my fingers soak in the orange bliss, both her hands become canvases of color goodness. She smeared them together like it was nobody’s business her palms were palettes of green, orange, yellow, purple, a love feast of messiness slapped together.
Yes, I felt her bliss, and yes, I felt my own nervousness witnessing the carefree exploration known as the two-year-old color olympics. I breathed a sigh of relief when she lifted her hands to say:
So I hugged her into my arms and held her body close to mine until her painted hands patterned my tye-dye shirt with purple blood colored splatter. I laughed as I sat her on an edge of an industrial sized sink, her legs dangling as we washed one finger at a time.
“Look, Zia,” I said, and her round cheeks turned to see her handprints on my chest. In an instant, she reached for the tap – took the paper towel in her hand and submerged it softly. With one of the most soul piercing looks of tenderness my heart has seen, she put the towel to the stain and strained to cleanse me of its streaks. Like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, Zia yearned to give her heart to me.
Yesterday, Tracey told me that Zia’s name means Light, the symbol of the Sun that brings goodness in all directions, colors, and tastes. As the symbol of New Mexico, it represents the spiritual journey of giving one’s life to others. Zia allows us to see.
And in a world blinded by overproductivity and efficency, we need Zia to teach us how to just be.
After we left the paint studio with wet hands and tempura tattoos, Zia showed me every flower, every ant, every smooth rock and shiny leaf. “Look, Willow,” she’d say, leading me with wonder to the home beneath my feet.
She had no idea how much I needed her.
She had no idea how I’d been wandering, how I’d felt homeless in a srtange desert land until she, Zia, sang in her wondrous blue eyes what I knew to be true.
Lights will guide you home
you are never alone
and ignite your bones
when a two year old takes your hand to say
I will try to fix you.
Today, God spoke through Zia, a child of the Light.
She left a tattoo on my heart that I pray will never be washed away
and she brought me home.