In October I had the honor of being asked to return for a second time to Brazil and teach a two- day workshop titled: Motivating the Unmotivated: Planting the Seeds and Reaping the Harvest. It was sponsored by the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Belo Horizonte. www.ericksonbh.com.br. The first time was in 2006 when my book, Reconnecting to the Magic of Life was translated into Portuguese. At the time I was invited to an amazing place, Nucleo Assistencial Caminhos Para Jesus. Translated it means the Pathway to Jesus. Celebrating its fortieth anniversary, Caminhos Para Jesus exists on donations and serves a whole community.
I was asked to be with the many precious children who had been abandoned at birth and who have advanced cases of Cerebral Palsy. Each of the children I encountered provided a richness of experience unable to be described in literal words. I call the wonderful staff members “angels,” each providing the children with physical, occupational, speech, art, education, and psychotherapy along with social work, dental and medical care and most of all LOVE. www.caminhosparajesus.org.br.
This time I was accompanied by Glaucia and Brenno, two talented therapists from the Ericksonian Institute. After being welcomed by the Executive Director, Raul Marinuzzi, and honored by being introduced to the founder, Celio Oliveira Tropia, we were greeted by the staff and children with overflowing hugs and love. I was presented with a book with hand-drawn pictures, wishes, and joyful smiles galore. There was Edson, a young man who enthusiastically pointed to the pictures and words he pasted in the book in order to communicate his feelings and blessings to me. Gabriela, used paper hearts and drew the sun, Nilo drew butterflies, Lucas left me his feet prints, Laudomiro, a beautiful design, Claudiana, a butterfly on a flower, and Patricia drew a smiling heart and wrote: “Joyce, I love you! Love is ALL … You are pretty! Patricia (Paty) Your Friend.” Of course, I brought BT, my famous turtle hand puppet to share warm snuggles and stories.
Among the many precious children and adolescents who touched my heart was little Kathleen, who at first was not sure of BT. She quickly brought out her puppet friend of courage, d’Artagnan and introduced him to BT. Before long, they were friends. Her courageous spirit outshined the initial fear she experienced. Child after child, BT made his way around the circle, playfully sharing his message of joy and care. It was especially touching when little bright-eyed Rodrigo, outstretched his arms to embrace BT with loving kisses. The twinkle in his smile said it all.
Remembering how much they all loved BT, I brought a new turtle puppet to leave with the staff and children as a gift. When I introduced the new puppet, I told them that BT brought one of his special relatives who needed a good home to live with them. They were all excited to meet this new friend and relative. One of the staff said that they needed to name the turtle before I left. When they decided to name it “Todd,” after my own son who has Cerebral Palsy, I was visibly moved to tears.
After the storytelling, I visited all of the other children who were still in their rooms. Lying in his large crib-like bed was Dennis, a young man severely afflicted with Cerebral Palsy. With a dazzling smile and outstretched arms, Dennis used every bit of his energy to slowly and deliberately bring one of his thin arms across his frail body to touch and be kissed by BT and me. We often take such simple movements for granted, but it was Dennis who reminded me about the power of “determination,” to accomplish one’s goal.
Just before leaving, I noticed a beautiful curly-haired boy about four years old flailing his arms while standing in a play pen. The staff told me that his name is Brian and that he is also blind. As if feeling a magnetic pull towards him, I knelt down close to Brian and gently began stoking his cheek with the soft nose of BT. I told him my name and that what he was feeling on his cheek was BT my special Tortoruga Amigo here to give him love. Almost immediately, Brian calmed down, and nestled into the softness of BT and then cuddled in my arms. We remained embraced for what seemed like a magical time where all else disappeared.
It was soon time for us to leave, so I motioned to one of the staff members to get another stuffed animal for him to hold. At first, she came back with a doll, but Brian rejected it, because its material was scratchy. She quickly returned with a small, soft white bunny rabbit. I slowly began caressing little Brian’s face with the long ears. Again, he calmed. I placed the rabbit in his hands and moved away. This precious child embraced the bunny and then sat down in the play-pen and began singing it a song. We were all moved to tears as we watched this child find comfort in the soft presence of this simple toy.
By the time I left, my heart was full and I knew that each child was a spiritual teacher of determination and joy. I am sure I received more than I could have possibly given.
As we move into the holidays and the New Year, perhaps it is a good time to give thanks for the many unexpected blessings we have received that inspire joy in our hearts and a sense of determination to overcome the obstacles placed in our paths. We need to remember that nothing is more powerful than the human spirit to touch and be touched, to love and be loved.