Full Circle, Whole Heart


By Melissa Hartwick | Twitter: @melissahartwick


I moved to Nicaragua several years ago as a missionary, with a heart full of so many dreams and plans. My initial work was to start a children’s home, but I hadn’t even been here a year before I expanded that to include a rehab center for women who had been abused or trafficked. I had the dreams, Nicaragua had the need, and I was willing to do the work.

What could go wrong?

So much has happened in the years since I moved to Nicaragua. I am about to return home now. When I look back over my time here, I realize that my dreams and their results have changed and are at once more and less than I had supposed them to be.

I look and I see less than I had dreamed of; there are no long-lived projects that survive me in this country, that I can look back on to say, “That is what I did in Nicaragua.” The rehab center I had planned to open and worked so hard on, never came to fruition. My foster home is closed, and I’m about to leave the country I called home for the last several years of my life.

I look and am puzzled as to what happened to my hopes, dreams, and plans for my years here. What made them turn out so differently?

The dreams were good, the need was there, and I was willing. So what happened?

And yet, I look and I see more than I had expected—more pain and more beauty than I had ever thought possible. I see myself diving off cliffs and learning to surf for the first time, with the amazement of each experience breathing fresh life into me. I see my daughter climbing the boulders above the river, standing upon their edges strong and tall.

I see a two-year battle for the adoption of my daughter. Two years of fighting for her against a corrupt local government; two years of facing continual delays and even intentional sabotage. I see myself as both mother and counselor to my foster children, who survived so much misery in their young lives that even merely listening to it was traumatizing. I see their hearts learning to open and heal, and I see my heart growing heavier and heavier, not knowing how to unburden myself from the weight I carried.

I see a bone-crushing despair that left me wishing I could stop living so the pain would stop. I see loneliness and fear and exhaustion battling for preeminence; I see a physical collapse and the fear that my body would finish shutting down on me and leave my little girl an orphan once more.

And I see the slow, hard path to healing and freedom.

I see immigration rules and know the shrinking feeling of the world being too small, too small for a mama and her daughter of two different nationalities to find work and a new life for themselves. I see the relief of finally being able to satisfy the immigration requirements, and the expectancy of soon being home with family once more. I imagine the joy of my family meeting my little girl for the first time.

The journey I thought would end with orphanages and rehab centers established in Nicaragua turned full circle instead. I will end up where I started, in the same home in which I formed my dreams and plans. The same bedroom I grew up in is the same room my little girl will now call her own.

This circle comes to a close, but my heart is not the same.

While I have felt such a depth of pain here, I have also learned that it is possible to feel free again, to laugh again. My daughter has gone through an unspeakable amount of horror in her short life, and yet she is able to open her heart up and let it fill with love, both from me and for me. We are learning to move past the pain and love in spite of it. We’ve formed a little family, just the two of us.

This journey was not about buildings and orphanages and rehab centers, like I had planned it to be.

It turns out that this story of mine was about forming a family.

It was not what I had planned; it was so very different, and so much more.

We won. We won in this journey, in this circling back to where we came from. We are coming home, and it will be the start of a new journey for us. What happened in the wake of my dreams for my life here was beyond any story I could have put together: it is my little one and me, together, as family, forever.

And what a beautiful journey it’s been.


About Melissa:

Melissa_Hartwick_2015My name is Melissa, and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve recently returned home after living for several years as a missionary in the mountains of Nicaragua, where I ran the Casa de Gozo rescue center for at-risk children. I am a mother to my beautiful adopted daughter. I love reading, finding adventures, laughing, and playing in the rain with my little girl. Photo credit:  Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)


Image credit: Aaron Escobar