Sunday, November 27, 2011
The Chreestmas Boys--When Less Becomes More
Little shades of brown in itchy blue oxfords wiggling, squirming, inching and us--almond milk skin, hair any shade we choose, and clothes any style that suits. We make small talk among ourselves and grin-gaze across the room at khaki pants and collars colored sky. We wait. Somebody's doing paperwork, and it seems like we're waiting an hour. They eye us cautiously, but familiar. They've done this before. We eye them, giddy. We're all thinking the same thoughts. Which one is ours? Which sweet thing do we get to take home and love on?
And maybe they were thinking too. Will I have a bed tonight or will I sleep on a pallet? Will I share or have my own? What will they feed me? Will the house be too worm? Will it be too cold? Are there dogs at the new home? I'm afraid of dogs. Will their children be nice to me? And it's me that finally asks because it doesn't seem natural for us to sit and stare--they're humans after all, not puppies. Can we talk to them?
Then there's an explosion of bodies, mixing, asking, helloing, and we're all on the floor with them--red and yellow, black and white. Hands shaking hands, ears straining to understand accents not native, and all of us smiling to tell them in the universal language that we are kind, we are safe, we will love them.
A few weeks prior, I asked him if we could host two boys from Children of the World. (http://www.worldhelp.net/cotw/) He's my husband; he knows my heart has rooms for a thousand more children. He knew it would impact us. It did. How can you invite two children from impoverished circumstances into your lives for a few days and NOT expect your hearts to be sliced just a little? We would give them the boys' beds; we would skip school on Monday, spend the day spoiling these little lives. We did that. We are still bleeding.
The man in charge enters the room, papers in fist--a list of rules--all of them designed for the children's comfort and protection.
Don't ask about their past.
But I want to know. I want to know just what it is they will return to. I want to know if they will make it into adulthood. I want to know if they have a mother waiting for them. Is she burying face in pillow at night crying out the raw loss of giving up her little boy for ten whole months? Is she praying he'll learn English well enough to give him a better chance in life? Is she wondering about him while I carry his suitcase--a Jenson containing everything he has in the entire world--to my hybrid? I look at night sky and tell her--heart speaking to heart--I'll be good to him. I understand he's precious cargo. And I long to hold her too, that sweet mother born in a world where her options were so few that separation from the child she grew within would be the sacrifice demanded of her.
Maybe it is me the rules are made to protect. Perhaps my heart would crush beneath the weight of the truth.
They travel the United States for the flipping of ten calendar pages and sing--a choir of needs and hopes in children's frames--to promote awareness, to get sponsors. They sing for their lives.
Water you turned into wine...
They sing these words--they that come from a world with no water, while mine flows freely from 7 different taps at any temperature I desire.
Open the Eyes of the blind.
And it is me that is blind--blind to the needs of the world. Blinded by my own wants, by a country whose God is their stomach, by a media that insists I need everything on sale on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and my online shopping carts are filled. My stomach is engorged, and I am blind. Open my eyes.
They are hungry. They are thirsty, and they sing about the God who is greater, the God that turns water--that precious thing they walk three hours one way for--into wine for wedding feasts.
God, you are higher than any other.
They sing and I wonder if they understand.
But they do. They understand more than I do. It is I who will learn this week.
If our God is for us, than who could ever stop us?
And If our God is with us, than what could stand against?
I wonder if it is I, a part of North American selfishness, that has stood against what God wanted to do. Could He have used me to share. Did I stand against these sweet children while I filled my closets and my stomach. Were they stumbling over dusty paths with parched tongues like double sided tape while I quenched my thirst with the flick of an oil rubbed bronze tap?
We travel home; the conversation is hard. I don't know what to ask--me, the girl who always has something to say. They respond with "yes" to everything leaving me aching for their true thoughts, their true opinions. My own boys know exactly where they want to eat, and the olive and the black skinned children are just 'yessing' me no matter what I suggest. Yes to ice cream. Yes to McDonald's. Yes to eating at the house. Yes to rice. Yes to juice. Yes to water. Yes to chocolate milk. Yes. Yes. Yes. And then, I hear it--a gasp in word form. The olive skinned one with buzz cut says, "The lights. I love the lights!" His exclamation was a whisper unused to expressing itself.
This one likes the Christmas lights. He thinks. He feels.
And he sings for his life. For the life of others and probably doesn't know the luxury of expressing his own opinions and ideas. But He likes lights; I heard the gasp. Without hesitation, I start driving to town Square where our tree is lit up, lighted holly and poinsettias dangle from lampposts. I drive by every single house I know of that is lit all the way home. He utters and exclaims, and I point left, and my own boys point right, and we are all in awe of the light.
Jesus says, I am their light. These that know the greatest darkness receive The Light readily because they're not blinded by the gaudy light of the world like I am. They see Him. They exclaim over Him.
Christmas music seeps from the speakers into the car, and I sing a bar--a note here and there to fill the empty spaces. They are timid; I hurt at their silent moments. Are they afraid to speak? Do they know the lady whose car in which they ride would keep them forever if she could? Do they understand that she is suffocating sobs because she knows what it is to love a boy, and there are two who just might need that loving bumping shoulders in her back seat? Do they know that were they to cry she would hold them until the night ended? The music is throbbing from the speakers and Drummer Boy begins. I turn the volume up and palm flat I bang the beat onto the console, "Uganda, do you know this one? It's perfect for you! It's the Drummer Boy! Can you hear the drum?" He hears it. He begins the rhythm with me. My boys join in. And we are an international percussion section united by a rhythm we all understand. Shall I play for you pah rum puh pum pum beats air and our hands are bang bang banging on any surface we can find. I wonder which is louder, the beating of my hand or the beating of my heart.
The song ends and we are happy, laughing. Their smiles are electricity; my boys are feeling the shock. We want them to smile enough for a lifetime. Can we give them enough to last? Away In a Manger begins. They recognize it, tell me it is their carol. They sing it. The tune is a little different. We laugh when we all mess it up. But there was no crib for his bed and I wonder what bed they will return to. When the second verse begins I am dumbstruck. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care. Where has that line been my entire life? How many times have I sung those lyrics and not prayed them, not understood I was asking Jesus to bless ALL the children? All of them, in his tender care. All of them. Even these. These two that for forty-eight ridiculously short hours will be mine to give smiles, laughter, joy. The remainder of their lives will be in his tender care. Can I accept His tender care as sufficient?
And how can I sing the words, ask Him to bless, but turn my own eyes away when they leave? What if it is through me He wants to bless them? What if it is through you? http://www.worldhelp.net/cotw/sponsor/
But what if it is me He wants to bless through them? It is He who turned water into wine. He doesn't need my pennies to drill wells and deliver rice. They don't need me--their God is greater--it is I who needs them. I need their need in order to be freed. It is I who needs to be freed from the American Dream--the I-can-have-it-all mentality of North America. Because you can have it all, and have nothing at all.
As they vie for nomination, the republicans debate the status of a country where once an immigrant could cross crashing cloudy seas to make his fortune. They insist we should return to our great economic state, but I mourn the reality that we are among the world's wealthiest ten percent and yet we want more, better, faster, mightier. And children are hungry. My heart knows there is no answer a President can bring, that true change doesn't occur from the top down, but from within to without. From within my heart, my children's hearts. From selfish to selfless to Christ-filled to hungry children filled.
I remember James' words, Grieve and mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:9) I understand him. Be broken, he said. See things for what they really are. See them in light of Jesus' heart. The New Living Translation says, "Let there be sadness for what you have done...." Yes, let there be sadness for a life of selfishness, and let their be an anchoring of my soul this day. Let me be pierced deeply enough to leave a scar. Let me bleed a while that I might be left with weakness for those who have less.
Words we mulled on after dinner during memory time pulse in my spirit. Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. I wonder if it is possible to have both? It isn't wrong to have possessions, is it? But the ones that I choose to store--meaning to keep for the future--should not be physical. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And I want my heart hunger to be eternal, not temporal. But the catalogues come in the mail. There is a new cell phone out that would make my life easier. There is a better gaming system that would surely mean family fun. And our BBQ is now 13 years old; is not that old enough to merit a new one for Christmas? The eye is the lamp of the body. So, the things I see then, the things I choose to see, to focus on will cast light for my entire body, my life. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. And mine has diseases that cause blindness. Our nation too, needs bifocals. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:10-24 There it is in black and white--we can't serve both. We may have both, but we cannot serve both. We will be a house divided. We will eventually collapse under the pressure of two lords. But perhaps what I want is less that I may gain more. And if I left the grill to sit with all the other BBQ's at Home Depot and bought 3 goats instead http://goh.worldhelp.net/goats/ then 3 families would have milk--nutrition, and an income. And wouldn't that be more for me too? More for my children too? Wouldn't the nourishing of 3 families who have never owned a BBQ and cook their rice three times a day over an open fire with scraps of garbage as fuel become food for my family's soul?
My oldest is working on writing his life's purpose statement. He lamented to me, "Mom, sometimes I've been thinking about my life's purpose, and I see that a lot of things don't line up with it."
"It's hard, isn't it?" I look into his creek-water eyes and wish I could raise a boy to live the easy life, a boy that could take the road more traveled.
"Yes, it's the broken life." We've talked about this--broken living. It's the better way to take communion, we believe. There is a time for the wafers and juice, but we find that we remember Jesus better by breaking ourselves--stepping outside of what is comfortable. Giving up a meal, feeding homeless families, hugging powdery seniors' necks at nursing homes--things not comfortable for raggedy, rough boys--are a part of our family communions.
"Remember Jesus? It had to be hard for him watching his brothers and sisters growing up doing their own thing while He knew He would be breaking loaves and fishes, walking amongst the poor, the diseased, hanging from a cross. He lived to redeem. Lived broken so we could be whole."
"Yes. He probably didn't always enjoy that." My son relates to the idea of Jesus as a boy.
"When we give up here, we gain later. Those who live poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of heaven."
"But we'll be rich in a better way in heaven, mom. That's what it means about storing up treasures in heaven. We'll have that in eternity." He knows. He gets it. He holds my hand and I look deep into his riverbed eyes--the pupils water smoothed pebbles--and love him.
The Ugandan and Philippine boy slept the last two nights in another host home, but they were with us still. We carry them now. We carry their people, their families, their thirst. A Christmas tree towers over ten feet tall in my living room--the room that only weeks ago I lamented being too small to host the homeschool mom's Christmas party, the room that when they entered, they exclaimed It is so big, Auntie! I had thought they would enjoy seeing the shiny decorations. Playfully, I wrapped one in strands of crimson wooden cranberries. "I'm a Chreestmas boy, Auntie! A Chreestmas boy," he had exclaimed.
Indeed, he is a Christ-boy. In his face I see a hundred thousand faces--hunger, pain, thirst, need, loneliness. Those were the real reasons Christ came, weren't they? The real reasons for all our merry making this time of year are about what we can give, not what we will receive.
Open my eyes, Father. Leave me bleeding a while longer. Let them linger in my heart--The Chreestmas boys. Amen.