12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
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I hit the snooze button twice this morning, not wanting to get out of bed, the thought of facing another emotionally grueling day weighing heavily on my heart. I pull the blankets over my head.
I can’t do it, I think, my heart can’t take any more. I don’t have anything left to give.
And it’s not that I don’t care, or that I don’t want to help, or that I’m not interested in the incredible work being done here. Every child I have met so far has stolen a little piece of my heart. I do care. I do want to help.
But the reality of poverty is painful. It’s hard to take in. Impossible to fathom until you see it close up. And to be perfectly honest, it makes me want to turn away, to go back to the comfortable life I know. My heart just isn’t big enough.
Just 10 more minutes.
You committed to an entire week, a quiet voice whispers, so get up. There is still more to see.
After a quick shower, I open my Bible, not to any page in particular. This is how my morning devotions usually go—no structure, just whatever verse I happen to land on. This morning it falls open to the story found in Matthew 19:16-28.
A young man approaches Jesus and asks what good deeds he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus tells him that there is only one who is good, but that if he wants eternal life, he must keep the commandments.
This isn’t quite enough for the guy. He presses a little harder, wanting to know exactly which ones. At this point you can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes, but he answers anyway. He tells the man not to murder or commit adultery or to lie or steal, and to honor his father and mother and love his neighbor as himself.
The guy then says he’s done all that but it doesn’t feel like enough.
That’s when Jesus hits him with the gut punch:
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
The man walks away sad, because for him, this is not a small request. He’s a rich guy with lots of possessions—things he’s really quite attached to.
Jesus turns to his disciples and explains that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.
The disciples are looking at each other wondering who could possibly qualify for heaven, but Jesus assures them that although with man this is impossible, with God all things are possible and that the way to eternal life is to give up everything for him, because in heaven, those who were first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
I have to admit that this one is not my favorite story in the Bible. I’m far more like the rich young man than I would like to admit—not too eager to give away all I have, just to follow Jesus.
That’s just crazy talk, right?
I close my Bible without taking too much time to think about what this story really means. I say a quick prayer, asking for strength to make it through the day, that the love of Jesus will somehow shine through me, even if I don’t feel like I have anything left to give.
And then we make our way to the center. After our day in the country yesterday, we are back in the ghettos of Santo Domingo, this time on the other side of town. In the bus we learn that we will be visiting a center that serves 375 sponsor children, but that also has what’s known as a CSP—Child Survival Program.
The name is not intended to be dramatic—this program, for children birth through age three, is literally a lifeline in this community. Mothers learn skills like basic nutrition, how to hold and nurture an infant, and how to keep their homes safe for toddlers. They also learn vocational skills that allow them to earn a sustainable wage. Infant mortality in these neighborhoods is high. This program reaches the most defenseless members of society.
But before we get to tour the CSP facility, the sponsor children in the center have put together a program for us. A few children sing, and a few more dance, and we all pray together. And then one young boy, no more than 12 or 13 years old, announces that he will be sharing the day’s message.
It’s from Matthew 19:16-28.
That’s right about the time I get hit with the gut punch.
Why this story, I can’t help but wonder, when these kids are the poorest of the poor? What could this story possibly have to say to them?
But this little boy does have a point, and it’s a pretty simple one.
Jesus wants everything we have.
He wants our whole heart, even when we feel like we have nothing left to give.
And for the rest of the day, that one simple point keeps coming back as I see it lived out in the lives of these people in the most concrete of ways.
I see it in our translators who bring so much more to our experience than the gift of communication. They don’t simply translate a language, they bring light and laughter and tears and wisdom. They don’t hold back an ounce of enthusiasm or a drop of compassion. They are fully in it. They give everything they have.
I see it in the kind-hearted leader of the Child Survival Program who speaks with pride about the 75 mothers she and two helpers nurture each day. Without complaint, they make home visits to each family twice a month, which means daily treks into dangerous neighborhoods and seemingly hopeless situations. Her greatest joy is seeing these mothers succeed. She gives everything she has.
I see it in the determined faces of the first parents we visit, parents who are determined to create a better life for their kids, a mother who is finding a way to attend university classes despite the strain on their already strapped finances and limited resources. I see a father who will do whatever it takes. They are giving everything they have.
I see it in the overpowering love of the grandmother we visit next, who is somehow caring for her three grandchildren—one severely disabled—in ramshackle shed barely shielded from the elements, located on the bank of a river that floods regularly. Despite circumstances too grim to even fathom, she doesn’t complain. She doesn’t know how not to give everything she has.
If they, who have nothing, can give so much, than shouldn’t I, who has everything, do the same?
It’s a simple parable, one that doesn’t end the way I’d like it to. In my version, Jesus tells the guy he’s doing a great job, that he has followed all the rules and kept all the commandments, and that he gets an A. In my version, Jesus tells him to give himself a pat on the back and sends him off on his way to enjoy his comfortable life filled with pretty things.
But Jesus says follow me.
That path isn’t easy. It’s not comfortable or safe. And I’m going to be honest–that path scares me.
But today that path started with the children right in front of me, by giving them everything I had.
And while it may have felt woefully insufficient, in that moment, it was just enough.
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Will you consider sponsoring a child this week? Click here to find out more.
P.S. If you sponsor a child this week you will also receive this beautiful limited edition necklace from Lisa Leonard–just a small token of thanks for saying yes!