As we prepare for Christmas, we are counting down our 12 Days of Opportunity - celebrating the many gifts we have received while working with our clients and staff around the world.
For many of us Christmas is a season of joy and a time for friends and family, accompanied with the giving and receiving of gifts. Celebrations of the birth of our Lord and Savior are often marked by great bounty—tables laden with sumptuous food and rich desserts, Christmas trees and stockings overflowing with delightfully wrapped packages and the night sky glittering with colorful trimmings and twinkling lights. Our churches echo our favorite hymns and Hallelujahs, and our ears thrill at the return of Christmas songs and carols that come just once each year. Most of these are perfectly acceptable expressions of the festive merriment we feel as we await that awesome moment when we recall the words of Luke 2:11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Amidst the season of fellowship and gaiety (and busy-ness), might we all take time to reflect not only on the miracle of Christ Jesus and the greatest gift of all—everlasting life—but also on the tangible and intangible gifts we have received over the years that have never faded in their meaning. For me, it was a gift of a few brief moments in a time machine. An Opportunity International time machine you ask? Indeed, dear one, read on…
Two Christmases ago, I was humbled and honored to travel to Kampala, Uganda, on an assignment to spend time with several clients and collect their stories. In case I haven’t been blessed heartily enough to have a job with an organization who shows God’s love to impoverished and marginalized families, I was blessed beyond measure to receive a gift that will both haunt and gladden my heart for the rest of my days.
On the outskirts of town, I trudged down a muddy, rutted road, passing shacks for houses and decrepit stalls for businesses to meet Sarah. A mom who struggled to feed her three children and put shoes on their feet; a young wife who was abandoned by her husband and provider. I had met other moms before her, moms who understandably wanted a better life for their children, an education and a bright future. But this mom was grateful for her newfound ability to put shoes on her children’s bare feet. Yes, she has the dreams that all mothers cling to for a life free from poverty, but for Sarah, that would have to come later. She was at the very beginning of that journey. When it was time to leave, I realized she and her kids had nothing and yet they had everything. Of course, I left them with a few material gifts with mom’s permission—they were mesmerized by my trinkets of granola bars, stickers and a book, probably their first. But what truly captivated them was the intangible gift of our free and loving exchange of tactile sensations. They wanted the feel of hugs that lasted forever, they listened to my words and foreign-sounding accent, they touched my face and smelled my hair. They marveled at our differences, and I did as well. What a memorable experience.
Oh yes, back to the bit about the time machine. My gift that day, the unexpected gift I will treasure in this life and the next, was the ability to capture a brief glimpse of a time that I had long forgotten. A moment to see the world through the innocent and tender eyes of a child. To experience the wonder at the simplest things. To experience the extraordinary in the ordinary. To feel curiosity and wonder. To believe that all things really are possible. In the moment I was filled with gratitude for a proven mission like ours at Opportunity, because I could walk away feeling confident in what the children would undoubtedly receive in their futures because their mom was receiving very critical tools that would change their lives forever. I clung to my gift for dear life, and yet it left me in a blink. The only evidence, a few tears lingering in my rose-colored sunglasses.
This Christmas, I face a recent loss in my life, softened by grace when I conjure the ability to appreciate the tangible and intangible beauty that surrounds me. Sunsets and sunrises that are a gift from God himself. Our Christmas celebrations and practice of gift-giving, some meaningful and glorifying to God and some less so, are really opportunities to see the world through the eyes of your inner child.