When I was 9 years old, I saw the following commercial. Do you remember it?
I can tell you without a shred of doubt this commercial changed me. I was a happy, carefree nine year old just moments before the commercial aired. I saw it and my bleeding heart was broken. I gathered all the money I could find and begged my mom to call the 1-800 number on the screen.
She tried everything she could to distract and redirect me. We found ways to help others in our own community. But, every time a commercial like that came on, I wept uncontrollably and begged her to let me sponsor a child.
I never did it, but the desire stuck with me for two decades.
This past summer was a difficult one for me. Life had piled up on me and I could hardly breathe. Aside from the challenges and emotions I was up against, I also faced a spiritual drought. I quit going to church, too. Every time I tried to take the kids by myself (because Mike worked every weekend), I always left angry and frustrated, usually halfway through.
As I’ve learned many times over the years, when I give up on my faith, the rest of my world falls apart.
One Friday night as I cried and tried to fall asleep, a million thoughts raced through my mind. Among them: “I need to go to church.”
I arranged for my mother in law to watch the kids so I could go to church for the first time in over two months.
It’s not uncommon for me to be emotional at Mass. There are many songs that comfort me and make hot tears spring. Often one of the readings moves me to tears. Sometimes a homily stirs my soul enough to make me cry.
After being away for so long, everything made me weep.
As the priest began his homily, I felt a little deflated. It was a visiting priest, and I knew he would ask us to give money to a cause close to his heart.
What he asked us to do instead was sponsor a child.
At that point I became almost hysterical. Of all the times and all the places, God finally put me where I needed to be so I could do what He’d always wanted of me.
I chose a little boy from Chile who was one month older than Lucas. I guess he touched me the most because I could see my own child in him. I thanked the priest for opening my heart and removing all the things that had kept it closed for so long- selfishness, greed, doubt, fear.
I kept the little boy a secret at first. I knew he wasn’t exactly in our budget. For the first time ever, I’d done something that required real sacrifice.
I often think about Mark 12: 41-44. From our world of plenty, it’s easy to buy presents for the Angel Tree. It’s easy to donate clothes to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul. To buy a toy on our way out of the store and place it in a donation bin. To hastily drop some change here or there. It’s easy to give out of the extra money we have, after we’ve paid all our bills.
When I finally admitted to my husband that I’d sponsored a child, he was only slightly serious when he teased, “You are never allowed to go to church by yourself again.”
I promised I’d be the one to do without. I’d find ways to scrimp and save. I assured him that our basic needs would still be met. And deep down, he already knew that.
The other day, we received our first letter from Luis. It was written by his mother since he’s too little to write. We received her original handwritten letter in Spanish along with a typed translation. My husband and I were both in tears as we read the letter. We could feel his mother’s gratitude. I’m pretty certain we’ll be “raising” him.
As you could probably guess, my spiritual thirst has been quenched. Sometimes giving to someone else is all it takes. Sometimes finally doing something that’s been on your heart for ages will do the trick. Almost always, it’s when we remove ourselves from the things of this world and focus on people that brings us back to the light.
With the whirlwind of the holidays upon us, I’m asking you to truly consider your family’s needs versus their wants. I’m asking you to strip away the selfishness and the greed that comes with living in a first world country, a land of excess.
I’m not really asking you to do anything in particular. There are hundreds of worthy causes, especially around the holidays.
What I am asking you to consider is this:
For the cost of a brand new iPad, you could sponsor one child who is living in poverty for a year.
For the cost of a Leapster or LeapPad, you could buy a goat to help a family in Latin America or the Caribbean break the cycle of poverty.
For the cost of a new bike, you could send a child here in America home each weekend with a backpack full of food.
For less than what it would cost to stuff one stocking, you could provide nearly 100 meals to hungry children in my own backyard.
Think about that as you race from the Thanksgiving dinner table to get in line at one of those chain stores. Think about that as you scurry here and there, knocking people over in the process, to score that one thing your child (or whoever) really “needs.”
Think about it as your shopping list grows and your patience wears thin.
Think about it as you bake cookies with your family. As you overindulge on food and drink and desserts. As you scrape your uneaten food off your plate. As your children lose interest in that “must have” toy they opened only hours before.
There are children in this world, in this country, in your city who would give anything to eat the scraps off your plate. Who’d give anything to unwrap a package of brand new underwear. Who’d love nothing more than your child’s discarded toys.
By all means, celebrate the season. Give gifts. Spread joy and cheer to those you love. But this Christmas, I challenge you to dip deeper into your pockets than you ever have before. Find a way to truly give. Don’t just give out of your surplus. Give with all you have.
I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would want for His birthday. Don’t you?
Life happens when we give with all we have.
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