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Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Cup Overflows

Imagine being Santa to your kids on Christmas morning. You see their excited faces. You hear their squeals of glee. Magic is in the air. It seems as if nothing can top this wonderful feeling you're given. You've wrapped up your love in packages with pretty bows on top, and names scribbled in adoration. You without a doubt love your kids with everything you've got.

Santa & Mrs. Claus

Sometimes the anticipation can be greater than the payoff. You spend hours shopping for the right gift, dreaming of that look and smile it will receive. If you're anything like me, it's never quite as sensational as you dreamed it would be.

Once the gifts are opened, a nagging emptiness is left before you. You replay the morning's events and something was missing. Sure kids are happy and content, but there is an uneasy feeling. Almost as if the kids didn't fully appreciate the gift they were given.

Yes they said their "thanks you", and gave hugs, but did they really grasp what was given to them? Could they? Sometimes I get the feeling that my children let a little entitlement creep into their lives. In fact, I believe we all do at times.

Christmas is known for being a time of gifts. It's expected. But just because it's our expectation doesn't mean it's deserved or even necessary. Certain relationships seem to require you to bestow a gift upon another individual. You have closeness, so you therefore must give them something. At least that's what we're taught.

My kids wake up Christmas morning expecting to get lots of presents. We trained them to think like that. Sure, we give them out of love and not obligation, but sometimes it can leave you feeling a little empty. The idea that the gift was expected can take away from the gratitude for it.

I experienced a rather eye opening Christmas this year. I enjoyed my time with my family, and I loved to see the excitement in my children as they sometimes screamed out loud at their gifts. It brought pleasure for me to see this. This Christmas at home paled in comparison with what I experienced in Mexico. I didn't leave there with that nagging empty feeling. My cup was filled up to overflowing.

My children have lived a very privileged life. They wake up Christmas morning knowing there are gifts under the tree. They know their dreams are about to come true. Their list has been purchased and it will soon be in their possession. It wasn't until I watched a different set of kids open gifts that I truly understood what that nagging empty feeling was.

Entitlement. The right or belief that one is deserving of, or entitled to certain privileges. Getting what is due to them.

For the first time I experienced Christmas through the eyes of those who expected nothing at all. It was the most beautiful but also heart wrenching thing I have ever experienced in my life. There were times I could hardly see through the tears in my eyes.

Many of the children we brought gifts to opened a Christmas present for the first time in their life. They had no expectations when they came to us. They had nothing to compare it to.

Before the families showed up at the dinner, we as a team had a couple prayer meetings. The night before we each took turns praying for our families and calling out their names individually before God.

Once the chairs were set up, and everything was prepared, we had another meeting. We walked around the tables praying for the individuals who would soon be filling the chairs. We prayed for the servers. We prayed over the gifts. We prayed through the kitchen.

As we were doing this, I stopped at one of the chairs and felt led to pray for the person who would be sitting there. I prayed that God would bring them safely to us. I prayed that no distractions would keep them away. I prayed for their travels; that nothing could hinder them. While I was praying, my family was on my heart. I specifically wanted my family there. I knew I would be disappointed if I didn't get to see them personally. They had been on my heart for so long; I wanted God to do something. I wanted everyone to show up to receive their gifts. I didn't want anything to keep them from getting all that God had for them.

It wasn't until the end of the evening, when I was walking the mother of my family out of the church and saying goodbye that I remembered my earlier prayer. I have a good photographic memory for certain things, and I remembered that it was actually her chair I was standing at; pleading that God would make a way for her to get there. Out of 45 chairs, I stood behind hers, the one closest to my heart.

My family was the last to arrive for our dinner and Christmas party. While in Mexico you expect everyone to show up a little late, but almost all the families were on time, one even 15 minutes early. I did start to worry they weren't coming. At 30 minutes past the time, my family walked in. I was overjoyed!

I found out later the reason for their tardiness. All the families were from mission churches in surrounding areas. My family was not from the city, and the husband and oldest son refused to come. The mother was on her own with 5 young children. The only way she could get to us was by bus. She was very afraid but did it anyway.

God is so incredible how He orchestrates things. Just at the time she was getting ready to leave her home, I was standing behind her chair praying for her to come no matter what the cost. God gave her the strength to do it. She was not sorry she made the decision.

We asked the pastor to drive her home so she didn't have to worry about getting there with all her gifts. I had carried over 40 pounds of gifts in my luggage for her family, plus we gave each family a large box of food items, toilet paper, including a frozen chicken and other refrigerated items.

We put together a special Christmas dinner for these five families. The menu consisted of tamales, black beans, and mashed potatoes. We had cookies for dessert.

During this time I witnessed one of the girls from my family, Priscila, go up to get cookies. She grabbed a bowl and started filling it up. I immediately thought of my son, and figured this girl was over doing it. She was being rather greedy with these cookies. We didn't have a lot to start with and we were quickly running out.

When she got back to the table she set them in front of her little brothers and sister. She sat down and watched them eat the cookies. After the bowl was empty she went back to the counter to fill it up again. This time she did the same thing again. She watched them eat. After the third time of going up to the counter she finally took a cookie for herself. This was my first glimpse into the hardship this family had suffered. Here I was immediately jumping to the conclusion that she was being selfish, because it's what I was used to. I have lived a life of privilege.

The time finally came for the gifts. You could tell the anticipation was getting to everyone. I found a few children perusing the table of gifts trying to find what might belong to them. I think we adults were just as excited to give out our gifts as the kids were to receive them.

We had the gift table organized into families and then separated into a pile for each child. At this point, we each started carrying the gifts over to the families at the table where they sat. I gathered my gifts for Alondra, the youngest in my family.

I knew each kid by name without needing an introduction. I had stared at their faces in a picture for so long, I knew them by heart. I still came to Alondra and asked her if she was who I thought. She shook her head yes. It was then that the overwhelming realization began to set in for these children.

My arms were full of gifts. This girl received a doll, a Barbie, a purse, some hair things, socks, underwear, shirts, flip flops, a book, and a bag of candy. It wasn't just one present for her.

The families had no idea the amount they were about to receive. I could tell from all the children's faces that they thought I was holding gifts for the entire family, not just for one child. As soon as I began to set down all her presents, I was watched like a hawk, their eyes round as saucers, their mouths open in the biggest grins and laughter would spill out. Each time I would walk back over to their table and kneel down in front of a child, the anticipation was so overwhelming. I couldn't help but cry. I smiled at them through my tears. Being Santa had never felt like this before.

When I had all my gifts handed out, I was able to watch them open and peak timidly at their presents. This was nothing like I was used to.

By the time I was done, each child had their gifts organized into a perfect pile. Wrapping paper was not flying around the room. It was as if they didn't even know what to do with the presents.

The youngest girl, Alondra, was one of the kids I had bought a present for. I found her this cute little baby doll that can fit in the palm of your hand. When you pull the string attached to her hand, her arms and legs kick like a real baby would. I couldn't wait to see her open it.

She peeked at it, but wouldn't take it out of the wrapping paper. I kept telling her, her sister and her brothers to open their gifts and they would nod their head, "sí". But they didn't tear off the wrapping paper. It was as if they wanted to keep it a secret, prolonging the moment. They peeked at every gift, but left the wrapping paper on.

What Alondra did open was her socks. She jumped up and down in excitement as if holding the greatest treasure in the world. She ran to her mom to show off the socks. The 12 year old boy, Eduardo, in my family opened his shoes. He was a very serious boy who hardly smiled at all. But when he saw that he was given shoes, he tore off the wrapping paper and the biggest grin appeared. His entire countenance changed. The gifts these kids chose to treasure were the clothes and shoes, the necessities of life.

My kids would have thrown those aside as if to say, really mom, you wasted wrapping paper on that? These kids hugged those items close to their heart.

Through it all, a smile never left the face of my mom, Idania.

When these families arrived they were all very serious. They didn't know what to expect and appeared a little hardened by the life they had lived. They relaxed a little through dinner but it wasn't until the gifts were handed out that their faces changed. Everyone in the entire place was smiling. The biggest, most intimidating men surprised me with their laughter and smiles. Several of them before leaving the church had to either shake hands or hug each of us on the team, telling us a very heartfelt, "Gracias". One father even took the time to say in English, "God. Bless. You." It was broken apart, but said with great feeling. I had never felt so truly blessed by God as I did at that moment.

One of the boys in another family, who was 15, came with a very intense demeanor. He didn't smile back when you smiled at him, and he had a cut under his eye. When I took a photo during dinner, he jumped as if hurt. I quickly decided to back off from my pictures. It was a little later that I could tell he was trying to get in my pictures and video. He was posing his 18th month old nephew. When he opened his gifts, a shirt and a new pair of shoes, he immediately went and changed clothes. He left with the new shoes on his feet.

I have never been so happy to be a part of something. You could see the change immediately in these families. For one night we brought peace, laughter, joy, hope, and love. They came into the building as one person, and they each seemed to leave as an entirely different person.

That is exactly what God's love does to each and every one of us.

"Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.

God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships."
2 Corinthians 5:17-18

When God's love comes into our lives, it changes us. We are made new. The past is gone, and we only have the future to look forward to. Because of this great thing that God does in us, we can't help but let it overflow into the lives of others. We want to reach out because He reached out to us first. God is a miraculous God! He does things beyond our dreams.

I knew God called me to go to Mexico for Christmas this year. But that doesn't mean I always wanted to go. There were several times before I left that I began to regret my decision. Selfishness started to creep in and I wanted a normal family Christmas. I didn't want to reach out to others. I wanted to stay home with my family. I had to force myself to put one foot in front of the other. I ignored my feelings and trusted my instinct that God had spoken a message to me. Who am I to argue with God?

I am so glad I was obedient to God's call. It was life-changing for me. As soon as I arrived in Mexico my whole attitude changed. I had that quiet assurance again that I was doing the right thing. I didn't know what would happen that week, but I was there to partake. God was going to show up! I believed Him when He spoke to me. Not once did I even have time to miss my family there; I gained a whole new family.

My perspective was altered. I realized again how blessed of a life I lead. I have all my needs provided abundantly. I am rich because of God. It was such a wonderful feeling to be used to reach someone else. Nothing at all can compare to the peace that fills you when you are following God's call. You may be fearful at times, and doubt yourself, but in the end you ultimately need to trust. You won't be disappointed in God. My cup overflows with blessings... and His unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.

In case you missed my previous post, Bucerías Mexico, I have included a short video of the trip there.

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