Monday, August 12, 2013

Christmas in July...

Whenever someone goes on a Sponsor Tour with Compassion for the first time, they always ask...

What gifts should I bring?

Followed by answers of the useful and the frivolous...bare necessity meets the new and marvelous. Gifts to make reality easier, gifts to make the world bigger. There is a healthy balance.

But as I sit in Luz's front room, I suddenly discover a third category of gift giving.

As Luz changes clothes, it's Christmas in July.

We break the ice with white tulle and soccer balls, wash rags and onesies.

Eyes dance with excitement.

A holiday is exploding. Only three of Luz's seven siblings are at home, but the curiosity directed at the bulging shopping bags is palpable.

Sandra, Luz's 10 year old sister, is the same age that Luz was when we began sponsoring her. I discover with delight that she has two levels of smiles. The first smile is sweet enough, but the second smile makes her nose crinkle up adorably. The first smile came when she first saw her confection of a dress, impractical white tulle and red rose petals; the second came after she was in it, eyes dancing, ears ringing with our compliments. She had fled the room with this first gift, not even waiting for (or refreshingly, expecting) any others.
Victor, the owner of the deliciously brown eyes and black rain boots, is lured from behind the curtain (apparently the portal to the kitchen) by a deflated soccer ball and some sneakers that light up. I am enchanted by his crown of curls and his toothless grin.
17-year old Carmen stands quietly in the doorway, her 8 month old baby boy, Jeferson, sitting fatly on her hip, dripping with rolls of sweetness. I wonder if she can pack all of his squishy cuddles into his new onesies and thinking that doing so might be a crime against nature.
When Luz emerges, the revelry begins again. Luz's bag is deep and full. I think of my own mother, who always made Christmas special because she knew me so well. There would rarely be big presents, but all that there were would be evidence that she knew me like no one else.

For Luz, beads and thread and baubles for jewelry making.

An art set with pencils, paints, and oil pastels.

Devotional books, pens, lotions and perfumes.

A plaid dress that reminds me of the shirt she wore to our visit day the year before.
And the makings of a quince...a crinoline, a pink dream of a gown, a rhinestone tiara, earrings for ears pierced in my honor, a bracelet too large for her dainty wrist, a necklace to drip down her neck the way little crystal beads of water from her still wet hair is dripping now.

There is a special necklace that I have the honor of putting on her...a round locket with charms inside, inscribed with the word "dream."
It is as the gifts are put to the side, carried out of the room and laid on beds in dark rooms, that I realize that these are not the real gifts I was meant to bring. Luz grabs my hand and pulls me into the room she shares with two of her siblings.

And Christmas begins again...mine this time...a hundred tiny gifts of experience that make my life forever richer.

Somehow, in Luz's tiny room, I am not surprised to notice a difference. The walls are still rough mud and the floor is still unfinished concrete, but there is a sweetness.
Stuffed animals sit on the thin-sheeted mattress. Posters and pictures decorate the walls. There is a mirror and a small table decorated with mementos. Looking more closely, I see evidence of our relationship everywhere...

Crafts sent with my letters...
A calendar from her New Year's package...

A folder of my letters and albums with my photos...

The woven rug I brought last June...
She shows me everything. She leads me to the picture of her dear father--proud, strong, alive in his military uniform. I can tell she likes to remember him this way.

There isn't even a light bulb hanging over her bed. I think of how dark it must be for my Luz, my light.

There is too much else that Luz wants us to see. We are soon out of doors. She grabs my hand with an untellable eagerness and pulls me, eyes dancing, out into the fields. We walk through corn, admiring the coffee plants below and the bananas hanging heavily overhead. She plucks herbs from the ground and offers us a taste.

We admire the brindled pig and the pen of chickens. Jeferson is appropriately coddled. Luz laughs as Jeferson shuns me and chooses Jonathan, and in her face I see the ten-year old nose wrinkle of Sandra.

And here we are alive, together in the same world. Right now there is no AC and carpeted floors, manicured lawns and water coolers.

Before long we are eating watermelon that she grew. Plates, red plates brought from the states a year ago, soon come laden with food. Yellow rice and chicken...a chicken from the pen, mind you...are offered. A pricey gift of Coca Cola in a 3 liter bottle is placed on the table. It is a meal fit for kings...a meal that can't be bought.

Bellies full, I notice a wistfulness in Luz's eyes. I know it is the pink dress.

Girlishly we slip behind the curtain-door. The sisters all watch as Luz pours herself into the dress with a lot of "Ay's!" and "It's bigger than I am!"--quite accurate. We struggle with the zipper. The crinoline is put on second--which is exceedingly awkward to navigate. Tulle and organza fill the small room half way up to the ceiling. The high heels are tried on Cinderella style, and all the worries that they were too big are dispelled. For all purposes, everything was a perfect fit.

I watch as she wants to put on each piece of as, for the first time, it seems, my precious girl sees on the outside what I have seen on the inside for a long time.
We have the necessary fashion show. Luz walks the runway of her long front room...her Pastor, her teacher, her family, and one overwhelmed sponsor in the form of my husband see the remarkable transformation. In Jonathan's words, Luz made that dress look beautiful.
Little Sandra's nose crinkles.

Victor looks up from the simple video game I brought him.

Mama Sandra comes out with a half-rolled corn tortilla in her hands.

Could it be that we have come for this? So that, for a day, Luz can just be a girl...a 14-year old girl? On this day, her normalcy has been thrown out the window. It is a Sabbath of sorts, a break from the monotony of every day life, a day to rest and celebrate and revel in the beauty of God.

On this day, I held Luz's baby cousin. I sat on her couch, ate from her plates, tasted her chicken, smelled her growing coffee plants. I became real to her and she became real to me.

We spent the day giving one another gift after gift...some that can be touched, tasted, or felt...and some that can be unwrapped again and again in the mind.

The best gift that we gave was just the coming. Just being in her world. Just giving her the opportunity to share for a day all the beauty of her life. Giving her the opportunity to give her humble that I treasure so deeply.

I watch my girl as she twirls. It is doubtful the floor has ever been swept by such an elegant hem. On dark nights she will remember this, I think...remember these moments of light and fun and beauty. Perhaps when her hands feel rough from hard labor and her mind is heavy from many cares, she will remember this moment, unwrapping it in her mind. Perhaps in the black of some evening, she will reach into a hidden place and crown herself again with the rhinestone tiara.

Eventually, the zipper is unzipped with a relieved sigh. The cascades of pink drip limply across the bed. Back to flats and t-shirts and jeans. But never back to ordinary...

Not for me or her, I think.

Because back at home, with my AC and carpeted floors, fluorescent lights and television, I will unwrap gifts too--gifts of a wrinkled nose and the clasp of a sun-browned hand.

I will miss this girl.

I will miss the promise of a trip through the corn fields.

Miss the smile, the warmth, the eagerness.

I will miss this girl, who can put the joy of Christmas into every day moments.


  1. When I got to "my precious girl sees on the outside what I have seen on the inside for a long time" my eyes instantly teared up. Your post is so beautiful, yet again. Thank you for sharing this with us... <3 <3 <3

  2. I sit here with tears in my eyes.She looks gorgeous!Yes, thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Ditto'ing Deborah's comments above, Kim! And you have a definite gift of writing and story-telling that expresses so deeply what you experienced with your precious Luz and her family. You should become an author, and I would buy your book in a heartbeat!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing more of the story! You do have such a beautiful way with words...I was able to picture everything as if I were really there. Thanks for letting us live for a moment in your Honduran world.

  5. Ok, now you've really done it... The minute Luz took you to her room and you saw evidence of your relationship everywhere, that's when I started weeping! Oh my! Beautiful, so beautiful!

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