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.
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.
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."
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.
Crafts sent with my letters...
A folder of my letters and albums with my photos...
The woven rug I brought last June...
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.
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 jewelry...watch 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.
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 gifts...gifts 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.