I haven't been able to write this story... until now.
To be honest, I didn't think I could tell the story and do it justice.
Have you ever experienced something so intensely emotional that you knew there wasn't a way to share it with others and have them possibly understand?
This has been my problem.
This moment left me tearful and hollow. It left me full of hope. It left me with a huge ache inside. I recently shared it with my husband, and have yet to share it with even my closest friends.
Even now I don't think I can accurately express this event, but I will try, because it's a story that needs to be told.
*This post may contain affiliate links.
I met Marisol at an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador last December. December, 2013 will forever be a turning point in my life.
Quito is a MASSIVE city. It is long and narrow, nestled in the Andes mountains. It lies 2 miles above sea level. The views are breathtaking, to say the least.
Quito does have its affluent and cosmopolitan areas. Most of Quito, however, is full of poverty.
Our Operation Christmas Child distribution team had two whirlwind days of distributions in and around Quito.
The second distribution of the trip was where I met Marisol. Our team prayed (as we did before each distribution) and quietly exited the bus.
I observed broken bottles cemented on the tops of walls serving as security systems; as we walked down the street I knew this would be difficult.
This was my fist visit to an orphanage.
I had spent my teaching career in the United States working in poverty stricken Title I schools - but THIS was poverty.
Inside the gates several children ran to meet us. They were all happy and obviously happy to see guests. I was impressed with the sweet murals on the walls. Somehow the image of Jesus with little children was comforting to me.
This was an orphanage run by the Roman Catholic Church.
"Welcome to the Franciscan Education Center".
The distribution began with mingling with the children - lots of hugs, laughter, and smiles. These children were so loving. I had a huge bag of rubber band bracelets, which made me extremely popular!
Seeing all of these children made me think of my own two children. I sat with several children and we laughed and talked. They taught me how to say several things in Spanish, and they were all eager to have their pictures taken.
After a skit and presentation of the gospel message, the box distribution began.
I happened to be sitting next to Marisol when she opened her box. Inside was a beanie baby, several toiletry items, a jump rope, a huge balloon, and a little plastic maze that a ball runs through. (I'm sure there were other things, too -- these I just remember the most.)
Many of the children would unpack their boxes in hasty excitement, but not Marisol.
She unpacked each item slowly, savoring each one. After she had unpacked the entire box, she repacked it very carefully. She did this several times - so proud of her gifts, and holding them close. It was almost like she was taking inventory of every single thing in her box.
She really loved this little maze, and sat playing with it for the longest time.
What happened next I did not get a picture of - I was too moved and overcome to snap a shot.
A younger child came toddling over to Marisol and asked her for her maze. She happily said "si" - and gave her maze away without another thought.
And then... she proceeded to give away several other items from her box to other friends sitting around her - not asking for anything in return, but genuinely enjoying the act of GIVING.
We left the orphanage that hot afternoon - Marisol gave me a hug and happily ran on her way with her box tucked under her arm, and all I could do was try to make it out of the gates of the orphanage without breaking down, overcome by the goodness of God in such a seemingly desperate place.
Since that time I have thought of Marisol daily. I have prayed for her happiness, safety, and that she would find a forever family.
Meeting her also caused me to examine my own life, and I don't like what I see.
And you know what?? That's ok.
I don't think God wants me to be content. I think He expects MORE from me - from all of us. He is using the Holy Spirit to direct my steps. Those steps are going in places I never could have imagined.
I believe we are called to GIVE just like Marisol did. She gave away something that was immensely precious to her, and I'm ashamed that it was so easy for her to give, yet so hard for me. I believe we are called to a RADICAL faith, which calls for a radical shift in our thinking.
What do WE hold so close to us (just as Marisol held close that maze)?
Why do we make so many excuses about why it's ok to live indulgent lifestyles? I don't think it's ok that I have a house full of STUFF. I think God wants me to be uncomfortable. How else will I be prompted to change?
The Holy Spirit keeps putting Marisol on my heart. I don't think I am supposed to forget her or any of the children I met last December. God spoke to me on a mountain in Ecuador, and He has been speaking to me loud and clear in the months since I returned home:
It's time to simplify.
We've recently emptied our downstairs area to put in new floors. This gave me the opportunity to get rid of a lot. I started by putting everything in the garage. I have moved the essentials back in - but now I still have this STUFF in my garage.
I'm so ashamed I collected all of this. Now the process of letting it all go begins.
This year our family is getting rid of STUFF. I believe we are being called to free ourselves of so many things that make it virtually impossible to follow God's call in our lives.
This is so difficult. We live in a community that values the American dream - driving nice cars, wearing nice clothes, affording your kids with the latest and greatest of everything.
And we think we DESERVE them. Why feel guilty about what we have? We've worked hard for it, and God has blessed us.
This line of reasoning just doesn't sit well with me. I think it's a trap that is set for "comfortable" Christians.
Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. ~ Luke 9:23
I don't see a grey area here... we are called to deny ourselves, and I believe this where I fall short on a daily basis.
You can't just follow the commands of Jesus that fit easily into your life. We're called to be like HIM and live out his commands, no matter the cost.
I want to be more like Marisol, and most of all - I want to inspire my children to be like her, too. I never imagined I would be saying I wanted my children to be like an orphan in Ecuador. God's just full of surprises, isn't He?
*This post is also a testimony to the power of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. You can pack a box year round online. Each box MAKES A DIFFERENCE in a child's life!
(You might also want to read How To Wake Up From the American Dream - reading this post really inspired me to tell the story of Marisol.)
Two favorite reads if you're interested:
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