One of the Daily Prompts this week is: Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.
One week before Christmas…
Gosh, I just HATE that I loved getting up at 5:30 a.m. this morning when I had taken the day off and could’ve slept in.
And I just HATE knowing that, even though I said I was doing it for someone else, in truth…
I get this extreme pleasure from testing God and seeing what He’s going do with it.
Yep, I said it. I know, what does that say about me?! The thing I was told my whole life not to do. Test God. Except I did find this one place in the bible where even God says to test Him. So, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I get this guilty little pleasure, this one day a year when I’m actually able to get away from work, to take Him up on His challenge. (Okay, maybe I’ve tested Him a few other times, but let’s let mangy dogs lie…)
You see, our church has a Title I elementary school next door to us – a school that doesn’t always have necessary enrichment resources to meet the needs of its students, a school whose parents may have limited practical resources to be involved there or sometimes even with their childrens’ homework. (Single parents often work multiple jobs to support multiple kids, you know.) When our church first got involved in how to help our next door neighbors, we realized there were three particular areas of concern where we could help: (1) provide some appropriate reading level resources; (2) provide some instructional supply needs; and (3) provide something else that was important to these children – a back-to-school celebratory gathering that the school’s resources could not accommodate.
We named our little project the “Open Hands” ministry, at the time an extension of our Church’s tagline: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We wanted these children to understand that we were trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, serving some practical needs with our prayerful hands, while also extending those hands in welcoming friendship in community with them.
Our community gathering, the Back-to-School Bash and Splash, has become epic (at least for me – and nearly 700 other people); but today – the day in which we visit just before the students leave for the holidays and provide a reading-level-appropriate book to each child at the school – is one of my favorite days of the year! I didn’t do it out of guilty pleasure the first year. I did it with my heart focused solely on those children. But that was the first year. We’ll call it the “pre-assessment” year, when I didn’t know any better…
All I knew was that, by my Christian beliefs, this was part of how I intended to celebrate Emmanuel coming into the world to be with us as humans. That’s one of the names given to the Christ child in prophesy – Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14); and it means “God with us.” It’s a great reminder to me, especially when life seems to be stinking out and all my joys seem to have been plundered, that God wants to draw near to me, to be in relationship with me. He wants me to know that He wants to be here. He understands.
“Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel…”
we Christians sing as His season draws nigh upon us.
So as I entered the hallowed halls of that school building this morning, I took time to think of the many ways in which He’d shown Himself since I started to get to be a part of this several years ago. I calculated that many of the 5th graders who were completing their tenure at that school this year knew well of His arrival (since they were quick to tell us so today) – and of our arrival with the books. Those oldest students would have, in fact, received a visit and a book from us each and every year of their elementary life existence. They knew why we were there as we arrived! The teachers were ready for us too – many telling us that their students had been anxiously awaiting our arrival to their classes since they saw us come into the hallways, even peeping up from their work or out their doors occasionally. As we entered their classes, without exception, we were welcomed with warm, gracious and cheerful hearts. I reveled in this guilty pleasure!
But what, you ask, do I mean by me testing God? Well, I’ve come to realize, over the years, that I never know what to expect from these visits – not specifically anyway. What I do know is that I have to be present to receive His blessings. When I do show up and test Him with the big question, “What exciting blessing am I going to receive today?”, He simply tells me to be ready for it. I only know that I’m going to walk out that school door later that day with a heart overflowing in gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given. Yes, I know. I’m the one bearing the physical gifts of books. But the gifts I receive are so much greater (because it’s impossible for me to out-give God).
This year, as I sat on the wild-and-whimsical purple carpet of Ms. J’s reading center, spreading out books to be chosen and claimed, I didn’t realize the depth of gratitude I was going to receive in the unexpected hug of a tiny 7-year-old girl. I understood there was something special about this particular hug, something deeply heartfelt. It wasn’t until we had said our “Merry Christmases,” “You’re welcomes” and “Good-byes” that Ms. J caught us at the door to personally express her appreciation.
Ms. J told us how one of her children had gone home only a few days earlier to find her mom, no longer alive. She told us how that child had asked to come to school in the days before the funeral because that’s where she felt safe and loved. I asked if she would show me this child, though my heart already knew her before Ms. J pointed to a tiny, caramel-skinned girl in a flouncy blue skirt. Ms. J told me how, over the past few days, sometimes this little girl had stopped her work and come up to lay her head against her teacher’s shoulder. For anyone who believes a teacher’s calling is only to impart knowledge, I can’t think of anything further from the truth. Ms. J will be the teacher whom this little girl, “A,” remembers for making a positive impact for the rest of her life out of the quiet, responding care that would allow a little child to come gather love when needed.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”
What greater calling is there than this?
I shared with Ms. J how I, too, lost my mother when I was a little girl and how “A” would be in my prayers because my heart ached for her to be without her mom during this holiday season and beyond. I also thanked Ms. J that “A” had her and caring classmates to feel safe around. But I still hurt for her loss. Isn’t that why the babe of Christmas Day truly came into this world? To bring us hope in the midst of our trials, our losses, our suffering. That’s the reason I get excited about Emmanuel – about God coming to be with me – and you – to suffer alongside us during our hurts, our doubts, our despairs, and our joys and victories. Even in the very worst times in my life, knowing that ‘Emmanuel’ has been with me brings me a great sense of peace – and gratitude.
Speaking of gratitude – I learned more about gratitude on my first visit to that elementary school than I ever could have imagined – not the children’s gratitude (though that was extraordinarily special); not even my own gratitude (though it could always use the boost) – but I learned about GOD’s gratitude towards us! Does that sound like a ridiculous claim? Hard to believe, isn’t it? That the GOD of the Universe would actually take the time to express His gratitude to us – His creation.
That first year, delivering those books, we didn’t quite know how to be organized about what we were doing; a few of the teachers were wary of us as strangers roaming their hallways; and the children didn’t really know what to make of us (like they do now as the ‘seasoned book-receivers’ they have become!). But one little boy answered an immediate prompting from his heart that will always remain in mine. Long after we had left his classroom, long after he and his classmates had said a verbal thank-you, he came racing out into the hallway with a torn, folded note in his hand and gave it to one of the gentlemen helping that day (along with a great big hug).
As we got ready to leave the school, standing at the school’s entrance, this gentleman handed me the note. (I just hate to tell you that I’m loving this moment of gloating over this once again.) I unfolded this tattered little piece of paper and stood there, speechless, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. You can make of it what you will, but I felt the grateful hug of my heavenly Father upon reading it that day.
The note simply said,