The Gift of God

I got to see the little girl I sponsor through Compassion in Guatemala last week, Helen.  I was surprised to find that Helen is very much like I was as a kid.  She pulled me around like a tugboat and we went up and down the bouncy house slide (nearly) a trillion times.  She crawled through every possible space of the play centers, whether they were intended to be crawled through or not–again, reminding me of myself–hid underneath the ball pit to spring up in surprise, wanted to win every single goal in air hockey, climbed the wrong way up the slide, nibbled on her lunch so she could have more time to play, kicked the soccer ball about 30 degrees off from the goal–so hard that our translator had to keep fetching it–and hit people with the ping pong ball as much as she hit the other side of the net.  She was like a bazooka of confetti.

But at gift-giving time, she dissolved into a shy, stiff statuesque little girl.  From time to time, she would give a faint, “Gracias.”  It was as if the gifts scared her.  And I think that’s pretty close to the truth.

I gave her an American girl doll, Hello Kitty backpack, candy necklace, and Beanie Baby in the morning.  We sat at a table.  Helen replied by giving me all the barrettes out of her hair.

In the afternoon, I gave her a rolling suitcase with pencils & colored pencils, shampoo, little toys, a jump rope, stickers, Hello Kitty t-shirts, hair brushes, a mirror, a little Hello Kitty playset, soap, a game, kids’ jewelery, and lots of hair bows, ties, barrettes, and some soft headbands.  I could never have gotten all these things without my mom, who sprung for most of it.  I knew this might be the only time I ever get to see Helen in this life.

Helen didn’t have any more barrettes to give me.  In fact, she didn’t have anything left to give me.  She didn’t have a necklace or bracelets.  Her little coat wouldn’t have fit me.  She’d given all she’d had away.  She became almost frozen in intimidation.  Grandma did most of the thanking.  Helen looked at me intently, but never asked any questions about the gifts, and never said anything but the perfunctory, “Gracias.”  In short, she was overwhelmed.

The one thing she did do in the gift giving time was one of the sweetest moments of the entire day–in fact, for me I think it was actually the very sweetest.  I was sitting on the bench and she was sitting on the bench, and there was a gap in between us.  With no translation needed, Helen patted the bench right beside her.  I slid over closer.

It was just exactly what I wanted her to offer.

I could not have imagined a more perfect analogy from my life for how we are to respond to the gifts of God (although it is an imperfect analogy in the sense that I actually did very little for Helen).

If you are a believer in Jesus, you have for sure and certain felt overwhelmed at some point by the gifts of God.  The gifts get bigger and more overwhelming the longer we know Him.  We find things in the suitcase He’s packed for us like grace, peace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption, freedom, endurance, patience, intimacy, thoughtfulness, protection, and love.  It seems like way more than we can handle.

In the morning of our lives, God opens a backpack and we find ourselves with lungs that breathe, a heart that beats, fingers that touch, a mouth that laughs.  We see a world around us, first through our mother’s cradling arms–the mother God especially gave us–and then through our toddling legs, and then streaming by us as we run through open fields.  We pet kitty cats and wade in oceans and stare at the sun at sunset until our parents tell us not to.  We gawk at zoo animals and wonder at earthworms and nearly faint the first time we see a train.  All around us is God’s wonder–and we don’t know how to respond.

We try to respond with our talents, our gifts.  We might not be giving them to God, but we are giving them in response to what we see around us.  We paint galaxies on heavy canvas and try to sell them for big dollars.  That will somehow pay back the cosmic blessing we got the first time we saw a star.  We write novels on relationships.  That will somehow pay back the feeling we got the first time we blew a kiss at someone we had a crush for.  We produce movies made from footage of rainforests.  That will somehow pay back the excitement of watching a leopard prowl its way through the underbrush for the first time.

But we never even get close.  We never can pay it back.  We see this world of wonder around us–yes, with suffering from sin, but let us not forget the overwhelming gifts from God–and we wonder, What can I do in reaction to all this?  We could earn 10’s on a diving board to bring a gold medal home for our country.  We could bake the best apple pie anyone ever tasted.  We could find the perfect sofa to match our living room, the best composition ever written for the feeling you get when you stand on the edge of a canyon, the keenest photograph of a father penguin shielding an egg.  But it still wouldn’t be enough.

And then the afternoon comes, and God comes up to us with a rolling suitcase.  And we think, What on earth is this?

He opens up His suitcase and we see, for the first time, the love of Christ.  It hits us like tropical sunlight in Antarctica or a sea in the middle of a desert or an underground hideaway on a volcanic mountain.  It is overwhelming, it is beyond human understanding, it seems, in actuality, insane.  Insane that God would care enough about us to give His Son for us.  Insane that He would be willing to forgive all our sins, every single one.  Insane that He would ask to be our Father.

The feeling is something like being drowned in grace.  Some swim away screaming, spitting out mouthfuls of grace as they make their escape.  Others float carefully on the surface, keeping away from the grace that would change them if they ever went under.  And then there are those who plunge in, drinking down lung fulls of grace, choking on love, suffocating on mercy.

It is a crazy feeling.  And when you’ve experienced it, when you realize you’re forgiven, you’re loved, that God is giving you gift after gift from His eternal Kingdom, and most of all, when you understand that Christ wants to live in your heart and protect you from Hell . .

You know there is nothing you can ever, ever do to pay it back.  You have nothing left to give.  You spent your barrettes–your talents, your gifts–just celebrating creation.  But what is this?  How can you ever repay God’s Son?

I can’t.  I know I can’t.

And so I pat the seat next to me for God to come closer.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:18, NLT)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT)

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