I am trying to get a handle on another day that’s snowballed.
The sun will sink soon and the breakfast dishes are still jeering at me from the kitchen counter.
The phone rings, and the minute I pick it up, I regret the decision. A monotone voice wanes on the other end of the line, and my eyes roam to the clock.
I do a quick calculation on how much time I have before I need to run to the soccer field to retrieve my teen, then I shove soggy Cheerios down the garbage disposal and half-listen to the telemarketer above the clatter of my filthy dishes.
Monotone Mary is listing all the reasons why I should take advantage of her one-time-only-special-offer-family-package to Disneyland.
I sort through the mail. Check school bags for dirty gym clothes or teacher notes. And stir the soup simmering on the stove.
“Thanks, but I’m not interested,” I interject when the woman finally takes a breath.
Undeterred, she launches into another hundred reasons for booking our Magic Kingdom family vacation in the next twenty-four hours.
I trip on a pair of muddy tennis shoes lying in the hallway as the voice on the other end of the phone line drones. She’s just trying to make a living, I remind myself while I balance the phone in the crook of my neck and carry the shoes to the laundry sink. The woman talks of parties with princesses and discount passes into the theme parks, and I want to tell her that I need a maid more than I need a hug from Mickey Mouse!
When the saleswoman mentions their special price on an exclusive evening with Cinderella, I want to ask if I could just meet the fairy-godmother instead. In fact, what I really want is for Miss Persuasion to send that sweet flying wish-granter my way. Then, the fairy godmother could flit above the clutter in my house and bippity-bopetty-boo until my toilets sparkle and my refrigerator gleam. And that, I am tempted to tell the voice on the other end of the phone, might actually make me feel like I’m on a real vacation.
The telemarketer has launched into her you’ll be creating memories for a lifetime speech as I walk to the calendar and scan the evening’s schedule. At this moment, I’m more concerned about juggling the night’s agenda than orchestrating a lifetime of memories, so I mutter a flimsy excuse for ending the call, and I hang up right in the middle of the poor woman’s final spiel.
A stench like rotten-potatoes assaults me as I make my way to the entryway where I return school bags to their rightful hooks. I notice the overflowing garbage can that my firstborn promised to empty is sitting abandoned near the coat closet. I grumble to myself, set the stinky can outside of the door, and make a mental note to remind my resident garbage man to finish his chore when he’s done banging on those drums in the basement.
That’s when I hear the clanging coming from the kitchen. I follow the sound to the sliding glass door where I find Joshua, his dirty-fisted fingers pounding urgently on the smudgy pane.
His nose is pressed flat against the finger-printed glass and his green eyes swirl frustrated when I finally meet his gaze.
“Mommy! We’ve been hollering for you forever. Why didn’t you come?”
“I didn’t hear you. I was on the phone…”
Joshua harrumphs and throws his hands up in the air, annoyed by my oblivion.
“What do you need?” I ask as I step out onto the deck and scan the backyard where my youngest ones are playing.
“We need help, Mom. We need your help,” Josh says, turning away from me and pointing to his sister whose arms are filled with a gaggle of baby dolls.
A large slab of wood is propped up against a tree and a motley assortment of sticks and logs are piled nearby.
“What are you doing?” I ask, already calculating how much time we’ll need to clean up the backyard after supper.
“We’re building a house,” Josh declares as he tugs at my hand and leads me off the deck.
“But we can’t do it alone,” my littlest boy announces. “The babies are crying and they need a place to sleep and it’s gonna be dark soon…”
I walk barefooted through the green grass and try to make sense of the game my imaginative ones are playing.
When I reach the tree that is supporting their little abode, Hannah flashes me a grateful grin. She hands me a dead branch still dotted with wrinkly brown leaves and asks if I can help her figure out how to put a roof on their hut.
“The babies are cold at night and Mercy keeps getting sick when it rains on us, and we’d all sleep better if we had a roof…” My third-born jostles a brown-skinned baby doll on her hip and holds my eyes in an earnest gaze.
I nod as if the tale she’s just told me is as normal as a Disney flick, and then I bumble around with the branch that has been earmarked for the roof.
Joshua stands by holding an ash-covered log pulled straight from our fire pit. And his grateful grin personifies his sister’s appreciative sigh.
I look around to see if any neighbors are watching us build an eyesore in the backyard, and then I ask the question that’s been rising in my mind since I first stepped out the door.
“What are you playing?”
The jagged branch scratches my shoulder as I awkwardly try to balance the leafy roof on top of the wooden slab.
“We’re playing house,” Hannah answers casually, relinquishing the baby in her arms to the wagon so her hands are free for retrieving a few more straggly sticks. “We live in Africa…”
I stare at this girl whose real-life heros cuddle orphans in Zambia and give hope to the hopeless in Uganda, and I nod as if building an African hut in the backyard of our sunny green three-acres is the most natural thing for a nine-year-old to to do on a school night before supper.
“But, Mom, why didn’t you come help us earlier?” Josh asks once more, his pixie face smeared with dingy gray streaks of ash and sweat.
“I didn’t know you needed me,” I reply lamely, my eyes roaming back to the house where supper still simmers.
“But we’ve been here for a hundred hours. Didn’t you SEE us?” my son croons, his voice dripping with the drama he’s learned from his three sisters.
I raise an eyebrow at my first-grader’s math; then attempt to excuse my neglect. “I’m sorry, buddy. I just didn’t look out the window.”
Hannah twines her fingers through mine and and stands next to me, admiring our work. “It’s okay, Mom. You’re here now.” She exhales a slow, happy breath and tilts her flushed face toward mine. “Aren’t you glad you came?”
The sweet moment bursts with more magic than a reduced-rate-week in the Magic Kingdom.
And I return my girl’s beaming grin. “Yes, honey,” I say, as I step back to admire the homemade hut. “I’m very glad I came.”
I am humming a song as I walk up the hill toward our home, and when I re-enter my mess, the dishes don’t look quite so intimidating after all.
I fill the sink with bubbles and keep one eye on what’s happening just beyond the window. And as I watch Hannah and Josh huddle in their little wooden hut, I suddenly remember a conversation I had long ago with a young man in college. We were both teaching majors aspiring to change the world one student at a time. He was headed to the impoverished streets of Mexico, while I had my sights set on a little yellow school house tucked in the Alps of Austria.
He had told me that the first time he’d set eyes on a hungry child he’d been a young teenager on a mission trip. And in that fateful moment, he’d promised himself he would do something about it. Now he was making good on that promise. And if his life went according to plan, he never planned on coming back.
Because Americans are all just greedy,” he’d said as we’d walked across campus on that bright spring day. “They want to fill their wallets instead of worry about filling a hungry child’s stomach….”
The flame of disdain in his eyes had made my stomach lurch, and at twenty-two-years-old, I’d wondered if he was right.
But eighteen years later, this American isn’t convinced that that fiery young man was completely correct. Sure, there’s greed in America and anywhere else that Satan weaves his subtle lies. But there’s also goodness and graciousness and selflessness in this country that is home to the richest people to ever walk the face of the earth.
And after forty-years of living in America, I’m not so sure that 1 billion people worldwide live in chronic hunger because of greed alone.
I think the reason 3.4 million people die every year because they lack fresh water, and someone on this blue spinning orb dies from starvation every 3.6 seconds, and 2 million children are subjected to prostitution in today’s global commercial sex trade, is not solely because of greed.
It is because we have become a people who have forgotten to look out the window.
We may not all be greedy, but we are busy.
We move through our air-conditioned days in a half stupor, annoyed by stinky garbage and dirty dishes, overwhelmed with carpool schedules and grocery lists. And now and then, if we slow down long enough, we look around at our mini-vans and our soccer schedules and we wonder if this is really all there is to life.
We are tired and a bit bored, and the telemarketer on the other side of the phone tells us that we just need to schedule a get away to the Magic Kingdom.
And in the midst of taming toddler tantrums and running carpool, in the midst of paying the bills and keeping the bathroom stocked with toilet paper, we can so easily forget that there is a Kingdom far greater and more fulfilling than the one where the smiling princesses reign and a mouse roams the streets with a sewn-on smile.
There is a Kingdom right here, right now, that we’ve been invited to usher in, one act of love at a time.
And a tender-hearted Prince who knows that we were made for something bigger than our laundry piles and more extensive than our mortgage.
And while we fret about what to feed our kids for dinner in between soccer practice and church functions, we fail to remember that 15 million children will die of hunger this year alone. And while we race through the grocery store AGAIN and grumble about how our lives are a monotonous spin of errands and to-do lists, we forget that all over this globe, there are millions of mamas like us who have no stores stocked with food and no faucets spouting fresh water. As we kiss our kids goodnight, we don’t picture the faces of the 147 million orphans who will go to sleep without a mommy’s touch somewhere beneath the same stars that twinkle over our slumbering children.
But, I believe that if we would just slow down long enough to feel and pray and listen, we would hear the cries beyond our window and we might actually SEE the Kingdom of God unfolding in our midst.
We can’t all fly to Uganda to hold dying babies; and we can’t all go to Brazil to save children living in garbage dumps, but we can each live with open eyes and open hearts. And if we take an honest look at our resources, most of us here in America could figure out a way to feed one child. Or offer hope to one family. Or bring grace to one community.
Because if we’re honest, every single one of us has a little bit of Africa in our own backyard.
And I’m convinced that if we step beyond the walls of our comfortable lives, we just might discover that what Jeff Goins says is true, “We don’t find our purpose in life by looking in the mirror. We find it by looking out the window.”
And perhaps, as we respond to those cries beyond the comfortable glass of our blessed lives, we will stumble upon another upside-down truth—
That unshakeable joy we’re all seeking? It’s not at Disneyland, after all. It’s right outside our windows.
Friends, today we have the chance to glance beyond our windows and reach out to a child who is in desperate need of hope.
Compassion International has set a goal to find sponsors for 3,160 of the poorest children in the world by September’s end and we can help them surpass it!
For only $30/month, we can reach beyond our windows and provide food, clothing, and Christian education for a child in need.
Would you prayerfully consider saying yes to the joy of Kingdom work in this simple way?
I know you’re busy, but could take just a moment to head on over here and peek beyond your window?
You just may find what you’ve been looking for….a small way to grow some BIG JOY.
Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose today.
© Alicia Bruxvoort