It was the fiftieth time I had told my kids to take it inside. This time I was just going to throw it out. I hate the fact that my van becomes the garbage can for all the things my kids discard after insisting they go along for the ride. This time it was one of those lollipop tops you get at the grocery store. You know the ones. The ones that are either a rotating fan or light up toy that barely lasts long enough for the kids to finish the lollipop. I didn’t even buy this one. I refuse to. My husband did in a week moment when one of the kids was being good at Walmart. I don’t even understand why they appeal to the kids so much, they know how quickly they break or stop working. So into the trash bag it went, along with banana peels, broken crayons, and half chewed tootsie rolls.
I was cleaning my car out before taking it over to meet the bus that was taking me to JFK. I would be leaving on a two week trip that I had waited and saved for the better part of a year for. I was joining a team of 11 others and traveling to Kenya, Africa for some mission work. It was hard to get away for that long, as a business owner and mother of three, and I had sacrificed a lot for this trip.
As I finally cleared out the van and loaded my luggage, I felt better knowing that there wouldn’t be any sticky lollipop sticks smuggling their way through customs.
The trip held many life changing moments for me, both as a mom and a teacher. My heart and eyes were both opened in such a way that I felt as if I was seeing for the first time. One of the days we were there, I was asked to speak at a local church by one of the local Pastors. I asked specifically to be placed in the church that had the largest children’s program, because my heart and training are really geared towards the kids. Pastor Hezron, the African Pastor, assured me that he had the largest amount of kids in his church. I was so excited to be able to sing and dance and share with some kids. I had another member of our team going with me, and we planned on splitting up. I would share with the kids while he shared with the adults.
We got into our taxi and rode along the bumpy Kenyan roads until we got to our destination. The taxi let us out and we walked farther down into a valley of sorts, that held more small houses and lots of people. We came upon a small house that had no front to it, just three walls and a roof. Inside were about 20 children and 3 women. The Pastor introduced us, and then he presented us to his church. I asked if this was his Sunday School class, and he replied that this was, in fact, his church. His entire church. My partner and I looked at each other in surprise, and quickly realized there were no men present. When we asked why, he tearfully explained that all of the men had died.
This area of Kenya is so stricken with HIV and aids, that the men, and many of the women, had passed away, and there were only Great Grandmothers left to take care of the orphaned children. Entire generations had been lost to the epidemic, and what was left were children that were lost, abandoned, and heartbroken.
As I swallowed the lump in my throat, I looked up to see a small child holding an object in his hand. As I asked him to show me, he opened up his hand to reveal the very lollipop toy I had thrown away back in the states. He explained that it was his turn with it. It was the only toy that 18 children possessed and shared among themselves. And they were so grateful for it. They showed me how it worked and were in awe of the bright colors. It was broken. But despite it’s brokenness, it brought joy. At that point, I realized the parallel. The children were broken as well. Broken by heartache. And hunger. And lack of clothes or a place to sleep. But when it came time to sing, they poured out their voices and hearts in such a way that it produced an overflow of joy in me, so much so, that I had no choice but to laugh and dance and sing along with them. For a couple of hours, I forgot all about my dirty van, my messy children, and the stack of laundry that would be waiting for me when I got home. Instead, I saw with new eyes what it truly meant to be thankful. Thankful for laughter. Thankful for singing. Thankful for peace despite horrible circumstances. And most of all, Thankful for the lesson that those children taught me that day. That regardless of circumstances, happiness is a choice. It is not dependent on how much we have, but rather the hope that is in our hearts.
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