Today, we went to visit two different families for the same purpose: December.
December in South Africa is a month of no restraints.
It’s like the people, who spend 11 months of the year just trying to stay standing under the back-breaking weight of oppression and bondage, let their knees buckle and their gusto give out on them. They turn toward chaos; they turn up bottles; they turn away from the anchor for their souls.
Christmas is more like a frat party with bright, new clothes than a spiritual celebration. In spite of the reckless lifestyle, there is a cultural expectation for children to receive new clothes for the year at Christmastime. Otherwise, they feel ashamed by their poverty in the midst of the other brightly clad children.
Y’all… the spectrum of skinny jeans is off the charts on Christmas Day.
So we went to visit two families on the first day of December to try to help them see above the cultural customs and make some pre-decisions for their families. Because sometimes hope looks like making a pre-decision.
Both families seem to have the odds stacked against them… There is not enough money for food each month, much less the new clothes they need and the big expense of school uniforms approaching in January.
In their lives, shame is louder than starvation. The way it’s always been and the oppressed oppressors dwelling in neighboring shacks drive people to make decisions to spend on skinny jeans and hair extensions rather than food for their family. And sometimes hope looks like setting your sites on Truth rather than talk: “Your first job is to feed your family. We can trust God to provide the rest.”
I’m not sure anyone has ever told them that.
The first family we sat with had done the homework I’d given them the week before. The head of the household handed me an itemized list of their monthly expenses, as well as their clothing and school uniform needs. She’s in grade 10 and raising a family of 5. They pulled out the newspaper ads they were sitting on in the dirt to show us pictures and prices of each item. We sat there together on newspaper ads under the mango tree and etched out hope. Right there in the skinny margins of the tight budget, we wrote notes in the areas we were trusting God to provide for. And then we left room for Him to do it.
“Your first job is to feed your family.” They committed to buying enough food for the month first. Then we took silly Christmas pictures, hugged and kissed each other, and said real, family goodbyes.
Just a few speed bumps and a couple more dirt roads later, we arrived expectantly at our next house. We’d just been together the day before for church and the mama knew we were coming to help her with December. We sat on the porch we had helped build and waited…
Finally, this mother that I love like a sister stumbled up. Completely wasted. She started shouting and slurring, “KACY! I can’t do it right now. I’m too drunk! I’m too stressed about my kids. I don’t have enough money to buy them clothes for December. I’m too stressed. I can’t do it. I’m too drunk.” Like a broken, boozy record, she wept and spewed her drunken sorrows.
There would be no budgeting, Christmas pictures or hope-making pre-decisions on that porch that day. I put cookies in child’s desperate, dirty little hands, kissed their innocent faces, and told the mother that I loved her, I never wanted to see her like this again, and to call me when she was sober.
Her situation is no different than the first household’s.
Why did they stand up, and why did she stumble in shame?
Why is that narrow gate of Truth so narrow?
You can’t stumble in. You have to decide on it.
What about all the cookie-filled hands that aren’t big enough to choose their gate yet? That don’t know how to make a pre-decision? That live in the aftermath of her decisions?
Today I got to hold a family – a family who doesn’t have enough of anything – in hope, in joy and in promise. And I had to let go and lay down another one, at least until the hangover clears.
Is that part of the narrow gate?
Guiding and giving it all to the one where God guides you and says, “THIS ONE”?
But what about that one? And those little ones?
As we roll away leaving cookie crumbs instead of hope, He reminds me…
I’m not the Shepherd. I just sing the Shepherd’s song.
He reminds me that this one, that one, and every one of these has their own angel watching over them and keeping eye contact with Him.
Even in debauched December.
He reminds me that HE is the One that created these sheep and knows each wandering, stumbling step they take away. When I leave the porch, He is the One who lays down his life, to leave the 99 and go for the 1.
He stirs advent’s song in me as the sounds of December threaten to drown out hope. He is coming. But first He’s going to get that one so they can come too. He’s coming, but He wants everyone to be there.
So we keep singing Shepherd songs, and we keep walking onto porches and sitting on newspapers. And when He says, “THIS ONE,” we love without holding back. And we thank Him for going to get that one that He so loves.
Because that holy night we remember and rally around in December was just the pre-party, the Gate, for the happy, happy day ahead. And He wants everybody there.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:10-14