The Pleasure Is Mine

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Three-year-old Ana smacks a kiss on my mouth. I’ve just handed her a baby doll, complete with pacifier. Something to keep her company on her days-long bus ride to Florida.

Whatever pleasure I got out of finding that doll in our used toy bin at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center just got magnified a hundredfold.

Juana is 13. Too old for a doll.

Or so I thought.

But her eyes widen when she sees the one I’ve given Ana.

“Do you like dolls?” I ask in Spanish.

“Si.” She smiles. Off I go to locate another.

I have the perfect one in mind. Eyes as big as half dollars. Strawberry-colored plastic hair. The kind you can’t comb. But her face is more mature. Just right for a girl who’s probably never owned a doll in her life.

Why do I love packing a toy in these children’s travel bags? Why do I take pleasure in seeing their delight?

The answer, I think, lies somewhere in understanding the gift of pleasure.

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If you’re a parent, you know the absolute pleasure of seeing your child delight in receiving a longed-for gift or special surprise.

I believe that the One who loved us into being takes that kind of pleasure in us.

And that God longs for us to take pleasure in the abundance of life. A life gifted to us. Created for us to enjoy.  As fully alive beings.

Sometimes, in between running around getting care packages ready for the migrants, answering their needs, calling for volunteer drivers, I have to step outside to get food in the walk-in fridge next door. And sometimes I pause and stand there in the sunlight. Look up into that constantly blue sky.

And give thanks. Aware of the pleasure I am receiving as well as giving.

Whether it’s in giving a special gift to a child. Preparing a meal for someone who’s hungry.

Receiving expressions of affection.

Or taking in the beauty of a golden full moon on a Friday night. Like I did tonight.

An abundance of opportunities to experience the pleasures of an abundant life.

But I have to say, I’m not always aware of them.

As Jesus said, it is God’s good pleasure “to give you the kingdom.” That kingdom is already alive in you. Alive in me.

Can I keep giving myself over to it?  Can I fully accept this gift?

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Blessings & Burritos

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The anxious young mother from Guatemala asks me for the third time how long I think it will take to get to New York. By bus. From El Paso.

Depende.”

I’ve tried to explain. Depends on a lot of things.

She asks how many hours. I tell her it’ll be two days. Her facial expression pleads for a different answer.

In reality I think it’ll be three. But I don’t tell her that.

She and her adorable 6-year-old daughter Alison will be spending tonight in the Greyhound station. Their relative back in NY bought tickets for a bus leaving at 4 a.m. Getting them a ride to the station at 2:30 a.m. would be impossible. Our volunteer drivers are great, but everyone has their limits. The best we can do is get them to the station tonight.

And pack them sufficient food and liquids for the long journey. That’s my job. And I take it seriously.

Used to be that the migrants and refugees who came to our center could access cash from Moneygrams wired by relatives in other states. At least that’d give them a little money to buy food on these long bus rides.

But not anymore. The local Moneygram has changed its policy. They now want a “legit” ID. Like a driver’s license.

We all know that’s not possible. Which means we often send our people off with nothing more than an extra set of clothing and a small bag of food. And blessings for the journey.

Vaya con Dios,” I say. “Bendiciones para su viaje.”

Que Dios te bendiga,” they respond. God bless you. Like I’m the one that should be getting the blessings.

Alison and her mom aren’t unusual. In fact, another mother and her two children are leaving tomorrow by bus. For North Carolina.

So, when I search through the donations of tote bags, I try to find two sturdy ones to hold enough food for these moms and their kids.

Pickings are slim tonight. Only a few large bags left that could possibly hold everything I want to pack. But I know we’ll soon have more donations. We always do.

I pull some “care packages”—each filled with peanut butter crackers, granola bars, chips, a bottle of water, and juice box. All the snacks, and even the Ziploc bags, donated by local residents.

Then off to the kitchen with the walk-in fridge. I grab apples, burritos, fried chicken, anything I can stuff into the tote bags to sustain five people for a 3-day journey.

Every Monday a local restaurant delivers grocery bags filled with dozens of homemade bean burritos. Wrapped in sturdy foil and ready to go. Another vendor donates apples and oranges. Who knows where the fried chicken came from? Sometimes it’s pizza I find on the shelves. Or baloney sandwiches.

All this food – donated. Anything and everything we need. Just when I notice something starting to get low, next day – or soon thereafter – the supply is replenished.

It’s kind of like the loaves and fishes story. Only it’s not Jesus sending down the blessing. It’s folks like you and me. Blessing the snacks, the clothing, the toys, the toothpaste – everything they donate – with their attitude. Their generosity. Their grace.

Later that night, I think about Alison and her mom. They’re headed to the bus station right about now. I think about the food I packed for them.

I worry it’s not enough.

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Then I remember the burritos. The commitment of that restaurant owner. The endless supply offered.

And I send out a prayer. May these families meet others on their journey. Others who will be that kind of blessing.