Thursday, May 31, 2007

My Little Friend

In Matthew 18:5, Jesus says "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. It was in January 2003 when I first laid eyes on my little friend. She was just 3 months old, small in stature despite being born full term. At the time of her birth she barely weighed 4 lbs. Her premature development was not related to being born in some 3rd world country but rather to the stressful pregnancy her mother had. Over the next 4 years, God would give me the wonderful privilege of spending inordinate amounts of time with this little girl. Her ethnic name means ‘grace’ and truly anyone who is blessed to have a child or spend time with a child realizes that children are God’s precious gifts to us. They are gifts of grace. We don’t deserve them but yet they have the ability to teach us so many things about God’s character.

My little friend was not very healthy when she was born. She had hearing loss in one ear and had severe food allergies. Her development was slow and her immune system was weak so she was often sick with colds or ear infections. She was and still is underweight and below those percentile charts that rate kids because she was a picky eater and was allergic to so many different products. Because of her hearing loss in the left ear, her balance was affected as well. I remember one day spending time with her mum and her as we visited a mall and I decided to give her a treat---a small lick of some ice cream. Unbeknownst to us the ice cream had nuts in it and this little girl in a manner of minutes broke out in a severe allergic reaction. We never thought about taking her to the hospital but instead over the course of the hour, we sat at a food court and I recall laying hands and praying over her continuously while she was asleep. Remarkably God healed her of that allergy in that short space of time and I sat amazed at what I had just witnessed. It was then that I think He began to forge a very special bond between me and my little friend. Over the months and years as she continued to be sick with various ailments, many of us prayed for her during that time, and time after time, God was so faithful in bringing healing.

For many months she would only be breastfed and refused to drink anything from the bottle. How frustrating her mother felt trying to feed her with limited success or trying to coax her to drink from a bottle. But I do remember one night visiting and as I held her in my arms, I discovered that one way to get kids to do something that they don’t really like to do is to make it a game. Soon enough she was slowly drinking from the sippy cup I had placed before her but at the same time for every sip she took, she had fun spitting out the liquid. Nonetheless, a small victory and a sense of joy and relief that God was slowly healing her of this fear.

Each weekend I would religiously go and see this little girl who had so captured my heart. It’s funny as I don’t think I ever have had any strong maternal instincts like many of my female friends but I have to say, the Lord began to use this little friend to give me a new vision and love for kids that I think was dormant in me all these years. I had fun going to Baby Gap or to toys stores looking for gifts for her…it was a whole new world for me. Now I can understand why parents go crazy buying things for their kids. In some ways, it gave me a whole new perspective of seeing how God views us----just like I was growing in my affection and love for my little friend and wanting to bless her continuously, in His inexhaustible love for us, He too wants to bless us abundantly.

As I began to spend more time with this little girl, I looked forward to seeing her smile when I entered her home or her little hands waving at me to pick her up. It is a feeling of being loved in its purest form as these little arms wrap themselves around your neck or as she laid her head on my shoulders. On many occasions when she was tired and not wanting to sleep, I used to rock her back and forth singing songs like “the Wheels on the bus go around and round’ and the more spiritual song’ Jesus loves me.’ Hanging around kids involves a whole new language acquisition! I remember the times when I would baby sit her, dancing around and trying to do every kind of facial expression or sound to get her attention or make her laugh but the greatest joy was just having her climb up and sit on my lap while I read her a book.

On a few occasions I travelled on mini holidays with my little friend and her mother. There are many lessons one can learn when you are trying to minister and care for those whose lives have experienced shattered dreams. No one who gets married envisions themselves being a single mother and this was the predicament that my little friend’s mother found herself in with no means of viable support as her estranged husband refused to provide any financial resources. It was into this setting that God brought me and as I look back I realize this season has been one of equipping and training for the ministry He has called me to ---- to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27, Isaiah 58:10-12). This journey has had many ups and downs but despite it all, one of the greatest rewards and treasures has been the opportunity to invest in the precious life of this little girl. We would often go to dinner and I remember one evening when I introduced her to one of my favorite dishes bbq ribs. I laughed so hard as I watched her eat this large piece of rib with such joy and delight. Yes, a fellow meat eater like me---no wonder she and I became kindred spirits! I recall one weekend trip we took a trip to a waterpark and my little friend was so excited at swimming---she liked the water and in the evening when we returned to the hotel room she did not want to sleep. Her mum was quite exhausted and so I took the opportunity to hold my little friend in my arms and began to sing to her all the songs I could think off. She would look into my eyes and smile and in a few minutes she nodded off. One of my other friends said to me that kids are able to sense and know who loves them and when they feel safe, they have no problems falling asleep in your arms. I think this is so true. To know that this little girl felt safe in my arms perhaps is no different than me feeling safe in my heavenly Father’s arms that I can rest in peace.

When my little friend was just over 2 years old, I invited her and her mum to Disneyland. There is nothing like seeing Disneyland through a kid’s eyes. Each day we would set out to different theme parks singing Veggie tale songs in the car as we headed to the next amusement park. My little friend became enthralled with The Little Mermaid and enjoyed taking pictures with Minnie and Mickey and I discovered Disneyland again as an adult! In the evenings we would return to our hotel room exhausted and she would watch my every movement----when I was brushing my teeth, cleaning my face, putting on or taking off makeup, the questions were endless----what’s this, what’s that, why are you doing that-----kids are so curious and their little minds seem to be in overdrive at this age as they are like sponges taking in everything you say and do. Being a godparent to this little one, I think I had the opportunity to learn more about parenting and one of the joys was reading a story to her before she went to sleep and seeing her first thing in the morning when she awoke. She would climb into my bed to give me a big hug. Those precious moments I shall treasure.

On Sundays, she and her mum would come to my church but I would head into the toddler Sunday school with my little friend. She and I were attached at the hip but it was here that I discovered another revelation from God. Serving these little toddlers reminded me of the time when Jesus bent down to wash the disciples feet. Here was the God of the universe, with all His knowledge and power, stooping this low to serve His creation. He didn’t have to but He did it out of love and the more I spent time in these toddler classes, the more I realized that serving these little ones was in effect modeling what Jesus did for us. I never saw myself ever being involved n this ministry but circumstances created such an opportunity and while initially I was doing it as a favour to my little friend’s mother, I discovered that this was another ministry that God was giving me a love for. How amazing a privilege it is to pour into the lives of these young ones and to teach them about the Kingdom of God.

My little friend is now over 4 years old and with each passing year, her vocabulary increases and her questions more detail and her conversations much longer with more descriptions. In the past few years especially I would get phone calls at work and the first words out of this little girl’s mouth was ‘hi auntie Lisa, I love you, I miss you.’ How can one’s heart not melt when you hear such words? I would always joke that I will give this kid anything she wants when she says such statements! This has made me think how God must delight in us when we say those exact words ‘Abba, I love you!’

A few weeks ago, was the last time I would see my little friend and so I spent a few hours with her at a strawberry picking farm. What fun we had that day going on a tractor ride and seeing her take two pony rides and feeding the farm animals. There was also a fake cow that the kids could milk and that seemed to catch her attention again and again as she tried squeezing the nipple of the cow. She ran through the mazes and I ran along side her as she climbed up on some stacks of hay holding her hand when she felt unbalanced. And of course what aunt would not spoil their God-child by giving her her favourite food --- a hot dog and chocolate chip cookie to cap it all!

My little friend has now moved away. She is now living in a city with her father and I don’t know whether I will ever get a chance to see her again but as I reflect on these last 4 years, I count them a very special gift, a gift that I will forever treasure and value. How often does one get to invest in the life of a child and receive so much more in return that is immeasurable and yet in some ways isn’t this what is like when we encounter God and walk with Him. We receive more than we can ever ask or imagine. This season of my life has been very rich, very rewarding and I am thankful for each moment I had with this little girl.

God has taught me much about myself, about what it means to love deeply and to let go, to trust in His sovereignty even when I don't understand the visible reality; He has taught me about children in ways I could never learn from just reading a book and He gave me a glimpse of understanding their hearts the way He does; He has taught me more about His love; He has taught me that it is possible to love a child that is not your own as if she were, and in a spiritual sense, isn’t that what He means when He talks about us being spiritually adopted by Him as His sons and daughters. He has taught me about patience and compassion when caring for those who are marginalized and yet there is still so much I have to learn. The journey continues but this chapter of my life has come to an end. I am not surprised because with the Lord, He is always calling us on to higher heights, to new challenges and as I think of the calling He has placed on my life --- to invest in children who are rescued from the brothels of Cambodia, I know that the times I had with my little friend and the experience I gain with her are part of the building blocks for this next chapter. It’s a bitter sweet time saying goodbye and yet so thankful for having been blessed by the opportunity given to pour into such a precious little life. Indeed I do not know what the future holds for her or for me but as my favorite bible teacher Beth Moore once said 'when we love in Jesus name, it never fails' it does have an eternal impact. Thank you Jesus for the unexpected gifts you give to us!

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