So there’s this 19-year-old cutter who laid down the blade in her hand and brandished a pen.
And Mrs. Stoope, this 78-year-old Michigan grandma who has seven sons, her hair wrapped up in a white bun and has this Bic blue list she’s scrawled in her own hand, numbered now up over 10,000 graces.
She always keeps a copy of the book on hand too, Mrs. Stoope who’s handed out over 1,200 copies now, from that businessman she tracked down from her grade one class to the farmer in the John Deere tractor a few roads over.
To know Mrs. Stoope is to love her and yeah, I’m thinking she had no idea what was really happening. None of us did — because, c’mon, how could we?
There was that everyday gritty radical who handed a copy to an Iraqi student in the middle east and he turned the pages and let Jesus love him and then let Him save him.
And the missionaries who read and counted grace in the slums of Bangladesh, the woman who was raped who was the hero who fought for her soul with every grace numbered and the woman who had an abortion booked but someone handed her this book and she saw that even the unplanned could be a gift.
God’s making a thousand things happen when we don’t even know they are happening.
And I pack up the farm hicks and my Mama and we get on a plane and fly to a dump.
Hop on a plane and fly the same day that all the headlines are talking about some snake-handling Pastor in Appalachia letting a rattler entwine round him and he dies from the bite. Apparently 8 snake bites are fine — turns out, it’s the ninth that’s the killer.
What is real belief and why bother believing and how does that belief take on real skin? And what if all our smallest things are actually the biggest things?
We stand at the dump. And my heart about bursts, thinking of what white-crowned Mrs. Stoope and the cutter who counted and the mother at the sink who made herself a joy warrior, and all this band of revolutionaries who started a movement and didn’t do it because they knew what they were doing.
Vultures circle over the dump like sky serpents.
There are kids who eat and dig and work down there in that rotting dump under those winding vultures.
There are 30,000 people who spend their days scrounging for an existence in a rotting dump. I’d be a brazen liar to say oh yeah, I’m really up to handling any of this.
But that’s the thing no one reads in the headlines:
We all like being comfort-handlers but let a comfortable life wrap itself around you and that’s what ends up being the snake that snaps it’s head and poisons your life with pointlessness.
It’s been a lifetime of a thousand things since I first stood here three years ago.
There was one question. We’d looked into the abyss of those nauseating heaps with its beautiful children and whispered, “Where are you, God?” and He’d whispered back and I’d felt the heat of those words: “I’m here —- where are you?”
And there was Saul — who said he was a pastor, “not the crazy king,” he laughs — a pastor at the Guatemala City dump.
I had stood in his church, his Compassion development centre bursting with tattered kids from the dump, playing there in the only safe place they knew, where they had painted all the walls with murals of Hope, and I asked him how his belief had taken on real skin.
And he had told me in Spanish, his eyes never leaving my face, that he’d fallen into a drug addiction at 13, that all his teen years, he stumbled through drug addiction.
He and I both: No one is too far gone from God. His arm will go anywhere, to redeem anyone, from anything.
He says he got saved. I had asked him how, how in the world, how did he find God here?
“I passed a billboard and it made me think. Made me start reading my Bible, starting in the book of Proverbs.”
“What did the billboard say?” I had needed to know — what are the answers in places like dumps? What do signs say when you need a sign?
“The billboard, it said: “God is love. Now experience it.”
His eyes are brimming. I can hardly swallow, this burning lump. Vultures are swooping over children and children are digging for food and God is saying I am here — where are you? And there are billboards with messages:
God is love. Now Experience it. I’m standing at the Guatemalan City Dump and Pastor Saul’s telling me about the Holy Experience of living God’s love, and I’m nodding yes! yes!
Now experience Him not as an argument, but as One you adore, not only as a philosophy, but as a person, not only as a doctrine but as Dad. God is love — now experience Him.
To the degree you experience God loving you as His Beautiful, you will be changed into beautiful.
“So I went to a church service,” Pastor Saul, he had told me this in earnest, his face inches away. “And I laid out prostrate on the floor, and I gave my life to God. When I stood up, the addiction was gone. I never felt any cravings again.”
He tells me, his hand punctuating the air, “not since that day — August 10th, 1986, 8:30 in the evening.”
Why in the world does he bother telling us the date? Why does God step out from behind veils and make His face blindingly known? So we can experience Him.
And I can only whisper it, English into Spanish eyes: “August 10th — is my birthday.” How could any of us know what was going to happen?
The translator murmurs it to the pastor and Pastor Saul, he hears and he breaks and tears and a smile and a grasping of my hand, a shaking, a liquid laughing, and his other hand touches his chest and this is what he says:
“And that is the day of my rebirth. Us — you and I —-” He moves his hand between us, a hand to express the experience of God between us and I have no words either.
And on a hot day next to the Guatemala City Dump in September 2010, Pastor Saul had found words, wet eyes seeking… “I do all this because he who has been loved much… he now serves much.”
I was an absolute nodding mess. She who has been loved much, she now….
Then Saul has motioned for me to up up the side stairs of his church, Compassion kids pushing past us, and he’d pointed.
Out to this tangled mess of a lot next door and said how he had this dreaming prayer for the church to buy the land and build a vocational school for children who lived and worked in the dump. A place for kids who rummaged through garbage heaps to play guitars and learn computers and take language classes and bake bread — a place for them to taste the holy experience of God.
I’d listened to Saul, nodded — and I had flown home.
But Pastor Saul’s wild dreaming prayer never stopped winging in my heart— but what did I have in my hands to give? What did any of us really have to give?
I’d flown home from the dump that September 2010, and three months later, that book I’d scratched out about a crazy dare to experience God’s love, it flew out into the world.
That book with a nesting clutch of eggs and a trembling story of how one broken, fear-bound woman had counted all the ways He loves and she’d found wings.
Mrs. Stoope had counted thousands of gifts too, experienced His love. And the teenage cutter, and the depressed woman in Syracuse, and the book club of mamas called the YaYas in Georgia, and a whole church in a suburb of Windsor who strung up their photos of gifts all around the sanctuary, and a Bible Study group in Michigan of truck drivers and football players and businessmen and a movement of people moved by His grace.
Nothing remained the same and everything changed. To the degree you experience God loving you as His Beautiful, you will be changed into beautiful.
And now over three years later, 2014, I’m standing again at the edge of the Guatemalan dump with Pastor Saul.
Standing there with the farm kids and the Farmer and my beautiful Mama and every single reader who picked up One Thousand Gifts and became the gift back. Because everything from One Thousand Gifts became a gift to the needy in Jesus’ name, became a gift back to Jesus through Compassion, became a gift to Jesus.
Here we are three years later — and Saul’s dreaming prayer of a school stands at the edge of the dump.
And there are kids strumming guitars, notes rising even here.
And there’s a class teaching English to grinning students and they sing it in English to us, “Everyone needs Compassion, the kindness of a Savior…” and I’m a teary, smiling, happy mess all over again.
And Pastor Saul opens the door to the computer lab and there are kids living in the grime of garbage being creative at keyboards. And yeah, really, what can we do but throw our hands up and laugh giddy in the bakery with all these kids in aprons, hands in flour, smiling shy over cake recipes?
The words in the pages of that book had taken on skin, had stood, what we believed becoming what we really live:
Christian hands never clasp
and He doesn’t give gifts for gain
because a gift can never stop being a gift—
a gift is always meant to be given…. ~ One Thousand Gifts
All is a gift and a gift never stops being a gift —- so all we have and all we are is always we meant to be given. We are blessed, we get to bless, this is happiness!
And we all said it — that One Thousand Gifts is a book about that: Do not disdain the small — because it’s the ordinary that adds up to the great. And the school that all of your One Thousand Gifts built stands because of you, giving thanks to God who gives everything.
We were “just moms” at sinks and “just dads” at desks and “just kids” with joy dares stuck in our pockets. We were just exhausted and we were just at the end of the rope and we were just busted up, but we did hard and holy things and we were the everyday gritty radicals who murmured brazen thanks anyways.
And this is what God does —
God takes all the “just” people and uses them to just change the world — just when they don’t even know it’s happening.
God takes the ones who feel like they have so little to give, but who give thanks, and God makes this enough. God makes them enough.
Give thanks and you always find out that we’re one of the ones who get to give. Give thanks and we find out that there is always more than enough to give.
Give thanks and you always get the miracle — the miracle of more God. And He is enough.
Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, always precedes the miracle.
Pastor Saul stands with his wife in the shadow of the school that radical gratitude built and he takes his wife’s hand.
I watch how he takes her hand. The same hand that touches the heads of the children of the dump who flock to meet him and hear him say each of their names.
The same hand that reached out to touch the shoulder of every drunken man sprawled out near the dump, as he whispered their name.
The same hand that cups the faces of these men every week to shave them, offer their warring bodies hot showers at the church, gives them a haircut, because this is what a pastor does with his hands.
He raises his one free hand only slightly when he says it to us lowly, quietly, his life never about anything loud or noticeable: “All that matters is that we were Davids — David “who had served God’s purpose in his own generation” Acts 13:36.
And I can hardly nod, God so loud in my ears.
All that matters is that we are Davids who served God’s purposes in our own generation.
That we are Mrs. Stoope over stoves and grandmothers over God’s goodnesses and people over ourselves and we just take whatever is in our hands and just thank God for it and He just uses this to change the world, multiplying our thanks into the abundant Enough to give and this is what the passionate do with their hands.
We are the Davids who served not our own agendas but God’s purposes in this generation and we are the Esther Generation right here and now and it is us who want hard and holy things because we want more than hollow lives.
We are the Davids who served not some cultural ladder but God’s purposes in this generation and we are the Esther Generation rising right here and now and it is us who want a life more than self-focus and cell phones, more than iPhones, iTunes, and iLove, who want a Life of loving the least, the lonely and the lost right. where. we. are
Who know that being like Christ and caring for the poor in our homes and down the street and across town means more than just caring about easing our consciences — it means caring enough to live lives of real sacrifice.
We are the David’ who served not ourselves but God’s purposes in this generation and there is a whole Esther Generation rising right here and now and it is us who say now is the time:
For the faith brave to skydive, to take wing and fly.
I run my hand along the wall built by the radical two words — thank you — the thank IOUs of Mrs. Stoope and the cutter and the brave mother and the worshipping men and all the band of revolutionaries who were changing the world and didn’t even know it and that is what the hand of God does. God’s making a thousand things happen when we don’t even know they are happening.
God uses the “just” moms and “just” people to do just that: just change the world — them doing just what they’re called to with just what they have in their hands, with just enough faith to say thanks.
Radical Gratitude is the attitude of the revolutionaries. The radically grateful become the being radically generous.
And I turn the corner in the school and there it is, painted on these bricks stacked with a movement of thanks.
Vultures can circle at the dump — but I reach out to touch this:
To the degree you experience God loving you as His Beautiful, you will be changed into beautiful.
From a clutch of eggs, all these birds taking grateful wing.
All that we have clutched released — so we can fly.
Christa Wells’ Song: Thousand Things Happening
One Thousand Gifts – Spanish Edition
We don’t want to deny you the crazy joy of getting to be part of this story! We don’t deny you the crazy joy of getting to change the world! Start here — and you get to be a part of the amazing that Pastor Saul and Compassion are doing in Guatemala. Be a gratitude radical — a revolutionary that flies.