On this cold and snowy day, my mind wanders back to a warm, beach afternoon in Mozambique, where I sat content, eating a home-cooked, picnic lunch of chicken and rice and drinking 3/4 of a Coke before becoming too full to finish. Only minutes after tossing my trash, I saw this little boy rooting through the garbage to salvage and eat the meat left on my chicken bones, and drink the swallow of cola that I had neglected to finish. We locked eyes and we both felt embarrassed for being found out by one another. Me being caught in my gluttony and waste, he being seen in his hunger and poverty. I immediately felt like a selfish asshole for leaving this little boy to wallow in my waste as opposed to seeing him, being aware of his need, and being willing to share.
But more than this, what killed me, what absolutely slayed me dead, was that after "stealing" my garbage and being discovered, the little boy immediately felt the need to return the favor and repay his "debt". He took off down the beach on a short jaunt, only to return with a small gift presented to me in exchange for what I had considered my garbage. He extended his hand and bowed his head in a humble offering, the deep violet spines of a sea urchin in the palm of his hand, as a small token of his appreciation. Glancing up, we grinned at each other, laughed a little, and shook our heads in recognition of how life is brutally unfair but unexpectedly beautiful, and how we can be gifts to one another if only we open our eyes and make ourselves available. The spines of the sea urchin were a representation of his gratitude-laden heart, my chicken bones a symbol of indifferent excess. His was, without question, the greater gift. The two of us gestured and nodded our agreement to walk down the beach a bit together, him showing me all of the unseen beauties lying beneath the sand and hidden just under the rocks, gifts waiting to be given, reflections of his huge heart waiting to be revealed to others.
This Christmas, as I ponder the idea of giving, I am convinced that the gifts that really matter aren't those found in a mall or on a shelf. They aren't things that can be bought or sold. I want to give gifts like this little boy gave to me, wide-eyed, in gratitude, and in recognition of the beauty that is hiding just below the surface, peeping out between the nooks and crannies of God's great big world. I want to stop giving the "chicken bones" of excess sold on commercial shelves that cost me nothing and are given as a last thought, but instead, give genuine reflections of my heart that portray openness and gratitude. I learned what it is to give from this little hungry boy on a beach, and I will never give the same again.