This is a true story about the impact of a decision my family made at Christmas time a few years ago. It was the year my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews (17 households in all) decided to change how we do Christmas. It is a story of building something lasting. It is a story of loving those far away and remembering those close to us. It is a story of what a big difference one little family can make. It is story of just how far a dollar can stretch when you put it in God’s hands. It is a story of venturing outside of ourselves.
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional surprise that blindsided me as I walked into the little blue clapboard building with the faded lavender trim.
There it was. A poster sized photograph of my mother as a young woman hanging above the countertop in this tiny and rustic kitchen. My mother, who was born and died in the USA and never even set foot in a third world country. My mother, who loved little children and taught school in the forties in a simple building with no electricity or running water, very much like the school this kitchen serves.
It was a beautiful day. Hot and sunny. San Marcos was one of four schools we visited last month mission trip to an impoverished district in Belize, Central America. Ten of us spanning 50 years, ages 14 to 64, delivered school supplies, shoes, rain boots, mattresses, powdered milk, corn, beans, clothing, and flood relief to families and primary schools.
The children were precious. The economy desperate. The living conditions deplorable. The parents and teachers grateful.
Did I mention the children were precious?
I knew we were going to San Marcos that day. I knew that the kitchen had been constructed a few years back as a result of our family pitching in money we normally would have spent drawing names for Christmas gifts for one another. I knew the feeding program was up and running and was serving nutritious lunches to children who may only get that one hot meal a day. I knew that during my visit to San Marcos four years ago there were 36 children and now there are 67. When word got out that there was food at school attendance nearly doubled. I knew the tiny structure had been painted to resemble a little Norwegian doll house – robin egg blue, lavender trim, and little blue hand prints up and down the door. I knew all this and I had my camera.
But when I stepped inside that little building my heart opened like a rose and hot tears began to stream down my cheeks.
The young principal who had opened the door for me and the mothers preparing lunch became uneasy until I choked out that the woman in the poster was my mother who had passed away a decade ago, and that it was her children and grandchildren who had provided the funds for the construction of this kitchen.
In the weeks since, I have tried to figure out just where all those unexpected tears had come from. What was it about this functional monument with the words “Darlene Huseth Memorial Kitchen” painted over the window, that struck me so?
She would have hated that we named something after her.
Was it the normally hungry tummies of school children filled with good food so they could concentrate on their studies? She would have loved that.
Or was it the imagination and the generosity of her kids that made it happen? She would have loved that too.
Maybe it was the sweet memory of all the little quotes printed across her image on the poster … the kind of little proverbs she would often leave on our voice mail early in the morning? Little jewels like “Make a list of 25 things you want to do before you die. Carry it in your wallet and refer to it often.” Or “Always over-tip the breakfast waitress.” We just loved getting her message first thing at our offices.
Or it might have been the kind of feeling people get when they visit the grave of their loved one and gaze upon the engraved headstone. She was cremated over ten years ago and there is no such place to visit.
It could have been the feeling that she would have just loved this kind of adventure had she had the chance.
Or … was it simply that I missed my mom?
Whatever it was, it was powerful.
The teachers and the children and the mothers cooking lunch didn’t know her and she didn’t know them. And yet with each spoon full of rice and beans gobbled up … with each little mind able to concentrate on school work and dream of college … with each illness fended off by a well nourished immune system, a child’s future is brighter. She would have really loved that.
I think her message to us today would be that each and every one of us can do something to make this world better. We all have something to offer. Even in death. Each one of us can reach someone and lift them up. You don’t have to leave the country … you just have to get out of yourself. Provide something for someone else. A listening ear. A kind word. A strong shoulder. A good meal. A warm blanket. A cup of coffee. A room to stay. A book to read. A word of gratitude. Something.
Did I mention the children were precious? At all the schools we visited, the children had a gift for each one of us. In their powerlessness and in their poverty THEY had gifts for US! Something to lift us up. Gifts of fresh cut tropical flowers, wood carvings, embroidery, centerpieces, paper crafts, and phrases of thanks. Everyone has something to give. Even little children in third world countries.
I think that would be my mom’s word for the day. We ALL have some way to lift one another up and make this world a better place.
We don’t all have to leave the country to do it. We just have to venture out of ourselves.