One evening during the two years that my wife and I were missionaries in Guatemala at New Life Children's Home, I spent a couple of hours in the room of the little boys (they were 6 - 10 years old). We played for a while (they loved putting on my shoes), and then I read to them from a Bible storybook. I'm a bit saddened that I only read to them like this during one evening out of my two years there, but it was a lot of fun and is still a good memory. I have a lot of the boys to whom I read stories that night, but it's a memory of one of them from two years after we moved back to the States that blew me away.
One of the little boys who lived in that room was Juan David, who was 8 at the time. (He's in my shoes in the top picture, and in the navy blue Penn St. shirt in the second picture.) Juan David was a little boy who came from a very painful past yet had a great sense of humor and was a delight to be around. He came to live at the home during the time that we were there, so we were privileged to be able to witness how the other children welcomed him and the difference that came as he realized he was in a safe place with people who loved him. I'll never forget watching him during his first Christmas, when my father-in-law took this great picture of him:
We were able to return to NLCH with a group from our church exactly two years after we moved away from there. We were very eager to see all of our friends there again, but after having been gone for two years, we weren't sure how much the younger kids like Juan David would remember us. Everyone there was very welcoming and kind to us and made us feel like we had returned home again, and we were having fun trying to restart new friendships with the younger kids.
One night during this return visit we had dinner with the little boys, and I was happy that my seat happened to be next to Juan David. While we were sitting and waiting for our food, he leaned over to me and said, "Daniel, do you remember when you came into our room and read stories with us?"
I couldn't believe that memory was still in his mind. With some of the other groups of kids, I was able to have regular times of reading with them, but with the boys in Juan David's room, I only did it once. Really happy and really surprised, I told him I definitely remembered reading stories in his room. But then he took my surprise to another level. He said, "I know where that book is!", and he got up from the table and came back with the same storybook from which I had read stories to him and his friends almost three years earlier.
I couldn't believe it! I was simultaneously filled with joy and gratitude for how that one evening had apparently been meaningful to those boys and I also felt remorse over not having spent more of my evenings reading stories to them.
I never thought that Juan David would remember that evening, but the truth is that we never know what people are going to remember about their time with us. As I reflect on the people who have made a difference in my life, I remember some small things that only happened once in my time with them as much as I remember big things, or things we did often.
This experience with Juan David really challenges me, because I know that I will have chances today to do something small for people to show them they're loved- people close to me as well as people I barely know, possibly things that I'll remember but more likely ordinary things that I'll soon forget. Yet regardless of how well we know the person, and how big or small the thing we do for them might seem, you and I never know what someone else will remember.
One difficult thing about our relationships is that they are more capable than anything else of exposing our selfishness, and at some point today, I'll have to make a choice about what to do with my time. When that moment shows up, one of the options available to me will always be to do something somewhat selfish, and another option will always be to be more loving. I have way too many times that I've chosen the selfish thing; Juan David's challenge to us is to make a habit out of choosing to be loving.