"When can we go home?" he asked, perched bored and fidgety on the sticky, humid armchair.
"Not anytime soon," I answered impatiently, annoyed by his whining. We had discussed this afternoon's schedule well in advance of our visit to a couple homebound by illness. The husband is fighting a losing battles with cancer, while the wife is struggling to recover from knee replacement surgery. They are members of our church whom Pedro visits regularly, and he wanted our family to bless theirs by helping them decorate for Christmas.
Our kids' initial enthusiasm waned quickly amidst petty squabbles over who would unravel the pearly strands of beads and whose turn it was atop the stepladder. Older siblings squawked at younger ones, who then took out their annoyance on each other.
Occasionally there were glimmers of compassion. When the younger boys went outside to talk to the ailing husband and returned in search of a drink for him; and when the older girls took time to listen carefully to the wife's testimony of the hardship of life's trials yet the faithfulness of God's love.
The kids admired the lights on the tree and took silly pictures and got loud and wild in a very small house. A walk to the park to work off steam resulted instead in a wounded sibling. More than once I thought of packing them up and leaving Pedro as a more peaceful, polished representative of what I'd hoped to accomplish with this "teachable" ministry opportunity.
But somehow we persisted and they were rewarded for their efforts with cake and pie and sandwiches and cookies. They giggled and swapped stories and jokes around the table, their camaraderie renewed through food and the fellowship of their "suffering" (i.e., giving up an afternoon of Wii or nail painting or whatever they might have found more interesting to do on this day.)
And after waiting somewhat patiently through the grown-up teatime and another hour of sobering adult conversation; after departing for home just an hour before midnight with the two littlest having school the next morning; and after saying thank you and giving hugs and kisses and leaving our friend with a smile, our kids fell into bed exhausted and emptied out ...
I thought, "Someday, I hope they'll understand."
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it."