Dirt Floor Lessons

How God put my first-world problems into perspective
Dirt Floor Lessons

I slammed the cabinet door shut. Again. Why do the people in my house insist on leaving them open, yawning wide and exposing the mismatched array of cups, bowls, and a screwdriver that belongs in the garage? Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the hall closet door standing open. Somebody had grabbed a jacket and then just walked away, assuming it would magically close on its own, or that the fairies would swoop in and shut it. I could literally feel the irritation rising up to my hairline. I stomped around the house shutting doors, slamming drawers, and picking items up off the floor. Good grief, I seethed, Am I the only one who could see this?

My mood worsened as I walked into the laundry room. Piles everywhere. Stinky mounds of clothes begging to be washed. I turned around and walked right back out. The crabby girl inside me wanted to run away.

As I stomped through the house, I felt tired. Tired of that saggy yellow sofa and the way the pillows never stayed put. Tired of the way the drapes didn’t hang straight. Tired of the pictures on the wall that had hung there for years. It was just so the same.

I walked upstairs to finish packing. I was headed on a brief trip to El Salvador with Compassion International to learn about their program and meet the two sweet girls that my husband, Geoff, and I had just started sponsoring. Trudging up the steps, the thought struck me: I’m such a crab. They probably won’t be very excited to see me.

Help Me to See

On the flight, I read through the materials Compassion had shared with me and learned a little about their child sponsorship programs. My eyes were drawn toward the faces. The deep brown of the little girls’ eyes and the feisty glint in the smile of the little boys. I felt my heart begin to respond. God, speak to me. Help me to see what you want me to see.

The first thing I noticed when we landed was the heat—wow. The air was so thick it was hard to breathe. As we walked out of the airport, we were met with big bear hugs from our host, Juan, and ushered into the van that would take us to our hotel. On the way, Juan shared a bit about our next few days and what we would experience.

I watched Juan’s face as he spoke with the babies and toddlers at the child survival center. Not having children of his own didn’t stop his passion. He talked about these children as if each belonged to him.

The next morning started early with a trip to a child development center, where the children are taught how to greet a stranger with impeccable manners, to take pride in what they are learning, and how to express themselves with poise and grace.

They walked me through each workshop, where the children’s learning varied, ranging from the English language to stories from the Bible, how to cut hair and give a manicure, and how to make chocolate and other food items to sell. I watched as a preschool group of children took turns swinging at a piñata, as part of a hands-on learning experience in celebrating birthdays. When the piñata burst open with candy flying everywhere, the four- and five-year-olds gleefully pounced, scooping the candy up with shrieks of laughter. Several children eagerly ran to me to share their candy. I was touched but started to hand it back, not wanting to rob them of even one piece of candy. But one of the teachers stopped me, whispering that this was a special joy for them, to share what they had. I swallowed hard and slipped the candy in my pocket.

Fresh Perspective

As we continued our tour, I met 14-year-old Christian, who proudly showed me the shoes he had learned to make in his workshop. The shoes were stylish, modeled after pictures out of current magazines. Flats with exquisite trim. Strappy high heels with intricate designs and trendy colors. When I asked what he wanted to do with this skill after he left the center, he shared his plan for someday owning his own factory, employing others and selling his shoes around the world. He explained his simple business plan, sharing how he would employ his uncles and brothers and sisters. As I told him how proud of him I was, he smiled big and shook my hand. I felt as if I was shaking the hand of the next Jimmy Choo of San Salvador.

After leaving the center, we made a home visit. We were greeted graciously and invited into the little one-room hut with dirt floors and given seats of honor in the only two chairs in the house. I listened to the mom tell us how much the Compassion Center meant to her two daughters, her eyes full of tears as her girls proudly showed me the letters their sponsors had written them. They had kept every one, tucked away in a worn envelope. Though there was only one room to the entire house, they took me on a tour, showing me their cots with mosquito nets and the wooden table where their food was prepared. Before we left, the dad asked if he could lead us in prayer. He thanked God for his love and watchful care over his family and for the privilege of meeting new friends and having us in his home. He had to stop several times to wipe away his tears.

That night as I lay in my bed, I asked God for something new. I wasn’t asking for a piece of clothing or something for my family or house. I asked God for a new heart and a new set of eyes—a heart that appreciated what was in front of me and eyes that noticed the good, the way Juan and Christian did. The way the dad of the little house I had visited did.

Nothing in front of them was shiny or new. Nothing was worth much money. Their lives were absent of the usual conveniences. But this isn’t what they noticed. They were thankful for what they had, for how God was working in their life, for the blessings and opportunities that may have seemed small to others but were big to them. I asked God for a heart that didn’t jump to irritation or crabbiness over the things that my family didn’t do that I thought they should, but a heart that felt full of love just at the sight of their face.

Oh God, give me eyes that notice the good in the things and people you have given me; give me a heart that is thankful and ready to share with others, one that overlooks silly irritations and listens to you. Give me a heart and eyes that see past myself and the things that don’t really matter. Give me eyes that see you.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Sherry Surratt

Sherry Surratt is the Director of Parenting Strategy for Orange Family Ministry. She is the former CEO of MOPS International and the author of several books, including Brave Mom, Beautiful Mess, and Just Lead. You can connect with her online at SherrySurratt.com or follow her on Twitter at @SherrySurratt.

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