By Hope Maglich, Back2Back Mexico Staff
There is a children’s book by Shel Silverstein called, The Giving Tree. In this story generosity is shown as over and over as an apple tree gives, and gives, and gives of itself to the little boy it loves.
Lucia and I were teaching our little students at Del Norte children’s home about true generosity through this story. When we had finished our lesson, we passed out red construction-paper apples for the kids to decorate with ways they could be generous to others.
I have no idea what suddenly came upon 8-year-old Juan in this moment. He went from a laughing, good-natured boy to an obstinate soul in literally one second. Juan stood up with a hardened frown on his face and announced that he thought the activity was stupid and he just wasn’t going to do it. We talked with him nicely and then firmly and still he didn’t budge. One of our rules at the library is that if you come to class, you must participate in all the activities, not just the ones you favor. Josué was reminded about this rule, but his countenance and opposition did not change.
Juan spent the next twenty minutes under the teacher desk ripping his paper apple to shreds. Lucia and I ignored his behavior and attended to the other students. I have to admit, I was not feeling very generous toward Juan in this moment. Unlike the tree we had just read about, I was about ready to take back everything I had ever given Juan and make him leave the library! This was not the first time Juan had been a challenge to me. There had been several other days when I asked him to leave the library because of his behavior. He usually left while laughing mockingly at me, no sense of remorse for the chaos he had caused.
As the students finished the activity and began perusing books, I felt a slight tug on my shirt. I turned to see Juan with The Giving Tree in his hand. “Can we read this together?” he asked, once again a happy boy. Speechless, the anger shocked out of me, I nodded a “yes.” We sat on the floor and opened the cover. Page after page we read together the story of the Christ-like tree. I turned the last page, closed the cover, and much to my surprise, Juan asked for another paper apple. I watched quietly, as with a tinge of embarrassment Juan wrote on his apple, “I love you. Forgive me for what I have done.”
Never in my life did I expect to see those words written out on Juan’s apple. After months of giving, coaching, disciplining, loving, and teaching these kids, we were finally seeing some return and from the least likely of all. Juan stood up and took his apple over to Lucia to ask her forgiveness as well. I overheard Lucia telling him that he didn’t need to ask forgiveness for himself, but for his behavior. “Love,” she said, “God has made you a very wonderful boy and He wants your behavior to reflect that.” Juan turned toward her and asked, “Why do you call me ‘love’?” Lucia, swooped him up in a big bear hug and said, “Because you are loved!”
Despite the day-in and day-out trials, God’s love is seeping into these little hearts. He is slowly removing abused hearts of stone, and replacing them with hearts of flesh. This day, for the first time, we saw that Juan’s heart was beginning to warm and the first layer of stone was cracking off.