A couple of weeks ago, I began the routine of my normal Friday morning. I start with my precious intimate moments with God (which are sometimes beautifully long in the dark before Lily awakes, and are sometimes squeezed in-between cups of tea and nappy changes). Then comes the flurry of care and activity that my little one brings. Then the tea, for me and for a sleepy husband. Then I set out the chairs on my porch, organise cups. I fry lots of eggs, oil sizzling and sweat dripping as the 8am heat is just as hot as midday.
The mamas arrive. This group makes up one of the three small business groups I’ve begun with very poor women. They love to talk and they yell at each other for fun and they adore chatting with Lily. They are so full of laughter and life sometimes I forget how poor they are. And then they pick things out of my rubbish bins on the way out and I remember.
So last Friday – we are sitting together drinking sugary tea (which they eventually tell me they’d really rather not drink, it makes them sweat!) and I begin to hear the stories of their businesses from the previous week. And then just at the end the grumpiest mama of all – her name is Elisa – tells me the best story. “I want to thank God. And I want to thank Mana Catarina” (my name here) “because my son asked me for school books. Because I have a business I could buy them for him.” And I couldn’t help myself, I squeezed her so tight for joy… I had just given her about $10, which she had spent on selling small piles of beans, and now she can buy her little boy books, her little boy a future. Spending my money on Elisa. Spending money on people. What joy.
The next day was my day off. Saturday. A day filled with bed and beaches and pancakes and sunshine and coffee. It was 7 a.m. and I heard the familiar banging of our metal gate. I happily ignored it because I have a Sabbath for a reason. The banging continued. A man shouted. A woman shouted. I was browsing the internet looking at lampshades (I know it sounds ridiculous but I haven’t had a cosy little lampshade for over two years, and I am dreaming about a wall one) and blocked out the noise. I began to bath little Lily, splashing and kicking the water with her tiny perfect toes. Still the banging. Eventually I got up, thumping my little flip-flops a bit too hard on the path as I walked to the gate.
Before I carry on, let me go back a week or so. One of my favourite people in the whole world works in the kitchen. She is Mama Latifa, with a face creased with wrinkles and a softness in her brilliant eyes that show she knows Jesus – well. Last week she told me her grandchild was seriously sick, and needed blood. I thought perhaps I should give her the money to buy the blood she needed. I never got round to it.
So there I was, on my day off, stomping towards my metal gate, ready to be clear with whoever it was that Saturday at 7am is my favourite time not to be disturbed. On the other side stood two young men I didn’t know, and two young women. The two young women I recognised. One was Latifa’s daughter. “Latifa’s grandchild died,” they told me. “We have no food in the house.”
Of course forget my Saturday. Of course come in, come in. Of course take my bag of rice and all the money I have in my wallet. And after they left I wept.
I wept because my baby is smiling and gurgling at me in the bath, and theirs is no more. Probably a preventable disease. I wept because I get to be a mummy and all the joy it comes with, and another doesn’t. I wept because my Mum gets to be Grannie (albeit a faraway one) and Latifa cannot be. I wept because who knows what the blood I could have paid for might have done. Or might not have done. But might have done. And all I could think as I wept was Jesus what can I take from this? You make all things beautiful, all things good, even out of the pit of hell. And this thought dropped into my heart, a few words heavy with truth – spend money on people.
Again and again, I kept thinking of it – spend money on people. A few pounds for blood might have saved that child. Or a few pounds to buy a mosquito net, or a few pounds to buy proper food. And that child is so wildly valuable – just like my precious Lily. I would give everything for her life. She is crazily precious to me. And she holds the same worth as this little one who passed away in a moment. And I began to think about lampshades. Nothing is wrong about buying a lampshade. But where is the trajectory of my wallet going? Where is the trajectory of your wallet going? To people? What about people?
People are all that matter at the end of the day. Literally at the end of all our days, when we are with Daddy God, and in the words of Jason Upton:
“Where we will turn when our world falls apart?
And all of the treasures we’ve stored in our barns can’t buy the kingdom of God?
And who will we praise when we passed all our lives men who build kingdoms
and men who build fame,
but heaven does not know their name?
What will we fear when all that remains is God on the throne,
with a child in his arms,
and love in his eyes, and the sound of his heart cries?”
Holy Father let my eyes be fixed on you. It’s not just spending money on people that counts. It’s spending my heart. It’s spending my life. It’s spending my time. It’s spending my home. And it’s so, so joyous. I spend my money on Elisa and she buys her son a future. I spend my time on her. I spend my home on her. I spend my heart on her. And though it’s not always easy, I am light, I am excited, I am happy, I am free, I am passionate, I am filled with beauty, I am fuelled with the kingdom. I find as I sit spending myself, Jesus is busy spending his lavish love on me.