He reaches for the stack of empty plastic bottles stashed in a paper bag in the back seat.
I look around even though I know I won’t find what my eyes are searching for.
There’s no dustbin here. Not even a garbage pit. At least not nearby.
We’re in a little village. In the middle of somewhere.
The kids are standing at a distance, gazing with an odd mix of curiousity and trepidation.
Our driver takes a handful of the bottles from the bag and raises his arm. I stop him mid-air puzzled. We’ve spent enough time together in the past few days for me to know he’s not the type to litter.
He tells me to watch as the bottles fly out of his hand. Sure enough, the kids cautiously approach the bottles. On his encouragement, they gleefully scramble for them as he dishes out the rest of them.
Empty bottles are really valued here. They use them to store things like water and milk. As he explains, I’m thinking of all the bottles I’ve discarded without a second thought in the past month alone.
Garbage to me.
Gold to them.
My eyes well up for the umpteenth time. I’ve become such a sap since I became more aware of His constant presence.
“You’re awful for my street cred, BFF,” my heart whispers. “Really awful.”
The irony of this moment hits me hard. The irony of the entire week really. In the midst of such dire desperation and need His presence has been more tangible than words could describe.
“I was here long before you came, Mary. Even now, I am here. And I will be here long after you’re gone.”
I bite back the flood of tears.
All my life I’ve had such fairytale expectations of Him. Judging Him mercilessly when He doesn’t live up to them. But He’s been proving me wrong. So wrong.
His love doesn’t always look like rainbows and unicorns. And I’ve come to find that that doesn’t make it any less real, any less powerful, any less love.
I look at the kids again, giggling over their new bottles with innocent joy. Completely oblivious that they are richer than most. Even in their tattered clothing and mud huts for homes and plastic bottles for treasure. With the presence of God shrouding them with unspeakable love, they are richer than most.
He draws me back so I can see the bigger picture. The blueprint with which He is weaving things. He reminds me of the gut-wrenching prayers He’s had me make over the land all week. Over the people. Over the families. Over these children.
To think there was a time when I questioned His love based on what I saw in front of me. In hindsight it all seems so foolish now. He’s taken the puny parameters I tried to box His love in and shattered them until they are no more.
A love without limits.
His love that scoffs at the miserable conditions of a fallen world.
“Open your eyes, Mary. Open your eyes and see beyond what’s in front of you.”
There is a revival coming to this land. A Father drawing His precious children into His embrace. Because despite all appearances to the contrary, He didn’t forget them. He hasn’t forsaken them. Not for a single moment.
Against all odds, He remains Emmanuel.