The Red Balloon

The ancient, air-condition-less mini-buses used to transport us through the desert brought us to a small parking lot that overlooked the courtyard filled with children.  An L-shaped two-story building where the children lived provided borders to the left and straight ahead, and a small road through the property created the final border to the right.  Beyond the road a little ways was the Pacific Ocean.  Its cool breeze was gently swaying the trees putting the finishing touch on a perfect setting.

Our tour of Mexico was coming to an end.  About three dozen high school and college aged kids from The Salvation Army in Northeast Ohio had spent several days in May of 1989 giving witness about Jesus’ love via the traditional Salvation Army Brass Band.  My fondest memory of that trip was the children’s home in Acapulco.

Before we exited our buses, a large pickup truck pulled up next to us with more children seated in the back.  They were kids from other sites belonging to the children’s home who had come to greet us as well.  The truck had a safety rail on each side of the bed consisting of four long horizontal planks of wood spaced six inches apart.  The planks were nailed to four wooden posts along the walls of the truck.  Several sets of little eyes peered through the slats at us.  All of the children greeted us with great enthusiasm.

The festive atmosphere our hosts had created was impressive.  There were streamers, balloons, multi-colored lights and piñatas.  The tables were set up with popcorn for an appetizer and as much lemonade as we could drink.  Although I wasn’t accustomed to fish that hadn’t been covered in batter and deep-fried, that fish was amazing.  Many of my fellow students opted out of the main course because the fish were presented to us whole – head and eyes and all.  Yum.  After the meal we had a great time with piñatas and just hanging out with the kids.

Everyone was having fun except for a little girl who was about three years old.  She wore beautiful white dress and had big brown eyes.  She stayed close to her big brother who was about seven.  I felt compelled to do what I could to help her have fun, too.  As I approached her she turned and buried her head into brothers chest.  I reached up and grabbed a red balloon that had been positioned high on a tree and offered it to her.  After a few fruitless minutes trying to convince her to receive the gift, she cautiously accepted the balloon.

She wouldn’t give it back.  I tried to play a game of give and take but she refused to let go of her red balloon.  Other people gave her different balloons.  After awhile she would get tired of trying to holding both.  She had to choose which one to keep.  The red balloon won every time.  At the end of a couple of hours she had softened to me, and even let me hold her for a bit.  Nonetheless, she refused to return the red balloon to me even for a moment and never said a word, even when I spoke the tiny bit of her language that I knew, “por favor.”

The time came for us to go and we boarded our busses.  I was sitting in the back of the bus next to the window.  My conversation with one friend was interrupted by some other friends.  They encouraged me to look out of my window at the pickup truck parked only a couple of feet from our bus.  Directly across from me was that beautiful little girl in the white dress.

Her eyes were welling up she fixed an expressionless gaze at me between the slats of the wood railing . . . and she was still holding onto the red balloon.  The driver started the engine and the truck made a loud noise.  She was startled, but never took her eyes off of me.  Her ensuing gesture lodged that evening deep into my memory, easily recalled even these 23 years later.

The tear graduated into a full-blown cry.  She looked down at her balloon and then back at me.  Then, with wisdom far beyond her years, she carefully squeezed the balloon through the slats and stretched her little arms across the gap as far as they would go.  I reached across the divide and accepted the incredible gift from her.  As she released her grip, she paused her sobbing and whispered the only word I would ever hear her say, “adios.”  As the truck pulled away she cried, waved, and repeated the word “adios” until the truck was gone.

Everyone on the bus sat speechless.  I didn’t say a word until we arrived at our destination for the night. I kept that balloon for the better part of a decade and eventually lost is during one of my many moves.  But, the memory of that little girl has never faded. She provided insight into how our complete surrender to trusting the Attractive Shepherd affects both parties.

Jesus is thrilled that you’ve seen the value of the new life that he offers, but it’s so much more rewarding when you give it back to him.

This is a sample from chapter 7: Unnecessary Miracles of my book The Attractive Shepherd.  Click on “About The Book” and “Read Chapter 1″ above for more info.  For samples from other chapters click on “Book Exerpets” just under the Twitter updates on the right side of this page. Comments are appreciated.

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