Gratitude the Size of a Marble

November 1, 2019 | by jamie beeson

The bus got quiet when the smell of the Mexican streets permeated the air. As we rolled into the village, my eyes were taking in sites I'd only seen on documentaries or advertisements with a plea for help. The teenage excitement I began with on this road trip to Mexico to help build houses dissipated as an alternate reality became alarmingly clear. My heart beat a little faster at the thought of living here temporarily and simultaneously broke at the idea that this was the permanent home to so many.

We turned a corner and rolled up into a large, dusty opening. The bus parked, and the rumble of the engine stopped. As we filed out and down the stairs, it hit me; my whining, complaining, dissatisfied, ungrateful mindsets slapped my face. My eyes filled with tears, both out of shame and compassion. We pulled into an orphanage that looked more like a deserted prison, and I overlooked a large hillside covered in lean-to shelters made from cardboard, plywood, garbage, and random materials. This was their home. All of a sudden, my carpeted room with my made-up bed felt like a castle.

We were escorted to our living quarters. The large room we entered was a flood of gray; cement floors, cement walls, and cement ceilings with square openings in the walls to the outside, sultry air. We laid our sleeping bags on the cement to rest our heads each night. We were shown the bathroom (a hole in the ground) and told that we wouldn't have running water. I couldn't get over the fact that this was someone's normal. This was not their camping vacation; no cushy bed awaited them at home. These were not their temporary, mission-trip quarters. I felt terrible for all of these sweet littles, rushing at us like we were celebrities. They greeted us like we were family with hugs and hand-holding, and escorted us to their playground. How were they so full of love, acceptance, joy, and excitement? While I felt terrible for them, I quickly learned they should feel sorry for me.

One day, out on the worksite, we took a lunch break and tried to hydrate ourselves after working in the hot Mexican sun. As we kicked the red dirt off of our shoes, a little boy approached the construction area. He milled around and said nothing while looking at what we had been doing. Occasionally he gave us a side-glance and a sweet smile. He wore a large, green, adult-sized shirt that hung around his knees with oversized, red sweatpants. Covered in dirt, he occasionally swept his thick dark hair out of his eyes. As he observed the progress and kicked through the piles of dirt we had created, he quickly dropped down to his knees and started pushing the dirt carefully off to one side. It’s like he had found an X that marked the spot! He was digging for buried treasure. He picked up a small object, and the smile on his face must’ve been 10 feet wide. As a few of us approached him, he spoke quickly in Spanish exclaiming his excitement. He rubbed the dull, dirty, green marble against his shirt. He reacted as though he had searched for it his whole life! He danced around and waltzed to each of our crewmembers, sharing his discovery with glee. He asked if he could keep it. When he learned this little treasure was his, he lit up like it was Christmas. My heart lit up to see his joy.

How could these amazing children find joy through abandonment, loss, need, and hunger? After the first week of observing and living with these people, I gained a new perspective. These kids didn’t see their world the way I saw it. They found gratitude in marble-sized places, amid a work zone, desolate living conditions, filled with all kinds of emotional wants and needs. I felt sorry for them, but I had been missing something all along. 

A change of place can bring a change of perspective. These kids left a lifelong imprint on me. I can’t say I’ve mastered their expert level of gratitude, but they gave me a gift; that joy can always be found even in the hard places. It’s dug up with hopeful anticipation and grateful appreciation. I dig harder and look further when times are the most desperate. From what I've found, the kind of joy discovered through gratitude amid dirt is one that is hard to find. In this season, I hope this can remind us to be the discoverers of marble-sized treasures. Let it stir deep gratitude that allows us to spread joy like these Mexican children I met so many years ago.  

Originally printed in the November 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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