I packed the wrong bag. Really, I wish I had a better opener to explain one of the most powerful and profound moments of my year, but I realize in many ways, it comes down to something as simple as that.
But I guess it really all started in 2003 when I realized I’m a horrible cement mixer. This was when I was down in Tijuana, Mexico with Loyola Marymount University on one of their weekend service and immersion trips called De Colores. If you were as bad as I was at mixing cement you had two options: You could perfect your cement mixing abilities, or you could inconspicuously sneak away and play with the kids from the community who came with their parents to the house build projects.
And so it was that I came to know Eric, and countless other kids in the local community called Tecolote that we worked in. Eric and his siblings grew close to many of us, so much so that one of Eric’s youngest siblings is actually named after a friend of mine who went on these trips. On my last trip as a student, another friend Diego gifted Eric a beanie with the logo of the service organization called Magis we were a part of.
|Eric, with Diego after being given his Magis beanie.|
After I graduated, the beauty of Facebook updates from friends still at LMU allowed me to learn bits and pieces of how Eric and his family were, and time and again, the beanie was in the photos. But the photos and updates gradually disappeared as the work De Colores was doing moved away from Tecolote and into another community- El Florido. And before I knew it, I was left wondering about Eric, where he was, and what he was doing.
This past September, I became the interim Director of the De Colores service program, meaning I am now the one responsible for bringing LMU students down to Mexico. On Friday, I was frantically packing to get ready for the trip and for reasons I’ll never fully understand I walked right past my usual Mexico duffle bag and instead grabbed a bag off my closet shelf I haven’t used for a couple years now.
Fast forward to Sunday, and Build a Miracle, the nonprofit we work with in Tijuana hosted a holiday party for all the people who have received a home through their organization. A young man who looked to be about 20 caught my attention. He looked different, older obviously, and yet something inside told me it was Eric.
I got to spend a good amount of time with Eric and his family that Sunday. We exchanged stories and updates; them asking me about other students that had been part of my time period, me asking about members of the community that treated me like one of their own. Eric asked about Diego, and some of the other guys in the service organization, and told me he was an unofficial member of Magis even though his beanie had been stolen long ago. And it was then I knew, I hadn’t packed the wrong bag after all.
You see, the night before, I had been looking for my toothpaste and some other items I forgot to bring because I always keep them packed in my trusty blue duffle bag. I was frustrated and cursing my error when I felt something at the bottom of the bag: My Magis beanie. Seeing it Saturday night instantly brought back powerful memories of Eric, his siblings, and other members of the community I came to care about that kept me awake for much of the night. And here’s the thing- if I had the right bag, I never would have had the beanie and I probably wouldn't have thought about Eric and his family that night. I really don't think I would have recognized Eric that next day, he would have just been a face among the hundreds there that day.
|Eric, with his new Magis beanie|
God has a great sense of humor. Just when I think I have every detail choreographed, a wrench is thrown into the plan. Isn’t that life, in ways big and small? The challenge then isn’t avoiding the missteps, but rather in remaining constantly open to where and whom they might lead you to.