This is not a soccer ball.
This is some garbage or maybe an inflated condom wrapped in cloth and tied together with string. Likely, it was handmade by a band of boys eager to find a way to play their favorite sport and will last for a week or two of vigorous play. I cannot help imagining what these games must look like… the determination they must have to craft such a ball, the enthusiasm with which they must play to justify such an effort, the chaos that must ensue as they play without team shirts or referees. I want to love doing something that much.
I saw these pictures of handmade soccer balls in this month’s ESPN magazine and was immediately reminded of an offhand comment made by one of our new friends at church. We were discussing our church’s commitment to sending shoeboxes filled with gifts through Operation Christmas Child and she mentioned that the best thing you could send was a deflated soccer ball and a hand pump with which to inflate it. When I saw these handmade soccer balls, I knew she was right.
So now I am imagining some little boy tearing open a box to find a real (cheaply made) American soccer ball. I imagine he will be the envy of all his friends and neighbors. I doubt that this new soccer ball will last much longer than their handmade versions, but I hope it will give him that cheap thrill we seek each Christmas–the thrill of an exciting gift which will be loved for a few days or weeks until the batteries die or the novelty wears off or something breaks; the thrill of opening something shiny and new and naming it “mine.” Maybe it is silly, but I think every kid deserves a little bit of that.
For these children, a single shoebox contains the entirety of their Christmas gifts. This embarrasses me a little and helps me limit my enthusiasm for Christmas consumerism (that and my husband, who reminds me of my previous commitment to frugality and restraint even when I get caught up in Christmas fever!) Sure, I want Claire to experience that cheap thrill of opening a great present, but I really want to teach her to give and to experience the more satisfying thrill that comes from knowing you’ve given freely and without expectation. Even more, though, I long for her to experience the deep appreciation that comes from receiving the lasting gift of God’s grace and the the true thrill of giving this gift to others.
I guess I’ll start by sending soccer balls and prayers in a shoebox.