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We are at Wal-Mart at eight in the morning. As soon as we walk through the swift automatic glass doors and are blown with the un-refreshing breeze from the strange floor fan, we travel straight to the toys. My friends all look at the bikes. I glance over them, but I instantly observe that I am of no help. Schwinn, Huffy, Mongoose – they’re all the same to me. Just get him something with two wheels, a seat, handlebars, and brakes, right?

“I don’t think we should get him gears.”

“But all the off-road bikes have gears.”

“Over there are some off-road bikes that don’t have gears.”

“Yeah, but look how small they are. They aren’t going to be big enough for Fred.”

“This bike here doesn’t have gears, and it’s big enough for him,” I interject.

“But look, that’s more of a beach cruiser type of bike.”

I sigh to myself. My friends are all like little boys arguing over which toy car is the best. Bantering back and forth so quickly that the opinions form one long, twisted sentence: “This one no this one I like the blue but it doesn’t have good tires I only like convertibles whatever Ford is better than Chevy my truck could crush your car but my car is faster blah blah blah blah.”

I sigh again. I am one of the oldest teenagers on this trip. I should be of some assistance. I turn around to find a huge row of basketballs. I don’t know why we always color basketballs orange as preschoolers, but it’s a totally inaccurate view of basketballs because they are definitely brown in their natural state. Teachers have an entire hissy fit if their students color the sky red (even though it can turn reddish when the sun is setting), but go ahead, kids, and color basketballs orange! Only fake basketballs are orange, and it is because scientists inject them with Yellow-40 or some other non-toxic junk.

When Tara and I were unsuccessfully playing volleyball yesterday with a foamy blue ball (made that color because of Blue-30), she told me that her favorite sport is basketball. She also said that she really wanted a basketball goal at the place where her grandma works. I know we aren’t going to be able to get her a whole goal, but maybe a new basketball would do the trick.

Tara’s grandmother, Ms. Betsy, is a heroine. But she doesn’t wear a cape, hold a record for hitting the most homeruns in one inning, or save people trapped in burning buildings (although she probably would if given the chance). She owns and operates a food and clothing store known as the Corn Creek Community Center, where she gives free food and clothes to people in need, taking donations from whoever is willing to donate. Our church recently did a clothing drive and sent the clothes to her, and a couple days ago, my team and I stopped by a store so we could fill the shelves of her center with more canned goods. This week, my mission team and I have been sleeping in a church and then traveling to Corn Creek Community Center to help her with some repairs and painting.

I believe it’s easy to forget that the world is filled with people like Tara’s grandma who put their own needs aside to help their communities. I don’t hear about people like her on the news. I know what Chris Brown ate for dinner and the details of Tom Cruise’s break-up, but I’ll never learn about the everyday heroes who change the world for the better.

I continue to stare at the basketballs. I can almost picture one of them in Tara’s hands and imagine her growing up with it. I can see her in her gravel driveway practicing her long-range jumper every afternoon after middle school. I can imagine her high school friends driving over to her house to shoot hoops before the big game. I survey all the balls and finally find one that feels comfortable in my own hands. It is made out of some sort of fake leather. And it isn’t orange.

My friends have finally picked out a bike for Fred as I walk up to them with my basketball. Fred’s bike is literally three sizes too small for him. Still, he rides his little bike everywhere, even up the mountains that poke through this little town in Kentucky. Fred is twenty-something-years-old, but he acts more like a young teenager. His extreme bike riding left him with head injuries that were apparently brain injuries, too. Fred’s mind is trapped in its own dark Neverland. My friends and I believe a bike might make his Neverland a little brighter.

My team surveys everything we have gathered from Wal-Mart. We have the bike (unfortunately, it has gears, but Fred can just ignore them), the brown basketball, a little license plate for the bike, a picture of our group that we are going to sign and give to Ms. Betsy, and the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Yesterday, I was looking through some of the books Ms. Betsy had on her shelves to give to people, and she had every book in that series except for the first one. I couldn’t believe it, but when I went to the limited book section at Wal-Mart this morning right before heading to the bike area, they actually had three of the books in the series, one of which was the first book. My mouth had dropped open a bit. It was one of those moments when I could see that the Creator of the magnificent Universe is real and He cares for non-magnificent people like me. This series of books isn’t popular anymore; that first book shouldn’t have been in Wal-Mart, but it was, and now we’re taking it to the Corn Creek Community Center.

We purchase all of our items and take them to our fifteen-passenger van. Our van honestly looks like one of those creepy vans that awful villains in the movies use when abducting children. But we’re not abducting children, we’re helping them.

When we arrive back at Corn Creek Community Center, I’m reminded of how I wish we could abduct these children to be able to give them better lives. Every morning this week, we’ve held a backyard Bible club for the kids in the Corn Creek area. I’ve seen some of the parents these kids have and heard some of the stories they’ve told, and I just want to take them away from it all.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. IT IS NOT FAIR.
I know those are just four simple words, but they so adequately proclaim the truth. It’s not fair that I have two loving parents and a little brother and dependable friends and a warm dinner every evening and a soft bed to sleep on every night while they have parents who are alcoholics and hardly ever have a nutritious dinner and a house so hot in the summertime that they can barely sleep at night.

Yesterday, one of the girls at our backyard Bible club told us she was poor. She wasn’t proud that she was poor, but she didn’t care if others knew about her socio-economic status. One of our group leaders looked at me and said, “She may be poor, but look how happy she is.”
As I sit here, I wonder if she really is happy. Faking a smile for strangers is one of the easiest things in the world to do (although it’s one of the hardest things to do for friends and mothers). I know people don’t need money to be happy, but people need to have their basic needs met. Maybe I’m going too Maslow here, but these kids need to have some of their basic needs met (like being loved, cared for, and properly fed) so that they can be able to reach their full potential.

We arrive at the CCCC (I’m sure anyone can figure out what those letters stand for) and get everything ready for backyard Bible club. It’s Friday, our last day at the site, and therefore, our last day seeing the kids. The kids gradually arrive, and three hours roll by quickly as we have our Bible study, make a craft, and play some water games. I honestly can’t believe when it’s noon and time for the kids to leave.
And now comes the hardest part – saying goodbye. Luckily, Tara and one of her friends will stay with her grandmother while we work this afternoon, and Fred should stop by later, but still, the majority of the kids are leaving, and I’ll only see their faces in photos we’ve taken.
Soon after the kids leave, we leave to go take our lunch break and bathroom break because there is no bathroom at the CCCC (oh the horror!). We also get our gifts ready for Ms. Betsy, Tara, C.J. (Tara’s friend who we’ve come to love), and Fred. All of us sign a soccer ball that we had brought with us for C.J. and the basketball I got for Tara. I wrote a verse on the ball: “…the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Maybe she’ll remember it when she’s shooting a foul shot to win the big game.

We all pile back into the villain van and head back to the CCCC. I have the brown basketball in my hands. The van pulls into the gravel driveway as I spot Tara, C.J., and Ms. Betsy sitting under the porch of the community center. We hide our gifts behind our backs. First, we give Ms. Betsy the picture we took of all of us at the CCCC, and we had written prayers around the picture for her. Then, we give her the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. She tells us that someone had just dropped by and taken all of the books, but she’ll make sure the little boy gets the first book in the series. Wow. We got the book just when this little boy we’ve never met needs it. Divine timing.
I believe there is a God who plans these timings, and He has a crazy love for a human race that rejects Him over and over again.

I then run back to the van and get the basketball. “Think fast!” I tell Tara as I toss it to her. She catches it (of course, she catches it; she’s going to be a pro one day) and looks at the ball in disbelief. She reads all the signatures and the verse, and she honestly can’t believe it’s for her.

“I’m not going to use it. I’m going to keep it on my shelf so I won’t mess it up,” she says.

“But it’s really nice. We got it for you to use.”

She just keeps smiling. That ball really might sit on her shelf forever. It’s probably one of the nicest gifts she’s ever received.
My friend Cathleen hands Ms. Betsy about six Cracker Barrel gift certificates. “We went to Cracker Barrel last night and used these gift certificates that our church gave us to pay for our food. Each of them probably only has two or three dollars, but we thought you and Tara might like to eat there one night.”

And Ms. Betsy has tears in her eyes. These gift certificates probably don’t even amount to twenty dollars, but she is about to cry because of our simple gift to her. I would take this gift for granite, but she’s acting like we’re giving her a new car. I’m too blessed.

We also see C.J. and give him the soccer ball we signed. He’s smiling from ear to ear. Much to our luck, Fred comes racing down the hill on his way-too-small bicycle. Some of us talk to Fred to distract him while the others pull out his new bike to get it ready. A couple of the guys roll the bike out from behind the van towards Fred. Fred has trouble comprehending that the bike is actually for him. He can’t understand why we would be giving him a bike for free. We tell him to test it out, and without hesitation, he hops on the seat and begins riding his bike around the yard next to the CCCC.

The Neverland which is his mind has become a little happier.

We finish painting the CCCC and making other final touches to the building. It definitely looks a whole lot better than when we started, and I know Ms. Betsy is overjoyed, which in turn makes me overjoyed.

It’s past time to go, and we are forced to say goodbye. We all hug Ms. Betsy, C.J., Tara, and Fred. Ms. Betsy thanks us profusely, but we tell her she deserves all the thanks for all she has done to help the people of Corn Creek. Thanks for being a heroine without a cape.
I hug Tara one last time, and she’s crying because she doesn’t want us to leave. I have to keep my sunglasses on so she can’t see that I’m crying, too.

My team and I finally manage to climb back into our villain van. We drive away with Tara sobbing and Ms. Betsy with tears in her eyes.
“Tara was really happy to get that basketball. I was a little surprised,” I say.

“Well, she has reason to be thankful. Her mother is a meth addict, and she’s been living with Ms. Betty for the past couple of years,” one of the leaders explains to me. “It’s been hard for her.”

The news takes me by surprise. Tara is so young but has probably been through more pain than many people experience in a lifetime; I know more than I’ve experienced.

Why I’m so blessed, I’ll never understand, but I know I need to bless others because I’ve been blessed.

Before we said our goodbyes, the last thing my group painted was our handprints on the bottom of a table. As I sit here on this bus seat, I realize that our handprints won’t last forever. Water will seep through the crevices of the wood, slowly wearing away our mark on the table. Yet I hope and pray that the marks we left on the people of Corn Creek will last. I hope we showed the love of our Creator to those humble, genuine people of Kentucky. They left a handprint on my heart; did I return the favor?





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