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Sacrifices of the heart tug at the heartstrings

I attended an evening program in Park City for local pastors recently. And there, Christian singer Michael Kelly Blanchard shared a story.

He said: "Not long ago a friend of mine asked, `Michael, when was the first time you grew aware of the human heart?'"I told him, `Well, I had a crush on a blond girl back in second grade.'

" `I don't mean the romantic heart, the self-interested heart,' my friend said. `I mean the sacrificial heart. The sharing heart.' "

Then Blanchard's friend told him about Marty.

Marty, it turns out, was poor. And kids teased him because his family ate Thanksgiving chicken instead of Thanksgiving turkey. At least they did until a soft-spoken boy in the class stepped forward and put an arm through Marty's.

"My family eats Thanksgiving chicken, too," he said - though it wasn't true. "It's good. Marty and I would rather have Thanksgiving chicken."

And that, Blanchard's friend told him, was his own first encounter with the sacrificial heart.

As I sat there listening, I recalled a "sacrificial heart sighting" of my own. This one in Bolivia back in 1968.

Thirty years ago in the Bolivian badlands, television and long-distance telephones were distant dreams, penicillin was an experimental drug and the only thing more frightening than the water system was the justice system.

So LDS missionaries often kept a little money in the bank - a "cushion" to pay off doctors, lawyers - even Indian chiefs, if it came to that.

Well, into that hardscrabble frontier came a young woman missionary from California. She wasn't up to speed in speaking Spanish, but she was definitely up to speed in concern for others.

One day, while visiting the members, she asked an old woman how she was faring. The old woman looked down sadly and replied.

"As far as money goes," she said, "if I had only $500, my granddaughter and I could probably make do."

Over the next couple of days the comment worked at the young woman. She had some money in the bank, of course - set aside for those inevitable emergencies. That seemed wise. But if a missionary lacked the faith to live like a lilly of the field, who else could find the courage? She decided to live hand-to-mouth and trust her well-being to Providence.

She went to the bank, drew out $500 and presented the gift to the grandmother. The old woman looked up in shock and disbelief, then her expression turned to horror. Something was terribly wrong, but the young woman didn't know what.

Then, a few minutes later, the reasons came clear.

Bolivia had devalued its currency so often, the government had changed its entire money system. In 1968, people in Bolivia spoke of dollars, of course, but they also spoke in terms of the new "pesos" as well as the older denomination, "bolivianos."

The old woman had kept to her old ways. When she said she needed 500 (or "quinientos" in Spanish), she meant 500 bolivianos - or half of a peso. And in 1968 dollars, half of a peso amounted to 19 American cents.

She'd simply been asking for enough money to buy bread and milk for the night.

The old woman quickly returned the money and gave the young woman a hug. An unbreakable bond was formed.

That night at the pastors convention in Park City, as I remembered all this, I knew it wasn't my first experience of the "sacrificial heart." But it was one of the most memorable.

As Michael Kelly Blanchard finished his story about Marty, he began to sing songs about people who didn't "give till it hurts" but gave because it didn't.

I listened, and put those songs away inside with his story of Marty and Thanksgiving chicken. Down where I keep the story of a young woman in Bolivia who gave 2,500 times more than was asked of her, and gave it gladly.