India, February 2014. Twelve days start to finish, many of them long travel days, and the rest actively loving people in India.
Two of our eleven team members were high school seniors from Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, CA. Anthony and Peyton. There was something magnificent about them from the beginning, but really blossomed while in India. I narrowed it down to one thing they lacked.
“The Cool Factor”.
I’m not saying these are not cool kids. They’re hysterically funny, attractive, smart, honest, engaging, hip, knowledgeable, artistic, extraordinary young people. But they weren’t “too cool” you know? Too cool to dance. Too cool to hold hands. Too cool to pray. Too cool to love.
They jumped off the plane with both feet. All in , and fully immersed before we could even locate our baggage. I can in all honesty say they never once said “no” to any opportunity. Whether they knew it was an opportunity or not.
Within minutes of meeting them, their excitement inspired me. But after watching them in India, I was inspired to do better. My ideas of love exploded and I wanted to love more authentically, more fully, like they did. To laugh harder, sing louder, and dance longer. To grab hold of every moment and wring it out of it’s last drop. To exude wordless evidence of a broken heart. To cry when I had to leave for home. To long for a return to India while still on the jetway. To walk off the plane with ideas of how I might help even more.
Every group of teens has been uniquely wonderful, I believe hand picked by God, and I wouldn’t trade a single one for the other.
Each one has taught me something more about myself, about God, and about the love of Jesus for all people.
Matchless. Borderless. Timeless. Ageless. Limitless. And not too cool.
As I watched my husband teach two Cardinal Newman High School students how to take blood pressures, I was overcome by his love for what he does, and how well he does it. I remember him as a young Chief Resident at UCDavis, and think it’s when he was probably at his best, because he was born to do it.
Teaching Physician. It’s who he is, deep down to his core. Teacher. Healer.
In five minutes he had taught 17 year old Peyton Smith well enough for her to be able to teach 17 year old Anthony Del Secco.
“Watch one. Do one. Teach one.” He said. Simple, but I can’t get the phrase out of my head.
In about 12 days you’ll be hearing from Peyton and Anthony on this blog as they write about their own experiences using their new skills in the India medical camps they funded as their CBSL Project (Community Based Service Learning).
Five minutes in a living room with someone who cares. It can change everything.
I want to live like that.
Lord, let it begin with me, but don’t let it end with me. Help me help others so we all might know You better. Give me direction, and guide me as I stumble along doing my best to serve You, and let me not harm another, but encourage them in their own personal walk with You. And by Your strength and power, by example and not just words, encourage others to seek You as You seek them in return. In Jesus’ name. Amen
This morning I was blessed with a story from my friend whose little boy is 3 1/2 years old. She took him to the park to play, and he said, “Mommy, I want to hug people. Is that okay?” She told him he should ask first, and make sure they were okay with being hugged.
He went up to one little boy and asked, “can I hug you?”
“Sure” replied the boy. So he hugged him.
Next he went up to a little girl. “Can I hug you?”
“Yes”, replied the girl. So he hugged her.
His love is bursting from within him, so much as he cannot contain it. He simply must share it. Still, he asks. Desiring more than anything in this moment, a “yes”, so he can wrap his arms around them. Yet regardless of the answer, he will love them.
He didn’t need to know a single thing about them. He didn’t ask them to repent first. He didn’t ask them to do anything, but receive the love.
“Can I hug you?” Jesus asks, waiting patiently, yet longingly for a “yes” as our reply.
That is Good News indeed, as displayed by a 3 year old.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14
Before leaving for India in 2009 to dedicate 10 newly drilled wells funded by our team of Sonoma County kids, we discussed the cold hard facts of life as a Dalit with our 8 year old twins. There’s only so much an 8 year old can wrap their head around, and the falsities behind years of oppression are really too much to expect anyone to grasp. The term “untouchable” is just one of these terms we had laid on them at their tender age.
Weeks later as we stood at the mountaintop of a tribal village waiting for the rest of our team to arrive by motorbike, we adults laughed, and talked with each other, and drank from our water bottles. The people from the village, most having never seen anyone outside of it, lined up in two rows, waiting to welcome us in the hot hot sun.
With my back to them I looked down the hill for my husband to arrive safely with my young son, only to feel his twin sister slip away from my side.
She had waited long enough. I watched in silence as she made her way down the lines of people. One by one she touched them. On their arm, shaking their hands, with her smile. She was doing the only thing she knew how to do to rectify the injustice based on her understanding of “untouchable”.
For someone who has been told their entire life they are “untouchable”, and their very presence contaminates those around them… In one touch we dispel this lie. No training required. No age limit. No degree. No religion. No human effort does this.
Sunday in church we were asked what God had delivered us from, and to think about it, and be thankful. We do this a lot, don’t we? Think about it? Quietly, to ourselves?
What would we have done if he said, “now turn to your neighbor and tell them”?
How many of us would do it? How many of us would share what we had just written down PRIOR to knowing we were going to share it with the person sitting next to us at church? The sin that preceded redemption?
What would “they” think?
As I discussed this with my friend who knows my whole life story, she said, “some look at you as a seasoned saint, when you know you are a seasoned sinner.”
Now I don’t know about the first half, or how others view me, but I do know about the second. I am a seasoned sinner, and you bet I need a Savior, because left to myself, I would be dead.
It’s time you knew.
November 22, 2002 I came out of a 3 day blackout to see this same friend sitting next to me on my sofa. Just hours before I was going to take my own life after countless futile attempts to stop drinking. Rather than opening the packed out medicine chest, I went to my computer and sent her an email with three words. “Please help me”.
I don’t remember sending the email, because in reality, I did not have the power to send it. You’ve heard about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves? There it is. I had avoided this woman at all costs. Not because of who she was… she was pleasant enough… but because she would always tell me the truth about my condition. Because she had it too, and she knew its fatality. She didn’t sugar coat anything. Ever. “If you don’t work the steps you’re going to drink again, and the way you drink, you are going to die”.
Yeh yeh. Get away from me.
Yet there she was, on my couch, at my unconscious request, and she offered hope. “A new way of living which demands rigorous honesty”, and a simple plan of action that, if followed, would clear out the wreckage of my past, and get me to a freedom I had never known. Ever. Not just freedom from alcohol. Alcohol is only a symptom. She offered freedom from myself, and the bondage of resentment, pride, self pity, fear, remorse, and morbid reflection. My own plans and schemes. My best ideas, and worst ones too. I could be free. The only requirement being after doing this, I continue to help others. That’s how I would stay sober, she said.
I took her up on her offer, and stayed two nights in the County Detox in a room with four other homeless women who stole my heart. Over the next 18 months I volunteered there weekly, hoping against hope they would see in me a solution, as I was one of them. I had been in bed 25, and was so bad off with the shakes, THEY were taking care of ME! They had seen me at my worst, and now saw me getting better.
After two months, Joanne (not her real name) came in bleeding from her mouth, and her belly distended. She begged me not to tell because she didn’t want to go to the hospital. I sat on her bed and asked her what I could do for her. She said, “tell me how you did it. How did you stop drinking?”. I had 60 days. I told her what I had done, and the hope I had found. She died that night. She was the oldest of us. She was 44. The next to go was at 6 months, then another at 8. The youngest of our group in 2002 died 18 months later in the same room… my room… in an alcoholic seizure. She was 31. I remember all of their names but more than anything I remember the despair. The hopelessness. The disease. Their exact likeness to me. I remember our bond of doom, and the olive branch of hope. I grabbed it. They didn’t. It’s not their fault. Alcoholism is an illness that tells you you don’t have an illness. It’s insidious. It’s relentless. It’s non-discriminatory. It’s progressive. It‘s fatal. It’s incurable. But it’s treatable; and it’s a miracle. It happens when one alcoholic reaches out to another alcoholic, knowing the other has been where they are, and they have found a way out that works. The journey together begins in that moment.
Saturday I will celebrate 11 years of sobriety. But it’s so much more than just “not drinking”. It’s freedom on every level.
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I really don’t have many at all. I’m just a girl who got saved by Grace, and a program you’ll find listed in the front of the yellow pages. A girl with boundless love all around her, yet it could not save her life. A girl who couldn’t stop drinking for her kid’s sake. A girl who should be dead, but isn’t. A girl who, today, isn’t passed out underneath a fallen dresser terrorizing her family in her “sleep”. A girl who, try as she might, couldn’t just pray herself well. A girl who needed a list of instructions to clean up the mess she’d made in order to recover. A girl who desperately needed, and still needs the help of other alcoholics to stay sober. A girl who is doing the best she can to live out the plan God had when bringing her out of the mire, and may even help a few people because of it.
A girl who doesn’t have to hide who she was in order to be who she is, and cannot be who she is meant to be without it.
A sinner with a Savior. Sober today. Grateful for it all.
What’s in a name? Maybe more than we realize. So much of our identity is tied up in our names. First, middle, last. A requirement on most every application. If we don’t give our names, we don’t get very far in this world. Without it, we can’t leave the country. Heck, forget world travel… a birth certificate must have a name before a baby is allowed to leave the hospital.
Certain names bring about an immediate response. A reaction, maybe good, maybe bad. Names are important representation of who we are. Just ask the nun in Calcutta.
Right? Was that last line just too weird?
Why don’t we give it a try.
Kim Jong Il
Did it work?
Names are important. Their pronunciation, spelling, and more challenging, remembering. Countless times someone has told me their name, and moments later I have to ask again.
My husband has an unusual (but wonderful) preoccupation with names. Pronunciation is key. Likely coming from 43 years of being called Veevek, Vivik and Vievek. His name is Vivek, pronounced Viv – ache. When he was 16 he became so tired of correcting people, he resorted to “just call me Vik”. Now people just misspell it.
In South Africa, we befriended a young man named Xolani; a Xosa name with a click in the beginning. Viv-ache had met his ultimate challenge. As I video recorded the area around us, you can hear Vievek practicing Xolani’s name for at least ten minutes. Over and over and over. At one point, a gracious Xolani said “yes, that’s it” but it wasn’t. So good ole Veeevek kept practicing. We haven’t seen Xolani in 13 years, but we can both say his name perfectly. Click and all. Every once in a while, for no good reason, one of us will just say it out loud. To make sure we can, should we run into him again one day. Victor and I.
I’ve noticed the importance of names most in the orphanages of India. Our first visit led me to believe the only English being taught were six words. “What’s my name?”, followed up by “don’t forget me”.
With 180 kids bearing names like Vedalaxmi, and Baalagopaal, all wearing the same uniforms, this was not an easy request. We tried our best though, and if the name was “Raj”, “Devi”, or “Rani”, odds were good we’d get it right when they came to check our memories. If we didn’t, their faces would fall, quickly recovering to repeat it, along with “don’t forget me”.
Exasperated with getting it wrong I learned the words “Tiger” and “Beautiful” in Telugu.
“What’s my name?”
This brought a smile every single time. “Beautiful”, and the girls would giggle behind their hands and run away.
I’ve gotten much better at Indian names now, and don’t have to resort to that as often, but it’s good to have a back up plan more affectionate than “uuuuuuh Raj?”
These kids are orphaned, and more than anything else they want us to remember their names.
Several months ago I noticed a man in our community. He’s hunched over, with longish matted hair that seems to have been cut in the back with a dull blade. The first time I saw him he had a fresh urine seeping through his pants.
I remember thinking, “that is someone most would regard as ‘hopeless’”. I say this because I used to be someone on the brink of hopelessness too, only I looked better. Most of the time, anyway. But this guy… he was the walking dead. Or, as close as I’ve ever seen.
I prayed and asked God to tell me what He wanted from me, if anything. I pulled into Big Lots parking area, and stalked him in my mini van. He didn’t move very quickly, so it wasn’t hard. I parked and got out, and just as he passed by, I moved in.
“Hello”, I said
“What’s your name?”
“I saw you walking by, and…”
“Do you have a light?”
What am I doing here?
I remember saying to his back as he shuffled away, “I’ve been where you are”. Now that’s not entirely true. I’ve never been homeless, hungry, or alone, but I’d certainly been helpless, drunk, and desperate, and at the rate I was going, the remainder wasn’t far off.
I got back into my van and asked God my usual post-encounter question, “what the heck was that about?”
About a month later we crossed paths again coming up a main street to my house after a trip to Trader Joe’s, there he was, hunched over, and shuffling down the hill. I prayed what has come to be a common prayer, “what God?” and the name “Wayne” went through my head. He really did look like a “Wayne”, and God must be telling me his name, right? So I flipped a fast U-turn, pulling into a side street, popping the hatch, and grabbing a protein bar, banana, and bottled water. He’d gotten further than anticipated, all things considered, and I took off after him down the hill at top speed. Coming up behind him I slowed, and quietly said, “excuse me?”. This startled him and he jumped off the curb into the busy street disoriented. Grabbing his arm, I yanked him back up which he didn’t like very much, and struggled to free himself and resume his descent.
“Excuse me, these are for you”, I said as he made his slow getaway. He waved his hand behind him in a nonverbal “take your food and get away from me” fashion.
“Wayne”, I said
“Wayne” I said again.
“Is your name Wayne?”
He turned, looking only at my shoulder from his bent over position, “no, it’s Johnny”.
Certainly Wayne had forgotten his name.
“Hi Johnny. It’s me, Valerie. Do you remember me?”
He walked away.
“Johnny, is there anything I can do for you?” I say in a helpless last ditch effort to do something for this broken man. I have to do something!
He never turned around again, and I walked back to my van in confusion.
Although I’ve never stopped praying for Johnny-Wayne, and I see him from time to time walking the streets, that was my last time trying to speak with him. Until today.
Driving to Community Market to indulge in fresh organic local produce for my green smoothie, I saw him on the street corner. It was a busy intersection, and even if I wanted to, there wasn’t a good place to pull over. I prayed for him, and asked God if He wanted me to do anything.
Pulling into the market I made my way inside, not really thinking too much about him again. Gazing too long at the cheeses (I was not there to buy cheese), I felt a presence to my right. I turned to look straight at Johnny standing no more than one foot away. My heart rate didn’t even rise. I just smiled as he grabbed a Chocolate Brownie Clif Bar and headed for the register. Guess my shopping is complete! I headed there too, and stood behind him, praying quickly to see if I was to buy his breakfast. Based on past experience, and not wanting to embarrass him, I didn’t. Johnny didn’t want a hand out, and he certainly didn’t need to be publicly singled out one more time by a well intentioned person with a bright idea and need to save the world. This wasn’t about me.
I watched as he pulled out his wallet like any other shopper to pay the kind faced cashier. That’s gotta feel good.
“Hi Johnny”, I said to the side of his head.
He turned, and looked directly into my eyes for the first time.
“Hi”, and then, he smiled. He smiled!
“It’s really nice to see you again”.
That was it. He nodded his head, collected his change, grunted something, and went over to the free coffee. The young man behind the counter looked at me in wonder as to what had just happened. How did I know this man’s name? Who knows how many times he has seen Johnny come and go. I looked at him and said, “do you carry Lydia’s Organic’s Green Soup?”
Sometimes I think these small encounters are more precious than the so-called big ones. They show me a bit more of what Jesus’ daily life was probably like, and how, if we pay attention, we get to live a little bit of that out. Maybe it’s as easy as remembering a name to remind someone they are human. Equal. Important. Loved.
Maybe it’s why He called me out of that hopeless pit of despair eleven years ago. So I could see people like Johnny, and see myself. Be reminded, God knows my name. He knows His too, and nobody is too far gone, too orphaned, too hopeless, and everyone wants their names to be remembered.
It’s likely I will see Johnny again, and this story will continue. I sure hope so. Maybe I’ll even learn if the name “Wayne” falls into play. If it really was God, or if it was just my own head.
I don’t know what God has planned for him, but I know it’s good. It was for me. Still is. I’m just grateful I got to be a part of His plan today.
Here in Santa Rosa we have experienced a brilliant change in the colors of the trees. Beautiful. In one night the entire expressway is filled with red trees that were green the night before. I did not do this. Did you? Of course not.
Can the God who changes the leaves on the trees change me? Yes. Can He change you? Yes.
Why do we have to “go” anywhere to be changed? The truth is, we don’t. There is plenty of opportunity right here in our own city. Plenty of moments to see God at work around us. Yet time after time after time I see the change take place in India.
After seeing so many teenagers experience this sort of overnight transformation, I’ve come to believe it may be about attention. It’s as though we must be removed from the daily busyness. The constant battle for our mind’s focus with ads, apps, tweets, and Facebook, or even the preoccupation with who is dating whom or OMG what is she wearing… to be ripped from this place and dropped into another. Where there is nothing but raw reality and humanity. Undisturbed, and undistracted. It’s now between us and God. No interruptions. No avoidance opportunities. No way out. For me, it was as though God said, “THIS… this is what I want for you. THIS… this is how much I love you. THIS… this is how much I love them.”
Then just like that, it happens. You know? You’re different inside. Like William Wilberforce said, “once you know, you cannot say you do not know.”
It came as she stepped out of the SUV in front of a small home/school of excited children. The sound as her heart hit the ground. It’s still there.
“This has to become a LoveManifest school” she said, completely unaware that she’d spoken it out loud.
90 orphaned and semi orphaned children, all under the age of 10 being educated and housed in a small area of Rathinangudi Southern India in one instant had a mother. Someone who was willing to go outside her comfort zone with an urgency and determination that would cause her to do whatever she had to do to care for these children. Her children.
Anything for these kids.
It happens that fast. One minute you have three children, and in an instant, you have 93.
It’s that kind of fire that moves us. A God sized urgency saying “your children are dying”, or “your children are missing”, or “your children are hungry” or…. Not a proposal. That’s just paper. Necessary, yes, but can’t really show the reality of the situation. If you’ve ever written a proposal, you know what I mean. We can never adequately relay the urgency with the same weight as standing in the middle of 90 kids. Real kids. Real parentless kids. Then listening as God says, “this is why you’re here.”
Caitlin heard Him. “Here am I”, she said.
I don’t think she even waited until we got home to start organizing a team (iGo) to work toward the care and education of these kids. Her kids.
A goal of $6,000, she and her husband arranged a garage sale which included our whole community, captained a team at the Sonoma County Human Race, inspired a matching donor, begged people to listen and give, and together, her team raised over $7500, and provided everything these kids need for one year PLUS a small chicken coop of 200 chickens.
Many others stepped up too. Because passion like this… it’s contagious, and a local hero added his Murphy-Goode Award to an amount given by another donor (who just happens to be passionate about orphans AND chickens! What are the odds!) in order to provide 20 goats and 3 cows, putting us much closer toward the goal of sustainability.
These kids are quite fortunate. They have a Father. One in heaven, and one on the ground named Father Dhana. Both patient and persistent. It took more than one visit for us. In fact, I’d been there twice before the proposal came. What we didn’t know, was it was going to take a visit from one young woman who was going to hear Him. Maybe I wasn’t listening. Or maybe He was waiting for her.
One person can’t do it all. It’s true. But one person can do something. Just ask the 90 kids at the LoveManifest Home & School at Rathinangudi.
It’s been a week of restless nights. One month from today the LoveManifest team will board a plane for India, and with it, comes the usual check list that plays (and replays) in times reserved for dreaming.
Each day I’ve been awakened by a song in my head. Today a little earlier than usual. 5am. But waking up to a song is not unusual at all. The song… maybe. It goes like this:
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong, he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure, he’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life, larger than life
This is a common theme for me. In essence, Lord, I need You. My great prayer. The best I’ve got. When push comes to shove, I don’t get too complicated or wordy. I just sing, “Lord I need You”. I need a hero, and He’s gotta more than a “white knight on a fiery steed”.
A gentle King on a donkey is perfect.
I love how David Crowder puts it. “God I need a Savior. Come, Jealous King.”
Tuesday, after one of these restless nights, I prayed that prayer, and opened my Bible to Mark 6:31. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
An invitation for the disciples (and me, and you) to come away with Him. To rest in His Presence, and be refreshed. What a loving God He is! Yes! My answer is YES!
The pre-India battle cannot be won by me, but only for me, by Him. I’m continually brought to my knees, and thanking God as He reminds me He will provide everything I need, when I take the time to talk to Him, listen, and follow His perfect instruction. It’s a time I’m learning to love, because I am forced to be in constant contact with Him. My other choice is to live in turmoil.
Do you ever feel alone in your battle? We all do sometimes. But you’re not. I’m not. Take a step back and think about this for a minute. Then pray the simple prayer. “Lord, I need You”, and take time quietly resting in His Presence.
An important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation
A person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.
A person strongly in favor of a program, set of principles, etc., who attempts to persuade or convert others.
A person who is sent on a mission.
I have a mission. A purpose. A goal. To Love.
I’m not a missionary. I don’t “do missions” (not even sure what that means, but I’ve heard it before), or lead mission trips. I just really love people, and sometimes, I get to bring others along who love them too.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain Jesus never said, “follow me, we’re going on a mission trip”. So I won’t either.
I’ve been called a lot of things in my day, but “missionary” has to be the one bringing about the greatest reaction. The one most impressing others, yet making me want to shout out “NO NO NO”. This is absolutely nothing against missionaries by any means, but only because I’m not one. I’m sure true missionaries will agree, and appreciate my refraining from this title. I just love people. I follow Jesus. He doesn’t send me anywhere. He takes me places. Sometimes I get to take others. I don’t really know what it means to minister… God does that… but I wrap my arms around His children, and pray with people, and in this they seem to find comfort. I don’t know what the best selling books say about leadership… I follow Christ. If you don’t know Him, you’re still welcome to come along, but understand the One I’m following is Jesus. I can maneuver us around India fairly well now, but I don’t have all the answers… yet I know the One who does.
Wanna meet Him? I’ll introduce you. Don’t want to meet Him? That’s okay too. I’ll still bring clean water. You’ll still get your surgery to get your sight back. I’ll still love you just as much (in this you have no say). You don’t need me. God’s been pursuing you your whole life. Call on Him and He will show you who He is. I’m not here to convince, coerce, or convert, and I promise not to knowingly spiritually assault you. But there is a good chance I’m going to talk about Jesus, because I love Him. We talk (if not even brag) about those we love, don’t we? We want others to meet them too.
If you want to know… really want to know… I’ll tell you everything He’s done for me. How I called on Him in the deepest, darkest places of my life. How He redeemed me from an impossible situation, and loves me with an everlasting love. Maybe it will give you hope that He can do these things for you, too. That for you, He’d go to the ends of the earth. Maybe you will fall in love with Him like I did, and out of that ineffable Love, you might respond by chasing after Him too, and Love others the way He loves you. The way He loves me. That doesn’t make me a missionary. But that’s the best I’ve got. No titles. No labels. No stream of letters after my name. Nothing that socially impressive. Just Jesus. He’s enough.