Our assignment that first day was to walk and to look. We weren’t to speak to anyone, weren’t to help or hold or pray.
Just walk and look.
I sat on a dusty curb to watch for a while. My mind drifted lazily down the street with locals and tourists alike. Old cars bumped and jostled down the cobblestone roads and fruit venders peddled their wares and I watched – a spectator to the whole scene, fading into the background on that dusty curb.
I was there to serve, to help, to join in with what God was doing in Antigua. I wanted to be his hands and feet – whatever that meant. But I was stuck, my mouth sealed shut with my assignment and my eyes peeled.
“God help me see what these people need.”
Sitting on the ground, watching the world go by, I expected to see something new. I expected insight into pain and longing and confusion that I’d never seen before. I expected to have my mind pushed wide open by the influx of new realities that my eyes were gathering.
And that’s not what happened at all.
Two motorcycles zoomed by, much too fast for the small cobbled streets. As they whipped past me, I caught sight of their faces, laughing but rough. With mufflers removed, these men roared through the streets, proving to the world and to themselves that they were worth paying attention to.
A woman walked by, old and hunched over, lines etched deeply into her face. She walked slowly, the weight of the world pushing down on her shoulders, years of responsibility weakening her strength and her stature. She was the kind of woman who had provided for her family, possibly alone for many, many years. She looked strong, like she’d never dared to let a tear fall, the pillar keeping everyone else upright, isolated in her strength and responsibility.
A girl walked down the street, her shorts rolled short and her tank hugging all of her teenage curves. Her hair was big and styled, capturing your attention with the sheer volume of it. Within a moment a man showed up. Strong and tough he grabbed her and they walked off.
Her demeanor changed entirely when she saw him. She reached up to kiss his cheek and grasped his arm tightly as if it was her anchor, keeping her from being tossed and turned by the world around her.
She stood up straighter with him by her side, flipping her hair, and scooting in close.
And he ignored her. He didn’t care about the beauty clinging to his arm… she was a replaceable accessory for a man like him.
Sitting on that curb, the world happening before my eyes, I expected to see something unfamiliar. But I didn’t. My mind wasn’t expanded with the breadth of unfamiliar suffering. No, the suffering I saw was more than familiar.
I didn’t need new eyes or a fresh perspective to recognize the longing in their eyes. It’s the longing that I see in the mirror each morning, that I hear on the other side of the phone when I talk to my friends, that echoes deeply in the eyes of my family and everyone I’ve ever met.
The deepest need we have, the one that marks us and changes us and hardens us when it’s unmet, is the need for love.
We shrivel and die without it. Our hearts may continue to beat, but not really. Our lives lose their color, their depth, their meaning when we live them alone – when we live them as people neglected and rejected.
I’ve been to 28 countries around the world and everywhere it’s the same –
– in the orphans in Cambodia and the elderly in Guatemala, in the women in Nepal and the sorority girls in Colorado, in the gypsies in Romania and babies in Uganda, in the women enslaved in Thailand and the victims of natural disasters throughout the world –
What we all need more than anything is to be noticed, to be treated like we matter, to be loved.
The boys and the old woman and the girl in Guatemala – they all just want to be loved.
A few days later I spent the day at a nursing home. It was like an orphanage for the elderly, with all of them having been abandoned by their families.
There was one woman, sitting in the corner, unseen and unnoticed, unable to speak.
After awhile, a man in our group saw her and went over to her. He held her hand as she sat in her wheelchair and he prayed.
She couldn’t speak, couldn’t tell him about her life or her family or how she’d gotten there. She just sat there as he held her hand, and she cried.
For an hour she cried, looking up at him with the most appreciative eyes, so grateful to be touched, to be seen, to be loved – even by a stranger.
I can’t stop crying when I think about that woman, and how much that tiny act of love meant to her. The holiness of that moment seems to make everything else fade into the background with its unimportance.
Love was all that woman needed that day and when it was given to her, she wept.
This Valentines Day, and as we wrap up our Celebration of Beauty, I want to wear out the words “I love you.”
I want to notice the people I normally walk past, recognize the people who are unseen, remember those who have been forgotten and I want to love – hard and on purpose.
I know that Valentines Day is a strange day for everyone. It can be the best day or the most disappointing day, the loneliest day or the most confusing day. It is cheesy and overdone and the commercials on TV are enough to make a person sick. But there’s something really good hidden among the flowers and heart shaped boxes.
Valentines Day is a day entirely devoted to love. And I’m committed to celebrating it well.
But not just Valentines Day. I want to be known for my extravagant love, for making people feel at ease and accepted and noticed. I want to be a constant reminder for everyone in my life that they matter, that they’re noticed and that they’re loved.
What if this Valentines Day we switch our focus from how much we receive, to how much love we can hand out.
Lets be extravagant with our love because we know, personally and especially on Valentines Day, how much it means to receive it.
(One of my favorite moments from Guatemala.)
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God… God is love.”
1 John: 4: 7 & 8b
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