India Chronicles: A Different Hospitality

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “hospitable”as:

a : given to generous and cordial reception of guests b : promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcome c : offering a pleasant or sustaining environment

I’ve always thought I was a pretty hospitable person. I think I got it from my momma. We both have always enjoyed the hard work and planning of hosting large groups of people for dinner, our house busting at the seams with people laughing, eating, and enjoying each other.

But while in India I experienced something much more than that. The pastor who we stayed with mentioned that some families from his church wanted to have us over to their homes for a meal. Very cool. I thought: real Indian cuisine cooked by our very own Indian brothers and sisters and shared with them over their very own tables.

It went a little something like that.

When we arrived at the first home we visited, as soon as we got out of the vehicle I could tell that this family was of modest means. Now, they were living in a first-floor home right in the city, and it appeared to be fairly nice, albeit quite small. I later learned that being on the 3rd level of a building was preferable to the 1st floor because of all the dust and noise that you avoid. Good to know. This family brought tables into their living room to create one large dining space where we sat while they brought out platter after platter of delicious food for us to enjoy. Now, when I host people over for dinner, I always get everything ready for the guests before I start eating along with them. You’re the host, so you want your invited guests to be perfectly comfortable and cared for before you bother tending to anything for yourself, right? I noticed these folks doing the same thing, and I kept waiting for them to sit around the table with us and share the meal. They never did. In fact, they stood by the table while we ate, watching for any moment that they could slip in and refill a drink or put more (and more!) rich Indian food on our plates. They were more than happy to stand by and watch the smiles on our faces and laugh along with our conversation and see us groan and clutch our stomachs, declaring that we were too full to eat another bite…right before they brought out dessert.

It all felt supremely odd to me…to be served in such a way. They were perfectly content to smell the aroma of the dinner, and to watch us enjoy it, without themselves enjoying the flavors. I learned later that Indian culture dictates that guests enjoy the meal and the host family serves their needs, then eats their portion after they are gone. SO weird (for us Americans anyway.) Later I found out that this family had apparently hired a chef to cook this meal for us! They wanted it to be the best, so they outsourced the cooking! They had even borrowed fancy platters and cups from neighbors so they could serve us on beautiful tableware. Wow. Friday night I had a bunch of folks over and I asked my sister to bring some paper plates so I wouldn’t have to do more dishes. Nice, right?

Yet another night we went to dinner at a different family’s home. It was just a husband, wife, and their daughter who appeared to be around 20 years old. That particular night, our pastor had become very stomach-ill and was not able to attend this dinner with us. So off we went…me, my husband, and 7 other ladies, so these folks’ house. Now, although they were happy to have all of us come for dinner, I am sure it was a huge disappointment that our pastor and his wife were not able to come. They’d been expecting him. And being a pastor in India is nothing like being one here in the US. Many people don’t see being a pastor as all that big of a deal here in our country, perhaps because Christian pastors are a dime a dozen. But in India, where less than 2% of the people are even Christians, when the pastor comes over, it is a BIG deal. He is revered and treated with the utmost respect. They treat their own pastor that way, and to have the opportunity for a pastor from America to come into your home, well… that’s a big honkin’ deal. So you can imagine what I mean when I say the family was disappointed that he couldn’t make it. They handled the news with such grace, though…they still cared for all of us very sweetly while we were there. When we were about to leave, they brought out a painting and asked if we could take it to our pastor. They had purchased it for him and his wife as a gift. So incredibly amazing. (Now he was gonna really, really feel bad that he was too sick to make it!) As we were thanking them for the gift on his behalf and saying our goodbyes, Pastor Stephen, (the Indian pastor whom we were staying with) turns to me in typical Indian fashion and says “tell her to sing song” while pointing at one of our traveling companions, Leann. Um, excuse me??

Now Leann was one of the youngest of our crowd, and generally a very shy and quiet-demeanored young lady, but she literally has the singing voice of an angel. We had been given the chance to hear her sing The Doxology just days before inside the prayer tower on the property where we stayed. I remember standing there perfectly still in awe of her voice, as it echoed all the way up to heaven through the top of that prayer tower. We were blown away. Pastor Stephen remembered this, and I am not sure if it was because these people had just given a gift to us to accept on our pastor’s behalf, or just because he was just plum crazy, but when he pointed to Leann and said “tell her to sing song” I half-protested with “um…right now??” but he had already turned away and was talking to the family again. I awkwardly motioned to Leann and tried to quietly convey the request, which of course we both knew wasn’t really a request at all. But there was no time… Pastor Stephen was already turned to Leann and was announcing “And now she will sing song!” Everyone in the room (who was American) was shocked and waited without breathing to see what would happen. Everyone in the room who happened to be of Indian descent seemed rather pleased with this announcement. So, sang she did.

Right there in the middle of this living room, after we’d eaten rich, fried, spicy food for nearly 3 hours, after we’d talked and talked until we were exhausted from talking anymore, a family we had just met that night was now staring intently at this shy young lady, who was singing The Doxology in the most beautiful voice any of us had ever heard. At the end, all of us had tears in our eyes, and they applauded. I have a feeling that was a pretty darn good gift to leave with our hosts. Maybe Pastor Stephen wasn’t plum crazy after all. 🙂

The last family we visited was the home of man named Prenab who is on staff with the ministry. He runs the grounds where we stayed, and he was hosting us for a breakfast, along with his wife and parents. He and his wife had a daughter who was 7 and a 2 month old baby girl as well. We hiked up to their 3rd floor home and sat as we realized that someone had told them the wrong arrival time for our group. They weren’t expecting us for another hour. I could tell they were trying to be polite as they scrambled to accommodate us. We assured them it was no problem, we were in no hurry whatsoever. Prenab’s father came out to talk with us while everyone else prepared the meal. I’ve never been more thankful to have a bunch of “down time” at someone’s house. This 84 year old man had been a pastor most of his life, but he related his story of being a young man from a Hindu family. When he was young his mother began attending a Christian church and learning about Jesus. Because of this, her husband began refusing to allow her to eat. He was trying to starve her to death because she was converting to Christianity. Some time after that, he began sneaking off to attend church with his mother, and when his father found out, he would no longer let either of them eat any food at their home. After this had gone on for a while, his father became so furious that they were going to church, he came home day, stood about 12 feet from his own son, and shot him in the chest 3 times with a shotgun. Amazingly Prenab’s father lived. I cannot see any possible way that he didn’t die except for the fact that it was a miracle. There’s just no way a person could live through being blown straight through the chest like that. And the kicker?? Prenab’s father hadn’t even converted to Christianity yet when that all happened. It wasn’t until about a year after the shooting that he devoted his life to Jesus! This man has been a pastor ever since, regularly walking many miles to remote villages to share the gospel with people who have never heard of Jesus, and who face just as much danger as he did just for becoming acquainted with the Savior.

But he wasn’t even finished yet. As we sat there, stunned after what we thought was just going to be some pre-breakfast small-talk, this elderly man asked in very broken English if he could pray for us.


You want to pray for us?

Like we would refuse! He stood over us and prayed boldly in a language I had never heard of, and I felt more power come over me than I’ve ever felt in my life. I was weeping from the moment he began until he finished by saying”amen, amen, amen, hallelujah.”

Now that’s a gift.

After visiting all of these families, the thing that affected me the most was realizing that as much as we’d been preparing for months to take this trip and to visit these unknown friends, they’d been spending as much time and energy preparing for us to arrive. They’d been praying for safe travel for us for many months. They’d been saving up money and borrowing dishes and hiring people to help with the big day when we would finally step foot into their homes. Very humbling. And in all of it, they’d considered it an honor to serve us in their homes.

These visits made me think about hospitality in a whole new way. How much effort do I really put into preparing for someone’s visit to my home? Am I praying for their safety as they travel there? Do I treat them as well as or better than my own family?? Do they feel blessed when they leave my home, as I did when I left the homes of my Indian brothers and sisters? I don’t even think that the elaborate food and lovely dishes had much to do with the hospitality I felt. I think it had much more to do with the spirit of love I felt from these beautiful people who I’d never met and may never even see again. These people whom I likely can never really repay for their hospitality. These people who poured welcome over us. I am forever grateful to them for redefining my ideas of what it means to be hospitable, and what it means to live a life of faith & love.


India Chronicles: 15 Starfish

Who knew there were starfish in India?

The light of my life this past month has undoubtedly been 15 beautiful little girls in India. A few years back, our church partnered with a local ministry based in India to build a children’s home for abandoned girls. There, females are not valued as much as males, so there tends to be a high population of homeless and abandoned females. Some of the girls now living at the children’s home came from physically abusive backgrounds and wear their scars blatantly on their faces. Some of them were abandoned by their families who couldn’t afford to care for all of their children and their scars are a bit more covert. Some were even going to be killed at birth or sold to a brothel, but their parents were convinced to allow their daughter to be cared for at the children’s home instead. No matter what their background, these girls would have led unimaginably horrid lives, if they’d even survived at all. But because regular everyday people cared enough to invest in them, I saw with my own eyes how these girls are now growing into the lovely young ladies God has created them to be.

The children’s home is situated on a lush, calm, quiet, and secure property where the girls can be free to run and play without fear of harm. It is so peaceful there that I frequently would lose track of time, just enjoying the fresh air and the sunlight. But beyond the borders of that property,  nothing could describe the environment better than the word chaos. Dirt, fumes, trash, human waste, noise, and constant commotion characterize the streets of the city, and that’s the pretty decent, middle-class part of town. In this part of town, we saw many people regularly urinating and allowing their children to defecate on the side of the road, in plain view of all the cars crammed into rush-hour traffic. We passed by a huge trash heap where a mangy dog, a scrawny cow, an elderly man, and a young child around 4 years old were all side by side digging through it. I assume they were looking for something to eat, although it’s possible  they could have simply been passing the time. Either way…what kind of life are they living, that small children and old men have been brought down to the level of scroungy animals wandering in the street?

When I think of that stark contrast, I really get a picture of the world the girls could have lived in, and I’m so thankful for the healthy upbringing they will now enjoy. What an incredible difference. I am humbled to be a very small part of that difference, and when I think of how little it really costs me, not only in actual money but in time and energy, it’s truly nothing at all. For less than the amount that Todd and I will spend when we go out to dinner with friends, or the amount I would spend on a new pair of shoes, each month I can help provide a safe home, medical care, a private education, and a loving environment to a little girl whose family could not take care of her. And best of all, this little girl will someday know that her life was changed, not because of me, but because of Jesus. I am devoting my life to following Him and He says that if I so much as give a cup of water to these little ones who need love & care, I am doing the same to Him.

I know there are thousands of children out there who may not get the same opportunities as these girls, other children who I will never have the opportunity to help. My world is small and my resources are limited. And that breaks my heart. But if every one of us looked out into our world and fixed our eyes on just one face…one child or one homeless person or one mentally disabled neighbor or one lonely widow or one depressed teenager or one man who just lost a job or one woman who society has given up on…if we just focused on extending the love and mercy that Jesus has extended to us…if we just decided to make some tiny sacrifice for the sake of that one… then we could all make a big, big difference.

The 15 beautiful girls there at the children’s home reminded me of a little modern parable that has been circulating in many forms over the past several years. It goes a little something like this:

One morning an elderly man was walking on a nearly deserted beach. He came upon a boy surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish that had washed up onto the beach at high tide. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the ocean.

Puzzled, the older man looked at the young boy and asked, “Little boy, what are you doing?”

The youth responded without looking up, “I’m trying to save these starfish, sir.”

The old man chuckled aloud, and queried, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you possibly make?”

Holding a starfish in his hand, the boy turned to the man and, gently tossing the starfish into the water, said, “It made a difference to that one!”

Whether you are tired of hearing that little story or not, I pray that none of us ever get tired of hearing the message it conveys. I pray that I never get tired of hearing that message. I pray that we all find our starfish, and let Jesus show us exactly how to throw it back into the ocean.

India Chronicles: Pre-apology

I suppose I’ve made you good people wait long enough for the story of India. I have sat down to write about it many times but have just been too distracted or too grumpy or too something-or-other to get it all out.  I wasn’t really sure what was keeping me from telling the details of what I experienced while I was there. But one of my fellow India team members said something the other day that made me realize that I’m having a hard time not taking my feelings on everyone around me. You know, all of the fine folks who are interested in hearing about the trip, but who aren’t able to feel exactly the same things I’m feeling. All my friends and family who really want to see the pictures but who can’t really grasp the whole view, through no fault of their own. Today I spoke with a lady at church who has been on several mission trips internationally and she said that when people ask how your trip was, they don’t really want to know the whole story. All they really want to hear is a couple of highlights, so just think of a couple of things you want to say, and give them that. Well, I am a girl of many words (probably an understatement) so that is really difficult for me to do. And I’m not entirely sure that people don’t want to hear the whole story, but I am pretty sure they don’t want me to expect them to understand the full-on impact and feel the magnitude of the thing the same way I do. I’m pretty darn sure no one wants that heavy load being dumped on them by someone who is still wide-eyed from being in the middle of the stuff. So please forgive me if I’ve already done that to you. I truly didn’t mean to in any way make you feel overwhelmed or depressed or bewildered or bummed or guilty or burdened in a bad way.

I do want to share the details of what I saw and felt. I do want your heart to ache for the children and broken people there, but I can’t expect you to feel exactly the same as I do and then be all salty when you go out and buy another new X-Box instead of sponsoring a child to get them off the street.


No, seriously…I can’t. And I won’t. Well, I’ll try not to. Or at least I promise that I’ll commit to trying to rip the plank out of my own eye before going after that little speck I think I may have seen in yours. So with that disclaimer in place, I’ll try to tell you the story of India in bite-sized chunks, and hope you don’t hate me a little bit later. Deal?

Okay then.

Choosing Enough

I had to stop at the grocery store today to pick up a few things since we’ve been away from the house for over a week and there aren’t many staples available in our kitchen. I stood in the bread aisle bombarded with hundreds of choices. Thousands of slices of bread stared me in the face. White. Wheat. Low carb. Whole grain. Honey oat. Rye. Whole wheat white. 90 calories per slice. Homestyle. Cinnamon swirl. Bread, bread, bread…so many choices of brand and type and taste.

Why? Why should I have SO many choices for something as simple as bread??

Of course it’s nice to have choices, but I just returned from a place where the people had so very few choices. Not just when it comes to bread, either. Many things in their life aren’t really a choice at all. I met people who live in a leper colony and do not even have leprosy or any other disease. They live there because their parents live there. They were born of a leper, which may as well make them a leper too, for all that it matters in their society. They are the untouchables. Societal outcasts who do not get to choose their place in life. They can choose to leave the colony, sure, but their status in society makes them outcasts nonetheless. They couldn’t choose a career path or an education or a person to marry outside of those walls. The only thing I can think of that they could do would be to get out of there, run away to a developed country, and never tell anyone where they came from. But by what means would they be able to do such a thing? They have no money. They have no job. They have no possessions to trade for a ride outta that place. They simply survive until it’s their time to die. They don’t really have viable choices otherwise.

So…it makes me wonder why I get to have all these choices about everything under the sun while others elsewhere have little choice about anything at all. I am not posing a question of destiny, but rather a question of enough.

How is it that I should have plenty while others have nothing? Wouldn’t it be better for us all to just have enough? Wouldn’t it be possible for everyone to have enough?

I truly believe that there are enough basic resources (food, clean water, shelter, clothing) for everyone on this planet to have enough to survive and even thrive. I just think that there are some of us (ME) who have grown accustomed to a lifestyle that allows us to have more than enough. I am not necessarily saying that having more than enough is an evil, terrible thing. Not at all. But I’m starting to think that having more than enough while my brothers and sisters around the globe and right next door have very little or even nothing is not something that will allow me to sleep well at night. Why should I have MORE than enough when there is another human being on this planet who doesn’t even have enough to live on?

So, you’re a socialist, then? Not at all. I am not proposing that we draw a line in the air, and whoever has something above that line will have it taken from them and redistributed to those whose stuff doesn’t reach up to that line. No way. I don’t think that people who have worked hard to make a living ought to be robbed from any more than anyone else should. (Did you hear me, congress??) I do think that the way this business gets fixed is the same way everything gets fixed…by changing one person’s heart at a time. You see, if all of us truly looked at those around us as our brother or our sister, our child or our mother, then our hearts would be different toward them. We would want to examine our situation and resources and try to figure out how we could best use them to help someone else have access to a life that includes consistent safety, health, and dignity. (Sounds a little like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….hmmm) The same kind of life that we enjoy.

Since we returned from India, we’ve barely spoken about the experience. The things we have talked about have been very surface…the funny anecdotes and things we saw.  My heart is wrenching after seeing and hearing and feeling the things we did. We just haven’t processed it all quite yet. I looked into faces of people who have lost their hope because they have no choices. Their hearts are sick because they cannot see another way. In the face of things so overwhelming, I found myself wishing for just a second that I didn’t care. I wished that I had never seen any of it, or that I might forget what I saw. Because sometimes, the problems just seem so huge that it seems like nothing will ever solve them. And how do you give hope to someone with so few choices anyway? But that wish didn’t last very long. The more I thought about it, there was one choice that I decided I was glad to have. You see, I decided that I can choose to have a little less than I could. I could choose to cut back in a few areas and still be able to have enough for myself, and give someone else the opportunity to have enough as well. I like this plan way better than having plenty while my brother or sister sits by with nothing. I can give up my plenty, still have enough, and make sure someone else has enough too. No one will take from me what I have…I will freely give it.

If I break it down and look at the numbers, the truth is that it really won’t even cost me very much. If I freely give up one Starbucks coffee, one trip to the movie theater, a new pair of sunglasses, dinner out once a month, and new lipstick colors for the spring, I’ve already made room for one more girl at the children’s home where I visited to have a life of enough. In doing so, I’m really not restricting myself or limiting myself…I’m freeing myself to share my plenty in order to give someone else enough. That’s one choice I’m thankful to have and honored to make.


Life, death, and in between

Today is the day. I am finishing a pedicure and Todd is making his famous pancakes for breakfast. We’ve had this trip planned for more than 6 months, and now here we are…getting ready to leave for India. It still doesn’t even seem real somehow, even though our bags are packed and we’re getting picked up in a couple of hours, I’m still asking myself…are we really doing this?

About a month ago, our pastor sent us a list of scriptures. With his experience visiting India many times and the objectives of the trip, he suggested they may be good ones to meditate on before we leave. I looked them over and recognized many of them as familiar text, so I decided to go online and print them off in a couple of different translations in the hopes that I could get a fresh perspective on the message the words carried.

I had read the verses that follow a million times from Matthew 8 and was always surprised by the harshness of them. Different people who were wannabe followers of Jesus were coming up to him and proclaiming their loyalty. Immediately he questioned their commitment.

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Jesus, what’s up with that second dude? I can see you rebuking the teacher of the law because he was used to staying in fancy joints and you knew he couldn’t handle the way you roll. But that second guy just wanted to lay his parent to rest. Wasn’t that a little much? But then I read the same words in the Message translation, and it stood out to me like a bright light among all the other verses that had been recommended.

When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

20Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

21Another follower said, “Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father’s funeral to take care of.”

22Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”

Wow. That last section kicked me in the stomach for some reason, although I wouldn’t know for a long time what it might really mean to me. First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. That’s Jesus talking…and you don’t really ignore Him.

So I started thinking what that could mean for me in my everyday life. What does life and death look like when you’re not necessarily dealing in matters of life-and-death? I started thinking in terms of death-by-a-thousand-cuts over a lifetime. Like how you can look at a middle-aged person who is broken and messed up and hates the world and has zero joy, and you just know that a million little things have happened to them over the long period of their life to make them that way. I started looking at my students, just 7 and 8 years old, who already have scars from some of their thousand cuts. I started thinking…that’s how I bring life instead of death…I try not to be one of those cuts. So I really began paying attention to how I was speaking to them and to others…thinking…is what I’m saying right now bringing life or bringing a little bit of death? You know just what I mean…the way you say something can bring death. Like when you give a backhanded compliment. Death. Or when you say something in a certain way only because you know it will force someone to have to give you a pathetic compliment. Death. When someone is talking to you but you’re not really listening..and for one split second they notice your eyes glazing over. You just made them feel unimportant. Death. Or when you walk by someone and you could look them in the eye, smile, and say hello. But you choose not to. Death.

So not knowing at all what else those verses would mean, I simply went along trying to be about the business of life, not death. Pursuing Jesus and the things He represents are pure life. Anything else is death. Not bad, right?

Then a few weeks ago my son overdosed on a combination of drugs. He was in the hospital for nearly 2 weeks. No one knew if he would recover or if he would be normal again after he did. Arguments ensued over the outcome of his care. Lies were told. Commitments were broken. False accusations flew. Death, death, death. Every little thing started to go awry in our world, from the big and important to the smallest detail. Confusion, dissension, anger, brokenness. Death, death, death.

Then, death really came along. On December 22nd I got a call that my mom was being taken to the hospital after collapsing at home. I was on my way there to be with her and figure out what was happening when I got the second call that her heart had stopped and she was gone. GONE. Death.

Your business is life, not death.

It was my momma’s 76th birthday, and she died suddenly. A few days before Christmas, a few days before we were to leave for India. How would we get all the arrangements made before I had to leave the country? Would I actually miss my own mom’s funeral? Or should I try to rearrange my trip to stay here?? None of the options seemed good. Death. Right in the midst of planning her funeral, we found out that Todd’s mom was also now in the hospital and may need surgery. No, Lord, not more death…please.

It took me a day or so to get it, but eventually I could really see what Jesus meant by saying that my business was life, not death. Even in the middle of everything going on around me, including a thousand other things I haven’t even mentioned, I was still somehow concentrating on trying to bring life to the thing. And it definitely wasn’t because of my well-grounded abilities… God was keeping my focus for me. How else does someone’s family go through so much in such a short period of time and still come out halfway sane? Life. Prayers were answered (and continue to be) in ways I never would have imagined before. Life. Every little detail of my mom’s funeral was taken care of with relative ease, all in time for us to hold the service yesterday… Before we were to leave for India today. We put her to rest in a funny and perfect way that matches her personality. Thank you, God. I prayed for healing of my ear, which the doctor told me held so much fluid that it would likely burst if I flew. It has improved dramatically and I am no longer congested, but breathing normally. Life. My son has recovered and not only is out of the hospital, but he asked to come home and stay with us…. Words we’ve hoped to hear for a long, long time. Life. He has given his life to Jesus, and I’m already seeing the new creation God is making him in to. Life!! There is peace in our home and all around us even with some things still up in the air. There is peace all around us. Life, life, life.

I can’t wait to look into the beautiful brown faces of the little girls at the children’s home in India, and smile and show them life. I cant wait to hug the 300+ lovely people who live at the leper colony, praying they can understand that they, too are made in the image of God. I can’t wait to pray for healing and rest and peace for our friends and soon-to-be-friends on the other side of this world we share. And with all I hope we’ll accomplish there, I have a feeling that I will receive much, much more life than I could ever possibly dream of giving out.

“First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” -Jesus.