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.
In Spanish 101, Mr. Gonzales brought in the most beautiful pastries. He laid one on each of our desks. Mine was yellow and pink with designs on top, and just begging for me to take a bite. Because I have such a craving for sweets, it was everything I could do to not plunge in.
His words were muffled in the company of anticipation as he explained the history of the sweets, and I poked at the top. The “frosting” was not real frosting at all. It was merely the same as the rest of the dough, but risen and colored. Still. It was beautiful, and it was called “pastry”, and pastries are sweet and good. I couldn’t wait.
He gave the okay and I took my first bite. Closing my eyes in expectation of a flavor explosion, my chewing stopped. Ew. This was not good. This was not good at all. Mouth full, I looked around, hoping for evidence of the same reaction from a fellow student. Seeing none, I thought it must just be me. I swallowed the dry hunk of tasteless bread and lifted the remainder to my eyes to examine the insides through the now bite sized incision.
Looks like a pastry. <sniff> Smells like a pastry. I set it down and poke it with my finger. A little hard, a little off, but for the most part, feels like a pastry.
Something must be wrong with me. Everybody else is eating it.
I take another bite.
This is HORRIBLE. I cannot possibly eat any more.
But I did. I ate the whole thing, hoping it would somehow become sweet nearer the center. Hoping the more I ate, the more it would grow on me. I might “develop a taste” for this hard, tasteless, pretty lump of dough.
But I never did, and it sat in my stomach and made me sick.
Yet every single time I pass by a Mexican Bakery, I look longingly inside at the beautiful display. I take in the deceiving smells, and think… I wish it was as it appeared to be.
But the gift of discernment is of little benefit unless accompanied by the strength of character to act upon it. So I keep walking.
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.”
Our names are Peyton Smith and Anthony Del Secco. We are both seventeen and are currently seniors at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, California. As part of our senior year curriculum, all students dedicate themselves to a community-based service project. Throughout the previous years, multiple students from Cardinal Newman have undertaken service projects through LoveManifest. After witnessing the effects these projects had on our fellow students and learning more about the mission of LoveManifest, we quickly decided that this was meant to be our project.
Through our partnership with LoveManifest, we are fundraising to support a temporary medical camp that will be stationed in Tamil Nadu, India.This camp will serve hundreds of people who live in the surrounding villages, and will offer basic medical care as well as cataract surgeries that can cure those who have gone blind from the sun. We are planning on travelling as a group to India with LoveManifest to work in this camp this upcoming February.
Our goal to fulfill the cost of this camp is $1,000. This will cover all needed supplies to treat more than 1,000 people, and any extra money remaining from these funds will go towards the individual cataract surgeries, which are just $60 a piece.
We are asking for your help in raising this $1,000. LoveManifest is a completely not-for-profit organization, and 100% of all donations sent go towards the designated project. Please help us in raising the money for our medical camp by donating via the link on this page. We need your assistance in order to accomplish this task! Your money will be helping us better lives, as well as spread care and love across the globe.
If you have any specific questions regarding our project, please feel free to contact us through the information below. Thank you for taking the time to consider our cause!