Lost ID

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How do you identify a Christian?

Is it the cross around their neck, or the one on their back? Who they exclude or who they include? Their love for one another, or their love for the outcast? Their Church attendance or their resemblance to Jesus? The regurgitation of scripture or the living of it? Their tattered Bible or the one they gave away?

How do you identify a Christian?

February’s trip to India stripped me of three of my favorite things.

  1. My small diamond and ruby cross necklace which was really more of a plus sign, but it meant something to me. I lost it on our way to the new church in the hills
  2. My personal note ridden, memory-laden calfskin Bible.
  3. My perception of who I was.

The first two were outward status symbols of who I am… they identified to the rest of the world that I follow Jesus, I mean look, I’m wearing a cross, right? I’ve been in BSF (never mind that I hadn’t been in 3 years) after all, look at my Bible.

I didn’t know that giving it away would make me feel so… new. Not new in “He makes all things new” but “new”…. New Christian new. You don’t know anything new. Put her in a beginner’s class new. Let’s see how long she lasts new.

I also had no idea how much I would love this, and hate this. It is the fight between Spirit and flesh.

Until I heard the crackling sound of new pages being opened on my new Bible and stared at the clean crisp unread pages, I hadn’t realized how reliant I had become on the old highlights. The old notes. The old revelations, and the old ideas.

I felt lost.

But if His Word is alive and active, and I believe it is, I’ve been missing out for awhile. Missing out on hearing His voice fresh in my heart with new paths for Jesus and I to journey together.

20150502_084335_014-1_resizedI’ve read Mark 5 so many times, yet yesterday I was completely overwhelmed by the tenderness of Jesus to the point of tears, and all I could do was sing, and weep, and sing some more. For in it, He turned and he saw me. He healed me. He took my hand. He called me daughter. He called me “little girl”. He called me “beloved”. He called me His.

He called me. Again.

Personally. One on one. Because that’s how Jesus is. He’s personal. He’s relational. He’s tender. He meets me right where I am at any given moment with love and understanding, and he takes my hand and calls me daughter. He tells me I don’t need to be afraid, ever.

It’s a new season. Of learning, of growth, of revelation and the letting go of the old ideas. Even the good ones. Of being new.

Love, Val

a child I love has killed a child I love

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“A boy I love has killed a boy I love”

These are words Father Gregory Boyle used to describe his response to learning of another young man gunned down by a rival gang member. He knew both boys. He loved both boys.

Gang member was secondary. Father Boyle buries boys. He doesn’t bury gang members.

I’ll bet God looks at us like this… not by nation, not by race, not as gang member or terrorist group, religion, denomination, gay, straight, or any other label but the one He gave us. “His children”, and He says the same thing.

A child I love has killed a child I love.

How about when His children hurt one another in His name. Can you imagine? As a mother, I have to make up a scenario using my own children. Feel free to do the same. If my son were to attack my daughter for any reason, and say it was because I told him to, I would be horrified, and extremely grieved at his behavior, and the hurt he caused his sister. This boy I love so much. It would take a lot of work to heal my daughter. To get her to believe again that my love for her is unconditional. Or what if my son were gay and my daughter told him I would never include him in my family until he changed, and worse, if he believed it, I would probably collapse on the floor in despair. After everything I’ve told him. All the love I’ve shown him. For him to believe I wouldn’t love him anymore? For my own daughter to exclude him from our get togethers? Or from my birthday party?

Or if my son decided to become a terrorist. To destroy rather than build. To hate, rather than to love. To kill with his words and his actions. To be the opposite of everything I stand for and believe.

But would I stop loving him? Would I stop waiting for the phone to ring and hear his voice saying, “can I come home?” Would I stop calling him?

Even writing such a thing is too much. I can’t imagine.

Can you? Can you, for one moment, look at ISIS and see a child of God? Could you pray for another woman’s son?

I wonder what would happen if we looked at every one for who they are. If every young girl were our daughter, and every boy our son. Would pornography cease to exist? What injustices would we dismiss as “not our problem”? What bandwagon would we readily and thoughtlessly jump upon?

Who would we kill with our words?

Who would we follow?

Jesus Loves Hindu Children

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This was written in February 2014, and for whatever reason, I didn’t publish it.  Thought I’d like to now, as a little background for i35.

During our second unplanned visit to Rafaelpuram, we were introduced to a priest, Father Michael.

Father Dhana had known Father Michael from seminary 35 years earlier.

As we sat in a circle, Father Michael described the children in the outlying villages or Rafaelpuram.  We had met one of them.  The 14 year old with Cerebral Palsy who cried when I touched her.  There were more than 100 just like her who had no hope, no education center, who, even if asked,  couldn’t even benefit by what we were offering to the “normal” children.

Just when I thought we had been reaching to the furthest depths, the bottom dropped.  These children were below the low.  The least of the least.  The completely forgotten.   The unseen.

Some children were lying on the ground unable to lift their heads.  Some tied to posts for their own safety so mom could cook or clean.   Not from neglect, but because mom needs to get things done for the rest of the family.

My own first reaction was to take these kids and put them in the LoveManifest Home and hire a Special Education teacher.  Rescue.  But from what?  These weren’t orphaned children!  They were loved and cherished children with mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters.  Not once were we asked to take these children away from their families.   Yet my natural reaction was this exactly.

What we were asked was, “who will care for my child when I’m gone?

The cry of every parent of a special child, and the very real answer is, nobody.  Nobody will care for your child the way you do.  Nobody.

Can you imagine?  Me neither.  Yet all of us sitting there were parents, there with our own children, and in some small way could identify with these desperate mothers.

“These mother’s are not looking for you to take their children.  They love their children”, explained Father Michael.

He outlined a vision which included therapies for the children.  Daily living skills.  How to dress and feed themselves, and use a toilet.  Music and dance therapy.  Physical therapy, so if not paralyzed, they might be able to lift their heads, and stand.

To dance.

If capable of learning one letter per week, in 18 months, a child would be able to use a keyboard.  For some, just to be able to move their arm in an up and down motion would be a huge victory, and would allow them dip a wick into wax and be part of a candle making process.  All of these things working toward independence and participation in a life where there seemed to be no hope.

Seemed to be.

As we listened to Father Michael, it was as though the sounds of the outside world were silenced.  Amongst our group were people of a variety of faiths, and stages of belief.   From the sold out to the skeptic.  Yet there we were.  Every one of us.  Together.  Saturated in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know who it was breaking the silence, but whoever it was, I believe it’s why they were there.

“Why isn’t the church backing your program”?

Father Michael’s answer will stay with me as long as I live as a reminder of Who we serve.

“Because they are Hindu children.”

I don’t really know what happened after that, other than to say, it was on.  A fire inside my soul for the discarded children all others had passed by.

Love, Valerie

Taking a Grace Bath

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Do you remember asking Jesus to come into your heart? I totally do. All four times. The first time I was 4 or 5 years old. I did it again about a year later in case He had left without my knowing. Again at around 8, you know, in case He didn’t know I meant it for always. Again at 16 when I bought my first Bible with my name etched in gold, and followed up with rededication and baptism at 18 to sort of seal the deal.

All good things.

For the next 20 years it was much of the same. “Are you still there? How ‘bout now? And now? How about now?”

It made for a very insecure and dysfunctional relationship. I suppose it’s much like the child who tells his mother “please don’t leave me”, and the parent always reassuring the child, “I will never leave you. Ever.” Yet the child repeats the request a short time later. Maybe after the death of a friend’s parent, or a divorce, he checks in again.

“You’ll never leave me, right?”

Never.

It’s really hard to worship that way. You know, when you’re not even sure He’s still in your heart and all. Even when He told you, “I will NEVER leave you”. Maybe someone convinced you He’d moved on. You don’t have enough faith to please Him. Maybe He heard the rumor that you’re totally jacked and decided to hit the bricks. You didn’t memorize enough Bible verses.

Fail.

But I decided I didn’t want to have that kind of relationship with God anymore. It was exhausting. I was tired of wondering if He was still by my side when I screwed up. I was tired of asking Him again and again to come back into my life. I became more and more weighed down by rules and requirements He never put on me. I didn’t want to look at people in categories of “church family” and “the lost” or as “projects” at all. I just wanted to love Jesus and love people. No conditions, and no agendas.

So I turned the tables, changed my mind, and chased Him instead. I went where He is, rather than asking Him to conform to me. I spent a lot of time reading the red letters of the Gospel, and in doing so, took a nice long grace bath.

And ya know what? I changed.

Worship happened when I stopped asking God if He was still living in my heart and realizing He wants me to live in His. It’s the difference between drinking a glass of water and diving into an ocean.

‘Cause I’m a mess. It’s why I need a Mess-iah. Duh.

Love, Valerie

God of the Mess

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As I was listening to my song for this year, “Alabaster” by Rend Collective, I got lost in the experience of Mary. Kneeling before her Master’s feet. Everything she had of worth laid before Him as an offering. Her livelihood contained in that small alabaster bottle of perfume, now broken and emptied on his feet. Mixed with tears and rubbed with her hair she left it all there. It’s all she ever was. Mary Magdalene. Perfume. Tears. Hair. Shame.

Until now.

Mary, unhitched from “Magdalene”, now just “Mary”. Intimate. Friend. Known. Beloved. Daughter. What use is perfume to her now?

At the feet of Jesus, she let go of who she had been to become who she was meant to be. Her whole worth, and worthlessness bottled in a small jar.

She saw Jesus for who He was, and poured her mess before her Messiah.

I thought about my own mess.

What’s in my alabaster jar? What worthlessness do I consider of high value? What’s in yours?

Maybe it’s time to pour it out where it belongs; at the feet of Jesus. Jesus the Messiah. God of the mess.

Love, Valerie

Alabaster by Rend Collective

I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty

I will bow my life
At Your feet
At Your feet
My lips
So lost for words
Will kiss Your feet
Kiss Your feet

Oh the gravity of You
Draws my soul unto its knees
I will never be the same
I am lost and found in You

artwork by: gabydoodles

A New Standard

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I know futility.   The newly discovered meaninglessness, and the regret of a life once good enough, in an instant appears wasted.  But not to anyone else.  To others life looks great.  “What’s your problem?  Snap out of it, man!”

But alone in your room, you’re not able to shake the feeling, “if I can just get back there, I can be happy again”.

I used to think “back there” was India itself.  If I can just get back to India, I can experience once again the feeling of wholeness.  Usefulness.  Worth.  Knowing what I did mattered, and I was doing something significant.

It took a few years for me to realize “back there” was not physically India, because every time I went “back there”, it seemed to work.  I was returned to myself again.  The person I had come to recognize as the true me.

But “back there” wasn’t India at all.  “Back there” was the will of God.   God’s will for me.  Anywhere.

India is where everything else was stripped away, and I stood mentally and spiritually naked, one on One with my Creator, doing what He created me to do with the people I was to do it with.   I was in His will.  Nothing else will ever compare to this discovery.  It became the new standard by which I was to measure everything from then on.  Everything.

Now I see it in almost everyone we take with us.  Kid and adult.  Man and woman.   One who has not had this experience themselves could easily misunderstand it in someone else.  The experience of “my God my God, what have I been doing my whole life?” and later, “now what??

To those we take along with us to India, this is my prayer for you.  This new standard.   May this always be what you hold everything up against.

“This was fun, and might do, but it doesn’t compare with…”

Because guess what?  Nothing will.  Nothing will ever compare to walking in the will of God.  Nothing.  Nothing. Outside of it you will be lead only to frustration and more futility.  Sorry, but you’re ruined.

So when you’re out there, and you’re growing up, being pulled every which way, and it looks like everyone is on the right track but you… remember.  Remember what it was like to walk as Jesus walks, to love as He loves, and remember who you were becoming before you came back and dove into the busyness again.  Remember when He called you out and said “over there… I want you to go over there, and experience My love for you without distraction”.

Because that’s the difference, you guys.  Jesus IS the standard.  He is what you felt, and He is what made you come alive.  Not India.  Not service to the poor.  Anyone can do that.  It’s Jesus.  It’s His love you experienced.  It’s His love that completes you. You were face to face with the REAL Jesus. You saw Him with your own eyes when you looked into the faces of His children, and they smiled back at you. It’s His love that holds the orphan, heals the blind,  and sings and cries with the widows and the lepers.   It’s His love that makes you dance in the streets with people others have turned away from in disgust.  It’s His love that calls out to you and says, “I’ve made you for more than this ordinary life”.  

And when you do remember, come back.  Come back to the One who called you.  Whether you knew it was Him then or not…  you probably suspect it now, because you can’t deny what happened around you, to you, and through you.   Come back.   You’re never too far gone, and He’s never too far away.   Just a blink.  Then pray with me.

“Lord, you called me out once.  Do it again.  My life has no real meaning without You.  Everything pales in comparison to the Love you showed me  “over there”.  Nothing compares to knowing You and Your plans for my life.  Take me and do with me what you have planned since before I was born.  Finish what you started in me.  I want to experience You again.  I want to walk with You.  Take my hand, show me my next move, and place in me the courage to take it, knowing You are by my side.  In Jesus’ name, amen.”

He Sends Us Each Other

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I had a visitor a couple of months ago named Caitlin.  She had been to India just over a year ago, and had been so moved by what she experenced, had been looking for ways to help since her feet his US soil.  Her time spent at one of Mother Teresa’s homes for orphans had a real impact on her.  To put it mildly, she fell in  love.

She came back home and had a fundraising dinner at a local Indian restaurant, pleading with people she knew to give to these children she had met face to face.  They did, and she sent it on.  But she wasn’t done.

She came to me wide open, and with a full willingness to do “whatever you need me to do”.  She didn’t want to go back to India right now… that’s not driving her.  She didn’t want recognition… she doesn’t know and may never know I’m writing this… that’s not driving her either.

Love drives her.

During my recent grant writing class, I decided to take her along with me through the process.  It hasn’t included much yet, but I send her things from time to time and ask her to do research.  We went together to the Regional Research Library, (consisting of two old terminals in our local public library) and together we looked for funders who share our mission.

I’m not teaching her anything, because I don’t know anything, but we are learning together.

Sometimes we pray and God sends us each other.

Oh, and did I mention?  Caitlin is 15.

Love, Val

Valerie and Caitlin at the Sonoma County Human Race 2014

Valerie and Caitlin at the Sonoma County Human Race 2014

A Father’s Heart

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My friend and I were discussing a commonly cited verse yesterday.  I love her honesty.  She said, “I just can’t get my brain to understand what he (Jesus) means.  I’m having a hard time picturing Jesus as the prisoner, or naked”.  If you knew her, you would smile too.  But it got me thinking in a new way.  New for me, anyway.

Do you have children?  If you do, you’ll understand  immediately when I say, “when they hurt, I hurt”, or “I would take their pain if I could”.

When my son was young and came home from school disheartened after the more athletic boys wouldn’t allow him to play soccer with them, I felt his pain of exclusion.  I wanted to call those other parents on the spot and go off!  He’s my precious child and I love him more than anything.  Exclude him, exclude me.  Hurt him, hurt me.

Imagine your daughter is in prison.  Someone you do not even know goes to her and encourages her.  Maybe after meeting with this stranger who has overcome the same obstacles, she has hope for the first time.  Do you not receive the same hope?

Your son who is mentally ill, sleeping on the streets of LA, are you not tormented?  If someone comes and offers shelter, food, and resources for his illness, are you not relieved?  Do you not sleep better at night knowing he is cared for?  If someone were to walk by and sneer, did they not just sneer at you, too?

So maybe that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says “as you did to the least of these, you did it to me”.   This is the heart of a parent for a beloved child.

This is the heart of our Father.

As we prepare to care for, educate and rehabilitate 35 special needs children, we ask for your prayers.  We ask for your hearts, and we ask for your consideration in supporting the Isaiah 35 Project by pressing the donate button above.   The parent’s have lost hope.  Together we can bring it.

Love, Val

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue will shout for joy.  Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs in the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. – Isaiah 35: 5-6

Guest Blog – Anthony Del Secco age 17

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This is a guest blog post by Anthony Del Secco.  Anthony is one of the Cardinal Newman High School students who visited India with us in February 2014 to witness the outcome of his Community Based Service Learning Project (known elsewhere as a Senior Service Project).  I’ll let him tell you the rest.  🙂  Love, Val

Dear Readers,

My name is Anthony and if you didn’t already know I traveled to India this February to work in a medical camp that was fundraised by my partner, Peyton Smith, and I, as well as help dedicate wells, donate goats and cows to villages in need, and play with school children who truly have nothing. The trip was enlightening – I will never be the same.

I want to tell you a little about India. First of all, it’s hot. Like all the time. It’s hot in the morning, in the afternoon, at night, when it’s cloudy, when it’s raining, even when it’s snowing I’m sure it’s still hot. The food: absolutely incredible. Lots of chicken, since cows are sacred.  Rice is another specialty. Apparently we “white folk” find toast to be a delicacy, since everywhere we turn they ask if we want toast. The answer is yes, I do want some toast, because the toast is awesome in India. Oh, and everything is spicy. Even things that are supposed to be sweet are spicy. Donuts have chili peppers in them; pancakes have onions and garlic. Breakfast is spicy, lunch is spicier, dinner is spiciest, and then there’s ice cream! Overall, I rate the food a solid 10 out of 10, no matter how messy it was to eat soup with my hands.

Next is the wildlife. It’s everywhere. You look to the left and you see wild dogs running rampant, you look right and see a family of wild boars munching on some trash. Animals are everywhere, and when you aren’t in the city/villages looking cows in the eye or holding baby goats, you can spot wild monkeys swinging through the treetops at the nearby waterfall (which was epic by the way). If you’re lucky you might even get to see an elephant, or two like we did. Oh, and the bugs… well, those are everywhere too. Everywhere you turn there are mosquitos and in the bathrooms there are spiders the size of your fist. Don’t go in the bathrooms.

In India you’re a bad driver if you don’t constantly cut people off or don’t use your horn for fun.

The weather is great, the food is delicious, the animals are friendly, the water is warm (except for in the showers. That water is really, really, very extra cold just for your pleasure), and the people are the best.

On a more personal level, this trip has been the best gift I have ever asked for, because it truly is a gift. It’s a gift from everyone who heard my story and helped me get there, and so for that I thank each and every one of you. You are the reason that I could experience such an amazing culture and meet so many amazing people. I am blessed to have even been able to have the chance to go to India, and I am even luckier that I actually got to go. I do believe in fate, and I do believe it was my destiny to find such an amazing group of people to guide me through a long but rewarding process. Thank you Valerie and Vivek for being a light in a very dark room. Thank you Kathy. Thank you Peyton – I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. Thank you Kai and Bella. Thank you Owen and Teanna and Carrie and Nobby. I am so glad I could share this experience with all of you. I look forward to another chance at going in July, just four short months from now. I want to go back more than anything.

We live in a society that is so unhappy with what we have when we already have so much. We have shoes on our feet. We have warm showers and a bed. We have food when we are hungry and water when we are thirsty. We have all this and more, yet we are still so unhappy. Don’t take anything for granted, because you have no idea how lucky you actually are. Smile. Be thankful for what you have. But most of all, love. Love your friends, your family, and your neighbors. Love your coworkers and your teachers. Love your past, love your present, your home and your country, your enemies, and your heroes. Love the roof over your head and the shoes on your feet. Life may seem hard at times, but even in darkness, light shines. Even in despair there is hope. Love knows no boundaries, and its power is limitless.

So love. Just love.

Forever Grateful,

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Anthony Del Secco

the cool factor

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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.

 

 

Anthony Del Secco

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.

Love, Valerie

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