I believe we each have a unique purpose; but If I’m being completely honest, discerning God’s will for my life often feels like trying to put together a 10,000 piece puzzle, without an idea of what the finished picture will look like. And other times, all of the pieces come together and begin to make sense, and I know exactly why I’m here and what my purpose is. Out of 7 billion people in the world, God brought me to this little girl.
When I first met her, she was very shy. Her big brown eyes wondered whether they could trust me. They held haunting memories of things no kid should ever have to see. Those little eyes have seen realities darker and more terrifying than my worst nightmares. They've wept tears of hopelessness, tears of despair.
The first time I got her to crack a smile, with her little nose crinkled, I noticed how many teeth she’s missing. Almost all of her top teeth have rotted away, a painful reminder of the hardship she’s endured in her three and a half years. I picked up a sparkly Hello Kitty toothbrush for her from 7-Eleven, and the first time I showed her how to use it, she had no idea that she was supposed to spit out the toothpaste! Now, this sweet child loves using her toothbrush. She probably asks to brush her teeth about 18 times a day.
As she learned that she can trust me, she started holding my hand and sitting on my lap every chance she got. Every time I walked in the room, she ran to me with open arms yelling “uuuum! uuuum!” begging to be picked up. She clung to me, desperate and helpless and thirsting for love. It’s the same way I run to God in my brokenness, desperate for comfort and a savior.
I learned to love through a million little actions. Love is painting each other’s nails and picking flowers to put in her hair, playing in the rain and letting her color on my Snapchats. It’s singing the ABC’s and Let it Go from Frozen. Love is chopping her apple into teeny tiny bits so she can manage to eat solid food, even with her missing teeth. It’s is holding her tight and soothing her whimpering cries and kissing her on the forehead.
She longs for love, and is so eager to give it. This girl is the most generous three and a half year old I’ve ever met. Without being asked, she shares her food and her few toys with the other kids at the ministry. Her idea of playing is sweeping the floor, cleaning and doing other chores. One of the first mornings I was at our ministry, I walked in to find her chopping garlic with a dull kitchen knife. She was so excited to show me.
She sees beauty in everything. She calls everyone and everything “swy,” (“beautiful.”) We played outside together every afternoon, and one day she picked up a clump of dirt and weeds and showed it to me, pointing at it and saying “Swy! Look how beautiful!”
When she cries, it’s not the cry of a typical three and a half year old. She cries like an adult. She never has temper tantrums or gets upset when she doesn’t get her way. Her cries are soft and whimpering, with silent tears rolling down her face as her tiny little frame trembles.
She is fiercely protective of her big brother. Her brother is a loving, energetic six year old. He has autism, and is gentle natured and full of joy. She almost never leaves his side. When all of the children play together, she makes sure the other kids are treating him nicely. Every time her brother sees a caterpillar (he hates caterpillars) he calls for his little sister to come help, and she runs over and happily scoops it up with a leaf and moves it out of his way.
She loves teaching me Thai by pointing to things in her coloring book and laughing when I totally butcher the pronunciation. And being the smart little thing she is, she started picking up on some basic English phrases as she overheard me saying them. She loves to make silly faces in the mirror. She loves blowing kisses and splashing in puddles after it rains. She loves jumping on the bed and falling asleep in my arms.
She just longs to be loved, and showing her that love is the sweetest gift.
I watched her come to life as I found new ways to show her how loved she is. Her face started to look rounder, the circles under her eyes started to fade, and she started to get more color in her cheeks. I watched as she started to act like a child again, giggling and playing with the other kids instead of standing solemnly by herself.
While she began to come to life physically and emotionally, I could feel myself coming alive spiritually. I was reminded that I’m not made for this world, that nothing on earth could ever satisfy my thirst for the eternal. I found my purpose when I allowed God to break my heart for the suffering of this world. As I walked into dark places, I felt this deep, electrifying strength within me. It was definitely not my own strength, and there is no other explanation except that it was from God.
Living in Thailand and doing the work I was doing wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was deeply fulfilling. Here’s an excerpt from a note I scribbled after visiting the hospital (I had a throat infection because of the smog) at the end of my first week.
“The air was hot and heavy as I sat in the back of a cab on the way home from the hospital. We’re only 5 days into our trip and I feel like I’m suffocating, both physically and mentally. During the whole ride back to our base, I fantasized about going back home. Oh, how I long for the comforts of my own house, for my mom's hug.
Our driver made a sharp u turn and I started to feel dizzy. I was dehydrated, hungry, emotionally drained and helpless in a country where I don't understand anything. My fantasies turned into viable options in my head and I made a mental checklist of things to do when I got back to our base. I would look up flights back to the U.S., and check my bank account and see how I could budget my money to buy and early return ticket.
I was lost in my thoughts when my teammate broke the silence with "You seem to really be getting through to her," referring to one of the kids who lives at our ministry, a little girl who has experienced unimaginable hardship. It took months for anyone to get her to speak when she first moved to our ministry a year ago. For this precious little girl to feel comfortable around me is a huge deal. With just a few words, my teammate reminded me why I am here in the first place, to plant seeds of hope and show hurting people that they are loved.”
There were parts of my trip that were almost unbearably difficult. Almost. But it’s the sweetest gift to be part of these kids’ lives, to support them and show them how loved they are.
To tell this precious girl she’s beautiful and smart. To paint each other’s nails, to sing the ABC’s and play in the dirt together. To hear the sound of her saying my name, “Lra-e-wul” through her toothless smile. To hold her in my arms, her head resting on my chest, and feel her breathing growing heavier as she drifts to sleep.
To play tag with her big brother and tell him I love him, to pick him up and spin him around (even though he is way too heavy to be picked up!) To play dinosaurs with him and give him high five’s and let him sit on my lap while we read.
I’m reminded that Jesus healed people one at a time and connected with humanity on a personal level. I can’t eliminate poverty and rescue every child who needs rescuing. But I can show a three and a half year old girl that she is smart and beautiful and loved. I can walk into dark places and love people deeply, and that is the greatest gift. It’s what I was created to do.
Thanks for stopping by. A little about me — I have a latte each morning and drink about 7 cups of tea a day (not exaggerating.) I live in Atlanta where I'm going to law school. I like long distance running and I love my city and I love exploring our beautiful earth. I believe in following our passions & being free.
I started this blog to document and share my favorite moments while traveling. This is a place where I process my ideas, share the aches and joys of my heart, speak truth, and shine light on the beauty I see in the world.
I've realized that what I probably love most about traveling is the same thing I love about writing — the way it connects me to myself and other people. I hope as you read my words, you feel connected to our shared humanity.
Thank you for reading. :)
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