I don’t know her name.
Our language barrier was 99.9% impenetrable – our mutual understanding beginning and ending with the word “bye”.
I don’t know where she was from.
But she was definitely not from the city. The other girls wore simple clothes, but they were bright and clean and relatively new. On the last day they even wore taffeta dresses with puff sleeves to celebrate a week well spent.
But not this girl. Her clothes, too, were clean, but the type of clean fought for in a place where the outdoors are where you spend most of your time and a washing machine is made up of two hands and some soap.
Her skin was dark, browned by a lifetime in the sun. She was there with her grandmother – or maybe it was her mother? I couldn’t tell if the deep wrinkles on the woman’s sun-kissed face were a result of age or of a labor-intensive life lived in the fields. Whoever she was – mother or grandmother or guardian or aunt – she stood out in her traditional clothes and headscarf. It looked like she was carrying her whole life on her person, and that life wasn’t much. She had rough, work-worn hands and a smile ever ready. She’d grab my arm with her wiry, strong arms and try to tell me something, but as deep as my language barrier went with her little girl, it was even more immovable with this woman. All I could do was smile and nod, smile and nod and offer a hand on her shoulder.
No, I don’t know this little girl’s name. I may never know. But she captured my heart.
I don’t know how or why, but every time I go overseas, I end up with every child within a 30-foot radius sitting in my lap, climbing on my back, playing with my hair, making faces at me (I always make faces back). I have never considered myself to be good with kids. When I entered teenage-hood, I firmly decided that, no, babysitting would absolutely not be how I would choose to make money. Anything else. But not kids.
It’s not that I didn’t like kids – I did! I just felt this deep inability to understand how they functioned and I didn’t know how to get on their level. It didn’t come naturally to me. From my first (and last) babysitting gig on, I felt like I did not have the creativity to entertain anyone under the age of 15. I still feel this way most of the time. I have kids of my own now and they have taught me so much about being a kid again, but still, it does not come naturally to me (thank God for patient and creative children)!
But then I go overseas. And the kids find me. I’m like a magnet for them. And – here’s the biggest surprise of all – I love it so much.
5 years ago in Cambodia I couldn’t WAIT to wake up every morning, because I knew that I’d be spending hours and hours with children and that I’d end the day completely exhausted and smelling like kid grime and sweat.
Kid grime and sweat. This is my favorite smell in the whole world. Offer me Chanel no. 5 or this, and I will always, ALWAYS, choose “eau de child”.
When I got home from Cambodia 5 years ago, I ached, literally ached, to be back there with those kids climbing all over me and laughing with me. I longed to have a 4-year-old, lice-ridden hair and all, sitting on my lap as I sang her a song or tickled her until both of our sides ached with laughing.
Looking at pictures from that trip, a pastor friend of mine said to me, “Wow, you look so happy. You are glowing. I think you should consider that maybe you were made for this.”
Even now as I begin to process all that happened in Nepal, those words from 5 years ago bring me to tears…consider that maybe you were made for this.
Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart.” (NIV)
If life reflects heart, and the aliveness of my heart is never more fully realized than when I’m with these children, even to the point that that is what is reflected in the glowing smile on my face…maybe, just maybe, my pastor friend was right. Shouldn’t I consider that maybe I was made for this?
This little girl. I don’t know her name. At first, she was afraid to come over to me. I realized after some time that it wasn’t because of me and it wasn’t even because she was shy…it was actually because of the other little girls. They weren’t being mean to her. They weren’t purposefully leaving her out. But you could just tell there was a societal gap between them and her that they were having a hard time bridging. This girl with the smiling but rough-around-the-edges mother (grandmother?) was what these city girls would likely consider to be “socially awkward”.
But she found her moment to come to me. All the other girls had gone away to play some games. We in the auditorium had just entered a very serious moment in our conference. The other speakers and I were being called upon to lay hands on and pray for the women in attendance. As our Nepali interpreter was explaining how the prayer time was going to work, I sat on the edge of the stage preparing my heart to pour out over these women’s lives.
As I sat there, the beautiful, bright-eyed village girl…she found me. This was such a “serious” moment, but she could see I was alone – no other kids climbing on me. She wove through the women standing in preparation for prayer and walked right up to me and put her hands out, but not to be held. Nope. I had a flashback to first grade when I’d sit on the sidewalk with other girls my age and play clapping games.
She was holding her hands out for a clapping game.
Right there in the reverent silence before prayer.
I smiled. And I reached my hands out, too. And we clapped. She laughed this belly-deep laugh in the middle of the silent women and slapped my hands, hard, clearly winning a game I didn’t know the rules to.
She didn’t know the rules of my game either, the game of “ministry”, of setting up the right atmosphere for a specific spiritual moment to take place. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care because all I could hear in my mind and echoing down into my heart, over and over and over, was this:
“Let the children come to Me.”
Is this how Jesus felt? That day when He was in the throes of ministry and the parents brought their kids to Jesus? Is this why the other grown-ups were so mad? Was it because the kids didn’t know protocol and thought the time right before prayer might be a good time to sit in front of Jesus, reach out their hands, and yell, “One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!”?
Well, if it is, then I get it. I get it now. I understand his rebuke. This is where love begins for a child – they see that they are valued, that they are cherished in all of their innocence and childlikeness and silliness. They start to understand Christ when they see that even someone as little as them is worth changing up ministry for because the things on their hearts matter…even if those things are as small as a clapping game, silly faces, Simon says, or a thumb war.
We did still have our time of prayer when the clapping game was over. I didn’t lay hands on the women, though…I only laid hand…one hand, because the other one was ensconced in the tiny but strong grip of this little girl. She walked with me from person to person. I’d lay my left hand on a shoulder, a head, a back, and I would pray. Meanwhile, my right hand remained gripped between her two. She saw me pray and she saw me love her at the same time.
Oh God, I thought to myself, Let this moment stay with her for a lifetime.
For the next two days we were inseparable. No matter what I was doing, my girl would find me. She’d sit on my lap, hold my hand, play games with me. It didn’t matter if there was a conference session happening, or if I was walking around getting to know the women during break times. My little girl made an appearance in 75% of my pictures with other women. She’d claimed her place at my side and knew that she was ok there, that she belonged there. No questions asked. Because I had let her come.
She claimed her place in my heart, too.
That last day of the conference, I dreaded the moment I knew was coming. All morning she was with me. I sat on the floor with all of the girls – she wasn’t afraid of them anymore because she had me – and we played quiet games while the closing speakers finished out the day.
I hugged a hundred women, and wiped my tears of being parted from all of the beautiful souls I had come to love over these few days. My little girl stayed by my side.
I ate my lunch and played more clapping games. Then our team was gathered. It was time to go. My girl grabbed my hand…we both knew what was coming. I bent down and cupped her beautiful face in my hands. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Have an amazing life, sweet girl.”
Then I stood up, and we released hands. With the language of the heart being understood 100%, we parted ways with the 0.01% of spoken language that we shared…
Know and love Jesus, little one. You have a beautiful destiny.
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