The other day I met a man who works for Uganda's Parliament and he told me all kinds of interesting things but he said something that I will never forget:
"If you don't have a story no one will listen but if you have a story they will listen. Melissa, you have to have a story to tell - you understand?"
The following aren't only my stories but they have shaped my story - I hope you will listen.
Anna-Ophena was 3 or 4 when I first met her in the mountains of Guatemala. I remember it well, a blur of long black hair and a brightly colored traditional skirt. She smiled and when she moved her hair away from her eye she revealed a cataract covering her left eye. I scooped her up into my arms to get a better look. She looked straight at me face to face - eye to eye and the corners of her mouth began to form a smile and she leaped out of my arms and continued to twirl. She stuck close to me the majority of my time with her and was full of so much joy. After talking to a doctor I realized that Anna-Ophena could probably only half see me...that she could only half see the life around her but she fully lived...she jumped and twirled with every ounce of life in her. She taught me how to see the world with both eyes and a full heart. Sweet Ann-Ophena thank you for your example - I hope to see you again someday - if not here on earth maybe I will see you twirling around in heaven.
I remember like it was yesterday when Joe and I stumbled upon Brian and Lindsey near Lake Victoria. We had borrowed our night guard's bike for the evening and were taking a spin around town and down towards the lake and there they were - Lindsey's with her curly hair and Brian with his welcoming smile. I felt comfortable immediately with them. We exchanged phone numbers and we called them a few days later to bring in the new year together. Over the next few months we became good friends and I found such positivity in our relationship when our little world at Magwa was starting to crumble. I remember the day they left jinja we were about to drive away and brian brought us an envelope with money in it - we knew that they themselves could use that money but they had such faith that God would provide for them so they blessed us immensely - my small mustard seed started to grow after that night. I will always cling to our friendship for the rareness of understanding it brings - to know people who get it and teach us every time we talk to them. Brian and Lindsey, thank you for all you have taught me and continue to teach me- thank you for your giant sized faith and your deep devoted love for Jesus. You are both shining examples of JOY and your music speaks so much TRUTH. we love you guys and little Lucy.
I can't explain what made me long for distant lands at the age of 15 but I did. My first taste of poverty came from a lady on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand. She couldn't have been any older than 17 - she sat on the ground with her arms outstretched and hands cupped asking all everyone passing by for something...anything. Her baby played naked next to her. I starred as I walked by trying to not let her notice but I couldn't look away - when we were out of her sight I stopped in my tracks and froze overwhelmed with the feeling that I just passed up an opportunity to show love so without hesitation I immediately turned back to give her money. I handed her a few coins - she was pleased and we exchanged smiles and she continued to beg and her baby continued to play beside her. I walked away feeling like I didn't help at all and knowing that she had to feed herself and her baby that night - would she be able to? I knew that if she had a place to live she would have to pay rent - would she be kicked out? I wondered if she had been a victim of child trafficking? How can I help? what can I do? anything? - but I'm just so small...I believe this is when my mind was opened to social issues and women in vulnerable conditions. to the young lady with the cupped hands and small child: thank you for opening my eyes and teaching me to question things. thank you for making me feel uncomfortable. you are BEAUTIFUL and LOVED.
Fatima was a Muslim from Syria and she loved a christian soldier from Lebanon. She was carrying a small baby inside of her and this was a problem. First she fell in love with a christian - her family would be furious and second she had a baby out of wed-lock - her family would stone her. For her baby to have any chance at survival she decided to give him up for adoption. She gave birth at a Catholic Orphanage in Lebanon - her baby was a little boy - bright eyed and ready to take on the world - they named him Jimmy. Fatima left Jimmy with the nuns. I can't imagine what kind of strength she had to let her son go - a little one who was living inside her for nine months. At the age of four months Jimmy was adopted and brought to America. He is doing great things with his life now and helping many others - I believe that his mother's desire for him to have the BEST life is a major reason. Fatima, I don't even have the words to express to you how your great act of love for you son has changed my life in so many ways. You are a great mother and your great act of love has changed so many peoples lives. Thank you for your sacrafice - you INSPIRE me.
These are just a few stories that God has used to shape who I am.
remember, we can learn from everyone.
because everyone has a story if we just listen.