Nearly 6 months ago, I journeyed to Guatemala with International Samaritan, an organization that specifically works with those who live in garbage dump communities. There are several places where I’ve written about life in the garbage dump: here, and here, and here are some of them. When I left, I knew that more than the effect I would have on the people (through building roofs, working with kids, etc), the transformation in my own life would be immeasurable.
I gave the gift of sweat equity, listening, and shared bread. The people there gave me the gift of shared stories and transformation that still continues to trickle into my daily living. Now, perhaps, Juan Carlos, Andres, or even Juana, has experienced tangible changes in their lives as a result of our interactions. But, how many service trips did the three of them (and all the others) encounter over the last year? Over the last 5 years? Can I say with any assurance that I had an impact on their lives? When all is told, although I helped build a roof and clear a courtyard, those whom I had gone to serve, in fact, served me.
Was this a surprise to me? Not really. Service has been a part of my life since I was very young, thanks to my mother in early years and some creative, loving youth ministers during my teenage years. Encounter, a program I worked with for 10 years, focuses on direct-relational ministry, where in their own words, “We believe that we will be served by the individuals that we came to serve.” The notion of being served by those you encounter undergirds most of my perspective.
Brené Brown writes: “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.”
In the exchange that happened with Juan Carlos, in my bumbling through my unused Spanish, and in his sharing about his family, we connected. And I was transformed. I returned home with clarity: clarity about writing, about connecting, about storytelling and the power of presence. I placed Juan Carlos’ gift to me in my prayer corner in my bedroom, and every day, I would place slips of paper with things I was grateful for inside the piggy bank. (Only a picture can do it justice—I’ll post one tomorrow).
As a result of my time with my Guatemalan friends, (did I mention I got 4 marriage proposals—all to stay there—from men I met and talked with at the school?) I have practiced listening to stories of the people I encounter here, in the US. People that I meet on the street, at the Panera, people who are my friends, and people who are my family. My life has been reoriented. Now, this, also from Brené Brown, is my marker, my meter for how I live:
“We cultivate love when we allow out most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, an affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we can nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them–we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”