Tag Archives: Of Eternal Significance

things I’ve learned from the lepers

(All indented quotes are from the writings of Mother Teresa.)

I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money. No, I wouldn’t touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.

See that beautiful woman up there? Her name is Mimi, and she has leprosy. I’m the one in the purple t-shirt, and I’ve suffered from my own form of leprosy as well. I’ll explain in a minute.

Leprosy: as defined by the National Institutes of Health, also known as Hansen’s Disease.

Even those who never read the Bible know that it’s full of people with leprosy. The unclean, the untouchable, society’s outcasts, forgotten, ignored, or viciously and deliberately scorned, the “least of these.” There are all sorts of theories about what the word “leprosy” really means, as used in the Bible. Everything from mentally insane, emotionally disturbed, or merely unpopular to people forced to sit at the roadside and scream “Unclean!” to passers-by, people who were considered to be highly contagious, even before we as humankind knew what “contagious” really meant, or how pathogens and bacteria are transported from person to person. People described as being “covered in sores”.

For anyone who isn’t aware of it, leprosy still exists today. Statistics abound as to the number of new cases diagnosed every year. Look them up if you’re interested. Off the top of my head, I know that the number of diagnosed cases is rising in India every year. Ninety-five percent of the world’s population is immune; of the remaining population, those who contract the disease can be treated with antibiotics and are considered to be non-contagious after as little as two weeks of treatment.

Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a pill that will cure the perception that people with leprosy are “unclean”, and the practice of confining people with leprosy to controlled facilities to “protect the surrounding populations and communities from contagion” still occurs.

I have been blessed to have been allowed to visit a leprosorium on numerous occasions since my first visit to the Dominican Republic in 2000.

Yep, you read that right. BLESSED. Here are a few things I’ve learned from the residents of the Sisters of Mercy (Mother Teresa’s organization) leprosorium:

You’re never too old for a teddy bear. (Notice the beautiful hands holding the teddy bear.) Same is true about candy; go have that Snickers bar, or a Jolly Rancher.

Blindness doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t see, nor does deafness prohibit you from hearing.

If you can’t sing well, you can still sing loud.

If you can’t dance, it doesn’t matter. Dance anyway.

When someone loves you enough to throw a party in your honor, make every effort to attend. But if you can’t make it, and they really love you, they will bring the party to you.

Never, ever, underestimate the value of a simple touch.

Language barriers don’t always prohibit honest communication. Sometimes those barriers enhance honest communication.

There are people who still keep their word, no matter what. A Wake Forest student visited the leprosorium during spring break a few years back, and she made friends with one of the gentlemen residents. Although he was blind, he insisted on having a polaroid picture taken of himself, with his new friend. The picture was taken and placed in his hands. He then asked the student to place his fingers over her face, so he would know exactly where her face was in the picture, and he told her, “I will pray for you.” The following spring the student returned, and when he heard her voice he called out to her, saying “I prayed for you!” and showed her the picture. Her face was no longer visible, having been worn away by his touch as he held the photo as he prayed.

The beauty of a home is as much or more about the people who live there as it is about the materials by which it was constructed, or by the luxury of the furnishings within. Stuff is…..just stuff.

This is the doctor who takes care of the patients at the leprosorium. He’s worked there for 35 years, give or take. He knows a great deal about the symptoms, treatment, and care of patients with Hansen’s disease.  The thing about leprosy is that it damages peripheral nerves, effectively removing the patient’s ability to feel pain. A person with leprosy can get a speck of dust in his eye, and because he feels no pain, he does nothing to remove the irritation, thus damaging the cornea and potentially causing blindness. A person with leprosy can get a burn or a scrape on a hand or foot, and because she feels no pain, the smallest of injuries can become so infected and inflamed that permanent damage occurs. Sometimes the patient loses fingers or toes, or hands or feet…all because there is no pain to warn him of a problem. In other words, pain can be a blessing, an indication of something that needs attention, NOW!

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. 

The doctor also knows about that ‘other’ form of leprosy. He calls it ‘leprosy of the heart’. When we lose our ability to feel empathy for others, to be willing to walk in their shoes, to seek first to understand rather than to be understood, we become hardened; we don’t see the needs of those who surround us every day. I confess to struggling with this form of the disease.

The first time I visited the leprosorium, one of the first residents I met was Enrique. He LOVES Senor Jack, the American director of Mission Emanuel. He always had a smile for everyone he met. His ‘uniform’ always included a hat, most recently a Panama hat, and sunglasses.

Enrique died this week. I will miss him terribly.

But, borrowing from that other great bastion of wisdom, the script of “Men in Black”…he isn’t dead, he just went home.

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do. -Mother Teresa


AlectoBloPoMo 3

Max Lucado talks about grace in an essay entitle “Behind the Shower Curtain”, found in the book When God Whispers Your Name. He has a discussion with a friend about grace. The friend didn’t like the fact that Max was pretty open about who he spent time with. According to Max, “If God calls a person His child, shouldn’t I call him my brother?” And, “If God accepts others with their errors and misinterpretations, shouldn’t we?” The friend’s response was that Max was carrying things a bit too far, that fences are necessary, that scripture is clear about such matters. He then admonished Max to “be careful to whom you give grace.” Max said, “I don’t give it. I only spotlight where God already has.” He then makes a statement that has stuck with me over the years, because I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes right down to it:

“I”ve never been surprised by God’s judgment, but I’m still stunned by His grace.”

There are stories all through the Bible about God’s judgment. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea. When bad things happen to bad people, we (I) say “They deserved it.” But when we (I) see God’s grace showered down to someone who, in our (my) estimation doesn’t deserve it, we (I) get all self-righteous about it. Who are we to say who can and can not receive God’s grace? Who am I to say??

Max continues:

“I’m not for watering down the truth or compromising the gospel. But if a fellow with a pure heart calls God ‘father’, can’t I call that same man ‘brother’? If God doesn’t make doctrinal perfection a requirement for family membership, should I? And if we never agree, can’t we agree to disagree? I God can tolerate my mistakes, can’t I overlook the mistakes of others? If God allows me, with my foibles and failures, to call him ‘Father’, shouldn’t I extend the same grace to others? One thing’s for sure: when we get to heaven, we’ll be surprised by some of the folks we see. And some of them will be surprised when they see us.”

There’s a scene in the movie The Mission when a man who used to capture South American natives and sell them into slavery in Europe goes back to those same natives to live in a monastery or something as punishment for his crimes. The monastery is located at the top of a very high waterfall. The priests tell the criminal not to bring any possessions with him, but he insists on piling up everything he owns and lugging it up the waterfall. More than once, he loses his balance and nearly plunges to his death because of the heavy load he’s carrying on his back. He finally makes it to the top and collapses. He looks up to see a native coming toward him with a very large machete, and he knows that this man has come for revenge. The native stands over him with the knife and he knows he’s going to die. Then the native reaches down and cuts away the rope holding the bundle of possessions and lets it fall back down to the bottom of the waterfall. The native then embraces the man who was responsible for killing or selling members of his own tribe.

At that moment, the criminal experienced grace. And at that moment, he entered heaven. Still alive and kicking.

Heaven and hell both exist, and you don’t have to die to enter either one. Most of us choose heaven or hell, not really knowing that’s what we’re choosing.

Back to the prompt: I’m with Max. I’ll be surprised at some of the people I see there. And some of them will undoubtedly be surprised to see me. There will be no fences except for those I will be jumping on horseback.

Missing Cielo

I was supposed to leave for Cielo last Saturday. Last Thursday I decided, with encouragement from family and medical peeps, that it would be in my best interest to stay home. Hard, hard decision to make, what with the situation in Haiti and any potential impact it could have on the Dominican Republic, and the situation with my silly back and sciatica stuff. I made the right decision for me and my family.

But I still miss Cielo. Yesterday the group went to the Haitian church in Cielo. I’ve never been to the Haitian church, but I hear it’s amazing. Mission Emanuel is bucking the trend in the DR that tends to treat Haitians as a little less than human. The mission ministers to Haitians through church, school, medical care and employment. Typically Haitians living in the DR are treated very badly. If you search the news, you’ll find the story of the history between the two countries. It’s ugly.

It’s hard for any of us to imagine the devastation, and desperation, in Haiti right now. I went to Slidell, Louisiana, about six weeks after Katrina. I thought I new what I was getting myself into. I didn’t. Unless you’ve seen, touched, tasted, smelled the results of epic disaster, up close and personal, you really can’t wrap your mind around it. It’s hard to understand it when you DO see it for yourself.

I’ve seen the construction “techniques” used in the Dominican Republic by the poor. They are horrendous. And the Haitians are poorer by leaps and bounds. Yes, Haiti has been through a lot of unnecessary tragedy–think deforestation and the resulting flooding. Forget the reasons. Forget the railings of senile “men of God” here in the states. Forget the absolute corruption of the Haitian government that also holds much of the responsibility for the abject poverty of its citizens.

The Haitian people need help, quickly. The shock is wearing off, and the desperation is setting in. And with desperation comes violence. The island of Hispaniola is a ticking time bomb right now.

I still miss Cielo. I miss Rosa. One of the other women who went down Saturday took a prayer shawl I knit for Rosa. I hope she likes it. I hope she gets the chance to enjoy it.

Sanidad del Cielo

I don’t know how to start this post.


Over on the Cielo page, at the bottom, there’s a picture over several women sitting together under a huge stand of bamboo. Rosa is one of the women in that picture, and I referred to her as a sister.

Yesterday I received the latest newsletter from the director of Mission Emanuel. Included was a story about Rosa:

Rosa's storyI knew that Rosa had breast cancer. I did not know the extent until yesterday.

Wubby and I helped build that house in the picture. When I saw Rosa in June, she asked if I was coming back next January. I told her that I didn’t know, but I hoped so. I also told her that, whenever I came back, I’d be able to speak GOOD Spanish. She laughed, as if to say “Yeah. Right.”

There’s a group headed to Cielo in mid-October and I wish I was going with them. I feel helpless. I’d like to make something to send to her, but I don’t know what. Prayer shawls in the Caribbean? It’s too hot in October. January, when it’s beautiful, temps in the lower 80’s, the Dominicans wear sweaters and the Americanos don’t sweat. Much. So maybe a prayer shawl would be ok. I don’t know.

There was another story about another family. The youngest child, Brenda, is eight. She is sponsored by a friend of mine. Last January I got to spend time with my friend at Brenda’s house. She is adorable, spunky…and faces heart surgery.

This post is not about the condition of health care in the Dominican Republic, or in the US for that matter.

It’s about what one person can do to help another person, what one family can do to help another family.

The mission has established a fund to help defray the cost of major medical care for families in Cielo: Sanidad Del Cielo.

Healing from Heaven.

The first time I went to Cielo we dedicated a very small children’s medical clinic, in two rooms on the second (then, the top) floor of a small building that served as pre-school and church. Next month there will be another dedication for a children’s medical clinic. Ten-thousand square feet, located just beyond the bamboo stand, state of the art physical therapy, vaccinations, dental care.

I don’t have much of a voice with this blog, but with what little voice I do have I am asking. One person donating twenty bucks can’t make much of a difference. But a few hundred people, donating about twenty bucks a month over the last 15 years, have made a huge difference in the quality of life for families in Cielo.

Think about it.

Mission Emanuel
Sanidad Del Cielo
1220 E. Concord Street
Orlando, FL 32803

Right now the distance between Rosa and me feels like so much more than the 1500 miles between North Carlina and Santo Domingo.  And the distance between me and God feels insurmountable.

I’ve seen You calm the waters raging
in the rivers of my mind
Your spirit blows a breeze into my soul
And I’ve felt the fire that warms the heart
Knowing that it comes from You
Then I’ve let it turn as cold as a stone
Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at You from the bottom of the

Grand Canyon, so small and so far
From the Grand Canyon, with a hole in my heart
And I’m a long way from where I know I need to be
When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me

I’ve had the faith that gave me strength
for moving any mountainside
I’ve felt the solid ground beneath my feet
But I’ve had the bread of idleness while
drinking from a well of doubt
And it shakes the core of all I believe
Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at you from the bottom of the

When there’s a Grand Canyon between You and me

Sometimes I feel like I’m as close as your shadow and
Sometimes I feel like I’m looking up
at you from the bottom of the

When there’s a Grand, Grand Canyon between You and me

Hopefully I can send something to Rosa next month that will help close the gap until January.

The distance between me and God? We’re working on that.

Photo meme

On the playground

On the playground

Alecto tagged me for this.

If you store photos on your computer, go to the fourth folder, select the fourth photo, post it and describe.

I took this picture on the playground of Mission Emanuel in Cielo on January 18, 2009, which was my birthday, btw.

There were several children playing on the playground that afternoon. They love cameras and will usually strike an elaborate pose whenever anyone pulls out a camera. However, this little girl was on the merry-go-round, which was moving at the time, and wanted her picture taken. She did NOT want to get off the merry-go-round or pose. She just wanted me to take her picture so she could see it.

Isn’t she beautiful? These children live in some of the worst conditions in Santo Domingo. While public education is free in the Dominican Republic, the families must provide a uniform for each child. They must also buy the required school books. This isn’t a great deal of money, probably somewhere around $20.00. But when the family has no income, or very little income, it might as well be $2000.00. Mission Emanuel provides the opportunity for anyone who desires to do so, to sponsor a child. Sponsorship is $35.00 a month. The funds go to provide the necessary supplies for the child to attend Mission Emanuel school, a private, Christian school. In addition, sponsorship helps to pay teachers’ salaries, and also helps the family with living expenses. Sponsoring one child in a household of 4 or 5 children really helps all of them.

Of course, there are all sorts of sponsorship programs for children all over the world. The thing that sets Mission Emanuel apart, for me anyway, is that I’ve had the opportunity to see first hand how the money is spent. So I know my sponsorship is being used as it was intended.

It’s an amazing thing to see how a little bit of money and a lot of love can change a community. Yes, we have people here at home who need help, and our family participates in those efforts. The difference is that we are fortunate here in America to have resources available to people who need help.

The people in Cielo don’t.

Invisible women / Amazing women

So, last week I was in Cielo, Bayona, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A lot of words to define a very small place. Since 2004 a group of women from the Winston-Salem area have traveled to Cielo every January to minister to Dominican women in this impoverished community. As part of this year’s weekly devotions for us Americans, I volunteered to speak to our women on El Roi, “The God who Sees”.

So I started thinking about how the women’s ministry of Mission Emanuel got started, about how the women were overlooked in all of the ongoing ministries up to that time. Then I started thinking about women in our own country who are overlooked, misunderstood, ignored. And, as it usually happens, I started writing.

This is what hit the paper.

She is an invisible woman.

She’s the waitress at the coffee shop where I have breakfast with my daughter on Saturday morning.

She’s the housekeeper who cleans my house while I’m at the club, or brings me clean towels and makes my bed when I travel.

She’s the business woman I see every weekday morning, juggling her cell phone and mascara, waiting for a green light.

She’s the homeless woman who sleeps under the bridge near my house.

She’s the woman I see in church every Sunday. She knows my name, and I know hers. We exchange pleasantries.

“How are you this morning?”

“How was your week?”

“I can’t believe how your kids have grown!”

She’s the woman I never invite to lunch, or to my house for dinner, or to “girl’s night out”.

She’s never a part of the gab sessions in the break room.

I assume she wants to be left alone.

She may even be one of my teammates on a mission trip.

I don’t see her. Do you see her?

El Roi sees her.

El Roi sees the waitress, working three jobs to earn enough money to keep a one bedroom apartment for her daughter and herself. You see, her husband left her for his personal assistant. If she doesn’t keep my coffee cup full and steaming, I complain to her manager, and I don’t leave her a tip.

El Roi sees the housekeeper, the woman who moved to America to escape an oppressive regime. You see, they murdered her husband. They won’t allow her to be seen in public without a burqua and a male relative to escort her. They ban her from attending school. I take her service for granted. No one has ever made her bed for her, or given her a towel.

El Roi sees the business woman, the pain behind her smile that she shares with no one, except her husband. You see, they can’t have children. They’ve tried everything. El Roi sees her as she watches me play with my daughter. I think her lifestyle is privileged and powerful, not seeing that she would trade it all for what I have, a child.

El Roi sees the homeless woman sleeping under the bridge. You see, she used to have a family like mine. El Roi knows she lost it all, chasing the high that only comes from crystal meth. When I see her on the sidewalk, I don’t make eye contact. Sometimes I cross to the other side of the street.

El Roi sees my sister in Christ. You see, she’s taking care of her parents, her husband, and her children, pushing herself to the breaking point. He knows that she’s afraid to ask me for help because she doesn’t want to appear weak in her faith. And I am afraid she’ll find out how weak my own faith really is.

El Roi sees the lonely woman, the excluded woman, the abandoned woman. You see, her smile hides her pain. El Roi sees a lifetime, her lifetime, of loneliness, of not being on the “A-list”, not being “one of the girls.”

Am I willing to look at her the way El Roi looks at her? Because when He looks at her, He sees. He knows. He understands. He loves. You see, she’s not invisible in His eyes.

Neither am I.

Neither are you.

Open your eyes and see.

Sometimes I am amazed at how words come to me. Other times I am frustrated by their absence.

These words came easily, perhaps because I’ve known, or been, most of those women at one time or another in my life. What surprised me was when one of the women in our group, a woman who has lived in the DR for many years, who speaks the language and has a powerful witness, asked if she could translate my words and share them with the women in Cielo. Sure, I said, wondering if these words would ring true for the Dominicans the way the did with Americans.

So she translated and shared.

And the Dominicans related just fine.

You see, rich or poor or somewhere in between, American or Dominican, young or not-so-young, each of us shares the same dreams, hopes, fears. I’ve walked in Dominican shoes, and some of the Dominicans have walked in American shoes, and they all fit.

We’ve all been invisible at one time or another, and we come into the light, shielding our eyes until we can adjust to each other’s brightness.

It’s then that we realize that God sees us, we see each other, and we’re all beautiful in the light of day.

Christmas Gypsies

I guess I’ve always been a Christmas gypsy.

When I was little, Christmas was always at my Grandma’s. Or, Grandmas’, or whatever the plural-possessive form is for “grandma.” Christmas Eve was at my Grandma’s house. We’d spend the night so Santa could find me, then Christmas Day was at my Great-Grandma’s. Then we’d head back to Grandma’s, and maybe back home Christmas night if it wasn’t too far.

My Great-Grandma lived in the mountains. She and my Great-Grandpa ran a country store complete with pot-bellied stove. They sold everything from candy to clothes to farm implements and gas. This summer when we were in Todd, NC we went to the Todd General Store. The minute I walked in I was flooded with memories from Great-Grandpa’s store. Shelves on the wall behind the counter, the push-button cash register, the creaky wood floors.

Christmas Day was all about family and food. There were the three children, around 13 grand-children and close to 20 great-grandchildren. I don’t think we were ever all there at one time, but we came pretty close. There were people and food everywhere: in the kitchen, dining room, living room…I think I even ate a Christmas dinner or two in my great-grandparents’ bedroom. A typical Christmas dinner went something like this: country ham, turkey, biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, creamed corn or corn pudding, rice pudding, broccoli casserole, rolls, pickles, preserves, cakes, pies, custards….

Their house had a porch across the front and down one side. There was a spring house, complete with dipping gourds, and a separate porch across the back. Part of the side porch became their bathroom when they added plumbing. I think it was sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s when they got a telephone, party line. There was a small spring house in the front yard where they’d leave the full milk can to be picked up by the dairy truck, and where the empty can would be returned.

All of us gypsies would gather there on the mountain, eat until we had to get horizontal, exchange a few gifts and just visit. If the weather was nice the younger ones (my generation) would play outside on the porch swing or in the creek or the spring houses. If there was snow we’d play…outside on the porch swing or in the creek or the spring houses. The grown-ups would be in clumps in various rooms, talking about farming or work or us kids. Around 4:00 in the afternoon families would start saying their goodbyes and heading for their cars to start for home. All the goodbye-ing would last an hour or so, and we’d finally hit the road about sundown.

When hubby and I got married in 1984 we continued the gypsy Christmas: Christmas Eve at grandma’s, Christmas Day (morning) at great-grandma’s, and end up at hubby’s parents in the evening, then back to our own home. We probably traveled a couple hundred miles round trip. It was doable, until the kids came along. The trip to my great-grandma’s became an every-other-year sort of thing until she passed away in 2004. In its place was the trip from North Carolina to my parents, then my grand-parents, then hubby’s parents and sibs.

And so it goes.

Today we made the gypsy trip from North Carolina up the mountain where my great-grandparents are buried, past the towns where my grandparents and my dad now rest, to the town where hubby grew up, where his parents also now rest. Today my oldest sister-in-law said she was carrying on the matriarchal tradition of wrapping gifts at 5:00 AM and cooking non-stop from then until everyone finally arrived around 2:00 this afternoon. Again, we exchanged a few gifts, visited a little, started saying our goodbyes around 4:00 and finally got on the road about an hour later.

Each year it gets a little harder to put my gypsy shoes on Christmas morning.

And each year I know that, if I don’t, another year could pass before we see some of our family again, unless we’re forced together to say a final goodbye to someone else.

So, we wear the gypsy shoes.