Monday, April 8, 2013

True Beauty

It's been a year almost to the day since I returned from serving Leprosy colonies with Rising Star Outreach. The things I experienced there profoundly changed my life.. Here is another story I would love to share with you.

While in India, I was drawn to a very special house mother named Vino. From the first time I met her, I could feel her strong spirit, sense her wisdom and see her light. It was if an empty space inside of me was being filled, every time I was around her.

One evening I snuck over to the childrens' hostel to say goodnight to the kids after prayer time. The room was dim as I walked in. The little ones were pretending to be asleep, lying on a thin blanket stretched over the cement floor. Vino was standing there. We spoke in a whisper as I introduced myself. We talked about the children. I mentioned how lucky they were to have her. She said, "It's true I know," and shared how much she loved them, how her heart swelled as she watched them sleep. I reached out and held her hands as we spoke. I was in awe of her.

On the days following, my sister, some friends and I continued to visit Vino at the childrens' hostel. She was known around Rising Star to be a talented henna artist. This was a perfect excuse for us to sneak over to Vino's after dark for girl's night! We waited with excitement for this part of our day.

Vino's room was the size of my walk-in closet. The walls were painted light lime green. A single bed sat in the corner, covered by a thin sheet with a childish print. It was hot, stuffy and smelled slightly of moth balls. This room, although dingy and small, felt like a sacred place. She taught me many lessons there..

One evening, we came to find Vino and another (younger) house mom in the middle of scripture study. (I wondered what the scriptures were. Bible possibly?) Vino very politely and quietly asked if we could wait a moment. As we sat on her bed, they continued to read and discuss. It was clear that Vino was a woman of great faith. Again she emulated a quality I admired.

At one time Vino spoke of her disdain for money, that she hoped she never had any. When we came to a topic of growing older, Vino wisely said, "Its not the age that's important. It's all about character and charm." When we asked her how she felt about her parents eventually arranging her marriage she said, "We can love anybody if we choose to."

Vino had many talents which she offered to share with us. She sang for us and shyly let us record her on camera. Her voice was shaky and vulnerable. She ended the song with a radiant smile. 

Vino showed us a card a man had commissioned her to make. It comprised of two faded sheets of construction paper, crudely stapled together. She was proud to show us her intricate designs, drawn on such a humble canvas.

At the end of one evening, Vino said when we came next she would dance for us. She told us she didn't dance for anyone, except for the children, as a reward for behaving well.

She kept her promise, and as I watched her dance, I felt a testimony grow about what true beauty really is. Here was a woman who could be viewed as plain and simple, meek and mild, modest, and unexceptional to most of the world. However, this was not what I saw.

For the first time I got it. The physical definition of true beauty was right there in front of me. She was shining! Part of her dance could be perceived as somewhat seductive, and I thought to myself, "Whoever marries this woman will be the luckiest man in the world!!" This aspect of her would be reserved, only for him.

At that moment, a culmination of lessons she taught me all came together and I was changed. This was the type of woman I wanted to be! She is beautiful inside and out. Selfless, compassionate, modest yet confidant, talented... BEAUTIFUL!

Possibly, I recognized some of her characteristics in myself. I felt joy in the KNOWLEDGE that the worlds standards of beauty need not apply to me. They were wrong. I fully understood what my husband saw in me that made me attractive in his eyes, not by the worlds standards, but as an eternal companion.

Out of all the things I anticipated learning in India, this definitely wasn't on of them. I now have a different perspective about the reality of what a lovely, and yes, desirable woman is! Vino may never know the impact she has had on me, and in turn, on my family. I can clearly see the lies we are being fed by the media, and the false ideals we are desensitized into believing. I can see the harm it does to women, men and children. My husband and I have taken great measures to eliminate these messages from our home.

At times when I feel myself being sucked into a destructive way of thinking, I remember a tiny woman who lives in a tiny room named Vino. I remember the witness I had of true beauty. I remember my role model. I'm so glad I traveled half way around the world to find her!

As a side note: Vino said to us that she had never been so close or shared so much with volunteers before. I hope with all my heart she will never forget me too!

The henna lasted for about two weeks. I was sad when it was gone.
We gave Vino and Nythia manicures and left our polish with them. Nail polish is a cherished item there.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I haven't forgotten

During our last group meeting (conclave) at Rising Star, we talked about the things we had learned, and what we would take home with us. Derek Sharp, our director, told us how easy it is to go home, get caught up in our regular lives, and forget the valuable things we learned and experienced in India. I made a vow to myself I would NEVER forget! I don't know how I possibly could! I've been home from India for 6 weeks and 2 days. (It feels like six months!) A day hasn't gone by that I haven't thought of that wonderful place and the beautiful people living there. India is still on my mind.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a girl named Cherileigh about a fundraiser she was working on for Rising Star. It was a 5k fun run! She asked for my help in promoting the event. This was a no-brainer. Of course I would! Later she asked if I would be willing to come and speak to the runners before the race. ABSOLUTELY! I don't consider myself a strong public speaker by any means, but I couldn't possibly turn this opportunity down! Then came the thought, (somewhat dreaded) "How can I promote this event, speak at this event and not run the 5k myself?" I've never ran a 5k before or even trained for one! My mind was made up before I even thought it through. I had to do this for Rising Star and my loved ones in India.

When I arrived at Coyote Gulch, Ivins, Utah at 6:30 (yawn) in the morning, I was surprised to find that Cherileigh was a 15 year old high school student! I would have never guessed from her emails. She is an amazing girl, mature, warm and loving, as were the rest of her family and friends. 

Cherileigh organized this race for a school project and she did a wonderful job.  Her family has done service projects for Rising Star before. They would be a PERFECT family for the next Rising Star volunteer family session. I was SO glad to have the opportunity to share my experiences with them! 

This is me running on the right... CLEAR back there. I made the run in pretty decent time for my first, or so I was told. The scenery was gorgeous! I'm still sore. 

After the race, my heart skipped a beat when I looked down at the table and saw brochures from Rising Star.  I know and love those kids so much. I was overwhelmed with emotions, just as if I were back in India again. Without a doubt, I made the right choice to support this event! My next step is to organize a fundraiser of my own!

Here is our fabulous group! We rocked that 5k! Thank you everyone! 
(You can click the photos to enlarge them.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Not goodbye..

I have put off writing this post as long as I possibly can. I'm sitting here at Denie's house in Salt Lake, trying to keep the tears from flowing as I write this post. I don't know if it's the jet lag, or if I am finally letting my emotions come forward after staying strong for the trip home.
I thought saying goodbye to my friends at Rising Star would be more traumatic than it was. I came to realize that these kids had been through sad partings many times before. They're tough, and they know how to protect their emotions. I was being tough too.
They whole time we were there, the kids would ask when we were leaving. The amount of time grew smaller and smaller every time they asked. "That's so soon," they would say. Then on Friday, when they saw us dressed in our normal clothes, they knew the day had come. "You go home to America?"
The kids I had bonded with hugged me tight, I told them I loved them and I hoped to come back some day. They smiled, said goodbye and went on with their normal routine. (I had to sneak into a few classes to catch some of them before I left.) It was a little hard on me to see them so unemotional, but I was also VERY grateful to see them cope so well.
For me this is anything but goodbye. I find it interesting that I bonded with 8 to 10 pre-teen girls, rather than the "littles." They attached themselves to me and I had my own little possy every where I went! I know without a doubt I need to keep in contact with all of these girls. I hope to sponsor one, but I will be a part of the lives of many.

I never felt so tall and so white in my whole life!

The little boys, not so cuddly, but loved to put on a show! Rough and tumble, funny little stinkers! I could sneak in a hug here and there when I could catch them!
Throwing out some love from the balcony.These girls are sweethearts. Satia on the left would RUN up to me and squeeze me tight! She is an angel.One of the last things we did was sit in a stairwell and put a puzzle together with the kids. At this time it started to really sink in that we were leaving. Usha (below) is the girl I have the strongest connection with. One night after dinner she put her arms around me, layed her head on my chest and just held me. The power went out and she still held on. As we stood there in the dark she said, "Auntie, your heart is very loud, and fast." I'll never forget the feeling of that moment, and I can't fully describe it.
Little cutie saying "hi."
My girls!
Devi, she would blink with both eyes to say hello. She always had a smile on her face, except for the last day. :(
Sweetie (Savithia) the first girl I met. I love her. There are many more kids who have a piece of my heart. They are all captured within these posts. I am SO grateful for cameras! And also my sister for being my personal paparazzi. I have a post about her coming soon..
About to get in the van! Saying goodbye to our roommate Julie. I don't quit know why we look so happy. There must have been a joke..
I have a few more posts on he way! Traveling home was quite the adventure! I also have a few things up my sleeve for the future! Check back.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


The last leprosy colony we served seemed like a quaint retirement village. Elderly people walked out of their houses with bright shiny faces, excited to see us. The weather wasn't too hot, the sun was shining brightly. It was a lovely place.

Here's a sneak peek inside.

Because of their advanced age, some of these people had little if any toes and fingers left. They were feeble, fragile and slow moving.

This man was very proud of his picture and wanted me to take another!

I loved their spirit and the wisdom in their eyes. This lady below is so beautiful. Denie and I sat next to her on the ground. She pointed to the sun, noticing we had no shade and suggested we get up and follow her to a near by building. There we sat with her and some other ladies, trying our best to understand what they were saying, hoping to get a glimpse into their lives. Mainly I just wanted to feel them and have them feel love from us.
Soon it was time to go. As we drove away I felt a sense of completion. I could sense my time in India was winding down. It was a satisfying feeling and also a sad feeling. Only a little time left to go.

On the way Denie snapped these amazing photos of every day life in India!

Goodnight everyone!!


After tutoring on Monday we had an all out, total warfare water fight!
I wasn't planning on being 100% involved with this activity! I'm naturally more reserved I guess you could say, but these kids kept getting me good! After a few soakings I thought, "Ok, it's on like Donkey Kong!!" I put the camera away and grabbed a bucket! This was one of the funnest things I've done in a long time! Denie and I were running in and out of the kids bathroom to refill our buckets as fast as we could. The floor was so wet the kids were body sliding from one end of the room to the other! I literally felt like a ten year old!

By the time we were finished I was soaked from head to toe! Here's me, Denie and Jules sopping wet. One of the kids took our picture can you tell? "Auntie, I take!"

On the walk home we were still feeling hyper. Denie asked us to do something silly and this is what she got!

Chest bump that failed. Haha..A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Teach me..

My second day of tutoring was bitter sweet. I have grown to love these kids so much! The one-on-one time I get to spend with them is SO sweet as we get to know each other and make special connections. This day was bitter because I knew it would be my last time teaching. I took pictures so I would never forget these sweet faces. Some of these cuties still need sponsors! Let me know if they tug your heart stings as well.

The girl directly above my head had leprosy as a baby and her family left her in the garbage. Now her home is Rising Star. We love you Jennifer! You may be wondering, who's the light one? Her name is Nisha and she is an albino. More importantly, she is a sweet girl with a loving heart, and she's my lunch buddy!

NISHA (So photogenic. She says the dots on her head are just there because they look good!)
GRACIE (She is so tiny and quiet as a mouse.)
M. VIJAY (Will work hard when bribed with a party!)
USHA (This girl has my heart. I am seriously considering sponsoring her! She said to Denie the other day, "Your sister, I love your sister very much." The feeling is mutual.)
BOSHA (He was having a hard day that day. I hope I made him feel a little happier.)
Rumplestiltskin according to Treen-
I had two students pick this book for me to read to them. As I read, I was concerned about the messages being taught. Anna was very beautiful, maybe even beautiful enough to be queen... To this I said to Gracie, "You don't have to be tall, blond, skinny, white or have long hair to be beautiful. YOU are beautiful. All people are beautiful." The father forced her to go to the king, who would only agree to marry her if she spun a room of hay into gold. If she didn't, she would die. To Bosha I said, "This is not a nice king. He should not treat Anna that way. She would not want to marry him." Bosha said, "She WILL marry him." I replied, "She might, but if she does she won't like him very much." I also asked him what was more important, beauty on the inside or beauty on the outside. He couldn't decide. I told him what's inside matters most!
I found it interesting that the children kept choosing this book (even though I hid it as best as I could after the first time) because it follows along closely with Indian tradition in that the father tells the daughter who she will marry, and all too often the husband is abusive. I have heard stories about what some of these kiddos face when they visit home. I wish there was an easy answer or solution to help them..
All we can do is plant little seeds and hope they grow. Maybe my students will think of Rumplestiltskin a little differently now! :)
This is my friend Nitia. What I know about her so far- she is nineteen years old, she is great at henna art, she studies her Bible every evening, she is a wonderful house mother and is beautiful inside and out. I am going to miss her.
I am grateful for this day and this experience. Lucky me!