realsimple contest: where i first learned love.

Scratching the Surface

This began as a story about my search for love—a story of a neglected, abused little girl, who, as a woman, learned how to make a beautiful metaphor between her life experiences and her grandmother’s heirloom locket. It is a beautiful tale of redemption, triumph, and healing; however, I do not believe that is what you are looking for. That is a story of searching and finding love; but to seek love, to find love, and to know love are three entirely different things.

I write to you as a twenty-two year old young woman, who has been in love once, has been healed by the love of community, who has known love lost through death and heartache, and who has seen the world’s attempt to pervert and diminish true love’s value. Mother Teresa describes the power of love as “…the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, but only more love…” Jesus silences the Pharisees’ constant banter when he tells them there is no greater law than loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:38-39). What does twenty-two year old Sally Rae say?        

I write to you as a comfortable college student, sitting in my comfortable bed, with my comfortably cushioned pillows, in my comfortable pajamas. Tonight I had a comfortable dinner and a comfortable shower and got to spend some time lounging comfortably on my couch, having beautiful conversations about faith, love, and Mother Teresa (hence the quote) with my Pastor and his wife. Tomorrow, I will read my Bible while sitting comfortably in my favorite chair by the window and go to church to sit in another favorite comfortable chair; afterwards, I will probably have some comfortable lunch and conversations and then go off to get some Orange County “necessities” before the week begins. It is hard to believe that six months ago I was holding lepers, playing with orphans, and laughing with out-casted widows in Tenali, India.

I sought love in man, found love in Jesus, and learned love in Tenali.

My time in India was solely dedicated to investing in the Dalit people, the
“Untouchables” of the caste system, with Harvest India. This organization fosters the orphan, cares for the widow, feeds the hungry, mends the sick—the list goes on. I did not begin understanding the meaning of love through the good deeds I was a part of, although those taught me many lessons. More so, it was through the love of those I was ministering to. I went to India with a heart longing to bring light and joy to the broken; little did I know that the Dalit I was caring for would actually touch and heal my heart so deeply.

The lepers are only allowed to take one bus at 5 a.m.; if they miss it, they cannot leave the leper colony for the day. Leprosy causes nerves to cease working, so the body is being damaged and wasting away while the victim is getting progressively numb. There is a picture forever engrained in my mind of the lepers walking towards our house, eagerly awaiting our time with them. Beyond passing out food and clothing, we offered them human touch. We offered them our tears and sympathy. But what they offered us far surpassed those things. They offered us their joy. They offered us their stories. They offered us their touch. I am completely unworthy of ever receiving the touch of the Dalit—to look into eyes of ones who have experienced such joy in the midst of trial and suffering, to have my face held by such beautiful hands. This is where my heart came alive.

Author and activist Shane Claiborne describes the state of our society as “…a land of lepers, a land of people who [have] forgotten how to feel, to laugh, to cry, a land haunted by numbness…”[1] The physical lepers’ bodies may be numb—but their hearts never fall asleep. However, our hearts are stale and sullen with the curse of busyness. They are deprived of heartache by the self-help movement. Anxiety robs us of joy and mental traffic steals our peace. This is not what I saw in the eyes of The Children of God, as the Dalit are often called.

In Tenali, I came to understand the meaning of love. Love will always involve risk. If you love anyone, a brother, a mom, a boyfriend, a wife, for more than twenty-four hours, you will experience heartbreak. Like an oyster, I have learned when to close my precious heart away; I have learned the safety of concealment—keeping my treasure all to my self for no one to see, experience, or injure. However, the irritation of the invading sand is what creates the pearl. This is love: there is a cost in offering yourself to others’ care. With great anticipation and fear, I learn to open myself to the world of dichotomy. There is beauty in the brokenness of our lives. There is boldness that comes with the fragility of an injured heart. Love is not a question of what I can do for someone–rather, it is a question of how much I am willing to release to them. Am I willing to give up my years of meekness and learned self-preservation? Am I willing to risk rejection of the hands I am offering myself to? Am I willing to let someone hear my song and dry my tears, like the leper’s of Tenali?

This is where I first learned love—allowing the touch of a leper’s hand on my face melt my heart, teaching me to let heartache in, so that the precious pearl I hold inside may become everything it was created for.

[1] Shane Claiborne The Irresistible Revolution. The Simple Way2006