The Girl Who Was Thrown Away

Nobody picks me up and swings me around as soon as she sees me. ‘We’re dancing?’ I ask and she laughs at my question. There is joy in her eyes and I know she has been waiting for me to come out. I know, because she was waiting for me when I went inside to take a nap. With her ball and her limited speech and a mind full of misfiring circuits, Nobody is simply waiting for the scraps of attention that somebody might toss her way. Leftover pieces of affection that she can scrape from the dirt and call her own.

The truth is, I don’t want to dance with Nobody. I don’t want to hug her or sit too close to her for fear of lice and fleas. Nobody, in her 14 year-old body, is host to a cocktail of crawling life that threatens the threshold of my personal bubble whenever she is around.

Nobody lives in a house, if you can call it that – a ramshackle structure – that was once a house. No window panes. No doors. Two mattresses that were once attached to frames. She dwells in this place with Brother, Mother, and Aunt.

I have met Aunt before, a scroungy being sitting at the gate of the school in the dark in a drunken stupor. Her voice is the broken chord of a mistrung violin. It crackles and screeches, even in her sober moments unable to string together the syllables of a coherent story. A hard worker by day, local farmers hire her to slop the animal pens and load the dirty refuse onto her back. They pay her in the cheapest alcohol for her labors and use her body as a source of release.

Once upon a time, in her younger days, she fell in love with a village man and got pregnant. The man did not want her. The village decided together to abort her child.

This is the way of life here in the village.

Perhaps, too, it was the reason that Aunt rescued that squawking, naked, freshly birthed baby-girl from the trash can. With grunts and groans, Nobody was heaved into this world, an unwanted, unneeded piece of squirming life. Mother, used and abused and broken by the wants and whims of a village, deposited her in the trash and carried the garbage in the rolled up hem of her shirt. Aunt pulled that tiny morsel from the bin and rocked her to sleep.

Nobody fought, demanding her spot in this universe. And, she continues to fight valiantly today.

I have known Nobody for years. Watched her grow from a small wisp of a child into the edge of womanhood. Heard her push past grunts into one-syllable words. Tried to imagine the moment when somebody wanted to love her simply because she was Nobody.

__________

The school in the village takes Nobody and Brother in, they welcome them daily, give them clean beds to sleep and warm food for their stomachs. They give Nobody safety for her body and warmth for her soul. It is the one place in this world where Nobody is loved.

And so it is with a sordid array of emotions that I stand in the scorching June sun in a courtyard and watch this slip of a girl teetering on womanhood bustle forward to receive a recognition award when her name is called.  It is the end of another school year and every child hears their name called, valued, appreciated, noted for who they are – even if their story begins as an unwanted baby in a bin.

Standing in that sun this week and picking through the pieces of my own prejudices, it seemed right to voice Nobody’s story. It seemed right to say that her life has value and to recognize the depths of her courage, her resilience and her strength in what can be a cold and dark world.

This is your story – N. And though you will never read it, the World needs to read about you. God speaks to us through your story, N. You challenge us to be a voice of justice and together with God, you do change this world. 

To your teachers and to your pastor who labor for you in love in a tiny point on the planet that few will ever visit – thank you.

Now, to Him who is able to do abundantly more than we ever asked or imagined – let’s dance, N. Let’s dance.


Although you may never meet N., you can make a difference in her life and the lives of other children like her. The Church of the Nazarene supports ministry in Roma villages through a school that welcomes everyone and through Nazarene pastors. 

Donations via the Sunberg Deputation (click here) account can be directed to this ministry via this link.  Thank you!


A Note on why I used the name ‘Nobody’. Firstly, I wanted to protect her identity. She deserves that. And, on a more personal level – it is way too easy to relegate people with disabilities to that place of nothingness in our societal structure. In essence, they can become a nobody to us. I mean to highlight that tendency in my life, and perhaps in yours, to relegate certain people to places of inconsequence. I mean to highlight it, but more importantly, I mean to ask forgiveness for it. May God continue to stretch my heart and my mind toward the Truth of what it means to be made in the Image of God so that I am compelled towards the Mission of God. It is true, is it not, that all of us, somewhere in our hearts would say with N – ‘Come and dance with me Jesus.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Sunberg B&B

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a gathering of feet in our home for Bible Study

We call it the Sunberg B&B, Grand-Central Station, and home. Too often messy, frequently full of beautiful chaos, and yes, sometimes even conflict. Life in the midst of this yellow, terra-cotta roofed house on the edge of Budapest is full. Very full.

The past few months, we have been bursting at the seams as our 6-person home has become the transition point for many people on their way to and from ministry across the field. We put most guests in the ‘loft’, which our daughters scoffingly correct with the word ‘corridor’. This is an argument of nuances, heartfelt because two of them used it as their bedroom for the first 3 years here. In truth, there are no doors, and one wall is open to the downstairs.  Continue reading

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The Power of Women – peace and play-dough in a Refugee Camp

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play-dough peace

Her olive-toned fingers work the purple play-dough, shaping and rolling. She giggles.  Working with her friend, their fingers push and dance on the rough-hewn table. We are just women here, gathered in this temporary refugee camp, ironically named Hercules, situated right off of the tourist-bound Aegean coast of Greece.

I pause in conversation with my new Syrian friend, O, and feel the prick of tears. It is not the first time that I will wipe moisture from my eyes, not the last time that I reach out a hand in love when I cannot find words, or hold my belly in laughter. I am on a roller-coaster of emotions as the sweat pools between my breasts. Continue reading

Celebrate Freedom

a Monday kind of honest

What happens when I wake up on the day after Easter and my world is the same? Christ rose on Sunday, but the washing machine door is still stuck with the wet clothes inside, the child is crying, the finances are low, the car is dented and the friend is angry over the sweater. And, everyone has started calling the family dog ‘Scootz’ for some unfortunate but obvious reasons. It’s not her real name.

Why does every Facebook post show families posed in photos when your crew refused to smile for one simple Easter picture? Thank God for a few brave souls on your feed with crying children – shirt untucked, chocolate smeared face, proverbial Easter basket askew.

What happens when the power of the empty tomb doesn’t seem to reset your Monday morning life? Continue reading

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the west gate

Katy Beth wipes a tear away as we sit over cappuccinos at Starbucks in MOM park.  She has just put her senior girl on an airplane from Budapest to Jerusalem a day after the airport bombings in Brussels.  The significance of that is not lost on either of us.

“I hugged her and told her that if anything happens, meet me at the West Gate, cuz’ that’s where I’ll be waiting in heaven.”

Continue reading

when death blinked first – Thursday thoughts

DSC_1312A family of 4 just departed our home in Budapest. They were packing two toddlers and the skeleton necessities of a young family. These items include a pack-and-play, diapers and wipes, and pacifier. Reality begins at 6 AM. Life starts at 8 PM when they finally go to sleep, or at least the energy is contained to 6′ x 3′ mattress and a door that closes.

My ability to give hospitality to the ebb and flow of their lives was moderated by the angsty needs of my own teenage femme-fatale household and the limitations of my time. To be perfectly honest, I left everyone to their own devices after pointing out the location of the refrigerator and spoons. ‘Anything you find is yours to eat.’ I call it ‘the hospitality of the open door,’ which can be translated into ‘seek and you shall find.’

I used to dream of being a hostess with matching glasses that sparkle and shine on the carefully laid table. Some dreams were meant to shrivel up in a corner and die. In its place, I am learning about the radical nature of hospitality from unexpected sources.

I took my left boot off inside the first flap of the UNHCR tent, and placed my socked-foot gently down so that I could remove the second boot. Cold water and mud immediately seeped through my sock. Intense. Cold. Unwelcome. Not only was I now uncomfortable, but I was worried about tracking mud and water into the clean tent. At the same time, the Syrian family let out a gasp as they realized my mistake. This left them feeling the discomfort as the hosts who now had a wet guest.

We spent more than an hour in that tent with our Damascus family sipping thick coffee and blowing bubbles of entertainment with the clapping children. We laughed and we listened to their stories, their fears, their determination to stay free and to stay together, come what may. And in the process, we were both wrapped within the warmth of their presence and unsettled by the uncertainty of their future.

In those moments, they became more than a category: Muslim, refugee, Syrian. They became friends with shared life experience, shared pain, shared laughter, shared hope. Their life, their future is somehow now intertwined with ours.

Reaching back to the Gospel of John, he gives us an eye-witness account of Jesus as the host at table. So often, we pass by this moment on the way to the cross and the resurrection. It can seem rather unimportant next to a crucifixion and an empty tomb, but that last supper and the Christ who served it are crucial to understanding exactly what we receive on Easter.

You see, I struggle with pride. In fact, I struggle with fear. In fact, I am quite content with a life that is pleasant and stable, interjected with moments of controlled adventure that give me the sensation of depth devoid of real challenge. While I may like to get a gift, I have no desire to receive out of genuine need. I fear to live a life that dares death to blink first. I adamantly refuse to live a life that gives preference to your need over my desire.

But life – true life comes only when we step into the tent of radical hospitality.

The Easter story that begins with my rejection of Christ and leads to his death for my life, and blossoms into his resurrection for my eternity – this story  I receive as a gift of what Christ does for me. He is God after all and somebody had to clean up that Adam and Eve mess.  But radical hospitality is the moment when Jesus stares across the table at his imminent death and washes the feet of his traitor anyway … the moment that Jesus invites me to be humbled by the truest reality of my sin-sickness … the moment when Jesus says that I must live as servant instead of host … the moment when I relinquish control and simply lie back into the arms of Jesus. To that invitation, I tend to say, ‘No thank you. This is a table I prefer to avoid.’

Yet, this table is the only way to the celebration. For those recognizing Western Easter this weekend, we come to an empty tomb in the midst of a world laden with chaos, fear, war, and uncertainty. Our ears are bulging with voices, media, stories, conversations, posts that entreat us to take charge, take control, lock the doors, build a wall, trust a powerful leader. Live this way and you die fighting. Doubt that truth? One word .. Judas.

Our world of bombs, and terror, and the exhaustion of toddlers at 1 AM, the baggage that we drag across the seasons of our lives, our inner prejudices and fears and the deep sins that suck the pulse from our souls – all of it, all of it, in exchange for a Table with our dusty toes peeking out in hope.

Receive the radical hospitality of God’s love in action – a love that both humbles as we admit our need and empowers us to serve others from our source – the resurrected Christ.

Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me.

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the tremendous offer of hospitality in a train station