Constructive Connections is a fiction series. They are beginning tales of how each person is crafted by God to fulfill a purpose, to enhance the narrative of life. By contributing unique talents to serve one another, a tower God calls us to construct begins to form for His joy.
Constructive Connections: Suffering Together
The image of a solitary wolf looking into a village of American Indians was my mother’s favorite theme to create on canvas. There was no menace among any wolf she crafted of thick black, grey, and white blended oils. They yearned to be part of the tribe, able to frolic with the children, a romping pup amongst austere teepees, rejoicing with dancers around the blaze of amber flames. When I was young, I saw my mother’s hungry eyes in those painted wolves.
“Mom, what’s that smmmmmmelllll?” Oh goodness, was that little boy right! My orange tabby cat, Liver, had chased a skunk into our camp kitchen-fly. The pungent aroma permeated every square inch of the campground, my clothing, tent camper, everything smelled. The hair I had washed and styled was askew from the chase and I smelled atrocious! I caused quite a stir as I sat waiting for my friend, Jackelyn at the cafe.
Being a photographer by trade, I’d spent many years behind the lens observing folks. People watching was my hobby, you could say. That day in the coffee shop, when Willard avoided eye contact with my smelly, grey-haired disheveled old woman self, was the day a new journey began to understanding perception.
I had left a lucrative job a few years prior at “The Air Out There” magazine, where Jackelyn still worked. After leaving the magazine, I became a freelance photographer. No, I did not do weddings-my work was strictly news articles, periodicals, and such. But as I worked from home, I realized how many possessions I had accumulated over the years. It was prohibiting me from truly stepping out where I felt God was nudging me to go.
Poverty piqued my interest from the time I was a high school student. What really was “poverty?” My family rarely had much money. I received used clothing, never owning a house, we rented a home on tribal lands, and we often depended on the church food bank. We survived on food stamps and government subsidy. Certainly not for lack of working-my mother held two jobs to support her aging parents and disabled uncle. I had learned about poverty, but never felt impoverished. Was poverty only a money or lack issue? Or was it a spirit issue? I knew plenty of people with spiritual poverty. They were the ones complaining about how life was never giving back to them and living perpetually in want; the ones who had the “American Dream”-2.5 kids, mortgage, and a world of available privilege. I felt the tug of God to delve deeper into perception of poverty; but needed to experience scarcity to really have compassion for persons living within it.
I began to minimize. The donation truck had me on a twice-weekly rotation pickup. I got rid of so many things! Then I looked around at the few essentials I had left. I took pictures of the space in between items I chose to keep. Within me, I heard: “Keep going.” I gave up all my furniture and eventually, the three-bedroom house. Then I bought a motorcycle trailer, the bike to tow it, and found a campground to set up my new life of lack. I wasn’t sure what to be looking for, I just knew there was something I was being called to experience. So, I waited. Then I got a call from Jackelyn.
“Tell me about how you decided to live so small?” she asked quickly after she sat down.
“I felt I was being pushed out by possessions. I needed to free myself from the bondage of things. I always wanted to travel but felt spiritually tied to home. Leaving the magazine with hopes to seek out new adventure, I thought my job was tethering me to place. Yet it has been 3 years since I left. No travel plans yet,” I spilled out to her as we sat visiting, sipping coffee.
She looked at me with a crooked smile, then made the pitch, “When the opportunity came up at our board meeting the other day, I immediately thought of you, Dell. We are planning to travel to Africa for a missions trip. Would you like to join our team?”
Admittedly, I was blindsided. “Africa? I…I am a photographer, not a medical professional and my well digging days are long past, my friend,” I said with a sigh, rubbing my damaged shoulder.
“This is a relationship mission. We don’t know what to expect other than we will be living among and helping within the villages. I don’t know why, but I think we may be part of a bigger story on this journey. A change of perspective might be just what God is calling both of us to experience.” She had me at ‘perspective change’.
I followed my friend, Jackelyn to the African continent and found myself outside of a village, looking in with those craving wolf eyes. My perspective transformed with every sick child I cradled, every malnourished woman I cooked for, every bowl of maize I ingested. I began to understand the meaning of compassion with new eyes: To suffer…together.
Ten years ago today, we made that life journey to the small village where we served and saw from a new perspective. We experienced how to live without excess of possessions, but to live in excess of relationship. While Jackelyn and I traveled side by side, we gleaned different experiences. Just as an adjustment of the lens can change perspective when setting up a photo, it also can change meaning within the focus of a snapshot.
I am still a Christian photographer, unable to dig a well or give medication. But because of following God’s prompts, I am now welcomed yearly to rejoice and dance around amber fires, frolic with the village children, and be youthful in the spaces in between the simple huts of the villages.
“But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.”
Job 36:15 NIV
-Written by Jennifer Love