Selfless love is a hard thing for me. The problem is, sometimes I think my love is like a bucket of water; I love someone and a little bit pours out, someone loves me and a little bit pours back in. Most times, I pour out and my water lands right in their bucket. That should be enough, but I find myself constantly checking my own bucket to see if they returned the favor. Sometimes when they don't, I am hesitant to aim for their bucket again. The desire to be noticed makes me selfish. Other times when I'm starting to pour out, people decide to move their bucket out of the way and I just watch as my water splashes on the concrete. I see a puddle of wasted water and a bucket that's running low and decide to be more cautious next time. Fear of rejection makes me selfish too.
When I was 10 years old, I was sitting in a Cracker Barrel with my grandmother and she got a phone call from India. I tried filling the spaces between uh-huh's and yes's for a minute or two, attempting to puzzle together what this conversation could be about. That got boring. I shifted my focus towards improving my intelligence with a few golf tees and a block of wood. I was a couple jumps away from 'genius' when I overheard my grandma say, "Name her Britney!" I looked up. My grandma smiled at me for a moment, but then went back to uh-huh's and yes's. I put down the golf tees and waited impatiently for my grandmother to hang up the phone. You see, my grandmother helped found an orphanage in Nagaland, so that sentence was a pretty big deal. Right then and there was when I decided I was going to India one day. I'd never had someone named after me before.
Ten years later, I was stepping off of a 16 hour flight with my grandmother and two of her friends at about 10 o'clock at night. To be honest, I didn't get much sleep on the plane because I had a window seat and there were so many free movies. So when my grandmother told me we'd be staying the night in the airport to catch another flight at 6:00 in the morning, I started to lose the spring in my step. Well, more accurately, I lost the step all together; like the floor was a mud-pit and both of my shoes were stuck. I left the spring somewhere in the first airport security line.
My grandmother has a couple of friends in New Delhi who came to greet us at the airport. Their names are Rosy and Bibek. After a few minutes of sleepy introductions, they insisted that we come to their apartment and rest. This was no small gesture. Giving us a place to rest meant giving up their sleep for the night. We arrived at their home and they led us through the small apartment to their room. Their daughters greeted us, bringing us water and hot chai - not the Starbucks kind, the real stuff. They helped us rearrange the items in our packed bags so our luggage could be carried onto the smaller plane in the morning. Then, they left us to rest for a few hours. It didn't matter that they gave up their bed to let us rest, because they spent the night serving the homeless. They cooked up some food and took it out to the streets of New Delhi. This isn't new to them. They call it Midnight Ministry and they do it often. These are the type of people who know that loving Jesus means doing the things He said. And they still made it home in time to drive us to the airport. I expected them to be tired after being out all night, but they sent us off with an enthusiasm that sounded like children at Disney World.
That morning we flew to Nagaland, a small state in the northeastern corner of India. The couple who runs the orphanage now, Yimmi and Thongpe, came to pick us up at the airport. We made a long and bumpy drive to the orphanage and arrived to a welcoming crew of big smiles. My weekend in Nagaland was full of singing and laughter and learning about the Naga people, but the thing I remember most was the food; it was American! Thongpe and the oldest girls would work tirelessly over a campfire oven, making grilled cheese or chicken noodle soup for us because they wanted us to feel at home. In the meantime, they cooked Naga food for themselves and the twenty plus kids who live at the orphanage. These women prepare and serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day with babies swaddled to their backs and children running all around. I know their love comes from Jesus because their smiles radiate with a sweetness that looks like Heaven.
It's been almost a year since I travelled to India, but I still think about it every single day. I learned more about selfless love in the five days I spent in India than in my whole life prior. When I meet people like Yimmi, Thongpe, Bibek, and Rosy, I wonder how they keep their buckets full. Even when it seems like they've poured out everything, there's always a little more to give. Yimmi and Thongpe didn't just make us feel welcome; they made us feel at home. Bibek and Rosie didn't just love the people in their direct circle; they used their extra time to love the people outside too. When I think about the sweetness of Thongpe's smile and the enthusiasm in Bibek's voice I realize they don't worry about whether or not their buckets are full; they just don't carry around buckets. I think they know that carrying around buckets puts a filter on how much love they can give; Buckets only hold so much. Instead of storing buckets filled to the brim with received love and marked 'for later use,' they just let Jesus do all the work. They don't need sleep because they find their rest in Jesus. And they don't run out of love because Jesus has a knack for multiplying things.
I am learning not to limit my love by waiting for others to fill up my bucket. In fact, I am thinking of throwing it out altogether; I don’t have much need for it these days. Turns out, when you let Jesus do all the work, loving people is a lot simpler. Don’t believe me? Try leaving your bucket at home tomorrow and let me know how it goes.
Photo - The orphanage, Britney’s grandmother helped found in Nagaland.