Sunday, March 1, 2009

Being Inspired by Others

Once when I was living abroad in a poor underdeveloped country after having received my chaplain and missionary license, I became so completely overwhelmed by my situation. Not only was I concerned about my personal and professional direction, I lived among the most desolate, washing and cleaning layers of thick deep dirt off of beautiful brown skin with tears streaming down my face, dead bugs in hair. I sang as I gently scrubbed. Who would love these?

Some were mentally impaired, some were "former" addicts, and some were disturbed by their abandonment since childhood. Oh, the stories I heard! But there were still others who were by choice deficient. These were the administrators and employees who seemed to care more about their positions then about those whom they were meagerly hired to care for. They used food as a controlling bargaining chip. This was something to witness.

The staff members were by far worse to deal with than any of the troubled residents, and had to be dealt with gingerly. (There is nothing worse than the vindictiveness and cruelty of those with a little power.) Some of them didn't care for me much. They looked at me, the "proper and polite" American foreigner, with jaded eyes. Why would she come here? I mirrored what I desired them to be. I smiled often and spoke softly, even when I was enraged. "Soft words turn away wrath," I remembered my mother quoting.

The administrators and employees did not seem to be much better than those whom they "cared" for. Yet, they were often without compassion and worked so little. Their only task appeared to be preparing the food they delivered with the utmost precision and measurement. "Be in here by 5:00 sharp or you will miss dinner." The residents sat down one by one to such small portions. My tasks included scrubbing the floor of the sleeping areas on my hands and knees, washing the bunk bed sheets and the clothes by hand, hanging them on the line to dry, gray. In the beating sun, they dried in ten minutes flat. I folded them neatly and placed them at the bed of each.

The shelter was like a revolving door. Not only were there those with addictions and mental deficiencies, mothers came with children who were running away from abusive husbands. I cared for the children and took them to school as their mothers went to work afraid for their lives. I volunteered to get the kids off to school and pick them up. Little rascals they were. But I loved them.

Walking down the dusty street alone one afternoon, I just began to cry uncontrollably. After three months, I could not take it much more. I wanted to go home and could have at any time. But I thought that I was supposed to be there and I had a nagging feeling that my time there was not complete. The sun shone brilliantly and I looked up bathing in the light. I felt better. But it did not last. I thought, "I'm going home."

Then right at my moment of decision, a man appeared out of nowhere, dirty with knotty hair staggering towards me with the sun at his back. When he got within reach, I could smell his pores reeking with alcohol. He looked at me directly with piercing eyes of knowledge and compassion saying, "You are not to go home. 'Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.'" He then politely turned around and began walking in the direction in which he had come.

My tears dried. I stood there in complete amazement. Who was he? I didn't know, but from that very moment I felt so much better and amazing things began to happen thereafter. I got strength and courage in abundance and I was soon in the company of government officials, renowned clergy, the US ambassador, and the richest people in that country who could make a difference for those whom I loved most. I shall never forget these beautiful ones. I see their faces in others.

I did not know the man who spoke those inspirational words to me nor had I ever seen him before or since that "chance" meeting. When I returned home I told my mother about this really far out experience and she quoted this scripture to me:

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
All I could do as she spoke was to think what would have happened if I had seen that man and crossed the street? What if I had looked at his appearance and decided that he should be avoided? I would have missed his words which changed my situation there and better enabled me to help others. Whether he was an angel or not, I do not know. But what I do know is that goodness often comes from the most unlikely sources. Remain open.

Sometimes in difficult situations we have to just "stand still." These were the life-changing inspirational words I received.


dave wheeler said...


"Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body."

What an interesting story...makes one think indeed. How would your life and the lives of others changed had you not had that encounter. Service before self, servant leadership, and being helpers to one another are themes you often speak of and ones I am reminded of daily as I slowly get back into the community.

I did a post last night on words from President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union Address that carried a similar theme..,about always remembering who we are, where we come from, and who sent us here. If we can get a whole bunch of folks buying into service before self, we can get a great deal done.

Thanks Judith, more new knowledge for me!

Khaled KEM said...

Thanks Judith for your wonderful post on a Sunday morning that gives me a smile, hope and more wisdom about life.
It shows how a moment or small event could turn our lives and the others' life. Of course you should have also the steadiness to be prepared when this moment arrives.
I always enjoy your posts and your writing because there is always something there to think about.
Thanks for sharing all your thoughts with us. I also like the new picture and Cynthia wrote a wonderful poem, I enjoyed it.

CathM said...

Judith. And you in turn (as that unknown man) have inspired me today in the midst of a very difficult (almost unbearable) phase in my life. Thank you for reminder to “stand still” or as the book of Psalms constantly reminds us to do... "Be still, and know that I am God...” (Psalm 46:10) and “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him...” (Psalm 37:7). Though it’s ever so hard to do when you are at your wits end... wretched... and broken...

judith ellis said...

Thank you, Dave, as always. I must say that I am not altogether sure that it is "service before self." But I think I understand where you're coming from. It seems more to me that self should always be first in that it is how we exist in the world that matters. I am never for neglecting self; a lot of this seems to me to be a kind of false humility or desire for attention. But as I have said, I think I understand what you mean. Thanks again, Dave.

judith ellis said...

Dave - I'll pop over to your blog and check out your post too. Thanks for the preview.

"If we can get a whole bunch of folks buying into service before self, we can get a great deal done."

I love this. Thanks!

judith ellis said...

"It shows how a moment or small event could turn our lives and the others' life. Of course you should have also the steadiness to be prepared when this moment arrives."

This is so true. It is also amazing to discover how much strength we actually have at moments of uncertainty.

Thanks, Khaled for your words. They matter.

judith ellis said...

I love those Psalms, CathM. Thank you.

Isn't it wonderful the courage we have when it seems as if we have no strength left?

We get stronger when we practice stepping outside of our comfort zones and doing small acts of courage daily.

We build strength in how we think and what we do daily. Do you think?

Brosreview said...

A great post Judith!!! That's all I am gonna write.

dave wheeler said...


The service before self is a throwback to my military days. Your troops are fed before you eat, they sleep before you do and so on. It's not so much that you neglect yourself, it's that you put the needs of those you lead before your own.

It could be shortened to just service as it's conceptually the same....

judith ellis said...

Thanks, Brosreview.

judith ellis said...

Thanks for the explanation, Dave. It seems typical of your leadership style.

dave wheeler said...

Judith, that you mention that I guess it is. Must be a TP thing! If you do get to the Foundations4 blog by the way I put some Tower of Power out there. Video clip and a link to some of their best tunes. Nothing makes me feel better on a day like today than some East Bay memories!

judith ellis said...

Dave - Yes, TP's work would be a great leadership model for sure.

I'm heading to your blog now. See you over there. Gotta love the Bay Area!

Cynthia said...

This part of your life you have shared is very inspirational to
me, and makes me admire you all the more.
It is true, our help comes in all
forms and all manner of people.
Pastor Sarah Utterbach, has said
God will send in a St. Bernard with
a message tied around his neck if
he has to.
And as my grandma would say seek
Christ's face in each person you meet. How one treats the least of
us is very telling, and I know I
have not always passed this test.
It is good to hear from someone who
did and the positive results that
followed. Thank you Judith!

judith ellis said...

What words from Pastor Sarah Utterbach! They made my smile.

"Seek Christ's face in each person you meet."

These are beautiful words your grandma spoke. I shall remember them.

Thank you, Cynthia.

judith ellis said...

CathM - On this day, I send love to you. Everyday is a new day! "His mercies are new EVERY morning."

The Write Girl said...

Hi Judith,

Your words are truly inspirational. You capture such real and raw emotion and illuminate your expereinces beautifully. From reading this post, I know you possess great depth and wisdom. Thank you for visiting my site and your kind comments. I will definitely follow your site and check you out. Thank you for the invitation.

judith ellis said...

Hello The Write Girl - I came through your blog via Bros' blog and it was good to pop in. I'll return again and again. You have a lovely blog.

CJ said...


It's sad what these people who've lost all--including the roofs over their head--go through. In spite of the particular h--- I find myself going through these days because the money I make doesn't go very far--I am blessed with a wonderful wife, a wonderful place, and I have arms, legs, feet, and so on.

In addition, my wife is currently putting together a campaign in town to help the homeless. It's called the Homeless Relief Campaign Initiative, a vision the Lord gave her. She has a special heart towards the homeless, and would appreciate your post on this topic.

So I have a special place in my heart for people who have special compassion on the homeless.

It very well could have been me.

judith ellis said...

My dear friend, CJ - I have known you for many years, since our freshman year at Michigan and you have always been a loving and kind person. You most certainly looked after me.

You are indeed blessed to have a wife with a heart of compassion. I wish you all the very best. Please know that "that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Keep the faith!

What I also know is there for the grace of God go I. It's been many years since we have seen each other and it has been good that you have found me here.

I love you, my dear friend. Let me know if I can help. A brother is quite the mover and shaker in your area. If I can help, it would be my pleasure.