Several months ago I made a decision that would permanently mark me for the rest of my earthy days. I did not make it lightly, but instead considered it and debated it for months, well actually years. And as I lay on the plastic table and watched a total stranger etch into my skin the word that hard marked my life since the first time I stepped out of my normal American adolescence and into a joyous village on the other side of the world, I had such a peace.
Now I don’t know your opinion on tattoos and to be frank, I won’t be asking you. Not because I don’t value insight and wisdom, but because I did not mark myself with this name for you. I did it for me. I did it as a constant reminder to myself of who I am and what I have been called to do.
I have been called by Love, to love, and to be loved. I have been called Chikondi.
I choose Chikondi, because it was in Malawi that I first learned what love looked like. I watched love in action. I learned how to be loved and how to let my Beloved love me. Chikondi marked me long before I put the word on my arm.
I knew chikondi, but two weeks ago I met Chikondi.
I have been around Mtendere Village long enough now to recognize immediately when there is a new face in the sea of children running around. It’s not only that I know all the other faces so a new one stands out, but it’s also the look on their faces. They are a bit more hesitant than the others to run up to the Azungu visiting, but yet they are curious. They are experiencing so much for the first time; family, health, community, school, a full stomach. Chikondi’s face said all of this and much more.
Chikondi was always around. He would come to my porch anytime the other little boys came over to ask to play Temple Run on my phone or carry my torch or Bible to evening devotions. He stayed towards the back of the group for the first few days but his eyes were always so present. He watched me and I noticed.
It wasn’t until one night as we were watching Narnia on the projector in the hall that it hit me why he was watching so closely. Jaziel, my sponsor son and the love my of my life, had cuddled up next to me for the movie and leaned into my chest as I scratched his back. This was a rare, yet familiar moment. Three years ago you would not have been able to find Jazzy anywhere but by my side, but as he is getting older he has to keep his manly distance, which I respect and only force so many hugs a dayJ So it was as I shared this moment of affection with my son that Chikondi watched in wonder. He slowly etched closer and closer until he was sitting next to Jazzy watching us instead of the movie. When I reached over Jaz and started to scratch Chikondi’s back his eyes widened even further.
This one was named after the very thing he most desired and yet rarely knew. He longed for the affection of love. Chikondi is learning what it feels like to be safe and secure at Mtendere. I do not know what his life was like before October when he arrived to his new home but I can imagine that it was not identified with the same characteristics that define it now. He is making friends and growing strong. He is learning English and being taught by one of the sweetest teachers. And in a moment when all I did was outstretch my arm to practice the word that is written on it, He learned what it was like to be cherished.
I have forgotten what it was like to be Chikondi, so in awe of the love that is offered to me that I stand amazed eagerly waiting for a touch that screams I am chosen and desired. I don’t stand in awe of it anymore. I am more like Jazzy. I lean into the comfort of a love that I know is securely mine. I have forgotten that I was once orphaned and alone. I too was once unfamiliar with how to receive love, much less give it. But my Father, marked with the name Love, stretched out his arm and welcomed me to lean in a little closer and He called my name.
A few days later right before I left to come back to America, I called Chikondi’s name. This time he did not hesitate. He ran right up to me and in his eyes I saw something different. He recognized me, and he no longer felt uncertain on whether I knew him or wanted him. He knew when I called his name that he was immediately welcomed and loved. And as I switched on my phone to take the obligatory selfie, his eyes lit up with love and his smile shook my heart.
I saw a transformation in Chikondi over the two weeks I got to spend with him. But it wasn’t because of anything I did. I simply spent two weeks loving a place that has become so easy and familiar to love. But God wasn’t gonna let me become too familiar with love, because love is abnormal and it goes against our rational thinking to change us. I want to live my life sitting in awe watching as Love pours out and then in turn stretch out my arm to love.
God showed me Chikondi, not only so that I could love him, but also so that I could relearn what it’s like to meet Love for the first time.