Lydia is a woman born in Uganda to a dying widow. One of the only things Lydia received from her mother was HIV/AIDS. Lydia spent the early years of her life lying in the corner of her hut, being shown almost no affection, and teetering on the brink of starvation. If it were not for the concern of a neighbor who brought her food, Lydia would not have survived the early years of her life. Her mother died when she was only 9 years old, leaving her to be cared for by her 17 year old brother. Sadly, he was ashamed of his sister’s condition and refused to feed or medicate her, telling her she was dying anyway. She was rejected by the other children in the village and all she could do was pray that God saw her differently.
One day, the same neighbor who had provided food delivered the news of a home in town for children with HIV/AIDS. She paid for transportation to bring Lydia to the home and told the caretakers her story. Ms. Sara, the “mother” of the home, told Lydia that she wanted her to be a part of the family, and immediately loved as her own daughter. Ms. Sara opened her arms and drew Lydia in for a hug, this was foreign to Lydia who had never received affection in this way. Lydia collapsed into Ms. Sara’s arms and cried in joy. This was the care that Lydia had prayed for. She was loved.
Lydia grew up to be an extraordinarily compassionate woman whose smile now beams as she takes care of children coming from a similar situation that she did. With unshaken faith, she holds the children when they are scared, hurt, or sick, knowing that the embrace she received changed the course of her life. It told her that she was valued and worthy of affection. She gives out more hugs than most people because she understands the unspeakable power of touch.
Lydia’s story connects us to the reality many people face, orphaned and alone, with no one to touch or speak love over them. Mother Teresa once charged the people of God to, “spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.” Today you may not be able to reach out to an orphan, but think of kindness as you greet every single person. Greet your family, teachers, friends, and even strangers with intentional warmth, even if it feels different, even if they don’t deserve it.