Commentary: Advocating for children has opened my heart

Two years ago in this space, I wrote the words, "I'm done" ("Commentary: I walked away from Hollywood to walk with God," July 21, 2012).

I was done calling myself a Christian but living a life that was centered on me. I said, "I am done living a half-life; done loving half-heatedly; done serving and loving God only when it's convenient for me."

And so I left on an 11-month mission trip to 11 different countries called The World Race. The first month was incredibly hard. I was at a home for special-needs orphans in southern India called Sarah's Covenant Homes.

I was always hot and sticky and being bitten by mosquitoes in a culture so different that it turned all of my norms upside down. I was being pooped, peed and drooled on by children who have severe limitations. And as a self-proclaimed germaphobe and hypochondriac, I was nearing my limits.

But part of the reason I went on this trip was to be pushed past my limits. I wanted to rely on God's strength rather than my own. I prayed daily to walk out in God's strength. The answer to my prayer came in a bundle of joy: an orphan girl who could not walk.

In that first month of the yearlong journey, God introduced me to Jodi, a 3-year-old orphan at the home who I came to affectionately call My Saving Grace. Jodi has cerebral palsy, Hepatitis B and developmental delays (most likely caused by a brain injury). Most days, she sat in a crib, watching other children play, waiting for what limited attention the caregivers were able to offer.

God completely broke my heart for this little girl, so much so that when I left Sarah's Covenant Homes at the end of July 2012, I found myself asking God if I could go back one day to help Jodi learn to walk. I tried to brush away that thought, but each month, it stuck with me.

I continued on with The World Race, doing various service projects in Southeast Asia, east Africa and Eastern Europe. The image of Jodi, waiting for someone to notice her, stayed in my heart and my head. And when all my co-travelers returned home after 11 months, I forfeited my ticket and returned to India for one more month.

In that month, I was fiercely determined, and she was stubbornly resistant. Every day, I worked with her. We worked on standing and sitting, stretching her limbs, moving her feet and correcting her standing position. I held her hand while she made attempts at walking.

Some days, I wondered if we were making any progress, but then, a week before I left, Jodi took several steps on her own. And on my last full day, before flying home to Irvine, I watched Jodi choose to walk across the courtyard of the home. I coordinated other volunteers to continue working with her, and today Jodi can stand on her own and she loves to walk everywhere.

Returning to Sarah's Covenant Homes in June 2013 changed the course of my life. In that second trip, I got a second chance to see not only Jodi, but all the other children who craved attention. I fell in love with each of them.

There was Nolan, who drooled so much that he could soak a bib within an hour. There was Judah, who loved watching short video clips on my iPad, and Ruthie and Melanie and Eleanor, all with hearts and smiles so big.

Nearly two years have passed since I wrote the words, "I'm done." And it has been one year since I returned to India to work with Jodi at Sarah's Covenant Home. I am so thankful to say the story didn't end last July.

In January 2014, I took my third trip to Sarah's Covenant Homes and accepted a job as U.S.-based director of development. It's a full-time, volunteer position, and I must raise my own salary in addition to funds for the children, their education and their critical-care home. It's very hard, and it's also the most exciting and gratifying thing I've ever done.

I am not perfect. I am still selfish. I still too often put myself first. But God is constantly reminding me of the ultimate sacrifice he made for me. He reminds me of that when I want to make sacrifices for the kids of Sarah's Covenant Homes.

Two years ago, I wrote that I wanted to experience God's love in a new way, and I did. The parental love I felt for Jodi, desperately wanting so much for her and pushing her daily in physical therapy so she could grow and walk and have a better life, was the same kind of love God has for me. Only his love for me is infinitely greater.

The last two years haven't been perfect. And they haven't been easy. But these two years have brought me to the best job in the world, one where I get to advocate for my favorite kids in the world.

Mariners Church member LINDSEY FARMER, 26, grew up in Irvine. She graduated from Mater Dei High School and USC.

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