Thursday, December 30, 2010

Application Phase: Complete

Well I finished sending in my applications for graduate schools today. Actually I finished sending all the documents of typed essays and manuscripts and curriculum vitaes to my mom who will print and sort them into their prospective labeled envelopes and trek down to the post office for me. Have I mentioned my mom is extra fantabulous?!

If you count the beginning phases of researching schools and working on the manuscript to be submitted with the applications, I’ve been working on this process for nearly a year. If you count studying for and taking the GRE then it’s even longer. I closed my laptop over nine hours ago but I’m still sighing with the satisfaction of completion. I feel like there’s a big empty space in my brain now, like having a new, blank room in your house. There’s all this creative energy waiting to be found—picking colors, arranging furniture, decorating the walls, inviting guests. I have room to think about other things.

Like writing.

I have some long-lost fragments of stories I want to dig out of the corners where they have been shoved. I look forward to conundrums of my characters coming to keep me awake at night rather than the puzzle of how to make myself appear qualified for a teaching assistantship in a one-page essay without coming across as an egotistic teacher’s pet with a head the size of an elevator. And I look forward to India processing more freely inside my head. It’s kind of like Christmas inside my brain.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Ache

My heart is aching from the absence of India. The past two weeks have been a time of wordless processing. It’s hard sometimes to find things to say or even things to think about regarding this time of my life that is now out there in the past, yet forever altering the way I think and choose to live for the rest of my life.

I’m finding my moments of grieving and gratitude and wonder. I’m starting to realize that it’s not India that I miss… not exactly. Life there was so raw, so throbbing, so stretching that it forced my heart to its knees every day. Daily time and tasks and relationships pulsed in such a way that reminded me hour by hour—I need him.

That need has not changed. It never will. But it’s so much easier within a Western environment to believe that is has, to fool myself into thinking I can stand on my own two feet and walk through a day alone. There are more distractions again. Electronics, air con, movies, restaurants. It’s not that I’m wanting for time, but the mental clutter can be a bit overwhelming, making it hard to settle back into his presence and just be. So although I love so many aspects of India—saris, bus rides, rice and curry, dirt floors—what I’m really pining for is simplicity. Even as I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Laos I’m listening to sounds of things making noise… clanking, clattering, thudding, dropping, scrapping. I think back to the slums where the only loud sounds were the voices of children hailing our arrival.

I think it’s the battle of the 21st century to learn to shut out the noise, to wade through the world of conveniences and comforts we have built for ourselves that turn into a prison of their own kind. It’s our task to confront electronics and shut them off, and when it’s not possible, to train the ears of our hearts to be listening moment by moment for the still small voices buried beneath the clatter. India will haunt me until I do. My heart will break if I don’t.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas

Christmas in Laos is subtle. Everyday I forget that Christmas is coming, and then every day Jennie and I look at each other and say, “Oh yeah! Christmas.” I love the holiday here because it doesn’t slap me across the face every time I walk into a mall, or demand my attention through shopping lists, talking Santas, or radio advertisements. There are no decorations to speak of, there are palm trees in view from the back porch, and the weather is still warm enough to break a sweat. I won’t even hear festive music unless I turn it on or sing it.

Christmas is quiet, hidden. It’s there for those who know where to look; otherwise the rest of the country will go about the day in normal working fashion. It reminds me of the first Christmas, shared only by those who had the ears to hear and believe angels, the foolhardiness to follow a star, and the eyes to look for a little bundle tucked away in a hole in the earth. It’s a day, in many ways like any other, to pause and remember, to be grateful for Immanuel—God with us.

Many of my friends call me a scrooge; and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always have the fondest feelings for Christmas. But I don’t hate Christmas. I just don’t like it western style. I prefer the subtlety, raw beauty and awe with all the clamoring bells and whistles stripped off. So this year I think I’ll be stopping to enjoy it. Jennie, Eric and I will get creative in the kitchen on Christmas Eve, and Christmas day we’ll stay in our pajamas, share simple gifts with the kids, keep the gate locked, and watch holiday movies. It may just be the quintessential holiday.

For all of you at home, of course I miss you. I’ll miss digging for costumes with my siblings for our living nativity Christmas morning. I’ll miss eggnog and conversations by the fireplace. Your smiles and hugs. Snow. I’ll even miss my helping of sweet potato casserole. But I won’t miss the clamor or piles of wrapping paper. I’ll think of you all tucked in snuggly with your families and my heart will assure you that I will be home soon… but not quite yet. And I’ll wish you all a Merry Christmas—in the subtlest of ways.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Assimilation

It’s been nearly two weeks since I wrote, and I do so now as an act of pulling my brain and heart out of the fog from within which they have sought to reside.

I’m not in India anymore.

Everyday I state to myself the obvious because it’s hard for me to believe. Or maybe it’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just I don’t want to, or I can’t figure out how that changes everything about how I now need to live. If I’m not in India anymore, then how am I supposed to act? What do I need to let go of? What am I allowed to keep?

I have paused to ponder over the past few days how I would view this new country different if I had come from the States rather than from India. I have no doubt that coming here first I would’ve fallen in love with Laos at once. I don’t have hostile feelings toward this country at all, but I find the difficulty is that I must begin to relinquish the immediacy of India so that my heart can be free to love another culture again.

Coming from India, Laos feels incredibly western (a fact I’m told might change if I had the opportunity to go out into the villages). The houses seem huge, the menu diverse. There are white people everywhere—especially within the social world of my host family. Last night I sat in a beautifully furnished living room with a fully decorated Christmas tree, soft couches, and perhaps 12 western women sharing snacks and coffee. I could’ve sworn I was somewhere back home. So every day I’m faced with a choice not to compare one lifestyle to another, a choice to push past the culture shock and refuse to judge.

The change comes slowly. I cling to similarities like the lack of carpet and the way the bathroom is arranged. I’ve submitted to using a fork again, but only part of the time. I’m still washing my clothes by hand and I’m still wearing my saris and salwars because there is nothing else in my suitcase (but I’m not sure I’d stop even if there was). Jennie likes to refer to me as princess Jasmine. I sit on the porch and I can still see palm trees. It’s still hot outside. There are mosquitoes. Motorbikes fill half the streets. These things tell me I’m still in Asia.

And in Asia there are always new adventures to be had, like riding perched side-saddle behind Eric on my borrowed bike while he peddles us back through the streets of downtown from finding a shop to air up the tires. Then I took the bike with my own two feet and peddled down the street while traffic passed around me, my salwar scarf blowing behind. The scents of Lao spices and rice shops and a million other unnamed things hit my senses in waves. Then I lock up the bike and enter a completely western bakery where I sit in a room with air-con, eating a bagel for the first time in over four months and writing this post while working on letters for graduate school applications. And I try to put all the pieces of several different worlds together somewhere inside of me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

By Name

They call me Daniella. When I first arrived and tried to introduce myself as Danielle they looked at me with a bit of confusion. “That’s a boy’s name they said,” in traditional bluntility. So for four months I have become Daniella. When I introduce myself now I pronounce the ‘a’ without thinking. I love the way it rolls off the tongue with an added touch of grace of rhythmic melody. Its absence will leave a little ache in my heart. So if anyone wants to call me Daniella when I come home, go right ahead. I will probably one: not notice the difference in the sense that it will be so familiar I won’t look at you strangely or two: emit a sigh of happy reminiscence of India.

They call me other names too.

Acca or Didi means older sister in either Telugu or Hindi. It’s a mixed term of respect and endearment. I’ve learned to say it back to women I work with day by day.

In the slums and when I am giving tution (tutoring) I am Teacher. The vehicle will pull up to the village and the children will come running. “Teacher, Teacher, they exclaim breathlessly, their eyes filled with excitement. It’s easy to be a teacher in India. Sometimes they look at me so trustingly that if I told them I hung the moon in the sky they might believe me.

The children and teachers at another school call me Madam. “Good morning, Madam,” their voices greet me every time I arrive. “How are you Madam?” “Had your breakfast Madam?” I might protest at the title, but then I have to realize that it’s their way of loving me. So I learn to love it too.

My young piano student calls me Auntie. Her feet race across the broken rocky ground of the campus when she sees me. “When are you coming, Auntie?” is her relentless question. Monday, I tell her and always have to fend off puppy-dog eyes and requests for me to come sooner.

There are so many names and each one carries a wealth of experiences and faces with it’s calling. I shall miss them so much. It makes me think of how names carry our identity. These sounds represent who I am to the people of India and who they have become to me. I have other names too, names from other countries, other friends, names that will only make sense to me and the people who gave them.

Names are important. As I face my goodbyes I draw comfort from knowing that no matter how many people come to love me or welcome me into their lives, only one opinion ultimately determines my identity. God has called me by name. So I listen for his voice—quiet, assuring—knowing that it will not change when the rhythms of my earthly name do. When all is changing round me I cry out, “Abba, tell me who I am again. Remind me. Carry me like a child all caught up in your arms, your head bent over, whispering in my ear the entire way.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Feet

So Tuesday was my last day at a school. The students, teachers, and I were all consumed with exchanging hugs, taking pictures, saying goodbyes, giving letters and layering the day with blessings. All the Indians were especially focused on begging me to come again in July. At the end of the day they requested me to give a final dance. So with the entire school watching and Indian music blasting, I kicked off my chapels (sandals) and began to dance with fervor.


What I didn’t know was that dancing barefoot on a tile/cement floor that has been baking all day in the Indian sun will burn the bottom of your feet. It will give you two-inch blisters on the balls of your feet to be precise and some extraneous ones on the toes. So after pretending to be completely fine for the benefit of the teachers and students and riding back in the jeep for an hour, I limped my way into the clinic for some icepacks (aka month-old frozen grapes from a friend’s freezer) and for the nurses to dress them.




A friend and I laughed really hard multiple times through the process at the ridiculousness of the whole predicament, and the fact that I would get myself into such a scrape just five days before leaving the country when I am trying to finish so many things and say goodbye. One brother propped me on the back of his bicycle and wheeled me to my dorm when we were finished.


Yesterday I spend most of the day in my room, but today—blisters or no blisters—I am going out, hobbling on the sides of my feet. I am reminded that I must never take anything for granted, even the ability to stand straight on one’s own two feet.

The hope is that I will be able to walk straight by Monday morning when I will have to navigate two airports, two shuttles, and one hotel with three pieces of luggage single-handedly on my way to Laos; although Amy assures me that wrapping my feet in gauze and asking for a wheelchair would be the VIP way to travel. The Indians are hoping that I will be able to dance for them on Sunday. I’m not too sure about that one, but if they ask for a miracle and it comes then I will happily dance my heart out for them again (minus the scalding stage floor).

The proverb of the week: Those that learn to laugh at themselves will never cease to be amused. Believe me, I’m laughing. I hope the pictures bring you all some comic relief as well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Protestations

“Don’t go, Didi,” they tell. “Full Indian you are looking. So nice. Stay. Christmas you come with us only.”

“I know,” I tell them, half groaning from the thought of tearing myself away. In my tone of voice they can hear the “but….”

“No, Didi,” they say. “Don’t go.”

It would be so easy to stay in India. My heart is at home. I am loved, welcomed. I will be missed. I would be perfectly content to permanently trade my blue jeans for a sari swishing lightly around my ankles. I could even face rice and chapatti for my daily sustenance for years to come and be satisfied. The Indians, they don’t ask me if I am coming back; they ask me when. I have to tell them I don’t know.

One guy tells me, “You should get Indian boyfriend.”

“No,” I say. “Never even in US have I had.”

“Yeah,” he say, “While in India you should try something new. I know one guy who is looking wife. When shall I tell him you are free to talk?”

He is only teasing, but others are serious. They tell next year I should come back, only I should come as two. The village women in the slums are even more persistent. They say I should come back with baby. [Aside: India is not the place I would come if I were a woman discontent with my singleness because Indians have a tendency of reminding you of this fact on a daily basis.]

It would actually be very easy for me to marry in India. One: I have white skin. Two: I wouldn’t have to wait for someone to fall in love and work up the guts to ask me out. Simply I could say I was ready and ten different people would jump to arrange. Now, for all of you who just panicked, don’t worry. Marrying an Indian man is the furthest thing from my mind and my heart at this moment; marriage to a man of any color is still far from my aspirations. But I am saying it would be quite easy.

I wonder about staying, but right now I am only feeling the tug of human hearts, not the whispering of the Spirit, urging me to settle. My flesh could choose this path quite easily. But no matter whether I go or stay, one half of the world will be upset with me. My only comfort is that neither India nor the US is ultimately my home. Keeping my thoughts raised toward heaven is the only way I can stand to say good-bye.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in India means sharing the evening with Indian friends. They’ll make curry. I’ll make mashed potatoes. It means I rise in the morning, like any other morning, and choose to clothe myself with a heart of gratitude. I sit on the roof and whisper to God of all the ways I am awed by his goodness, the ways India has changed me. I have much for which to give thanks.

Clean water
Dusty feet
Companions in a journey
Women who’s hearts smile welcome in the slums
Children’s laughter
Crayons
Covered heads bowed in prayer
Rice and curry
Cooling breeze
Painted sunsets
A way prepared
Protected time
A home away from home
Bus rides
In all things provision of what is good

In some respects the day of Thanksgiving seems trivial from where my heart is standing. For so many months God has kept me a student of his goodness, shaping gratitude within my heart. Of course I will rise and give thanks today… and tomorrow, and the day after. I shouldn’t need a holiday to remind me. Yet, today my heart travels fondly towards home, to think of those I miss and love gathered together around well-prepared meals and stoked fires. And I pause especially long to wonder at God’s grace in each of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Beginning of an Ending

The closer I come to leaving India the less I can manage to write. This is partially because so many thoughts are churning inside of me I never know where to start writing and partially because I’m spending time with so many people my writing is slipping to the back burner. But for two more weeks I think it can wait. I suspect there are some things I won’t be able to understand or write about until after I gain a bit of distance and look back at the whole picture (or as much of the picture my finite mind can wrap its neuronic tendrils about). So I guess I’m looking forward to bringing India home with me to process and fill my stories.

Nearly every day now I embrace tears, or at least nestle up to the edge of them. I cry because I know leaving India will be hard, because I don’t know how to say goodbye. But more often I cry because the goodness of God is a powerful force that overwhelms my heart. Either way, they are good tears. If leaving India breaks my heart, it means that perhaps I did something right, that my heart found something beautiful. Falling in love always invites the factor of pain, but love is always worth pain. No matter how much my heart may ache when I board that plane in two weeks, I will never look back on this time with regret. I will stand in awe that God chose to give me this season, that he allowed India to be my potter’s wheel and his hands to do the shaping.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wordless Language

It occurs to me that words are not necessary to communicate.

I say this fully aware of my identity as a writer. Words are my medium, yet I am just now pausing to recognize how minimally I have used them in the last three months. I was walking to my temporary Indian home this evening when I overtook a mother with her son on the street. She recognized me and tried to speak with me but didn’t know English. With clipped English phrases and my recognition of one or two Telugu words we blundered through the understanding that she was asking where I was going and was concerned that I was traveling by foot while I assured her I was stopping just up the road. She initiated another question but that was as far as we could get. I smiled, bobbled my head, said sorry, and moved on.

Only after our interaction did it strike me how normal it feels for me not to be understood. The only foreign language I’ve managed to learn to speak is Indian English as opposed to American English, so the entire laboring class of India cannot understand me. This means my interactions in the slums and on the streets rely heavily upon body language and tone of voice rather than words. I sit, laugh, smile, touch. Sometimes we use our hands to develop a type of sign language. So many women will come and ask me with their hands for me to pray. I won’t always know what for, but we cover our heads, I touch their shoulders, and we pray. Again, they won’t understand, but the mere act of saying words to a God who is bigger than us both speaks something beyond audible language.

So the languages of Indian speak something different to me than to an Indian. I won’t comprehend, but their rhythms and cadences filter mysteriously into my soul. Lacking fluency does have its benefits. I can listen to language as a cacophonous whole rather than being hung up by the small details. My attention isn’t snagged by what the neighbor on the next balcony is yelling at her son, the promotional calls of the street vendors, the disagreements of two co-workers. My understanding comes in tones rather than phrases. I’m free to walk in and out of conversations. I can listen, or I can tune them out. When I reach home, I think I will find it irritating to be able to understand every casual conversation of every stranger in the supermarket, the airport, the doctor’s office. It will catch me off guard.

I love words and there are many moments when I do wish I could speak in the Indians’ mother tongue; however, God works beyond our limited communication. Every morning I find myself praying that my eyes, my hands, my feet will shine with a hopeful light that is clearer than any poetical verse or story I could ever compose with words.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Common Strands

When you stay long enough in one place, no matter how foreign the country when you arrive, life happens. Coming and visiting for only a week or two or three, everything remains strange and new. Your senses and mind are constantly stimulated. But the longer I stay in India, the more I wear familiar tracks through the culture, the more the commonness of the human heart begins to show through. Underneath the food, the clothes, methods of bathing, wearing hair, or washing laundry, I find we are more same than different.

Mothers worry about their children. Children need to be kept from shirking their homework or being disrespectful. Money needs to be spent wisely. Neighbors enjoy chatting and sharing life, their children running the neighborhood streets in their play. Students feel insecure about presenting their work. Parents smile proudly and take pictures of their children’s performances. Those who are popular ostracize those who are less. Any form of organized religion struggles with bureaucracy. People try to use guilt as a motivational tool. Hearts grumble at what they consider an inconvenience.

No matter where we come from, we all have reasons to laugh, reasons to cry. We all struggle with fears, insecurities. We can all choose to be discontent or grateful. We all feel the pain of losing a loved one. We all dream, have things we want out of life. And whether we know it or not, we all have a need for God. Essentially, we are all human.

There are moments I forget that I am in India. Tonight I was at a children’s program that could’ve happened in America… almost. But the differences are becoming so familiar I only barely notice. Ironically, it is usually when I see another foreigner with white skin that I am reminded the rich brown tones of skin surrounding me are not the ‘normal’ I was born seeing. It makes me wish I could lie out in the sun long enough that my skin would also retain such warmth and color.

The sameness of human needs presses me to remember the steadfast presence of my God. As I look towards leaving India in only four short weeks, I can only find comfort in reminding myself that there is nothing about Indian culture that can make the sweetness of God’s presence in my life any more or any less. He will be the same wherever my feet are lead to journey, whatever season he carries me towards. As long as there are human hearts there will always be needs. There will always be life pressing forward. The only thing to keep me from finding it will be myself if I allow my heart to grumble.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Finding Family

Right now I'm staying with an Indian family for a change. I'm sure I'll have at least slightly more profound things to say later, but for now suffice to say that I'm learning how to cook Indian food, playing with children that could be my siblings but with darker skin, knitting hearts with an Indian wife and mother, and making myself at home. I'm enjoying the kilometer walk to campus every day, sharing my foreign toothpaste with two curious children, and joining our hearts in prayer each night. It feels good to be welcomed, loved, expected and cared for. Thank you Abba for families, for India, for dusty streets and night traffic, for smiles, laughter and chapatti with paneer. Thank for your presence and the privilege to stay and savor these four more weeks.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Writer's Fears

Sometimes I worry about myself as a writer. I worry that I might not have what it takes to be one. I fear that I lack the needed feeling of being driven to my keyboard every day, or that I will feel the compulsion but lack the discipline to make it happen. I am afraid that busyness will be my fatal enemy. I chew my lip over the thought that surely a real writer would not be so easily pulled away from her stories for several weeks by a mere sixty-hour workweek combined with a foreign culture and exhaustion. I worry that I might be some half-version of a writer that true writers would laugh at or cluck their tongues.

A few days ago, God decided I would never properly slow down on my own so he sent me the biggest doozy of a cold that left me utterly useless, trying to cough up a lung in my bed for the weekend. It is impossible to become dehydrated through one’s nose. Believe me, I know. If it was possible I would’ve achieved it by last night. The upside of all of this was that I stayed in one place for over 48 hours, and, despite the misery, once I had slept and listened and read myself into utter restlessness, the writer within me reawakened and got back to work.


Don’t get ahead of yourselves. I haven’t finished a novel or anything. I didn’t even finish a new story, just managed to rework an old one. However, I did make a discovery, or at least clarified something I already knew: I am a writer. I have to be one because the days I feel most fulfilled and content when I go to sleep at night are the days I’ve had a good long listen with the father and the days I’ve managed to write at least something. The days I manage to do both—my sleep is especially good those nights.

I may not be the best writer. I may never produce the amount of pages or stories a good writer is supposed to produce. I may never be anthologized or remembered after my death, but I am a writer. You don’t have to understand, but that last part is all that’s really important, and I suppose I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to find the best way to push the world out of my room long enough to get words on paper. Last month India got the best of me, but at least for today the writer has won.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When needs are overwhelming...

Today I’m tired—mentally more than physically.

It’s easy to allow the needs of India to become overwhelming. For that matter it’s easy to allow needs anywhere to become overwhelming. At every turn the world is filled with broken people. Yet India flaunts her brokenness more openly than the West—beggars sleeping on the streets, children that don’t go to school, families that can’t get enough to eat, temples at every corner that steal the devotion of millions and leave them empty-handed. It would be easy for any secular human to feel natural compassion for the needs of India. Discerning the additional spiritual needs makes the tug upon my heart so much more intense.

There’s a fine balance to walk between feeling compelled to pick up all the burdens of India it is possible for me to carry and the opposite, which is steeling my heart with indifference.

This week I’ve fallen on the side of carrying too much. I haven’t had a day off in nearly three weeks because I go the slums four days a week, the schools two days a week, and I lead worship on Sundays. Plus there are always smaller tasks that crop up into my evenings—piano lessons, drawing flashcards, preparing for kid’s clubs. If each of my leaders had their way I would be giving more time than I already am.

It’s hard to say no for several reasons. One, Indians can be very blunt and simply tell you what they want you to do rather than asking (and I haven’t mastered the art of navigating the culture and being just as blunt in return). Two, my time grows short and I want to offer everything I can while I am still here. Three, I came to serve in whatever manner would be helpful. Yet now it is hard to discern between what God has laid before me to do and what people are asking me to do.

If I could craft my own ideal of how to spend my time, I’m not sure exactly what it would be, but I know it is not what I am doing now. Yet, God’s ideal is a far cry from my ideal. The places he has laid for my feet to walk these past months have taught me priceless lessons that are worth every moment of inconvenience and frustration.

So this weekend I’m going to do the only thing I know to do. I’m going to shut up the protesting voice of responsibility inside my head and take a day off. I’m going to rest and ask God to realign my heart with his. Abba, come and be my shepherd because I know when my heart is heavy I’m carrying burdens I’m not meant to carry. Show me each place in the next five weeks where my feet are ordained to walk, and may I not take one step to the side.

“Indeed the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its produce. Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way.” Psalm 85:12-13

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ratio of Time

Living in India requires creativity and patience.

Everything takes time. Shopping. Going to school. Communication. Getting a group of people inside the same room. Arranging a social visit. Preparation… for anything.

If you want something you have to make it. There are no craft shops, so arts and crafts class comes from whatever I can dig out of piles of things randomly discarded by foreigners here and there. The teachers make all of the posters, flash cards, and illustrations for their students by hand. I don’t have a printer so paper and pen have become my companions.

Illustrations for telling a story: 3-4 hours
Hearts to glue on a coloring page: 1 ½ hours
Beginner piano music for a child: 4 hours traveling downtown and back from a bookshop that didn’t carry what I needed plus 1 hour copying songs by hand from what I could find online
ABC flashcards: 5 hours

Very little is wasted. Paper scraps become confetti for pasting. Pencil shavings bloom into flower petals. Fabric scraps are blackboard erasers, tailoring lesson handkerchiefs, or quilted bags. Toilet paper rolls are converted into vases. Thin layers of Styrofoam-like paper from packaging turns into rose petals. There is potential everywhere.

It also leaves me busy because I always underestimate the amount of time it will take to finish preparing for my next music lesson, kid’s club, or craft project. Sometimes I am tired or frustrated. While I am kneeling on the floor coloring with crayons, I wonder whether four hours of drawing is worth the ten minutes of telling the story in the slum. But then I remind myself that no servant is greater than his master. This is why I came—to serve—whatever that looked like. Well, some days it looks like crayons and pencil shavings and hours on a bus. Father, may I complete each task with joy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Contentment Revisited

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…

Simple words. We’ve read them so many times we think we know them. Already your mind may be scanning over them to these sentences following, hoping to find something more profound, or at least something new. But truth in its simplicity is profound, and the longer I stay in India the more I realize how hard such truths are to apply. My mind may race ahead in comprehension, searching for some new theology or proverb to unravel, but my flesh lags behind, dying slowly, proving that I will not rise above the need for kindergarten-like truths of Scripture any time soon.

One brother recently challenged me with the reverse statement of this well-read Psalm. It has left me with whole realms of application yet to be explored:

I shall not want if the Lord is my shepherd. Translation: If I am wanting, then I am not living with the Lord as my shepherd.

How many times in a day do I pause to grumble or complain, to wish something was different? The truth is I have no unfulfilled needs. God has given, so there is no lack. Yet in my flesh, I may perceive lingering needs; I may step out of agreement with God and accuse the truth of being a lie. I will not say so openly, but somewhere deep inside the doubt will be entertained; my actions will reveal the innermost thoughts of my soul. I doubt God, therefore I grumble.

My dissatisfaction is not a clue that God has failed to provide, rather that I have failed to place myself under submission to my shepherd. Will I believe him when he tells me my needs? Will I trust him when what I call a need he redefines as a want? Will I relinquish my thoughts in exchange for his?

The green pastures and quiet waters of my shepherd are filled to overflowing with goodness and beauty and grace, but they look much different than what this blind, dumb sheep often expects to find. Abba, teach me of the hidden treasures of contentment, the beauty of denying myself, the glory of discipleship that says none but you my Lord.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Paper Hearts

Scissors in hand.
Paper snippets.


Hours of cutting little hearts.


Black hearts. Red hearts.
Children with colors.



Scribbles.


Paste on my fingers.


Above it all a prayer for dirty hearts to be clean.


Stoniness to soften.
Thank you.
Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Clamoring

The noise was overwhelming. Bodies pressed together, pushing, reaching, nearly wrenching the box from the man’s hands. The children and even the mothers clamored so ardently over a box of broken toys, pieces of this and that discarded and thrown together to be given away. They yelled and fought as over buried treasure, as if their lives might depend upon it.

How different would my life be like, I wondered, if I clamored after more valuable things as determinedly as these children fought for little plastic treasures of junk? Do I come to God this desperately? Do I fight, no matter the jostling crowd of the world, to receive my fill of what is good: lessons of faith, forgiveness, humility, contentment. He won’t give me the remnants of his grace; he will fill my hands until it is impossible to carry more. At first I wanted to reprimand the children, convince them to hang back and wait patiently. But then, I thought perhaps this is part of what it means to have the faith of a child, to not stand back in politeness while God is offering so much more than discarded playthings. Perhaps clamoring is in order.

Feverish Grace

Every time I push myself too hard, string too many things together without leaving time for rest, fever comes. There are no other symptoms, only the ache of my body and the burning of my head as I lay down in the sweltering afternoon. It is as if my body has soaked up too much heat from the strain of the Indian sun and refuses to relinquish its burning until I pause long enough to cool down. Within a few hours of rest, several glasses of water, I am fine. I ask for grace and dive into another day. I am birthed, fed, rested, sustained by something beyond me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Traveling Post #4

Despite my struggles with culture in Jaipur, I will concede that one morning we went to see a palace surrounded by a fort that was beautiful.




After the long tour, we asked our guide if it was possible to climb the wall surrounding the fort. He said it was allowed, but not advised. Ha. The adventuress in me said, something not advised? Perfect. I’m going. [Mother and all other concerned individuals with parental instincts, please keep in mind that our guide is used to speaking to his idea of pampered foreigners and the only thing in danger was our comfort more than our safety.] He told us we would want to change our clothes, go back to the hotel and rest first, then come back. Nonsense. Pay another 600 rupees for a taxi and change into another pair of shoes which none of us had? We were headed to the wall. Our guide’s look of disbelief was priceless. He told us women didn’t usually do this sort of thing. Well, we said. We are usual women.

If you are trying to envision this wall, think Great Wall of China in miniature form, except walls only surround the staircase on one side instead of both. The large stone steps are twice normal size. Half way up you are exhausted, stopping every twenty steps to catch your breath, slightly light-headed. But you don’t quit. With every step the view flourishes with beauty and you will not be robbed of reaching the uppermost watch-tower.


When I reached the top the first thing I did was collapse onto my back and not move for at least several minutes. The second was to settle into a nice perch and just be still for a while. It was the highest view of India I’ve seen so far. Several villages and/or cities were laid out on the valley floors below, a couple of mountainous hills added variety to the landscape.


All the clamor of Jaipur was far below. The wind was blowing, dancing in my hair. I love India, I remember. It was worth the climb.

Traveling Post #3

Jaipur clamors for my attention in a way that Mumbai did not. In Mumbai everyone is hurrying, but focused, determined to carry about their own business for the day. As a foreigner in Jaipur, everyone’s business seems to be concerned with soliciting mine. The bazaar merchants are loud, clamoring, even flirtatious—anything to get you to buy their wares. The irony is as soon as they attack it makes me want to move on. You can’t trust anyone, especially the auto drivers. They all have a hidden agenda. At the train station we called the hotel and waited for them to send their personal auto. If you hire one on the street they will take you to whatever hotel has enlisted their services regardless of where you say you want to go.

There were so many foreigners. I couldn’t help staring at their bare white legs and small tops without scarves; it’s so strange to my eyes. They were tourists. Never before had I felt so self-conscious of my white skin. I often sat and watched them drink their beer and smoke in the restaurants trying to imagine their stories, what would motivate them to come to this dusty, arid climate. And I often thought they couldn’t possibly understand the pulsing heart of the India I’ve come to love. For that, someone would need to take them out of the hotel and beyond the gates of a palace tourist attraction.

I struggled in Jaipur. I think it was because I saw a foretaste of what it will be like to return to Western culture, a preliminary pang of reverse culture shock. The city held a contrast of two lifestyles that I’m still not sure how to navigate between.

Paul wrote that he had learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance. He knew how get along with humble means and also how to live in prosperity. It strikes me that once you have learned the first, the second becomes more difficult.

India has been instilling in me a bit of aversion towards abundance. There are so many things I find I don’t need, don’t even want when the riches of God’s presence can be my portion. Yet even in this God is revealing layers of pride in my heart. Will you fill your heart with gratitude in scarcity, he asks, but refuse to thank me when I give you abundance?

Perhaps it is well that I am facing these questions now, so once the next three months are past and I begin to turn my face towards home, just maybe I’ll be more prepared to face the drastic change.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Traveling Post #2

Mumbai smells of fresh cut rose petals, fish, human waste baking in the sun, curry and banana leaves, salt sea air, spices, a hint of mint or cilantro, and fresh rain turned to fetid water all rolled into one. In the train station, on the bus, walking to the market, her scent curls into my nostrils like the perfume of an alluring woman, finger out-stretched, beckoning. I can only stay for a few days, enough for a whiff, a taste, a mere brush of skin against skin, but it is enough to know that something deep within is awakened, will long to return.


Mumbai is a city of life stacked upon life. Humanity in one of its rawest forms. The metropolis stretches endlessly along the horizon, each view holding contrasting tiers of existence. High-rise buildings, highway overpasses, luxurious apartments to modest flats—and at their feet sprawl the slums, tents of tarp and tin erected in any available crevice.



They cram up against the roadside until their front stoops become the street itself, women and children perched in the doorways conversing and playing between their beds and the traffic. The huts grow along the walls between the railways and the apartments like overgrown ivy. On the outskirts where they claim wider expanses, the shacks are stacked on top of one another like blocks of legos haphazardly arranged by the fingers of a child not yet two.


The streets between them are narrow. Small canals run through the alleyways. Women come with brooms, sweeping away the waste of things that have already been reused.

From the doorway of the train as I hold onto the hand pole and lean out into the night of the city, I feel her, watch her. The wind whips at my hair, makes my dupatta dance vigorously behind me; it pours over my face and speaks intensely to my heart in a way that is not quite a whisper, not quite a shout. My soul dances on the edge of a mystery, across the heads of the teeming masses of people in my glimpses of the night streets. Selfishly I ask God to bring me back to this country, this city.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Traveling Post #1


The train, in its passing, echoes likes throbbing bass tones of a sub-woofer. As the doors between compartments open and close, the rattle and clack of the wheels against the track filters through. After a few hours, the rocking and swaying becomes familiar so that I stir awake in the still silences of the stations. The motion is that of a child being rocked, though not perhaps in a steady cradle. I picture an infant tucked into a sling or onto a mother’s back as she hikes across the country. With every boulder to climb or dip to step down into I am knocked gently against her chest in a way that says, yes, you are still being carried.

Back from traveling

My apologies for the lack of blog posts over the last ten days. I’ve been traveling across India, seeing a couple more cities, and widening my understanding of this country I’ve come to love. This required my estrangement from this thing called the internet we are so dependant upon. But I’m back, with lots of journal entries to feed a series of posts from my travels.

Each city had a distinct feel, unique from where I’ve been staying. I traveled with three others. We took the train to Mumbai and then to Jaipur; however, because of the lack of a direct train we flew back from Jaipur. As we landed and collected our baggage from the same carousel I used upon my arrival two months ago, my mind was carried back in time remembering that day and how different it felt. There was awe, bewilderment, uncertainty; I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. Now, in their own way, much of the same feelings are there, yet they are engulfed in a film of familiarity that is a welcome relief. As the taxi neared my room I had the feeling of one who has been on a journey for a long time and coming to the last mile before home.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Usefulness of Time

If you are a westerner and you come to India under the impression that you are going to serve some form of usefulness, you are bound to be disappointed. It’s not to say that usefulness cannot be attained. Quite the contrary. It’s just that useful has to be redefined, and patiently adhered to.

It struck me to today how much time one spends waiting in India. At least the West would call it waiting. They might call it a frightful list of other names too. They might start by calling it a waste. The question remains, is it a waste to spend an hour waiting because your team for the day hasn’t shown up? Or is it a waste to travel for 2 ½ hours via the bus system when you could reach your destination is less than half the time if you were capable of driving your own vehicle?

If you are a Westerner and your mind is filled with worries of what you won’t accomplish now when you go out, or lists of things you might have been doing with the time instead, then yes, I would say it’s a disturbing loss. But if you are an Indian, or a foreigner trying very hard to become an Indian, then time is never necessarily wasted. It’s time to be, to rest, to notice that you are alive, to be grateful for any number things. Time to observe the teaming mass of life at the bus stop, to notice people, to wonder about their stories, marvel that you are there sitting among them. This morning, I found time to sit barefoot on a bench swinging my feet in the breeze, to read and memorize, to talk to someone you might say wasn’t there, but he was. My team eventually came. We changed our plans, did something different. But we did something. Eventually that always happens around here. But if you are obsessed with missing the plan, then you miss out on the life given by the adventure. Just a thought, anyways.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” I’ve often wondered in the past two months if this wise man had ever spent any time in India.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stillness

Be still and know that I am God…

Sometimes the wind blows so hard that you have to be still because you can’t manage to do anything else.

Other times the wind moves so subtly you can’t sense it unless you are absolutely still and searching for its presence.

But always, it is there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brokenness

Brokenness may wear many masks.

Designer clothes. Stilettos. Carefully applied eye shadow. One hundred thousand dollar car. Hiring a divorce lawyer for the third time. Plush couches. White picket fence. Unexpected pregnancy. Sleeping pills.

Or.

Hovels made from bricks, mud, palm leaves, and tarps; too small to stand up straight. Girls only fourteen becoming brides, mothers. Alcohol. Beatings. Hungry bellies. Black veils. Angry shouting. Neighboring villages that will not speak to each other; one is Hindu, the other Muslim.

But regardless of income, skin color, nationality—brokenness and wounding are the same. The disparaging words of a neighbor still hurt. Alcoholism destroys lives. People are insecure, fearful, aching. Hearts need to be healed, to forgive. Whether I’m talking to a woman on the dirt floor of a slum or thinking back to conversations with those in the lap of suburban luxury, I’m finding that every human heart cries for the same thing, whether they realize what they are crying for or not, and none of us will be satisfied until we find it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Wind

India is hot. And there is no air conditioning—although I’ve almost forgotten that’s abnormal. The result is that doors and windows are left wide open. In bedrooms, the auditorium, dining hall, vehicles. Buses have no doors, only entrances and exits that never close. The small auto taxis are completely open—only a windshield and canvas roof, sometimes a back.

So we leave our homes, our lives open, and we wait. Anytime the breeze comes we can feel it. We breathe in the air, welcome it, let it kiss us in it’s passing. When we move down the highway it pours over our faces, reverberates in our ears. The wind sustains us through the heat. Brings relief.

I’ve always been able to feel God in the wind. They are both invisible aside from the evidence of their passing, both come with utter gentility and hurricane force.


So when I am hot, tired, lonely, I stand on the roof or at the window and I wait. The wind comes—whispering, moving, gusting. It is a voice reassuring my heart, “I am here. I have not left you.” I let it tickle my skin, play with my hair, watch it move in the palm trees, stand in awe as it makes me feel small.

Like the Indians, I leave my window open, so the wind is free to enter any time it pleases. I don’t want to miss anything it might have to say.

Wednesday

A holiday. No school.
The children come.
A borrowed mat spread over the dirt. A place prepared.


Singing.
Pictures colored for a story.



A craft.


Bananas.


Women filter into the edges to listen.


In the afternoon, a burning fever.
It breaks within a few hours.
I rise, shower away the sweat, and walk to have tea in an Indian home.
At the end of the day, there has been goodness in every moment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rising in the morning, thank you, Abba. Breathing. An opportunity to serve. Thank you. Clean laundry hanging dry on the roof. Faces that smile in recognition. Morning prayers. Jesus, thank you. Gravel crunching beneath my feet. The vehicle arrives. Singing. Two women come to sit with us in the slums. God, fill my heart with gratitude.

An aging woman who’s son beats her and his wife. Hands that reach to touch her. Saris lifted over the head as words murmur from our lips towards heaven. Thank you. To the one who saves, the one who’s heart cries out in anguish. We can do nothing to change a life. You can do everything. Thank you.

Sewing machines that work without electricity. New tailoring students. Heat. Dripping sweat. Rice and curry. Children that come to school, have a chance at a future better than their parents. A headache that won’t go away. A room with a fan to rest. My heart overflows with a grateful theme.

Eyes that want to go to sleep. Paper, pens, drawing picture cards. A chance to tell children stories. A banana. A campus crowded with visitors. Watching a painted sunset from the rooftop. The touch of a friend. I will address my praises to the King.

In season and out of season, for things small and great, for the beautiful and ugly, and especially all things difficult, I will say thank you. I must say thank you. I have the privilege of saying thank you. For the anchoring goodness of God.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Writing 5's

I tutor six to ten children after school every day. For a number of reasons most of the children were not able to come today, only Ajay—a restless four-year-old from the first class who cannot understand English. “Very naughty, that one,” the Indian women will say.

So there Ajay and I sat, at a small, chalk-covered desk, I trying to get him to copy his figures and he trying to avoid or prolong the process by whatever means necessary. He didn’t have a pencil and I only had a mechanical one. He kept pressing too hard. The lead kept breaking. He was impatient, restless. I was trying to make him understand how he was writing the number five wrong. For a language I had my hands, two words I know in Telagu, and four words he knows in English.

After he finished, I planned on taking him to the canteen and buying him a small treat, but I had no way to communicate this to him, to use it as motivation. Come on, Ajay, I inwardly groaned. Just two more rows of numbers. He had no idea what was in my heart. He only saw the figures in front of him and felt the desire to avoid anything hard.


How often am I like Ajay, whining and fussing under a simple task, stubbornly putting my head in my lap to avoid having to pick up the pencil again? Yet God is waiting to unleash the blessings of heaven if only I will finish writing out three more 5’s.

Our language with the divine is limited. There is no way for him to make us comprehend the blessings of pressing through when life is hard. We just have to trust him, to finish the tasks we don’t enjoy because we need to. Because we are still in school. Because writing 5’s is what we’ve been given to do.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The way back from school...

Today, while school was in session, piles of gravel and dirt were dumped on the mud road outside. The intention is for the government to work on improving it tomorrow. By the time school was released, the school bus couldn’t get through, so we had to walk to the bus stop. I hiked up my sari with one hand, grabbed my bag with the other and tromped with the children through the mountains of rain-soaked dirt. My feet were covered in mud when we got to the village, and we were late. The public bus had already gone. The next one would not come for two hours.

The alternative was to take an auto—the equivalent of two benches on three wheels with a windshield for the driver and a tarp for a roof. So thirteen of us piled in—four teachers, two Indian women, and six children clinging to the sides. I sat facing backwards on a plank sandwiched between the driver and passenger bench. One arm clutched my belongings. The other clung to a metal bar overhead, my head tucked into the crook of my arm to avoid bashing it against the ceiling as we traveled jerkily along. I couldn’t see anything of where we were going with the exception of the pavement rushing by, but I could smell the things we passed. Fetid water, roasting corn, herds of buffalo. The rain blew in and pelted against the exposed parts of my back. With every dip in the pocked road, the metal frame of the vehicle dug into my side.

The teachers looked at me and said, “For you, this is an experience, yah? You will have to remember this day.”

Once we reached a more traveled highway closer to the city, we switched from auto to bus. Then, as I separated from the teachers, it was back to auto for the last leg. I had been two and a half hours since leaving the school.

I will remember. It is everything about India that I love. Ebb and flow. Graceful jolting. The improvisational rhythm of life. We’ll all get there… eventually.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Child-like trust

The children here sleep anywhere. Crammed with seven people into a three-wheeled auto taxi or sprawled in their mother’s lap on the bus, head cocked at a curious angle, mouth agape. The bus rocks, sways, jerks to a stop. They are oblivious. The streets are noisy, the bus crammed with people. The driver sounds the horn to clear a path through the streets; it is deafening. Still they sleep on. I find it amazing, this ability to sleep anywhere, anyhow. Sometimes I am jealous.

Children are so trusting. Sometimes I try to rest on the bus. I close my eyes and let my head drop forward. But with the next stop, the next large sway or jerk, my eyes jump to the window again. Where is the bus going now, I wonder. What obstacle do we face? Why are we tilting so far to the side?

But the children, they sleep. The swaying, jolting, shaking—it is of no account when they are tucked into their mother’s arms.

Unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven…

I watch the children pressed into their mothers’ laps and I ask God to make me like them. It’s not that I want to be oblivious to the traveling of the bus, but I want my heart to continue resting and trusting when I feel it rock from side to side over unexpected dips in the road. I don’t want my heart to be impatient when I feel the vehicle jolt to a stop in a traffic jam before I’ve arrived where I want to be. I want to live with the assurance that no matter how bumpy the journey, there are hands that hold me, will carry me through, will whisper, keep resting. I know where we are going.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cultural Insight #1

Indians are very blunt. If something is brown, they are not going to call it blue or green or even gray. They are very attentive to cultural manners, but they never speak please or thank you. So until you adjust to the change, requests sound like commands.

Sit.
Take rest.
Have lunch.

My second week here I caught a cold. One of the women I interact with every day, in the morning she first said, “you are looking very dull today.” I think it’s their way of saying, “Are you sick? Should you go back to bed?”

India is wrecking havoc with my face. Every single one of my pores seems to be gradually joining the clog-fest. I don’t know if it’s the dust, or the sweat, or the food, or some other unknown factor, but here I am looking like a teenager again in the throes of pubescent acne despite the fact that I wash my face now three times a day. It’s okay. My vanity has gotten over it… almost. But it must be very obvious. The Indians are more concerned than I am. The first conversation of my morning went as follows:

“Good morning.” [this is me]
“Good morning. How are you?” [this is an Indian woman]
“Fine. How are you?”
“Good.” Pause. “Didi, (this means older sister and is used for respect) what is wrong with your face?”
Then I have to run through my store of English words to try to explain acne so they will understand. I’m not sure they do. Sometimes the same person will question me on more than one occasion. Or they offer suggestions.

In general, I think Americans are missing some of the graceful, cultural discretion and dignity of the Indians, so I’m not suggesting we adopt this method of communication. But it is refreshing here to know that no one is hiding things back. No one is afraid to ask me about what is plainly written on my face. Indians don’t avoid the elephant in the room. They ride it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Familiar Tracks

I feel at home in India when I am seated in the middle of a slum with children in my lap.


Or when I come and they run up with glowing faces, barely wrapping their small arms around my waist and squeezing for all their worth. “Teacher, teacher,” they say.


These moments remind me that it was worth it come. They carry me through hours of loneliness, waves of culture shock, my frustrations, irritations, doubts. They anchor my heart.

My month anniversary of being in this place and came and went sometime last week. In the slums, I’ve worked my way into being a regular part of their world. There’s a familiarity to the huts, the muddy spots in the road, the garbage heaps, the clotheslines of dripping saris, the bumps in the stone floor, the grandmother who greets me with covered head, folded hands, and a gentle nod. Welcome, she says in a language I can hear in my head but do not know how to spell.


It feels a bit like coming home. I can call the children by name. They ask for me when I am gone.



I knew the next time I went overseas I wanted to be able to stay a long time. Four months is not really a long time, but it’s longer than two weeks. I’m so glad I waited. A short-term team came with us this morning. They had a great program for the kids. They enjoyed themselves; I could see it in their faces. They were a blessing to all of us. But I’m glad I wasn’t leaving with them, that I was the one left standing still after the waves of goodbye faded from view.


India is gifting me moments and feelings I’m not sure I can describe. They are moments that only come with time, with being known, of sensing this is my place. They are cavernous ruts worn in the road. They are children’s eyes that sparkle with recognition, women that care enough at my coming to continually express their concern regarding my unwedded state, being present to notice when there is change.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When the person looking down says, No

I wanted something this week. It was something I couldn’t have when I first arrived in India, but I thought, surely with time it will come. But Sunday I walked straight into the wall of reality and smacked my head. No. I could not have it. Could not even discuss having it. Culture shock tripped me up and left me lying on the ground staring at a dark and brooding sky.

I was angry. Upset. I succumbed to tears alone in my room, trying to hug myself while I nursed my bruises and wishing for home. For the next forty hours I tried to fight with God.

It’s silly to fight with God. Futile. Let me put it bluntly—stupid. I always chide myself once I’m on the other side. What complaint do I have that can withstand his goodness? Can I dare to know what I should be given or withheld? Do I know better than God?

Agreement with God, I think, is the essence of this journey of faith. Agreement about everything—sin, truth, direction. Period. If my heart were quicker to agree with God, I might be spared countless hours of heartache and restlessness. Yet somehow my will stubbornly clings to its right to buck and protest—at least for a few hours or days.

This morning on the bus I finished wrestling with God. At least for now… I wish I could promise otherwise. I was reading Jeremiah’s story over the stubbornness of his people and the misery their stupidity brought upon their heads. Not me, oh Lord. Please. Forgive me. My quarrel with God is really so small when you hold it up to other things. “If this is how you mean for me to serve,” I tell him, “then let me serve well. With joy. With gratitude.

I walked into devotion and they were singing:
Perfect submission
All is at rest
I with my Savior am happy and blest.


Amen, Abba. Amen.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When the red carpet rolls...

India invites me to be free. But sometimes I feel smothered by the people I’m staying with. They are so attentive, so protective.

At the school they wait on my every perceived need, even the ones I don’t have. They follow me around asking if I’ve eaten, serving me tea, making special food, sitting me in the manager’s office. They will not let me stand, will not let me sit on the ground so that I’m forced to steal the teachers’ chairs. I’d really rather sit on the floor with the children like I do in the slums—but I can’t.

I’m also not supposed to leave where I stay when I am alone. So every outing must be planned. The streets beckon, but I stay inside. The mornings I go to the school, an auto takes me to the bus stop. The driver will not leave me, but waits until the bus comes which the teachers are on. I finally convince them to let me take another bus to meet up with the teachers instead. It’s not far. I have a cell phone. I’ll be fine. But then they won’t let me walk the half-mile to the bus stop alone. So I’m back to the auto and they are back to being inconvenienced.

I believe a fragment of my frustrations is justified. I came to serve. In my mind that means sitting in the dirt rather than taking the seat of honor. It doesn’t mean being waited on. But yesterday I heard God nudging at my heart. Pride, he said.

This monster hides itself so subtly within my heart. I should never be shocked to find him lurking in another buried niche, but somehow I always am. “What, you?” I say. “You can’t be here. I got rid of you before.” He only laughs. Until I let God dig him out yelling and screaming the entire way.

This time my pride values independence. I like not having to rely on others. I want to go alone. I don’t want all the attention. I don’t want to cause inconvenience. It might look like humility. But it’s pride wearing a mask. The only way to kill it is to submit to the authority and desires of my Indian hosts. So I stifle a scream with an upturned gaze. God teach me to die yet another way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ordinary days

This is a direct quote from another blog I read: Holy Experience by Ann Voskamp. After I read this I decided I couldn't find any better words today...

To know God is more than "aching for more than ordinary." On the plane of God and in the dimension of true reality, there is no ordinary. Ordinary ceases to exist. When we are reborn, we're drenched with wonder. The day, me, the world, it drips. To know God is to realize there's no such thing as ordinary and all our ache is only for more of His glory.

Here's to finding God envelope and transform ordinary days, routines and tasks with his presence.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Bus

Shopping in America:
7 minutes in the car
30 minutes in the store
7 minutes in the car
Done.

Shopping in India:
5 minutes walking to the bus stop
10 minutes waiting for the bus
25 minutes on the bus
10 minutes walking
20 minutes on another bus
10 minutes walking
1-2 hours in the stores
10 minutes walking
5 minutes waiting for the bus
20 minutes on the bus
10 minutes walking
25 minutes on another bus
5 minutes walking
Done.

Riding the bus in India is like traveling via sardine can. And sometimes you sweat so much you nearly smell like a fish when you get there. Bodies press against bodies until the bus is full and still more get on. And you pay the same whether you are standing on the stairs at the open door barely clinging to the inside of the bus or whether you are one of the fortunate few who manage to get a seat. I stand more often than sit. During the busiest times of day being on the bus feels like playing Twister with two bodies for every colored dot on the mat. There you are, a tangled mess of human flesh, trying to keep from falling over as the bus stops and starts. There is no more room. But when the ticket manager wants to come through the middle of the jungle of human limbs yelling, “tickets! tickets!” somehow we squeeze room out of thin air and let him pass.

You might think I’m complaining, but I’m not. Somehow it makes me feel alive, part of something bigger than myself, like one living cell in the midst of the teeming mass of humanity. And going shopping always feels like an adventure. When I come back to the states and travel to Walmart alone in my spacious SUV, I might just fall asleep from boredom.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A School

Thursday I went out to a school for the first time. It was a two-hour commute from auto to bus to school bus and then back again. As I sat on the bus, dipping and rising, thumping along, listening to the thrumming and protestations from the engine as we groaned our way through small villages, one-lane roads, and beautiful countryside, my mind was taking a journey back in time.

I could not help remembering. A group of youth in the Davy’s living room discussing The Treasure Principle, a small book by Randy Alcorn that changed our lives. Sud.z, in an auditorium under construction, eager faces determined to fill a thermometer on the wall to the top. Emptying our pockets week by week. Fanning across town to sell Coke products. Spray-painted worms made from dryer hose. A school. This school. And while I’m not in India to visit this school every day, I realized that if not for that book, that room, those people, I would not be here today. India would just be a spot on the map. When I look back at the threads God chooses to weave into my life, the thousand small decisions that could have taken me anywhere but here, I am awestruck. God is good. He is wise. Provident.

I could not stay in my reverie for long. India bumps and jolts you, jostles against you, demands your attention. The bus drove down a road I would never have thought a bus could maneuver. We passed vineyards, rice paddies, cornfields. At the last my heart fluttered with thoughts of home. Several times we stopped to wait for herds of goats and buffalo obstructing the road.

Because of the monsoons there was water everywhere, sometimes temporary lakes on either side of the road. In one such place we needed to pass another bus coming the opposite direction. There was not enough room, but the bus drivers made room. We backed up and inched forward, pressing further and further to the side of the road, making tracks in the grass. I prayed we would not slip and topple into the watery ditch. I could’ve reached out and touched the faces in the other bus.

The school is under construction. One classroom eagerly awaits the completion of the second story while they meet in the open hallway down below. The manager is excited I have come, but he wants more. “You are from Nebraska,” he says. “We are family. One day a week, not enough. You must come two days.” He leaves no room for any other alternative. I think through my week and offer Saturday, the only day I have free.


I don’t yet know why I am here. My role is not yet clear. The children here are very used to Westerners. I compare their faces to the ones of children in the slums and I am tempted to wonder, why am I here? I am tempted to think they don’t need me. But I sense the link I hold between this place and home, the hundreds of faces that are bonded by another thread because I stand holding the hearts of each within my own. I trust that the what will become more clear with time. I’m learning that anything new in India requires a window of observation and familiarization before it really comes to life. So I’ll wait, test the waters, watch for something to move.

And then I ponder… maybe someone else’s life will be changed by my presence here just as my life was changed by all those who came before me to this place. Perhaps…

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Daily Residue

These are the things I wash from my skin and my clothes every night:

Sweat. sweat. sweat.

Glitter from bangles…


Urine and slobber from holding infants in the slums...


Chalk from tutoring students after school…

Glue from working crafts with the kids…


Smoke from burning trash and boiling milk…

Mud from outside the huts in the slum…


Flower petals the villagers put in my hair…


Dust from the roads…


Snippets of thread from tailoring lessons…


I wash them away every night, but with each passing day I sense them burrowing beneath my skin where no water or soap will be able to erase them from my memory. I pray they do.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rain

The first drops of rain make their way towards me across the roof, leaving their wet footprints along the cement. They give the impression of the approach of something invisible. Then the pattering gives way to one solid gentle cleansing. The palm trees sigh and whisper in its passing like those who find themselves in the midst of a long-awaited coming home.

The heat here is strong, but it’s also the monsoon season. This means that whenever the temperature gets to be too unbearable, often there is a reprieve. The rain comes and—for however many hours it lasts—it brings refreshment, washing the air of dust and mosquitoes, blocking the heat of the sun, and soothing my ears with it’s song.

Every morning I wake up in the heat and I have a choice. I can grumble and complain inside my heart, or I can welcome the day, welcome the one who made it to show me his heart for the next few hours. Just when I find the foreignness, the rough climate, the wear of daily tasks has rubbed raw against my soul, the spirit comes—like the rain—and whispers cleansing, refreshment, peace. They are daily moments, small, not enough to carry me to December or even through the end of the week. But they are enough for the next hour, the next afternoon. They are the rain of spiritual manna.

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts…

My debts are large, my need for manna great. I would venture to say that the lessons the father is teaching me now are not unique to India. I could learn them at home, except for the fact that, here, he has my attention. I cannot leave. I cannot run to something more comfortable. I cannot surround myself with social engagements or other voices to drown him out. I need him to survive, and he knows it. I know this statement is just as true when I am home, yet somehow I have fooled myself into believing otherwise.

Friday, August 20, 2010

When the glamour fades...

Week one: everything is new, exciting, different.
Week two: routine beings. The glamour fades.

There are things about India that are wholly different from the States. There are things about India that feel so much like home that it takes me by surprise. Repetition is one.

When I was a student at Lee, there were so many days when I grew frustrated with living the same routine day by day. I stayed locked away in my room studying for long hours. Often I was tempted to question the purpose, to wonder if it all mattered in the grand scheme of things.

My heart is vain. It wants to do great things for reasons outside of myself, to be given opportunity to change lives and watch it happen. So I thought, I’ll go to India.

But India is not grand. The idea of India is grand, but on a practical level, what I face now is monotonous. Every day we go to the slums and do just about the same thing. Every day I am tempted to wonder, does it even make a difference that I am here?

I am finding—half a world away—that the problem is not with my surroundings or with my routine. The problem is with my heart.

So this week I am mucking through myself.

I face disappointment and father says, will you trust me? I fight feeling insignificant and he asks me to question whether my identity lies in my actions and my role or who he says I am. I do not see results and he counters, will you obey? I cry, this is not easy; he says, I never promised it would be.

In my weakness I find the pride and selfishness lurking in my heart. I want to love people on my own terms. I want to care for them if they respond a certain way. But someone else is telling me to love them because he loves them, not because they are loveable. Yes Father. I’m sorry. Teach me. This is my penitent cry—sometimes every five minutes.

I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he writes, “Who is pure in heart? Only those who have surrendered their hearts completely to [another] that he may reign in them alone. Only those whose hearts are undefiled by their own evil—and by their own virtues too. The pure in heart have a child-like simplicity like Adam before the fall, innocent alike of good and evil: their hearts are not ruled by conscience, but by the will of [another].”

I must be saved from my depravity, but I must also be saved from my good intentions, least they become idols and get in the way of my heart. I am so glad father is patient with this journey because sometimes I fear I tread so slowly.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Holiday

Yesterday was the Indian Independence Day. There was a worship concert here. It was India meets Hillsong, meets Sud.z drama team, meets Indian dancing, meets fog machines, meets Pentecostal manifestation of the Holy Spirit. They brought in extra speakers and cranked the volume. They like to rejoice hard, blood-pumping, ears ringing, heart bursting. It was beautiful.

I sat in the front row of the balcony where I had a perfect view of the stage and the people below. More than once I glanced below and thought, this is the look of those who have tasted of the sweetness of the presence of light in the midst of a great darkness.

So far, India has not been an experience of highs and lows. It’s been a fairly gentle journey, kissed with the quiet sweetness of the Lord. He is not shouting in my heart, but I sense him walking with me, whispering softly now and then. Sometimes he is almost silent, but present, like a hand pressed upon my shoulder or holding my hand. The pace of life here leaves lots of time to linger, to reflect, to be. This is something I think Indians do right. As Westerners, when we rush from one event to another without stopping, as if we are afraid of missing something, we miss out on so much more.

Stop.

Breathe.

Here people are more important than events or tasks. If you are not here we’ll wait for you to come. If you need us, we’ll stay with you longer, letting others wait for us. And then we stop and rest before moving on.

“Take rest,” the Indians tell me. “Take rest.” And I do.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

That Hideous Strenth

I just finished reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis and this quote is returning over and over to my mind:

“It is enough for the present,” said the Director. “This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew. It will not be enough for always. He is very jealous. He will have you for no one but Himself in the end. But for tonight, it is enough.”

How good the grace of God is that he sees our feeble attempts to follow him and credits them fuller than we can imagine. He looks at us and sees Christ’s righteousness rather than our own. He is a jealous God and will not be content to let us stay where we are forever, but for now it is enough. Amen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Things I’ve done this week I’ve never done before:

• Traveled on the left side of the road
• Showered from a bucket
• Eaten with my hands
• Altered my clothes without a machine
• Washed laundry by hand
• Ridden with ten people in a jeep made to comfortably seat six
• Gone to two church services in the same day in two different languages
• Eaten around a table of six where each person was from a different country
• Not paid attention when the electricity goes out
• Been peed on
• Learned to sing part of a song in Hindi
• Successfully eaten Indian curry for breakfast (this is the most recent and important accomplishment)