Friday, September 28, 2007

Habakkuk for today

My good friend Sarah, who spent last year in Sierra Leone, sent me a letter a few weeks ago. In it, she said to read Habakkuk. A small book. An minor OT prophet, the whole of which fills up three pages in my Bible. I have to admit, I don't often get over to Habakkuk.

I read it last night, and I am so glad I did. Habakkuk asks a lot of questions of the Lord, questions of why injustice and violence continue, questions of where the Lord is and why nothing seems to be happening. The same questions I've been asking for the last month.

Saturday is the international day of fasting and prayer for sex trafficking. As we prepare for this day, the girls of the red-light district are heavy on my mind and heart. In Habakkuk, I see their story. Did you know that most of the girls who live and work in Kolkata's brothels are not there by choice? Did you know that thousands of girls every year are tricked into prostituting because a "friend" has lured them away from their villages with promises of good work? Others come because their husbands have died or left, and their families won't accept them back into the fold.

Habakkuk laments that
"The wicked foe pulls [people] up with hooks, he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad.
...for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food.
Is he to keep on emptying the net,
destroying nations without mercy?" (1:16-17)

My heart tore at these verses, for I see the women who prostitute as the fish caught up in the nets of the wicked. So many are pulled into the trade by evil people who sell the bodies and souls of young girls for profit. As a poor woman in India, there's really not a lot of places to go if no one is offering you help. These women become trapped in the nets.

The Lord answers Habakkuk, assuring him that the answer is coming. "Though it linger, wait for it," says God. "It will certainly come." (2:3)

I find that I am in that waiting place. I wait in the foyer of tension. I hope. I pray. I fight. Yet it is a battle to sustain those actions, because the enemy is pushing back hard. "The righteous will live by faith," God continues. So I--we--keep faith.

We know what is coming. The fulfillment of this faith, the other side of the finish-tape line:
"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14)

This is my heart-cry. For myself, for the girls in the brothels, for all the nations. That all will be filled with "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord."

If you would, join me in praying on Saturday. Thanks for your prayers. I may have mentioned this already, but your prayers are a TREMENDOUS blessing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"There's a certain slant of light"

...and it fell on me today.

Flip-flopping down the four flights of stairs from Beth's flat today, my heart so full, a string of chuckles lined up at the back of my throat, almost skipping down the stairs two at a time. One of those moments when I feel 10 again, my hair in braided pigtails, back when I could run faster than Peter and sit on him, strong enough to keep him pinned to the floor. Not that I ever did that.

On those stairs, I wished that I could teleport every one of you here to see this. There is only so much canvas these words can paint, and there are full-frescoed ceilings and walls to describe. A thousand little colorful and vibrant threads that are the tapestry of my life right now, and I want you to see them up close, to see how glittery and dazzly some of them are, to notice the rich tones of others, to run your fingers across the texture.

That's the pretty metaphor. But the one I really want to use is that my thoughts are a rink of bumper cars--I have so much to tell you, but my thoughts keep ramming into each other, and to try to get all the cars to fall into a nice, orderly track is, of course, impossible. My mind is jammed tonight, and I wish I could spill my stories out before you, and you'd watch them hit the floor and instantly understand. :)

As they say in Indian restaurants when what you've ordered can't be produced, "Not possible."

Here's the alternative. A list of the bumper cars, the thoughts. Just a list. In no particular order.

-Worshipping with my team, Jesus among us, remembering how beautiful it is when brothers dwell together in unity
-Praying Psalm 91 over each of the WMF staff
-The power going off in the middle of the Indian cricket World Cup
-Tea time at Sishu with the famed "Mother Teresa" biscuits--where do they get those biscuits?--and talking to girls from all over the world: Spain, Wales, Canada, Japan
-Cold showers with one big blue bucket and one small red bucket
-Standing on a crowded bus or the Metro--the soundtrack for these rides is Sesame Street's "One of these things is not like the other"--and I am the "not like" thing
-The banana/gingerbread/teddy bear sheet on our bed
-Finding a half-eaten potato behind the bed and resignedly sighing, "the rat."
-A tiny and wrinkled woman squatting on the red-brick corner who will say "Namastay" to you if you give her change and even if you do not
-Hugging three children at once while another climbs on my back
-Riding in an auto-rickshaw next to a smiley, plump lady who tries to talk to me in Bangla--and me trying to talk back
-The panicky feeling I have when I think I've lost my wallet--again--ten-times-a-day-again.
-Dinners of whole fish--Aunty telling us to chew up the head and then spit it out--"So much nice juice, no?"
-Washing my clothes on a concrete slab

There. A list-skeleton of India life. Please fill free to imagine in all the remaining gaps.

Do you ever feel like beauty just finds you? Like you're simply living, marking off the calender squares, trying to be faithful, and then BAM, beauty or grace or wonder--or all three--come and kick-box your front door down and suddenly whatever film has been glazing your eyes is gone. "A thin place," the Celts termed it. A place where the great curtain between heaven and earth is a bit lighter, more transparent.

That was today.

As Beth reminded me via the Message translation of Psalm 23, "goodness and mercy are chasing you down." I need to be chased. I desperately need it. I have felt foggy lately. Distant from God and maybe from others, although no one here knows me well enough yet to perceive this frigidity of soul.

Today, though, I was standing by the front door when it fell in, and Grace came stepping over the frame. I looked up, wide-eyed and stunned. "I thought You'd forgotten where I lived, but I'm sure glad you remembered." God is faithful. Jesus is near. The Holy Spirit is present and powerful. All this and more Grace recounted to me, and my dry eyes moistened, my hard heard returned to a soft, doughy lump.

This is the giddy stair-jumping small-girl impulse.

This is the list of bumper-car thoughts, the realization of a full life, the following thankfulness.

This is the new set of eyes that see the makings of a splendid photograph in every shadowed corner and sunlit street.

This is the peace that I am not in charge of Kolkata, nor the world, nor the universe, but that there is one in charge--One who has not forgotten my name or what place I occupy in the planets He is holding.

May Grace come knocking at your doors today, my friends. He comes to say you are loved, you are not forgotten, and that you are sheltered in the shadow of the Almighty's wings.

Lastly, can I ask you all to be in prayer for myself, the team, and WMF staff during the month of October? October is the season of the biggest pujas (Hindu holidays). It's basically the equivelent of the American Christmas season. Frenzied shopping, decorations, parties and gatherings. But all of it is to honor Hindu gods, and so there is much happening in the spirit world. Pray the blood of Jesus over us, and that we would be wise and perceptive. Pray for Jesus' Name to pierce the darkness. Light. For light. So much light.

Such a long post. Phew. So much to say. Saving the rest for another day...

lara

Monday, September 24, 2007

the rain has come

Bus ride to Sishu Bavan: 4 rupees
Morning snack of biscuits at a corner dokan (store): 5 rupees
Stamps for a letter to America: 15 rupees
Lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken: 70 rupees
Wading through a foot of water and laughing with new friends: priceless.

It's monsoon season in Kolkata. Until now, it hasn't rained more than one day in a row, but the last three days the heavens have opened up, and it doesn't look like they're going to shut anytime soon. My umbrella is feeling the force--one prong has already broken, and I'm afraid a total collapse is imminent. When it rains like this, the streets flood, and today I plunged through nearly a foot of water while walking to lunch. Really, it will probably be okay if my umbrella disentegrates, because I'm going to get wet no matter what. :)

We had a special treat of KFC for lunch today. KFC is in Kolkata. Weird, I know. Chicken strips have never tasted so good. My team met for lunch after volunteering at Mother Teresa's homes. I brought along five Canadian girls, and Sheila brought two guys from Indiana. It's so refreshing to meet new people, especially Christians, and we had a good time today talking about life and why we're in Kolkata and what comes afterwards. I miss JBU a lot right now. After being in India almost six weeks, I'm starting to realize that I'm not going back to college. Me: "Oh, you mean I'm not living in the eternal summer? This is life now?" Yup. Real post-college life. And not that I don't love this life; I do. But I'm caught between a longing for beloved past places and an excitement for the road yet unseen. Sound familiar to anyone?

So anyway. Hanging out with people today was a blessing. And if you can't get around the roads-turned-rivers, you might as well splash around in the water.

Saturday, I read the story of the woman who breaks her alabaster jar in front of Jesus. Jesus is at the home of Simon the leper, and He is reclining at the table. This woman comes to Jesus with perfume so expensive that all who are gathered at Simon's house are aghast at what she does with it: she takes the jar and breaks it, spreading the perfume all over Jesus. Pours it all out, right there. A year's worth of wages, the footnote in my Bible says, 365 days of salary all spilled over Jesus' head. The crowd is appalled. "The money could have been given to the poor," they rage. Jesus says this: "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me."

I think that sometimes, I am the voice of the onlooker. Here's why. I want to replace costly discipleship with a giving that I can control. When I give to the poor, I feel like I'm "doing" something. When I give out of my pocketbook, I can manage the loss. But handing my whole entire life over to Christ? That's a surrender that I'm no longer in control of. Breaking the flask at His feet is a radical and extravagant move. It puts me so close to Him, in such an intimate position.

I want to break the flask.
No more guises of compassion and concern, maintained to appease a guilty conscience.
Jesus, teach me to love You recklessly.

Jesus, may our lives be "beautiful things" to You.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I love...

I love practicing Bangla with Aunty and Uncle.

Last night, we were all gathered in the living room, Uncle stretched out on the floor, Aunty on the couch, Sheila and I on two tiny wicker stools. Sheila was having trouble remembering a phrase Uncle had taught her, and he shook his head in mock disgust. "After you get a husband, then you will be remembering." Aunty and Uncle are pretty convinced Sheila and I need to find good husbands. :) Time for a classic language mistake. "Amar shamo kothay?" I pipe up with a puzzled and pained expression, which I thought meant, "Where is my husband?" Umm. Turns out shamo means samosa, a tasty little fried snack. Uh, husband would actually be shami. But I love practicing, and I even love making mistakes, because my goof-ups make Aunty and Uncle laugh so hard, and then Sheila and I laugh really hard, and the whole experience becomes one more of those beautiful moments that make me stop and give thanks for life, for adventure, for India, for following Jesus into places of both sorrow and joy.

I love realizing that what I'm doing right now matches so many of my dreams.

A few summers back, I read John and Stacy Eldridge's book, Captivating. I know there are some who find too much emotion and not enough meat in the Eldridges' books, but I did take away something meaningful from that book. Stacy wrote in one chapter about the deep places of a woman's heart, the things we treasure and hope for almost too much to verbalize. She suggested making a list of those things. So I did. I still have that list at home, and I remember almost everything that's on it, and last night, as I was journaling, I realized that so many of the deepest dreams I scribbed on that paper are here. Now. Children. Women. Freedom. Hope. Redemption. It was such a sweet "aha" moment. Remembering so many prayers and hopes. Not that they are now fulfilled once and for all, but I am starting to see the edges of those dreams. My heart is thankful.

I love wandering with Hannah.

Hannah is meeting me at this Internet cafe in a few minutes, and we're going to go gorte, gorte. Wandering, wandering. Hannah is my Kolkata wander-buddy. Maybe we will buy some fresh fruits and vegetables from the street vendors. Maybe we will find a special cafe tucked away on a tiny side street, and we'll have amazing food, maybe even the best food we've had so far. Maybe we'll meet a new friend. Or two or three. Maybe... Oh the possibilities!

In closing, may I just say "Happy Birthday" to my amazing Mom. If you live close enough to my mother to give her a hug today, do. Then give her another one. For me. I can't cry in the Internet cafe (that would be embarassing!), but I want to cry when I think of how many times she died in one way or another in order to give life to her family. She is selfless, hard-working, beautiful, strong, and gentle. My mom taught me how to pray, because when I was a little girl, I would get up in the morning, tip-toe into the living room, and find her kneeling by the couch. That was what I saw morning after morning. I love you, Mom. I miss you a lot.

And finally, a verse that cheered my heart yesterday:
"You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence."
-Psalm 16:11

Amen.
_________


Ok. A small p.s. I was looking around Facebook because Hannah came and was checking her email, so I had a few extra minutes, and all that introduction to say, I found the cutest picture ever on my sister's Facebook page, and it made me so happy that I just want to show everyone. Sadly, the only person I know even remotely close to me right now is Hannah. So I showed her. And now I want to show you, my blog family. Check out this link for the world's best picture of my dad and my precious niece, Abigail. I love this picture. I love them. My day is so happy right now.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=866055&id=650470152

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ways to pray

I'm glad that some days, all it takes to be a successful teacher is the ability to draw a good elephant or ice-cream cone.

I was back at Sishu today for the first time in over a week. I missed a day last week due to an earache, and then we went to Darj. It was good to see them all again. To give them hugs and be happy with them. To realize that maybe they need love and attention and concern more than they need to be able to perfectly write each letter of the alphabet. And golly, we sure do have a good time coloring. My elephants are becoming quite nice, I think.

I would like to let you know some specific ways you could pray for me. Here are some things I jotted down in my journal a few days back.

-Continued spiritual protection and wisdom--satan doesn't like freedom and truth
-The future of WMF Kolkata. They are dreaming for the future. Ideas of a halfway home for the girls who prostitute and a daycare for the children of the women are two possibilities. I get really excited thinking about the daycare. Maybe someday, the Lord would lead me back here to be a part of that??!
-There is a lady on the road that I take to get to Sishu Bavan. She lives there, I think, because I see her every time I pass. I have stopped and tried to talk to her, but now I am sort of at a stand-still. She wants something from me, but I'm not sure what, because my Bangla isn't that good. Food, medicine, money? Maybe all. How do I love her in a real and relevant way? Pray for specific insight on this. I know I am not called to meet all the needs in Kolkata, but there is something about this lady that keeps tugging on my heart. I think her name is Ranu.
-Along with that, general sensitivity in listening to the Spirit
-A deeper revelation of God's love for me and the world
-Health. I had a bad earache last week, and now I have a sinus infection. I'm worried about the earache coming back, because it still feels a little funky inside there.

I miss you guys! I miss you so much. In three months, I hope to give HUGE hugs to as many of you as I can!

ALL praise to our God! So faithfully He teaches us and leads us. Grace to you as you love and serve Him wherever you may be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There's gotta be something redemptive about sweating

I'm back in Kolkata! We left Darjeeling Monday morning, all seven of us packed into a Tata Sumo (an Indian SUV) along with our driver and a luggage boy. Once down the mountain, we took an overnight train from Sunigiri to Kolkata. The sleeper car is quite the experience. People walk through the compartment at all hours of the night. I remember rolling over at 4 this morning to the sound of this voice: "CHA! KOFI! CHA! KOFI!" It was the tea and coffee man, coming through the train for all those early risers eager to start the morning. Like there is anyplace to go. :)


It's good to be back in Kolkata. The only thing that isn't quite so good is the sweating. Folks, it's still super hot here in K-town. Back to the tried and true ponytail. When I wore my hair down this weekend, I realized how long it is getting. I'm excited! I like long hair. I forgot that. I had the happy realization yesterday that if someone handed me a ticket to fly home today, I would say "Thank you, but no thank you." Kolkata is still right and good. It is still the chapter for me right now. I can say after a month of much hardness and even more goodness that I would rather be here than any other place in the world. Thanks to those of you who faithfully pray for my peace and joy. Those gifts are coming. And even better, they are staying.


A small story from the train station yesterday.
Jyoti.

I do not know what her name really means, but I think that I have read or heard somewhere that the English translation of the Bangla is joy. Her face shines with a smile that I rarely see in the children who beg. Most wear a weathered, hardened, empty gaze as they move their hands from stomach to mouth, the universal sign that crosses language barriers to ask, "Please, won't you give me some money or food?" Jyoti uses the sign too, yet her mouth explodes in an upward curve of happiness, and when I ask her simple questions in Bangla, she laughs.
One moment outside the train station.
In the next, I will walk inside and never see Jyoti again. How much of this meeting is mere chance or the inevitable result of a Westerner's presence in a crowded Indian venue? How much is Divine, a sweet and beautiful exchange orchestrated by the Magnificent Hands that hold us all?
I believe it is the second.

Oh! To have eyes that see life with the expectation of encountering the sacred around each corner and through every door! For God is with us, but He is also above us, guiding our steps and lining our paths with stepping-stones of purpose.
Jyoti, thank you for laughing with me today.
Thank you for reminding me that hope has not taken ill and died.
Thank you for teaching me that giving is a privilege, whether that gift is of myself or my possessions. So often I build a barbed-wire fence around my heart, but Jyoti squeezed under the sharp prongs today, and in her arrival I hear this truth:
How much life is found in giving.

And now, the momentous event you've all been waiting for! A little pictorial tour of the last month of my life.

Hmm. So I don't have time to figure out how to rotate this picture. So maybe all you viewers at home could just rotate your heads. :) This is Sheila, my dear and wonderful roommate, and me. We are in our room at home.

Dinner-time at home. The lady in the middle is our great Aunty, the all-time best Indian cook. Bengalis don't eat dinner until late (8:30 or 9:00 pm), so Sheila and I are already sporting our Indian nighties. Nice, huh? Oh, also please note that we are becoming true Indians and eating with our hands.

This is outside of our home. I think we're on our way to church.


Hannah and me at my birthday dinner! Somehow, someway, Beth managed to procure REAL LETTUCE for an AUTHENTIC SALAD. That lady knows me well, and she is amazing. Note my excitement. This is the first time I've had a real salad in nearly a month. We also had mac-and-cheese. Oh, the wonders of familiar American food when one is far from home. :)

Here is the rest of my team, minus leader Beth. This is on our way to Darj. Hannah, me, Josh, Jodi, and Sonny. What a crew. I love 'em.


Sheila and I found a cafe in Darj that served REAL COFFEE! Oh boy! Here I am, blissfully happy over such a fortunate discovery. Thanks, Darjeeling. You were good to us. Even if you are world-renowned for your tea, I will always remember you for the incredible French-press coffee you gave us.

That's all for now. Posting pictures takes a while. Sorry I don't have any of the women or children I'm working with. WMF and Mother Teresa's have pretty strict picture policies, for the privacy and dignity of the people they work with. But hopefully at the end I will get to snap a few pics of my new friends.

Thanks so much for your prayers! I was going to post some specific prayer requests today, but I have run out of time, so maybe tomorrow. Thanks also for emails, comments, and real mail! I got some real letters today, and while I didn't think anything could top getting mail as a college student, getting mail in Kolkata exceeds even that joy. :)

Ashchi!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

poverty

Hello again from Darjeeling!

Beth gave us some alone time this morning, some space to be with Jesus and the quiet, and what a lovely few hours it was. I sat in a small cafe called Glenarys, had some tea and a muffin that tasted almost like home, and looked out over moutains wearing a wispy coat of fog. Here are some of the thoughts from that time.

We're talking about community this week-end as a team. Community with each other and community with the poor. And my world is flipping. (As India has already done to me several times. Jesus through the physical location of India, actually.) In true community, our roughest parts come exposed. Our deepest hurts and pains, the reality of who we are when only a few people are watching. I am seeing the reality of me.

A month ago, I would have told you that I was coming to Kolkata to serve the poor. Yet being with the poor shows me how abjectly poor I also am. In living with them, I see things that are hard to love--dependency, perpetual extension of needs, dirt, grim, smell, hardness. I realize that I cannot love them in some noble laying down of self. My inflated notions of being Mother Teresa II to a hurting world lose air fast when I see that these things (along with many other dark things) are in me too. I am no better.

Before India, I had a pretty set system down, a system of finding my worth in things that are very temporary. Most of the time, I could make the system work. "When I am pretty, I am valuable," I thought. Now I sweat all the time--too much to even attempt make-up, and I throw my hair back in a ponytail, and the water here makes my face break-out like I'm re-entering puberty. "When I can make people notice me, then I am valuable." Now the only reason people notice is because I'm different, and they aren't impressed, they're just staring at the differences. "When I can do something really well, then I am valuable." Now the people I hang out with don't really care about my accomplishments. It seems my personal resume has little relevance in a city where survival tops the list of priorities. "When I appear kind and selfless to others, then I am valuable." Now I'm living so closely with six other people that my selfishness is exposed for what it really is. These days, sin doesn't stay hidden quite as well.

Kolkata has stolen all my props, and I am standing on the stage naked and shivering, facing an empty theatre of abandoned seats, and now I know my own poverty, and now I am disgusted with myself, and now I am being dismantled.

All these thoughts had been floating inside me the last few weeks and came together this morning. I remembered that at the beginning of the trip, I had asked Jesus to demolish me and put me back together in His likeness. Internal whining began. "Jesus, it feels like I'm only being torn down. The reality of who I am is awful. I hate it. When I asked you to tear me down, I also asked You to rebuild me. Remember??"

I see my poverty, and I say, IMPOSSIBLE. What can I do?
I see the poverty of the world, and I say, WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?
How will You ever perfect me, and how in the world are You ever going to redeem this groaning planet?

Yet my Father sees my poverty, and He says,
"For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son...
If God is for us, who can be against us? If He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceeding for us." (Romans 8:29, 31-34)

I can do nothing about my poverty, but He can do everything! I don't know that I necessarily relish this stripping, this grim encounter with my own empty coffer, but:

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who hhave been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:11-12)

I am lame.
I am weak.
I am poor.

But that is not the end of it. I am being healed.

Our God is so good. Press into Him, dear friends. May we trust our Jesus enough to let Him re-shape us however He needs to, though the process hurts.

One last thought from Jean Vanier, a man who lived for 25 years in a community for the disabled. His little book From Brokenness to Community has shown me a lot of truth.

"It is painful to discover the hardness in one's own heart...to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was! I did not want to admit all the garbage inside me. And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to thers how good I was...
People may come to our communties because they want to serve the poor; they will only stay once they have discovered they themselves are the poor. And then they discover something extraordinary: that Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor, not to those who serve the poor!"

Friday, September 14, 2007

Maybe it's the Mefloquine...

or maybe it's the rats.

Whatever the culprit, my sleep and the sleep of my dear roommate has been quite fragmented lately. It all began a few days ago when Aunty came into our room shortly before bedtime. "You no keep food in here. There is rat." Oh no. I froze. One of my India nightmares was coming true before my very eyes. We emptied out of stash of American comfort food, which after a month, we'd mostly whittled down to a few granola bars and an assortment of candy. But apparently even a little goodness attracts our rodent friends. Aunty whisked our food away to a safe place, and Sheila and I went to bed safe. Or so it seemed. A few hours later, in that place where the lines between waking and sleeping blur, I sat straight up.

"Sheila! I know it's the rats! I know it!" I screeched.

She bolted upright. We made a smooth and simultaneous move to the middle of the bed. "I heard them scratching. And squeaking. I know it." Sheila looked at me skeptically. Okay, so the room was still very dark at this point, but I know skepticism was written all over her face. "What should we do?" she asked. "Are you sure you aren't just dreaming?"

"NO." And then the sound came again. And this time, we both heard it. Unmistakable squeaking and scratching. Decidedly of the most vicious rat variety. After a little frantic whispering, the plan formed: Sheila would reach the lightswitch without leaving the bed, and I would reach the door with the help of the blue plastic chair.

That's when we saw him, folks. Mr. Rat, in flesh. Who promptly ran out the door. By now, we'd woken Aunty and Uncle. I try to view the situation from their perspective, and well, it becomes incredibly funny. Because when they came to the door with puzzled faces, there we were, two American girls, one cowered on a bed and one shivering on a flimsy chair. It must have been pretty funny from their perspective, since all they could do was laugh.

Back in bed with the lights out, my grand missionary notions rapidly crumbling as I realized that I really, really, really don't like sharing a room with a rat, I tried to fall back asleep. It took a while. Since that night, Sheila and I have shared a series of dramatic wake-ups, always attached to vivid dreams. It could be the rats. But we're also both taking an anti-malaria prescription, and in the tiny print of the directions/warnings for this medicine, we discovered one of the unhappy side-effects of Mefloquine is that it could cause nightmares or hallucinations. So then again, it could be the Mefloquine.

We're making it through. We will win this battle. :) Although my toothbrush was not so fortunate. Alas, I found suspicious chewing marks on it this morning just as I was about to put it in my mouth. Oh rats.

But this whole post is not about rats. There's many other good things going on in Kolkata. Actually, we are currently in Darjeeling, a town north of Kolkata high in the mountains. Our team is here for the weekend for a small retreat. It is beautiful here, and so good for the heart and body to breathe fresh air, see green woods, drink tea, and laugh, pray, cry, be with the six people who are becoming so dear to me.

Had an intense encounter on Wednesday. A real-life replay of the Good Samaritan story.
There was a man lying on the sidewalk who Sheila and I passed at different times. He was there on Tuesday, and he was in the exact same spot on Wednesday. He was lying in the fetal position in his waste. Flies covered him. I smelled him before I saw him. I walked by, stunned, stupored, sad. A familiar feeling. Then I forgot.

Until Sheila mentioned him Wednesady night. A sudden start in my heart. Oh yes. Him. What to do? We sat on the bed in silence. One life. But a life that matters intensely. What if it were my life? I've been asking that question a lot lately. We called a good friend Jesse, who came and met us to see if the man could be taken to Mother Teresa's. It turned out that we couldn't take him that night, because the center was closed, but Jesse said he would come back for him in the morning. So we bought some biscuits and water and anti-diarrhea meds, and we knelt to pray the power of Jesus' Name over him. I think I understood for the first time, in a heart knowledge, what it means to see Jesus' face in the least. Jesus was there, in the stench and the shame!

What happened on Wednesday showed me that I sometimes read the Gospels more as nice stories than as reality that should rearrange me. Because all my life, from my little girl days of Sunday school flannel boards to more recent scholarly discourses, I have viewed that story with a smug heart: "Glad I'm the hero. Glad I'm the Good Samaritan." But now, I see that when the roles are divied up, I am actually clamoring for the part of the priest or Levite. My first reaction was to walk on by. To change sides of the street. When we got back to our house after feeding the man, I flipped to Luke 10. I read the parable and, oh man. It was real life! That had just happened!

Jesus won't ask me if I kept my skirt clean at the end of time. Or if I had a good time at home, safe and comfortable.

Jesus became flesh to dwell among us, and now we are His flesh.
Far from being a burden, what a beautiful voc ation...
to be Christ to people...
His hands...
clearing away the dirt...
bringing life...

Friday, September 7, 2007

running

"But I will lay down my cards
and show You my hand...
You've got me running to You
There's no where else I can go"
-Jan Krist

This post's for you, Dad and Uncle Dave. :)

One of the beautiful parts of my childhood was the time I spent listening to my Dad's funky, grassroots music. He likes musicians with an edge, musicians you won't hear on standard Christian radio, but men and women who love Jesus nonetheless. Driving across the country on family vacations, the voice of Jan, or Bill Mallonnee, or Phil Keaggy, or Van Morrison seeped out our car speakers. Then, I think, I was mostly confused by their music. In recent years, however, I've come to appreciate Dad's eclectic tastes...even claiming some of them as my own.

Fast-forward to this morning, when I sat down in the Sishu Bavan classroom a few minutes after school let out and pulled out my iPod, a rare and wonderful audio treat. Jan sang, "You've got me running to You," and I scribbled down the words in my journal. Yes. The Lord is calling me to run to Him. In the pain. In the joy. So I'm letting go of the illusion that I know how to play my hand, and I'm giving the whole deck over to Him. He's teaching me to let go of the edges of my life, the center of my life, and everything in-between. And then to run. Towards Him.

I discovered today that the classroom just might be the quiet space I've been yearning after. I sat there with the lights off (but fan on!) for nearly an hour today, journaling and praying and thinking, and no one came to tell me I needed to leave. What a wonderful thing. Then I cut out numbers for Monday's class, walked out the door, and proceeded to catch a bus entirely on my own. Uncle Das would be proud. :)

Tonight is community night for our WMF family here, which means we gather at Beth's flat and eat dinner together. Laugh. Maybe play some games. Celebrate our team being in India for three weeks.

Oh...remember Asha? I wrote about her several posts back, and now there is a happy development in her story. One of our friends took her to the Mother Teresa home of Prem Dan on Wednesday, and they admitted her. A surpising answer to prayer, because she wasn't seriously ill, which is usually a requirement for admission. Asha has a bed now! And food and people who will take care of her.

I tried a new fruit yesterday. I believe it's called a "custard apple." Mark, this part of the post is for you, brother. :)

Okay. Until another day!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

choto chobi, or small pictures

Important matters of business first.

Who wants to adopt nine Indian children?

'Cause I know of nine kids who are pretty special. :) I loved school today. Today is the 10th anniversary of Mother Teresa's death, hence, a holiday of sorts, and all the children were dressed up. Raju has completely stolen my heart away. You know those long tunic tops that Indian men sometimes wear? Maybe you do, maybe you can't picture it at all. That's okay. Anyway, Raju was wearing a white one with white pants, and when he asked me to pick him up and hold him, my heart was his. I think the Mother Teresa homes have a policy that volunteers can't take pictures until their last day, so I can't show you what Raju looks like. But folks, he's cute. We colored an extra lot today, since we weren't really having true school. Yay, holidays. Flowers (phul) and cars (gari) are in high demand on the Sishu Bavan coloring market.

Another person I wish you could meet is Uncle Das. Uncle is my house-dad, and he is one of the funniest men I have ever met. He's a tiny man, and he's 58, although he looks older. He has glasses, and he chews tobacco, which he calls his medicine. "Oh Lah-rah, Seelah, this is my medicine," he tells us as he taps it out of the little blue container. We're onto him. This morning he walked me to the main road to catch the bus. Actually, the last six mornings he has walked me to the main road to catch the bus. I wonder if he's afraid I'll take the wrong bus if I go alone. Sometimes, though, this feeling of being well taken care of and protected is a nice one. Uncle hails the bus, shouts something to the driver in Bengali, and fifteen minutes later, I am dropped off safe and sound at Sishu Bavan.

One thing you could pray for. I'm a little bit stumped on how to find quiet time here. As I process many things and ask just as many questions, I would love to have a quiet place to retreat to. So far, I haven't stumbled upon many places that meet that description. How to know Jesus better when I don't have a space to pour out my heart to Him? I know that He will provide for this. I will probably have to get a little creative. Sheila and I tried to find a place called the "American Centre" yesterday, where for ten rupees and passport in hand, one can go and sit in an A/C library-ish setting. In receiving directions, we were told to look for the "big white building that has men with guns out front." Hmm. We passed a few buildings that looked promising, but in the end, no American Centre. We think it's a phantom. Too good to be true. But, back to meeting with God. I read an article by a WMF staffer the other day, and she was writing of this same dilemma in her big Brazilian city. She pointed out that in Psalm 42, David doesn't say, "Where can I go and meet with my God?" but "When." Maybe, she said, knowing God better is not so much a matter of place, but of time. There's a prayer stuck in-between the pages of my Bible that a very dear friend once gave me, and when I read the words on this tiny piece of orange paper, I am reminded to pray that I will find God. In unexpected places. All throughout the day.
Let me seek Your face always and with ardor...
Let me remember You
Let me understand You
Let me love You.
Increase these things in me until you refashion me entirely.
-St. Augustine

On a less important topic: I miss coffee so greatly. Indian coffee is, for the large part, only instant. With a lot of milk and sugar added. In very tiny cups. A bit traumatic for a girl who likes strong, black coffee in BIG mugs. But although the coffee situation is disappointing, the street food situation is amazing. I can eat lunch for about 25 cents.

We're staring to interact more with the women who work at the sewing business. Yesterday I spent four hours there, asking a few timid questions with my primitive Bangla collection, watching the women sew, and trying my hand at a few stitches. The business is such a place of hope! I love that! I love that these women aren't trapped in the sex trade anymore. I love it that they get to work in a safe place, get to laugh, get to eat lunch together, get to take a small nap after lunch, get to make beautiful blankets out of old saris. The WMF staff here talks a lot about how the blankets are an image of the women's lives. Old and discarded things that are being made new and lovely. As we learn more Bangla, we'll gradually spend more time with these women and less time at the Mother Teresa homes. We'll also get to start visiting the red-light district later in the month.

Dekha hobe, my friends. (Th literal translation of dekha hobe is "seeing will happen." They don't really say "good-bye" in Kolkata. Just promises to meet again soon.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

graces and pains

I'm on my way to meet some friends for lunch, so this post might have to be a quickie. But here are a few thoughts.

Some everyday graces for which I am so thankful:
-ceiling fans
-cold showers
-Sheila, my roommate, who will process life with me and laugh at dumb jokes
-still lice-free after three weeks
-cha (tea)
-the rainbow of color India displays in its clothing, buildings, and foods
-my Sishu kids
-believing in the power of love a little more each morning
-my Bengali nightgown (it's so cool-looking...and really comfy)
-patient Indians who will help me learn Bangla

Yesterday we went to the Assemblies of God church here in Kolkata. It was huge! I walked in, and my first feeling was one of shock. A very wealthy church catches one off guard here perhaps more than in the States. It felt like such an anomaly. As we began to worship, I was struggling. I couldn't get past all the pain that I've seen every day. How to worship in the midst of such suffering? And then, the Spirit spoke to my heart in quiet truth, and this is what I heard: the only answer for such great pain is great, great love. And our God is all love. More than we can conceive, fathom, imagine. He is beyond the word of "love," and beyond our definitions, for He is love. Is. Is. Is. His very state of being. Love.

Thank God for His continual renewal of my heart. But keep praying for this, because it is a battle to remember love and to not question its ultimate triumph. These streets make me feel like I am walking around Kolkata with a box of band-aids, unable to dress the gaping wounds that won't stop gushing blood. The other day Sheila and I were sitting outside the metro exit, and I looked up to see a skeleton moving toward us. I thought at first it was a man. Short hair, uncovered chest. But then I realized it was a woman. Here are some thoughts I scribbled after she shuffled past.

bleeding bundles of humanity
aching pieces of human flesh and marrow

one more face
one more picture of pain imprinted on my mind

a woman whose ribs protrude
a woman whose breasts are bare
a woman with short, cropped hair
a woman
an image of God
a poem of His writing
a picture of His painting
five feet of the dust of this earth
soil supposed to be a fertile garden
now a barren desert, a dried up well

how can i turn away?
yet what can i do?
sit
sit on this metro stoop and cry
cry for a world that is not right
the sin that paints its stripes in defiant colors
across the drawing board of their lives

I pray every day to understand love and compassion more. I think the Lord is teaching me, but this learning hurts. Pray that my heart will be soft. And that I will rest in His love.

Thank you for your prayers, emails, comments. They mean so much. I love you.