Monday, December 24, 2007

this silent night

The crucifix still hangs around my neck.

A small silver cross purchased once upon a trip to Nepal. A piece of hemp, well worn, just a bit scratchy next to skin.

This is the necklace I have worn since December 14, when a dear friend in Kolkata handed it to me a few hours before we hailed a taxi and snail-snuck through smoggy streets to the airport.

"You can touch it when you feel nervous or afraid, ok?" she said.

I was nervous. I was afraid. The prospect of traveling 35 hours alone was one I had been dreading for weeks. I looped the cross around my neck, and I held on.

I held it in Kolkata, waving goodbye to my teammates as they rode an escalator to a different gate.

I held it in Delhi on the shuttle ride between terminals, gazing out at the darkness, a black blanket thrown over roads and buildings to disguise India as any other country.

I held it in seat 27A across the Atlantic, through the hours of movies and packaged dinner trays and of chasing sleep with a thin red blanket.

I held it in Chicago at the customs desk where a middle-aged man eyed my passport and said, "welcome back," words which made me want to hug the world right then and there.

And in Kansas City, I held it when the exit ramp emptied out into the airport, and I caught sight of my parents, tears in their eyes and in mine.

Tonight it's Christmas Eve. It is the night when He became our flesh. The night when He "made His dwelling among us." I reach up to touch the silver cross. Still there.

I'm in Bolivar tonight, the modest Midwest town where I first met the Man whose cross I wear. I was seven then, and I knew Jesus was good, but I didn't know how good. I didn't know what "Incarnation" meant. Or that in the miles to come, in the following Him into places far and foreign, this knowledge--that He wore my skin and cried my tears--would be the most precious thing I believed.

It is my hope, this truth that Jesus came to us. He came, and He has never left.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

when appliances were scarce

"In India, we made toast on the griddle," I say. Rachel stands at the stove, pouring Bisquick batter into a pan. Small circles, soon to be pancakes. We cover them with whipped cream and strawberries, and we sit at the kitchen table, me sipping coffee, Rachel with a mug of hot chocolate. We talk about her daughter, my niece. Seven month Abby, blue eyed and mostly bald (if we're honest), has stolen every square inch of my heart. We trade information about what we bought Peter for Christmas and decide together whether he'll like it or think it's stupid. Teenage boys are a difficult gift demographic. And in-between these bits of life, I slip in fragments of the four month season that changed me more than any other time in my life.

My sister is home from California for Christmas, and I am home from Kolkata for Christmas. Being with Rach loosens my tongue and unstops my heart. I can tell her how one week ago, I was making toast in a fourth floor flat, trying not to burn both sides. On a good day, trying not to burn either side. Sometimes, I need to talk about toast. Sometimes, I can't talk at all. Then, she sits with me in silence and strokes my hair while I cry or stare out the window blankly.

This is good for me, the companionship of my sister and best friend, because I'm back in the land of toasters, where one button push will send my bread down and a timer will resurrect it soon after. I'm distracted. It's Christmas season, and I'm wrapping presents and catching up with friends on the telephone and wasting time on the Internet. I try to journal, and five minutes later, I set my pen down and go look for some more sugar cookies in the kitchen. Everything in me says this is the apt time to process. I ought to think and write and talk about India, but the remembering is hard. Harder than I want it to be.

So I will begin with burnt toast tales.

It's a start.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sunrise

I woke up this morning at 4. Jet lag, you remembered to come visiting for the holiday season. Thanks. :)

But, the positive side of waking up at 4 in the morning is that the world is quiet and still, and that is a side of the world I haven't seen much lately. I crept down to the living room and plugged in my mom's big, shiny Christmas tree. I sat in the recliner and thought about where I was one year ago and where I am now, and how I wasn't expecting a lot of what happened last year, and how I'm not sure where I'll be going from here. I opened up the accordian blinds that cover the huge windows in our living room. I have heard those windows are bad for heating bills. But for all the lack of cost-effectiveness, they are wonderful for looking outside. I waited for the sun to rise. Rise it did, arriving in layers of yellow and pink and purple. I am home, I thought. I am home where the trees are now in their elegant season, all icy and tall. I am home where three of the people I love the most in this world are sleeping nearby. I am home where I grew up from the ground, a fertile, tender ground that sometimes makes it hard to remember I am a pilgrim here.

I feel very broken right now. Kolkata feels like a dream, but this brokenness in my heart is evidence that yes, it did happen. In my prayers this morning, the Lord answered and led me to this:

Come, let us return to the Lord,
He has torn us to pieces,
but He will heal us;
He has injured us
but He will bind up our wounds...
let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge Him.
As surely as the sun rises,
He will appear.

As surely as the sun rises. I cried when I read that. God knows us intimately. As I watched the sun rise this morning, He already knew the heaviness of my heart. It did not surprise Him. It does not bewilder Him that I am back in Bolivar, although it is a bit bewildering to me.

To feel like a pile of pieces, torn apart and scattered, is the preface for His putting-together.

I will keep waiting. The sun does not rise in one quick moment.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

So this is goodbye

So many goodbyes.

Goodbye, Sishu Bavan, and my circle table of children who had the capacity to listen well but often did not demonstrate that ability. :) Goodbye to your "Good morning, Aunty!" greetings. Goodbye to tying the sashes of your uniforms when they came undone. Goodbye to singing "Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes." Goodbye to break time with Gugga from Iceland and Janelle from Canada, all of us perched on plastic stools around a table, a tin full of good biscuits and a metal teapot of hot cha in the middle.

Goodbye, Sari Bari, and the lovely ladies who are building lives of new hope. Goodbye to colorful stacks of blankets. Goodbye to squatting on the floor next to my friends, watching their steady stitches and hearing their loud chatter. Goodbye to G and U, my Bengali pals who help run Sari Bari and who are always managing to crack us up with a new phrase of English they've acquired. "Mind-blowing," indeed.

Goodbye, red-light, and the alleys of darkness, lit not with bulbs but with the faces of women whose smiles never dim. Goodbye to the questions of "When are you getting married?" and "When are you coming back?" Goodbye to sitting on thin mattresses with one clay cup of cha. Goodbye to holding babies and admiring bangles and saris. "Oh, didi, tumi khub shundor dekhte." Oh sister, you are looking so nice.

Goodbye, Kovita, my big sister. Goodbye to your spot on the sidewalk where I sat with you and laughed, where I thought, "This is the Kingdom coming." Goodbye to looking at your leg and noting the healing progress, slowly, slowly. Goodbye to your beautiful heart, a heart I know will find full redemption. Like the mending of your leg, sister, slowly, slowly, it will come.

Goodbye, Kolkata.

Here I have bartered in your streets, trading my despair for hope, my hatred for love, my apathy for compassion. May I hold tight to these new parcels in the leaving, and in the life beyond.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hold up my arms

It's an Andrew Peterson song, and it circles through my thoughts today.

"Hold up my arms, like Moses in the desert, when the battle went long"

I feel the holding. It's a reality I have to re-direct my mind back to again and again, but it is there. I am being held. You are being held. And the hands that hold us are not hands which we must fear failing us. This grip on us is not one which might loosen at any moment, releasing us into the darkest and deepest of pits.

There is a jingle we sing at the Mother Teresa house when it is a volunteer's last day. It goes a little something like this...

"We thank you, thank you, thank you,
We thank you, thank you, thank you,
We thank you, thank you, thank you
from our heeeaaarrrtttt"

(You have to stretch the word "heart" out for a very long time.)

This are the words that I give to you, my friends and family. In a week that was the hardest I've yet had in Kolkata, I have felt huge measures of care and support through your emails.

What beautiful things I am learning in the heartache and struggle. All shall be most well.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Snippets

It takes about fifteen minutes to walk from the metro exit to our house. Last night, Sheila and I were walking home, and I was struck again by how intense and strange my life in India is sometimes. It had to be close to ten at night, yet there was a big band with brass instruments and drums marching down the street, led by a trailer with flashing lights and adorned with a Hindu idol. The band is playing loudly, there is crowd following behind, and meanwhile, I almost trip over a man sleeping on the sidewalk. How can he sleep in the midst of all this? But he has lived in India his whole life, and maybe he is used to it. I don't know. Earlier in the day, we went to visit Kovita. She was discharged from the hospital this week, and there was no place to take her but back to her spot on the street. There is a chance she can get placed into a home soon, so pray for this to happen. The street is not so kind.

I am tired and weary and struggling with anxiety and worry and hopelessness. That is the honest portion of how I am doing. But I am also finding a strength beyond my own in this weakness that I would not have chosen. I am finding that God's word is life and power and grace. I am finding Him here. Still.

Less than two weeks until home. I can't wait. I am excited to see my family, hug my friends, drink coffee, and sit by a blazing fire. In that order. There's a lot of other things to be excited for too.

Please keep praying for me on the home stretch...