Wednesday, December 26, 2012

For Better or Worse

I want to spend my life loving God and loving people,
being in community,
creating community where there is none,
reaching into abandoned places,
bringing light to the darkness.

This period of waiting seems counterproductive, even counter intuitive.  If I want to love God and people, shouldn't I just get out there and do that? Maybe. But this time of waiting has its purpose, I'm sure.

I feel that this particular time of "waiting" on the Lord is precisely the right time for me to dig into Scripture and unearth truth, truth I have seldom seen before, truth the church has not taught me, truth unobstructed by my middle class American upbringing.

I will always read the Bible as a white, American female, because that is what I am, but, I can do my best to understand the cultural nuances and assumptions that litter my mind as I read.

I want to read the Bible as a 1st Century Middle Easterner.

How will this help me love people? Valid question.

The Bible, in ancient days, was not a nicely packed together book, individually bound, in several different languages and translations. It was a bunch of individual stories, histories, and letters meant to be read aloud to groups of people who would listen intently then apply the truth they heard.  With the invention of the printing press, Bibles became personal possessions and one was now able to read and interpret the Word of God alone, a way it was not originally intended to be applied.

The Words of God were always to the collective, to a group, a Body of believers.  Because of our individualistic Western society, we misread Scripture by asserting certain individualistic ideas/words into passages where it didn't exist. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were brought with a price."

Most of us, including myself, would read that as meaning my body belongs to God and I should make sure I'm doing everything to take care of it because it is where the Holy Spirit dwells. A lot of Christians cite this verse as the reason to stop smoking or drinking. However, the "you"s in that verse are plural (Hebrew has the plural form of "you" while we make things up like "ya'll" or "yous guys"), meaning not an individual, but the collective.  That verse could be better understood as saying, "All of you together are a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is among the body of believers, whom God gave to His people (collectively). You, as an individual, are not your own because you belong to this Body. Christ paid the penalty for all of you together."

We read as individualists and could potentially misunderstand entire passages by doing so.

I'm starting to understand God's heart for His Body. Not just the individual members that make up the Body, but the Body itself. The Body of believers who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and are walking out their salvation with "fear and trembling" as Paul says in Philippians 2.

By understanding the Bible as a love letter written to a collective group of people and not individuals, I am beginning to better understand God's heart for community, for drawing people together to live out their lives together, sacrificing for one another, caring for one another, loving one another when it is painful. Even loving  one another when it could get us mocked or killed.

I'm beginning to understand, really understand, I am only a small part of this Body and I can't do it alone.

When I married Christ, I married His Church.

We are in this together. For better or worse.


If you want to help support my small part in this Body through my internship with Mission Year, you can do so here:

https://missionyear.thankyou4caring.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=298

You will find my name in the drop down box.


"Mission Year is a year long urban ministry program focused on Christian service and discipleship. We take teams of people, place them in an area of need, and help them to serve people and create community. We are committed to the command of Jesus to “love God and love people,” by placing the needs of our neighbors first and developing committed disciples of Christ with a heart for the poor."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lessons From a Whore


So, I was sitting around talking to God and thought I’d share that conversation with you all.  It may freak some people out that I sit around and converse with the Almighty; it may sound like I’m only talking to myself (and believe me, it feels that way sometimes). But that is a blog for another time.

I asked God, “What do you want me to know today, Lord?”
He said, “I love you.”
I replied, “I know that.”
“Really?” He asked.

“Well, yeah. You’ve given purpose to my life. I know you love me. Although, I’m sure there are people in my culture and other cultures that feel they know their purpose within a family, a tribe, or a culture. So maybe giving me a purpose isn’t the first reason I should give as to how You love me. You took me and paid my debt. That’s how You love me. By being actively involved in every aspect of my life, keeping me safe (relatively speaking), guiding me, showing me the path you want me on…”

“And…?” He asked.

“…And by giving me good things and taking my focus away from worldy things, filling me with the Spirit and bringing me to a healthy place mentally and spiritually. You delivered me from oppressive people, situations, and relationships to bring me true freedom in You.”

And then my eyes focused on one word I had just written: delivered.  

According to Webster’s online dictionary, to be “delivered” means “to set free; to take and hand over to or leave for another; to assist in giving birth; to give birth to.”

I sat with that for a while.

I came to the conclusion that to be delivered from something, you must also be delivered to something else. So, as a Type A, I made a list of the things God has delivered me from and to.

He has delivered me FROM:
Complacency
Apathy
Addiction
Co dependency
Pride
Demeaning relationships
Demeaning self talk  
Unhealthy boundaries
My savior complex (wanting to save the world and every broken person I meet…that’s still a work in progress)
Selfishness
And, ultimately, death
And a whole lot of other things, but those were the biggest ones I could think of.

He has delivered me TO or UNTO
Glory
Honor
Righteousness
Holiness (setting me apart for His good use)
Love (the real, true kind, not the kind that says “Let me help you and save you ‘cause I’m a codependent”)
Healthy relationships and boundaries (aka: being able to say ‘no’)
Freedom
Peace (through knowing my identity in Christ)
Purpose
Meaning
Fullness of life

The Bible is full of examples of God’s redemption, delivering people out of one thing and into something else.

The biggest example is the Israelites whom He delivered from bondage to the Promised Land; He delivered Joseph from prison to the head of Egypt in order to save his family and the country from starvation during famine; God delivered Ruth from a shameful heritage derived from the incestuous relationship of Lot’s daughter to redemption in Boaz, an Old Testament Christ figure; He delivered Rahab, a prostitute, from death because she hid His spies in the Promised Land, delivering her into the inheritance of the Promised Land.

The list could go on and on, because throughout all the Bible God is out redeemer. To redeem something is to buy back, or to release from blame or debt. Jesus redeemed us with His own life, delivering us and buying us back from our state of death (in sin) to full life (in Himself).

The most beautiful visual example of this redemption (other than the Cross itself), to me, is the story of Hosea.  God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, a woman who would continually be unfaithful to him in marriage. God introduces this woman to us by saying to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2 ESV). That’s a lot of whoredom. I think God’s trying to make a point here. However, no matter how often his wife strayed, no matter how many other lovers she went to, Hosea was supposed to remain faithful to her, even going so far as to redeem her by literally buying her back from her lovers, chasing after her the way God Himself chases after us, after His people, after Israel, even when we have completely turned ourselves over to other “lovers.”

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
And bring her into the wilderness,
And speak tenderly to her…

And in that day, declares the Lord, You will call me ‘My Husband’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal’… And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”
-         Hosea 2: 14,16,19

To “know” the Lord in this sense means to “perceive, know by experience, to find out.” Because He does these things, chases after us, speaks tenderly to us, loves us, THEN we will know Him because we will have experienced Him and His love for us.  We will know by experience, not just through head knowledge.

I know His love for me because He has delivered me, not just once 2,000 years ago on a cross, but every day, in ever season of my life. He delivers me again and again and again, because I need it. He chases after me like Hosea chases after his wife, a woman who runs after other lovers thinking she will find satisfaction in them, in something this world offers, believing the world’s lies over God’s truth. 

And He keeps breaking chains, the chains I put on myself to be driven back to other gods.

And He keeps asking me to put down my chase and embrace His cross.

And everyday that is what I try to do, put down my chase, turn away from my other lovers, and turn back to my first love, because He first loved me.

Just so you’re not confused, “lovers” is being used as a metaphor for all the other idols we place before God. They could be money, power, pride, addictions, etc. I’m not just running around with a bunch of guys here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

(In)Dependent Woman


I have never had the desire to find out what exactly it is a godly woman is or does. I figured if I just kept getting drawing closer to God (on my own) I would become that woman, without all those pesky biblical cultural walls holding me in.

But during this time of stillness, this time of deprogramming myself of all the cultural nuances America has embedded into my understanding of scripture, womanhood, and myself, I feel strangely drawn to the women of the Bible.

I want to know them, their struggles, the way they interacted with Our Lord, the way they interacted with men, what God spoke to them, and HOW God spoke to them.

My own healing journey started with women.  I thought I could be healed in an emotional vacuum, just me and God hammering things out. But, as damaged as I was, God wanted to bring me into His community and allow me to be healed there.

My journey has been full of women who have come alongside me to prop me up when I was falling under the weight of my sin and the sorrow of my past.

Women who spoke truth into my life time and time again, and loved me, even when I foolishly refused their advice.

Women who showed me what real, confident womanhood is, getting rid of the crutches I had made of men and my own codependency.

Women who showed me that My Maker is My Husband (Isaiah 54:5), and I can trust Him and He will never lead me astray or have ulterior motives for our relationship. He just wants to love me unconditionally. No strings.

These women changed my life and my direction. They encouraged me to grow in the Lord, praying for me constantly, and modeling what it looks like to be a strong woman in a culture that constantly fails to show women how to be real women.

I owe much of my spiritual, emotional, and psychological health to these women and their husbands (for those who are married) for showing me the way a real godly man treats a woman, how he pursues her with pure intentions, and how he always leads her toward God, even if it opens him up to being hurt.

I have never felt more healthy or more secure as a woman of God. My identity is in My Maker, My Husband, the Lord of my life, and I will never have to go looking for it elsewhere. 

Just to specify, the women I am talking about are all my ladies at Calvary Community Church, who have been the closest friends I have ever had. I love you all. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Restless

My heart beats heavy inside my chest.
I'm waiting for something.

What is it Lord? 

I'm ready for the next step, the next adventure, but You're telling me to be still and wait, hold back from busyness, schedules, jobs, and long drives.

My heart is restless.
I can feel it trying to escape my body when I lay awake at three, four, five in the morning.

Maybe it's all this comfort making me uncomfortable,
this itching of the suburbs and all these white people.
This luxury.
This safety.

Be still. Be still. Be still.
Remember, He is God. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Another Crazy Jesus Adventure

As you may or may not be aware, I have just returned from six months living in India where I volunteered for The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s gals).  Through various situations in India, God has humbled me over and over again, reminding me that I am called to be His servant, a servant who simply obeys her Master, no matter how small or large the task may seem (See Luke 17:7-10 for some radical servant training by Jesus). Our God is glorified when we simply submit to His will, whether that means sitting in a basement filing information, orienting new volunteers for their assignments, or teaching intellectually challenged girls their Christmas play lines. My God wants my obedience.

Through a series of events and revelations in India, God has directed me to the next season of my life. I have applied, interviewed, and been accepted to Mission Year. Mission Year is a beautiful organization whose mission is the same as all of ours: Love God and Love People. They place young adults in Christian teams/communities in poor (low income) urban areas around the country and teach them how to love their neighbors through prayer, social justice, education, and simple community living.

You can check out their website here: www.missionyear.org
I will be heading out to Chicago in September of 2013 for their year long program. I will be volunteering about 30 hours a week with a community organization or school that helps low income families in the neighborhood in which I will be living. The rest of my time will be spent in prayer with my team, meeting and loving my immediate neighbors, and learning how to do social justice like Jesus through Mission Year’s Theology of Poverty classes.

After this program ends in 2014, I am anticipating coming back to Phoenix, getting my masters in Community Development online through Mission Year’s partner, Eastern University, and (simultaneously) buying a house in a low income area of Phoenix and living out the command to love God and love my neighbor, using the training I have received through Mission Year.

I know this is big. I know this will cost a lot of money and a lot of sacrifice. I know all of this is totally impossible without God. He is my provider, my sustainer, the “lifter of my head” when I begin to look down at myself or my situation, thinking anything is too big or small for our all powerful God (Ps 3:3).

Here’s the part where I ask for your partnership in this crazy Jesus endeavor.  I need prayer and finances, and I know God will supply both through His beautiful body of believers.

First, please pray to our Provider and see how He will have you partner with me in this. If He asks you to pray for this mission, please pray with all your heart. If He asks you to give financially, please be generous with the earthly treasures He has given you. If He asks you to give monthly, above and beyond your tithe, bless His name and thank you for your faithfulness.

Ways you can pray:
      - For God to prepare the team I will be living and learning with
      - For all $12,000 to be raised for my mission
      - For $2,000 to be raised by the end of December for a match by Mission Year
      - For continued guidance and direction in my life, to follow Jesus more closely

Ways you can give:
            ONLINE
  • You can give a tax-deductible donation online through Mission Year: www.missionyear.org
  • BONUS: Not only is your donation tax deductible since Mission Year is a non-profit organization, they are also matching all donations to my account dollar for dollar up to $2,000 until the end of December! They are also giving awesome gifts for different amounts of donations.
  • To donate online, visit the site above, click “Donate"
  • In the Donation Information section in the dropdown box find my name (Tarrin McDonald)
  • Click the “Add Donation” button
  • On the next page you will be able to designate whether this is a one time gift or a recurring gift you would like taken from your account automatically every month
CHECK
  •  You can also send a check made out to Mission Year, with my ID number (13-9010) in the memo line. Be sure you add that ID number (NOT my name)!
  •  You can send this check to: Mission Year P.O. Box 17628; Atlanta, GA 30316
Since taking the steps to be a part of Mission Year, I feel like I have jumped into a Grand Canyon of uncertainty, not knowing where my feet may land, not knowing how God will provide, but knowing, for certain, that I am leaping into the arms of an all powerful God who makes sure I lack no good thing (Read Psalm 34 for some beautiful pictures of God’s providence for those who seek His face).


If you were part of the Body who supported me through prayer or finances on my mission to India, thank you. If you are praying about supporting me in this mission to America, thank you. If you are serving and giving elsewhere and cannot contribute to this mission, thank you for the generosity you show to the ministries you support.

We are one body in Christ and we need one another. Thank you for your love and support.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Humble Brown Bags

I went to a friend's baby shower the other day. I brought her  a small gift from India to put in her baby's room, a ceiling hanger of elephants, made by mentally disabled women who were given dignity and hope in India by being given the job of making these crafts. I didn't have a bag to put the gift in, so I created one with paper and stickers. I added a hand-made card, also made by women in India, telling her about the gift.

I set my gift on the designated table. A small brown taped up package in the midst of large, store bought, nicely wrapped, stuffing filled gifts, probably containing something much more useful than my little decorative gift.

In my mind, I shuffled nervously, feeling like my gift was too small, too insignificant.

Look at all those other gifts. They're so pretty, so expensive. What was I thinking bringing her this thing? It's not even useful. 

When all was said and done, my homemade bag was handed around for everyone to see and so was my little gift. Everyone loved it.

Lesson learned: never be ashamed of being small, weak, and humble. It's usually so different from what people normally see that they are intrigued by it and come in for a closer look. Like a weak, vulnerable baby lying in a stack of hay in a barn. Like lowly shepherds who came to give what they had to the newborn King: their praise.

"To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until it was all leavened." -Luke 13: 20-21

The Kingdom came to earth in a small, unlikely way and God is still using the small and unlikely to bring His kingdom to earth. "For he who is least among you all is the one who is great" and "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." -Luke 9:48 and 14:11

I pray to be smaller.

Since being back in the States, I have spent pretty much every day in Bible study and prayer.
I have no job, and do not feel God leading me to a job.
I do not spent money on anything I feel to be unnecessary, such as my car, which I do not need right now.
I am reading more about my upcoming Mission with Mission Year and preparing for preparations...

I will be moving in September of next year to a city to be determined for Mission Year. Mission Year will place me in a Christian community in an urban city and teach me how to love my neighbor through outreach, prayer, curriculum on neighborhood justice, simple living, and community living. I will be in this program from September 2013 to July 2014, after which I hope to come back to Phoenix, get my masters in community development online through Eastern University, buy a home in a low income area of Phoenix, and start living out the Gospel through community living.

You can check out Mission Year here: https://missionyear.org/about/

God is keeping me small and reliant on Him by keeping me jobless and carless, for the time being. I know there is meaning in it all. I do not think God wants me to get a "job" for a long time... which is unsettling for me because since working age I have always had a "job," I mean the kind I get a paycheck for every other week. But if He keeps me from making "my own" money, He's got to provide. Which makes me cling to Him, coming to Him as a beggar to a rich man, asking, "Father, fill me with the Holy Spirit and take care of all else." My God is big. He will take care of me every month when the rent needs to be paid; He will take care of me when I need food in my fridge (and He's been doing so through my siblings since I've been home!); He will take care of the $12,000 needed for my Mission Year program. And you know why He will take care of it all? Because I'm His daughter whom He has called for a purpose. And our Heavenly Father takes care of His children, even if the ways He takes care of us look strange in our own eyes.

He provides.

Jehovah Jireh. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Worth So Much More

I called Ahad today and we talked for over an hour. He went to my Indian guesthouse this morning for English class with my friend Charlotte who graciously decided she would continue classes after I left, but they wouldn't let him in. Apparently they're not allowing him in any more. So, he went home and spent the day in bed (because it was his day off) then he went to Mother House for prayer at 6pm. The Sister at the door started asking him a bunch of questions: who are you, where are you from, which religion are your parents, etc. He answered honestly, even telling her that his parents are Muslim but he is not. The Sister told him he could not go to the chapel to pray but could go to Mother's tomb for five minutes. He told me he went and sat for ten minutes and then was asked to leave. He told the Sister he would never come back. I told him he should pray about it and if God wants him to come back, he should. 

All day being rejected by people who freely allowed him to come in when he was with an American. I tried to tell him that no matter what people do, God still loves him and is chasing after him. God will never reject him or abandon him. 

It's so frustrating. How is he going to know the love of Christ if no one shows him? If everyone just closes the door on him because they are afraid? 

I understand why these places are suspicious. They are Christian organizations that take care of foreigners and they have to be discerning about Indian men, especially non-Christian Indian men, because they have had instances where Indian men have followed foreign women around and cheated them in some way or another.  I understand this. But to close the door on a man who is seeking... 

"It's about class, status, style. All religion the same," he told me. 

"God doesn't care about class, status, or style," I told him. "He loves you." 

God doesn't care that his family is Muslim. 
God doesn't care that he never had any formal education. 
God doesn't care that he has been poor his whole life.
God loves Ahad. God loves him with an everlasting love. 
And it breaks my heart to see Christians turn him away from seeking Jesus. 

This readjustment process is weird. I don't know how I feel about things. I'm just taking it day by day. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Home

Home
Where my dogs lick my face and love me
Where my brothers hug me and we laugh about silly things
Where the living room smells like an old pee stain, recently discovered after moving furniture
Where my brothers friends are having a drinking party down the hall
Where all my stuff sits, waiting for my return.

I'm back.

I will now be taking a break from Facebook, all social media, and news. I need to readjust.

Thank you for your love and prayers. Keep 'em coming! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aste Aste


“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” –Psalm 94:19

I leave pieces of my heart everywhere I go. My heart may be smaller but my capacity for love is so much greater. 

He twists his mouth awkwardly, trying to mimic my American accent as he reads the words I had written on the page. A breeze blows across the porch and he pulls the shawl I let him borrow tighter around his face, making me laugh because he looks like a typical terrorist from an American comic. He catches my eye for a moment. “I change since you come. I feel different,” he tells me before he goes back to reading CAMEL, typed out in large letters across the page. The cool breeze brushes away the thoughts of leaving. I try to forget.

But later, as he waves goodbye to me at the airport, eyes red with tears, I find a quiet corner to sob. 



Sister Beatina calls me into the Flower room, into a room full of the girls I have been working with over the last two and a half months. They drape a lei made out of recycled paper around my neck and Gita starts singing into the microphone, belting out some tune the rest of the girls know and join in. They all sing and bring me gifts they have made. We all clap and whistle as Asha, our little girl with Downs Syndrome, dances in the middle of the room. Cecilia sits in her wheelchair, not smiling, not joining in, her eyes watering. I lean into her and make a few jokes, pinching her cheeks. She smiles and joins us for a little bit.






I lift Cecilia out of her wheelchair and into her pink checkered bed, next to Rani and Mangala, her best friends. As I begin to walk away, she reaches out her hand as far as her contorted muscles allow and grabs my arm, pulling me down to her bed. With tears in her eyes she pulls me in and whispers, “Thank you, Auntie, for everything.” We have tickle fest so I don’t start crying in front of her. And I leave her with a smile on her face.

Familiar faces gather around the table, reaching into box after box of cheese pizza. I retreat from the party to start packing. Some of the girls come in, telling me how strange this place will be without me. I was the first person many of them met. I remember when the first people I met at my guesthouse left. When you meet and become family, it feels like you will each be there forever. This is life. But then time passes and suddenly the visa is due to expire and we make our way back to where we came from. Life moves so quickly.

I fell in love again and again in India. 

I am afraid to come back to the US. I am afraid for so many reasons, but I don’t feel like I can explain without offending someone. I am afraid of apathy, complacency, political agendas, American Christians who are more American than Christian. I wish I could go anywhere else but America.

But my heart convicts me as I read:

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” Luke 8:38-39

I will go back to America, and I will proclaim all God has done for me. I will look for the log in my own eye before trying to help my brothers and sisters with their splinters. I will constantly check the state of my heart, asking myself tough questions about my beliefs and the way I live them out. But most of all, I will pray constantly and beg God to have mercy on me, a sinner.

I will be back in Arizona Wednesday night. I will make a short blog and Facebook post to let people know I have arrived safely, then I will not be turning on my computer to look at Facebook or the news, nor will I be reading newspapers or watching TV for about a week. I don’t know how often I will answer phone calls or texts. I need to ease myself back into American culture slowly, without being bombarded by news of Israel and Gaza, or what my friends think of Obama. I will be praying, spending time with my family and close friends, and trying to sort out everything in my head and heart.

Thank you for all the love, support, and encouragement you have given me on this journey in Kolkata. I pray that you will be strengthened and encouraged through the Holy Spirit to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever you are to whomever you can.

I think Shane Claiborne summarizes things pretty well in his book The Irresistible Revolution after he had come back from a summer of working with Mother Teresa in Kolkata:

“Mother Teresa always said, ‘Calcuttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.’ I was ready to come home. I knew that my Calcutta was the United States, for I knew that we could not end poverty until we took a careful look at wealth. I was to battle the beast from within the belly…As I left Calcutta it occurred to me that I was returning to a land of lepers, a land of people who had forgotten how to feel, to laugh, to cry, a land haunted by numbness. Could we begin to feel again?”

And to end, I share my own sentiments through the journal entry of a young adult in the Church in North America in the book Letters to a Future Church:

Dear Church,

Apparently we aren’t supposed to pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than Him. No stars. No stripes, No treaties. No task forces. Just to a King and a Kingdom.

Are you coming?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

He's Back?

Ahad showed up an hour late for English class this morning.  He is supposed to be here at 7:30, so by 8am I had pretty much given up hope that he would show. Last night he promised "100 percent" that he would be at our lesson today.

We had our usual lesson and then I asked him what he was trying to do. "Are you trying to cut our friendship so you don't feel so bad when I leave?" I asked. "No, never cut for you," he replied, looking down, seemingly more interested in the orange tile he was sitting on than our conversation. "You no understand," he said. He tried to explain a fight he had with some family members yesterday, but I couldn't quite understand. "Never you understand 100 percent. Maybe 60, 40, 30 percent understand."

I tried to give him the letter I wrote for him as my goodbye letter, but he refused to take it.

"Coming to class tomorrow. Promise." He said before he headed off for work.

God is truly the only One we can trust to show up "100 percent" of the time. He will never leave or abandon us. He walks with us through our struggles and pain, bringing peace and comfort.

Lord, let Heaven come near. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Love Until it Hurts

"To be true, love has to hurt…Jesus said, 'Love one another as I have loved you.' He loved until it hurt." -Mother Teresa

Love is not easy. Ask anyone who has been married. Love is not easy. We will hurt each other. But despite being hurt, we must continue to love.

Ahad has not shown up for English lessons for five days. At first he said he had a cold, but then he said he was fine and was sorry he didn't come. No explanation. I know what he's doing. All his life he has been abandoned by people closest to him, family and friends, people who should have stuck by him and cared for him. Instead, those people left or betrayed him. Now he's seeing me leaving as another abandonment, and he's staying away, building up his hard emotional exoskeleton so when I leave it will not hurt as bad.

We will always hurt each other, but God is a God of love. He is love. He will never leave us or abandon us, even when the people around us do (Heb 13:5).

Ahad hasn't answered my calls this morning.

Jesus, open Ahad's heart to love. Pierce through his emotional armor to bring Your love to his heart. 


Friday, November 2, 2012

Abandon All


“Whoever does not bear (take up, carry) his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce (forsake, leave behind, abandon) all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14: 27, 33

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11: 24-26

Moses, one of our great Fathers of faith. Hidden among the reeds of the Nile by his mother during an infanticide initiated by the King, Hebrew baby Moses was found by the King’s daughter, taken in as her own son, and “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:27). He was not born into luxury and wealth, but he sure was raised in it. Moses had everything at his disposal, and a great position of influence where he could have helped the Hebrew people. Instead, when he was 40 years old, while trying to look out for a fellow Hebrew who was being beaten by an Egyptian, Moses killed the Egyptian, then fled when he realized others knew about the murder. He gave up his rich status to identify with his people, God’s people. He then went into the sheep-tending business, married a nice shepherd girl, and lived out his life in peace for forty years.

Then God gets his attention with a burning bush, a bush engulfed in flame but not consumed.

“Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  

Why take off his sandals? Moses probably had some pretty raunchy feet after hanging out with sheep day in and day out for forty years, yet God would not let him come close with his sandals on (probably the more hygienic approach). 

God is willing to get involved in our dirt. He wants to feel through our hands and feet. He is not a distant God, watching from afar, waiting for us to mess up. He is an intimate God who desires to be close to His beloved, to be involved in our messy lives. He lets us come to Him with dirty feet and hands, physically and metaphorically. Moses was not innocent. He came to God with dirt on his feet and blood on his hands, and God brought him into His fold and loved him.



God told Moses he would be delivering the Hebrews from slavery. Uh, what?! Paraphrase…“Yeah, you dirty murderer, you’re going to go back to the country you fled, the country where you've got a price on your head, and you’re going to tell that King to let My people go.” Moses gives all kinds of excuses: I’m not worthy to go, they won’t listen to me, I’m not eloquent enough… “Please send someone else!” (Ex 4:13). Doesn't really sound like a great Father of Faith now does it? God deals with Moses patiently, giving him signs and wonders, giving an answer to all his excuses. Even when Moses asks God to send someone else, and God’s anger is “kindled against Moses,” God continues to give Moses answers, telling him He will send his brother Aaron with him to be his mouthpiece.

And finally, Moses goes. After excuses and worries, Moses finally goes to deliver the Israelites from bondage.  He is counted as a Father of faith because even though it took him a while, Moses chose to step out in faith and obey his God, no matter the cost, no matter how difficult it may be. He forsook his rich upbringing to wallow in the dirt with his people, the people of God. He forsook his high position, his status, his worldliness, and his possessions to be with God’s people.

“Whoever does not bear (take up, carry) his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce (forsake, leave behind, abandon) all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14: 27, 33

This verse challenges me, inspires me, and convicts me.  Have I renounced, abandoned, all that I have to be a disciple of Christ? The answer is plain to me. No, I have not. Unlike Moses, I cling to my possessions, my status, my worldliness, even as I am sickened by it. 

"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ" Philippians 3:7-8


I am like an alcoholic in the first stage of recovery: I am admitting the truth about myself and I want change. I no longer want to be bound by these chains, these things, these desires. I want to live in the complete freedom offered by Jesus Christ. But slaves who have been slaves for so long have a hard time learning how to be free. I have been a slave to my passions, to my possessions, to my thoughts for so long that learning how to be completely free of those in Jesus has been quite the process. I’m not talking about Buddhism where the ultimate goal is Nirvana, a state of non-feeling. I’m talking about being free from feeling like I need something other than God Himself. No more anxiety about things: food, clothing, rent, fashion, pop culture, that new purse, that new whatever. No more anxiety, because I need nothing.


The song "Zion and Babylon" by Josh Garrels has been on repeat in my head lately, reminding me of the ideas in this blog: 
"Oh great mammon of form and function 
Careless consumerist consumption 
Dangerous dysfunction 
Disguised as expensive taste 
I'm a people disgraced 
By what I claim I need 
And what I want to waste 
I take no account for nothing 
If it's not mine 
It's a misappropriation of funds 
Protect my ninety percent with my guns 
Whose side am I on? 
Well who's winning?"

You can hear this awesome song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mqia1Ft1Zy4

Greed stems from our skewed thinking that there is not enough, that if we take only what we need we will run out and there will never be enough of that thing for us again. I’m not just talking about big scale Black Friday type greed where we trample each other for non-essentials...


I’m talking about the small anxiousness that comes from moments like when the fridge is running low on food, when my favorite book goes on sale and I can’t get to the store, when my pen runs out of ink and I don’t have a backup, when I want my boss to see the good things I have been doing but he’s not paying attention… maybe you can’t relate to any of those things and they are just my weird insecurities, but hopefully you get the point.

God has assured us we have everything we need in Him: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). We have no reason to be anxious. We must abandon all we have to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray for your Bride, the Church in North America, that we will not seek our own gain, but the gain of others.  That we will abandon all we have to be intimate followers of Jesus Christ, going and preaching the gospel in word and deed to the entire world, showing that we are followers of Christ by our love. Let them know us by our love, Lord. Unify Your Church, help us set aside politics and useless quarrels, and focus on the Cross, the beautiful cross that unified us all through the blood of our Savior. 

*First three photos taken by Brandt Russo, available for sale, proceeds toward the poor: http://cantignore.org/

*Black Friday photo from Google image search

Flower Tea

Ahad showed up to English class this morning with his own kettle of tea and a cup. He has been sick since Saturday with a fever, so I figured he had gone to the doctor.

"What's with the kettle?" I asked.

"Flowers!" He says, then opens the top of the kettle and shows me there are indeed flowers of some sort floating in hot water, brewing.

He sees my quizzical look and attempts an explanation: "Old man, 110 years old, tell me not to eat. Only drink tea with these flowers. I have no breakfast, only plain rice in the night."

I tell him that 110 year old men, as full of wisdom as they are, should not dispense medical advice and that he needs to eat to give his body energy to fight the sickness. He pretty much brushes me off and tells me he is "washing" his insides. Whatever. We continued with English class and read through the alphabet, as usual, then practiced small words we have been working on: words that end with "am," "at," and "ook."

I am really going to miss Ahad. And I know he's really going to miss me.

"No mama, no papa, no cousin, no one ever tell me to learn. No one take me to school. No one care, no one love. You my best friend." He tells me.

I tell him that God loves him even more and that He has great plans for His life and will not leave him an orphan. God will be the perfect father, the kind of father he never really had. He wants to believe, but can't quite let himself. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Not a Lonely Planet


It's hard to be lonely here in this city of five million people, all living on top of each other, taking up every piece of building and sidewalk to sleep, eat, and live on. Life revolves around family, making strangers intimate with one another. Strangers are called Auntie, Uncle, Babu (son), Dada (dad).

No one is a stranger in Kolkata.

We crowd onto the bus every day, rubbing shoulders and backs against one another, sweating together. The women hand their children to the closest people on the bus to make sure they are safe before they climb on themselves. They throw their purses to anyone who catches it and will have that person hold it until they get off the bus. They laugh and giggle as the bus drives away while they are still boarding, knocking into others who are standing, holding onto the rail. Those people smile as well. Indians have developed a culture of tolerance, even amusement, to deal with the crowds. They don't deal with crowds anymore, they grow within them as family. 
In her book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier says "the population of the entire world can roughly be divided into two parts. The two groups represented are 'hot-climate' (relationship-based) cultures and 'cold-climate' (task-oriented) cultures." The United States, Canada, England, and most of Europe can be described as cold-climate, places that focus more on business and getting things accomplished than they do on relationships. India is on the other side, making sure relationships are secure before going into any business deal, which is why you may sit and drink chai and have a long chat with the shop keeper before you buy a sari from him.  It's about relationships in India, especially in Kolkata, Delhi and the other major cities where becoming friendly and familiar is a necessity because of the size of the population. 

America is going to be quite the lonely place after so much hustle and bustle around me at all times. 

I can count my time left in Kolkata in days now: 24 days. I can't believe I've been here for five months. 

Everyday, I step over sidewalk sleepers; I play with my homeless friend Asmirah, Maria, Raju, Ricky and Bicky; I walk past dozens of people begging for money, dying on the sidewalks, or just sitting in a drug-alcohol induced haze; I watch old wrinkled women, bent over, carrying heavy loads of clothes on their heads; I see men and women bathing themselves and brushing their teeth in the street at the water fountain.  This is my day. This has been my life for five months.  

I will arrive in America the day before we gorge ourselves at a Thanksgiving feast, two days before America's largest display of greed and selfishness on Black Friday, and a month before western style Christmas where it's more about buying than worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. 

I can't lie and say I'm excited about coming back, especially the time I'm coming back. I'm grateful that I'll miss out on all the political ridiculousness that divides people and makes everyone, even fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, choose sides. I will be grateful to see my loved ones again and be able to cuddle with my dog. But I can already imagine myself refusing to leave the house when I get back because I just don't think I'll be able to handle it all. From poverty to excess. Lord, give me the grace. 

I pray to not get sucked under the wave of consumerism and materialism that defines the western world, America in particular. I'm already so inclined toward consumerism that I'm afraid I'll give in without a second thought, that the acceptance of materialism surrounding me in America will overwhelm my compassion for the poor and I will buy a purse instead of giving the money to clothe someone. It's a heart problem. I pray to hold fast to love and justice and to remember, remember, remember the poor, the unloved, the unwanted. God help me. 

*All photos except the first one are from my friend Theresa

Friday, October 26, 2012

Durga Puja

Ahad says some awesome things during our English lessons, like, "Wish? Oh, "wish," like you wish on a broke star!"  And this video where he tries to imitate (kinda) my American accent...or an Italian gangster...

video

Then there was Durga Puja where the whole city set up pandals of their god and goddesses.

video

More Puja...

This display was really cool. Human statues who sat in this position for hours! With small breaks of course... They were depicting scenes from India's history.



Pandals...



Sari wearing...




More pandals and lights...







The pandals have been going up for about a month. On the last day of Puja, the Hindus took all their hard work and threw all the statues in the river. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Field Trip

Today, instead of our usual Sunday Macarena puppet party at Shanti Dan, we went on a field trip to the Sealdah train station market. It is the beginning of Durja Puja, a Hindu festival celebrating Hindu gods and goddesses that really lasts a few weeks where giant pandals (colorful stages) are set up around the city to be admired by beautifully dressed Indians. So, the girls dressed up and we went out to buy sweets and bangles!

Gita loves when she gets to use her walking sticks!


Asha gets her nails painted to match her dress



Josephine isn't really sure about handling the money

Asha loves cake!

The only real way to drink orange soda. Pinky up!



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lessons from Shanti Dan

Shanti Dan is a beautiful place, full of color, peace, hope, and love, a great place for girls with different disabilities to learn and grow as young ladies. This is where I spend my mornings from 8am-1pm.

Yesterday we got out the notebooks, counting blocks, and other teaching tools and got to work on math. I sat with Cecilia, one of our Flowers from the higher functioning group. She is in a wheelchair due to her physical condition and can communicate in English and Bengali and lets you know what she needs. I sat with her, got out her notebook, and we looked at the first problem: 5 x 6 = ?

She counted out a few blocks, then stopped. "Auntie, you have to help me. I don't know how to start."

I helped her get started by counting out five blocks and telling her to count out five blocks six more times until we had six rows of five. Then she counted out each block and came up with her answer.

Cecilia knows when she needs help. She knows when she can do things on her own. She does what she can then asks for help to keep going, to make sure she is doing it correctly.

I need to learn this lesson from Cecilia, to do what I can, then not be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Cecilia does not have a problem asking me to help her with a task, to help her count blocks, feed her, or even take her to the bathroom. She knows her limits and knows she needs help to progress and reach her full potential.

Have I mentioned how much I love Shanti Dan?

These girls have so much to teach me. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shantinagar


Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.
- Hosea 10:12

I've always felt like I was on the edge of something great, a Grand Canyon of expectation and destiny, but I was always held back, stifled by fear, unwilling to jump into the unknown. 

Coming to Kolkata to live and serve for six months was a step toward the edge.  I inched my way slowly to the canyon drop, trusting and praying that God would catch me if I decided to jump. If I decided He was trustworthy. 

While praying at Shantinagar, having one of those typical conversations with God that I do, I told Him, "If you will just let me know that my house and my siblings will be taken care of if I walk this path You have for me, I will walk it without question."  Even as the words formed in my mind, I knew how ridiculous they were. "Show me, so I can have faith," was what I was saying.  The answer came clearly: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. 

I have not seen the future and I don't know exactly what God has in store for me, but I do know He is trustworthy and provides for His children. If He has called me, He will equip me and provide for me. And He has definitely called me. 

I made a decision to jump, right then and there. "Ok God. I'm willing to jump. Let's do this." I didn't look any different. I was sitting on the couch in a peaceful home in the village. But when I determined in my heart that I would follow God where He calls, regardless of the obstacles, I was filled with such an electric joy I started laughing. 

Shantinagar was the perfect place for this conversation. The mornings opened with either mist or sunshine blanketing the earth around us. 

We left our humble home each morning at 6am for mass with the Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. At 7am the mashis (aunties) brought us breakfast of eggs and chapattis. The three of us (Elena, Steph, and myself) took turns washing the dishes and clearing the table. 


Each day brought something new. The first two days at this beautiful Leprosy Rehabilitation Center were spent in rest and quiet for peaceful mediation and prayer. 

Another day we moved rocks out of the garden to a pile of rocks ready to be made into useful marble materials.


We also picked green beans and wheat to be used for our own dinner. Working with the very material that will sustain you is a humbling, beautiful experience. I grew closer to God as I moved closer to His creation. 
Other days we helped Rita and other ladies in the kitchen make Chapattis and cut vegetables. We watched Rita, our master teacher, mold the Chapatti dough into perfectly flat circles.  I watched her hands at work, her hands so scarred by Leprosy that only three fingers remained. Regardless of her lack of fingers, she molded each piece of dough into a perfectly flat circle, showing up the rest of us. She couldn't form words, so she would make noises and point to her chapatti to show us where we went wrong in our own chapatti.

In the evenings, sometimes we would work in the garden. Sometimes we would sit and read. Sometimes we would go on walks to see the sunset or buy detergent from the little store down the street. 




Sometimes we would visit the women patients. One of these patients, Poonam, turned up her Hindi music and asked us to dance for her. She had no legs. We each took a turn doing a dance from our respective countries (Mexico, America, China). I did some sort of western jig. I don't really know what it is, but Poonam seemed delighted. Other women sang for us, a beautiful song about Jesus sung in Bengali. While they sang, another women rolled up on a piece of wood to join us. All that remained of her legs was the stumps of her thighs that she drug along the ground beside her as she listened to the three tourists sing, "My God is sop Big," because that's the only song we all knew. 

I also worked at the dispensary for a morning, handing out medicines to those with leprosy who could catch it before it had progressed. Leprosy (also known as Hansen's Disease) is a virus that produces sores and lumps on the body. It attacks the sensors that let us experience touch, and that is the reason you will see many patients without limbs. They cannot feel in their fingers, toes, etc, so if they cut, burn, hurt themselves, they go untreated because they cannot feel pain. These limbs usually become infected and must be amputated. Leprosy is curable with the right medication. It also stops the spread of the disease to others. The problem in India is that people are so ashamed to have the disease that they will not seek medical help until they have lost body parts and are in dire need of medicine. 

Being at Shantinagar, which means "Peace Settlement," gave me time to listen and reflect on God's creation and His plan for my life. As I picked green beans and made Chapattis from nothing more than the materials in the backyard garden, I was so full of life, remembering that this was the original design. Just God, people, and a garden. There was peace and true community. When we pray the Our Father, "Let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are praying for God to bring back the garden, to bring back the community, to bring back the peace that He created everything for.  This is what community is: peace with God, one another, and the earth. 

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
- Isaiah 2:4

As if this all wasn't clear enough, our loving God decides to dig it in a little deeper by giving me this verse:

So, you, by the help of your God, 
return, 
hold fast to love and justice,
 and wait continually for your God.
- Hosea 12:6
Return. 
Go home.
Go back to Phoenix. 
Hold on to the lessons you've learned.
Don't forget.
Hold tight to love and justice. 
Rely on God.
Accept His help.
Wait on Him.
Wait for His Word.
Wait for His timing.
Wait for His providence. 

Now, I'm super excited to come home and begin the next steps, but I know there is still another month and a half of work to do in India. So I pray that God will keep me in the moment, not in the past or future, and that He would continue to lead me day by day. Today, I am applying for Mission Year.