Thursday, August 30, 2012


I was sitting in bed last night thinking about the course of my life.

Why have things turned out the way they have?

Why did I go from ridiculous teenager in the midst of boys and late nights, to rebellious teenager into too much partying, to Spirit filled young adult, to middle school English/Government teacher, to missionary in India, to who knows what next?

Where is the thread, the pattern, the reason? Why did I got to University for 5 years to only use that degree for 2.5 years before moving on to something else? Why, why why...

Then I had a revelation, so simple and so profound it left me baffled the rest of the day:

What if it was never about me? 

Not about me? 
My life isn't about me? 

What if the only reason for anything in my life is because God needed someone to fill that space, to do that work, to talk to that person, and I happened to be available? 


It's not about me. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mobile Dispensary

On Saturday I had the opportunity to go out to a village on the outskirts of Kolkata to a mobile dispensary the Missionaries of Charity set up twice a month. Men, women, and children pack themselves into a gated church property established by a Czechoslovakian man about 30 years or so ago.

As we pull up to the gates, the Sister in charge tells us the regular 1,500 people will not be here today because they did not announce dispensary like they usually do. Today there would only be 500 patients waiting for treatment. 

I was assigned to the wound dressing section, even though I had never dressed a wound in my life. I learned quickly. As the droves of people came in a line to our little, dark room, they were given a bag of some pain relieving cream, and a bag of Calamine lotion for their itching. Then they came to me, a French medical students, and a Chinese nurse who were waiting with our gloves and gauze. We soon found the needs far outweighed our abilities. Rashes, open wounds, crushed bones, bug bites, ear infections, mouth infections, discoloration...we gave the same treatment for all, all that we had: clean with hydrogen peroxide, disinfect, put on antibacterial cream, then a bandage if necessary. Such a short term solution for long term illnesses. Babies came in with holes in their heads, terrible ear infections, scrapes, and bites. But all we could offer was  a bandaide. However, with my new found experience with scabies I was able to diagnose a few ladies with scabies and give them the right medicine and explain what to do. No one spoke English though, so we did a lot of charades, pointing to the places that hurt, scratching where they itched, pantomiming putting lotion all over.

The journey back home was silent as we were all too tired or sad to talk.  I prayed God would bring miracles out of that antibiotic cream and multiply our efforts. 

Thank you for your prayers, friends. 

My scabies is seeming to get worse, even though I am using the lotion for it.  I may have to go to a doctor this week if it doesn't get any better in the next few days. 

Please also keep praying for Ahad. Pray for the Holy Spirit to do a great work within him, for God to show him how much He loves him, and for Ahad to be open to receiving this love. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Small Way

"Lord, how can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "am the way..."

Pastor Ray once told me, "God's will for you is not a place, not a destination, it's the person of Jesus Christ."  God's will for all of our lives is described perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ. To know what God wants you to do, open the gospels and read what Jesus did.

When St. Francis of Assisi was first beginning his order of monks, the Franciscans, he would use an unusual way of finding an answer to problems. Whenever there was a decision to be made, he would tell one of his monks to open the gospels and start reading at random. Whatever Jesus said to do in that passage was the answer to the problem and they would do whatever He said to do in the passage, no questions asked. Preach to the world? Ok. Sell everything I own and give to the poor? Ok.  

I'm starting to love St. Francis and his unconventional ways. He once told one of the brothers to preach naked because the brother had not listened to his first command to go preach to the people. Then, when the brother was standing naked in front of the congregation preaching naked, St. Francis felt so bad for having commanded him to do such an embarrassing thing that he himself stripped off his clothes and joined his brother, preaching naked at the pulpit! The entire group there was so convicted by their message about giving up worldly possessions, following Jesus, and the way the monks lived out this gospel, that the whole lot of them were converted and many joined the order of Franciscans. (I am not, in any way, advocating naked preaching...)   

Right now at my guest house there is a group of about 40 Spaniards all here to volunteer at Mother Theresa's homes. Each night they get together and share stories about how God used them that day, how He taught them a lesson, how He moved them. Yesterday, they invited me to this session. It was all in Spanish, but a guy next to me was kind enough to translate their stories about cleaning lepers' wounds, holding the hands of the elderly men at Prem Dan, and other beautiful amazing things.  While these stories were being shared (and, in my case, translated) I thought, "What kind of story do I have to share about sitting in the basement of Mother House every day writing down volunteer's names, addresses, and phone numbers in a big volunteer book for hours?" I felt so small, so insignificant with the little I had to offer. 

(In case you did not know, I have had several sicknesses over the past two months that have kept me from volunteering at any of the homes with sick patients. I've had fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, colds, and right now I have a skin condition called scabies in which little bugs crawl under the skin and lay eggs. It is very itchy and I need to apply a really annoying oil-like lotion to my skin at night for several days to get rid of it. I skipped a night of the lotion because I thought it was gone, but it was not and now I think I have to start all over.)

Then one of the priests in the group told his own story of peeling potatoes at one of the homes. Just peeling potatoes, that's all he did. "Mother Theresa didn't do great things," he reminded us, "She did small things with great love."

And I remembered my prayer that I have been praying with fervor for weeks: Lord, make me small, humble, weak, foolish enough to be used by You. I thought He would accomplish this by having me work at one of the homes, taking care of the elderly patients. But I'm realizing I may go to the homes and be full of pride for what I am doing. Look at me, taking care of the poorest of the poor all the way in Kolkata. In some ways doing this for the praise of people in the States, for the stories I think they expect from me, to make people feel like they've donated their money in the right place...instead of doing it simply because Jesus tells me to. 

My job is so small, sitting in a basement, often by myself, writing down information in a big book and I have no other reason to be there besides the fact that Jesus is keeping me there. I have no incredible stories of leprosy patients or the elderly women at Prem Dan. I have nothing to tell people about why they are justified in giving me their money to come all the way to the other side of the world so I can write down information for the Sisters. But I have to trust this is the path and that God is doing a great work. I'm feeling like Jacob right now after he woke up from the dream about the stairway to heaven, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!" God is in the basement of the Mother House, sitting next to me, whispering words of love to me while I complete my little task. 

 I'm thanking God for the sicknesses that have kept me from going to the homes. I would rather have scabies than be led astray by pride and acclamation/praise of others around me. To make me small, humble, and weak, God in all His wisdom has chosen to keep me in a small job that does not get much recognition (except by the two Sisters who have given me the task), with diseases that keep me reliant on Him. My God is so good to me. 

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also..." John 14:1-3

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Blog I Never Intended To Write

On the cross Jesus said, "I thirst."

What is Jesus thirsting for from you right now? 

This is the question a Sister asked me the other day. I asked Jesus what He wanted from me, what was His thirst for me, and one word came to mind: Surrender. He wants me to surrender. He wants me to stop fighting, to stop clinging to worthless things, to stop chasing after the things of this world, and to just surrender to His love, His mercy, His grace, His will, His freedom.

"We must learn to be free because that is what we are," said Sister Michael.

I thought about the American slaves just recently freed from their owners, from the laws that held them as property. They were free, but they had been slaves for so long that many of them just went back to their former owners and worked for them anyway, for little or no pay, because that is what they knew. They knew the ways of slavery. They did not yet know how to be free.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 

Slavery is a burden. Sin is a burden. When we are ruled by our passions, we are slaves to them, like an addict to a drug, driven by anger, lust, greed, power, selfishness. Only Christ can set us free from the power of sin in our lives, from the overwhelming forces that push us down, make us apathetic, turn us toward addictions and selfishness.

"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?" Galatians 4:8-9

We are all serving someone or something. We were made to worship the true God, but we have all turned away to idols. What do you worship? Relationships, addictions, sex, power, money, pride, attention...yourself? It creeps up on us sometimes, and we don't realize how selfish we have become, how much we have begun to serve ourselves rather than God. My own materialism, greed, and selfishness has taken center stage since being in the poverty stricken area of Kolkata. My desire to hold on to what is "mine" has become repulsive to me...and yet, I cling to "my" things as if I am afraid I will never replace that thing in my life.  I'm not talking about "big" things here. I'm talking about a shirt, a pair of pants, a blanket, some food. What am I so afraid of? Deep down, I am afraid because a seed of doubt has been planted that tells me God is not really good and does not have my best interest at heart. If I truly understood how much God is in love with me and wants to give good things to me, I would freely give everything I have because, as He says in His word: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:1. And "Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'...But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:31,33

This was not where my blog post was going tonight, but apparently I had to do a little confession. Maybe it's being around all these darn Catholics...

Lord, free me from the burden of selfishness, greed, lust, and unbelief. Help me to understand the depth of Your love for me, so I will be free from this world and its desires, free to love and serve without hesitation.

And now I leave you with a funny little Kolkata story:

It was my friend Theresa's last night in Kolkata and we had just dropped off one of our friends at her house (no walking alone at night!).  We were on our way back to my guesthouse when we ran into a traffic jam so bad we had to stand on the side of the road and just wait because there was no way of getting through the cars and motorbikes. We waited and waited and noticed that everyone was honking at this white car that was holding up traffic. Motorbikes are crowded behind this car, two to four men on each bike, viciously honking their horns. The man in the white car gets out and begins pushing his car from the driver's side door. We watch for a minute as the man struggles to push the car by himself, the dozens of men all around watching and continuing to honk their horns.

"Really, no one is going to help him?" Theresa asked incredulously.

"Well, let's go help him!" I said.

We begin pushing the car and, noticing the car easily moving forward, the driver looks behind him to see the only two white girls on Ripon street grunting, drenched in sweat, pushing his car down the street as the Indian men all around smile with amusement and continue honking their horns. As the car gets rolling, we pick up the pace and begin a little jog as we push. After a few speed bumps, a young Indian man comes to join us, asking me what happened. I tell him I'm not sure. We slow down and the man goes to talk to the driver. We are at a standstill, so Theresa and I take the opportunity to turn around and walk back home, leaving all the entertained men behind on their motorbikes. I'm sure we made quite a scene ;)

Monday, August 13, 2012


"But God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong...If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise."
-I Corinthians 1:27,18

"May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done"
- Franciscan Blessing

A few days ago I had a dream. In my dream I walked into a dark office full of filing cabinets. At the bottom of one of the walls was a safe built into the wall, which I happened to have a fey for.  I opened the safe and it was a door which led to stairs going down into an even darker place. I did not hesitate and walked boldly through the door to whatever awaited. In the basement were more filing cabinets. Over time I brought visitors down there, people I knew who I wanted to show this fascinating place to. On one of these visits there were strong men moving the filing cabinets. I knew these men were supposed to be evil, but I didn't pay any attention to that and thought they were nice for moving those cabinets. A voice spoke, whether it was my own voice or someone else's, I do not know: "Evil that appears good is still evil." 

When I woke up, I went to Mother House and told Sister Mercy Maria about my dream. 

"The journey within is the most difficult," she told me. 

This is part of the layer-peeling process God is putting me through. I am delving deep within myself to discover the dark places, the places hidden behind locked safes and filing cabinets, the place I allow evil disguised as good to dwell. 

"I am frustrated with the men who constantly look at me with evil intentions and yell out to me and try to touch me. I'm frustrated with the poor, the street families who may or may not be living on the street by choice, by the constant begging I walk by everyday," I told Sister. "I don't even look anyone in the eye because all they do is ask from me and all I do is tell them 'no'. How do I deal with this? How do I give, what do I give, what do I do?" 

"Look them in the eye," she replied, "Bless them with God's blessing. Find moments of solidarity with the poor. Use the squat toilet instead of the western toilet. Use water instead of toilet paper. Those are moments of solidarity, understanding the life of the poor." 

Don't laugh (well, ok, you can laugh, but don't tell me you laughed at me), but as an experiment in solidarity, I left the house yesterday without anything except the clothes on my back. My friend wanted me to go souvenir shopping with her, and I knew I would want to buy unnecessary things, so I left my purse at home. The poor carry very little with them around here. 

To every person who asked from me I showed them I had nothing to give them, I said a prayer, and kept walking. They would usually lose interest in me after they saw I had nothing on me and turn to my friends with bags and beg from them. 

My friend did her shopping, and it took us such a long time that by the end of our shopping, I was extremely hungry. I hadn't brought any money though, so the only option would be to walk the 25 minutes back to the house to get food. As shopping in India is relational, the men at the shop continued to chat with us even though my friend had been ready to pay for a while. One of the workers saw I was tired and asked why. "I'm just hungry," I told him. "We need to get going so we can go eat." "No! I'll give you rice!" He said, and he ran off and brought me a plate of rice and daal (spicy sauce that goes on rice). The Lord provided for my small gesture of solidarity. It may be small and silly, but it was a step. 

I have started reading quite a bit about St. Francis, who is quickly becoming my favorite saint. I have started reading The Little Flowers, about the beginnings of the Franciscan order, men who forsook all for Christ, living in community or in hermitages to lead lives of contemplation and prayer. 

"...aim at converting yourselves and you will then find you understand things better." - from I, Francis by Carlo Carretto.

I still do not understand how to relate to the poor here. There are so many facets of poverty that it is hard to know what to do. Some street kids/families are run by the mafia, others choose to beg instead of work (even though they are capable) because they make more money begging than working, and yet, still others are truly poor, truly in need of charity and generosity. 

Yesterday coming out of church, my friend Theresa and I were bombarded by a group of what could have been street kids, yet they seemed too well dressed and chubby to be such. Nevertheless, they overwhelmed us, grabbing my waterbottle, trying to yank it out of my hands, nearly knocking me over. One of them reached into Theresa's purse and grabbed out the keys to her apartment and ran down the street with them.  She stood looking at him, dazed, holding out her hand, hoping he would bring them back. Eventually, he did. They continued to clamor around us, demanding we buy them ice cream. They pushed and pulled us, grabbing our clothes, hanging on to our arms, trying to drag us down. We reached the other side of the street and a security guard shooed them away telling us they were pickpockets. 

Yet, while those kinds of stories make up the majority of my experiences with the poor on the streets, there are other, less frequent moments that remind me of love and compassion.

On our way to dinner, we passed an old woman sitting on the urine, feces, insect ridden sidewalk, begging. As the group walked on, I stopped and reached into my bag for some biscuits (Nilla Waffer type things) which I kept there for just this type of occasion. I reached down and handed her the biscuits. She pressed her palms together as if to pray, and brought them to her forehead in the sign of blessing/greeting. I did the same and walked quickly to my friends up ahead. On our way back from dinner, she still sat in the same place, but when she saw me, her wrinkled face lit up and she began waving enthusiastically. I waved back, smiled, and bowed my head and hands in her direction. If only serving all the poor were that simple, that gratifying.  

Pray for me friends. I obviously need it. 

Pray that I become little, foolish, and simple. I am convinced that is the way of Christ, God in human form who was born to an unwed teenage mother in a barn, who chose ordinary fishermen and tax collectors as followers, who had dinner with prostitutes and thieves, who entered his death not with a shout of victory, but silence and agony. I am convinced God wants me to be little to understand His greatness. 

"The Gospel is the madness of a God who is always losing, who gets himself crucified to save humanity. The Gospel is the madness of people who, in the midst of tears, need, and persecution, still cry out that they are I called on madness to save me. And I was happy to have found the true madness, the saving madness of the Gospel." - I, Francis

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Compassion is Costly

Litany of Reconciliation
St. Paul's Cathedral in Kolkata, India

"All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" - Romans

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class
Father Forgive 
The covetous desires of men and nations to possess what is not their own
Father Forgive
The greed which exploits the labours of men, and lays waste the earth
Father Forgive
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others
Father Forgive
Our indifference to the plight of the homeless and refuge
Father Forgive
The lust which uses for ignoble ends the bodies of men and women
Father Forgive 
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God
Father Forgive

St. Paul's Cathedral
1 Corinthians struck me this morning:

"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God...If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise." - 1 Corinthians 27-29, 18

Then I heard a beautiful sermon on the story of the good Samaritan.

"Compassion," said Pastor Sam Johnson, "does more than pray, more than analyze, more than write articles. Compassion does something. Compassion is practical and meets people where they are. Compassion is practical, universal, and costly... it COSTS something...We can't boast about what we've done, the programs we've made, the people we've fed, until every person in the world has heard about Jesus! God is not impressed with anything we have: our home, our car, our intellect. Mother Teresa is not remembered for her beauty, her intelligence, her house, her riches. She is known, around the world, for her compassion."

My email Daily Devotional today was about forgiveness.  Compassion and forgiveness have been the themes of my thoughts the past few days.  At church yesterday the lady behind the podium asked us, "Who do you need to forgive?" At first I thought there wasn't really anyone. I was good with everyone as far as I knew. But then I asked God about it: Who am I harboring anger or bitterness against? Who has wronged me? And the answer came to mind--Indian men, the men who walk by me and stare, the men who walk close to me so they can rub up against me, the men who ask me to take pictures with them even though I have never seen them before in my life, the men who follow my friends and I calling out to us, the men who cheat me because I'm a foreigner.  Lord, help me forgive. Change my heart toward the culture, toward the men of this culture. Help me to understand how to deal with this. Help me to look at them with eyes of compassion, with Your eyes, Lord.

The above pictures are from Victoria Memorial. I would give you the history of the building, but I have no idea what the history is. I know it has beautiful grounds full of Indian families who only had to pay 4 rupees to get in while I was expected to pay 150 rupees. This is also where men walked up to me and asked me to take pictures with them and their families, and where I got sunburned. I really shouldn't be bitter about any of that, but some days it gets to me worse than others. Today the honking horns, the crazy traffic, the imposing men, the poverty, the street kids...everything got to me. I came home after the day out and laid in bed for three hours, just soaking everything in and trying to let it all out.

Keep me in your prayers! Pray for my heart to be changed, for God to humble me, to make me small and foolish enough for Him to use.

You are all also in my prayers. Thank you for your love and intercession.