The Junk Food Addiction

I started dating in my mid-teens. I made several silly choices which led me to experience physical and emotional relationships waaay before my time. I have a past which is dicey and even as I write this, I am scared of what you will think of me. Will you judge me and write me off as a “girl with a past”?

A few days ago, my dog was at home and hungry. While no one was watching, he managed to find the dust bin, pull it down and finish eating the garbage inside it (fish bones, cucumber and carrot peels and I don’t know what else). After eating that junk, when I gave him rice and milk, he refused to eat it. His stomach was filled with the garbage he had just consumed.

I didn’t have the stomach for a committed, Christ-centered relationship because I had force-fed myself garbage in a hurry. I was hungry so grabbed at whatever was nearest to me, just to fill that physical hunger.

It got so bad that I kept running back to garbage because I felt I wouldn’t be able to digest the good food laid out for me.

In a sermon that my pastor preached on sex, he said that the world’s view of sex is that sex is just an appetite, and the world believes it is legitimate to satisfy that appetite. I lived by this worldview for a long time.

In today’s self-consumed culture, being in an open relationship is celebrated over monogamy. Being vulnerable to one person for the rest of one’s life through marriage is considered weak. Even if a person wants to spend the rest of their life with one other person, there’s often the idea of “testing the goods” or “testing out the package before marriage” that accompanies the willingness to commit. Fulfilling one’s appetite for sex is often encouraged and even celebrated.

I lived my life like my dog, feeding my appetite with junk. I enjoyed being in relationships before marriage because I thought they were the real deal, an easy way of satisfying my hunger. Watching marriages fall apart around me made me smirk at the thought of waiting for my life partner and walk away in disgust at the thought of starving myself from whatever was available around me. “Why should I wait?” I thought to myself, and helped myself to whatever I could get my hands on.

But after a point, when you feed yourself so much junk, it begins to show. For me, I was able to hide it beautifully from many people (specially my Church friends). But, I couldn’t hide it from myself, and more importantly from God.

I was taught to think of Jesus as a condemning person, who would judge and expose me. So, as a response I went running far away from Christ. But this Jesus, who I had imagined would be judging me, didn’t quite do all that.

Firstly, he accepted me, with my junk food addiction and all. Secondly, he touched my life and my tastes. He helped me overcome my addiction to this junk and led me to a feast (which I wish I had waited for) and he satiates me such that my appetite has changed. The only reason I got out of this junk food addiction to physical relationships was because of Jesus Christ. It happened slowly and gradually, but he brought me out of it.

I love the way Jesus deals with women in the Bible. From interacting with women considered to have loose morals, to defending an adulteress, Jesus seemed to have protected and defended women from various backgrounds, instead of condemning them. He even had great friendships with women (read about Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, who Jesus dearly loved)!

I remember reading about Jesus and how he dealt with the Samaritan woman at the well, not condemning her (John 4:1–38) or how when an adulteress was brought to him to be stoned (John 8: 1 – 11) he said “Go and sin no more” or when a sinful woman washed His feet (Luke 7:36–50), He forgave her sins. THIS JESUS! This is the Jesus I needed to get acquainted with, someone who didn’t have a problem interacting with someone like me, but at the same time, when His life crossed paths with mine, does not let me go but instead transforms my very identity. This Jesus was willing to associate with a promiscuous person like me, and love me enough to die for me to be called faithful.

The Bible is rich with imagery of adulteresses and promiscuous women. This imagery is often used as a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness towards God. If anything, my broken past served one purpose – it made me understand how unfaithful I had been to God when I had chosen to indulge in junk. It was cheating on God in a way I can’t justify. In a way, I feel I was also being unfaithful to my husband, whom I hadn’t waited for patiently. But like Christ, the perfect and eternal groom, my imperfect present groom forgave me and stopped looking at me as my past. Christ doesn’t see me as the person I was when I was indulging in my appetite, but views me as God would view Him – perfect, cleansed, and free from guilt.

How do I view sex now? As someone who is married, I am in danger of operating out of my past self, satisfying my craving when I feel like it. But my pastor once said that, while the Bible isn’t permissive about sex, it isn’t prudish about it either. The Bible demolishes both these notions of sex and provides a third way – the gospel view of sex, where sex is not about self-gratification, but sex between husband and wife is about radical self-donation.

I have found that within the covenant of marriage, sex is beautiful. While it can be used for selfish gratification within marriage as much as outside of marriage, it is only within marriage that I saw sex not as an object or an end, but as a way to radically donate myself.

I wish I had known of this when I was younger, and I wish someone had sat me down, had an honest conversation with me and told me to wait, that the buffet meal awaiting me post-marriage is worth waiting for. What I did was indulge in a McDonald’s meal when what was waiting for me was a grand and lavish buffet at the most expensive banquet in the world – one where the banquet was paid for with the price of my eternal groom. But, despite my mistake, I see how Christ is beautifully redeeming and rectifying my sins by His own radical donation of His body. I am no longer a slave to the mistakes of my past. I have been redeemed.

 

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Numbing the Pain

This time last year my family was in the throes of a fresh, deep grief. In mid-March, 2016, my step-dad died suddenly from a heart attack in my parents’ home. He was alone and at the end of what would be his final battle with an enemy he had been fighting since his younger years—alcoholism.

I’m not in any way medically trained, but I know alcohol and smoking played a key role in his early death. He was told repeatedly to stop drinking and to give up cigarettes, and would, for a time, only to go back to the vice that had a grip on him so strong he was unable to break it on his own. The tragedy was that he insisted, even in the final conversation we had, that he could beat it on his own, that he didn’t need help to defeat the monster. With grit and determination, he was going to get himself straightened out.

He’d started drinking heavily at the end of February, so my mother, who’d had enough of these episodes, had gone to stay with friends. Her hope was that it would push him to seek help if she wasn’t present to enable his behavior. I spoke to him on a Sunday morning in March and pleaded with him to let us come and get him. He said no and insisted that he had everything under control. The following morning I was crumpled to the ground sobbing as my god-mother told me he had been found dead—the battle now over for him, and the grief just beginning for those left behind.

Before my mother and step-dad married, I had little idea about alcoholism. And actually it wouldn’t be until many years after their marriage I saw any signs myself of the disease. He had many months at a time where he never reached for the bottle to ease his pain, or help him forget the struggles that occur in everyday life. But what I didn’t understand then (that I understand now) is that alcoholism doesn’t simply leave a person and never return; it is a constant temptation that must be fought and dealt with on all levels—physically and emotionally, typically for the rest of one’s life.

He started drinking at a young age, and that had become his coping mechanism, hardwired into his psyche as a way to deal with the stress of life. I don’t pretend to fully understand how his mind processed anxiety, fear, stress, and insecurities. But as he grew older, his method of dealing with things by using alcohol became a detriment to his physical health and relationships.

As I think about his story—our story—I wonder how much is appropriate to share. Certainly, there were people in his life that had no idea of this struggle and would be offended that I even mention it—hoping to preserve some ideal they have in their minds about who he was. I don’t think his struggles diminish anything wonderful about who he was as a person—a husband, step-dad, and grandfather—but are simply the reality in which we lived. His story is now my story as we navigate life in the shadow of loss.

He still got up early in the mornings for most of his marriage to my mom and read his devotions and Bible. He thought of his grandkids and making memories with them that would last a lifetime. He still poured his sweat and resources into rebuilding classic cars. So much of life looked completely normal and good. But his quiet addiction continued to loom in the background, even when times were good. This was an area where outside help was not wanted, and where God had provided my step-dad with opportunity after opportunity to turn to Him and away from alcohol forever. But he always maintained he could handle it—he only needed to try harder and he would be fine.

Of course, this is not just the story of one man and his struggles with alcohol. Any of us can be guilty of using something to numb us when the pains of life become great—medications, porn, television, drugs, food, etc. When we depend on anything but Jesus to meet our deepest needs and look to the world to fill in the voids, we will always find a deficient substitute that often leads us down paths we were never meant to go.

So today, if you are struggling with any form of addiction or lack of control in an area of your life that is harmful to you, I urge you to seek help now. Lean on those closest to you and share your struggles and get whatever counselling, therapy, or support you need to live healthy and whole. Believe the truth that Christ has created you for a purpose and you are of infinite value to Him. Stigmas attached to addiction leave people feeling full of shame, which only perpetuates the hold it has on your life. But in Christ, we are meant to live in freedom.

I wish that my stepfather had embraced that truth with his life and realised how precious he was to Christ. The solace we have now is that he has perfect peace and is now walking with the Father, finally and completely free from addiction.

Marriage: Beauty in Brokenness

“Marriage is a very difficult relationship for nearly everyone and I’m sure you shouldn’t do it if you want a quiet little easy life.” Fay Weldon

Before our wedding day, almost every married couple we met told us it was going to be really tough. This is the last thing you want to hear when you’re starry eyed and in-love. I remember being freaked-out but also wondering, as I regarded my fiancé, Akshay, suspiciously, “How tough can it really be?”

People told us the first year would be the most difficult one. So when we celebrated our first anniversary together, I was like, “Chalo, that wasn’t too bad.” As it turns out, our honeymoon was just a little longer than we expected because we were still getting to know each other.

Akshay and I met in 2009, became friends in 2010, and got married in 2011. We didn’t have  many mutual friends and our families did not know each other. Everything was new and our arguments remained at the skin-deep level.

One of our first fights was about how Akshay treated my cat. I was highly offended and Akshay was extremely annoyed . . . at my cat. I think the fight lasted an hour, after which we laughed about how silly we were.

Things went slightly downhill from there.

Akshay and I discovered we were completely different in our personalities, family backgrounds, interests. Though we didn’t know it at the time, we had the same heart-idols. Both of us value affirmation and control in our lives and react badly when we feel rejected or out of control. Add that to our broken stories and past hurts and you get a perfect recipe for chaos.

Akshay and I, being the people we are, would have avoided marriage altogether if we knew how tough it was going to be on us. God, in His wisdom and grace, didn’t let us find out until we were in the middle of some of the most troubling and dark times we have ever experienced.

We live in an age when we are constantly trying to find ways to make our lives easier and happier. I think that is the reason most people get married. “Now I will finally feel loved,” we begin marriage thinking, or “I will never feel alone and insecure again.” We look at other couples who have problems and think, “I won’t let that happen to us.” We look at our spouse and think, “Here is my saviour.”

In Marriage, A History, author Stephanie Coontz says, “today people expect marriage to satisfy more of their psychological and social needs than ever before.”

In The Meaning of Marriage, author Timothy Keller writes,

“Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are looking for a marriage partner who will fulfil their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.”

When our spouse isn’t able to meet all our needs and save us we begin to feel dissatisfied, despairing and lonely. I think most fights and marriage problems are rooted in this feeling that our partner isn’t measuring up to be the saviour we thought they would be.

John Gottman, a couples therapy researcher, write this about unhealthy marriages that are headed for divorce,

“They take the problem and they put it on their partner: ‘The problem is you, and your personality, your character; you’re a screw-up.’ That’s an attack, and that’s the fundamental attribution error that everybody’s making: ‘I’m okay, you’re the problem, you’re not okay.’ So then their partner responds defensively and denies responsibility and says: ‘You’re the problem; I’m not the problem.’”

That’s what a downward spiral looks like. After that first honeymoon year, Akshay and I started on this downward spiral. We would stay on it for the next two years. Sure, we had great times as well, but the theme of our marriage was looking at the other person and asking them to make us happier.

In the midst of this chaos, we were recruited to plant a church.

Planting a church was the best and worst thing we ever did for our marriage. It was the worst thing because it put so much pressure on us we were forced to deal with issues we had been avoiding or unable to overcome. It pushed us to open up to our mentors, to be accountable to a community and to face up to our self-centeredness. While all of that sounds good, it was tough. There were times when we wondered if our marriage would make it.

And it was the best thing we ever did for our marriage because when I look back now I can see how God took us through the storm and brought us out on the other side. He gave us mentors with whom both Akshay and I have been able to learn, grow and experience real healing. We have learned to share our struggles with them and intentionally make time for them to speak into our lives.

Today we stand together more in-love, more committed and more dependent on our Father. We have learned to look to our True saviour, our Greater Bridegroom, our Elder Brother to find in His love for us the deepest sense of approval and the deepest sense of trust. From that place, we can give as freely to the other as we have freely received from Him.

Marriage has been difficult but it has been beautiful. It has caused me to grow up, to be stronger, to face my own darkness and take responsibility for who I am.

Marriage has broken me and then put me back together – and it keeps reminding me that I am broken and I am married to a broken man. But it also teaches me to look to the One who was broken on the cross for us.  We can constantly take our brokenness to Him and be set free of it’s power over us because He was broken so we can be healed.

Marriage has helped me to find my true Saviour, the One who can truly satisfy and love me in the way I long to be loved. And because of His love for me, I can seek to love my husband and serve him, free of my desire for him to save me. As it turns out, we are both happier this way.

 

 

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An Easy Fix

I remember that night when I woke up screaming, with terrible pain in my abdomen. I felt like someone had knocked the air out me. I remember walking around the seminary campus doubled over with pain. I remember not wanting to go to the hospital for fear of being admitted. I remember being rushed to the Baylor Emergency Room. I remember that first dose of IV morphine burning through my veins. And then a temporary blissful escape from that dreadful pain.

That’s how I began my relationship with prescription morphine. I was admitted for biliary colic. I had stones in my liver. A golf ball sized stone to begin with. It was a recurrent problem. They were able to remove the first stone surgically but when I developed couple of more stones within a year they had to come up with a different line of treatment. In the meantime I was prescribed morphine pills to keep my pain under control. The pain used to be so paralysing that I could not do the basic minimum as a mom and wife.  And so I reached for the morphine pills to keep my pain at bay. I justified every pill I took saying this is what the doctor has prescribed.

When I was hospitalised the first time I had no idea about the side effects of morphine. I was naive. I would hallucinate from the effects of the drug and wake up screaming, pulling at my IV line. I was constantly nauseated and had to sleep sitting upright most of the time.  I was constipated. My pupils were always dilated. I was drowsy but could not sleep. I felt miserable. And yet I had no idea that it was because of the morphine. I just assumed that it was a combination of drugs (which could have been the case too) and staying at the hospital for almost a month.

I got back home after the surgery, and within a year I developed more stones. I was stumped.

Until my team of doctors could come up with a plan for treatment and schedule me for a procedure to remove the stones, I was back on prescription morphine again. Between the first and second procedure to remove my stones it was almost a year and a half. For most of that time, whenever I had pain, I would happily pop a morphine pill. The morphine made me forget my pain. It helped me smile again. In fact, it made me feel mildly euphoric.

Close to the time of my second procedure, I was chatting with a friend from the medical field and telling her how I could now take the pain medication and still stay up the whole day without feeling drowsy and walk a straight line even with my full dose of pain medication for the day. She looked me in the eye and said, “Deepa, I think you’re addicted.”

Ouch. That hurt! I was on a seminary campus and my husband was studying to be a pastor, how could I be an addict? And yet that’s exactly what I was. Initially I felt that the pain that I was in justified my behaviour. Then I realised, it was just my easiest option. Soon after that conversation I got a call from my cousin, who is a doctor. He had been following my treatment and he told me that it was about time I stopped the morphine. It was a short conversation, but I got the point.

Soon after that I was back in the hospital to remove liver stones. I remember being in constant pain. I remember being on IV morphine again. I remember a mishap during a CT scan caused my hand to swell up like a balloon. More pain, more pain medication, more hallucinations. I knew this had to stop.

The day I was finally discharged I told the doctors not to fill my prescription for pain medication. I would manage with what I had at home. That night I told my family that I was going to quit taking morphine from then on. I was going to quit cold turkey. It was a tough choice, because I was still in some pain.

In our small apartment that night I thrashed and jerked and refused to be touched. My parents spent the entire night by my bedside praying for me and giving me water if I needed it. I was hallucinating and nauseated and the pain of the withdrawal was almost unbearable. But I refused to take that wretched morphine! Somewhere around 3 AM I dozed off sitting propped up on my bed. My parents fell asleep on their knees beside the bed, from mere exhaustion of fighting along with me that night.

But I kicked it. I kicked the habit that night. It was a battle won through sweat and through prayer.

I don’t remember the next few days very clearly. I don’t remember whether I had any more abdominal pain or not but I do remember flushing the pills down the toilet. I do remember that my sister-in-law was still caring for my baby. I do remember that my husband was cleaning the blisters on my swollen hand. But strangely, through all that discomfort and pain, I don’t remember reaching out for my morphine pills.

After coming back to India my stone issues and related pain have not recurred again with that magnitude or frequency, praise God! There have been times when I have had severe pain and have had to visit the hospital here, and there have been times I’ve been prescribed morphine again for the pain, but by God’s grace I’ve never been addicted to it ever again.

Addiction seems to ease our deepest pain, physical or emotional. It offers us a temporary escape, a feeling of comfort or control. But addiction is a False Comforter. It usurps our reliance on God and so becomes an idol, plunging us into shame. It’s impossible to fix the pain and emptiness through continuing in that destructive pattern.

The lie that I kept believing was that the drug would fix my pain and make me happy again. I was blind to the fact that God loved me enough to allow me to walk through this path, and that he himself was close beside me. The truth is I was mad at God for all that was happening to me and my easy fix was to take a few pills at the slightest onset of pain. I wanted to be happy so I found temporary fixes for happiness instead of looking to Jesus as my wellspring of joy.

The road to recovery from the pain without the help of pain medication has been a long one. I’ve had to make plenty of diet modifications and lifestyle changes. But all these changes have been so worth it to live both pain free and drug free. And the journey has brought me closer to the Lord and taught me to look to Jesus as my One True Saviour.

 

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Betrayed and Befriended

I was 12. That’s when I experienced betrayal for the first time – betrayal that changed my perception of a lot of things and also shaped my entire young adult life. Betrayal that took me years to overcome. It was betrayal that made me take a double take at everything – first and foremost, myself.

There’s no way I can be poetic about this, so, let me come right out and say it – I was subject to abuse when I was 12 years old. The man was a close family friend, much older than my parents and someone I trusted.

What followed thereafter was a whirlwind of emotions, reactions and responses. There was shame, guilt, feeling of being so dirty that no amount of scrubbing can clean it up, there was the feeling of worthlessness and ugliness. For the record, all of these reactions are baseless and inappropriate. If you’re reading this and you’re reminded of what happened with you, I want to be the person telling you this: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

These emotions did get the better of me and I slowly went on a downward spiral, only I was too proud to admit it back then. I was striving to belong somewhere, I was striving to gain an identity, I was striving to be known in the midst of trying to hide what I had been through because if anyone knew what I had been through, I would be an outcast. The tension between the performance I was trying to put up and my real heart condition was too much to live with.

Years went by and the repercussions of the betrayal lived on.

There is yet another betrayal that impacted my life. In fact, this betrayal impacted me even more than the one I’ve talked about above.

“While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'” (Luke 22:47-48).

Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed, Jesus knew who was going to betray Him, Jesus knew that this betrayal would mean death and He still stuck on with it. Many a times I’ve wondered why Jesus chose to die this way. I’ve wondered why He didn’t choose a ‘better’ death – if one such death did exist, in fact. I wonder what it would mean if Jesus died in His sleep, I wonder what it would mean if Jesus died of a heart attack/natural causes. I wonder if a less severe death would’ve achieved what the crucifixion of Christ through Judas Iscariot’s betrayal did. You see, when Jesus – the God who became man – chose to be betrayed by a human being, He chose to make Himself vulnerable to yet another predicament that we as human beings do become recipients of. Jesus – the perfect and sinless man – was subject to the worst kind of pain that any person can deal with.

However, the profound part of Christ’ betrayal is that it undoes the betrayal that I was subject to. How? When Jesus died on that cross, He died for me. He died to pay for all the sins of mankind – ones I’ve committed and ones committed against me. When He was buried in that tomb, He became the world’s greatest martyr. And when God raised Jesus from the grave, He pronounced ‘justice complete’ over the sins of mankind from eternity to eternity.

The counter intuitive climax of my story is that through the betrayal that Christ went through, my betrayal stands redeemed and I get invited to enjoy an eternal friendship with God.

To those ones who’ve been through what I went through or perhaps even worse: the world doesn’t end there. Jesus sees our pain and offers us comfort. Give Him a shot, maybe?

To those ones who haven’t been through what I did: Truth be told, betrayal comes in many forms and I’m certain you’ve been betrayed at least one – in that, I pray Jesus finds you and offers you the friendship that only He can.

He never betrays us and that’s the best part about Him!

 

 

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On Grief and Trust

Some things that remind me of my mom:
the sweet smell of summer corn boiling,
the shape of my own feet,
Hotel California by the Eagles.
The cold, tense atmosphere of hospitals,
my sister’s face, light-blue eyeliners,
the taste of black liquorice, my own mental battles.

 

After a lifetime of struggling with depression, my mom took her life on an autumn day 10 years ago. Did she take it? Did she lose it? Did she give it up? I was 23 then, a girl living abroad, studying, and trying to figure out the first messy years of marriage. I’m 34 now, and it’s still hard to say out loud what happened, and how it shattered my heart and shaped my life.

The only other person I’ve ever met whose mother committed suicide was a nurse who took my vitals at a doctor’s office when I was pregnant with my daughter. I felt an instant connection to her and wished I could have stayed there to talk. Please, help me, please, tell me how you do it. How do you get through life without a mother? Will it always hurt this much? Will I always feel like an uprooted tree?

When other people are hurting, it’s easy to give the good theological answers for pain, anguish, evil in the world. When you are the one going through the valley of the shadow of death, though, when you are the one feeling like life is squeezing you so hard you can’t breathe anymore and you have no idea where God is, these familiar answers, true as they may be, won’t satisfy the heart.

What’s so hard about grief is re-imagining the future without the person we lose, then actually living through each new stage of life without them. From a motherless daughter I eventually became a motherless mother and was desperately overwhelmed by going through this profound experience without my own mom. I had loving and great family members and friends around me but no one should or can fill the space a mother leaves. No one looks at you the same way, no one strokes your hair with the same ease, no one wants to listen to your breastfeeding woes for a month.

In the last decade I have asked God WHY? a million times in a million situations. Why me? Why my mom? Why did it end like this? Why did she have the struggles she did? Why weren’t there more resources available? Why couldn’t she make a different choice? Why did You not save her life? Why isn’t she here to love my kids? Why did You allow for my heart, my family’s heart to break like this? Why, why, why? I’ve been back and forth more times than I care to admit, asking these questions and explaining to myself what I know of God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, of the freedom He gave us, and of the tragic consequences of living as sinful people in a world full of brokenness. It makes sense, but in the end my heart is never stilled for long.

In the waves of this tragedy, I never questioned if God existed, but I started wondering what kind of a God He was. What kind of a Father lets His daughter die like this, hopeless, sick, terrified, and lets her children go through the cruel, lonely, gut-wrenching reality of picking up the pieces and moving on abandoned.

I didn’t read A Grief Observed by C S Lewis until a couple years ago. I felt hot tears running down my face when I discovered these words, expressing exactly what I had come to realise in my own thoughts:

“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

How could I possibly put my trust in Him again, put my heart in His hands again? If He’s good, and loving, and all-powerful and things like this can happen under His watch, I better guard myself.

And this is it. Trust. It comes down to trust. For so long I’ve been living in constant caution and fear, pretending that I can cover my heart with bubble wrap to protect it from any further possibilities of shattering. I’ve been withholding my trust, afraid that if I give my all, He will play a cruel trick on me again. I’ve been following Him to the end of the world with a thin, invisible wall around my heart.

Oh, but I am exhausted of holding back and doubting my Father’s love. I’m tired of hesitating and questioning. I’m tired of the whispers I know all too well: “Don’t you remember how He abandoned you? Don’t you know you are not safe with Him? You can ask and pray as much as you want, in the end He’ll just do whatever He wants.” I long for the intimacy of trusting Him fully with childlike abandon, trusting that His heart is for me no matter what happens.

Recently a counsellor prayed with me and helped me ask Jesus where He was when my mom died. I needed Him to talk to my heart when my mind had grown so numb to the answers I kept repeating to make sense of the pain. She helped me question the lies I’ve unconsciously come to believe: that He turned his face, that He was absent, that evil was victorious that day.

In my mind I saw Him hold my mom’s lifeless body at the end, forgiving her, and I saw Him shielding me as I received the most terrible phone call of my life. I saw Him in the room, I felt His presence. I choose to believe these images because I asked Him to talk to me and because they are in line with His character, with His heart. I saw Him as the One experiencing all the sins and all the consequences of these sins, all the brokenness of my life and my mom’s. The only One who’s ever been abandoned by the Father, the only One He turned His face from was Jesus.

For so long I didn’t know how to include God in this story. But I’m learning to tell it differently now—a story of His faithfulness to me, to us, in the deepest darkness. I see His gentleness, His constant presence, His peace slowly wash over this picture like a layer of opaque paint, I see it run into the deep, sharp cracks and fill them up. Walking with me in the valley, coming around me, the same God every single day of my life. And I can say that even when these incomprehensible, terrible things happened, I am confident that He was with me and He was with my mom. And that changes everything.

 

 

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The Baby Blues

We’d been married for 3 years before I got pregnant. It was a very uneventful pregnancy and our baby girl was born on Oct 13, 2015. I had thought the delivery would be the most painful/difficult part but actually, it was quite easy and quick. I didn’t have any problems feeding her. She was healthy. I was healthy. And on the surface it seemed life would be smooth sailing from here. But a week in, the baby blues kicked in.

“Baby Blues” is a rather sweet name for the constant crying and feeling of being overwhelmed. It was like experiencing a massive panic attack each time the baby cried. My heart would start thumping madly the minute I heard a wail. This was very unlike my usual steady, feet-firmly-on-the-ground personality. Things continued like that for a while and I just kept holding on. Dealing with a newborn’s needs, the middle of the night colicky crying, lack of sleep, left me drained with no energy to even pray.

Nevertheless, the healing was happening simultaneously. I was led to speak to people who gave me ideas on how to put my daughter on a sleep schedule. Once she was on a schedule, my sanity gradually returned, and I was less prone to panic. Things slowly improved and I thought this post-partum depression was finally behind me.

However, 8 or 9 months later, I began to feel disproportionately angry. The anger stemmed from a sense of hopeless rage. We were a nuclear family – just my husband, my daughter, and I. I had taken time off from work to care for my baby and I felt, now that she was 9 months old, I should be doing other things – “me” things. Though I tried, I couldn’t find any good daycare or even help to babysit my daughter. I desperately wanted to go back to work and the inability to do that had left me with a loss of identity. This was feeding my anger.

Though I always seemed to walk around with a general sense of irritation, I never attempted to cover this up in any way. I was honest with my husband and my sister and realised I had this unreasonable Project Perfect Mom in my mind. The smallest things would set me off. I had no motherly feelings. And I was failing at this mom thing. My husband was very supportive of my irrational outbursts, thankfully! When he realised I was changing personality-wise, he began to pray for me. When things would get really bad, he would talk to me and explain how irrationally I was behaving. The communication helped put things in perspective for me as well.

Eventually, I let go of my schedule regarding going back to work and decided I had to be a stay-at-home mom for the moment. Even at home, I learned to be more flexible instead of getting angry, to accept the fact that chores would be left undone – like leaving clothes in the dryer overnight or not cooking the most brilliant meal. I had to let it go. Instead of being fussed that my daughter was claiming my time, I learned to be intentional with my time with her. To accept that this season would be messy and schedule-less, that my baby would need me to drop everything and be with her, and that it was OK.

Spiritually, I used to feel guilty. Perhaps if I just prayed or read my Bible more I wouldn’t feel so angry and hopeless all the time. This was the constant refrain in my head. Perhaps I was experiencing all these un-biblical feelings because I wasn’t being spiritual enough. The guilt would feed my anger and sense of hopelessness more, and fuelled the lack of motivation to be “spiritual.” This was a vicious cycle. I eventually realised that was another unrealistic expectation. With a toddler, it was impossible to have an elaborate quiet time. I learned to come to God intentionally, not pretending that everything was OK. Initially, I tried to approach God intellectually – to pray about my feelings. But God led me to big issues – to pray about corruption and Syrian refugees. He made me shift focus from myself to others. He taught me to pray differently. There were no frills anymore. It was very raw.

God also kind of forced us to become involved in the church community. Our church was planting a smaller church in the area where we lived. Since we were one of the group of families from that part of town, we were thrust into various positions and responsibilities with the church plant. Though it was a tiny group, we were no longer just recipients at church. Having to actually organise things helped me focus a little more on others, which in turn helped me feel less useless.

Another thing that helped was regular exercise. Having an hour to just jump around very ungracefully at an aerobics class left me in a better frame of mind to meet the day.

Before I had my daughter, I was the type of person who went out, tried out new food joints, went shopping regularly, met up with friends, and had a finger in several pies because I loved having work to do. After my daughter was born, one of my biggest frustrations was that I was no longer able to be that kind of person. I had no freedom, no time to do things at my own pace, no sense of personality that I could call my own.

God showed me that I would now be a different kind of person. I would not be able to go back to being the way I was before, but it was OK to be this new person too. That contentment ensured that I no longer felt frustrated about my life.

Of course there are still days when I feel I’m not a good mom, when I get upset and cry. But there’s no longer any guilt.

Postpartum depression has several strains and what I experienced was, medically, a very mild one. I never had to actually visit a counsellor or doctor but I always kept the number ready in case the feelings threatened to overwhelm me.

As a believer, I sometimes wonder why I had to experience this. However, I’m realising that through this experience I’ve been able to empathise with several other young mums who struggle with these feelings. I think God brings these women into my life so I can share some of the truths and lessons I’ve learned. If you ever do begin to feel isolated and overwhelmed with fear and panic please do reach out for professional help.

I have learned that God is not in the business of creating perfect, plastic, happy people. He helps broken people build relationships through their brokenness.

 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Culture Clash: Taking Off The Blinkers

Over the years, I have been certified “culturally bankrupt” on more than one occasion.

As a Fine Arts student in college, I was totally clueless in several of the Indian art classes I took. I had the story of the Mahabharata totally muddled and was forever confusing the various avatars of the gods in the Hindu pantheon.

Later, working for an advertising agency, we often tried to find a cultural hook to kick off an ad campaign — and here again, my cultural connect was dangerously low. I would be working on a bridal jewellery campaign, but didn’t know the significance of the three knots tied in the traditional ceremony. Trying to do a series of festive ads for Pongal was difficult when I had never celebrated the festival, and hated the taste of the dish. My classmates and colleagues found it very amusing that I had to research these things that they had known since childhood.

I also hate wearing mallipoo (jasmine flowers), have never seen a Rajnikanth film, and am hopeless at tying a sari. And most recently, Chennai’s recent protests against the ban on jallikattu (a traditional bull-taming sport) completely failed to stir any of my “Tamil pride”. I’m with the bulls all the way.

As you can see, my cultural score is dangerously low, but it never bothered me much. I always told myself that Indian culture was much too huge to know it all.

But there was one aspect of my culture that I always felt I was strong in — after all, it’s been an important part of my life since early childhood — church culture! While I am not a pastor’s kid, I considered myself the next best thing.

There was the sword drill at Sunday School, memory verse tests and church camp that gave me an early foundation in the Word of God. The hymns and songs that convicted and encouraged me as they have many others over the centuries. And the communion which was central to the church service and to my faith.

But then I got married and joined a new church. And suddenly had the shock realisation that I was not really as much of an expert as I thought on church culture, or even on Indian church culture. I was simply an expert on my own church’s culture, with its idiosyncrasies rooted in a particular region, a particular denomination, a particular history. My husband, I discovered, had no idea what a sword drill was (for the record, it’s a competition to see who is the fastest to find Bible references). We also had completely different experiences with church music. He knew more of the worship songs of this decade than the hoary old hymns written a couple of centuries ago. And communion was not even part of every Sunday service for him.

And so, when I first got married and moved to a new church, I felt I was in a new and almost foreign culture. This was not church as I knew it. But as I heard God speak week after week and as I got to feel the love and care of the people around me at that church, I learned some new things about church culture:

  1. A vibrant culture embraces diversity: I’ve come to appreciate the variety and differences across several churches and services. To understand that this is a reflection of the way God has created us – each so different and unique, and yet he has called each of us to be His children and a part of the body of Christ. This realisation of the sheer variety of people who make up Christ’s body has opened up my own understanding, giving me new insights and new learnings from God’s word. But it has also given me a peek into the dangers of teachings that skirt around God’s word – for a church which is not firmly rooted in the Bible is not really a church at all.

  2. Authenticity is key: The traditions of the church and orders in the service may change, but this in no way makes one church more or less authentic. It’s not about how things are done during a service, but what’s in my heart and mind while doing them. Pride in my church’s tradition or culture is an empty pride, both hurtful and harmful. That kind of pride resents change and that in turn stifles growth. And a church where its members are not growing, is dying. A church that is being authentic is being true to God’s word – and not merely to any church traditions.

  3. Culture is about the people who make it: Any culture, just as a set of practices and traditions, is meaningless without the people who bring it to life. And church culture is the same. It’s about the richness of community; a community that is alive in Christ; a community that is walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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