To Fight or to Flee?

 

Usually I am always racking my brains on what to write each time. However, as soon as I read this month’s title, it all seemed too close to home. Not that I was thrilled about writing about it! Let’s just say I am as excited to write about conflict resolution as much I am excited to get my eyebrows threaded or a band aid ripped off. It’s all too painfully familiar but it must be done.

For those of you who know me, you wouldn’t picture me as someone who would engage even an intense verbal argument let alone a cat fight. It doesn’t mean that I am in absolute peace and contentment at all times with all the relationships in my life, it’s just that my weapon of choice is not a loud exchange of words or storming out the room or flipping a chair, but it’s just – silence.

It worked for me for a while. I could distance myself from circumstances or people that didn’t seem to operate in harmony with ease and it was all good. Well, that was till I got married. There is no running away when you’re doing life with this one person. There is no distancing yourself from their ‘not -so-adorable-anymore’ eccentricities. As much as they warn you how much of conflict occurs in marriage, I was completely ignorant of how ill prepared I was for it.

Many of us are familiar to the “Fight or Flight” response to stress or threat. While I am the quintessential “Flee-er”, my husband is proportionately the opposite. My side of the family would call in 3 family meetings to discuss elaborately opinions and feelings on what colour we should paint the bedroom, while his side of the family would have some fiery exchange of opinions over dinner for 5 mins about the same and go back to laughing over some silly whatsapp forward- like nothing happened! My husband could easily and graciously tell one of his friends that they need to lose weight and still be best friends with them! ( Don’t worry,I told him that would never work with a girl). Enough said, we came from 2 opposite ends of the spectrum and of course we brought that into our marriage. Each of us believed that it is exactly how every family functioned.

As we began to build our lives together, I realized how much more I struggled with confronting sin whether it was my own, my husband’s or of a close friend. I would even have my spiritual justifications for not confronting them. I would hide behind ” Love is patient”, “Love covers a multitude a sins” and “This too shall pass”. Though those are golden guidelines to live by, slowly yet surely I recognised that me not confronting sin and hurt were not guided by such godly intentions- rather they were a result of ‘Fear’ and ‘Pride’. Fear of confronting somebody who has hurt you and pride that won’t allow you to admit and face your own flaws.

Unfortunately, a lot of well meaning, godly women struggle with this. As women, we discuss our problems and issues in long winding conversations, preferably over some fancy coffee. While men can exchange a few harsh words, get over it and then discuss where they can go grab some dinner- all in under 15 mins. We are just fine tuned differently and praise God for that!

As you get older, our conflicts are more covert. They are no more about pulling each other’s pigtails over sharing a toy or slamming doors because your mom didn’t approve of a sleepover; rather they are more of strained relationships over some unkind deed done, a mindless comment passed or just plain misunderstanding. They may not be as obvious but the hurt and damage is very real. As Christians, we are called to reconcile relationships and at the same time to renounce sin. As much as we live in the period of grace, God still detests sin and injustice and expects us to have the same indifference whether you may see that in yourself or in another.

There is a fine delicate balance between being gracious, honest and forgiving while confronting people who may have hurt or sinned against you or others. On one hand Jesus was abundantly benevolent to the woman at the well who lived in sin while on the other, He literally flipped tables when He found God’s temple being misused. I can’t say for sure I know what that middle ground is.

Having said that, I am now learning to share freely with my husband my discontentments in plain, simple, direct words -whether it’s about the dresser drawers he often forgets to shut or a thoughtless hurtful word said. I just need to make sure that it’s not while he is watching a basketball game! And on the other hand, he is learning to point out to me my own flaws in more elaborate, gentle terms, often sugar coated with words of endearment. If any of you reading this is a fellow “Flee-er”, as much as you think you are being patient and forgiving, please examine your hearts and see if they are being led by true godly intentions. I learnt this the hard way, through unnecessary heartache and pain. Turning a blind eye to issues and hurt in your relationships and sweeping them under the rug will only leave you a heaping mess.

May God give you the wisdom to discern when to flip tables and when to have a gracious conversation at a water well as we navigate through the relationships He has placed us in!

 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Who Are You in Conflict With?

Last month I had the privilege of being a part of our church camp for college students. We had a lovely time away from the noise, the pollution, all social media notifications, the traffic and the daily pressures that life has to offer. It was a perfect picture of tranquility with hills, river and nature’s beauty at its best. One can’t help but be overcome by a strange peace as the body begins to rest.

In the midst of all this beauty, I got the opportunity to speak with many young girls face to face. I heard their struggles and witnessed the brokenness of this world. Behind those beautiful smiles and makeup were stories that brought tears to my eyes. Most of these young people were in conflict, either with themselves or with someone else. They were tired of carrying the burden that conflict brings along. As we drove back home, my thoughts were drawn to my own childhood. I do not recollect at what age but as long as I can remember, I was in conflict too.

I was in conflict with myself. I argued endlessly, fought fiercely, screamed and cried, but it was beautifully hidden and camouflaged by an effervescent personality – which in itself was another conflict. Conflict by definition means a clash or a disagreement. Can you imagine the weight people carry around when they are in conflict with themselves?

“Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”  says, Charles Spurgeon

I was raised in a family where my dad was an alcoholic. He was an absolute gentleman in the morning and a different person altogether in the evening. One part of me loved my dad and the other part was bitter, angry and unwilling to forgive. My actions were mostly dominated by the latter. The ramification of this conflict was psychosomatic; I could see my mind turning into a war zone and my body as a result started slowing down. I became short tempered, angry, irritable and sarcastic. I was in conflict with my dad; clearly he was the reason for this self conflict (at least that’s what I thought initially).

The conflict evolved as I grew older. A part of me was now well trained to win any argument and even hurt him without feeling bad about it. I even tried blocking him from my life. I could easily go on for months without having a word with or about him. Within a few years, from being in conflict with myself and with my dad, it was with men in general and eventually with God (He’s the One who gave me an alcoholic father after all); I had the full list ready. If I couldn’t win, I would write people off from my life.

After many years of negative self-talk, sleepless nights, anxiety and stress, I was left with no strength to fight. Who can ever win against God? Instead, He won me over with His love. The distorted view of a father made me look at my Heavenly Father through the same lens. But Jesus made peace between me and my Heavenly Father. The very first time I accepted Jesus in my life, I experienced peace. Peace that I had never experienced. Can He change your outlook, relationships, situations or your spouse? Absolutely! He is able and He can but He is more interested in changing you. My dad didn’t stop drinking but the Holy Spirit began to change me. For the first time I saw the ugliness of my sinful life and how Jesus had to pay the price for my sins.

Life has not been the same since. I had to work hard with the Holy Spirit to discipline myself. If given a choice, I would go back to my old self in no time. It’s a daily discipline. And it’s hard to be a living sacrifice at the altar. I continue to fail often but what a blessed assurance that I’m still at peace with my Heavenly Father, who places me right back where I belong.

Who are you in conflict with? Are you in conflict with yourself? Or with someone who treated you badly or cheated on you? Are you fighting God or angry at Him for not being fair? The Bible says about Jesus that, For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”  Ephesians 2:14. Whose voice will you listen to – your own, of this world that demands revenge or the One who is Peace Himself? The invitation is open. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27

Few practical things to think about:
Are you engaging in self-talk? We all talk and give ourselves advice. When you wake up in the middle of the night, are you talking to yourself? If yes, what are you telling yourself? Turn your self-talk into a prayer and tell your concerns to God rather than to yourself; allow the Word of God to speak to you, so that you can meditate upon it and gain wisdom to handle your conflict better. Seek prayers of a few friends that you can trust.

Do I regret my childhood? Not at all! I can’t thank God enough for the wonderful lessons He taught me. In fact, it was just the perfect childhood I needed, to be shaken off from my empty pride and be broken enough to receive God’s grace early in my life. Did I enjoy it? Clearly not! But it sure was worth all the tears and pain. I gained the trust of many young friends who had similar background and I got the opportunity to point them to Jesus. My mother has been married for over forty years to my dad and is continuing to display her Christ-like behaviour each day. Do we get upset? Yes absolutely! But we’re learning to keep short accounts with God and with people. We are trying to live one day at a time and to be more like Jesus.

Conflict is not necessarily bad. In fact, it can be an opportunity – an opportunity to be more like Christ! 

 

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The Art of Loving: Blessed are the Peacemakers

‘My Father Was the BTK Killer’ read the book bonus section of Reader’s Digest this January. “Could you ever forgive a serial killer? What if he was your father?” Made curious about the two line synopsis, I went on to read an honest account about a daughter struggling to forgive her father who is a serial killer in Wichita, Kansas, USA.

Most of us might not have a tumultuous relationship like that, some of us might have atrocities done to us that we struggle to forgive, or some of us might be in a position where we have to apologise and ask for forgiveness. Whichever side we might be on, the fact is that we are all fallen humans dealing with brokenness in relationships in some form or other. Some are easy to handle and some are hard. Some people are easy to forgive and some we loathe with such disgust. In this post, I’d like to share the struggles I faced being on both sides of the line. Forgiving someone whom I really despised, and now asking for forgiveness.

When I first started writing for IndiAanya I wrote a post called Struggling with Forgiveness. I had just started my final year of college and I struggled to forgive a particular girl in my class. I was a “good” believer, a good student, daughter and friend but my heart was disgustingly wicked and hard. I could not forgive, I would not forgive. I was bitter, and felt I had every right to be that way. After all, I was the one who was hurt in the relationship. And so for a whole semester I behaved that way. I had mentors confront me about my hard heart, I had a good friend in class who tried to mediate so I could make peace with the offender, but I just would not budge.

At the end of the year, as I was sitting in the watch night service on 31st December in our church, I found myself struggling to pray the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like a hypocrite saying, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” And at that point God broke my hard heart. I remember weeping and blubbering through the rest of the prayer. I remember honestly asking God to help me forgive and help me let go of the past. And He did, ever so simply – just like that! So much so that when I went back to college at the start of my last semester, I walked up to her, shook hands, smiled genuinely and wished her a happy new year. I knew right then that forgiveness was given and received.

Fast forward to present day. I am a wife and mother, and for some reason I thought I would never have to deal with difficult relationships ever again. Haha! Which world am I in, right? Recently we had a bible study on forgiveness, and the group leader asked us if we had any issues that we struggled with about forgiveness. Everyone in the group was sharing their struggles while I sat their smugly thinking,”Ha, I’m past all this.” When it was my turn to share, my self-righteousness kicked in, and I said I had nothing to share. I genuinely thought my heart was right with God.

On our way back, while we were still discussing the topic, my husband gently reminded me that there was one relationship that I had to work on. A few months back someone else had asked me to work on that relationship too. I had promptly swept it under the carpet, just pretending to be working on it. Oh, I always had excuses handy when it came to a difficult relationship. But there is no pretending with the husband. Not that he was after me with a stick to work on it. Far from it. Being the true gentleman that he is, he never brought it up again.

But I knew God was working on my hard heart again, this time though I had to seek someone’s forgiveness. I asked a friend to mediate. And even then I struggled. I had not spoken to this person in years now and I felt very awkward owning up to my mistakes. But my friend did mediate. She continues to do so. She does it in love. She genuinely seeks my welfare and the other person’s welfare. She longs for us to be reconciled and our relationship to be restored. She is a strong reminder of what Jesus does for me, mediating on my behalf, reconciling  me to the Father God. So after long talks and longer periods of procrastination, I did write to my friend whom I had hurt very badly. I still continue to write and I still continue to wait. I still struggle with all those ugly feelings that the human heart is capable of. Being a pastor’s wife does not exempt me from such feelings.

Maybe you are honestly struggling in one way or the other. Most often when we are hurt we respond in arrogance or by avoidance. Both of which the Bible does not recommend. The Bible does recommend that we hold no record of wrong but to freely forgive. In case we are the offender, the bible encourages us to approach the other person in humility and with a truly repentant heart as we ask for forgiveness.

Thabiti Anyabwile in his article ‘How To Make a Confession and Extend Forgiveness’ gives us a seven point reminder while we make a confession. They are as follows:

1. Address everyone involved.

2. Avoid “if”, “but” and “maybe” . These words shift blame or nullify the apology.

3. Admit specifically.

4. Acknowledge the hurt.

5. Accept the consequences.

6. Alter your behaviour.

7. Ask for forgiveness.

Not that we have to go through all seven points in order, but when I was struggling to make a confession these points were helpful reminders. He also talks about the four promises of forgiveness:

1. I will not dwell on this incident.

2. I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.

3. I will not talk to others about this incident.

4. I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

If you would like to know more about these principles you can find it at the Peacemakers website or in Ken Sande’s book called The Peacemaker.

Kerri Rawson, the daughter of the BTK killer, states in the article that after a ten-year struggle, she went on to forgive her father with the help of the Lord Jesus. Restoring relationships through forgiveness is a journey. The journey may be unpleasant and may require courage, humility and a test of enduring faith and hope. No matter what your circumstance may be, I invite you as a fellow traveller on this journey.

In closing I’d like to share a verse that has helped me a lot as I struggled with forgiveness: 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, ” . . . love keeps no record of wrongs.” May the love of Christ, a love which kept no record of our wrongs help you on your journey of forgiveness.

 

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More Than a Fairytale

There once was a ballerina who lived in a home that I was volunteering with. Only thirteen, she was beautiful with brown skin and curly hair. Of all that we did, we most enjoyed singing together, ‘Price tag’ by Jessie J was our jam.

It started out great, but out of the blue, things drastically changed. In all my years of working with children, she is the only child who made me cry. Each day, she would pretend like she couldn’t hear anything I said and would make wounding comments about me, and often my dark skin; in front of a room filled with people. Each night, I’d tuck her into bed, pray with her and walk back home with tears running down my face. Day after day I’d build up my courage to walk into the house knowing I’d be wounded again. This wasn’t about me though. Ballerina was being bullied in school about her brown skin and I was bearing the brunt of it.

There is much to say about relationships. No one has it all figured out and we probably never will. Whether we like it or not, relationships aren’t going to go away. What I do have figured out, is this.

We expect more than what other people can be or give. Truth is, no one can give us everything we long for in our life. The kindest thing I can do is acknowledge that we are human and are bound to mess up.

We must be merciful when people make mistakes. Why? Because Jesus never gave me what I deserved. And since we are called to be like Him, I don’t have the right to even the score with what they do or don’t deserve.

We must give in the same measure that we receive. God put His love on the line for me by giving up his Son when I was unlovable. To add to that, He is gracious when I am stubborn.

The love of God can blot everything wretched that I have faced in my life, offences included. Let’s get personal. If I choose not to love, it is not my offender’s fault. A person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love (1 John 4:7)

When it came to Ballerina, I exclusively depended on Him for patience and love. Every time I prayed, I forgave, and the one who benefitted the most out of it was me. It takes a lot less to forgive than it does to hold a grudge. Striving to persevere, my stint with the home was finally over and I had one last night of devotion to lead.

For weeks, the story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet was pressing on my heart; not just to read but to literally do. “How am I to ask our family to wash each other’s feet when no one sees eye to eye?”, I wondered. That night, we gathered in the family room, and courageously, I read from the Bible.

“So, if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious… If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.” John 13: 14-17

As we considered this story the atmosphere in the room changed and the reverence was tangible. I stepped up to go first. I walked up to the Ballerina and asked if I could wash her feet. It was the most humbling thing to do. It felt like I was saying sorry even though I was the ‘victim’. That was the point! A relationship is at stake and someone must try to fix it. Does it matter whose fault it is? Jesus treasured me enough to disregard my fault when he chose to be nailed to the cross instead of me.

I corrected my perspective and washed her feet knowing it was the least I could do. Our family of twelve, who didn’t go a day without a brawl, washed each other’s feet because Jesus said so. We said goodbye a few days later but I believe we learned some solid lessons that night.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another.” John 13:34

 

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Four Forgiveness Facts That Can Help You Move On

Yikes! That was my instinctive, not-so-spiritual reaction when I saw this month’s IndiAanya topic. Resolving conflict? Peacemaking? Working through difficult relationships? Ahem. God, could I please take a pass this month and immerse myself in the delightfully pretentious world of social media instead?

Turns out, God gave me the thumbs down on that one. I had the distinctive privilege of writing about a topic that makes my stomach tie up in tight knots that not even Houdini could possibility undo.

From my real-life research into the topic, I’ve drawn a few conclusions. Firstly, when you do life, relationships happen. And the thing about relationships is that they’re messy. Like when you drop a cheeseburger-with-extra-mustard-and-ketchup-on-your-white-shirt messy. How’s that for an aha moment? If you’re blown away, read on. If you’re not, read on anyway. Chances are this topic is bound to be relevant sooner or later, especially if you belong to the human race.

Forgiveness doesn’t feel like a million bucks

Forgiving someone doesn’t always feel like the most incredible thing in the world – at least not immediately. There’s no choir singing ‘Hallelujah’ in the background as you let go of the hurt. It would probably have been much more “satisfying” to deliver those Best-Screenplay-award-winning lines you’d been thinking up all night long as you tossed and turned in bed. You would have had the last word. You would have proved your point.

But, instead, you remain quiet and are convicted to forgive and let the offense go. Then why do you feel like a defenseless loser?

In that vulnerable state, God reminds you that He is your Defender. He is your Vindicator.  He is the glory and the lifter of your head. In the short term, forgiveness can feel unfair. But in the long run, you are free because God’s got this. He’s got the last word. And that’s got to be worth something.

Forgiveness is a decision – and a process

You know the classic line, “Forgive and forget”? Well, whoever came up with that must have been an ace at faking memory loss. It’s most likely that you’ll have the pain resurface. It’s like a floatie in a pool. You can hold it down for a bit but, eventually, it pops right back up. But the hope is one day the floatie will have a puncture, the air will leak out of it and it’ll sink to the bottom.

When I think of forgiveness, the example that comes immediately to mind is Corrie ten Boom, the World War II survivor. I can’t think of a more jaw-dropping example of extending grace and forgiveness. When her former Nazi tormenter reached out to shake her hand years after the war, she made a decision to extend grace – she took his hand and spoke a blessing on his life. And yet she confesses to finding it awfully difficult to truly forgive a group of Christian friends who had hurt her. She speaks of how her bitterness resurfaced even after she had forgiven them. Then a priest gave her the example of a sexton ringing the church bell. Long after his hand is removed from the rope, the bell keeps tolling – until with a final dong it stops. That’s much like forgiveness. The dings and the dongs will grow fainter and then finally stop. We may remember, but we can choose not to respond to the hurt. We choose not to dwell on it.

Meanwhile, keep taking it to God. No one else has the bandwidth to handle it anyway.

Forgiveness is not doing someone else a favor

When you harbor bitterness, it eats into you. You’re the only victim – a victim of your own making. So let it go, let it go (Sorry Disney, I may have stolen that stellar phrase from one of your blockbuster animations). Unless you really want an ulcer. In that case … No, I’m kidding. As the quote goes, “Unforgiveness is choosing to stay trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for someone else’s sin.”

But forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation. Sometimes, you need healthy boundaries. “Forgiveness clears the ledger; it does not instantly rebuild trust. Forgiveness is given; reconciliation is earned. Forgiveness cancels debts; it does not eliminate all consequences.” (From The Risk of Forgiveness by Gary Inrig)

Forgiveness can’t work without God in the picture

You can conjure up all the positivity in the world, but you can’t do real forgiveness without Jesus. It’s only when we understand the underserved grace we have received from Him can we truly offer it to someone else.

And, at the risk of sounding like a bespectacled grandma on her rocking chair – just praise Him. I’m not advocating that you play act with God. Tell him you’re hurt. Tell him that sometimes wave upon wave of pain comes crashing down on you. But also start praising Him for who He is. It’ll transform your perspective. Maybe this thing that’s eating you alive will become much less significant. Maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness. Maybe you’ll even start praying for the “forgivee”. And maybe, in time, those knots in your stomach will finally come undone.

 

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Peacemaker – Who, Me?

Relationships are thorny, prickly things. You find yourself coasting along, fairly smoothly for a while, when out of nowhere, a speed-bump appears, throwing you off balance. Tempers fray, words are spoken, tears are shed, and wounds are created. We deal with all sorts of relationships in life: parents, children, spouses, in-laws, friends, colleagues, bosses….the list is endless. And conflict soon crops up in most of them. As followers of the Prince of Peace, we are called to be peacemakers, but more often than not we find ourselves adding to the problem (or causing it!) rather than resolving it.

When I’ve had to deal with difficult people in my life, my reactions have ranged from “oh-no-I’m-such-a-horrible-person” to “Lord-smite-them-with-Your-wrath”. I have seen the effects of holding on to my anger, filled with righteous indignation cause “I am right”, which has actually led to more conflict and utter lack of peace. And I’ve seen the effects when God has given me the grace (and strength!) to keep my mouth shut and take the first step towards forgiveness, which has actually brought peace.

The thing is – we know all this. We know we should be peacemakers. We know we should forgive. We know it intellectually. We experience it intermittently. Yet we fail to live it continuously. So what are we missing?

The point we (myself very much included) seem to forget is that this life is not about us. It’s not about living a comfortable life, having the dream job/marriage/children/house, travelling the world, finding security, having great health, or entertaining ourselves. Let’s go a step further, it’s not even about finding my life’s purpose, my joy, my fulfilment. It’s about God and the story He is writing. It’s about His kingdom and the purposes He is fulfilling. He, being good and wise, has created us to live here; not to bury ourselves under our own petty plans, but to live in terms of eternity.

One of my favourite verses is in Isaiah, who says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You.” [Isaiah 26:3]

When our minds are stayed (remain, rest quietly and confidently) on God, we will have peace, especially while dealing with difficult people. Because we will know that it’s not about proving our points, making our stands clear, changing their misconceptions. It’s about laying our pride down, letting down our guard, allowing others to misconstrue our actions and words, having to say “sorry” several times, sacrificing our convenience, and forgiving in the face of rejection – which looks something like dying to ourselves.

We are able to die to our fallen instincts and tendencies because our trust is not in our worth, our hopes, our expectations, or our strengths. It is in the Great and Holy One, the One who knew us before He formed us; who placed us in our families and circles, specifically and intentionally; who created good works for us to accomplish beforehand; who is just and merciful; who forgave us and accepted us while we rejected Him; who always listens to our side of the story and knows our selfish intentions, yet reaches out to us in love.

This frees us to live as peacemakers in our troubled, conflict-ridden world. It enables us to take ourselves out of the equation and bring God’s wisdom and perspective into bitter relationships. It is a voice of peace amidst the cacophony of dissent.

What a blessed way to live!

 

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Background Music: A 2016 Playlist for the Stories of Life

We are having a leisurely post-church discussion over momos and tea, debating the competing merits of our favourite novels, movies, TV shows.

Our resident music-lover looks bemused by the passionate debate. “What’s the big deal?” he asks. “It’s only a story.”

Only a story?” I reply with only-partly-mock outrage. “How can you say that? Stories are everything.”

He shrugs. Tells us about his story-free weekend of music-making.

“Well sure, music is ok,” I concede. “But at the end of the day, it’s just background.”

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Such sentiments regularly get me into trouble with those more attuned to the joys of music than I am. They are appalled by my musical illiteracy and launch frequent campaigns to educate me. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy singing, and yes, there are songs that pluck at my heartstrings. It’s simply that music is not essential to my being. I would always rather curl up with a good story.

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And then, in 2016, I discovered the joys of background music. Music that thrives in the background of a story, that brings life to an old tale, that lingers in the sub-conscious layers of a narrative.

It starts with the fact that I’m mostly unemployed in 2016. The occasional work projects and assignments leave plenty of jobless hours to fill with stories. I devour new books and re-read old ones, discover the dangerous thrills of binge-watching television, and the fresh delight of subtitled movies. And with time to spare, I begin noticing, always in the background, the music.

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Early in the year, I get hooked onto Parenthood, a messy joyful family saga, with its Bob Dylan theme song Forever Young. Charmed, I seek out other cover versions: Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary. (Yes, I know it’s unpardonable, but I’ve never actually listened to any of these famous names before.) And suddenly, I stumble onto a treasure trove of balladeers from the 1960s and 1970s, who effortlessly weave narrative into their lyrics.

Apart from its theme song, Parenthood also has a great soundtrack, with music that enhances the storyline. Speed-watching my way through the key scenes from seven seasons of Gilmore Girls in preparation for this year’s revival show, the songs suddenly begin to pop out. I’ve always appreciated good lyrics — after all, they contain words, the building blocks of story — but now I begin to appreciate the sound as well. Veteran music-lovers are rolling their eyes at my obtuseness, I know, but I’ve honestly been deaf to the effect of the background score. 

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On long train journeys through the year, I immerse myself in the glorious legends of Merlin and Arthur and his Round Table of knights and explore the work of Heather Dale. The Celtic musician brings the Arthurian myth to life, whether with the creepily effective Mordred’s Lullaby or the sincere love of the King’s wedding-eve song for Guinevere.

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There are the musicals, which seem crafted especially for my story-first-music-second mentality. A friend takes pity on my ignorance and introduces me to that old classic — West Side Story — and I revel in the innocent tragic romance of its songs. An obscure 2015 musical — Begin Again — lures me in with bittersweet songs that capture my own mood. I rewatch Fiddler on the Roof with my dad — at its heart, it’s really a movie about fathers and daughters — and laugh along with If I Were a Rich Man, sigh with the nostalgic wistfulness of Sunrise, Sunset.

And of course, musicals rule the roost in the Indian movie industry. With my broken Hindi, and a colloquial grasp of Tamil which does not extend to understanding its rich poetry, I am forced to appreciate the music divorced from the lyrics. (Although there is rib-tickling, if unintended, humour to be found in reading the English subtitles of Indian movie songs; try this one.)

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I take on the project of converting my parents’ cassette collection into a digital format, and the music keeps telling tales of my childhood. The tapes my parents once played at bedtime magically transport me to the 1980s world of Psalty and Psaltina, to Agapeland, and further back to the mellow baritone of Jim Reeves. Three decades later, I sing The Night Watch as a lullaby for my young nephew, and the music which infused the earliest strands of my own story is woven afresh into the patterns of his new life.

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Just before the United States goes to the polls, I spot a new song on my Facebook news feed. Sara Bareilles’ Seriously tries to guess at then-President Obama’s unspoken private thoughts in the run-up to November 8, creating a haunting musical accompaniment for the horror story that was this election season.

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As the calendar flips to December, familiar carols overtake all my musical mind-space, telling again the grand old story of Christmas. On IndiAanya, a blogger shares her take on Mary’s song; my world is upturned by the revolutionary justice I hear in a fresh reading of the story.

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Finally, the year draws to an end, and I review the rambling thoughts in my journal. Back in the summer, my church had worked its way through the Psalms, and their “theology of emotion”. While many of them are songs of praise or prayer addressed to God, the preacher pointed out that others have elements of self-talk. The psalmist tracks his own stream of consciousness and exhorts himself to focus his eyes on God.

Over the course of a tough year, my journal — a rough draft of the story of my life — seems to echo parts of the inner monologue of Psalm 42. It could almost be my background score for 2016:

My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God . . .
Tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul . . .
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Or as Casting Crowns sings, in a masterpiece of self-talk to the soul:

Oh, my soul
Oh, how you worry
Oh, how you’re weary, from fearing you lost control . . .
Here and now
You can be honest
I won’t try to promise that someday it all works out . . .
Oh, my soul
You are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone

I listen to the band sing my life-story. The countdown reaches midnight. The bells toll. The year is over. A new song begins.

Photo Credit : Unsplash

All the Way to the End of the World

The day he asked me out, on 16th August 2012, he quoted these words to me,

Wanna pack your bags, something small
Take what you need and we disappear
Without a trace we’ll be gone, gone
The moon and the stars can follow the car
and then when we get to the ocean
We gonna take a boat to the end of the world
All the way to the end of the world

Oh, and when the kids are old enough
We’re gonna teach them to fly

You and me together, we could do anything,

Baby
You and me together yes, yes”

I said yes, a few hours later, to a journey which took us two and a half years till the day we got married.

During that time, my husband and I quoted the words of many songs to each other. The above song, You and Me, is written and performed by Dave Matthews. There were other songs by the Dave Matthews Band that were special to us like Crash Into Me (my bridesmaids held the words “Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock and sweet you roll, lost for you, I’m so lost for you” when they walked down the aisle, bringing tears to my soon-to-be husband’s eyes).

Before we got married, there were many people involved in helping us navigate our relationship. From our parents (mine opposed the relationship at first, but it helped us take a stand on the values we held close to our heart – they love him now) to our spiritual mentors and truth tellers, and our beloved friends. The day we got married, that changed from being surrounded to being just you and me. From the moment moved into our apartment together after marriage, setting up our home, shopping for curtains and utensils, to making my first meal for him and fighting about silly things, it was all just him and me. We still had our family, mentors and friends around us. But when it came to making decisions and living life, sailing on those seas, it was just him and me.

At the end of our first year of marriage our friends asked us how it felt and what we had learned. My husband promptly answered “you need patience to calm the stormy seas”. I know he was referring to how challenging marriage had been. Our first year had its share of fights, tears and cold war days (mostly because I like throwing tantrums as a means to get attention). We did manage to have fun despite our disagreements though. We went on many memorable trips, from a small camping trip we took, to our honeymoon, to a surprise birthday gift – concert tickets to watch Dave Matthews Band live!

Our second year was better than the first, filled with laughter as we grew in our friendship. We went on a trip to New York where we went kayaking on the Hudson River. Together, my husband and I navigated the choppy waters of the river. It epitomised the song “You and Me”. As I stared at the horizon and knew that this man was it – till the end of our life in this world. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

In the past year or so I have come to recognise my husband as the captain of this ship. This boat we’re on is sailing all the way to the end of our lives on earth. While we can do anything, we have chosen to include the great navigator who watches us through the skies and stars above, who is present with us in every storm as we sail along. While it may seem that it is just the “two of us together” this beautiful journey has been made more beautiful by the fellow travellers on the sea – in boats of their own, our mentors, friends and family for example, who cheer us on constantly, and cry and laugh with us!

A few weeks ago, we celebrated our second-year anniversary, and next month it’ll be 5 years since we first met. Looking back, I realise that when we spend time alone, either at home, watching a movie, reading a book, or eating a meal together, or when we travel, it’s been just my husband and me for the last two years and it’s been the most beautiful time.

Now our boat is preparing to welcome our first child, and like Dave sings, “When the kids are old enough, we’re gonna teach them to fly”. In one of the concert versions of the song Dave beautifully changes the lyrics of the song to sing “When the kids are old enough they will teach us to fly”. I really want to be able to teach them to fly – out of our nest into seeing and conquering the world. But I also hope that our kids will teach us to be better than what we are! Our parents teach us so much in this journey that we forget how much they learn from us.

The course of the journey is changing, with travellers joining us in the boat, but through the road bumps and the stormy seas (which I am told multiply as the family expands) – all I can hope for is that with the help of the Great Navigator and keeper of the wind, sea, sun and sky, “Its going to be you and me, all the way to the end of the world.”

I leave you with the rest of the words of the song, which I love, hold and treasure close to my heart, as it reminds me of how far we’ve come, and how much more there is left to go –

“You and I, we’re not tied to the ground
Not falling but rising like rolling around
Eyes closed above the rooftops
Eyes closed, we’re gonna spin through the stars
Our arms wide as the sky
We gonna ride the blue all the way to the end of the world
To the end of the world

Oh, and when the kids are old enough
We’re gonna teach them to fly

You and me together, we could do anything, Baby
You and me together yes, yes

We can always look back at what we did
All these memories of you and me baby
But right now it’s you and me forever girl
And you know we could do better than anything that we did
You know that you and me, we could do anything

You and me together, we could do anything, Baby
You and me together yeah, yeah
Two of us together, we could do anything, baby
You and me together yeah, yeah
Two of us together yeah, yeah
Two of us together, we could do anything, baby

The sun is falling
Till it leaves the end of the world”

And so, Ben, the captain of our ship, I can’t wait to take this boat all the way to the end of the world, and no matter how many children and grandchildren come our way, till that last sunset, I hope that it’s always “you and me, together”.

 

Photo Credit : Unsplash 

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