Being Single in a Married World

If there is any topic more written about than marriage, I’ll eat my hat. And maybe yours too.

If you’re anywhere near the eligible age, it’s the elephant that fails at hiding in the shadows during seemingly casual conversations with neighbours, family and equally single members of the opposite gender.

I always assumed I would never have to go through this.

After all, everyone is hyper-sensitive, especially to the feelings of single Indian women who work every day and have way better things to do than worry about getting married, if we feel a calling at all.

It’s been a really crazy experience prepping for close friends’ weddings for the last two years of my life. I’ve been on all kinds of diets, worried about getting the right material, gone looking for the perfect shade for wedding cards and even organised a bachelorette party while based in another city. For all the fun these outings with my besties has been, (I’ve got my own wedding planned to the finest detail), it’s also given me a lot of time to contemplate how very single and unprepared I appear to be.

Part of our problem, as a people, is that we tend to swing one way or another. I remember my pastor describing this vividly in one of his talks on love.

We are either overly cynical or overly romantic. We either pine for our long-awaited future husband, or we decide we will be just fine alone and don’t need anyone to complete our lives.

And while I agree, we don’t need a man to give us joy or “complete our lives” the way Jesus does every day, I’m beginning to see that this wild oscillation is a coping mechanism many of us have developed to handle the struggles thrown at us.

I’ve had people tell me I’m already on the shelf at 24. I’ve also had people tell me that I shouldn’t consider getting married until I’m 30. I’m buffeted and battered on every side, to describe the man of my dreams, to really “get out there”, to take it easy, to wait patiently. I can’t think of a single piece of advice I haven’t received, from prophecies about D-Day to tips on reducing high expectations.

I’m overwhelmed by the sheer excitement and anxiety that pervades this entire process.

On one end of the spectrum, we have what I’d like to call the “overly-anxious aunty/uncle” who is well-meaning but destructive in criticism of all the unattractive qualities you possess from poor physique to bad pronunciation.

On the other end, we have the “super-relaxed aunty/uncle” who assures you that God is just working on your to-be-husband and that it’s a good thing He’s taking so long because that means you’ll get the perfect guy.

While the overly-anxious individual is quite blatant in their agitation, and therefore in many ways easier to ignore, the super-relaxed is often doing equal damage but in subtler ways. This individual builds your hopes and expectations about marriage to such a high that it’s difficult to identify and kill the lies every one of us comes to believe in.

All I can say is that it’s very difficult to be a single girl in her mid-twenties. And it’s even harder to live in the fascinating dichotomy that is our culture.

I have realised personally, that in battling this struggle, it has become increasingly easy to forget Jesus.

I fall on the cynical side of the spectrum more often, building walls and assuring myself that all I need to do is focus on work and keep my head down so that one day, when He nudges me, I’ll look up and find him.

I forget it’s always about finding Him.

When I get exhausted by what the world tells me I must do and how I must behave, I go back to the everlasting comfort of these words that tell of a love far greater and richer than any between a man and woman on this earth.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

That’s 1 Corinthians 13:1, one of the most beautiful descriptions of love that I have ever read.

It makes me want to fall in love with this God who loves me like this, who speaks beauty into the world, who is Love. When I fail at walking the line between cynic and romantic, when I fail at waiting, when my patience is wrung to its core, He reminds me to turn to that wooden cross where Love hangs wrapped in my failures, smiling and waiting for me.

It is then that the voices of the world fade to nothing. It is then that the wait is finally over and He takes my hand.

 

Photo Credit : Unsplash

Culture Shock: India and Lessons on Community

When we first moved to India, I read a book that said something to this effect: Anything you say about India that is true, the opposite can also be true.* I can neither confirm nor deny this assertion, but it certainly bears weight in this incredible country filled with contradictions and complexities. Certainly, when you unite a billion-odd people from different tribes, tongues and cultures under the banner and flag of a single country, there will be more exceptions to the rule. Regardless, it makes me wary of making sweeping cultural statements about this lovely place and people, gracious enough to host bumbling me. So I will tread gently and probably imperfectly as I reflect on a place that has been home to us for the past six-plus years.

First, a confession: I have not always loved living here. In fact, upon arrival, I proceeded to experience a culture shock so violent I thought surely we had made a grave mistake in moving here. I cried every day for a month. For the remaining 11 months of that year, I only cried on alternate days. Kidding. But not really. It did not help that I was newly pregnant and hormonal, I had two small children and it was Christmas. Everything felt foreign. I could not see beauty. I could not hear music. I could not find light.

In retrospect, violent culture shock was an incredible gift to me. I come from a country and culture whose primary idol is individualism. Upon moving here, one of the first cultural realities to slap me across the face was India’s real understanding of community. This was something I did not love upon my first (or second, or third or…) encounter. Some people might call it nosiness, but the truth is, it’s love. And my little portion of India does community like nobody’s business.

In a way, I have discovered the true meaning of community by contrasting the way India does community with the way my country of origin does it. Community is a concept that is rather en vogue and somewhat contrived in the United States right now. Community in America is twinkle lights, backyard barbecues and kids that go to the same homeschool co-op. Community is doing half marathons together and celebrating each other’s natural home births. Community is often finding like-minded or like-lifestyle people and doing some choice (usually fun) parts of life together. These pleasantries, while lovely and fun and downright pleasant, are not the essence of community. And while community is not less than these, it is so much more.

Robert Putnam expounds on America’s declining social capital and the collapse of American community in his 1995 essay (which later became a book, in 2000) called “Bowling Alone.” He notes that while the number of people who bowl has increased over the past 50 years, the number of people who bowl in leagues has significantly declined. In other words, we are becoming more individualistic, more suburban, more fence-building (wall-building), but less porch-sitting.

While I am unfamiliar with the statistics on Indian bowling leagues, I can tell you this: Community is in your face like nothing I have experienced before. Community is the people at large, interfering on the individual level for a perceived greater good. People feel great freedom to comment on the way I parent, the number of children I have, the choices I make for schooling, clothing, hat-wearing, time of day we venture out of the house, what I feed our family and more. Aunties rebuke me for forgetting the baby’s socks (in 28 degree weather), or for buying the kids popsicles before the month of March or for feeding them “cold foods” during the monsoon. (If, perchance, someone could please help me to understand this concept of cold food vs. hot food, I would be forever indebted to you.) Aiyo!

True community insists on feeding you when you step foot in a home. True community gives unasked-for advice. True community infringes on your time. True community is wounded if you refuse to spend time together and rush out of their home without at least a cup of tea. True community values time, presence, intimacy, patience and interest in the small, but significant details of another person’s life. As an American, I was not prepared for this. All my values (my privacy, my time, my choices, my individualistic priorities) had to be re-evaluated and forsaken for the cause of community survival here.

Again, for me, this was a significant adjustment. It was not easy. With each of the three babies I have given birth to here in India, I have seen changes in myself. When I was several hours postpartum with the first baby and near strangers wanted to visit me in the hospital, I said, “No.” The second time I said, “Come visit us tomorrow.” And with the third baby, the room was full of visitors. I have come to understand more about the essence and sacrifice and return and fulfilment of what true biblical community looks like by living here.

While this cultural difference has been difficult for me, it reminds me of truths and realities that are so much bigger than I am. It has stretched and grown the ways I know God and the way I see myself. And most importantly, in showing me the dark depths of my selfishness, pride and weakness, it has pointed me to grace, and to the one who delights in my weakness because it creates a showcase for His power. I could not be more thankful for this opportunity to call India home for as long as we might be allowed to stay. Thank you, precious India, for the warmth of your welcome, the strength of your embrace and the wild ride you provide, nearly every day. You are a gift.

*Culture Shock: India by Gitanjali Kolanad

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Chocolate Chunk Magic Cookie Bars

Just before we left the US to come back to India, I was hurriedly collecting “American” recipes to try out in India. Here’s one: the chocolate chunk magic cookie bars. These bars are super yum to say the least. They are extremely easy to prepare and will have your guests scrambling for more.

I ran into a problem the first time I tried making it here in Delhi, when I realised I couldn’t get those fancy ingredients at my local grocery store. So I had to quickly improvise and come up with an Indian version, which has ingredients like Marie biscuits, Amul dark chocolate and Milk Maid, things that you can easily find at your local grocery store.

It does have a slight twist, because I use freshly grated coconut sprinkled with a little sugar instead of the Baker’s Angel flake coconut from the original recipe. Whole coconuts are easily available even in a place like Delhi. One small tip for grating fresh coconuts is to cut small chunks of the coconut and pulse it in a food processor or mixie. I’ve always fumbled while using the coconut grater, and have found this method fairly quick and less messy.

This dessert has always turned out decadent and I have to stop myself from finishing the whole pan! Listed below are both the original American recipe my adapted Indian version, with pictures for easy assistance.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Servings: 48

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups                          Honey Maid Graham Cracker crumbs
1/2 cup (1 stick)               Butter, melted
1 can (14 oz)                      Condensed milk
1 package                           Baker’s semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/3 cups                           Baker’s angel flake coconut
1 cup                                     Pecans, chopped

Method:

1) Heat oven to 350 F (180 C).
2) Mix crumbs and butter, press onto bottom of 13 x 9 inch pan sprayed with cooking spray.
3) Pour condensed milk over crust, top with layers of remaining ingredients. Press nuts lightly into coconut and chocolate layers to secure.
4) Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned.
5) Immediately run knife around edge of pan to loosen dessert from sides of the pan. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

And now, for the Indian version:

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups                         Marie biscuits, finely powdered
1/2 cup or 100 gm         Amul butter, melted
1 can                                   Milk Maid or Amul Mithai Mate condensed milk
1 cup                                   Amul dark chocolate or Morde dark compound, coarsely chopped
1 1/3 cup                           Fresh grated coconut, mixed with 1 tbsp sugar
1 cup                                   Walnuts, chopped

The method is the same as the American version of the recipe except that you have to powder the Marie biscuits in a dry mixie. Small chunks of the coconut can also be pulsed in the mixie to get grated coconut. The rest of the method is the same.

    

Once they come out of the oven you can offer the bars to your kids and if they are like mine and make faces at anything that’s remotely tasty, you can invite your girlfriends over for a tea party. Enjoy!

 

Speak Life

As Indians, we are used to all sorts of unsolicited advice and candid remarks — from welcome and unwelcome sources — especially about our physical appearances.  We receive ‘muft  ka advice‘ (free advice) wherever we go, and even more so as young women or young mothers. I cannot count the number of times my decisions as a parent have been questioned by shopkeepers, sweepers, co-passengers and other strangers on the road, and advice has been doled out from every corner  (some of it has actually been beneficial). I’ve also heard ample comments on how fat I am or on how I must shape my daughter’s nose so that she will have a beautiful nose (this is apparently very important for many Indians!).

On politics, current affairs and sports, most Indians have a strong opinion even on matters they barely know, and a discussion can soon break out into a heated argument. However, our culture is also one where appearances and the family image are placed above values like justice and integrity. And those of us who were quick to speak out on so many not-so-important issues, are suddenly silent about matters that are of great consequence, to God and to us, both as a society and on the personal front.

Our culture gives high importance to family honour. We are subtly or explicitly taught not to speak about the struggles of our families. We know what to say, what topics to avoid, and to what lengths we can go to avoid any uncomfortable or unpleasant situation, conflicts or bringing shame on our families. The rhetorical question ‘what will people think?’ is one that many of us have heard on numerous occasions, whether it is to do with the clothes we wear, the friends we have or whom we marry.

This ‘people pleasing’ aspect of our culture also breeds our reluctance to talk about deep hurts.

Victims of abuse are shushed until the scars run so deep that they take years to heal. Personal grievances are brushed under the carpet and misunderstandings build invisible walls so that relationships look perfect from the outside while decaying inside. We accept injustices and the trampling of our dignity and bodies as a part of life – some of us even tell ourselves that this is a cup that we ‘must bear’ as a woman. We keep silent about uncomfortable relationships as it often involves those close to us. We do not want to disturb the ‘harmony’ that exists, scared of the consequences that may follow a confrontation.

Whether due to cultural influence, my skewed response to values taught in my social circles, or my own personality, I too struggle with being a people pleaser. This is an area that often causes me to stumble and fall.

Our Bible study group recently did an exercise to identify our ‘heart idols’ that often stole the place of God in our lives and kept us away from gospel driven transformation. As I looked at the list, I did not have to think twice. I knew immediately that my heart idol was mainly the idol of approval and security. My insecurity and desire to be thought well of makes me avoid conflict at any cost. In order to avoid hurting someone, I often just end up bottling everything up inside. I find it easier to deal with my own emotions than with the idea of an unpleasant conversation.

When someone hurts me, I cannot help but think over and over again about how the person would react if I brought it up, and whether we could still share the same level of comfort. My heart breaks to see someone in sin but instead of addressing it in love, I tend to keep quiet for fear of hurting them. I shy away from sharing my faith with friends for the same reason. This also affects the depth to which I allow people to invest in my life, putting up a mask that looks like all is well while I desperately clutch at straws to stay afloat in my worries and issues. How can someone help me if I won’t speak up?

It is beautiful how the gospel frees us to enjoy the riches of culture we live in. There are values I can hold on to from this culture – the respect for people and especially those older than us, treasuring families and relationships, and living at peace and harmony with people around. The gospel also breaks the bondage of the negative influences of culture and I am reminded over and over again how my security and my identity is in who I am in Christ and my approval comes from His blood shed for me, not from relationships around me or what people think of me.

My heart idols were actually preventing me from using my tongue the way God wanted me to: to encourage, to build up, to speak the truth, to speak up for the weak and defenceless, correct, guide. They also kept me from loving my friends with Christ-like love. Amy Carmichael in her book ‘If’ sums it up perfectly:

“If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand,” or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

I appreciate those who have held me accountable, correcting me and being instrumental in teaching me humility. I am also thankful for the people close to me who persevered, looking behind my mask and bringing up things that I was desperate to talk about. And I know that this is not just my story, but that of many others who have this same longing. My prayer is that we – myself included – will have the courage to speak the truth with love and grace.

I am thankful for the voices that speak up for those who are being trampled upon, for those who cannot speak for themselves. I pray for courage to be one of these voices and that my words may bring life and not death.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those that love it shall eat its fruit.
Proverbs 18:21

Photo Credit: Unsplash

6 Reasons Why India Rocks

You know those artsy stores that sell recycled products? Like a comfortable chair from an old tyre or a gorgeous lamp stand from a discarded pot? Well, this month, I’m taking a page from their book and recycling an old blog post. For a very good reason.

I’d written the post below when I lived in the US and had visited India one summer. It was a perfectly lazy summer, with shopping and eating being our only scheduled activities.

Fast forward a few years and I now live in India. It’s no longer a vacation destination. And that’s why I needed to reboot this old blog. I needed to remind myself just how vast and vibrant and brilliant and sometimes downright entertaining life here can be.

The post reminds me that when we look for beauty, we find it. In the unexpected. In the mundane. I pray for continued God glimpses – daily moments of catching the glorious.

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6 Reasons Why India Rocks

Everyone knows India is mystical and spiritual and beautiful. At least everyone who hasn’t stepped foot in the country. Once you’ve visited, you know that India is controlled chaos spinning in kaleidoscopic frenzy. Everything has been distilled so you’re left with the best, the worst, the most vibrant, the craziest. There’s just nothing vanilla about it. And I love it. Here’s a photo essay of why:

1. The entrepreneurs

She sells flowers or mangoes on the sidewalk. He owns a tyre repair shop or a pharmacy that’s barely bigger than a closet. They set their own hours, they are their own bosses. They take long afternoon siestas. They’re nice to their customers – when they want to be. Meanwhile, you know that shopping is never going to be the same old.

2. The food 

What’s not to love about the blend of salty, spicy, sweet, and sour. Where else can you get a thali of biriyani, naan, appalam, chicken fry, dals, mint chutney, dahi and payasam, all for $1.25? And this was at a food court at a mall.

 

And then there’s the community that gathers around the table. It’s always about community. Food just tastes better that way.

 

3. The street signs

You’re stuck in traffic anyway. Might as well have fun reading the incredulous, misspelled, downright strange posters around town. Like the KFC ad below. Yup, 100% vegetarian at KFC. I doubt Colonel Sanders saw this coming.

4. The innovation

He packs his entire business onto a motorcycle and, voila, you’ve got yourself a travelling tailor at your doorstep. India is a land of innovation.

 

5. The colours

It’s like colours decided to come alive. Like pastels woke up from a long, dreary winter.

India, where even the cows have a colourful closet.

6. The unexpected

You never know what you’re going to see. Or who’ll pull up next to you at a traffic light.

 

And then there are glimpses of unexpected beauty. Untamed, almost bewildering, splendour — God portraits — that makes all the chaos so worth it.

Those are just six reasons. There’s only about a billion more to fall in love with this place I call home. What are yours?

Confronting the Conflict

I hate confrontation. I remember when I was a teenager, being confronted by my dad or mom meant awkward conversations which would end in me trying to defend myself and failing at it.

Even today, I hate being confronted. The moment someone says they have some “feedback” to share with me, I want to run and hide somewhere.

But confrontation, actually saved a relationship.

One of my good friends today is someone who I love and pray for regularly. We both enjoy being talkative, keep trying to convince our Delhiite husbands that Bombay is better and are always looking for a chance to have pani puri together. When I got pregnant, she was the first one to cook me a meal, and not just any meal – but my favourite – Brinjal/Eggplant! She was also the first one along with her husband to gift our unborn child a gift (not even the parents or the grandparents have got this child anything!).

Our friendship wasn’t always this warm though. While it started off as warm and friendly, somewhere down the line, it got ugly.

When my friend joined our community, she joined with her bubbliness and love for people. Somewhere, our friendship got messed up. Once she started growing closer to our community I got very jealous and insecure and ended up being very competitive and hurtful towards her. As she got more involved in our community circle, instead of being warm and welcoming, I used to end up being very cold and would shut her out of my life. I used to deliberately make her feel like she didn’t fit into my life. I would push her away when she would be trying to get closer. This created a conflict in our friendship.

I gave in to slander several times, and this only aggravated our conflict. My attitude towards one person wasn’t just affecting her, but also the community we were part of.

One of the people I would complain to is my husband. One day, he very gently said these words to me “I don’t think the gospel is really renewing you. Why don’t you spend some time praying about it?”. While I refused to believe him at first, slowly like an onion, as each layer was being unravelled, the stench was too bad to bear. I decided to meet with one of my spiritual mentors and close friends, who helped me see the big picture. My mentor encouraged me to talk it out with my friend if I felt hurt.

My friend and I had met twice in the past to discuss this conflict in our friendship, and it did nothing to improve our relationship. But, paying heed to the advice my mentor gave me, I met her again.

We met and had probably one of the hardest but also most honest conversations I’ve had. This time, I explained how I felt hurt, why I had behaved the way I behaved (it was mostly justifying my behaviour). My friend was also honest with me, and she told me how I had hurt her, and a few others. When she opened up and was honest to me – I was able to see how I had acted selfishly and in pride, not at all centred in the Gospel. What my husband had said about not being renewed by the gospel sprung true in my life. All this while, I had treated myself as the victim, when in fact, I had actually victimised my friend with my rude thoughts, speech and behaviour.

Even though we had tried resolving our friendship in the past, it was this meeting that helped me see how I had sinned against my friend, and in turn against Christ. It was the first time I was able to see how I had hurt her and those around us. My friend says that it was nothing short of a miracle that brought our friendship on track. By God’s grace, with prayer, it did get stronger and now we’re here.

This meeting helped me confront my mistakes. It helped me come face to face with what I had done wrong. It was nasty, but it led to healing.

When my friend did forgive me, and accept me into her life with open arms, it changed me – because if someone had hurt me the way I had hurt her I know that I would never have forgiven that person, but seeing her extend grace to me, helped me understand grace and forgiveness at a deeper level. It opened my eyes to see the power of the gospel to transform us, and our friendship. It taught me to repent, and taught me to be genuinely loving to someone I struggled to love.

I don’t have perfect relationships with everyone and sometimes fail to see that my behaviour or words are rejecting and hurtful. But, this experience has taught me to want to confront my sins and seek out as to why I am rejecting someone and see who it is I am actually rejecting when I reject a someone in my life.

Confrontation is hard, it is messy and often leaves me more broken than fixed. But confronting my sin, and asking God to expose my flaws has helped me see Jesus die in the place of my sin. When He fills in those cracks, He helps me see how He died for that flaw, and that He is willing to take me back into His fold.

Today when I look back, I wish I had pursued more friendships, and rejected fewer people. While I now see my fault, I hope I can save my present relationships from conflict, by confronting my behaviour in the prism of what Christ did on the cross – by graciously confronting my sin, defeating it, so God could accept me.

 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

People Can Change

The circus surrounding the Bali 9 drug traffickers’ death sentences caught the attention of the world in 2015, in the hope that a reprieve would be granted.

Like many Australians, I suppose I too was not interested in a bunch of guilty drug traffickers trying to get out of the graves they had dug for themselves. These weren’t wrongly accused innocents wallowing in a Balinese prison, but by their own admission, guilty as charged.

Yet every time I got on the internet it was hard to ignore stories about them, in particular Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan who had become born-again Christians in prison.

“Yeah, right. Every person backed against the wall suddenly finds God. Set them free and they’re back to their evil ways.” My friend’s cynicism reflected the thoughts of most of us at my local church.

Somehow it’s easier to show compassion for refugees fleeing war-torn countries, starving children, the homeless, but God forbid any criminal trying to invoke compassion in our hearts. It doesn’t matter that they have changed or repented. Once a criminal, forever a criminal.

When I saw the Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop fighting for Sukumaran and Chan as if they were her own sons, I became curious. When I saw the award-winning Australian artist Ben Quilty in tears as he appealed for clemency for them, I decided to take a closer look.

From Kerobokan prison in Bali, Indonesia, report after report poured out about the many lives these young men had impacted. They didn’t just lead church services in prison, they turned the whole prison upside down by rehabilitating prisoners and winning the hearts of prison guards.

Guards who would normally be afraid to speak out against the establishment for fear of reprisals and losing jobs were coming forward to appeal to prison authorities and politicians to spare the lives of Sukumaran and Chan.

Dayspring on high had shone upon the Galilee that was Kerobokan so that it was now divided into two sections – one for those who continued to barter in drugs and live in bondage of crime and addictions and the other section, run by Sukumaran and Chan, that offered new life and hope.

Michael Bachelard reported in the Sydney Morning Herald  that during a riot at Kerobokan prison in February, Sukumaran had stood guard outside the armoury all night with a crowbar to stop rioters from reaching the weapons. Sukumaran had said, “I was hoping they wouldn’t succeed because then I’d have to fight them.”

Sukumaran and Chan were nourished by the same hope they held out to others. Both men planned for their future and had faith God would set them free. They embarked on studies in prison, going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in theology for Chan and for Sukumaran, an associate degree in fine art from Curtin University, Sydney, just two months before he was executed.

I don’t know what shocked me more – the fact that the Indonesian government could execute two young men who were so clearly rehabilitated or the snap poll conducted by Roy Morgan that showed 52 per cent of Australians supported the death penalty. Is it so hard to forgive a criminal who has truly repented?

Portrait of President Joko Widodo by Sukumaran

I remember the portrait of Indonesian President Joko Widodo in the news, painted by Sukumaran, through which he appealed to the President for mercy as he had the power to grant clemency. On the portrait, Sukumaran had painted the words, ‘President Joko, People Can Change.’ The President rejected the appeal, thus sealing the fate of the two boys.

When I woke up one morning to the news of their execution, I cried. I thought my church brethren might be more sympathetic, but I was wrong.

“How dare you cry for drug traffickers who got what they deserve? Cry instead for the many lives they have destroyed by putting drugs on the streets,” ranted a Christian brother at church.

Another woman whose daughter had been a drug addict who eventually died from a drug overdose also got offended by my sympathy.

On that day I realised compassion and forgiveness were two different sides of a coin. It is easier to have compassion than to mete out forgiveness. Yet those from whom we have held back that forgiveness  are able to offer it more readily.

When Ben Quilty tweeted ‘Boycott Bali’ after their appeal had failed, Sukumaran asked him to revoke it and not punish the Balinese people. When his own cousin lashed out at God when she visited him during the last 48 hours of his life, Sukumaran rebuked her and praised God instead, saying the best time of his life was in prison. If he had not been arrested he would never have found God and his calling to paint and inspire others, he said.

This January I went to see Sukumaran’s paintings at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in Sydney. He had dedicated the last 72 hours of his life awaiting execution, to painting day and night.

When I stepped into Sukumaran’s posthumous exhibition called Another Day In Paradise I was no longer reading about this person in the news. I came face to face with Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Portraits of the nine scheduled for execution on April 29, 2015 greeted visitors at the door. Prison landscape and prison life were all featured.


Portraits of the Bali 9 by Sukumaran

The name of the exhibition didn’t sound so ironic anymore as they had turned the hell of Kerobokan into a paradise for many.  Testimonies continue to pour out of Kerobokan from those who had given up drugs and crime to join the forces that are determined to continue Sukumaran’s art school and Chan’s chapel and ministry in Kerobokan prison.

Some powerful paintings that came out of the 72-hour countdown to execution was the painting of a heart, signed by all nine prisoners facing execution, inscribed with the words in the Indonesian language “Satu hati satu rasa didalam cinta” – (one heart, one feeling in love), an AK-47 rifle used in executions and that famous portrait of President Joko with the appeal for mercy inscribed on it by Sukumaran’s own hand.

I stood for a long time before Sukumaran’s painting of the Indonesian flag with red paint dripping thickly down the canvas like blood. At the back of the painting the nine individuals scheduled to face the firing squad that day had embarked on one of the final acts of their last hours on this earth by signing messages of peace and love at the back of the painting. “Keep Smile”, “God Will Is The Best”, “God bless Indonesia” scattered across the back of the painting in red paint amidst their red finger prints.

Signatures of the Bali 9 behind Sukumaran’s painting of the Indonesian Flag

As I stood there looking at the painting and reading their inscriptions, I didn’t feel I had to forgive them for anything. They had already made peace with God. Instead I asked them for forgiveness and God to forgive us as Christians for being among the voices that clamoured for retribution when we should have been celebrating restoration and reconciliation. They didn’t ask to be released from prison. They only asked to be spared their lives, even if it meant living out the rest of their lives in prison. It confronts us with the cruelty of the death penalty.

 

Eye-witness testimony of  Reverend Christie Buckingham who was at the scene of the execution:
http://www.news.com.au/news/in-his-final-moments-myuran-sukumaran-forgave-his-executioners-and-the-country-that-ordered-his-death/news-story/1227347458691

Andrew Chan, while in custody following his sentence, 2013:
“When I got back to my cell, I said, ‘God, I asked you to set me free, not kill me.’ God spoke to me and said, ‘Andrew, I have set you free from the inside out, I have given you life!’ From that moment on I haven’t stopped worshipping Him. I had never sung before, never led worship, until Jesus set me free.”

 

Photo Credit: Matthias Müller (Flickr)

The Girl in the Mirror

 

Scene I:

There’s a girl in the mirror, looking right at me.

Should I look back or turn and flee?

Hips – too big, arms – too fat

Thighs – too jiggly, stomach – let’s not talk about that.

I must go to the gym after working today

Maybe if I was thinner, he would’ve stayed.

 

There’s a girl in the mirror looking right at me.

Should I look back or turn and flee?

Breasts – too small, height – too tall

Feet – too narrow, mind – too harrowed.

Could it be that I am not good at all?

 

There’s a girl in the mirror looking at me.

Should I look back or turn and flee?

My complexion could be better  – where’s the cover up?

My lips are too pale – let me use this cherry plum.

 

Each girl turns to walk away,

When the mirrors suddenly shout:

“Won’t you stay a while to chat; maybe we can work this out?”

“No. No. No.” the girls reply in unison.

“There’s nothing to work out.”

 

Scene II:

The mirrors decide it’s time for action.

“What’s with this negative self-perception

In these pretty woomen?

 

“I can try finding out what’s going on in their head”

said a brave volunteer.

“Do that! Do that!”

they all began to cheer.

 

After extensive research the mirror was back with her report

This is what I’d like to purport:

“Once upon a time, there was a wooman named Eve.

Prettier than anyone you’ve ever seen.

Her husband was Adam,

I heard he was quite a stud.

But the beauty wasn’t just skin deep,

it went straight to their heart.

There was no evil in them, and no need for shame.

They were sinless, free of all blame.

Created in the Maker’s image,

They were always glad!

 

But they did something reaaaaally bad

They cheated on the Maker.

 

Suddenly, Adam and Eve didn’t feel so good.

They didn’t like their looks, their mind, or their hood.

Their beautiful minds were no longer pure.

Truth was dying a slow death, as lies began to soar.

 

The approval of the Maker was no longer enough

Her husband’s smile wouldn’t cheer her up

She wanted others’ approval to feel good about herself

Self-loathing kept raising its ugly head.

 

Scene III:

So the mirrors decided to go to the Maker.

This problem was too great for them,

They needed the human Creator.

 

Bowing low, they stumbled into the courtroom

“Your Majesty, we are the mirrors

From the land of the hoomans.”

The Maker smiled and said

“I know why you’re here”

“I’ll have a plan to save the hoomans,

There’s no need for tears.”

 

“I’ll send my Son to pay the punishment humans deserved

The consequence of the first sin will no longer be preserved.

Adam and Eve soon realized there was nothing they could do to save themselves,

Their punishment would follow their generations without end.

And so their offspring kept living under the curse,

As time went on things only got worse.

But I love my humans so much, I’ll do what it takes to set them free.

When my Son will die in their place on a cross, justice will finally be sealed.

Lies will be defeated and truth set free.

Brokenness will finally have no grip at all,

and wholeness freely available to all who call.

 

Scene IV:

This happened around two thousand years ago.

The Son died to bring us back our glow.

Not just on our skin, but also in our hearts.

We must begin to see who we really are

A masterpiece, God lovingly carved.

 

Scene V:

Today, the girl in the mirror was looking at me.

I no longer run away from what I see.

I know I’m really bad, I can’t save myself.

But God is really good, and He’s saved me from hell.

Now that I’ve finally experienced God’s love,

He helps me love well.

 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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