Dear Thatha: A Letter to my Grandfather

Dear Thatha (a tamil word meaning grandfather),

One of my earliest memories of you is how you used to tell me stories to put me to sleep at 1 am when my parents were too tired to deal with me. You also used to take me for walks especially when Patti (a tamil word meaning grandmother) was trying to force me to have some herbal concoctions that I didn’t like. I was your first grandchild so I know that I was special to you. You are also very special to me. No one had as much as patience as you did with me (not even my own parents).

We used to live with you and Patti and I liked that very much. I think it was you and Patti who taught me to pray at an early age. I used what you taught me to ask God to give me a baby brother which he did. You told me many stories and took me for walks. You listened to everything I had to say even when it didn’t make sense. You showered me with love and many gifts. You were someone who taught me to look to God through your actions.

You and Patti brought me a Casio keyboard from the US when I was little! No one had ever gotten me such an expensive gift before. It was only recently I realised how much it must have cost Patti and you to buy me that gift. Thank you for all the priceless gifts Patti and you showered your grandchildren and me with.

When I was in 2nd grade all I wanted was to follow in your footsteps and become a missionary. You had left your home in Tamil Nadu and moved to Bangalore to pursue God’s call upon your life. You had served in various ministries including children’s ministries. Well, you were very good with children for sure, because all your children and grandchildren loved you immensely. When you went back to your home town, you continued to serve God by helping out in various capacities at Church and other local organisations. I won’t forget how many people used to come and meet you to vent out their issues and ask you for prayer. You were always such a good listener and such a valiant prayer warrior.

When your grandchildren were born, you became our favourite grandparent. We enjoyed spending our summers with you and Patti. You loved us for each of our unique personalities (despite our mischievousness and quirks). One of my fondest memories is when you took me and my brother and 2 cousin-brothers out fishing. You taught us how to find worms to put on the hook of the fishing rod (Patti was so angry that we destroyed many of her pots doing this, but you so sweetly defended us). You taught us how to fish! You didn’t let the fact that I was a girl stop you from taking me. When I caught more fish than all the boys, you did not let it surprise you.

I loved the summers we spent with you and Patti. You were the only one who understood what summer vacations were meant to be and you stopped Patti from waking us up early in the morning.

Recently, my brother told me that the first person who encouraged him to learn to drive was you. You even took my brother to an empty field and let him drive the car, way before he got his driver’s licence. Today my brother is an excellent driver – thanks to you!

Thatha, I remember that you had a unique habit. You woke up early every morning and spent time reading the Bible and praying. I think you would be gone 1-2 hours in your study room reading and praying. I don’t know what prayers you must’ve prayed. But I know that you prayed for your grandchildren who you loved so much.

I remember hearing you preach one day at church. Your personality drastically changed. Six feet tall, you were a gentle giant, towering over us in height but facing each of us in humility. I have seen you be kind to Patti, your children and grandchildren even when they were being naughty. It was rare to see you get angry. So when I saw you stand on that pulpit and speak, I was surprised to hear you preach from the Bible with such authority and conviction. No wonder the people around you respected and admired you so much!

Then I heard from your children that you had a wild past! I could never imagine you with a wild past because of how much you’ve been transformed. Yet, despite your past, you never condemned anyone still stuck in theirs. Once at an engagement party a really drunk relative approached you. You smiled so sweetly at him and were so gentle with him. You didn’t condemn him, nor did you try to escape his presence. All I saw was amusement in your eyes, no condemnation. How could a missionary be that way I wondered? But that was the type of missional heart you had – loving, caring and never judgmental.

Your faith stood tall in the way you related to others, when you preached and when you prayed.

I know you aren’t perfect, but to me you were faithful. That is what I admire most about you – how you faithfully served God despite many challenges you faced. Even through diabetes and Parkinson’s you continued to serve God faithfully to the best of your physical ability.

Thank you Thatha for being my unsung hero of faith! You may not be an Ambani or a Birla, but you have been one of the best role models of what it means to be faithful to the end. How could I ever thank you enough for being such a blessing and a marvellous example to me? I hope through my life, I can follow in your footsteps.

Love, your granddaughter,

Roshni

 

My grandfather, Mr. J. G. Arnold passed away in September 2014. I loved him so much. But I never got a chance to share with him how I really felt and how much I adored him. If he had been alive, I would have probably written him this letter. Unsung heroes pass on silently, their life impacting many people through their humility and servitude. My grandfather is an unsung hero to me. His life models what I hope I can achieve as a parent and as a believer. If you know someone in your life who is your unsung hero, a role model whose life is impacting you – tell them! Share with them how much you love them, before they leave this earth and we see them again in heaven.

 

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Peddling Dreams from a Sewing Machine

Falling asleep to the squeaking of the Singer sewing machine may not have been an ideal way to turn in for the night, but in our household it had always been the comforting sound of security.

As long as my mother peddled away into the wee hours of the morning I knew I would have pocket money, decent shoes and an extra white shirt or two to go with my school pinafore.

How many times I’d hollered out to Mum that a customer was at the door for collection. Even passed on the sari blouses she had so carefully sewn, wrapped in a transparent, red, plastic bag that shopkeepers used to pack groceries, without a single thought to the toil that had gone into those blouses.

I suppose we all had a little bit of dad in us. Loving, but irresponsible. Possessing good intentions, but poor at execution.

Deep down, we had known our family was different.

While the only notice that had to be given to other parents for a school excursion was the length of time it took to sign the approval form, for us, it entailed no less than three week’s notice.

In order to provide us with the meagre food and bus fare and just-in-case pocket change, a whole lot of shuffling went on in our household and somewhere between trimming the grocery list and postponing the repair work on Mum’s favourite Indian slippers, the money would miraculously turn up.

The bigger life’s challenge, the higher my mother rose to meet it. When it was time for all three of us to further our education, we received a most encouraging start. Three bright-eyed kids, armed with only a portion of our college fees and a double portion of Mum’s determination, hopped on a plane to our respective universities across the seas.

Throughout the years, the money she had given us ran out, but not our perseverance. It saw us through odd jobs, scholarships and remarkable grades.

When the dreaded phone call came to say dad had passed away, I was in my second year of studying law in London. I thought I’d never miss the man. After all, it was mum who helped us with homework, who gave us our allowance, who taught us to pray.

After spending all his money on friends and relatives, my dad had nothing left over. In the twenty-three years of my life until his death, I received only one birthday present from him.

To the outside world, he was the lord of the house. At a relative’s wedding, he would proudly step forward bearing the gift. Only we knew mum had bought it. Yet she would be beaming, happy to stay in the shadows.

But watching him lying in the coffin, I knew a part of me had died with him. He was my father – for better or for worse. Suddenly his shortcomings did not matter anymore. His kindness flooded my mind.

The times he cooked us a meal when mum was busy working. When he fed us hot soup as we lay in our beds with a fever. I fervently wished I could have told him I loved him before he died. My bitterness at his inadequate role as a father had tainted my judgment.

I turned around and saw the grief that stooped my mother’s shoulders, which all of life’s difficulties could not bend, and I cried. At that moment, I understood that she no more tolerated him than she tolerated us. It was never about tolerance. It was all about unconditional love.

Seeking a quiet moment of solace by myself in the storeroom, I unwittingly stumbled upon the old sewing machine. Its square iron pedal, discoloured where my mother’s feet had pressed. The sturdy brown cables around the wheel, now frayed.

I had lost the chance to part with my father on amicable terms. I thought my mother’s fierce determination was all I needed to succeed.

I had wrestled out of life only a superficial success. The driving force that steered her determination instead brought much fulfilment. And that force was her capacity to love.

 

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Even If

“This pregnancy is not good.”

The doctor’s voice thundered in our ears. My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. One of us managed to whisper a stunned, ‘But why?’

It was a question that we were going to ask aloud several times in the following weeks.

At that moment though, nothing registered. I pulled myself off the examination table and stoically walked out of the room, barely looking at the attending doctor or the nurses. I was definitely not going to break into tears in front of them. No way! I had to get away – and fast!

Like every young married couple, we had dreamed of becoming parents. So when we realised that our dream was going to come true, we were overjoyed. Celebrations, plans, pregnancy books, baby names, announcements and all of the trivia that comes along with having a baby filled our days. It was a big deal. We were going to have a baby!

Then, just like that, we had been unceremoniously yanked from atop the clouds that we were floating on. We lost our baby and we didn’t know the first thing about landing safely.

During those long nights, we wrestled with God. The unfairness, hurt, anguish, and confusion washed over us again and again. One day, in the midst of this din, God spoke very clearly. Not the answer we wanted to hear (which was to have our baby, of course) but one that quietened the rage in our hearts and flooded us with peace.

He sent Kay Warren into our lives (figuratively).

Kay Warren is the wife of Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life. When Kay was expecting their third baby, she had an extremely difficult pregnancy. She was laid-up in bed, temporarily crippled for three long months. One morning, lying in bed alone and anxious, her eyes went to a short passage in Habbabuk that read,

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights” (Habbakuk 3:17-19 NIV).

Lying there, she sensed the Lord speaking to her. Even if her baby did not live or she never walked again, she resolved to rejoice in her Sovereign Lord. She would trust in Him.

A couple of months later, their son Matthew Warren was born. Initially, he seemed to be a perfectly healthy baby, but soon he was diagnosed with bipolar depression. He battled with and fought hard against it. But when he was 27, after years of pain and struggle with mental illness, he took his own life. Kay says, “I had feared for years that he would take his life . . . it became his greatest pursuit and my deepest anguish . . . I had to come to the point in which I said as I had 27 years before – “EVEN IF my worst nightmare comes true and he takes his life, I WILL rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Saviour. My heart remains wounded and battered, but my faith is steady. There is, and will be, as Steven Curtis Chapman says, a “glorious unfolding” of all that God has in store for me and my family.”

Tears streaming down my face, I grieved with Kay and her family. Her pain and loss were heartbreaking. And then slowly the infectious hope and quiet strength in her words warmed the crevices of my heart. I soaked in the familiar love of God once again. He wasn’t sleeping in our boat, clueless and apathetic. What mattered was that He was right there with us. So instead of looking at the waves that came crashing at us, we decided to curl up with Jesus, snuggled right beside Him.

We still do not have answers to our questions. Why didn’t our baby live? Why were our hopes raised only to be dashed soon after? But when all the ‘whys’ clamour for attention and demand an answer, we know that our hearts can rest in not necessarily knowing the why and how but in the knowledge of who our God is.

He is the beginning and the end. He is the author of our lives. He is our Saviour and Redeemer. He is and has always been faithful, loving, true and righteous. In this broken world, sorrow and pain may abound, but our God will never change. He drew us to dig our feet into that truth. So even if we would not have answers this side of Heaven or never become parents, He led us to place our trust in and rejoice in Him. Always.

When we returned home after my hospitalisation, we came back whole and put together. I don’t mean that it was like magic. Snap and no more sadness. No. It was a beautiful process. We grieved – well. We cried – a lot. We clung to each other. Our loved ones rallied around us. We didn’t pretend that our hearts didn’t break when we saw other little children. But it didn’t eat at us anymore. Truth set in: the knowledge that our Maker and Saviour loved us and was with us; truth that He was sufficient for all our situations; truth that there were a thousand tomorrows of joy awaiting us in our journey.

Three years later . . . Today, we are the happy parents of a delightful little baby girl, Anaya Elizabeth – meaning “God answered.”

 

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Raising Godly Boys in an Ungodly Generation: A Tribute to my Mother-in-law

We live in the age of fast paced internet, camouflaged evil, quick downloads, quick fixes, weird characters and ever changing scenery in the realm of Peppa Pig and such. Against this background I often wonder how I will raise the two little boys that God has so graciously given me. I am a mum of a nine year old girl, a six year old boy and a two and a half year old boy.

Yes I live a very active life, chasing my kids into the bathroom, supervising homework and refereeing fights that break out for no reason at all. And when I do get time to stretch my feet a little and relax a bit, my thoughts seem to constantly wonder off into, “Lord will I be able to raise these kids right? Lord how will I teach them to love you with all their heart mind and soul?”

I recently lost my mother-in-law on April 7, 2017. She was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago and we lost a little bit of her every year. Out of the twelve years that I have been married to Ranjit, I remember having six very good years with my mother-in-law before the disease took her. I shared a very special relationship with her. She treated me like her own child as opposed to treating me like a daughter-in-law. She gave us the tightest hugs and cooked us the most tasty meals. Our times at her home were always filled with fun and laughter.

Athai (as I will be addressing her in this post, means mother-in-law in Tamil) and I are both extroverted personalities and we would chat together for hours on end. Here are some life lessons that she taught me about raising godly boys in an ungodly generation.

ExampleAthai was always up before the crack of dawn. The first thing she did, right after brushing her teeth, was to read the Bible. The few times that I did wake up that early, I would see her sitting on the kitchen floor with her Tamil Bible opened out in front of her, intently reading the word of God. After which she would turn on the radio and listen to the Vishwavani broadcast for the day. Her sons grew up watching her do this day in and day out. She never had to ask them to read the Bible and pray. They followed her godly example of leading a disciplined spiritual life. When she came back home in the evening after school she would again sit with her Bible and a huge concordance, learning new things from it. My husband still has his  Bible, which he used during his college days. The pages are well worn with use. He often tells me that his mum never once forced him or his brother to read the Bible. They just naturally followed the example that had been set for them.

Generosity – There were many people who attended my athai’s funeral. Her life had touched and impacted people from all walks of life. She always had an extra saree to spare for the needy and was ever willing to feed the hungry. She never once turned away anyone who approached her, whether it was a student who needed extra help with her studies or whether it was the hungry at her doorstep. She had a large and generous heart. Very often I’ve seen my husband and his brother teach students who are weaker in their studies or help fill out college application forms for the watchman’s son. Today, I notice that my kids are constantly watching me. They want to see if I will open my purse for the needy or whether I will feed the hungry. My athai lived a life that spelled generosity. I have learnt that the best way to teach my kids to be generous is for me to live a life that shows them the reality of what it means to be generous. Generosity opens up ways to teach them sharing and kindness, which are best taught when children are little.

Stress-free parenting – This is one thing that still blows my mind. My athai never once lost her cool while dealing with her boys. Even when they threatened to grow their hair long or wear torn jeans and flip flops to a wedding (and they have worn torn jeans and flip flops to weddings), it never frazzled her. Or even when her son cried about going to school everyday (for at least year), it never rattled her. She just dealt with each situation patiently. She was always calm when she dealt with her boys. She parented with immense love and showed immense grace to her boys. This is one area I have failed terribly. I feel like I completely lose it when my boys fight with each other or disobey me. I resort to yelling screaming and threatening, which is something she never did. Her corrections were always based on love so they were more long lasting. They obeyed her because they loved her and not because they were afraid of her. My athai would often tell me, “Don’t yell at kids in public, don’t belittle them in front of everyone. Correct them in private. A little bit of love goes a long way.”

Friends – There was always a group of boys playing at my in-law’s place during my husband’s growing up years. I have no idea how my athai had the time or energy to take care of other boys after working a full day teaching school, but she did. She always had an open home and entertained her sons’ friends,  thereby always staying in the loop about who her kids hung out with.

Prayer – After my athai’s passing I have thought about her a lot. She truly was my role model and I loved her fiercely. She was extremely efficient, caring, loving, forgiving, and full of life. She was a prayer warrior, winning most of her battles on her knees. The one thing that I do remember that we talked about in detail was raising boys in a godly way. She would often tell me this, “I don’t know how I raised these boys, Deepa. But I do remember praying Lord I don’t know how to raise these boys, please raise them up for me. And that’s what He did!”

My athai fought the good fight and finished the race that was laid out for her. Now I know that there is a victorious crown in store for her! While I still contemplate raising up children in this day and age her timeless advice about praying for them rings clear as a bell. That advice gives me so much hope, because the God I believe in is stronger than me and is more than able to accomplish the plans and purposes he has for my children despite my feeble and less-than-perfect parenting.

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Our Secret Superpower

An incredible thing about words is that they have the power to make us, just as much as they can break us. Another incredible thing is that they live on. Once spoken, words never go away.

So, apart from thinking before we speak, that makes it necessary to recognise and appreciate the power of encouragement. And unless you’ve been at a point where you desperately needed encouragement, or just really needed someone to say, “It will be okay”, you may underestimate it.

Encouragement is often earmarked for people in difficult situations or on the verge of giving up. But, why wait for someone to fall apart? Encouragement is for everyone, every day. If we are encouraged through the way, chances are, we won’t run out of hope and won’t consider giving up.

Often, we ration words of encouragement as if we’re running short, serving it out from our very last portion of it. We hold back words that could turn someone’s frown into a smile. However, I’m certain that if we rightly measure the influence that our words have on people, we would never hold back a positive word. Honestly, it’s a superpower that each one of us have!

Our words can bring someone’s dream to life or they can crush it. Words of encouragement push us to take the next step forward when we barely have the strength to get out of bed. And if we possess that kind of power, we must also accept responsibility for the times we don’t use it.

The Bible says, “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Don’t believe the lie that claims that only one of us can succeed. That is far from the truth! Adding a star to someone else’s crown isn’t going to take one off yours. It may, in fact, add another. Truth is, if we can’t be happy for each other, there is very little we will have to be happy about. When we support each other, incredible things happen. We rise by lifting others.

Today, I encourage you to throw encouragement around like confetti. Take the time to sprinkle encouraging words on lives around you. You never know how your words can awaken someone’s confidence along the way.

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”
(Proverbs 18:21)

Photo Credit: Rich Mason via Flickr cc

The Netflix Effect

There’s this show on Netflix called Heartland. I love it. I’m hooked. Each time a new season is uploaded, my husband knows I’m going to be glued to my laptop for the next few days. The question that begs my attention, however, is this: why do I like Heartland so much?

Well, the truth is, because it’s such a nice picture of what I would like my life to be. A huge barn full of horses (it would be a little inconvenient because I wouldn’t know what to do with them). A beautiful house, a large dining table, where the whole family gathers around for dinner. A life full of romance, fighting and yet making up, beautiful sunsets, trail rides, ponies, and even homemade jam.

I just finished watching season eight today. One of the characters in the show, Lou, is separating from her husband, Peter. Why? Well, because even though they love each other, and have two kids, they fight A LOT. As they would say, they are trapped in a vicious cycle they are unable to get out of. They have differences they are unable to solve, and so they are calling it quits.

Yes, this is just a story someone made up, and it’s a really intriguing one, but here’s the worrying bit. I have found myself being increasingly unkind to my husband these past few days that I’ve been on Netflix binge mode. Why does he have to be so busy with work? Why is the romance in low supply? Why am I the one with barely any time to myself? And where on earth are the sunsets? Romance, romance, wherefore art thou romance?   

Truth is, none of these are new things. My husband’s work does take up a lot of his time. He tries to be romantic; but it’s not something that comes naturally. When my birthday rolled around after we got married, he didn’t get me a gift! Can you believe it? I couldn’t either. And when he realised I expected a gift, he went and bought me two perfumes, three or four hand bags, and probably some other things I can’t remember! So yes, he tries. (We gifted those perfumes to others later).

But as I watched this show, the reality of my life was irritating me. Here I was being vividly shown that some people do have a lot of romance in their relationships; for others, fighting too much is legitimate cause for separation; one’s expectations must be met; and stinky farts, burping, dirty socks, and these other irritating things don’t exist.

Come to think of it, love is rarely portrayed as commitment in media. A commitment to stick it out through good, bad and so-so times. Instead, love is this illogical, intoxicating high, when you walk towards your groom, while dressed in the most beautiful dress ever, with all eyes on you. Let’s be honest: that is not love. That is your brain high on chemicals and cameras.

In reality, marriage, as I sit here reminding myself, is an opportunity to demonstrate love every day. Love that my husband shows when he eats my experimental food, says it’s good, and then we both laugh because we know we wouldn’t have eaten it if it wasn’t for the mango pickle. Love is when I stay quiet instead of starting a fight because it’s really not worth it. Love is working through the cycle of fights in which one is trapped instead of throwing in the towel. Love does not equal romance. Love is generally not what you see on Netflix or elsewhere.  Marriage is a covenant before God. A promise to God that I will choose to love my husband even when he seems unlovable, and that he will do the same for me. The Netflix effect had me slipping down a dangerous path of self-pity and comparison.

What we watch, read, and listen to will influence how we act in our own marriages. We would be fools to say that what we watch doesn’t impact us. Let’s be critical consumers. And sometimes, we may need to just switch off for a while. After all, it makes no sense to let my very real and loving marriage be hurt by the fake romances of Netflix.

 

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The Insecure Heart

“I have insecurities,” I told a close friend earlier this month. “I just want you to know that.”

Truth be told, I have hidden behind this line for almost all of the 24 years that I’ve been alive on this earth. If I say it out loud, then I have given everybody enough warning and I no longer have to get into the messy — and terrifying — business of actually thinking about it.

There is something very comforting about wallowing in your insecurities.

It gives you ammunition for your daily “rage against the world” speech or an excuse for why you can’t play on the worship team this Sunday or publish that poem you’ve been writing for a millennium and a half.

It becomes easier to hate. After all, you can blame people and their comments on the darkness of your skin, your need to exercise until you hit size zero and other miscellaneous, often misconstrued comments that fly between messed up people living in a messy world.

When 2017 began, I felt God ask me what I thought was a simple question – “How long will you let this go on?”

“Soon,” I replied. “Soon, I will get over this. Soon, You and Your love will be first in my heart and I will be confident. I won’t crave people’s appreciation or hide behind my insecurities any longer.”

Five months have passed and I still find it difficult to write this article for a public blog.

The thing is, it’s always been very easy to twist the word “insecurity” and make it seem like I am the humblest person on earth; when in reality, God is showing me that it’s a steaming, hot layer of pride that’s coating the whole issue.

A simple question like, “Would you like to sing on the worship team this Sunday?” merits a very quick shake of a bowed head. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding eye contact and trying not to answer questions in groups in case I’m horrifically wrong or I misunderstood the question or have a “stupid” reply.

Yes, I have stage fear. Yes, I am terrified of the consequences of failure. But now, I can see that underneath all this is a deep-rooted pride that keeps shouting: “I cannot fail, failure is unacceptable, I cannot withstand humility and worst of them all, vulnerability! How can I put myself out there so much?”

It is so difficult to see this pride and self-obsession, sneaking around and masking itself. It’s frustrating and confusing and my favourite activity amidst all this is to just sit in this mess and refuse to do anything about it.

The thing is, Jesus has a way of speaking to the most insecure, proud heart, stripping layers and layers away until you begin to see the true depth and width of sin hiding deep inside. After all, He…

who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!                                                         Philippians 2: 6-8

Jesus gave up everything! Jesus put Himself out there; He was vulnerable; He was humiliated beyond belief. Everything was stripped away from Him, even the Father; and the sin of every person in the entire world who lived, lives and will live was poured onto Him.

I have always had a human understanding of fear, as something that is a close cousin to terror and anxiety. Fear was inextricably linked to what I thought about myself and what I could or could not do.

But Jesus turns everything on its head. He is the King of kings who is humble, the Lord of lords who serves, the Saviour who covers us with grace and then begins to work on and through us.

Recently, I re-read this verse in a whole new light:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 134: 14

I have always gone straight to the “wonderfully”, happily feeding my one-dimensional view of God as someone who comforts and reassures. I have ignored “fearfully”, a word that I have misunderstood until very recently.

To “fear” this God is to behold Him who is awesome and majestic, not me who is flawed and broken. “Fearfully” is how He made me, to reflect His glory and beauty and not my inadequacies. It’s all about Him and who He is and what He is doing!

In the moments when He reminds me to turn from my pride to look at who He is, I see the truth of who I am, not through my own strength or understanding, but through what He has done for me.

Then, not only do I have no excuses to hide, but also the steadfast love and grace of Jesus to take away all fear and worry. I can only pray that the rest of this year is filled with more and more of Him and less and less of me.

 

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#friendsforlife

Growing up in Chandigarh, I spent a lot of time playing in the streets or parks near our home, usually with boys. Playing tag on and around monkey bars, running around or playing hide and seek. My sister and I didn’t have many toys or dolls. Our parents and uncle (who was a PE teacher at our school) encouraged us in sports and other extra-curricular activities. My sister was a Table-Tennis and Cycling champ and I used to try to keep up with her.

In my teenage years, when my Taekwondo coach couldn’t find a suitable sparring partner, he’d make me fight the boys or senior girls. I remember some boys calling me ‘Kaali ma’ (which means ‘black goddess’, a nickname for the Indian mythological warrior goddess, Durga). Though it was racist, I took it as a compliment and used it to fuel my sparring. I never talked about it at home.

When I left home for college, I had some trouble fitting in. It didn’t help that our engineering class of more than forty had only two girls. Maybe I was ragged a little extra for being a little different or defiant, I don’t know. I was often misunderstood for being ‘too free’ with boys. But it was also the time that God ensured that I grew closer to Him. He gave me a great Christian fellowship group and some amazing #friendsforlife in those years. Seniors who were kind to me, teachers who mentored me, and batch-mates I could have fun with, pray with and be real with.

Looking back, it was only in those years that I was learning to articulate myself, my feelings, fears and dreams, and get comfortable with who I was. I thank God for those amazing friends I had in the hostel, friends I shared those four years with, friends who talked openly with me and taught me to open up in return. I think that was one thing that I had missed out on as a child, one important thing I was not trained in. In our family, we were not very vocal about our deepest thoughts or feelings. My sister and I were loved, encouraged to dream and given freedom to follow our dreams, but I don’t remember many times of heartfelt sharing or open conversations.

Fast forward ten years, I moved to Delhi, closer to my parents and to Rajesh, now my husband. We started attending a new church, and I was eager to make friends quickly. I’m sure some of them must have thought ‘who is this new girl barging into our tight group’ but I couldn’t be bothered. I had learnt the value of friends and I wasted no time. Even if it were just a tiny group that I could belong to, share life with, learn from and give myself to. Also, I didn’t want to be like those couples in college who had no life or friends outside of their ‘relationship’. My new friends at church were freely accepting of me, Punjabi-accented English and all. They warmly welcomed me and made me feel as if I had known them for years. Even when they shared common stories of their college times, I almost felt I had been there too. I am so thankful that I am still enriched by most of the friendships built in those first years in Delhi.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”

-C.S. Lewis

Fast forward another ten years and I still value friends who teach me to be more like Christ. Friends who question, correct and encourage me in different walks of life. Friends who don’t beat around the bush or give empty compliments. Friends who push me to do my best or allow me to just have fun. Friends who sense when something’s not right and prod just enough for me to open up. Friends who feel free to ask when they need something. Friends who drop in just because they were in the neighbourhood. Friends I think of when I hear a certain song or eat a particular dish. Friends who call or visit after years and we just continue from where we left. Friends who make me feel special with their thoughtfulness. There is so much I am learning and growing in my appreciation of good friendships.

God is amazing in that He designed us for friendships. The good kind. The kind that builds us up in different ways. But these friendships don’t come easy. They need work, time, patience and a lot of love. You have to put yourself out there. You have to risk being rejected or judged and be okay with it. You may have to risk being considered presumptuous or suspected of having ulterior motives. But if we just stay put, without reaching out, without taking the first step, expecting someone else to reach out first, we might have to wait a long time. And time as we know is precious.

These days, people are cautious, even in churches. We don’t want to be misunderstood or taken advantage of. We don’t want to get too involved or we fear getting hurt as we have in the past. We often tread on our tippy toes (yes, I am the mother of two little girls). It’s good to be intentional about who we choose to spend time with. But sometimes we can go too far and it feels calculated, even manipulated. And we can become less sensitive to the neighbour who needs a good Samaritan.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis

God shows us times when we are called to give and times when we are to receive. I often took pride in being able to give but God has taught me to be humble and receive. Receive encouragement, receive correction, receive an act of kindness. I am also learning that I need to receive people into my life when it may not always be convenient. To share my time and my resources with people I may or may not have much in common with. Yes, there are times when we need to say no to things, programs, events or activities. But if I want to be more like Jesus, I need to learn to make time for people at the expense of my comfort. In today’s busy world, a small gesture of reaching out can mean a lot.

Who are your friends? Who do you seek to hang out with?

Visit them or call them over for coffee. Reach out, today.

 

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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