Saturday, October 13, 2012

Transition is a complicated word

Tonight, as I sat staring at my Facebook screen like a zombie, I realized there was a smile that I miss in my life. There are lots of smiles and laughs that filled the space of loneliness when I lived in Kerala. I miss them all dearly, but there is one little girl that my mind decided to focus on tonight.

I go through these phases where suddenly, one day I will see a girl's face. I won't just see her face, my mind will re-live her image. I find myself really trying hard to re-create the individuals I miss, the language I miss, the sounds I miss. I can't begin to tell you how deeply my heart aches to be called "Rachel-chechi" one more time.

Ian :)
I recently attended a Transition Retreat at Ghost Ranch for YAVs. It was a wonderful experience of fellowship and understanding. I had an amazing small group, and luckiest of all, I got to spend some quality time with Ian, my best friend for the entire time I was in India. We had time to process our experience together, as well as separately. I finally did something I have been telling myself I needed to do and got some counseling while I was there. Thank you PC(USA) for retreats with resources like the YAV re-entry. It was a huge blessing to lift things off of my heart, to be truly listened to, to feel appreciated by others, and to listen in return.

It has been a difficult transition period for me because I haven't quite decided what the "next big thing" is for me. YAV retreat helped me understand that I don't need to have all of that figured out, but knowing myself, I have been needing a change for a while. My life plan looks a little like this: Graduate college, do YAV, ....then what? I have had to do a lot of searching in my soul (so corny, sorry) and searching in the job market to decide where I want to be.

Me and Potts
The job opportunity that I posted about in D.C. did not work out, so I stayed at home and began work at my Father's restaurant. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to do that, but I am ready for a new beginning. I decided to start looking in Maryland because I have a lovely boyfriend who lives there (that's right Potts, you are on my blog) and because I came across a few interesting opportunities working with churches. My search led me to a position working with a church in Frederick, MD as a Children's Education Coordinator.

I am waiting to hear back on the position, and now I am in another strange waiting period. It reminds me of the period before I left for India when I was waiting for my visa. Time is slower in this waiting land. It doesn't help that I have been very sick and reclusive. Only time will tell about this job, but I am announcing to the world that come rain or shine, wind or storm, I will be moving to Maryland at the end of October/ start of November! If it's written in blog stone, it has to be real right?

light in the trees in Maryland
I got to scope out the area and I love it. I think I can see myself being happy there. I envision scenarios of me reading books, playing guitar and walking my dog. I envision maybe starting to sing again in a cheesy A Capella group. I imagine having a packed schedule and a daily routine and smiling a lot and biking to work. These are all things that I want for myself, and that I feel will contribute to my transition, and maybe ultimately my happiness.

So when I see the smile of Saira, the Balika Mandiram girl in my mind tonight, I wonder, can I ever strike a smile like she could? Can I ever
be truly and incandescently happy about the small things in life like she was every day? Can I pass on infectious joy like she does throughout the halls of Mandiram? The answer is hopefully yes, with God's help.

 “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” 
                                                             - Mother Teresa-

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A World in Communion

World Communion Sunday has always been one of my favorite holidays in the church calendar. I remember growing up in the church, it was a day of beautiful fabrics, loud noises, and new languages. I remember curiously gazing at a woman in traditional Kenyan dress. I remember the drums always being incorporated in some way. I especially remember hearing the Lord's Prayer said in a variety of different languages. I always loved that moment of chaos when the prayer begins and you realize that one of your neighbors actually knows the prayer fluently in Arabic.

I still love all of those things about World Communion Sunday. It still assaults the senses, and shakes up the stoic order of a traditional worship service. Yet, there was something different about this Sunday's experience. For the first time in a long time, I felt a deep connection to my brothers and sisters in India, and more importantly, a deep connection to people in every time and place across the world.

When I went to church services in Kerala, the only part of the service I could partially understand, was the procession and taking of Communion. Communion in and of itself is a unifying force in the Christian tradition. Literally...that's what communion means. It was also the key moment in every week when I took time to remember all the the "bodies of Christ" I am a part of. In other words, in Kerala, when I was taking communion, I was thinking about and praying for my community in Kerala, at home, in YAV, etc. etc.

I would also remind myself that even though the people at home were probably sleeping (time zones still exist) they may get up on Sunday and do something very similar to me. Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, Go to church, take Communion. There may have been people all over the world that were doing exactly that. Feeling connected to people worldwide helped me to become more comfortable in my setting. Feeling connected to the body of the church and the life that flows within the church helped me to reach deeper into the meaning of Communion.

So, in my perspective, every time we take Communion, we are participating in a sort of World Communion Sunday. You are probably asking yourself, "Then Rachel, why was today a special experience of communion for you?" Well folks, to be very honest, I haven't taken very many Communions since I got back from India. I have not been a very dutiful church-goer. Simple as that. I know I don't need to explain myself to you readers, because I am sure you understand. Sometimes life gets hectic. Sometimes work gets crazy. Sometimes you are going through a hard time and church just doesn't feel worth getting in your car for. These things happen to each one of us.

Today, in the Sanctuary of my home church, I sat and prayed for each face, each voice, each life that touched mine in India. Then I prayed for each person who has life on this earth. I prayed that they might get up tomorrow morning, get dressed, eat breakfast, and live their lives. I prayed that each voice was heard. I prayed that each mouth would be fed. I prayed that each face would have a kiss on the cheek. This is a pretty optimistic prayer. Maybe a "head up in the clouds" type of prayer...but sometimes I feel like I need to have more hope for humanity while I pray.

I believe we must pray for the world in specific and beautiful ways, even if our prayers may not fit what is statistically probable for much of the population. I feel connected to the body of the world today and I pray for the fullness of life we all deserve. The fullness of life that does not come from material possessions, annual salaries, or political agendas. The fullness that comes from forgetting those things, and accepting a hug instead. The fullness that comes from making things possible for others and for ourselves. The fullness that comes from a world that is working tirelessly to change.

I leave you with a quote from the book I am currently reading, Everything Must Change: When the World's Biggest Problems and Jesus' Good News Collide by Brian D. McLaren. At a conference in Bujumbura, Burundi, Africa, a young girl Justine seems shaken up after a discussion. Here is what she has to say about the church and the world we live in:
" Today, for the first time, I see what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. I see that it's about changing this world, not just escaping it and retreating into our churches. If Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change. Everything must change." 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hoping through the Struggle

in my room at home before my Presbytery presentation
Let the official blog-record show that I have returned home to the U.S. safely. I am currently living at my parents house in Trophy Club, and I have been spending the past 3 weeks unwinding, adjusting, and enjoying people who I missed while I was abroad.

On June 6th I stood up in front of Grace Presbytery, equipped with only my slideshow and a rough idea of what I might say, and presented on my year in India. Thankfully, the words flowed out easier than I expected. They made sense because they were from the heart. I can easily spread the love and joy I felt in India to others. My grandmother and grandfather made a special effort to come to my presentation which made me so happy I cried multiple times during the day. It was such an act of love and support.

Okay...let's talk future. For a long time now I have been considering Seminary. The rough plan had been for me to finish YAV, take a year to work and apply for schools, then attend Seminary. As we all know, making plans on our own can often lead to surprises. Of all the decisions to make in the world, the decision of when and where to go to Seminary is one that I should pray about till the cows come home. I definitely feel called to be in ministry, but I am not sure if that automatically means Seminary. Instead of praying, I was planning. Instead of hearing a call, I was creating a call for myself. Instead of listening to my heart, I was listening to the demands of others. I felt the need to fill the question "what do you want to do after YAV?" with a detailed response that made me appear like I know what I'm doing now. I'll let you in on a little secret....I don't.

My only "career goal" is to do something that I can believe in. Something that I can be proud of. Something that helps others. Particularly something that interacts with youth and families. Particularly something that glorifies God, gives voice to the voiceless, and passes on knowledge. That's all I have right now. So instead of taking a year and taking things slow, I applied for one job. Only one. I did the cover letter and sent it in with low hopes, because the position and organization are amazing. I applied for a data entry position as a Child Sponsorship Associate for a non-profit in Washington DC called the Dalit Freedom Network. Little did I know that I would be sitting here 3 interviews later, biting my nails to see the result of this process. I should know by tomorrow. Please pray for me about this position and my misguided journey in to the realm of vocational discernment.

Today I walked across the threshold at Grapevine First Presbyterian Church for the first Sunday since I got back. It took me a while to mentally prepare myself to actually engage and have small talk about India and my return. I think I was overwhelmed by the thought of going to church not because I am uncomfortable there, but because I was hanging on so dearly to the worship I experienced in Kerala. I still hear the songs of prayer in my ear at night. I still hum "Ninte Hitham" under my breath as I walk along. I still see the girls standing outside the hostel clutching their bibles and chatting before church. I still remember Holy Communion kneeling down at Mandiram, given to me by Thomas Samuel Achen. Even the language is stuck in my head. I constantly think to myself  "I will wake up early nale ravile" (which means "tomorrow morning") or "Talk to me about it inne ratri" (which means "tonight"). It is hard to still have those words in my head and have no one to lean over and say it to. I still have so much about Kerala in my thoughts, words, and actions. I didn't want to part with any of that. How could I go somewhere and try to make small talk about it with a community I haven't seen in so long?

I was overwhelmed for no reason. Luckily, the church is not a place where I need to small talk. In fact, people who I expected only wanted to say a few words with me, stood for a while and asked me some really good questions that made me think. People poured out God's grace on me and truly asked me things about the depth of my experience. I was happy to share what I could about the deep things.

I miss the little things in pangs. It feels a lot like homesickness felt. Somedays I just get hit with the absence of  a Kerala meal. However, the big things, the things that made me truly cherish my time there, will never go away. My perspective has changed a lot. My knowledge base is broader. I am definitely more aware about what is going on in the world. I have gotten in touch with some gifts of mine. I have better learned to embrace my own limits and faults. I have formed relationships that are so deep that distance does not discourage them from existing. My communities and year in Kerala will never fade.

I am in transition. It is still weird some mornings to wake up and not be in my room at Buchanan hearing the annoying 5:30 am bell. It is still crazy to have 8,000 choices on a restaurant menu or in a grocery store. It is still bizarre to me how much food and water we waste in the U.S. when so many have good nutrition and clean water out of reach. I am falling in to the people I love, asking them for patience with me as I adjust. They are patient and kind beyond my wildest dreams. I am blessed to be in relationship with so many unique and wonderful people throughout the world. I pray that this life I get to live, no matter how bumpy and full of changes, remains rooted in relationship with others. 

"The country is in deep trouble. We've forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that's the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.” - Dr. Cornel West

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Journeying Back to Texas on May 14th

Dear friends, family, supporters, followers, and anyone else who might grace this page,

I want you to know a little more about me. I have written a lot about what is happening in my life in India. I have told you some fluffy stories, and hopefully some deep ones. I have had a lot of things happening to me, but more than anything there have been a lot of things happening within me. 

For example, I have always been a family person. I am fiercely close with my mother, father, and brother, and I am lucky enough to have two extra siblings in my cousins Carson and Sydney (not my only cousins, just the ones who have lived close to me my whole life), along with amazing and caring Aunts and Uncles. Both of my sets of grandparents, the people who started it all, are inspirations to me. I have spent much of my time with my grandparents throughout the years. 

I have spent Christmas in Alabama and days on the beach with my mom’s father whom I call Big Daddy. I have spent many hours relaxing, watching movies, and shopping with my mom’s mother, Grandmommy. I have played games of golf, seen a space shuttle launch, and traveled around the world with my father’s dad whom I call Grosspop (it’s a German thing). 

My final grandparent, who I’d like to talk about for a little while, is my father’s mother. I call her Grandbeth. She has cancer. This is not a new fact about my grandmother, and she has definitely never let it define her. In fact, I don’t know if I have seen my grandmother get very scared before. Fear doesn’t really stick in her personality. She is a warrior against this cancer. She is fighting with her entire heart. 

Her fighting attitude is still present today, but with the cancer in her brain and chemotherapy in the mix, the ball game has changed a little. We are bravely facing this new road together, but since I have been in India, I feel so far away. I feel unable to support them with such distance between us. With every little update I get from home, I become more and more pulled toward Texas. 

Recently, the updates have given me a new sense of urgency. Changes are happening at home that I am not present for, and that I am not prepared to take on thousands of miles away from my family. I have a chance to be with the ones that I love, and it is not a chance I want to miss. 

Everytime I get news in India, I want to know how my Grandbeth is doing. Now all I want to know is, when can I see her? When can I hold her hand? I have thought and prayed. I have lost sleep. I have talked with those who love and support me here in India and at home in the U.S.

The resounding answer I hear is, “Rachel, July is too late. Your heart is there with your family….your body just happens to be in India.”

Being in this state is no way to finish my time here. It would simply be a time of waiting. I could try to accomplish things, but overall I am not fully “in” my work here. I feel that God is calling me to finish my ministry by sitting next to my Grandmother and by serving my family. 

India has taught me so much about the importance of family, more so, the importance of people taking care of each other. People here easily become extended family. I have been lucky enough to have many extended families here in India. Jaimol Kochamma and family, Thomas John Achen and family, My YAV family, The Buchanan School family, the B.I. Boarding family, the KNH Hostel family, the Pakil School family, the Moolertam School family, the Speechly College family, the Speechly School family, the CMS School family and now, the Mandiram Society family. 

It isn’t just kindness that has been extended to me here. It has been a warmth so sincere that it has transformed me.  I gave care to others, that is certainly true, but mainly my extended families gave care to me. Jaimol Kochamma has seen me cry countless times and buys me a loaf of bread every time I feel sick. I will never forget talking with her, her husband, and her amazing sons in their beautiful home. Thomas John and Betty Kochamma have opened their home and their hearts to me. I will never forget laughing in the kitchen with Betty Kochamma. I will never forget sitting on the porch and having Bible Studies with Achen. 

Nicole, Claudia, and Ian have also been a great (though admittedly dysfunctional) extended family in India. I am so thankful for Nicole’s openness, Claudia’s faith, and Ian’s adaptability. They are three incredibly gifted, loving, and generous people who have played a huge part in my family life here. I will also, of course, never be able to thank Ian enough for putting up with me for 3 weeks across Northern India.   

My Buchanan family, teachers and students alike, have helped me to grow: Bindu teacher giving me a theological lecture on Lent and fasting, Omanna teacher taking me to the hospital on her scooter, Manju teacher practicing Malayalam with me, Sanila and Janey teacher opening their homes to me. I don’t know how to repay each teacher for their love, laughter and guidance. 

My students challenged me and respected me, made me laugh every day, and empowered me. They made me feel like I was actually a good teacher, which is no small feat to accomplish. This case is true with every school community I have had the opportunity to visit. Teaching in school was not the easiest thing in the world, but no matter how scared I felt about it, after I taught a class I was always glad that I did it.

I can’t even begin to explain every facet of living in the hostel to you. I can tell you that there is no experience I cherish more. Nothing this year has been more transformative, more life changing than living in the hostel. The girls have taught me how to be strong, how to let loose, and how to love others in new and different ways. Each and every girl, each and every face, will pop in to my head now and then. They will be etched in my mind forever as some of the biggest mentors in my life. I hope they can say the same thing about me. I love them and care for them just as fiercely as I love my family, my friends at home, and even the youth groups that I have served at Second Pres. and First Pres. Grapevine. I have become loyal to this group of girls. It is going to be very hard to tear myself away from them early. Since school is out, we will not all get a proper goodbye. I will have to settle for leaving them letters and photos and telling them to write to my address in America when they have the chance. They deserve so much more than that, so I keep telling myself I will come back and visit them; that this is just see you later. 

My heart is breaking because I am leaving, but my heart is also healing knowing that I will soon be seeing loving faces who have been missing me for 9 months. 

So to sum it all up, I am leaving Kerala on May 14th. I am taking this time to say goodbyes and try to be as present as I can be here at Mandiram.  I am not fully ready to take this step, but I know it is the right one. I hope that in the next week I can develop some sense of the statement “I’m ready to leave” and make it true for myself….as true as it can be….with God’s help.

I am so excited to share my stories with you all personally. I can’t wait to come back to my church and share how this mission has transformed me. I will obviously need some time to adjust when I get back to the U.S., but more than being ready to leave India, I am ready to share my experience with those in the U.S. I am ready to tell the stories of my year in Kerala truthfully and compassionately to those who really want to listen. 

Ultimately, I thank God for this opportunity. I thank God for those who have ministered to me and those I have been able to minister to.  I thank God for the YAV program and my fellow YAVs representing mission service all around the world. I don’t know how else to express myself but with utter gratitude to God. God guided me here and now is guiding me back home. I pray for those I am leaving behind, and I pray for those I am moving toward. I pray for all of the people in the world who have known suffering, and I ask them to walk with me. I ask that all of us can live together knowing that each of us feels pain in different, beautiful, unique ways. I pray for the joy and happiness of every person whose life has somehow intersected with mine, even the people who I may not have said hello to before.  I pray that God will watch over my family while I cannot. 

I pray. I try. I prepare. 

This is the phase I am in my friends. I hope you can all understand. Your support is so precious to me. 

“The soul is not where it lives, but where it loves.”-H.G. Bohn

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sunrise Sunset

The view from my hammock.

Here we are in Goa, the last leg of our trip. This trip hasn’t been the smoothest, easiest, most relaxing travel experience in the world. In fact, Ian and I are beat. Luckily Goa is just slow enough to accept the fact that all we want to do is sleep all day in the sun only occasionally dipping in to the ocean to cool off. It is nice to have sun and sand and beach to end some amazing, but stressful travel.

Let me give you the highlights since I last updated you. Amritsar was such a blessing to us. We made many friends there and it seemed as if half of our Guest House was on the bus we took to Dharamsala. When most people think say they are visiting Dharamsala, they actually mean they will be staying in McCleod Ganj. McCleod Ganj is the sleepy mountain town that houses the Dalai Lama’s temple and is inhabited by many Buddhist monks working with the exiled government of Tibet.

As we drove up in the bus, the Himalayas hit me straight in the heart. I have been wanting to see the Himalayas for my entire life, and let me tell you, they don’t disappoint. I literally felt like crying or laughing hysterically the first time I saw them.  They are that immense and enchanting.  The first day we were there we went on a hike to a beautiful waterfall in the nearby town of Bagsu. Strewn with shops and prayer flags, the mountains were warm and welcoming.

The next day I woke up feeling bad….really bad. I struggled with a fever and chills the whole day, alongside some serious stomach issues. Everyone will tell you that you’ll get sick traveling in India. It’s something I thought was a bit of a myth. Yeah, I’ve had some issues in Kerala, but most of them had to do with my personal carelessness. Traveler sickness is a real thing here, but you can avoid it by being careful. I was so excited about traveling that I forgot to be careful about my eating. So if you are thinking about coming to India for travel, DO IT!!! Just don’t eat from a bus stand like silly old me. I am fairly certain that’s what gave me my little 48 hour bug.

Sunrise over Delhi
Anyways, I was too sick to travel so we stayed an extra day in McCleod Ganj and rearranged our plans a bit. My plans were to be having a rooftop dinner in Agra on the evening of my 23rd Birthday….instead we boarded an overnight bus to Delhi that was driven by a man who must have had something chasing him. He drove faster and crazier than I ever thought was possible in a big chartered bus.  It was a jarring experience to say the least. We arrived in Delhi at 4 a.m. dazed and ready to get some actual sleep. The sunrise over Delhi was a beautifully peaceful way to arrive.  Delhi seemed like an entirely different place by the dim glow of morning.

In Delhi we recooperated, had a nice evening at a big shopping mall, ate at Hard Rock Café and Hagen Daaz, and we took a crazy day trip to Agra.

The day trip was crazy not only because we saw the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, but also because the minute I stepped off the still moving train in Agra, I fell and sprained my ankle.

In a crowded train station where no one speaks your language, it is pretty crazy to be injured, cursing and crying.

 Luckily, we made a helpful friend who also had a taxi service. He took us to a medical store and got me ointment and a cloth wrap for my ankle.

He then took us to the Taj, and to a beautiful workshop where traditional Mughal marble work is still being done. We got back just in time for a crowded train back to Delhi.

Another crazy travel experience came promptly after my ankle sprain, a 4:30 a.m. train to Jaipur.  Once we found our train car, Ian and I slept until we had almost reached our destination.

The morning train thing wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. We rested all day our first day in Jaipur and enjoyed our beautiful hotel, which also had a delicious restaurant. We ate there for every meal.

Monkey at the Monkey Temple
In Jaipur we got lucky and found a driver who would take us to all of the big sites in 2 days for a decent price. We saw The Amber Fort, The Monkey Temple, some Mughal Tombs, The Central Museum, the Jantar Mantar, The Palace of the Winds, The Water Palace and many roadside markets.

We figured out that the autorickshaw drivers who offer to take you on a tour generally have a few friends who own nice shops. They take you to these shops to support their friends. It is a pretty clever way to help out your buddies. Take some gullible tourists to “insider” shops and they will most likely buy something. Ian and I splurged and got wall-hangings for our homes that are hand embroidered and made with vegetable dye.  I also bought too many earrings from a silver jewelry shop.

Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan which is said to be one of the most beautiful states in India. I loved seeing the women dressed in bright colors.  They were great accessories to the beautiful desert sunsets. I would love to travel around Rajasthan more and get to see the “real desert” which is further inland. We Texans are quite partial to desert-style- beauty. It seems that almost every place we have been, I have told myself that I will return someday. There is so much to see in India. So much that swings open the doors of your mind and soul. I can’t help but know that I am meant to come back here. India is telling me all about it.

We actually took an easy flight to Goa and gave ourselves a break on the intensity of our travel. We got to Goa easily and we are staying in Goa easily. Everything is incredibly laid back. Most of my days have been spent laying in the sun reading books, so it has been the perfect way to wind down.

Goa is also a little strange. Sometimes I feel like beaches transport you into a different world. My experience of Goa is no different. It is like an alternate universe where you forget you are in India.  It is endless blue water, clean sands and foreigners, so quite literally it feels like we could be somewhere in Europe right now.  It is nice to have this little escape, but I am happy to return to Kerala in a few days. I have missed the place I call home.

So things have been shocking, difficult, new and strange. Things have also been incredibly beautiful, meaningful, and transformative. We have met so many brave, interesting, friendly travelers along the way. They have inspired me with their willingness to put themselves outside of their comfort zones and just go out there and take on the world.

Meeting so many travelers has also made me thankful for the opportunity YAV has given me to really get to know one place. There is no way that I could absorb the individual culture of Rajasthan after staying there for 3 days, but with Kerala, I have learned the language, fallen in love with the community, and adapted to many parts of the culture. It is amazing that in this program we get to first develop a new sense of the word home, then go out and see how others make their homes in India. I wouldn’t trade either experience for the world.

My quote comes in the form of a photo today. This was carved in the marble at the Central Museum in Jaipur: " 'Tis from the soul the man within, that actions all their value win; No outward state, whate'er it be, affects an action's quality." - from the Mahabharata 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Delhi and Amritsar


I originally wanted to write a blog in each place on the All India tour, but staying in Delhi seemed like it came and left faster than the blink of an eye. We did a lot of walking in Delhi, we saw some major sites, and we learned to navigate the metro.

@ Live
We stayed near the New Delhi Railway station in an area called Paharganj. The place was bustling with life and I loved the main bazaar area. You could see a shop filled with amazing spices, fresh fruits, and authentic hand carved treasures right up next to internet cafes and tourist traps. It was a cool mix of old and new. The vehicles reflected that as well. A sports car around one corner and a mule pulling a bullock cart around the next. The cows lazily sat in the middle of the traffic every once in a while, causing everyone to simply pause and weave around them.

Our first day in Delhi was overwhelming to say the least. I would recommend staying at least 3 days in Delhi to other travelers because we needed one full day to adjust to the completely different atmosphere. Kerala is a laid back place and generally a place filled with warm and friendly people. In Delhi, it was confusing to find out that many people were trying to scam us simply because we were travelers. We had a lot of outrageous offers and instances of people following us after we refused. It was also really difficult to be irritated at these people. They clearly needed the money they were trying to get us to pay. They clearly were asking for some sort of reason. The people got inside my head a little bit, as did the poverty juxtaposed with extreme wealth.

Red Fort
That first night we relaxed for the evening at a cool place in Connaught Place called @live. There was a very nice Malaysian band that played stuff like....Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan. It was a nice place to unwind and enjoy ourselves after a pretty stressful 24 hours.

The Second Day we traveled via Metro to The Red Fort, Humayun's tomb, and the Lotus Temple. The Metro was a great way to get around.

The Red Fort was so astoundingly huge, we wandered around through the crowds of people just kind of dritfting from place to place.
Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb was definitely the favorite of the day. The architecture and marble work was so detailed. Walking up to this place we were both just completely struck by how immense the main tomb area was. It was also a lot less crowded.

 The Lotus Temple was also a good experience. A nice example of modern Architecture. lt was also a great opportunity to meet volunteers at the temple from all around the world. We met a guy named Taylor who was only 19 and had been living and volunteering at the temple for 3 months who was from Baltimore, Maryland. The Lotus Temple is a Baha'i holy site.
The Lotus Temple

The next day we headed to Amritsar in a 12:45 train. We were projected to arrive around 10:55 at night. We wasted time by talking to people, reading, and laughing at a really cute kid named Sacshem who ran around the train crying "doo dooo dooo dooooo." Suddenly at around 10:20, our train came to a stop....a long long stop.

Once we hit about 10:50, Ian got up and asked one of the train workers what was going on. Through a lot of Hindi and confusion, Ian fugured out that we were supposed to get off of our train and on to a passing train to Amritsar. Apparently our train was going to be stuck for a while. I trusted his judgement and we just grabbed our stuff and went for it. We hopped off of our train and onto the rocks. When the train came on to the neighboring track it didn't just kind of crawled. So I can now mark "jump on to a moving train" off of my Bucket List. haha.
The Golden Temple

We arrived pretty late to the hotel and passed out. The next day we woke up and met some friendly fellow travelers. We decided to go to the Golden Temple with Iris, a French girl who has been traveling around India for Six months.
Ian and Iris in a traditional rickshaw!

Sree Durgyana Temple
She has been a great friend here to both me and Ian. She is so young, only 20 years old, and so brave. We ate lunch at the Golden Temple in the Temple kitchen which was SUCH a crazy/awesome experience. Afterwards we got slices of coconut and took a rickshaw to the Sree Dugyana Temple (also called the silver temple) nearby. It was equal to the Golden Temple in it's stunning intricacy. Sree Durgyana is a Hindu holy site, and The Golden Temple is a Sikh holy site.
Flags at the Border Closing Cermony
In the evening we traveled with a big group of travelers to the India/Pakistan Border Closing Ceremony. It was a serious display of patriotism including long loud hooping and hollering, border guards doing high kicks and lowering the flags.

Today is a new day and Amritsar is wide open. Tomorrow we will be heading to Dharamsala/ McCleod Ganj with our new friend Iris!

 "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."-St. Augustine

Thursday, April 5, 2012


It is the night before Good Friday and appropriately, I can't sleep.  In Mark, Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him through the night in the garden of Gethsemane. At first it seems like a question of group solidarity, but toward the end of the passage, we get a glimpse of a very life-like Jesus. He is on edge.

In Mark chapter 14, verse 36, Jesus agonizingly gives over his feigned control, "Abba, Father, remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want."...but Jesus is the only one praying. He only hears the sound of his own voice and the crickets outside.

When Jesus finds those silly disciples conked out and snoring, we see his torture. "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?" Jesus asks them to pray for him. You know the line..."his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak."

I don't think Simon just rolled over and said "yeah, yeah, yeah...just go to sleep you weirdo." Simon and his friends just have nothing to say. They are sleepy. Sleep is something that everyone needs. Why would Jesus want to go without sleep? They could pray during the day. They could pray tomorrow morning.  Maybe they didn't get why praying would be such an urgent thing in the middle of the night.

Was Jesus looking for group solidarity? Did Jesus really need the support of his friends to make it through what must have been the most difficult night of his life? Maybe. Maybe Jesus longed for support and love just as we all do. Maybe Jesus was just like one of the inmates in the geriatric ward here at Mandiram. Maybe all he needed was a loving touch and some words of kindness on that night.

Would the outcome have been different if Simon and the other disciples had gathered around their leader for an all night candle lit vigil? Probably not. Jesus (being Jesus) must have known that fact. He shows in verse 36 whose "wants" will be met. So why did Jesus want prayer and support? Why did he want something he knew he didn't really need?

I enjoy the language and the urgency in this passage. Jesus yells "Keep awake!" and "Enough!" and gets a little sassy with Simon. The most subtle urgency to me however, is the use of the word "want" instead of the word "need."

If you replace the word want with need, we end up with "yet not what I need, but what you need." This would imply that Jesus would have felt so attached, so obligated to his body just as it was, that he felt the need to stay. It implies that Jesus was deciding to sacrifice his needs for an assignment from God. When the crucifixion becomes something that God needed Jesus to do, it becomes a little less special.

Instead we are presented with a savior who wanted life, wanted support, wanted love just like everyone else in this world. Instead we are presented with a Jesus who is willing to transform the idea of what he wanted for himself. Jesus places wants out of his hands. He trusts in the thing God wants for all mankind.

God wanted to show humanity the true meaning of servanthood. God wanted to forgive his people. God wanted to watch his son transform from a physical body, to a body of followers.

On this night, I am thinking about all of the special times this year that I have been reminded of what I want and what I need. The times that have truly changed me are not the times in which I have sacrificed or fulfilled a need. The times that have transformed me are the ones where I can truly say, this is what I want. Or, more importantly, this is what God wants for me.

I am currently having difficulty embracing my decision-making pattern. It is amazing how lucky I get with opportunities in life. Most of the time the thing that sticks in my head, the thing that I really can't stop thinking about, is where I end up. It happened with Austin College, it happened with YAV, and it is currently happening with Austin, TX. I just have that city (and one particular job) stuck in my head. I am chasing after a job, something I need, but I hope that I can eventually say that it is what I want.

I also sometimes just have random things tossed in my wake that throw me for a loop. I am going to be co-teaching a Conversational English Class at Kumarakom Lake Resort each Saturday of the summer (and maybe for the rest of my time here in India.) It was great to meet some of the staff who will be taking the class today. Most of them are trying to make it in the tourism industry and are struggling to move up because of their level of English.

It is open to all positions at the Resort, so we expect to be serving people from all kinds of backgrounds and all different levels of English. I hope that it will be an opportunity to help these people succeed and serve them in a way that I know how. It will be a challenge for me, but hopefully a challenge that I can accept.

It challenges me in other ways because today's meeting made me feel unnecessarily powerful. A free lunch at the Resort restaurant, a tour of the grounds and an offer for a free houseboat ride. All of that hospitality was given from the heart, but I don't think I can do the job well if I feel somehow...compensated for the service. In order for this to feel right, it has to feel like I am volunteering. I just have to stand my ground and discern what I deeply and meaningfully want to give to, and take from this experience.

I will not let material, superficial wants get in the way. Only the transformative ones. Only the wants that God nods at through the loving body of Christ.

Thank you for not falling asleep on me. Thank you all for your prayers and support. Please continue to pray with me.