Sunday, February 13, 2011

I want to see

For our time of staff prayer on Friday morning, we read Psalm 37: 1-24. It’s a beautiful Psalm of reassurance that God will act on behalf of his people, of those who are oppressed and downtrodden, and that God will not allow the wicked to prosper. Some translations tell the hearer, “Do not worry,” and other translations say, “Do not fret.” The Lord will act.

It’s beautiful . . . but it’s a bit hard to believe when every day the wicked are actually prospering and those who are oppressed are flung back into the dirt and trash heaps all around this world. Faith doesn’t come easily when there seems to be such a huge dichotomy between the promise of what is supposed to be and what is. Trust is sometimes hanging on by a thread.

God, I know it’s true because I know that the words you say are not false. There is nothing false or deceptive about you. I do believe you and I am trying to trust you. Give me eyes to see.

Today after church I was piddling around our kitchen, cleaning dishes, chopping vegetables, and making Ramen noodle soup (with an egg in it for protein). All the while, I was listening to a sermon by Pastor DeNeff, my pastor from my college years. The church in Marion is going through a series called Soul Shift. The overall theme is the need for us to relearn and rethink all that we have taken for granted in our Christian life. Today was about shifting our gaze from that which is seen to that which is unseen.

Most people who’ve sat in church long enough have heard a sermon about this topic, but there was a twist. When we talk about the unseen world and getting new eyes to see, maybe we have always assumed we understood and we were actually seeing unseen things. We’re at least aware there’s an unseen world and we believe in it. Isn’t that half of seeing? But what if what we thought as seeing the unseen was only like a blind man envisioning what a sighted man was describing but never really seeing for himself? Maybe that’s the best vision we have, and maybe we think that is exactly what God meant by seeing (because we’ve never seen any better).

But what if there’s more?

What if seeing the unseen is like looking at our skin with our naked eye and then putting our skin under the most high-powered microscope available? We thought we knew what our skin looked like, and we’ve even had people tell us bacteria lives on our skin. We know there are pores. We can envision all this in our mind: the bacteria, the pores, the hair follicles, the layers of skin, etc. But envisioning it in the mind is nothing compared to actually seeing it through a microscope. There’s a whole different world there we never knew existed . . . even though we were told about it and had a mental picture!

So what if that is how I am seeing this scripture passage? What if that’s how I am seeing the kingdom of God? I have an idea and a picture of what God’s kingdom and justice and peace look like. I can envision it, but what I envision from what I have grown up understanding about these concepts is nothing like what I see in the world around me. And this is what is causing the dissonance in my heart. None of what this passage of scripture is saying is coming true. Maybe tiny glimpses of these promises flit before my eyes for a second, but it doesn’t last. Then my hope and faith struggle to hold on.

What if what Pastor DeNeff shared today was true? What if what I think of as seeing the unseen in the world around me everyday is only word pictures in my mind rather than the real thing? That would explain a lot of discrepancies.

“For now we see in part. Then we will see fully.” Can I believe this? Lord, will you open my eyes now so that I can actually see what is unseen—not just word pictures?

Blind Bartimaeus, when asked by Jesus what he wanted, asked for way more than he was conditioned to ask for. As Pastor DeNeff pointed out, his entire life Bartimaeus asked for what he thought he could get from people: food, money. But when Jesus asked him, apparently Blind Bartimaeus knew that Jesus could give him a lot more than just food or money. He asked for the impossible; he asked to see.

Am I so conditioned to this world that I don’t even consider asking Jesus for what he really can give me—what he really wants to give me?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner: I want to see.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Tyranny of Chaos

The tyranny of chaos. I was talking with a friend last night, and he used that phrase. It stuck in my mind because so often in this city, all I can say over and over in my mind is, “Chaos. This is complete chaos.” How true this phrase is: chaos is a tyrant that leaves little room for humanity.

Part of my job now is to accompany ladies to the hospital. For the last almost three weeks, I have been going with one of our ladies to have an abscess treated. Last week we had it drained, but we’re still going back and forth to get the dressings changed. Today as I waited in the craziness of the crowds outside where the doctor was sitting, I just kept thinking how hellish the system is. Somehow, people are treated and most often come away better than they were before they walked into the hospital, but there’s absolutely no peace. There is so much fighting and yelling and shoving.

At one point, I honestly thought there was going to be a riot because people were cutting in line and it was just a big mob scene. I stood squashed against the wall dumbfounded. I kept thinking how this chaos is not better than the relatively small amount of trouble it would take for those in charge to try to organize people and systems. Because this is all people have ever known, this is all that will every happen until someone has the foresight to make it better. Does anyone know it can be better? Right now, chaos reigns. And he is a hellish tyrant. No one walking out of that room (which was almost as crowded as the metro during rush hour) could feel good about himself. Not that people go to hospitals to feel good about themselves, but at least if there’s organization, you don’t have to fight in the midst of your pain and sickness.

What happened inside me in response to this chaos did not catch me by surprise; it happens here all the time, but this time I recognized where the evil effects came from. The chaos surrounding me clawed its way into my heart. I began to resent the people around me, looking down at them for their reactions and their fight. I began to want to fight only for my friend rather than give back as much dignity as possible to the people around me. I felt the hate in my heart. The chaos around me sucked me in and I became part of it. This is the tyranny of chaos: that I can see it for what it is yet still succumb to it. But it’s not the people that I really hate. How can I blame them for simply trying to survive? That, however, is a whole other issue.

Oh, but my friend is a trouper. She and I got through the mad chaos and then had tea. On our way to the metro, she bought a vegetable that resembled a cucumber, had it cut with spices put on it. As we were walking to SB through the Gach, she and I ate our snack. Inwardly, I wasn’t too thrilled about eating the vegetable because it wasn’t washed and who knows how many hands it went through, but I couldn’t say no when she had bought it to share with me. Lord, bless those bugs.

We walked, laughed and ate our snack through another of Kolkata’s mad, chaotic places, but this time, as I walked with my friend, I felt like a human. I felt normal. There may be chaos all around me, but I must continue trying not to let that chaos infiltrate my heart and soul. If I can keep my eyes on Christ and see our ladies and the beauty of them, I can detect rays of hope. It’s their friendship and love that make this world and work bearable.

I pray that my love and friendship can quell a bit of the chaos of their lives . . . let a little peace flood in. That tyrant can’t rule forever.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Missing home

My dear cousin Amy and I were talking a couple of weeks ago. She said something profound, which is actually normal for her. We were talking about traveling--leaving and coming home. She said that everyone needs to leave home because unless we leave home, we can never miss home.

Well, I am far from home, and I miss home.

Although the feeling of missing home isn't alway pleasant, I will accept the pain. It's nice to know I have a home, a place where I am loved. When I remember where I come from, I can stand a little more confidently here in a place where I feel out of control. There is nothing familiar here even though I am becoming very much accustomed to the sights, smells, and feelings of this city.

I miss family and friends. I miss the season we are in. I missed the fall and Thanksgiving. I miss the all the lights and trees and smells of Christmas that I know are in the air at home. I miss the feel of Christmas. Ooh, what I wouldn't give for some Christmas baking!

So, happy December. Celebrate home well this Christmas season--if for no one else but me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ice chips

We are creatures of habit. We need our comforts. Rice when I am sick sounds awful, but to an Indian, it is essential (because you haven't really eaten unless you've had rice). Chicken noodle soup when I am sick sounds wonderful, but to an Indian, that's not enough to sustain you.

I watched as some of our ladies loved on Beth while she was sick. They were trying to bring her comfort, but it was a bit overwhelming (a lot of foot rubbing and touching the arms and face and words about water and what to and what not to do all at once). There's so much beauty in their love, but, whether we are American or Indian, when we are at our worst, we just want someone to care for us the way we were raised. The way Indians show their care and the way Americans show their care are vastly different because our cultures are so vastly different. When I am sick, I prefer to have fellow North Americans take care of me because the way they care is familiar and comforting during a time when I am absolutely out of control. So I wonder, how much of our physical comforts are more emotional than what is actually better for us physically?

Beth has brain malaria. She's been running high fevers, and what is most comforting to her physically (at least until the tylenol kicks in) are ice chips. When you are hot and when drinking water is hard, ice is so beautiful.

But, how odd we Americans are to the Indian staff at the hospital. To Indians, health is about balancing hot and cold. When you are sick, do not take in anything cold. If you drink something cold, you will get a sore throat. Ice cream will potentially give you a cold, so if you have something important coming up (like a school test), don't eat ice cream. Don't lie on a cold floor, you will get a cold. Don't put your feet on a cold floor, you will get a cold. If you are starting to feel a cold coming on or if it's cold outside (like in the 70's), then cover your throat--a hankie will do.

So, over here, ice chips are a super-big no-no.

For us in the Western world, we don't think about hot and cold like that. It's a de-bunked myth for the most part. Colds become more prevalent because of pressure differences that often accompany hot and cold weather--not just because of hot and cold things. And if I am very honest, it can become a bit annoying to me when I am constantly told not to drink cold drinks . . . I would like to rid the world of wrong thinking in this arena, but it seems that if I tried, I would be way in over my head. And then, what's to say they aren't saying the same about me?

So this morning at the hospital when Beth's fever went up, we asked the nurse for ice. She seemed a bit taken aback, but she very graciously brought in some ice. I wonder what went through her head as Beth ate the ice. She was probably incredulous with the foreigners: don't they know? But then I think about all the times in the hospital when my patients asked for things that I felt incredulous about (people can be strange), but as long as it wasn't harmful, I did what I could. I liked Beth's nurse; she was a good nurse.

Cultures are so different. I just have to remember that for as many times as I shake my head and laugh at silly things over here, they are doing the exact same back to me. Although I could swear I am right, I still feel a bit humbled.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Yesterday, Gita got married. Gita is one of our WMF staff members and one of the founding members of Sari Bari. It was an exciting day for Gita because she is marrying a good man, which is sometimes difficult to find. Both she and her new husband work within the same area: she works for Sari Bari and he works for another organization doing similar work to Sari Bari. Quite incredible.

It was funny that when the ceremony because, Gita was not smiling--she actually looked very unhappy. At first I thought something was wrong; the no-smiling Gita is not normal. But as the ceremony progressed, Beth informed me that in Bengali weddings, the girls are not supposed to smile. And actually, if it's an arranged marriage and you really don't know the man you are marrying, you probably wouldn't smile. Gita, however, did start cracking some smiles, and she does know her husband.

And yes, it was semi-arranged by Sarah, Beth, Upendra and Radha. Funny.

It was a long day, but it was a good day. I loved seeing our Sari Bari ladies at the wedding, and they gave me such praises about my sari; however, they also critiqued everything about how I was dressed, but, as Sarah said, they only do it because they love me. And I love them. I can't really describe what seeing them at the wedding, all dressed up and smiling did to my heart. It was wonderful. They are so beautiful and precious.

It was my first Indian wedding and it was my first time wearing a sari. Dang, that sari with all the sequins was uncomfortable. It's a bit blingy-er than my normal style, but what won't we do for the sake of beauty. Something about a sari does make a girl feel beautiful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The loss of a friend

On Thursday Melissa and I received the news that a dear friend of ours from Bangladesh, Kati, was sick. On Monday we received the news that she died.

It's hard to process this news; it all happened so quickly. In a little over a week, Melissa and I were going to go to Bangladesh to celebrate Kati and Musa's 16th wedding anniversary. We were going to stay with them. I took it for granted that even if we weren't able to make it, Kati and Musa's party was going to happen--that Kati would be there, would always be there.

Oh, how my heart grieves. Please pray for Musa through this time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I am not usually a person who strikes fear in the hearts of people. I tend to be a nice person who smiles easily. Today, however, I struck fear in the hearts of many . . .

Our newest Sari Bari unit is in a village about an hour by train outside of K-town in a village called Canning. Those of us who work in the city take turns going out to Canning to visit the girls out there, to get to know them, to let them get to know us. It's actually a pretty great trip because when we go, we are going to where it is green. Oh, beautiful green.

As per Sari Bari norm, whenever a group of girls finishes training (3 to 4 months duration), we begin to set them up for medical care. Part of the medical care is tetanus shots. One part of my job is to administer those shots. Since our Canning girls are all new and just finished training, none of them have had the shots before, so they didn't know that my coming foreshadowed pain.

Ugh. I don't like being known only as the one who gives shots: the ladies in the Gach unit come up to me and act like they are going to give me a shot. Kind endearing.

When I first got to Canning this morning, I asked Gita if anyone knew what was coming, and she said no, but as the morning wore on, rumors started. I think they all assumed that a doctor was going to come (which is the norm here) to administer the shots, so when a man came to see Upendra, everyone began talked and yelping when Upendra left the room with him. They were saying, "That's the doctor. He's going to give us the injections!" Upendra overheard their nervous exclamations and stuck his head in the room, "No, he's not a doctor." Then he points at me, "Sheila will give the injections." I think he smirked as he said this.

All the girls looked at me like they were betrayed. They made all kinds of noise and fuss. I just laughed sheepishly at their reactions. When the shots started, some of the girls were brave, but I definitely had one who was sobbing and another who was completely terrified. It's kinda funny . . .

On the way home from Canning, two things stuck out to me: 1. I saw a beautiful story unfolding: a young man brought his girl to the train and stood outside until the train took off. His smile was what got me; his smile for her was beautiful. I had many questions for them because I assume they are not married (she was not wearing the normal red Sundor in her hair that signifies a Hindu woman is married . . . she could have been Muslim or Christian) so I wonder what their story is. One thing I did know was that they were in love. 2. When we got in our auto to get from the train station to the metro, a guy who was very high sat in front with the driver. At one point he draped his arm over the back of the seat and his hand touched my knee. My first reaction (because it's happened before) is to become angry. However, this guy was definitely not putting any moves on me--he was out of it. I actually got to the point where I was afraid he was going to fall out of the auto, so I had my hands ready to grab his arm should that happen.

All in a day . . .