Friday, March 30, 2012

This World Is Not My Home ...

It was the longest day. Planes were cancelled and overbooked and delayed because of the Frankfurt Airport union workers' strike. Raj drove us to the Bangalore airport at 10:30 on the 27th night. It was awful waving goodbye to him - he sat there for long moments in the vehicle, just watching Dad walk away.

We got checked in and then sat for a moment to regroup and relax as we waited for the plane that would be leaving at 2:20 a.m.
Curds from clay pots in the Bangalore airport -
there is no flavour like it!
What a way to send us off! Thanks, Raj and Arenla ... xo
The last thing we ate in Bangalore was curds (yogurt) out of clay pots that Raj had given us as a special treat from our favourite curds place, K.C. Das Sweet Shop.

Then we went through security - ladies to the left, men to the right - and sat at our gate while the powers that be tried to configure getting wheelchairs onto an enormous jet with no ramp or jetway available. 

We eventually boarded and flew to Frankfurt without incident. But upon deplaning, I found that I had been separated from Deb and Dad, who had been seated further to the front of the plane than had I. Deb came after me where I had gone to wait in a holding area; and then we couldn't track down Dad, who had been whisked off to some other holding area in his wheelchair. No one could tell us where he was, or even where our flight was going to be departing. Finally, in desperation Deb flagged down a woman driving a cart. She looked past Deb at me - "I know you!" she exclaimed. She was the same one who had contacted someone to tell Deb where I was. Within minutes she brought Dad to where we were.
Waiting in the Frankfurt airport

And then we waited. And waited. Our plane was now delayed for five more hours. The airline fed all us passengers a meal in an airport restaurant. And then we waited where we had been told someone would pick Dad up. We tried to make sure that we were on track for a wheelchair or a ride. Finally someone told us, "We are tracking you. We know exactly where you are. Don't worry - someone will be along to pick you up 45 minutes before your flight leaves."

And indeed someone was - a delightful young man who had held this job for exactly one month, but who had been in training for four years and who was taking Japanese studies at university. He admitted that things were still a little bit stressed at the airport and that new people had had to be brought in.

The biggest sign in the Frankfurt airport -
no wonder ...
But we made it onto the plane and all the way to Calgary and through customs without any difficulties.

Sonnie and two of the sisters were at the airport to greet us and we made our way to Debs' house.

We are content to be back and are getting over our jet lag and easing into our routines again. I've been frantically working toward Carswell's year end and am getting ready to hit Costco and Superstore in a couple of hours. We'll have butter chicken curry on Saturday and roast beef on Sunday at the TH. Dad will be speaking at the Prairie Tab on Sunday night. Debs is back to work on Monday morning. I have a list of stories I want to share with you.

But still ...

But still ...

This time it was particularly hard to leave India. It was one of the best trips we have taken. The spirit in most of the places was so incredibly sweet this year. The children were more engaging than ever and stole our hearts. We reconnected on new levels with some of our friends, the brothers and sisters of our childhood.

This bisection of who we are, this not being sure of where we belong, this ache when we leave and when we arrive ...

This constant, almost unconscious yearning for what is not whichever side of the globe we are on ...

And then at about 1:30 this morning the words of the brusque German official came back to me, this time in the understanding tones of the ultimate Third Culture Kid: "We are tracking you. We know exactly where you are. Don't worry ..."

And, for this moment at least, I can be at rest. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tender Coconut

First, have a compound where coconut trees are abundant. Our dear friend Dr G.S. Nair - the same man who took in around 50 frightened children after the tsunami of 2004 - started a Bible college and training centre in Trivandrum over 30 years ago, and on this campus he also grew coconut trees.

This week we had the great privilege of attending the college's graduation conference and exercises. Dad spoke a number of times. And in the evenings the guest speakers and hangers-on (what else could Debs and I be classified as, really?!) were treated to dinner in the President's Prayer Hut - a little thatched room where people can meet throughout the year with Dr Nair and with God.

One night we were sitting eating our dinner when a student showed up with a couple of coconuts that he had retrieved and cut open. He poured coconut water decorously into glasses and served us. There was a quartet of Americans at the conference who eyed the beverage dubiously. Dr Nair, sensing their hesitance and seeing an opportunity to introduce a fresh flavour and colour to our lives, called for a couple more coconuts and genially demonstrated how drinking from a coconut should be done:

And then he split open a coconut to reveal its tender flesh - the best part of all in a "tender coconut," as it's called.

He called over Debs and asked her if she would like to have it.

Would she! After a year where coconut means either dessicated or coconut milk from a can or hard coconut, Debs was more than delighted to finish up the demonstration:

Dr Nair has some of the characteristics of those tender coconuts. He stands straight and tall, like those coconut trees do, and he gives of himself generously, to any and all who are truly in need. He is tough on the outside, but tender as can be where it counts, his heart. 

He gives himself to other people without reservation and without holding anything back. He is the same at the college as he is at home, the same when he is speaking to high-up government officials or lowly people on the street. His charismatic personality goes ahead of him so that when he enters a room he encounters no strangers.

He was a student at the College in Bangalore when I was a young child. He was in and out of our home, working and laughing and sharing and learning from and with Mum and Dad. We thought he was the coolest man on campus.

What a privilege now that we are grown be able to come out to Trivandrum three years in a row and to stay in the Nair home with G.S., his lovely wife, Sarah, and two of his daughters and their husbands, not to mention Jabez and Jono, two of the sweetest natured children you could ever hope to meet - I have a strong suspicion that they take after their 'Appachi' in many ways.

We left Trivandrum yesterday evening. Debs and I miss him, miss the campus and the home, miss all that he represents to our Dad, already.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Steps of a Good Man ...

There are eighteen steps from our guest suite to the ground floor.
 He missed a step at the turn and fell down several steps two nights ago as we were heading out for that evening's engagement. He tumbled like a rag doll and landed at my feet a few steps from the bottom. My legs had broken his fall a little, as had his grasping at a thin pipe on the wall.

I started to scream; I couldn't help it. I didn't know what to do - if he had broken anything and I moved him, it could compound the pain and the injury. But I couldn't just leave him there.

He was struggling to get up so I reached down and held his arm and helped him to his feet. We walked slowly together down the remaining couple of steps  and out to the waiting car. When I saw Debs, who had gone ahead, I burst into tears. He tried to comfort me: "I'm so sorry I frightened you, Karyn," he reiterated gently.

She went into nurse mode, asking him the right questions, evaluating him. He was shaken but physically seemed to be okay, with no broken bones.

That night he slept deeply and the next day he slept and rested for much of the day. Fortunately we had not scheduled much until the evening and so he could take it easy.

The sum total of his injuries was a bruised and slightly scraped elbow; a small bruise at the base of his spine; and stiffness and soreness of his back and hips.

Nothing had broken; not even his skin, which is so fragile these days that a severe bump can split it open and cause copious bleeding.

The piece of plastic pipe covering that broke off
as Dad grabbed onto it
I keep imagining what could have happened, how much worse it could have been. If there had not been a railing on the stairs he could have slid right through them and landed on the ground below. If he had flipped over he could have smashed his face and his glasses and re-broken his previously fractured collar bone. He could have gone into shock and stopped breathing.

But none of this happened.

And the thought that came to me is this, from Psalm number 37:

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord
and He delights in his way

My Dad is a good man - one of the best. God Himself was on the steps with my Dad that evening.

Debs and I have been hovering around Dad a little bit more than usual the last couple of days. So have Raj, Arenla, Ed, Mr Subbaiah, Jeremiah and Annie. We don't want to leave him alone for a second. 

Then I was reminded that God is always with Dad. Each of them delights in the other. God is in control of his way and will guide and protect his steps.

Friday, March 16, 2012


We were in Coimbatore - hot, dry Coimbatore where the power grid is so overheated that the electricity is turned off for ten hours a day. The sun blazed down mercilessly and the thermometer climbed. I didn't know how people who live there year round could bear it.

And then the day before the College's graduation Dad was asked to speak that night at an ordination service for an alumnus of the College. Dad had not met the man and would not have a chance to talk with him before the ordination service. But on the recommendation of the President of the College, Dr Cherian, Dad agreed.

That evening Dad got up and spoke on what it meant to be ordained. He mentioned that he would not normally take part in an ordination service but this man had come very highly recommended not only by Dr Cherian but by the other local pastors and teachers, who knew him well.

Dad talked about three calls that are listed in the New Testament. The first is to everyone - to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. The second is to the people who respond affirmatively to the first call, and it is to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The third call is to a small minority of the second group and it is the call to preach. He told of another ordination process where he had been involved. The candidate had presented the best doctrinal statement that Dad had read. He had gone through several rounds of meetings with the committee, of which Dad was a part. The members of the committee had hammered him with questions. Then finally, on the last night of meetings Dad asked him this question: "Suppose we don't approve your ordination and we cannot ordain you. What will you do instead?"

He said that the candidate grew quiet for a moment and then said, "I don't know what I would do. I have to preach!" 

"That was the answer I was looking for," replied Dad.

And then he called for this evening's candidate for ordination to come forward to give a brief address to the congregation.

"Kristy Kumar, please come forward," intoned the gentleman who was facilitating the ordination service.

Nothing seemed to be happening. I looked back at the room and I thought I saw a head and shoulders moving in the aisle. As I continued to watch, an extremely short man made his way slowly to the front of the room, lurching slightly with each step he took. With great deliberation he negotiated the shallow steps at the side of the platform, and finally he made his way to the pulpit. 

Someone adjusted the mike downward, and he started to speak. 

"My name is Kristy Kumar," he began in heavily accented English. He said that he had been born into a Hindu family in a gypsy tribe. When he was about five years old he somehow fell into a "burner," he called it, and was horrifically burned from the soles of his feet to his chest. He was rushed to the hospital, where he spent huge amounts of time undergoing painful treatment. He was unable to walk for five years after the incident. He couldn't read and write; he couldn't go to school.

But one of the worst moments for him at that time was when he heard his doctor tell his parents to give up the effort, just to abandon him. "He is useless," were the words the doctor said.

Useless ...

He was not encouraged by his parents to study or to try to get an education. He managed somehow to get through grade eight or nine and then he got some kind of employment. And there he heard about the Lord Jesus, who loved him enough to die a terrible death - for his sake!  How could he be useless if this were true?

He ultimately trusted God to save him from his sin; and then as he started to read and study he felt called to preach and to minister. So he achieved his diploma, ended up at this College and with a lot of effort made it through his degree program. It took him six long years.

Then he went back to his home state of Uttar Pradesh and to his people; and after a lot of work and several years he managed to start not one but two churches in that state. 

He even got married last year!

It is a given that pain is a constant companion in his life. But he said that he can endure it because he has to preach and minister in these churches.

"That is all; thank you," he ended. Dad rose up, visibly moved, from his seat. "Now that is what I would call a pastor," he said. "I would be honoured to place my hand on this man's head and ordain him."

He called the other pastors to the stage and someone directed Kristy to kneel. Slowly, slowly, he eased his way down to his knees, and the pastors who had gathered for this solemn occasion each laid a hand on Kristy's head. Dad prayed for him, committing Kristy and the ministry that had been entrusted to him to God's care and concern and protection.

When the prayer was over, two of the pastors tenderly reached over and helped Kristy struggle back onto his feet again; and then one by one they shook his hand.

And slowly, slowly, Kristy Kumar lurched his way back down the aisle to his seat toward the back of the auditorium. But as he walked his face was alight with joy.

I didn't see Kristy again during the conference. I wonder if I'll ever see him here on earth. But I do know that when you have a call like Kristy has heard, whatever your call might be, you don't need to let little things like vicious scarring over two-thirds of your body,like your parents making no push for you to succeed at anything, like your own doctor calling you useless, to be an excuse for not following your calling.

He has confirmed for me unequivocally two things:

That "slowly and steadily" does indeed win the race. 

And that in the eyes of God there is no such thing as a useless person.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Year of the Nephew: Elliot ...

It was quite the adventure getting to meet you for the first time: On March 7 we got the news that you had been born and so that evening your aunt BethAnne, your cousin Matthew, your aunt Helen and I decided on impulse to drive to Regina to see you. It was around the middle of the night. Right at about Swift Current we hit an icy patch, spun around a couple of times and then the Cavalier flipped over and skidded on its roof across the highway and over to the middle of the median, where it gently settled into the snow. Your cousin Matthew, who was five years old at the time, remarked, "We were hanging upside down, just like bats!"

It was after 2:30 in the morning on March 8th.

We stayed in a motel for the rest of the night and when it was daylight we rented a car and carried on to Regina, where you and your Mom were in the hospital. We got to her room and there the three of you were: Bronwyn, Paul and Elliot, wrapped up in each other.

Everyone clamoured to hold you except for me. I stood at the foot of my sister's bed and just held back, watching her, watching you.

Your Dad and the other three left for a few moments but I wanted to be near the two of you so I sat on her bed and looked at you nestled up against her. She urged me to hold you, but I demurred. "I feel really shaky ... I'm not good with babies ... I like to look at him with you ..."

"I really want you to hold him," she said in a voice not much louder than a whisper. I looked at her face and then I reached out my arms and took you into them and drew you close to my heart.

The moment I did and I looked into your enormous blue eyes, something incredible happened to me. My heart, which had been pounded on and bruised and neglected by turns for over ten years, and which I had put into cold storage several years earlier to preserve what was left of it from any more pain, felt a little stirring, a little thawing, right at the smallest part of it, right at the point of it. As I gazed at you, you slid right into that point of my heart, the only part that was able to receive you. And then you closed your eyes and fell asleep in my arms. 

How could I wake you up and ask you please to vacate my heart and leave it alone? No one wakes up a baby! As I watched you sleeping, however, I felt my heart start to come awake again. It was an odd sensation, like pins and needles. I wasn't sure that I liked it. I was pretty sure I didn't want it. I handed you back to your mother, but as you left my arms you refused to budge from my heart.

There was apparently a reason I still had a heart ...

And so I made a deal with myself. I would put guards around the rest of it, but you could be the Point of my Heart.

Because I had a job that allowed me to travel to Regina, I came as often as I possibly could to see you (and your Mom and Dad but really you!). Your brother was born a couple of years after you, and  so I got to spend a bit more time with you by ourselves when your Mom had to tend him. As you grew older and we hung out together, I found we had something in common: we both loved small things. I had always been fascinated by miniature toys, dishes, elephants, pictures, objects of beauty. And here you were, liking tiny animals, toys, spaces, and especially balls.

For your third birthday I made you a Ball Book. I found pictures of round objects and stuck them on coloured paper and wrote a little narrative around each object. Then I got each page laminated and put them into a binder. You loved that book! And it was right around then that I experienced the very first piercing from the one sharp place a person's heart has:

"I know I'm the Point of your Heart," you said to me in your sweetly serious way. "But what is Oliver? Can he be the Ball of your Heart?" I looked down into your earnest face and I saw how much you loved your brother, how deeply you cared for other people even at that tender age, and the last barriers in my own heart were shattered.

It really, really hurt at the time. I hadn't thought that loving someone as much as I found I loved you could cause a heart to ache more than losing someone ever had. But it also showed me that a heart was resilient and was stretchable, and that once it started working properly again it could make room for other people without losing one iota of the love it had for the person in there already.

The little person firmly lodged in its point.

The years went by and you moved to Calgary. One day I was visiting you in your home and your Mom came to me with a piece of paper. "Elliot wrote a story," she said. "Would you like to read it?"

It was called Black Is A Rainbow. It painted the picture of a box of colours and how one colour felt utterly ugly, utterly misunderstood and marginalized until it  had the light shone on it so that all could see its rich beauty.

"Tell them to just look right inside you, you know, look inside your heart." 

I read your story to your Bop tonight and within moments he came up with three points that he perceived in your allegory:
  • Blind prejudice
  • Perceptive compassion
  • The rainbow's radiance of acceptance 
At six years old you had found a voice for social justice.

You continued to care about the small things: East Timor, Pluto (remember how upset you were because in Holst's The Planets there was no movement for Pluto? You will be happy to know that someone did write a movement for it in 2000; but when Pluto was demoted from planet-like status, the last movement was removed ...), little animals and tiny children. How proud I was to hear that you were a volunteer in Sunday School for the little kids age group!

Your heart ached for the plight of Somalia.

You went to work in the dispossessed part of downtown Vancouver on a missions trip

You also taught me a valuable life lesson one day when we were out driving somewhere together. You were still pretty young. We were talking about feeling valued, about feeling needed. "You are so valuable, Elliot," I said. 

"I know you value me," you answered. Then you glanced at me and after a moment you replied thoughtfully, "Just because something is valuable doesn't always mean that it's valued, though." You have taught me to be mindful to appreciate what has been given me, not merely to know its technical value.

At your Grams's funeral you were the grandson who talked about her relationship with God - about how much she loved God and how she wanted you boys to know God. Looking at you that day, catching glimpses of your pain and love on your face, I thought to myself, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

And that's you, my Point. That is not to say that you're a dull, boring, goody two-shoes type. Far from it. You have taught me an appreciation for U2 and Springsteen (here's your first album review!), given me a fresh perspective on Dylan, and a new love for Joel. I also love to listen to you playing the piano and guitar. I'm so impressed that you have started composing and I can't wait to hear your work.

You know your strengths and work on your weaknesses. You speak the truth with kindness and with compassion. You have started to think and live out that verse from the book of Micah which says,

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Here on your fifteenth birthday, I want to say thank you for putting up with your Aunt and entering into my plans and schemes around events. Thank you for making time for me even though you are now half-way through your teenage years. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and sense of humour.

Thank you for setting your priorities. Thank you for your perspective and your deep, quiet thoughtfulness. Thank you for never giving up.

Thank you from the point of my heart.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Our First Day Back

After my last two nights in Three Hills with very little sleep, Dad, Deborah Joy and I caught a couple of planes to Bangalore for the annual Conference circuit. Everything couldn't have been smoother as far as connections and the flight were concerned. Our plane arrived just before 1 a.m. on March 3; Ed and Raja (check him out by scrolling down to the PS on this entry from 2010!) were there to pick us up and we got to the College campus somewhere between 2:30 and 3 a.m. They ushered us up to our dear old familiar guest suite. This time Sarah had lovingly given us two suites, but we had to decline; who would have slept by themselves in the other suite?! We all wanted to be together, so Debs and I took the outer room, like we did last year, and gave Dad the inner room.

I couldn't get to sleep in the time we had left to us before breakfast, so I showered and then lay down for half an hour. After breakfast, Dad had one thing on the agenda. First we went to the foreign exchange office to get rupees:
And then off we went to ... Dad's barber! (Watch for a separate post on the visit with Dad's old friend of 42 years):

Walking home from Johnson Market I wanted to get a mango Popsicle. Fortunately Deborah knew where to find one - the meat / fast fried food / ice cream shop:
That night Dad had his first speaking assignment - the Church youth group was having a special "Old Youth and New Youth Reunion" and they wanted Dad to speak, as he had led the youth group years ago and was always the speaker at the summer camp week.

Over thirty of us gathered in a classroom and sang, spoke, laughed, reconnected. Then Dad got up to speak. His text was taken from the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel chapter 23, verses 13 to 18 but especially the statement in verse 16: "And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose, and went to David in the wood, and strengthened his hand in God." Dad's topic was Characteristics of a Real Friend.

He mentioned a lady from France he had read about many years ago who was asked what the secret to her successful life had been. Her reply? "I had a friend."

Dad gave four or five characteristics of a true friend as revealed in this verse. Contrary to my first post on this trip back home to India, it turns out there are several key attributes to friendship that we can glean. The first was that Jonathan "arose." To arise in this context, Dad said, is to get up with feeling and strength and determination. A true friend is someone who goes into action on your behalf. Secondly, Jonathan "went to David" - you can't physically care for someone very well at a distance. The well-known saying, "iron sharpens iron," is talking about the connection between friends. Third, Jonathan went to see David "in the wood." David was in the wood because he was hiding out from Saul, Jonathan's father, who had issued a death warrant for him. This was a particularly low point in David's life to date. But Jonathan, the prince of the realm, realizing that David couldn't come to him, went to his friend. A true friend meets you where you are, Dad pointed out, not where you should be.  

But the fourth characteristic of a friend, and the one that grabbed me in particular, was how Jonathan was an encourager to David. Encourage comes from the same root word as does coeur, the French word for 'heart.' To discourage someone is to make them lose heart. Jonathan built up his friend David's heart.

Backtracking to a few hours earlier: because this was to be the second year in a row that the highlight of Deborah's March 2 birthday would be the utilitarian Frankfurt airport - where most likely no one would sing her Happy Birthday - I arranged with my dear Sarah that we would order birthday cake for all the students on our first evening after chapel.

That was before we knew about the Youth group meeting. The boxes of cake arrived promptly from Durga Bakery at 5 p.m., just like they had promised. Chapel started when it was supposed to at 6 p.m. But because things  were running late at Youth meeting, Sarah improvised. She and I cut out of the meeting, dragging Deb with us. That accomplished, Sarah got the dinner bell rung a few minutes early, and when all the students had gathered she announced that it had been Deb's birthday the day before and that there was pineapple cake for all of them in celebration. Immediately over 300 voices broke into "Happy Birthday to you ... Happy long life to you ..."

Last stop that night was a quick visit with one of Dad's closest friends, our beloved Mr Subbaiah, and his gorgeous wife, Pravin, who had been so dear to our mother. They took us to a "little restaurant" for delicious curry, dal, chicken, breads and desserts. The best part of all was that we were with them again.

The perfume bar ...

Embarrassingly, I started to nod off at the table, however, so we cut our evening short with promises to get together soon.
Entrance to the "little
restaurant" ... in a
seven-star hotel!

The paan station, should you wish to
indulge after the meal ...

I fell asleep literally the second I reached my bed. But as I awoke the next morning, I thought about Dad's talk and the value of friends, and I thought about our first day back:

  • Ed and Raja
  • Sarah
  • Johanan and Mera
  • the barber
  • the students
  • the kids 
  • the Youth Group
  • Mr and Mrs Subbaiah

If having a friend means your heart is encouraged, Dad, Debs and I are going to have very strong hearts at the end of the month! Thank you, all of you, for your warm welcomes and your great love for us.

We're home!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Value of a Friend

We're home in Bangalore! I was already tired as I hadn't really slept for the two nights before we left Canada. And we hit the road running at this end - Dad was asked to speak that first evening, at a Youth Group reunion meeting.

His topic was Characteristics of a Friend, and he discussed the value of having a true friend.

I took notes, as I always do when I listen to Dad; but because I was so tired it was a struggle for me to stay awake. Later I looked at my book to review my notes:

The value of a friend is even higher than ... lemon meringue pie? That's pretty high value indeed - but then again, maybe Dad hasn't tasted the TH's lemon meringue pie in a while?!

I'm going to go catch up on my sleep now ...