Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best Part of the Weekend

The little TH never stopped, from 9:34 on Saturday morning right through to 10:22 on Sunday evening. It was Prairie College's grad weekend; we had people from all over North America stopping in.

We rushed through shepherd's pies, chicken and asparagus crepes, quiches, ribs and baked potatoes, and wave after wave of desserts.

And we were two workers short.

Jocelyn, Brenda (bless her for bailing us out yet again!) and I - with an assist from Taylor, the new dishwasher - managed to hold it together for the most part. It was exhilarating and challenging and quite a bit of fun. There were some amazing stories to be heard in the tiny pockets of time between tables. Elton John even showed up! Well, someone with crazy enormous Happy Birthday glasses and a colourful wig who asked if he could rattle off a number on the piano and claiming to be the former Reginald Dwight came for a birthday dinner with my new friends Katherine and Jeff and ten of their friends, all from Red Deer or Calgary.

But by Saturday night at closing time, Brenda and I had hit a wall. It had been just the two of us since 5:30 and we hadn't stopped once. "I'll do the rest, Brenda; you go home to sleep," I urged, and she reluctantly left me along with the last customers.

I started to try to make some sense of the mayhem in the kitchen. There was no clean cutlery left, no plates or teapots. And dishes were piled precariously on top of one another everywhere I turned.

Suddenly, there he was: my Dad, who had just been quietly sitting in one of the chairs of The Hug table. "I'm here to help; what can I do?" 

And in short order he organized all the plates and glasses and china and silverware that were still in the dining room, even matching the cups with the saucers for ease of washing later.

Then he came back to the kitchen and tackled the soup pot. We stood at the two sinks, side by side, me on the left, him on the right, ploughing through dishes almost silently until the water ran cold and everything that was left would have to be done in the morning. As we worked I started to be able to breathe again, started to think that this whole staff shortage wasn't such a crisis after all. 

No pictures were taken to capture the moment. No pictures were needed to show the deep knowledge of how much our Dad loves us, just because we're his children.

And I thought to myself This is one of my favourite moments ever in Nilgiris.

Me and my Dad in the TH. I glanced over his shoulder at the clock on the stove. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just Another Weekend

Saturday morning came early, as weekends at the TH tend to do. I stumbled my way around the semi-dark periphery of the dining room, my intent being to open the blinds and brace myself for not only the Saturday but also for the weekend and the week ahead. We had been having such temperamental weather and I dreaded more cold with its accompanying soggy, clumping snow. Besides that, I had to prepare myself for the exigencies of our annual National Sales Conference. Everything - EVERYTHING - had to tick away with clockwork precision all weekend long if I were to make the red-eye flight, arrive at the conference an hour outside of Toronto and check in my computer before noon on Monday.

 As I came to the little bay with three windows, however, I was greeted with this lovely sight that caught something in the back of my throat and reminded me of the gift that is Alberta weather and the gift that is Doreen.

Doreen has artfully placed little objects of beauty in various unexpected locations throughout the TH, and one is this grouping of bird and bouquet. The early morning light had slipped in between two carelessly closed blinds and gently brought the arrangement to magical life. I silently patted the porcelain head of the dove and rested my hand for a moment on the silken petals of the hydrangea, sensing somehow they were a promise that the weekend was going to be infused with unpredictable beauty and unanticipated moments of light.

And it was, from the first phone call of the day - Ed, ringing to say that he would not be in this Saturday because he was basking in the glory of a snow-capped mountain glistening in the sunbeams of Banff. 

There was no shortage of people to take his place, though: we made three batches of quiches before Saturday was through. The butter chicken curry and accompanying raita came out better than ever before and was a popular choice for both lunch and dinner. Our guests were pleased to be in the TH and no one was in too much of a rush so we were able to cope with the reality of one staff member short on a bustling Saturday.

The music contributed too: my friend Mary, she of the knack of choosing the perfect gift for any occasion, had given me a pre-birthday present on Friday, Calgary's own 17-year-old Jan Lisiecki's new CD containing two Mozart piano concertos. I turned up the volume and the TH was awash in glorious melody. I fell in love with Mozart all over again ... 

That afternoon Brenda came in early to help us out, as she has been doing while we look for a new person to work the Saturday evening shift; and she and Jocelyn arranged a beautiful Afternoon Tea, booked as a birthday surprise from one dear friend for another, on antique cake stands. Cucumber with cream cheese and dill sandwiches jostled with warm orange-cranberry scones, vegetable samosas, egg salad triangles, miniature mango and chocolate mousses, pear with caramelized onion and brie quiches, fresh berry tarts, carrot cake and grapes and strawberries as brilliant as any rubies and peridots.

The friend whose birthday it was was speechless at first that she was the recipient of this largesse. She had never heard of afternoon tea before, never imagined that her friend would go to the trouble of arranging it for her. Once she had recovered, the two ladies nibbled away at the feast and chatted away with the ease and familiarity that only friends connected at the heart can attain. 

Saturday night and 9 p.m. came quickly; after everyone filed out, I managed to get both Sunday preparations and laundry started, my mouth humming with the licorice taste of sugar-coated fennel that my friend Lana gave me just before she and Richard filed out for the night.  I even got to bed before 2 a.m. ... but not before Doreen popped in for a post-closing cup of tea with Norma and me and announced that Franz, the Schubert cherry on the lawn, had broken into bud that day. Our Josh tree might not fare so well, she cautioned me. We had endured a winter that had taken its revenge on our trees. Still, she would see what she could do in the next little while.

Sunday afternoon and 3 p.m. crept up on us unawares, somehow. So many people were trying to get in early that Ed decided to sit outside with his pot of tea on this sparkling afternoon, and I thought of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. No one can forecast our often absurd weather with too much certainty; and Ed, sitting on the verandah for the first time this year, with the sun blazing down and the wind whipping the wind chimes into glorious cacophony, signalled the true beginning of Spring for me at the TH.

Curt, Jocelyn and I rushed our way through the afternoon and evening, with strategic assists from Doreen, Brenda, BA and Norma; and right at 9 p.m. we managed to shoo everybody out into the balmy evening. "Go pack!" I was urged. "You need to get out of here - we can take care of everything!"

So they did. I threw my things into my suitcase, collected computer and camera and phone and all the associated wires. With a round of hugs and a few words of thanks I headed off into the night and onto Highway 21.

The drive was another gift. The roads were clear and there was no deer, patrol cars or traffic. I arrived at the airport with time to spare. I was the last person to be accepted at Air Canada's Executive check-in before it closed for the night, and I scored an upgrade! 

Of course, all the coffee shops and juice bars in the airport were long closed; I did a little work on my computer, thankful for the free WiFi and thankful too that my broken computer had somehow managed, on its last outing, to pick up its signal.

And then, shortly after take-off, the flight attendant came by, murmuring that he would be handing out warm cookies and vanilla ice cream. The cookies were still in the oven, so here were some almonds and cashews to tide me over until he could bring the real snack.

Warm cookies and creamy ice cream at 1:15 in the morning? Why not?! It set the seal on a weekend that had been filled with moments of delight and crazy bubbling joy. 

Somehow, for the first time in any number of years, I was able to arrive in Toronto with a feeling of peace and anticipation for the week that was ahead of me.

And once again I was so grateful for the people who surround me and build me up and allow me to draw on their reserves of strength and kindness when mine are all but gone.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Make Your Mark!.

For the first time in decades, those of us who live in in Alberta have the opportunity to see our vote actually count in today's election.

  • Alberta Party
  • Liberal Party
  • Progressive Conservative Party
  • New Democratic Party
  • Wildrose Alliance Party
  • Four smaller parties
Nothing about the provincial election is a gimme this time. No vote is being taken for granted. Each vote matters. 

And it's not just our opportunity; it's our responsibility.

Please vote!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Choir Practice

The Choir at grad 2012
A great source of joy for Mum was creating, training, and building up a choir at the College. She herself used to sing on the radio when she was young and she knew what life and power music could bring to a program, how it could prepare hearts or uplift struggling spirits or bring an entire room together in praise and worship.

Mum was also the English teacher at the College. It was a rare student for whom English would be the first language. And students came from all over India, so English was perforce the medium through with everyone would study and communicate with their fellow students. The exceptions were for prayer - Dad would always insist that everyone should be free to pray in their mother tongue; after all, they were talking to God, not to impress the people around them - and for when there was sorrow. 

Burials in India are usually the same day or the day after the person passes away. A good percentage of our students would never reach home in time. Mum and Dad would open up their own home and the people from the tribe or the town of the grieving student were welcome to come in and talk and weep and sing and pray and console each other in their own language, while Mum and Dad would be in the background, offering coffee and tea and food and an arm around a shoulder or a word of counsel and comfort when requested.

Not only was Mum going to be teaching people who were not strong in English how to sing English hymns and songs and cantatas, she had another challenge to contend with: these students had no formal musical training, per se. As a matter of fact, they don't even read the same music we do. Rather, they use the solfage (more commonly called the sol-fa) system. Remember The Sound of Music and "Do[h] a deer, a female deer"? That. 

Could you recognize this tune?

sol do mi-do mi re do la sol
sol do mi-do mi re sol 

Easier for us when it's written like this:

d g b-g b a g e d
d g b-g b a d

But WAY better if we see it like this:

Not for the Choir! Most of Mum's music students had no understanding of the second or third methods of reading music. They were used only to the sol-fa method. They didn't know if they were sopranos, altos, tenors or bases - they just knew they loved to sing and they could harmonize with each other perfectly. 

And would Aunty teach them some songs?

In a couple of weeks she had a group up and singing in Sunday church. 

It turned out that the music part was fairly easy. It was the pronounciation, the synchronicity, the precision, that she would spend hours perfecting.


Dad would bake cakes from scratch during choir practice and bring them for the choir at the end of the rehearsal. Liza, the lady who helped us for so many years, would make tea or coffee.

The students would try not to think about assignments due and tests to study for and whether that tall bass singer from the neighbouring tribe could possibly be interested in the tiny soprano in the row in front of him. They would brace themselves for marathon sessions, especially at graduation, Easter and Christmas. They rarely complained. 

The policy was - and is - that men and women did not socialize. But in choir they were forced to, weren't they? What could be done when you were trying to learn your parts?

There were always refreshments. There were always pronunciation drills ("NOT 'tares' - 'teers' - it's important to say it right!", where the original word was written 'tears'). There was practice for rising in unison and being seated in unison. They practised walking onto the stage and off. They stood up straight. They endured cajoling and chastisement. They laughed together and cried together.

They knew she was super strict - hadn't they all suffered through her English classes?! - but they knew that she was absolutely fair and that they could come to her for anything.

They knew two more things: first, that the message in the song was the most important thing. All the rehearsals and the precision and the harmony would be for nought if the message didn't come through, first for the choir members and their leader and then for the audience for whom they would be singing.

And secondly, they knew she loved them.

When they heard of her death, scores of letters and emails came to Dad from people who had been in her choir. "She really loved me," many of them wrote, mourning her passing.

And now we were back in Bangalore, where her music ministry is ably continued by Mung No, someone who came up learning music from her and is now a teacher at the College and the music director. He knows how she would expect it to be done, and he carries on in her way. Last year's Christmas Cantata was so well attended by the neighbourhood and guests that they hastily had to arrange for a second performance.

At this year's conference Dad, Debs and I saw the enormous amounts of effort the students were putting in to get extra music ready, even as they studied and sat their final exams. We thought of what Mum would have done for them. And we decided that the least we could do is to take them out for lunch to say that we loved them and that we appreciated all that they did to enhance not just the tone of the meetings that week but the spirit of the whole campus throughout the year.

Raj (of course!) knew the very spot we should take them to. There was a buffet within walking distance of the College, not more than ten minutes. We reserved for 60 people.

Dad and I went ahead; Debs would come with the choir as a chaperone of sorts. And then we waited. And waited. Ten minutes it might be for people motivated to walk quickly and get eating. But here was a rare occasion for socializing, and the distance magically stretched for about 40 minutes ...

The buffet line. Many pictures were clicked
in honour of the occasion ...
Eventually everyone arrived and found a place to sit. We explained the principles of a buffet as most of them had never experienced the wonder of being able to go up as many times as you want and get as much as you want to eat for one price. Pepsi included!
Betraying SO MUCH of what I stand for -
holding my nose and drinking P**** -
don't tell my nephews, for goodness' sake!
Dad asked the blessing in the various corners of the restaurant and then the students, gently guided by Mung No, went to the buffet counter and were served by smiling, affable men. The manager of the restaurant recognized the ethnicity of some of the students - a couple of his employees were from the same place in North India! Everyone was delighted with each other and with the food.
Dad and Debs with Mung No

"This is what we miss from Aunty," Mung No said wistfully. "There is no eating together like we used to. That really builds unity, when we can eat together like this." 

That night the choir sang "No More Night" by Walt Harrah. Here are the words:

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away. 
It’s not a dream, God will make all things new that day. 
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell. 
Evil is banished to eternal hell.

No more night. No more pain.
No more tears. Never crying again. 
Praises to the great "I AM." 
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb.

See all around, now the nations bow down to sing. 
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King. 
Slowly the names from the book are read. 
I know the King; there’s no need to dread.

No more night. No more pain.
No more tears. Never crying again. 
Praises to the great "I AM." 
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb.

See over there, there’s a mansion prepared for me,
Where I will live with my Saviour eternally.

No more night. No more pain.
No more tears. Never crying again. 
Praises to the great "I AM." 
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb.
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb. 
Hallelujah to the risen Lamb!

I recorded the song on my inferior camera, and fans rattled their percussion overhead, but if you click on the link, you will get the idea of the joy and the harmony - and the message.

Don't you think Mum would have LOVED this?

Isn't she living it right now?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Almost Midnight ...

... and I feel like I want to go home. 

But tonight I'm not sure what home looks like.

Home is where the heart is, they say; and

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I have treasures in many places: people I love, memories I cherish, dreams I tuck away. Can one's heart be in many places at the same time; or does it require that heart be splintered, broken apart, in order to be able to hold all the loveliness?

Tonight my heart feels adrift. When will it reach harbour? And where?

(moon over Coimbatore)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Admission Fees

Arenla called Dad yesterday evening. They had just received the money for the Admission fee: In just about 18 hours from when I'm writing this, Raj and Arenla are going to be at Frank Anthony's Junior School, paying the deposit that makes Rebecca an official student next semester.

Dad said Arenla was so excited, so very happy. She thanked him and also told him to thank everyone who helped make this happen.

Thanks to each one of you who contributed to this little girl's future. It turned out that our dollar is extremely strong right now, so there was enough in the exchange rate to be able to buy her books as well! (Coincidence? I think not ...)

And as I am writing this I received an email from Sarah, Ed's wife, which reads in part:

"I talked to Raja today and he had the D.D. check made for Rebecca's school and will pay tomorrow. Thank you so much for all you did for him and his family, if anyone deserves it Raja, Aren and Rebecca do."

Working on "Grandpa's" sore back
a few days after his fall ...
It will be exciting to see what our Becca will be able to accomplish, given a chance.

It will be even more exciting to see what God will accomplish through her and how she will touch and bless others because of being blessed herself.

I can't wait to see her in her little school uniform, chattering away with new friends she's going to meet. Some wonderful news: the daughter of Raj's friend who is a pharmacist was also admitted at the same time Becca was!

Our girl's off to school!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Night Before Easter

What must this night have been like for the followers of Jesus, I wonder? 

The disciples were falling apart, in disarray.

The women, hearts stricken, were counting the dreadful hours until they could anoint His body.

The officials were nervous; they put a 24-hour guard against the tomb.

But what about Lazarus? Lazarus was a walking testament to the love and the resurrection power of Christ.

The widow of Nain's son was up and about and thriving.

The people who rose out of the tombs that were opened on the night of the crucifixion itself were in the cities and the burbs surrounding this city. They were at home again, and they were talking about the miraculous power of God. They wanted others to see it too.

I saw it tonight at the TH.

My first glimpse was of crutches propped under lanky arms in the entry way. I went to the inner door and there stood my friend Morley.

His beautiful Donna was right behind him.

After long, long months in the hospital and then the care centre, he was released to come home on Thursday.

The road ahead will not be an easy one. Lots of physiotherapy and patience will be required.

But Morley is home! Truly God is good.

Prayers of thanksgiving
With Fabio, their devoted friend throughout the
past months and years

A kinder, gentler Morley, to be sure ...
but still our old Morley!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Slave Trader and the Cross

John Newton: Misfit. Deserter. Slave trader. "Servant of slaves" himself. This 
man wrote the hymn, below, in the 1770s:

I saw One hanging on a tree

by John Newton

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood;
He fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure never till my latest breath,
Shall I forget that look!
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
And helped to nail Him there.

Alas! I knew not what I did,
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain.

A second look He gave, which said,
"I freely all forgive;
This blood is for your ransom paid;
I die that you may live."

Thus while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too!

John Newton became one of the forces behind William Wilberforce, a British Member of Parliament who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in England.

How much we have to be thankful for in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ! He died for the sins of John Newton. He died for my sins. On good Friday the words of this hymn bring to life what He endured - for me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

No. 27

The morning we arrived in Bangalore Raj drove us to get money exchanged and to Dad's barber. On the way he told us what was going on with his family and with his daughter, Rebecca, in particular.

Becca had been short-listed - out of over 800 applicants - in Frank Anthony's Junior School admission process. There were 55 seats available. The first preference would go to siblings of existing students, so that really left about 30 seats free for new students. And Becca had made the first cut; now she was up against 154 other shortlisters.

Becca is four years old. Getting into a good school in India is imperative because education is your only ticket out when you are not born into the upper middle class. Everyone in the family feels the pressure, including the four-year-old.

We had to travel quite a bit this time; each time Raj drove us to the airport he would say earnestly, "Please pray for Becca's situation, Uncle ..."

The school goes into a cone of silence after the short list is released. There is to be no solicitation for information or favours. It does not accept bribes or incentives, a time-honoured aid to admission in many institutions here. What the hopeful families are told is that the list will be posted in the school compound on such and such a date at 2 p.m. sharp. They can come and check the list at that time to see if their child has gained a seat. No phone calls please.

The date this year was Monday, March 26. And as things worked out, Dad, Deb and I would be in Bangalore that day. Dad had his last haircut scheduled for ... 2 pm.

You're going to read soon about the tea parties we had with our kids this trip. All the kids wanted a tea party and Deb and I were happy to oblige (as you can imagine!). But Becca had never asked for a tea party. She was content to be invited to one of them and she loved the whole experience. We decided that Becca needed her own tea party. And it was going to be scheduled for Tuesday, March 27. It would be in the nature of either a celebration or a consolation.

Let me tell you a bit about Becca. She's a tiny imp of a girl, bright and beautiful and engaging. You can't help but love her. Her mother is the newly appointed head of a little Montessori kindergarten and preschool; her father pretty much sees to the practical workings of the campus. But despite their busy lives and their financial situation, her parents have invested deeply in their precious daughter's life. Becca is always dressed in clean, sweet clothes; and she has impeccable manners for a child her age. She says the proper pleases and thank yous; she never pushes herself forward; she can speak intelligently and thoughtfully; she adores both her Papa and her Mama; and she has a tender heart. One day we exclaimed to her, "Becca, your Papa is the best cook we know!" and she immediately responded, "And my Mama is too!" She is sensitive beyond her years and has learnt not to make demands of her parents, knowing that they might not be able to fulfil them.

And now she was bearing the weight of this school application. She too was praying that she would get in.

One day at the beginning of our stay she wasn't feeling all that well, so Deb told her mother to let her come spend the morning with us up in our room. She lay down for a while and then was coaxed into writing and drawing by a promise of sparkly nail polish being applied to all twenty digits. She drank some Limca and after that it was a short step to "clicking" on the camera and Deb's iPhone. She started telling stories and was concerned about Grandpa, who was dozing in the next room.
Writing a story
Nail polish!

Showing Grandpa her pictures
Grandpa clicking the two of them

Playing Itsy Bitsy Spider
with Auntie Kaybee ...

Checking out the laptop

Discovering the magic that
is Pop Rocks candy ...

"Auntie Kaybee, who did your hair?"
(with evident displeasure, tucking the tendrils
around Debs' face behind her ears)
She couldn't say Auntie Karyn so I suggested she call me Auntie K. The next thing we knew, Debs had become Auntie Kaybee. From this day on, Becca became Auntie Kaybee's girl and would search her out in church, and when we were in our rooms she would pop up to say hi.

On the Sunday night, March 25, Raj was visibly distressed. We were invited out for dinner with the charming Richie and Katherine and their children; Raj could hardly eat. As he dropped us off, he begged quietly, "Sister, please remember Becca in your prayer tonight ..."

On Monday morning Raj brought us our usual tea and Dad's hot lemon. He looked awful; he told us he had not slept at all the night before. 

"God is in control," Dad encouraged him.

"If she doesn't get in, where will you put her?" I asked curiously; and I immediately wished I could have bitten out my tongue as he looked anguished, stricken.

Later Debs told me that if she didn't get in, Becca would probably end up going to a small, local school with unqualified teachers and little or no chance for academic success. Any other good schools were far beyond Raj's and Arenla's price range; Frank Anthony itself was going to be too much for them but at least they could try to work something out.

The day crawled by. I went with my adopted niece Chloe to check on a book; and I decided to pick up some books, school supplies and a little pair of pink bookends for Becca, either for congratulations or for consolation. 

Finally it was just before 2 pm and Debs and I were getting ready to walk with Dad to his barber. Raj said he would drive him on his motorbike; Debs and I would walk to the place and meet Dad there. 
On our way we had to pass Frank Anthony. Right as we reached the first gate, the clock showed 2 pm. We looked at each other. "Should we?" we asked. We decided that we had to know. The guard at the gate sent us down to the next gate. As we approached we saw a little crowd gathered in front of a couple of easels holding signs. We looked at each other again and knew we had to go in. 

As we pushed open the gate and stepped inside, someone rushed over to us. "She made it! She's on the list!" Arenla breathed, her face wreathed in smiles, holding her daughter in her arms. And then she dialled Raj's cell phone; she had been waiting and the list had been posted precisely at 2 pm.

"Make sure! She's number 27!!" Arenla urged us after talking with Raj, so we worked our way to the front of the group:
Sure enough, there was our girl, No. 27, the seventh child chosen after the brothers and sisters had been given seats ...

At that moment Raj arrived. He was beside himself with joy. He peered at the notice board and then picked up his little girl and hugged her like he would never let her go. (The lead picture is the two of them, with the school in the background.)
With Mama ...
... and with Auntie Kaybee

There were many people who came to examine the board while we hung about, not wanting to leave and break the spell. Some people stared for long moments at the different pages and then turned around and quietly walked away, their faces empty.

But one man caught our eye. He was a Hindu with fresh red markings on his forehead, indicating that he had been praying recently. He checked the notice board; then he withdrew and called someone on his cell phone; then he went and checked the notice board again. This happened several times (he is actually standing in the background of the picture of people reading names, above - on his cell phone, of course!). We walked over to him and asked him if his child had got a place. As if we needed to ask; his beaming face told the whole story. He shook our hands vigorously. "This is a very lucky thing," he explained to us. "This is a very good school. So many people want their children to come here. Only God could have got my child admission to here."

We read the procedure that was expected to be followed in order to complete the admissions process, and Arenla asked if I would click the rules so that she could have them for later on:

The admission fee seemed so steep for our friends. It totals about Rs. 45,000; this number does not include tuition, school supplies, text books, uniforms, all those other little expenses that a person simply forgets about until she's there in the thick of it.

Raj and Arenla between them make about Rs. 10,000 per month, plus their little apartment and utilities. There are about Rs. 50 to our dollar right now. The admission fee alone is four and a half months' salary.

So the next day they went, as commanded by the notice, to acknowledge and officially register their little No. 27. In the meeting, Raj asked if there were any allowances made for hardship or if the admission fee could be broken down into payments.

"NO - can't you read?" screeched the woman at him ...

... And now you know why it is so very important for Becca's Papa that his girl gets into a good school. Raj - one of the smartest men I know, with the ability to speak ten languages fluently and with amazing mechanical, electrical, culinary, driving, organizational and communication skills - never really had a true opportunity to go to school. As he approaches his fortieth birthday he feels that it is too late for him; but he wants more for his daughter. He, perhaps more than most, realizes the priceless value of a good education. And he will do whatever he can to secure this opportunity for her.

Tuesday morning, March 27, saw Dad, Debs and I heading out to breakfast at Woodlands with Mr Subbaiah, a little tradition we celebrate each time we come back to India. After breakfast Debs and I decided that Becca needed her own tea set, so we shot down to Commercial Street and Debs bought a little china tea pot and six beautiful cups and saucers. We had brought a brand new tea cozy with us from the TH, so that was going to go to our little girl too. We got home to find she had finished her school for the morning and was just coming to look for us. Raj had made tea for us, so we filled up the tea pot, got out lemon tarts and curd and pulled out the magic carpet that makes all tea parties the stuff of fairy tales. Debs gave Princess Becca a new blue dress to wear for her tea party and I quickly washed the cups and saucers.

Becca took to hostessing like a duck to water. She set out cups and saucers, poured tea and organized where everyone would sit. But before we started to partake she said grace. In her beautiful, earnest little voice she thanked God with great sincerity for her Mama and Papa, for Grandpa and Auntie Kaybee and Auntie K, for getting her into her new school, for her very own tea set; and she thanked Him for her tea party.

 Debs dished up the curds; but Becca poured the tea and served everything to us. Each time she looked at her little tea pot or her pretty dress or her cup and saucer, she would say, "Aww, so cute!"

Then after tea she sang us one of her favourite songs: "Read your Bible, pray every day and you'll grow, grow, grow ..."

Right before it was time for her to leave, we gave her the books and the school supplies. She was very excited, as was her mother. "So cute!" she said again as she examined the dictionary, five little story books and the magic markers and pencil crayons and sketch book.

She thanked us profusely and told us she was going to have a tea party with her Papa when he came home after lunch.

That evening, at around 6 pm, came a little knock on our door; there stood Becca's mum, holding three thank-you cards that Becca had made for us out of some of the paper in the sketch book we had given her. "It was her idea - all I did was help her with the spelling. She wanted to thank you," Arenla told us.

How can one's heart not melt when confronted by a child like Becca? How can one not want the best for her in every area?

Please keep Raj and Arenla in your thoughts and prayers as they attempt to come up with the initial Admission fee (thankfully, a one-time thing). It amounts to about a thousand dollars and is due on Friday, April 13, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Rules are rules, after all, and there can be no deviation from the instruction sheet ... 

Pray for them as they seek to raise this treasured daughter to be the best person she can be.

And pray for our Rebecca as she takes this enormous step in her little life. She will need courage and diligence and wisdom. She will need encouragement and discipline and guidance.

One thing we know she will never lack, our little No. 27, is love. That she has in abundance.