Hope is an Open Door

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…

This was a line from a song called ‘Oceans’ we sang in church on Sunday, and it embodied everything I had been feeling over the last week. You can listen to it below at the end of the article..

Dad’s improvement is still amazing to see. He now eats three large, full bowls of food (bowls much larger than the one in the picture in my post ‘Miracle of the Mundane’), besides breakfast and snacks, and he’s always hungry. He walks more and is actually walking almost normally now rather than shuffling. The swelling in his feet is less, and he’s passing more urine than before.

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Then and Now!

The child of our watchman’s family has been discharged from hospital, and with the loving care and prayers of the nurses and doctors, rectifying wrong feeding habits and proper medicine, the child improved almost immediately, and his eager feeding shows how hungry he has been. This is the first time our watchman and his wife have come back from a hospital with a sense of peace about them, and in better spirits than when they left. They are now in a place we can get them into a regular pattern of going for check ups and being in touch with people who know their condition and who care about them. The improvement came at a time we know the child has a high chance of being HIV and TB positive.

Our final session for this year has begun at LIFE Education Center and in spite of the many difficulties and challenges, it was encouraging to hear many testimonies of improvement from our students on Friday during our report and certificate giving ceremony. My grade 8 class in Bridges continues, but on Friday, for the first time, I had students who could hardly speak a sentence of English, actually meet the challenge of coming up to the front of the class, and describe in the English they had learned, a sequenced wordless picture story on the screen. It was great to see the effort many were making to construct sentences with words and grammar they had learned, rather than depend on rote learning. Today I gave them an unannounced writing assignment to be completed in class using the grammatical structure and vocabulary they had been learning, and it was heartening to see several of them starting to show some cohesiveness in their sentences and more care with spellings and grammar.

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My little grade 8 classroom. The orderly rows belie the chaos that can sometimes ensue!

And wonder of wonders, following the 4 months of developing the idea of having vision and goals in the Tuesday morning ‘Thought for the Day’ with Bridges Academy grades 8 and 9, 13 students signed up for a more serious developing of their vision and goals, which will provide many stories for sure over the next few months, and although several are clearly in it without any real idea of what it means to be serious about it, there are others whom I am sure will benefit from the follow through.

These are some of the many answers to prayer we have been experiencing again and again, and they fuel and strengthen hope. Some of these situations seesaw, expectedly, because of their nature. But that’s all right. It doesn’t take away the hope, because as I’ve said before, the hope doesn’t depend on them or their outcomes.

I’ve been thinking about hope a lot as I’ve struggled with handling stress. I’ve begun to realize that hope means there is a future; and a future means there is something ahead waiting; perhaps a destination, a vision, a plan yet to complete. And this is important; it prevents engaging with all the situations described above from becoming a chore. Hope gives us courage because it shows us a future in what we are engaged in because many situations and people that we are engaged with are unavoidable, and that surely means God has allowed them to come before us to either shape us, or to be transformed by us, or more likely, both. I find that the more hope I have, the more I am engaged with people. It’s like an open door. I see possibilities when I have hope. I take greater risks and step in out of my depth when I have hope.

And aren’t teachers meant to be dreamers and adventurers; captains of ships that sail over the edge of the earth?

I pray for the great Family of teachers that I am so privileged to be part of, across every nation and tongue, and for myself – may we be filled with passion, with excitement of life, with love for the students in our care. May we know the love and passion of God, the Great Teacher and Father of all, who speaks through everything He has made, and whose spark we carry. And may we have Hope in the midst of every circumstance and trial; the Hope born by the Price paid for us that sets us free to be everything that we’re meant to be.

And may we go in deeper than our feet could ever wander…

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Disruption and Hope

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Just when you thought your class was going well…

I’m sure the picture is familiar to lots of us who are teachers!

This session I’ve had virtually no students in my normal classes with LIFE Education Language School, thus freeing me up to stand in the gap for Bridges Academy, our sister concern, and take classes for their Grade 8 which does not have a teacher. The last month has been spent gaining some semblance of order among the kids so that I can conduct effective classes. I thought I had finally got the class into a place where I could teach effectively.

Then last week, I had multiple interruptions to my class from children who clearly haven’t had any sense of order in their lives for many years, few boundaries, and unstable homes due their being refugees. Add to this teenage hormones, and the mixture is potent enough to go through lead. As usual, it’s a few who are holding up the many.

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A digital artwork I had created many years ago using Chaoscope and Paint.NET, which describes how the class feels at times. Incidentally, the name I had given this piece was ‘Car Crash’!

In the end, in the chemical reaction of hectic days, one thought crystallized, ‘I’ve got to win my class over; they can’t be viewed constantly as troublemakers.’ There had to be a way to get the troublesome core interested in learning, and starting to follow my class rules and boundaries. I’ve started to reach out to the boys who keep erupting in class, and I’m praying for changes in their thinking and hearts. I hope and pray that I won’t lose any one of them.

A couple of days ago, all the boys turned up looking really smart in class with their ties on and shirts tucked in. At first it felt like a prank, but then it turned out to be genuine, and there is a sense of greater cooperation as well. It looks like it was worth it joining them in wearing a tie (something that has aroused much mirth and ribbing from the teachers at LIFE Education)! However, it’s clear that this is going to be an uphill task, and taking the class still feels like riding a wild horse. Today, ironically, when an important homework assignment was due, about 1/3 of the class was absent, and I know I’ll have problems with those who’ve missed today’s important lessons in which we moved forward in what we were learning.

As the picture in my last post says, ‘Journeys need hope’.

And downstairs in the building where I live, my watchman’s family continues to struggle to manage the disruption of their own HIV positive condition, and the illness of their 9 month old child who is showing many signs of being positive too. After months of suggesting, gently reminding and encouraging, last Saturday we saw their living space, for the first time, bound in from the outside with plastic to keep the chill and wind out, swept clean, and with everything neatly arranged. It was unbelievable! The child was still continuing to be sick with fever and chest congestion after many days of treatment, and we had arranged for a checkup again to see what was happening, with the result that the child has been admitted and is under treatment. But the sight last Saturday gave us hope that God is working in them towards change, regardless of how painfully or slowly the change is being birthed.

Each small step forward is like a battle, and each hope soon comes under assault.

We’re always faced by what seem to be insurmountable difficulties. I’ve had to think often of how real the hope I have is. And whether I would write these things if I had failure assured before me.

And the signs are very many

Of a very real Hope,

Because It doesn’t depend on me,

Or on the disruptions surrounding me.

But It is a Gift, given before creation, of the price of all this pain paid for, and atoned for. A Love so big that It bleeds over everything that exists. It bleeds over me, over all that I do; It soaks me in forgiveness, redeems everything I do, blesses me with lavishness beyond description, and tells me I am the apple of my Father’s eye.

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Slain Before Creation – the perfect atoning sacrifice decided upon before even the world was made

How can I not have hope,

though it come under assault

every day?

The Hope of a Future…or a Future of Hope?

I’ve been taking my dad for walks as often as I can, and a few days ago, he did a full six rounds with me in the parking lot downstairs, without stopping or getting tired. It was a special moment as I could see how far he’s come since his decline over a month ago. He now is hungry most of the time, asks often for food, eats much more than he’s been eating in a very long time, and is much more cheerful generally. I’m grateful for the answers to many prayers that people have been praying for him. Just this morning Lydia and I were talking about the amazing grace in Dad’s life that we’ve consistently seen over the years, and the hope we have in God.

Some months ago, an ESL student of mine emailed me thanking me for the class because he’d got the score he’d wanted in an English proficiency level test that he’d been preparing for, and I was touched because he also wanted to take me out for a meal. That’s quite something when the person is young enough to be your own son! After weeks of unending work, we were able to meet up for dinner four days back.

It was a very special evening.

We spent about 2 hours sharing our stories, and I was struck again and again by the difficulties his family has faced having to leave their home country of Afghanistan, moving to India, and somehow in the face of impossibilities, trying to re-establish their lives and provide stability to their children. The stories were poignant, and again and again, I could hear the yearning cry in this young man’s voice for a future. I was aware I was treading on the sacred ground of someone’s pain.

I’ve gone through the document that outlines the government’s policy on refugees in India, and am well aware of how difficult it is for someone who is a genuine refugee without much money, to not just live in Delhi, but to start their life over again, continue their education and get a job. I’m aware of the long, repeated, frustrating journeys to the UNHCR office to get that precious ‘blue card’ that is the open door to education and jobs, and that after 3 years, you may still be refused. And you cannot go back home, because ‘home’ now means war, terror and possible death, and you are not rich enough to try to leave India. Many families face a very bleak future as refugees in India. There are very few things one can say to stories of this nature that don’t sound trite and pointless. And as I listened to my student, I was asking God what I could say that would give this young man with dreams and aspirations, some real hope.

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Refugee Status Denied – The title of a work of art done by a friend of mine, Suzanne Burgos.

I had got to know Suzanne while I was writing on Renderosity, an online community of artists, and she had graciously allowed me to use her art in my work as a teacher. I had not been in contact for some years, and as her name came back to mind today because I wanted to use one of her images in this post, I found out that she had passed away of cancer in 2013. You can visit her site on WordPress HERE

The word ‘hope’ has been coming back again and again to me over many days. I see a constant assault on it being waged. At 91 (my dad’s age), I am filled with hope for my dad’s future, and his gain of health shows me a future of hope that God has graced him with. And because I know the love and kindness of God, I see hope for my student, even in the midst of such difficulties and perplexities. I know God will answer prayer, and is even now hearing this young man’s cry for a future. I commit his dreams and aspirations into God’s hands knowing that that is the best place for them; that they will be safe and held precious in God’s sight.

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The Day of Small Beginnings

Many years ago Dad had spent many months writing an account of his life, which he gave me to read when it was complete. It was a long, difficult read, not because it was boring or badly written, but because I’d had no idea of the nature of the difficulties he’d had growing up, and that he’d faced later in life. There were also the unmistakeable signs of the grace of God working in and guiding him in life, leading him to take decisions that would profoundly affect his future, and his family (Mom and me). Although I sometimes didn’t know how to respond to what he’d written, I’m very glad that I did take that closer look into my dad’s life and, in many ways, the origins of mine.

One of the things that I will never forget is his struggle with English.

Surprised?

Some of you reading this will know him as an English teacher with a deep love for literature and words, later to become one of the all India examiners for grading class 12 I.S.C. board exam papers in English. Well, the truth is that he didn’t know any English when he was young. He’d written about desperately wanting to learn English when he was a boy, and struggling terribly with the language. The desperation was enough to fuel him to start a lifelong journey to master the language that he ultimately fell in love with. I often tell my ESL students about him to encourage them in their journey of getting grips on this odd, globally dominating language.

Well, the untold story is about the legacy that struggle created for me, and the wonder of what I, and my daughter, have inherited. You see, I’ve no idea of what it is to struggle with English, to try and understand it, read it, write it or to speak it. It’s never been a struggle because Dad always spoke to me in English, and because I inherited his love for books, which has obviously passed on to my daughter Hannah, I’ve never struggled reading English, and because I love stories and enjoyed writing essays in school, I’ve never struggled writing it. Barring spelling (!), my daughter has little struggle with the language too.  Today I teach English to others who are often desperate to learn it.

If my dad had not kept alive and pursued his desire for English, I would never have grown up in an environment in which English was the medium of communication, and neither would my daughter. His day of small beginnings was his first struggle with the language. None of us could have guessed the ramifications of that decision to pursue what was for him, a foreign language. I’m very, very grateful that he never gave up. Teaching ESL has given me a profound appreciation of the struggles that English learners face.

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Weak, vulnerable and insignificant…small beginnings.

We all have multiple chances to make key choices that will change the history of our lives as well as the lives of others. Many months ago, the sight of our watchman’s wife lying with her tiny baby on the floor of the garage was so unbearable and inexplicable, that it got Lydia and me involved to find out what the matter was. That involvement, little did we know then, would lead to first, medical treatment of an obviously very sick woman, and then the discovery that both parents were HIV positive. Then followed the realization that our involvement had to be for the long haul. It was necessary to start walking with this family on their journey of pain, and we are praying, ultimately joy.

There is no question that God has saved our watchman’s wife’s life, has intervened to save the life of the child, when four others have died before this one, and intervened with great love and compassion in our watchman’s life. It was not a coincidence that we came to this building, and that we have friends as our neighbours, and other friends who are doctors and health workers who have been praying, guiding us with invaluable advice and insights, and sharing and making resources available. Slow change in this family’s life has started. History is being made for the little child who is almost certainly positive too (we are still awaiting test results to come from AIIMS). And whatever may befall, there is no regret that we engaged with the situations presented to us with the many limitations we have.

The day of small beginnings is never to be despised.

The Miracle of the Mundane

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Spaceship food!

We’ve possibly read or heard stories about interstellar travel in which the astronauts live off food paste out of tubes- the brownish staple that somewhat tastes the same whether it’s labelled ‘Chicken’ or ‘Broccoli’. Well, dad’s diet is now about the same, but in bowls rather than tubes. The evening tastes a bit better because of the blend of yoghurt and fruit, with some chapati, but it largely looks the same and tastes, when I sample it, more or less the same. Imagine this everyday for all meals. Dad has been eating it without complaint because it’s so much easier for him without teeth.

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Getting ready for dinner.

And for me it’s the same routine of getting up, picking out the food, cutting and washing it, cooking it, blending it, storing it in containers with instructions on when to have it, and trying to make sure that I can reach classes on time after that. The trick is that it’s the same food for the family as there’s no time to do two sets of cooking, and I have to make sure that it’s fairly tasty, but also with limited spice as that upsets Dad’s stomach.

And like all routines I feel tempted to think that I’d like a break, or that it’s getting tedious. I’m sure teachers feel like that sometimes! I know people bury these thoughts because of the fear of other people’s disapproval.

I found a really cool picture that embodied these thoughts.

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I wish my life was different!

But one day, as I was dealing with the feelings involved in this, I remembered one of the professional development sessions I’d had with our faculty. It involved a talk given by Yves Morieux,  a French business consultant, who had a very interesting view on the dropping productivity of the times. In his talk Yves Morieux shows the video of a 4 x 100 m relay race, in which, interestingly, it was the slower French team which won the race over the stronger US team. In his talk Yves shares the insight that although the French team had individually slower times than the US team, something ‘mysterious’ happened as the baton was transferred to the final runner. He showed how the runner imparted through her voice and demeanour, something that slowed down her legs but which seemed to cause the last runner to take the baton and make an extraordinary run. He said that the important thing is not how fast we run but how we transfer our ‘batons’ that cause people that we are involved with to ‘run’ faster or better. You can watch the video below.

As I was watching his video I’d had a sense of revelation, of God whispering something important in my ear. It was what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:27 about God using the weak and foolish things of the world to shame that which is strong and wise. And as I asked the question in return, ‘But how do the weak and foolish overcome, and how can they be used with such strength because they lack those very things that are needed to overcome and for God to use them effectively?, the answer came to me of how a transformed life becomes so other-centric that it becomes a perfect vehicle for God to use to serve others, so that whatever we do, we do not for ourselves, but for the building up of others and for God’s glory.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot when I cook, when I make my dad’s mush, when I teach difficult students; when, like today, I leave a badly-needed morning of rest at home to go with a friend to the government children’s hospital to help move the lagging treatment of our watchman’s 9 month old child forward. It makes our watchman’s run easier, and takes some of the burden off him, as he deals with his family’s medical issues and their implications (and that is another story). It makes it easier for me and takes the weight off my shoulders because my friend has sacrificed his morning off to help.

This is the miracle of the mundane.

Each necessary, sacrificial, ‘monotonous/tedious’ thing we do that makes someone else’s life easier and more fruitful, is worth it and invaluable, never to be regretted. How can we do any less when God has loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son for us, so that whoever believes in Him may not be destroyed, but have life forever?

Heavy Fuel

There’s a sign on our LIFE Education Language School faculty lounge door (yes, the dream came true – we actually have one – a lounge, not the door, but it does have a door, the lounge – sorry, as a language teacher, I just couldn’t resist that sentence!)

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But what does it say?? Let’s take a closer look.

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Aha! ‘We turn coffee into education’.

I’m sure there’ll be a resounding ‘Yes!’ from most teachers I know. If not coffee, then certainly it’s that cup of chai that picks you up when you’re flagging between classes. What would we do without our faithful Kheem, who brings in those hot cups with his inimitable smile? Kheem, the person wielding the most power in our institute. When he’s not around, deprived of their cups that cheer, teachers are reduced to abject wrecks, feebly picking their way through the afternoon.

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Our invaluable Kheemji!

It’s 1:20 am and I’ve just finished helping Hannah pack for her first school camp. She’s going to be up in a couple of hours to get ready and reach school by 6 am. At 11 pm I had been starting to feel as if my brain was incapable of thought. A long day meeting parents of children studying in Bridges Academy, our ‘sister’ institute for Afghan kids, catching up with our teachers, fairly unsuccessfully trying to deal with a rude and unreasonable client, coming home and spending some time with Dad who doesn’t want to wear his hearing aid, but who wants to talk, getting his evening meal of blended fruit and curd together, making sure he’s taken his tonic and other medicines, catching up on correspondence while waiting for Lydia and Hannah to come back home after shopping for the camp, and all the while knowing that the packing for camp still remained, along with undone lesson prep for tomorrow. Lydia, already exhausted with the multiple trips to buy things for the camp, is catching some sleep before she wakes up at, probably, 4 am to get things ready to go. And at close to midnight, I give in and have a cup of coffee. And the brain gets going. And things get done. And Hannah is finally in bed.

It really seems sometimes, that what fuels teachers is the caffeine through the oftentimes very tiring day. But then I thought about it, and decided that what I would like to read in that cup on the sign is ‘We turn grace into learning’. There is story upon story that we can all share of the grace of our loving God that carries us through the day, and sometimes the night. In the midst of the irritations and chafing situations, Jesus’ words come back again, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ 

I sit here now, writing this, conscious of God’s presence and grace, the sweet comfort that He more than understands; that He shares the nights of labour as well as the days of toil, and this is worth it, very worth it, immeasurably worth it to have the God of the Universe alongside us in labour, sharing the sweat, the tears, the joys and the pains, as He works in us and through us to do His will. It was worth it to have the cup of coffee that ruined my night’s sleep, but that woke me up enough to spend this very early morning with the God who has saved me, forgiven my sins and gives me more than enough grace to live each day. I pray asking Him to take the burden of tiredness and the dread of an unprepped class away from me, and to change me through this.

Teachers all, may we always experience this amazing grace of God in our work and in our lives, as we give each day into His hands.

Amazing Grace

Dad had not been passing much urine and with the history of his kidney condition and the increased swelling of his feet, I had been apprehensive of what was going on in his system. About 2 months ago he’d had a low platelet count, relapsed infection in his kidney, highish urea and creatinine, blood and numerous WBCs in his urine, low Haemoglobin and RBC count, and on top of all that, since he completed his last antibiotic course, he’d completely lost the desire for food and was starting to eat next to nothing. Then he suddenly wasn’t passing much urine at all.

Many people who know, love and respect him have been praying. Today when I got the blood and urine tests done, I wasn’t sure what the readings would show.

And then the shock! For the first time in years, the routine urine test has come out normal. With mounting excitement, I looked at the blood reports, and saw that his platelet count is adequate, and most of his critical readings are normal, except for a highish creatinine and a lowered Haemoglobin. I had told two friends in the last couple of days that if his test results came out normal, it would be a miracle. And that’s what I saw today. Of course, I will get medical advice regarding the creatinine and take necessary steps, but it’s more than obvious that God has heard and answered prayer.

And, because he’s over 90 years old and very frail, each day that he successfully lives through is a gift of God’s grace and mercy to him and to us as well. But what an answer – the unheard of normal urine report! Many times as we’ve looked after him, as many old people understandably are, he’s been fretful and anxious, and has often resisted our efforts to stabilize his health, but I’m so glad that we persisted and asked God to intervene. He was very happy to hear about his results. And what a parable of God’s amazing grace towards us when we fret and are anxious, and resist His efforts to stabilize our lives, but the overwhelming love of God the Father of all persists with us and intervenes, and in the end what joy there is in His presence and redemption.

I still don’t know how many days dad and mom have with us on this earth, and we don’t know what tomorrow may bring, but the joy of today is enough, and seeing the handiwork of Christ’s grace and favour in their lives through their choice to believe in and follow Him, we can rest assured of the future, just like He speaks through the prophet Jeremiah in the Bible in chapter 29, verse 11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,’ Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’