December 11 was a strange day.
In the death of our watchman’s baby (you can read about this in the post Red is the Colour of Pain, I had forgotten that it was my birthday. It was when I came back home exhausted physically and emotionally from the funeral, that I realised that my wife and daughter had actually planned something for me. It was a chocolate truffle cake (my wife knows that it’s one of my favourites), and they did something so creative that I was deeply moved. They each lit candles and stuck them one by one on the table around the cake, saying something for each candle that they loved me for.
It was a quiet time, made light and easy by my daughter’s fun-loving style and my wife’s good nature, but very personal and deep, and it started the healing process in its own way.
Almost two weeks from that time, on the way back from a week’s retreat in the mountains, I still didn’t have all the answers to what had happened. However, what I do have is the continuing conviction of God’s goodness and wisdom at work, and the knowledge that through all of this, the love of God will work something out far greater and better than what I can imagine for this family. For as Jeremiah 29:11 says, God’s plans for us are not to harm us but to prosper us, and to give us a reasonable hope for the future. And surely this is what He longs for for this dear family. One very positive thing that has arisen from this is a sort of awakening; questions of whether their HIV+ condition is responsible for this and whether this can be prevented in the future. Such questions coming without compulsion are important because they help people to make decisions towards significant change in their lives.
The dear doctors who have helped us so much with this family are going to visit in the coming days, and who knows what hope for the future may arise from this meeting. I am never going to be able to forget this family with the baby’s death falling on my birthday, and perhaps that’s how it should be. How terrible to forget those who become as close as family, as our own flesh, through circumstance and choice.
On the journey just over a week ago on our retreat to the mountains, I had had a long chat with the waiter serving us in the train coach we were in. He was from a Rajput background (in Indian culture, it’s the line of noblemen and warriors), and was struggling with doing the chores that his job required him to do. In our trains, a waiter’s job is rather more like a glorified janitor’s job. The working hours are terrible and they’re poorly paid. The railways outsources the catering jobs on the high end trains to private companies that hire semi-literate or literate men to work for long hours at low pay. They get no benefits for working for the railways that government railway employees do. Anyway, I spent at least a couple of hours chatting with him and hearing his story of how his village people criticise him for doing the menial jobs that he does on the train. Although it was hard to give him solutions, it was easy to encourage and appreciate what he is doing to support his family. It seemed to mean the world to him that someone would spend time to chat. I had had the honour to pray for him as well and ask God on his behalf to help him with his dreams and aspirations.
Boarding the train on our return journey to Delhi I was able to find him in the same coach, and made some time to meet him when his duty eased off to chat and give him some books that I had packed for him.
As the two photos show, it’s hard to know which is the front end of the train. Life can sometimes be like that and very often people spend all their energy and time moving further and further into the past, living with regret and picking at wounds long scabbed over. However, God has healing in abundance held out to us if we would but receive it, and in the dealing with our fallen selves, He continues to hold out a future of hope in which there is no condemnation, no guilt or accusation, and in which He lavishes us with the love and trust that only a father can give. Christmas, for that reason, is so full of hope, because it’s the reminder of what Jesus came to do – to pay the price for the fallenness of this world so that anyone who wants may have what can be instead of what was.
And this is why I try to continue to hold out hope whenever I can to anyone I can.