The Chance to Change

I recently finished a 5 week intensive TESOL training course at the end of June.

It's Over!

It’s all over!!!

Initially, when the suggestion was made that I do it for my own professional development and growth, I had already been in the ESL field for almost 7 years, and I was rather reluctant, the foremost reason being the toll it would take on energy and time in the midst of a hectic transitioning point in the institute. My wife Lydia had done it two years ago, and I had seen, then and subsequently, the labour all the trainees have to put in, and I was loath to have it take its toll on my family through me.

Well, as it so happened, Dan my director’s reasons for my doing it outweighed my own reasons for his doing it as a trainer, and after talking it over with my wife and working out the logistical details, I committed myself. Then started the ride, and right while chafing in the first couple of days, I felt God drawing my attention to something I had written in one of my earlier posts Feel the heat, or see the colour. I had to ‘withdraw’, deal with my attitude and make myself open to what God had in store for me during the training, and then the journey really started.

Scruff of Neck

Take myself by the scruff of the neck towards a better attitude.

The organisation that did the training with us (Asia’s Center for TESOL) had a programme that was clear, intensive and demanded attention, sincerity and hard work. Anyone doing the course who wasn’t clear about these would certainly burn out. That was obvious very quickly, however, what was unusual and enormously encouraging was the pastoral quality of the trainers. These weren’t trainers doing a sort of ‘corporate style’ job; these were teachers who were deeply interested in people – building them, encouraging them and challenging them. These were people who would do everything possible to enable you to understand the concepts and achieve success in the practical aspects, and who challenged us at the core of our selves. The whole course built up bit by bit, precept upon precept, growing from strength to strength, and in rigour, and there was no compromise on the practical aspects. Everyone of us had to physically in our demos and actual classes, demonstrate all the components of what was being taught.

And actually, isn’t that what teaching is about, whether ESL or a K-12 classroom? Once I found that most aspects of the training matched what I really believe in and resonate with in teaching, of course, any sense of chafing disappeared. And the years of working in international education, having experienced multiple perplexing situations, educational impossibilities in the practical work field and very unreasonable work loads, had helped lay down the critical habits of planning, focus, hard work, problem-solving and creativity. These habits and the grace of God saved me from burning out, and enabled me to finish all assignments well and in time. For anyone who has experienced the love of God in Christ and is interested in education and second language acquisition, I would highly recommend connecting with Asia’s Center for TESOL and doing one of their programmes.

However, all that is written above to help create the ground for the foil.

I was utterly unprepared for how the course ended up being used by God to point out areas in my life that still needed change in. In the midst of the hard work, study, discussion and activities came many, many ‘triggers’. Things people said and did, things that happened that I somehow missed understanding properly, and no longer being in the ‘guise’ of a teacher, as a student I found myself suddenly reacting in weird and disturbing ways. I had flashbacks into painful incidents in the past, experienced frustration, demotivation and anger just as if I was still in college as an immature, angry young man. Each situation had to be dealt with and overcome so that I could continue with intact relationships and focus. In many ways, I found myself at the bottom of the ladder again. It was puzzling and felt very weird. However, I became really intrigued when one of the trainers told me that it was common for similar ‘triggers’ to show up with people during trainings, and I began to reflect on it a little more deeply.

It seems to me that if an activity is only a programme and just a cognitive engagement, people are really not going to be challenged at the core. One can engage with many meaningful activities and emerge transformed at the skill level, however, if a programme or activity touches the core of a person and demands integrity, character, discipline, focus, honesty, high standards and hard work, I do believe sparks are going to fly. There is within every one of us, something that is intrinsically, deeply hostile to God, and by extension, if we are challenged to change habits and attitudes that connect to our character, an entire resistance movement starts bringing into play a whole battery of weapons like angry responses, resentments, manipulation, self-pity, etc. I believe this is what was happening to me.

My responses contained core things I have wanted to be rid of and have been working on to have them out of my life. The new vehicle of the training showed up the fact that I still needed to change; that there was a lot of work that the Spirit of God had left to do. It was a worrisome and troubling experience, but knowing how loving and deeply persistent God is, I have started to feel a sense of joy that He is continuing to work in me, continuing to draw my attention to areas of my heart that need to change. This is one of the greatest blessings that I received during the training, regardless of how unexpected or uncomfortable it was. Every situation that we go through that challenges us is going to bring with it the chance for us to change.

Chance to Change

And it makes a lot of sense now. The training was all about being an effective teacher with a deep concern for students and their growth and transformation. Of course, God would point out areas of my life once again that need change. Teachers need to change first, or engage with the process of change before they challenge their students. And so do parents. And so do bosses. And so do leaders. And politicians. And shopkeepers. And people.

And Everyone.

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Treasure Trove

We’re almost at the end of our one week retreat, and the photo below of a garbage can I had passed on a walk, I think speaks much of how important the process of reflection and relationships are.

Dustbin Wisdom Thoughts

Wisdom on a Dustbin!

The last few weeks were a blur with the intensive TESOL training course I had been a part of (as a student), and I had been counting the minutes till the time my family and I would get on the train and leave Delhi for the much needed break up in the mountains.

Well, as it so happened, I went into a sort of ‘shut-down’ which it took several days, prayer and fellowship to emerge from. I had little idea what toll on my reserves the stress of the last two months had taken, and I was beset by a silence that I was finding hard to break out of. I’m very glad that we had taken the decision to retreat and rest.

Over the week, I finished two books, both very different from each other – one was J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, which I had been unable to get through the first pages of, the first time I had picked it up, and the other was Elisabeth Elliot’s Loneliness. I think the books formed part of the process of recovery, and helped in different ways to bring my sight back on what was a far bigger picture than my wearing out was showing. More about Elisabeth Elliot’s book(s?) in posts to come. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I picked up the book to read at the time I did.

As I’ve been reflecting over the TESOL course and the many wonderful things that happened during it, my dad’s illness again, and the need to chart out the course of the next half year with a new team of teachers, new challenges as my wife and daughter’s school shifts to an entirely new location, and the need to follow through to completion some of the important things we had been involved in as a family, God in all His grace and faithfulness, and deep understanding of our condition and frailties, once again began to ease the burden of life, smooth the wrinkles and knots of worry and lift our eyes towards Him.

With the result that ‘sight’ has started to come back again; or should I say ‘light’ has started to shine through?

Sunlight in Mist

Light through the mist on the path.

As light shines and sight returns, there is so much to see, and vistas open up even in the midst of our difficulties and challenges; a table of honour, a feast spread even in the presence of enemies; a treasure trove of goodness. There is so much now to write. So many stories to share. So many sights and sounds that have carried lessons and parables hidden in them. I hope to share many of these in the coming weeks, so if you’re reading, stay in there. I trust these will bless you as much as they have blessed me.

Most of these stories have been unexpected discoveries in the midst of situations and experiences, just like the little plant growing almost unnoticed in the knot of the old tree trunk. If you have been feeling as beset or worn out as I have, or shut out from your hopes and desires, I hope you will be encouraged by my saying that God remembers; nothing has gone unnoticed, and even in the hardened knots of our experiences, He has kept a place for fruitfulness and joy, and nothing is ever wasted or scorned by His loving Hands, because they were first broken for us.

Hoary Tree

Nestled in a knot.

Leaking of Life

Well, the trips to the clinic are over for now. Dad is now at home and doing much better.

To fill in a few details, he had deteriorated over the last few weeks, due to both the Delhi heat as well as a relapse of the kidney infection that cycles due to his long standing condition of the last 20 years since his major operation in 1997. This time, he was unable to get up from the bed, had a discrepant blood pressure and a pulse of 113, and was running a rising fever that was touching close to 104 F.

Dr. Babitha Kallimel from the Dayspring Clinic in the Chhatarpur area of New Delhi had grace from God to suggest a line of treatment that has caused a turn around of his condition over this week. With prayer and the injections administered by my pastor’s wife who’s a nurse, his rapid deterioration halted and over the next couple of days of taking him to the clinic for intravenous fluid and antibiotic adminstration, his vitals came back to normal, and he has been continually improving. Administering geriatric treatment is not always easy, especially for a 92 year old man with a chronic kidney condition that should have killed him two decades ago, but although we were ready for any eventuality, against all odds his condition has turned, giving my family the much needed breathing space to end a school year, and me to start the 5 week intensive TESOL certification course as part of my own professional development, the day after tomorrow, with a free mind.

Yesterday, I bathed and shaved him, and it was a great relief to see how nice he looked and how relieved my mom seemed to see him do better, and of course, my dad who used to be particular and conscientious about his personal habits till he got too old to manage himself easily, enjoyed the bath. My mom’s strength and faithfulness through almost 50 years with Dad is another story I’ll write about in due course.

Thatha Pati 19 May 2017

Mom and Dad – Dad looking decent after I bathed and shaved him yesterday!

However, the last two days we had a return of concern with what seemed to be an increasing amount of blood that was being discharged with his urine. Yesterday, the urine was entirely red, and on medical advice, I kept ready the injections to administer in case it did not stop by today. Last night, to confirm a suspicion I had been having,  kept the pomegranate out of the evening blend that my wife Lydia prepared for him. Today there was hardly any blood loss and the colour was what we would have expected. It looks like the pomegranate had aggravated the colour that almost freaked us out, since we had been giving him that in his blend for the last few days!

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about blood, and how concerned we were that it was leaking out. To me it really felt as if my dad’s life were leaking out with the urine. Many cultures look at blood as the carrier of life, and virtually synonymise blood with life. And of course, our concern was because Dad’s life is precious to us, and we didn’t want it leaking out.

But really, ALL life is precious, not just because God created it, but also because of what cost God has redeemed it with.

And there are many things besides sickness, accidents and circumstance that cause it to leak out, oftentimes self inflicted damage, destructive lifestyles and habits; the more so, the more ‘advanced’ we seem to become. It’s an age of lawlessness, confusion and division, with families increasingly breaking down at their core, and more and more people living without vision, direction or an understanding of right and wrong; where so much is being driven by a ‘look good-feel good’ mentality, and the dangerous urban motto of ‘Work hard, party harder.’

LIFE is very, very precious, and will not come back once it’s gone. Let’s keep it, protect it, encourage it, cultivate it, guide it in ways that will cause it to be fruitful and esteem it. Not just ours, but others’ as well, because everyone is given someone who is influenced by them. One blog that resounds with this great story of Hope is Beauty Beyond Bones and it’s very well worth visiting and reading what Caralyn has written.

While there is Life, there is hope for change, as so many including myself will testify, and nothing is impossible for God to redeem.

That’s how much we are loved.

Fragility

Today was the second day I spent at the hospital with my dad, and this time it was a very, very long day, with many mixed feelings and a sense of feeling wiped out.

While the truth is that yet again God has been faithful in crisis with my dad just having avoided a fairly serious situation by getting treated before sepsis shock set in, and his vitals now back to normal, this is the first time we’ve had to put him in adult diapers and deal with the difficulty of bathing him. If he wasn’t so fearful and mistrusting, and being in his senses if he would be a little more sensibly cooperative, he would still be fairly easy to manage. But he has always been a rather fearful man and coupled with deafness, situations can become quite difficult to handle now. As I found, and was almost overcome by, today

There are few things so intimate as getting hands on and involved in cleaning someone’s mess, especially if it isn’t getting clean, and that is what God has done, with little cooperation from my side, in my own life. Even now, late at night, I’m unable to get the emotions and sensations out of my mind of that ordeal of cleaning my dad, when the wardboy and my well-thought out (to us) plan failed miserably. I felt like I had gone through a physical and emotional mangler. I wonder how God has persisted with me with such love and patience.

Then in the car going home, surreptitiously looking at him now and then, I saw how terribly frail and fragile he is. And because he is so fragile, he needs to be given so much more care, and it costs the caregiver so much more to do so.

Fragility makes things and people precious. One would treat a priceless gem or crystal with the same care as a very old person or a very young child. Giving care to someone also gives that person value and can restore dignity. Old age and sickness really can level people’s delusions of their own strength and rob dignity, and also humble people.

Laburnum 1Gulmohur 2

I still haven’t relaxed, even now, and still feel at breaking point, but at the end of the day, I have no regrets, and am satisfied with what I’m doing. My own words I’ve been writing now come back again and again, Feel the heat, or see the colour. The city is full of blazing orange and yellow blooms. Just because I’ve been forced to step out and away from the car AC, does not mean that those amazing flowers have stopped being beautiful, but it does mean that I may stop seeing them, and/or start to see an ugliness in them that they don’t have. It’s the golden chance for ME to change, and in that process, other things and people will change as well, like ripples on a pond.

I hope and pray I don’t lose the chance.

The Lens of Pain

I’m snatching a few moments to write while I stay at home to monitor my dad’s condition. Dad did badly last night, and while he has been on a slump over the last few weeks, he seems to have had a relapse of the infection that he had last year. He’s a very old man, and while he was particular about his habits when he had strength, he has progressively stopped caring and it has been fairly difficult to get him to eat and more importantly, drink water which is what keeps his system flushed and the infection under control.

However, what is strange is how quickly things fall into focus when pain comes. It’s like a lens that shows us what is valuable and precious, and what needs attention and protection. While I continue to feel the distress of my dad’s condition and chafe under the limitations I face, I have recourse to cry out to God again as I have done before and look to Him in the press of events surrounding me at this time. It’s forcing me to take decisions that I would not normally take, like asking for leave from work knowing that my colleagues will face the brunt of substitution when we are already extremely short-staffed. It’s the pain that gets us to prioritize. And what an enormous blessing when the workplace has brothers, not colleagues.

I was reading a post by a fellow-blogger who is now a friend (check out Caralyn’s excellent post Permission to Let Go) and was struck by the similar thoughts. The last time I did not know whether my dad would live or die, and this time, I don’t again, as his condition is so much worse than the last time. I guess we all expect miracles to last forever and bypass reality (which they sometimes do!), but Lazarus, I’m sure, did die ultimately, and of all the people who experienced Jesus’ healing, how many continued to walk with him? How many of their miracles remained that pointer towards Him, the sign of what was possible, if they would have it? And once those miracles played their purpose, what then? Would they continue to be needed for us to believe and trust?

I guess these are troublesome questions, and I am forced to look at them now that my dad has come full circle and so has my watchman. I am forced back to the bottom-lines. Pain reveals what those bottom-lines are like nothing else.

The bottom-line that God is the best father in the universe, and He is aware and working long before I even become aware and ask him to. He loves me enormously, like the apple of His eye; He cherishes me and is deeply concerned about my well-being (you’ve got to be clear you can use the personal pronoun with conviction rather than the general ‘us’!). He is faithful till the end, and will not let me down, even if I’m occasionally faithless or even unfaithful. He forgives and helps me turn toward Him and is deeply pained by my pain and is filled with compassion and longs to heal, restore and bless. He is quick to hear, and quick to comfort. I can rely on Him in the impossible and the chafing constraints of my own situations. He knows my heart and hears my cries that no one on earth will hear or know. He breaks my heart with His love for me and His friendship.

I can rely on Him through all of this, whatever the end may be, and He will enable me to overcome beyond what I can imagine, and He will do for me far beyond anything I can ever hope to ask. He’s the best dad I’ve ever had!

Here’s a song that I like very much by Lauren Daigle. If you are in that place of pain, my prayer for you is that you will find life in the bottom-lines when you’re forced to them.

Pressure or Precious

I’m squeezing off this post while I still can.

Squeezing off??

Yes. I can’t think of a better word for the action. It’s been incredibly hectic with many things that I love to do or enjoy doing having to be put on the back-burner, often against my will. I’ve thought about things that I had written earlier about pulling back, listening, reflecting and feel strange about how, soon after that, an assault started of urgent needs taking over important things, unpredictable situations cropping up both at work as well as at home, small windows of breaks being lost to school programmes, training and medical needs. I’ve felt out of control, worn thin and stressed, and demotivated at work. The last is an incredible rarity. I thought I was over the hump as a teacher; I thought I knew how to handle loss of passion. I guess this season shows me how far I have yet to go.

Demotivated 2

Feeling somehow out of it.

Many of you have read about my dad; the incredible turn-around in his health last year and his recovery. Well, the summer is in, and those of you who know Delhi will know that this is the killer season. Literally. Every year people die all across India due to the heat. Delhi reaches an average of about 43 degrees Celsius (about 109 F) in the worst months of May and June, and can go up to a horrifying 47 degrees (116 F). AC bills are really high, and I can’t afford them, so we’re forced to limit our use of the AC. Well, both ACs conked out this season, and it’s already reaching 45 degrees (it was a short winter, and the heat has started early this year), and Dad has been wilting. It happens in a dreaded, familiar cycle every year. He slowly stops eating and deteriorates, and will not listen to anyone. This time, he hardly gets out of bed and is very, very feeble. There are many things I want to do for him, but as the familiar saying goes, if wishes were horses, well then, beggars would ride. The truth is that I can’t do the many things I want to do, and the few things I can, to me don’t seem enough.

Bound

Our watchman and his wife now have brought an unexpected twist to their story. You can read about their story in my previous posts, especially about the death of their baby in Red is the Colour of Pain and the last was that we had told them to hold off another child until we have medical advice to guide the pregnancy to maximise the chances of the baby being HIV negative. Well, as is with many people, they’ve had their own thoughts, and we recently found out that the wife is about 5 months pregnant. Some months ago, I had wondered, and had asked my wife to check with her, but she denied it then. We didn’t insist, but then suddenly some days ago they came to meet us asking for help with getting the baby checked. I honestly felt thrown in at the deep end, what with my worry about my dad and the difficult situations at work. There is no doubt that we will walk with them through this, but a sense of weariness has hit me that is hard to shake off, and this time I have many more limitations on my time, and I find myself struggling to know what to do and how to go about it.

The Deep End

One more week and then I start a 5 week professional development training which I’m personally dreading and have low interest in because I’ve seen how it took it out of my wife who did it two years ago. It means that for half my wife and daughter’s school vacation, I will be busy. This has been talked through with everyone concerned and everything has been worked out, but personally, I hate doing things I’m not interested in, and doing this to honour my management’s investment in me is the only incentive, besides the fact that the certification will come in use later. Three years doing what I love at work, and like a teenager I find myself struggling over a measly 5 weeks!

portrait of a sad girl

We’ve had a wave of sickness pass through both home and work, and both my wife and I have been substituting teachers and working extra. In Delhi, sicknesses don’t just come for a day or two. Even a flu feels terrible because the body is already fighting pollution, stress and heat. You can fall sick again and again…and again, and teachers seem really prone to it. Dengue is on the move and so is typhoid. We’re grateful we’ve been spared both so far, although colleagues have fallen to them.

In the midst of this chaos, I’ve been trying to find a reference point, something that will give perspective, direction and hope. Something in which I can find the shadow cast by the substance of hope. I came across some sights while travelling in the city which I photographed, and they came back to mind, as I tried to realign myself over the weekend.

I Hate My Life

I hate my life.

Of all the graffiti I’ve seen, this is the most heart-breaking. I don’t know who wrote it, or what made him or her write it. But it made me realise that I don’t hate my life.

I used to…

But I love my life now because of the hope I have, the friends I have, the things I have the blessing to do and because of the family I have. I love the life God has graciously given me, and given back to me again and again, each time I’ve marred it. I love my life because of the many beautiful things I enjoy, and because each beautiful thing I see reflects the goodness of a Father who deeply loves me and cares for me. I’ve seen this so unmistakably that it’s impossible to escape for long.

Then there are the trees…

Gulmohur 1

Sudden Gulmohur bright…

Laburnum 2

Laburnum ablaze.

The two trees which only flower in summer throwing out a blaze of colour that you can only appreciate when it’s horribly hot – Gulmohurs and Laburnums.

It’s always a choice. Feel the heat, or see the colour.

One small difference in sound in the two words – pressure and precious. Crushed by one, and lifted up by the other.

God is in control of my dad’s life; has always been for 92 years. No one is going to live forever, and how long we live is in God’s hands. It’s in my hands to be faithful, and to take my worries to God and allow Him to lift both my dad and me up. God is more than capable of giving enough wisdom to handle my watchman’s new situation. Who knows what good is hidden in this, which is waiting to be released when I’m willing to be used by God? 5 weeks of training will fly by; it’s in my hands to be faithful, and in God’s to bless it and crown the course with His goodness. Who knows what experience of learning I may miss because of chafing at the bit? Sickness comes to everyone, but not everyone is sympathetic or caring towards sick people, especially if their comfort is touched. Who knows what grace is released by my wife’s and my faithfulness in going the second, third and fourth mile in covering someone’s weakness?

It pained me at church today to see my own pettiness, unfaithfulness and hypocrisy. I hope and pray for my own heart to change in the heat of this summer and the press of circumstances.

It’s the crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but for the human heart…?

Precious, Precious

Today, my wife Lydia and daughter Hannah went to stay overnight at my brother-in-law’s to meet and spend time with one of my wife’s cousins, who had a few hours left before he left Delhi to go back home. Lydia talked a lot about how kind he had been to her when she was a child and how he would always make sure to bring something for her when he was passing through.

Although I don’t know him in the same way as Lydia does, I’ve experienced his kindness when he took and repaired my 22 year old guitar in a way that I’ve never known even a high-end shop to do. And he refused to take money for it either! He’s always been friendly and gracious whenever I’ve met him, and that stands out more than his extraordinary talent with his hands that I’ve both heard about and seen.

He’s a precious man with a long history, but much, much grace of God in his life. My wife recognizes preciousness much better than I do, and I’ve learnt and am learning so much from her. I don’t know what I would do without her. Now, with both my wife and daughter out, my house is like a tomb, and I miss them. Come on get real, it’s only a few hours. Well, I still miss them. They’re precious, very precious to me, and their absence shows me what life could be without them, and what great value they add to my life.

Family Hug

Lydia and Hannah, my precious, precious two!

In my last post Storing up TreasureI was reflecting on what was precious to me, and it seems right to continue dwelling on this theme for a while. I want to share a song that has spoken to me many times, and is one of my favourites. It’s by Crosby, Stills and Nash, and in a simple way, brings out what is precious in relationships. It’s called You are Alive. I hope you enjoy and are blessed by it as much as I’ve always been.

You Are Alive – Crosby, Stills and Nash

When you know there’s someone you can talk to
And she’s waiting by the door when you get home
With her hand she’ll caress away your worries
You are alive
I hope you know
That you’re alive
When you’re waiting for her standing by the doorway
And your heart is laughing as she turns the key
Here it comes again always the same feeling
You are alive
And so is she
Do you know what life would be without her?
Do you know what loneliness can be?
You’ll die by yourself only with someone else, why?

When it’s all a game and there is no pleasure
And you’re just like all the rest cannot see
And you’re feeling like there’s no more point in searching
Are you alive?
How could it be
Are you alive?
I’d like to see
If you’re alive