Sunday, February 14, 2016

Finding Grace at Grace Cathedral

Photo Credit
The entrance to Grace Cathedral sits high atop many stairs on the corner of a busy San Fransisco intersection. From the moment I walk through its ornate doors, I sense a calm, quiet hush. Standing there in the dim coolness, with the filtered light slanting through the magnificent stained glass, I am greeted by a large, framed document mounted on a pillar. These are the words I read:

Perhaps you quietly dropped by wanting to reconnect in your relationship to God.
 Or to confess shame. Or to surrender a burden. Or to pray for a loved one. 
Or to bask in the beauty of holiness. Or to meditate on a hard personal dilemma.
 Or to find a moment of peace. A cathedral has a high ceiling and long aisles 
to allow the contained soul an opportunity to venture forth in multiple directions....

If you are passing by and feel that life is fragmenting into a vast number of
 irreconcilable, shattered pieces, then please know that Grace holds an 
outrageous hope that, in God alone, all aspects of life are in unity.... 
This unity exists in the brave hope of those who worship God. 
Grace seeks to keep this hope of ultimate unity alive. 
So we are called to extravagant hospitality "to all sorts and conditions" 
in the confidence that a gracious welcome is central to a cathedral's purpose.

I find myself blinking back tears. I had not expected to be overtaken by such emotions.
I had strolled in as a tourist, exploring the city for a few days with my husband, kid-free. But these words are touching something deep, dredging up pain, fear, frailty, insecurity.

These words unearth parts of myself that feel shattered and fragmented, tender and raw.  It leaves me feeling open and vulnerable, as if all the hard, carefully tamped-down soil has
been overturned and plowed under.

I take a few steps forward, out into the open cathedral and my eyes naturally and inevitably draw upward. For a moment I am stunned by the awe and wonder that washes over me.

With its arches that soar so far above, they are lost in shadow and the richness of its 32 stained-glass windows that splash a beautiful, color-soaked light over everything, Grace Cathedral entreats its visitors to slow down, to reflect and listen, to come and see. Standing there, in that expansive, wide-open cathedral, with my freshly-tilled heart, I feel God's presence. I feel deep connection, welcomed by the Spirit's "extravagant hospitality."

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Grace has an enormous labyrinth inlaid in the floor that draws many visitors. Everyday people slowly and meditatively walk these paths, passing through the rainbow-tinted brushstrokes at their feet. 
I stand off to the side, fixed in one spot for quite some time, mesmerized by their movement.
Round and out, then a few steps in toward the center, then weaving away from the center,
following the path through many twists and turns.

Photo Credit
A familiar verse comes to my mind, one I have sung in many choirs. 

When true simplicity is gain'd, 
  To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
  Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

 As each person enters, they advance toward the center, but soon their path has veered to the left and they must travel for some distance in a long arc that seems to be carrying them no closer to the center. Indeed, during some lengths of the journey, the traveler walks not toward but away from the center, and it is only later that their path winds them back. Twisting and turning. And I realize something: every step they take is slowly, but most assuredly, centering them--bringing each to the heart of the labyrinth.

There is a prolonged stretch where the travelers walk along the outermost paths of the labyrinth. Surprisingly, it comes just before the final turns that lead to the center. As I watch one man walk slowly along this long outer arc, through shadowy patches so very far from that inmost circle, my blurry, jumbled thoughts slowly clarify and an idea begins to take shape. I wait in the stillness for my soul to focus in, to discern what the Spirit is trying to communicate. And it eventually distills to this:

There are invaluable lessons to be learned on that outer rim,
those times when we feel far from God
or are lost in our own dark places.
 Lessons that cannot be learned any other way or in any other place. 
Lessons that, like gravity, will unfailingly pull us back toward our center, our home.

The dappled light painting the floor catches my eye and leaves me pondering the workings of a kaleidoscope.
How through the simple change of a lens,
a mere quarter or half turn, an entirely new view is before us. 
A completely different array is opened to our eyes. 
It's the same eyes, the same light, the same surroundings, but then there is a shift, 
and to our utter amazement we can see things we have never seen before.

Photo Credit

It strikes me that the labyrinth is a very fitting representation of our life on Earth.
Each and every person has their own labyrinth, their own walk with God.
And like a fingerprint or a snowflake, no two designs are the same- 
they are uniquely suited to each and every individual.
Nothing about my lived experience ends up being straight or simple or detour-free.
But, I am learning that what I think are detours are not actually detours at all.
Chances are this unexpected turn or about-face is exactly where God wants me to be.

Photo Credit

When "Life" happens, when things occur that we would never choose, when that first hairpin turn finds us unsuspecting and woefully ill-prepared, it feels as if something has gone terribly and irrevocably wrong.  It can leave us with shattered dreams and broken hearts, believing that all is lost.
It can cause us to question everything we thought we knew about God and His promises. 

My own hairpin experience was extremely disorienting and led me to a lengthy stretch on that outer rim. There was so much grief I could hardly feel anything else. At times, I lost hope and faith and any trust in good things to come. Looking back, it seems more than a little melodramatic to me,
because I feel so differently now. But, it was truly a dark and lonely time,
the one season of my life when I felt abandoned and forsaken.

Though it was the last thing I expected, I learned more about God and His true nature 
during the months that I was angry at Him than all my preceding years. 
Those times when I wanted to be distant from God because it just hurt too much. 
The times when I felt more like shouting than praying.
Those times when sorrow turned into despair and bitterness.
That is when I learned that God is patient--really, really patient. 
And full of mercy and long-suffering. 
That is when I was given, without measure, the most all-encompassing,
unconditional love I have ever felt.

To Him who can see my whole beautiful and winding labyrinth, that hairpin was no mistake. In fact, it is the opposite thing entirely. It is the thing that in His Grand Design would lead me to exactly where He wanted me to be. The thing that would transform me into the person He wanted me to be.

My own experiences with hairpins and outer rims and everything in between have taught me that God is not just IN THE CENTER. God is in every turn, every stretch, whether near or far, every curve that feels like a detour and especially in those places where we feel lost, abandoned, and afraid.

Standing in Grace Cathedral, watching the travelers weave and wander,
God gave me a rare peek through His kaleidoscope. And this is what I saw:

No matter where we are on this labyrinth, we are ENVELOPED in Grace. It is everywhere around us. We could not escape it if we tried. It is the air we breath, the ground beneath our feet, and the roof soaring over us. It is in the darkness and the light, it is in the "good" and the "bad".

This inspired prayer of Thomas Merton is a perfect benediction to my experience:

My Lord God, 
I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though

I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Home Sweet Home

It is so hard to believe, but we touched down on American soil exactly 2 months ago.

We were exhausted and extremely travel-weary.  What a trip! Our original flight out of Chennai was delayed for more than an hour. But all that meant for us was a 9 hour layover (instead of 10) in Dubai. Dubai was a pretty cool airport and the kids spent most of the time here:

...watching Despicable Me at least 3 times!

We rested, did some window shopping among all the stores, and even got McDonald's ice cream for a treat. When we finally boarded the plane, my kids immediately zonked out and slept for a while since it was about 1 am to their bodies.

What was supposed to be a 16 hour flight to Atlanta, GA took 17 1/2 hours and we missed our connecting flight to LAX. We ended up being VERY lucky (because SO many people had missed connections) to get all 6 of us on a flight to San Diego where we then caught a connecting flight up to LAX...just about 6 hours later than we were supposed to arrive.

My sister picked us up and drove straight to a Wendy's...where I nearly cried eating my Apple Pecan Chicken Salad and the kids downed some long-awaited frosties. Ahhh....good times, good times!
We then drove to her house and gratefully collapsed on her comfy beds...52 and 1/2 hours after leaving our home in India.

Thus started our life as California Nomads. We spent one week at my sister's house sleeping off the jet lag and our older girls got to go out dirt biking twice...

then Lon and I got away for a wonderful trip to San Francisco while the kids spent a few days with Grandma and Grandpa (who had been home from Brazil for 5 days!).  

We had such a great time in San Francisco! We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge...

...ate a DELICIOUS meal in Chinatown right near our timeshare...
 This was tofu as you have NEVER tasted it before!!!

...spent an afternoon in the beautiful Japanese Tea Gardens at Golden Gate Park...

...and visited the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen.
(credit: Flickr)

We then headed to the Central Coast area of CA to spend a week at my brother's house.
Oh, the joy of cousins!! The kids had a sleepover on the trampoline. What a treat!

...and what a way to wake up in the morning!!

We went out to the beach and visited The Shell Shop...a tradition and special memory from my childhood that I am so glad will be the same for my children!

I love watching these kids together. They are so imaginative and made up 
some type of Knee Football.

After visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Templeton, we went to Madera for 10 days and then left on our own vacation.  DISNEYLAND and OCEANSIDE.  So. Much. Fun. 

Cohen got chosen for the Jedi Training show and was so happy!

We had absolutely perfect weather for Disneyland and had a wonderful day in the park. Lots of rides and yummy soup in a bread bowl.  My kids LOVED Big Thunder Railroad this time and we rode it 
4 times!

Our last night in the LA area, we took the family to an amazing star show at the Griffith Observatory.
This is our first ever "full family selfie"....minus Brooklyn. ; )

...On to Oceanside for 5 days...
We love spending time in Oceanside. Our timeshare is right near the harbor and though it was a little chilly for ocean swimming, we had a blast spending time in the hotel pools and hot tub and just walking on the beautiful beach.

My favorite time is sunset. So peaceful and serene!

One day we took Cohen and Avery to a nature activity at the local Audubon Nature Society.  They loved going on a bug hunt and holding the 70 year old turtle!!

We loved our time in California--getting to spend time with cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandma and grandpa. We had a great vacation and did lots of fun things...
but it felt SO wonderful to pull back up to our little home here in UT.  


Many people ask us how it feels to be back home...if it feels weird to be in America again.
Most definitely NOT. It is comfortable and easy to come back to all our usual comforts.

As Lon has told many people, India was a bit like a dream that we have woken up from and found ourselves back in our regular life.

And what a beautiful dream it was!

Saying Goodbye...

It was very hard to say goodbye to all the beautiful people of India that we have come to love!

A few days before we were leaving, the girls and I all got wrapped in our saris (by one of the cleaners, Alamelu) so we could take lots of photos with people we loved. It was just a coincidence that we had all picked similar colors.   

 Sadly, I forgot to do this before Brooklyn left!

Here is the full UKG class. So adorable...we loved working and playing with them.

 This is Jeevitha, the second standard teacher. She and I became good friends. It was hard to say goodbye not knowing if she would still be there when I am able to return.

 Here is our family with all the amazing, dedicated housemothers.

Before we left, our family completed a mural on the wall. It is a tradition for volunteer groups. The art work was done by Camry and Lon while I did the printing. I think they did an amazing job. This is right by the gate that led into the Green House courtyard.
This is my favorite quote from Mother Teresa and I have it hanging in my home here in UT. I thought it would always be a good reminder to my kids of the service they did while in India and the service they can continue to do here in America every day.

 Me and Subedha

 Camry and Velankanni

 This, my friends, is LOVE....Camry, letting the little girls spin her even though she hates it!

Me and Jennifer

 Elina Mary giving me a special note for Brooklyn (who sponsors her).

 Our friend Usha

 Beautiful Vinodhini doing henna. She did one last henna for me, Camry, and one other volunteer.

Tamilarasi, Liberty, and Anu

Camry with Sudha

 Sudha and Roseline

 This little girl is one that will be in my heart forever. There is something special about Roseline. This was our very last day and she just sat on my lap and snuggled and hugged and made me cry.

 Love. Her.

 And last, but certainly not least...our little Maria Catherine. She just clung to my waist that last day and was so adorable. That evening, I went into their rooms to say my final goodbye and this sweet girl hugged me and kissed me and then reached out and brushed my chest and then my forehead with her fingertips in a traditional Hindu blessing. As each of the other girls in the room came to me and did the same, tears just ran down my cheeks. It is a sacred, special experience that I will never forget. 

I came here to bless their lives, but the blessing has been all mine!!  Oh my, how my heart and my arms miss them!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Tribute to my Kiddos...

As our days quickly come to a close I have spent a lot of time reflecting on our experience here...wondering how all this will influence my children's lives? What will they remember the most? What have they learned and how has it changed them? 
For one thing...we have become used to feeling like celebrities! This day was particularly bad...this is an extended family celebration near a temple in Mamallapurum and they would not let us go for at least 10 minutes. Everybody wanted photos with us and were even shoving each other away at times. :)

Just like any year of our lives, there have been seriously hard times for the kids. Most of them involving online school...which is HARD! We will ALL be so glad to have them rejoin their peers in the public schools next year. : )

We had our final trip out with the Medical Clinic this last week. How grateful I am for these experiences. They are some of my favorite ever from India and the ones that I am sure my children will always remember. 

This is Jayaraj and Jayamary. They have been a joy to meet and serve. Jayaraj is hands-down the HAPPIEST human being I have ever met. His example has touched each of us during our time here.

The oiling station was always my favorite. Their skin is often very dry and can crack easily so we massage oil into their lower legs. It is very personal and sweet and always feels very connecting.

Lon was always a trooper and often volunteered for the nail clipping station...which can be hard work and a little scary to be honest. Their hands and feet are often in very bad shape and it is hard to know how much to cut off and how to do it since the nails do not cut easily. I have had a couple times where I am scared that the whole nail is going to come off if I apply too much's risky business!

We said goodbye to Brooklyn last week. She flew home to UT and we won't see her until May. We are so glad she came with us. She had a wonderful experience here and served so well. She learned to do lots of things that were outside her comfort zone...just like a "regular" mission! 

Her last months here she was given the assignment to write stories about students and patients. So she often went out with the medical clinic and conducted interviews.

She also did a Sunday afternoon choir with me. We LOVE these 8 girls. Hearing their adorable voices sing "Jesus loves me this I know" was a highlight of every week!

And this girl got up EVERY MORNING of the week at 7 A.M. to teach Vimal piano lessons!!
There could never be a more grateful student.

Brooklyn LOVES to dance with Jayaraj. And he loves to dance with her. 

We are so proud of her work here and the way that she served and loved and gave her heart to the people of India. One of the teachers said to me yesterday, "We are missing Brooklyn very much. She is so very nice. She never say hard word to anyone. We all like her very much."

 Brooklyn and Anu

Brooklyn on her last night saying goodbye to the kids.

The hardest goodbye of all...this is Elina Mary. Brooklyn and Avery are going to sponsor her and they have become very close these last few months.

This is Elina Mary and her little brother Praveen. Our family is going to sponsor Praveen. We fell in love with these two because they stayed on campus during Christmas break so we all really got to know them one on one.

Camry has probably paid the heaviest price for coming here. Online school as a junior is SERIOUSLY HARD. AP Calculus and AP English without a classroom teacher is CRAZY!!!

But I hope there have been enough good times to make up for it. : )

 The goats are SO cute!!! That's gotta make up for a little, right?

I always knew that coming here would change my children...I just never knew it would give them a future in the tattoo industry! ; )  Camry is a beautiful artist and she has done some amazing henna while we've been here!

 She has served with so much love and so much kindness in the colonies. We are so proud of her and how hard she has worked here and the ways in which she has grown. She has learned to be self-motivated and to look outside of herself. She has continued to be a great older sister and example!

Liberty has also done so well here.  She has worked so hard to stay on schedule with all her schooling. Even though she misses her friends in UT, she has never complained about being here. The other day, I was SO proud when I heard her say to Avery, "I'm not excited because we are leaving India...I am excited because we are going back to America." She adjusted so well to being here and has taken everything in stride.
She has really grown and learned about the important things in life.

I mean, how many 17 and 15 year olds do you know that would happily clean ulcers? I have been so proud of my girls and the beautiful and natural way they have served here.

These little girls are really going to miss their hugs and play time.

Here is Liberty tutoring Sabari on one of his first days of UKG...upper Kindergarten.

And all of our girls worked HARD in the sweaty, muggy heat to help with construction projects.

Avery has made so many friends here. The kids just love how she runs and plays with them.
Avery and Nivetha

Avery was never shy out in the colonies. She just picked up this little girl and started making a friend.

She has shown such grace in the way she so naturally interacts with the patients.

hands-down one of my favorite India shots!

And she and Cohen have a lot of fun while they wait to do their job at medical (which is always to dump the washing water out and sanitize the tub).

When we first came here, Cohen really went into a shell. He became so shy and quiet. We could barely get him to speak two words to someone outside of our family. But then in August a little boy came here with his family and helped Cohen break out of that shell...and now he's chattier than ever!

This is one of our drivers...Velu...who absolutely LOVES Cohen. One day he snatched up this little goat for Cohen to hold.

Cohen loves to play out in our courtyard...digging and swinging.

And he ADORES all the little baby animals. The biggest impact India has had on Cohen is that he now wants to be a farmer! In fact, he was trying to convince me that instead of sending Camry and Liberty to college, we should buy a farm with our savings! ; )

 From our very first visit to this colony, Jayaraj has paid special attention to Cohen. He always wants to talk to him and even helped Cohen put his shoes on one day...which was so moving to me because Jayaraj does not have any complete fingers left on his hands--yet he knelt down and undid the velcro and helped Cohen put his sandals on.

 And Cohen is such a hard worker and really knows how to set up the medical stations!

He had a hard time here at the beginning. The kids were so overwhelming for him and he really shied away from them. But I have seen so much growth in him. Recently, we had two boy volunteers--12 and 13 year olds--and he just went over and started talking with them and invited them to play with him. ; ) And in the last 2 months he has come to really love playing soccer with the boys at playtime. He can't wait for 4:45 pm every day!!

And just one more...
This is our little sponsor girl, Maria Catherine. She is a doll!!  Lon thinks she looks like David Archuleta. ; )  We will miss getting to see her regularly.

I am so grateful for all my family...for each one of my children and my husband and their individual sacrifices to be here. I hope that this experience will continue to bless all of our lives for years and years to come!

I am so sad to say goodbye to this place. I am sure that I will leave half my heart here with these beautiful children that I have come to love so much. 

Goodbye, India! Until we meet again...