Bonsai

‘Doesn’t this look like something from the Enid Blyton books?’ My brother asked, after sending us this picture. Oh sure it did, only it was a miniature version of it. It was a bonsai tree and he was looking through a nursery when he came upon this sight and was blown away by how expensive it was!!

I looked at that picture for sometime and smiled wryly. My mind recollecting the excitement I had felt as my younger self read those books, how I’d checked on a few big trees outside the school campus later on to see if there was any magic to them. Almost expecting to see some branch leading to a door that opened to fairies or brownies or animals that talked in them! Like the Magic Faraway Tree.

“there was such a lot of whispering that it sounded like a thousand leaves rustling at once!”
― Enid Blyton, The Enchanted Wood


Isn’t there one particular tree all of us remember or have fond memories of? It might be the one in our backyard that’s older than our grandparents or the one huge tree in our school campuses that looked like it knew every dirty secret from yesteryears? One such tree I remember that well is one from our college campus- right next to the mess hall. We called it the ‘mess tree’ ( not very creative, I know, but a landmark nevertheless) . Oh that one tree knew it all! It stood tall like the whole campus was built around it. It has given shade on many a sunny day to those who preferred the outside air to the lecture halls, has attempted to shelter a few strays in heavy rains, has seen friendships strengthen over relentless rants, has been the meeting place for all kinds of meetings, has tolerated overenthusiastic college kids hang decorations on it for every festival all year round, and has been the one thing that really brightened the entire campus when it lit up with on New Year’s Eve with an explosion of lights. It still stands strong to this day and whether we remember our batchmates or not, every student in that campus had and still has a story with the ‘mess tree’. It left a lasting impression.

The bonsai had the shape and the looks, but it could never ever provide the experience of that enchanted tree we read about as children or the ‘mess tree’. Nope- no one could rest in it’s shade, it would not bear fruit, it’s bark would never have anyone carve their names on to it, it would never have any stories to tell. Because, though it looked like a tree, but it had been robbed of it’s very potential to experience the fullness of its existence when science decided to genetically modify it to fit into our comfort zones. That which was supposed to thrive and live in all its glory in some park or in our yard, now sat in our living rooms or terrace gardens- a poor excuse to what it was actually meant to be.

Do we live bonsai-sized lives? That’s been the question on my mind ever since I saw that picture. Teeny-weeny pretty versions of what we were actually made to be, self designed to fit into our comfort zones, while the Creator himself longs for us to live in the freedom that He offers? To thrive and not just survive? Are we afraid- to make commitments, to take stands, to follow the One who has been calling out to us even before we were born, to live to the fullness of our existences?
Pause for a moment. And think about it.

Bonsai is safe. Very comfortable. Pretty. Yet… way too small… To make a difference.

Or will we respond to the Shepherd’s call- committing our lives to Him and thereby stepping out into the glorious freedom He offers- selflessly loving, fully giving and thereby truly thriving and engaging with the world around us. (John 3:16)
I asked myself this today, “Would I be like that tree that stands tall, bearing marks of a race well run, having stories to tell, having been a shade to many, standing strong in the wind and the rain- unapologetic, because I know and I’ve trusted the One who called me?”

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7,8 (NIV)

What about you? Do you want for your life to amount to more than cosy decisions and safe hideouts?

Bonsai lives or not. You get to choose.

Sooper!

“Akka, neenga super !” A smiling starry eyed five year old popped her head back into my OPD cubicle, just to drop in this statement and then danced off into the rest of her life, her shiny black plaits waving around in reckless abandon. It took me a few seconds to realise she was paying me a compliment and then by the time I registered a confused smile through the layers of masks on my face ( these days it doesn’t even feel like a foreign object on the face) , she had already disappeared.

In the place I live, the word ‘super’ is pronounced ‘sooper’. Give them a chance and they’ll even spell it out like that for you. There are certain English words that’ve been localised by the locals here ( yes, a befitting punishment to the ones who introduced the language to us in the first place.) ‘Sooper’ is one such word. It’s a compliment word y’know – more like a word that comes from a full heart. It can mean anything ranging from a delicious meal, a good friend, a nice looking dress, a pretty girl, a fulfilling time, an exciting cricket match or even a brilliant idea. Many meanings, just one word- Sooper. Broad spectrum. No specific grammar rules. No particular contraindication to use it. Can be used freely. For all age groups. Yeah. But a compliment nevertheless and one that is uttered from an overwhelmed heart. There are many other such words that’ve been forcefully converted into the local language, and very seamlessly woven into daily vocabulary, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyways, as I wondered as to which of these meanings my little patient was alluding to, there’s no denying the warm fuzzy feeling that settled in on my heart on an otherwise cold and grey afternoon. She had taken that time out of her regular buzz of activity, to just run back in to let me know she appreciated the time we spent together. She didn’t need to. She’d gotten what she had come for. The exhilarating pleasures of childhood were beckoning her from beyond. But she set apart a teeny tiny moment of her universe to gift me a ‘sooper’. She didn’t need to. But maybe I needed it that day. Kindness. And a reminder.

A reminder that my Creator and Father God also looks at me today, right where I am, and sees me not as a frail human being with this innate tendency to fail Him at any given moment, but as a broken vase He took, cleansed, purified and justified – calling me precious, the apple of His eye. Sooper.

So also each one of you reading this today.

This year with all its incessantly flowing unpleasant surprises has neither been easy, nor a pleasurable journey. Fed up? Frustration, anger, irritation, disappointment , resignation, loneliness, exhaustion- are some of the many emotions most of us have been going through. But dear friend, would you look up today, lifting your eyes from the darkness around you to the Father above? And hear His voice in your ear, calling out to you?

“I will give up whole nations to save your life, because you are precious to me and because I love you and give you honor.”                                                                         ( Isaiah 43:4)

When we dwell in that overwhelming awareness and assurance that we are so precious and so loved by such an amazing God, kindness will flow out of us to the people around us. Like that little child, we’d be able to take a tiny moment out of our universe, to maybe tell the next person (Be it your boss or the milkman ), ” Hey you’re appreciated!” The more we open our hearts to His love, the more we would be able to see God’s fingerprints in these dark times.

Put this blog down, and look at the mirror today. And remind yourself what God Almighty thinks about you this very moment:

Days will come when you don’t have the strength
When all you hear is you’re not worth anything
Wondering if you ever could be loved
And if they truly saw your heart, they’d see too much

You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this
You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred
You are His
You’re beautifu
l
( Beautiful, MercyMe)

And when you’ve done that, open your door and tell the first person you meet, ‘You’re beautiful!’ or if you come from where I write this from, ‘Sooper da!’

In His Eyes.

Yes!!!

Pontine Glioma- a diagnosis I had to explain to two different sets of parents over a time span of 24 hours. Not easy… not on the eyes, not on the mind and definitely not on the heart. Two smart, absolutely bright six year olds, with the promise of a whole lifetime ahead of them. A fall while playing. Sudden unexplained weakness of one side of the body. One visit to the OPD and a scan later, that promise of a future suddenly snatched from them without any mercy. A grave diagnosis. Poor prognosis. Tears. Disbelief. Lots of gasps. More tears. “Is there nothing we can do? No where we can take him/her?” The same questions. The same profound helplessness on both sides- the doctor’s and the parents’.

Finally when I did hit my bed at 3 am early morning the next day hoping there would be no more calls from the ward, my thoughts were racing. For all the exhaustion of that day, sleep evaded my eyes. The weight on my heart drove me to my knees. And this time the tears were mine. The mother’s fearful eyes, the father’s brokenness, their testimony of how they conceived after nearly 10 years of infertility and how special this child was, the child’s innocent unaware voice asking me if I wanted to hear him recite his favourite Psalm to me again. I felt so undone. Why these children? Why such terrible suffering? It felt like the carpet you were standing on was suddenly pulled away from under your feet and you had landed face forward on the ground. I didn’t have answers to the questions that were raging in my head and heart. But I knew and still know that God is good. He knows what He’s upto. But in that moment of grief, and multitudes of questions, and exhaustion- the only thing I could do was weep- weep not out of sympathy or pity, but just knowing that I was sharing their burden by pouring out my tears at heaven’s altar in intercession- not just for those two families, but also the ones I knew around me who were suffering- either from loneliness, depression, one physical ailment after another, torment for taking stands for their faith, lack of gratitude after years of work or just the feeling of hopelessness at unanswered prayers and unfulfilled desires.

Bringing them one by one to the Master with nothing but a broken heart for them in the wee hours of the morning, a beautiful revelation dawned on me. I had allowed them to be a part of my life, to have a share of my time, to make me care enough to be broken for them , to keep me awake at night praying for them.

In short, I had let them get to me. I had opened up my heart to love them. So much so that my needs and wants didn’t matter to me as much as theirs did!

These many many people who’ve walked in and out of my life. Some leaving footprints, yet others , scars – a patient, a colleague, a friend or a dear family member- yet they are deeply loved and immensely valued. In those moments my eyes were opened to see what loving a neighbour as myself looked like. If that was what only a minute finite portion of God’s love in me looked like, I can’t help wondering at how passionately, how fiercely, how unconditionally He loves me, and each one of you reading this. Oh how His heart breaks each time for us!

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I rose up from amidst those tears and prayers for mercy and healing, knowing that I’d given the best I could for those children who were my patients and their families , and to the ones around me whom I knew to be suffering- not my scientific prowess or skills as a paediatrician- I’d made a case for them to the King of kings, the Master of the universe, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour- in love.

People may fail us, institutions may fail us, systems we fought to put in place might be ripped apart right before us, but there’s still scope for love.

So hey, are we capable of living a life of love, rooted in the faith and shielded by the Lord Most High, yet vulnerable? Despite and even if? I say….. Yes!!!

You lead and I will follow
I know you hold tomorrow
Lord, make of me one big yes


Wherever this road takes us
Lord even if it’s just us
I surrender, Lord, it’s yes
.. ”

( Yes, Larry Gatlin, Gaither Vocal Band)

Take a knee….

“I want to be straight with you: there will be no return to the “old normal” for the foreseeable future.” This was part of the opening remarks made by the WHO Director- General a couple of days ago at a press conference.

Well even if he hadn’t said it out that obviously, all of us can testify to the fact that this reality has started to sink in slowly for most of us, right? One of the things that this pandemic has taught us is that there is no shortcut out of this. This has to run it’s course.

Strangely that’s pretty much how life is in general. It has always been “not easy” ( In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m refraining from using the word tough). No shortcuts. Somehow when life confronts us in all its reality and glory, there’s no easy way out. No, I’m not going through a midlife crisis. But yes, I’ve been having to face a lot of difficult realities lately. And there have been not one but a multitude of moments when I have honestly wished things were so much easier, wished there was a shortcut, a less tedious exasperating way about this.

Amongst the mess the world is in right now, there’s a lot of mess within and amongst us as well. They say ( I don’t exactly know who), that post graduation is like a public toilet ( yeah! an Indian one). You must be desperate, to get in, however once you’re in, you can’t wait to be done with it and get out. Well, now explain to the person inside a public toilet that it’s gotten locked from the outside, and the key has been lost! Now that’s more like the exact feeling a couple of my loved ones waiting for the dates for their final postgrad exams to be announced are going through.

Indefinitely postponed. Don’t know when. Cannot say how. No solution in the foreseeable future. Cancelled till further notice.

These are some of the phrases we’ve been hearing over and over again over the past couple of months, with respect to many other things apart from exams as well.

As the day drew to a close yesterday, the culmination of events over the last few weeks finally descended on me like a heavy blanket. Oh and was I overwhelmed! Drowning in all the voices in my head competing for attention, the pain of people around me, the uncertainties in front of me and just generally life’s storms threatening to tear me apart into a million pieces. And I just knew that there was only one posture to be in when all this weight bore down on me- on my knees. There was no where else I wanted to go to at that point even if there was no lockdown.

My heart kept singing this song over and over again as the darkness within me seemed greater than the night closing in on the outside:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You. ( Lord I need you, Matt Maher)

So that’s exactly what I did. I took a knee- not in protest or to express my anger as we generally understand that phrase, but in absolute surrender to the King of Kings, the One who holds the seas and has each hair on my head numbered. On bended knees and with lifted hands, amidst free flowing tears, that heaviness lifted, slowly but surely being replaced with a certain peace that I know no words to describe.

Friend, when the waves come crashing in, when the wait is unending, when there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel or the silver lining seems to be missing, when it all comes sweeping over you, when there are no answers but only a lot of questions, here’s the thing – Take a knee. Actually both. Bowing in His presence, you’ll find your rest.

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33, The Message)

A Lil Loose…

One of my strongest childhood memories is of loud, really loud laughter. My siblings and I grew up with that sound of ringing laughter echoing off the walls of our home- some days we woke up to it, some days we heard it in the middle of our otherwise quiet study time ( interrupted only by the thud of me falling asleep over my books), some days all of us joined in. Appa had and still has this amazing ability to make even the most tight jawed individual burst into splits of laughter- something anyone who has acquainted themselves with him even once would testify to. And it’s always amazed me. Irrespective of the language they spoke or the kind of office they held, they couldn’t resist his smart wit or quick observations, most of the time the object of the joke being himself.

If we were relatively less naughtier during the week, he’d take us for long walks on the weekend on the sandy beaches of the Arabian Sea, in the place we grew up in. And while my younger siblings ran off to play with the waves, he’d hold my hand and give me one of his ‘life lessons’. A distinct memory that has stayed with me over the years is of one day when he’d just cracked up somebody over the phone, and he looked at me after that conversation with a twinkle in his eye saying, “Kunje learn to laugh at yourself every once in a while. The lesser you think about yourself, the more room you’ll have for others.”

Now the paediatrician in me would tell you that the palmar grasp is a reflex that we see in babies as soon as they are born. You might’ve noticed them having a very tight grasp. The moment you stroke the palm, they curl their fist up quite tight. Forgive me for the science class, but an interesting fact we learn is that as they grow, this grasp has to loosen and disappear if they have to learn new skills such as holding an object or reaching out for something. In other words they’ve got to let go if they have to get going!

As the pandemic progresses and lives are being lost at a rate nobody is even sure of, one fact that has struck a chord with me is that there’s only so much we can hold on to tightly. We’ve had to reschedule and replan, we’ve had to wait endlessly, we all have more questions than answers. But what we also have is today- this day that the Lord has made. We don’t know about tomorrow or the next day. What we can do is not take ourselves so seriously that we miss out on what God has planned for us today- the blessing we can be, the impressions we can leave, the prayers we can offer for people around us, the lives we can touch.

I’m often asked, “Do you really need to do all this? Do you even have enough time for yourself? Aren’t you tired?” And as I look to the Lord with these questions, more often than not He reminds me of this lesson I learnt from my dad a long time ago and He points me to the fist of the newborn baby- just to remind me that it’s okay to loosen my tight grasp over my own dreams, desires, and life. In being willing to let go of what I think I deserve and have a right to, I let God into that space, letting Him build the broken pieces into something beautiful. ‘Cos at the end of the day that’s what makes all the difference. The frustrations, anger, bitterness and dissatisfaction will slowly melt away when we slowly turn our gaze from ourselves to the needs of the other.

I stand at the threshold of another decade of my life today, knowing that I can hold on to this life I live a lil loose, ‘cos my Father in heaven has got a tight grip of me.

In other words, being expendable to be expandable for the kingdom of my Saviour.

If there ever were dreams
That were lofty and noble
They were my dreams at the start
And hope for life’s best were the hopes
That I harbor down deep in my heart
But my dreams turned to ashes
And my castles all crumbled, my fortune turned to loss
So I wrapped it all in the rags of life
And laid it at the cross
.

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
But he made something beautiful of my life

( Something Beautiful,Bill & Gloria Gaither)

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.’ ( Philippians 3:8, NKJV)

The Calling

Now that is a forbidden word in my household. The reason being, the last time I said ‘calling’, I was asking permission to leave family, the country I grew up in and asking out of the culture I was raised in, in pursuit of what the Lord was leading me to be. That was unprecedented in my family, unheard of – a young girl, with a promising career and life ahead, traditional family….saying she has a ‘calling’? What was that? Is she delusional? Who’s ‘calling’ her? And how dare she tell us something like that? Where did she get the courage to do that?

As not just eyebrows, but blood pressures also rose, and nostrils flared, I just stood my ground and asked the God who had called me to make the way. The rest of whatever happened is a story in itself. However thenceforth my siblings and I refer to it as the ‘C*******’ word. Evoking that word on a family holiday could cause a variety of emotions to well up, most of them the kind we wouldn’t want to be anywhere close to.

Jokes apart, how many of us have asked at least our own selves that? What am I called to do? What is the purpose of my existence? I’m pretty sure more than half of you reading this would have wondered about this at some point in your life.

I still do. Every single day. Still wonder if I’m on the’ right track’. Or whether there is a thing as one. Even many years after taking such a strong stand in the direction to what I believe God has been calling me to.

Why does it have to be so hard? My head voice was screaming the other day. I was exhausted, tired of being the junior most, the ‘underdog’, tired of people telling me to strive harder to complete my higher studies ( one of the downsides of the Indian medical education system- you somehow never finish studying), tired of standing back and watch people I thought were less deserving than me, get in so easily to what I had to sweat my blood out for; tired of waiting at crossroads, tired of being taken advantage of, tired of questions, tired……..

Why does it have to be so hard? Why the pain? Why endure such scorn? Why does all this call for so much enduring? Why should it feel like the pressure is weighing in on the soul?

I had followed the Voice, I had taken those steps in faith, I had obeyed… and yet it is hard. Very hard. There are delays, there are trials, diseases, rejection, pain and questions. That being said, there is also the peculiar joy of knowing that He’s got me and I wouldn’t trade that for anything else in the whole wide world.

That’s when the good Lord above reminded me of this poem, author anonymous, a famous preacher quoted once that left an impression on my soul:

When God wants to drill a man, thrill a man and skill a man,
When God wants to mould a man to play the noblest part
When He yearns with all his heart to create so bold a man
That all the world might be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways
!”

Your calling is something God has put in your genes even before you were born. You were chosen. Oh yes, nobody said it was going to be easy. Nobody said you would know what it was right away.

How He ruthlessly perfects, whom He royally elects;
How He hammers and hurts him, and with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay, that only God understands
While his tortured heart is crying
and he lifts beseeching hands.”

Every single day, the Lord has called us to do something special, that we would only know if we asked of Him- every single day.

How He bends, But never breaks
When his good He undertakes,
How He uses whom He chooses
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendour out,
God knows what He’s about
.”

So friend, when you keep striving to do your best and somehow your best is not good enough to keep it all together, and you wonder like a friend of mine did ” Is there no space for human frailty here?”, remember there’s only one place to fight that battle- on your knees, in the presence of your Creator. And right there, just right there, you will find your calling. The purpose for your existence- not just for this season but for the next and the next and the one after that.

I’ll end with a quote by a man who lived and died doing what he was called to do till the very end.

You will never lighten any load until you feel the pressure in your own soul. “( Ravi Zacharias)

Hocus-pocus…..Focus!

The sound of loud wailing pierced the otherwise lazy afternoon atmosphere in front of the hospital casualty, the moment I broke the news. A shocked father, wondering what he’d tell his wife when he got home, the loud thuds from the older women in the family beating their chest like it was a piece of wood or something, and the distraught security guards trying to arrange an ambulance to carry the lifeless body of the child back home. I sighed. This was the second time in 48 hours that I’d looked into the eyes of a parent desperately searching mine for some news of hope, and I’d had to say that there wasn’t any left. Both were young , one seven years old, another fifteen; both could have been helped, had their folks known earlier that hospitals were still functioning despite the lockdown . One fought for sometime in the hospital, the other gave up just before he was brought to the casualty.

As I walked back from the hospital , emotionally drained, the mid noon sun beating down on my head, the faces of the pleading parents flashing before my eyes, I couldn’t resist the rising frustration within me- why hadn’t they brought them in earlier? Why hadn’t they followed up with us? Who told them we weren’t available? The battle in my mind raged on, now turning focus at the general state of affairs in the country wherein in the fight against the novel coronavirus, the cure seems worse than the disease itself.

Frustration. Is an old enemy. But he seems to be closer these days. Not just for me. For any human being on this planet during these times. Frustrated at having to stay indoors the whole time, frustrated that the virus continues to spread and there’s no obvious solution in sight, frustrated with administrations, with governments,with leaders we elected into being, with the weighing scales that show us bigger numbers, with the uncertainties looming large in our lives, with having to wear those impossible protective suits and masks at work, and so on.

I do not deny that this has been a season of Frustration.

But like I said, this guy is an enemy. He’s not a friend. He doesn’t help us, doesn’t encourage us, doesn’t build us. Instead he eats us, from within, makes us want more of him and in the process, trade our joy.

Today we’re frustrated at the government and the way things have been handled, yesterday we were frustrated with our spouses, our lives, our colleagues at work and tomorrow when all of this is over or maybe never, we’ll find new reasons to be frustrated about. This guy can stick closer than you’d want him to and you wouldn’t even know.

And it took me a little knock on the head from a portion of Scripture I read the other day, to let it dawn on me that I’d given this guy a throne in my house. He was no longer a visitor, but I’d let him stay and how! I was trading bits and pieces of the joy I had in the Lord, to this emotion that was eating into me. ( Why can’t it be a ‘she’- your tangential thoughts might ask. I say – Suit yourself).

What was in that Scripture that I read? ( Pick up your Bible and read through the letter to the Philippians). It was a letter from a man named Paul, who was in a Roman prison, in chains, for no wrong he’d done, to his friends, telling them how he always prayed with joy and how to rejoice always and continue to bear fruit and asking them to REJOICE! Well for starters anyone would’ve thought he was bonkers, that prison life had started taking it’s toll on him, but God in His great mercy opened my eyes to see now what Paul saw then.

Yes, the world around me is far from perfect, yes we live in very difficult times, insecure and uncertain times. Yes, it brings our blood to boiling point temperatures when we watch the news or even look around us. Death, uncertainty and poverty have never been more real. So has the realisation of how the lust for power and money can turn people’s hearts to stone.Yes.

But yes, we also have set our hope in a God who gave His life for us, defeated death and sin on the Cross and who promises us eternal life and Joy- something the enemy cannot take away. Death need not surprise us because each one of our days were written in His book even before one of them came to be. We can rest every single moment in the arms of this God who tells us He’s got this.

So what I did the other day, was take that throne I’d given the enemy in my house right out to the dustbin, ask for forgiveness from the Giver of life, and decide to take the magnifying glass with which I was looking at all the hocus-pocus going on around me, to focus it on the One who’s got this. And bear fruit in whatever season I’m in, in whichever place I’m in , because I’m drawing my strength from the streams of Living Water. and remember to Rejoice- even in the prison experience.

Dear friend, how frustrated are you this season? Know that there is a place to lay it down. Kick that guy outta the backdoor. Take your eyes off the hocus-pocus…. and focus.

Oh soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace (Turn your eyes, Helen Howarth Lemmel)

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
C. S. Lewis ( The chronicles of Narnia)

Livin’ life

I walked past our supplies store the other day , to hear our otherwise mostly annoyed ( which I’ve come to realise is an occupational hazard) store manager laugh out loud. Curious as to what had elicited such joy, I went in to see her laughing over a whatsapp forward that read, ” The dumbest thing I purchased this year(2020) was a year planner.” She read that out to me and started laughing again. I couldn’t help but share in her enthusiasm, nor could I help thinking about it.

“You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”( Luke 12:20)

This is a very strong warning God gives to a man who made many plans about his life in a story Jesus tells his disciples. Just pause and mull over that statement.

Been feeling a bit foolish lately? You bet I have! We had plans! We had timelines, deadlines. We had academic rosters to complete by so and so month, we had interviews to attend, weddings to plan, places to be, friends to meet, reunions, exams to give…..we could go on. Add on your plans to that list. And then, while we were busy planning and deciding and fretting about, the Great Pause happened. Like literally, we had to stand back and watch as our house of cards came tumbling down.

And for once in all of humanity’s timeline, we do not know what to really do next. We simply cannot plan anymore.

Things have changed, and they’re still changing.

It seems like God decided to press the ‘hibernate’ button on us and our lives simply so we could refocus. People we love and know are dying, some of our very own are refused even a decent burial, others are putting their lives on the line and sweating it out, the rest stay put at home- in all of these cases, we’re seeing a ‘new normal’ that might be a long term thing.

Somehow this Easter Sunday didn’t seem like a regular Easter- there was no gathering in a church for service, there was no celebatory breakfast with extended family in our homes, no sound of everyone singing together, no hugging and wishing each other, no shaking hands- different. The Saturday before Easter somehow seems more silent than usual.

But somehow, this Easter’s message was more powerful than ever. Somehow through all this darkness and confusion, we are realising what’s more important in our lives. We’re learning to declutter and focus on what really matters.

It’s okay if we didn’t have chicken for Easter, it’s okay if we didn’t have the entire family jingbang over for the holiday, it’s okay if the churches were empty- We still have the empty tomb. The fulfilled promise of resurrection. The Risen Lord. We still have a life to be lived in all the glory the Maker intended it to be.

This silence the world has gone into is actually the voice of the Lord screaming across the mess our world is in today, across the wards teeming with patients, across the homes filled with stories of loss and unemployment, across disease, across countries and failed leaderships, over our half- lived lives, over death- LIVE. He says LIVE.

He’s willing to breathe into those dry bones of yours and bring them to life- the wasted years, the hatred, the unforgiveness, the anger, the pursuit of greatness, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life- if only you can take it to the the Cross and leave it there.

Hey, how do I live a full life when I cannot rush into my office early morning, when I cannot scream at someone in traffic and get an adrenaline rush out of it or when I cannot see the kind of patients in the hospital I was trained to see? When i can’t take my family out to the park or the mall? Or we can’t hang out at the beach or the movies?

Yes, I hear you. I’m not living in LaLa land either. I’m very much in the middle of all that’s happening. But I shall leave that much to you to figure out. I’m guessing you’re already realising a lot of it, just as I have .

As D.L Moody once said ,’The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated ( also read that as – surrendered ) to him.”

This rap from a song sums it up in a way I like( yeah, I said rap)

Maybe I ain’t really know what living is
Is it love? if it was am I living it?
Do I live in it? So astounding

Whether or never I ever understand
I’m a man in the hands of great plans
I stand with faith in a life I never known or touched
It’s still outside my clutch but
I’m like what’s to dream of and what’s to hope in
What’s to die for and live to no end
This is living
The life I’ve been given’s a gift
If I’m gonna live it I’m gonna live it to death! Yeah!

This is living life. (Lecrae, Hillsong, young and free)

Fear……is a liar

” I lift up mine eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.( Ps 121:1)”

She stood on the terrace, lifting up her hands to the hills with tears flowing down her face and the early southwest winds blowing through her hair, the cries from her heart louder than the rustling of the dry leaves of the trees worn down by the summer — Lord, when will this end? Will you turn and have mercy?

The dark clouds started gathering around and the sound of distant thunder echoed in the air, and she opened her eyes to a very bright sun going down slowly, letting the dark clouds take over. Ravens flying about their usual business. And as the first drop of rain fell on her face, something moved within her- she knew her Help would come. In fact He already had it planned out. She knew that even though the sun wasn’t shining anymore, the promise of rain still stood. When the rain has come and gone, and the thunderstorm has raged and is over, the sun will shine again, but this time with a brightness she never knew she could appreciate before. With a rainbow shining through.

The past couple of months especially the last few weeks haven’t been easy on any of us. After the initial relief of being able to sit at home on paid leave has worn off, the reality has started to sink in. A prolonged lockdown, poverty magnified, unemployment, nations threatening each other over essential equipments and medicines, the possibility of most of the population contracting the virus, the constant question of running out of supplies, losing loved ones and not being able to bid them a proper farewell and most importantly, the billion dollar question of will things ever be the same again? A certain emotion has slowly started to creep into our beings even without us being aware of it- a four letter word- F-E-A-R.

As we see even the most developed nations in the world succumbing in large numbers to this disease, and as we follow the statistics of the mortality of this disease from minute to minute like we’re following some cricket match score ( thanks to the bombarding of information from social media and a lot of free time on our hands),we can’t help but give in to this emotion of fear- will I be next? What happens to my family? Will I still have a job at the end of all this?

And you know what ? Even though these are valid concerns and very relevant questions, these are matters that are way beyond are control. We cannot with our finite human minds even begin to navigate the eternal depth of all of this or be able to predict what happens a few days or few months down the line. Of course we can keep making calculated guesses!

Giving in to fear is by far worse than having contracted the virus itself, simply because it eats you from deep within. Fear tells you that you have to be able to do something desperate to get a hold of your future, fear tells you you might not make it, fear throttles the joy out of you, it questions your faith, it makes you panic, it disturbs your sleep and it destroys your peace, it shrouds over your soul like a dark cloud- fear lies. Truth is , Fear is a liar.

The girl on the terrace will tell you that- that when her soul was most burdened, when she couldn’t take it anymore and was overwhelmed- she was led to do only this one thing- to throw her hands up in the air, and surrender her fears to the Maker of Heaven and Earth, ‘cos there’s only one Person who tells us this over and over again- something her years of intense training or her loved ones or Netflix couldn’t help her with- when the storms blow harder and the clouds grow darker and the uncertainties loom like large shadows in our paths, the still Voice that says ” Do not fear, For I am with You, Do not be dismayed for I am your God…I will uphold you with my Righteous Right Hand.”( Isaiah 41:10).

Now I know that you have no business sitting and reading the musings of a random doctor who’s seemingly overly hopeful- no, you have absolutely no reason to be wasting time on this space. But, while you’re here, allow me to exhort you to this- Hold on to Jesus. He’s got this. Let’s get the liar out of our lives and trod on knowing that no matter how bad this gets , God’s got this.

And as we wait for the storms to calm, we continue at what He has called us to do, continuing to love, serve, teach, train and worship.

“He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.” ( Psalm 121:3,4)

Kum ba yah

Extraordinary times. Extraordinary circumstances.

Shutting down of economies, of countries, of offices, of railways and roadways, of homes and doors and gates. The highlight of the same being the indefinite nature of it. All because we hope to overcome a certain power that causes disease, that is invisible to the naked eye. Oh yes, we’re definitely in times that are historically super significant- one that the future generations ( if we survive to that, that is) will read about in history books and one that we will talk about to old age and grey hair.

Empty parks, empty beaches, silent campuses, empty corridors. Empty malls and shelves within the malls. The song of the birds louder than ever. The seas bluer than before. The skies clearer than ever. The haunting absence of the ever punctual train horn. Extraordinary.

A whole generation that is used to running around – the digital era, the supersonic, the we-don’t-have-time-for-delays generation- being forced to slow down, actually stop, to sit at home and start digging out old forgotten puzzles and share time with family they were too busy to notice before, to ‘rediscover’ cooking , ‘cos no one’s delivering at the doorstep anymore and most importantly just WAIT. For how long? No one knows! Yes, extraordinary.

Let’s just call it the Times of the Great Pause. The Great Timeout.

When God put a semicolon in the middle of our stories; ( mind you, it’s not a full stop). He decided we need to halt, pause and take our hands off everything( like literally) and just look up and then look around and therefore look within.

Could He be any more dramatic? you could ask me. Well, I’m guessing He desperately needed to catch our attention. He can be quite the drama person at times ( like our parents can be when they desperately need our focus).

As the virus keeps spreading and as more and more lives are on the line, the inevitable questions that loom large are- how long? Why now? What’s the end point? Will there even be one? what becomes of us?

And as part of medical training we’re always taught to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Well in this case what we’re doing currently is preparing for the worst and expecting the worst. The times have come to that. So everyday there are meetings and endless discussions on how to get more personal protective equipment, how do we keep ourselves and others safe, how much of social distancing, what happens if…?What if…? What if…?

Ironic as it may seem, over the past couple of weeks and months, one of the prayers of my heart towards my future was- Lord please move this mountain.( This was before the Great Time-out). Imagine my dismay when not just the mountain, but everything, literally everything just stopped moving. Not just the mountain darling, nothing is moving now- except time and the virus of course!

I live in a small town near the base of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu which is pretty much surrounded by a railway track that runs all around, Ever since I’ve come here, the trains crossing the tracks at regular intervals have been one of the most beautiful sights to see, and one of those sounds we get used to, so much so that when they didn’t run for a single journey the other day, and for the days after that, it felt almost apocalypsal. ( I’m not sure that’s a word, but if it wasn’t before, it is from now on. End of discussion.). That’s one of those days when the reality of what’s hit us hit home.

It’s humbling how when God decided to call a time-out, He spared no one. No, Not a single soul. We’re looking ahead towards times of great distress, of endless waiting, some of us at home, others at work at the hospitals, times of physical and mental stress, and when we’ve passed that, times of economic breakdown and lots of unemployment. Not heartening times at all. Nothing to be all ‘chilled out’ about. No, I do not intend to scare you. I’m just stating the obvious.

But here’s what we can hold on to- ( as usual,I had a Q & A session with the Man Upstairs)- That as children of the Maker of Heaven and Earth, despite the Time of the Great Pause , no matter where you are in life as you read this or what place you’ve been quarantined in, He has you where He wants you– in life, in the quarantine and in the storms of life. Exactly where He wants you. Ever thought about that?

You might’ve gotten stuck in another state or country unable to return home, or you might be stuck with the most unpleasant of people, the last ones on earth you would’ve thought of being locked down with, but that’s just where you’re wanted my friend. He couldn’t have you anywhere else.

So as we wait endlessly for things to turn around, let’s get our prayer mats rolling and our knees on the floor and our voices piercing through the silence, to ask Him of what His will for our lives is. Why does He so desperately need our attention?What’s He trying to tell us? If it isn’t enough that He got everything around us to pause, He’s also silenced the whole wide world.

And yes, wouldn’t you want to be ready with the answers to the next step you need to take in life when finally the tide turns, and the gates open and people flock to parks and beaches and are hugging again and holding hands( without having to sanitise them every now and then) and the sounds of laughter, of fellowship, of hustling and bustling return? Wouldn’t we want our skies of darkness to give way to clearer horizons and our stormy seas to deep blue waters?

While we’re at it, I’m reminded of this African- American folk song we learnt as little children:

Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya; Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya; Now I need you, Lord, come by here; Come by here, my Lord, come by here,

For one second on this world you made,
For the love that will never fade,
For a heart beating with joy,
For all that’s real, for all we feel.

Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14) (NIV)