Plan B

“Now there was a stream”, she said. ” It was happily trickling down from its source, making its way across the plains and growing stronger in force and depth as it travelled. The stream’s ultimate purpose was to join in with the river that would lead her to the ocean…the majestic ocean. She had no doubts about it. But there was an unexpected problem!” Her voice quivered with excitement as she went on to the next part of the story. My husband and I watched her face closely for the rest of it like two small children listening to their grandmother’s tales, except we knew she was going to say something that would give us a little more wisdom and insight into the season of life we were in right now. “There was a desert she had to cross,” our seventy- odd year old neighbour continued. “It wasn’t any ordinary desert. It was one of the hottest ones in the region. There was no way the stream would survive till the other end, as she was just a small stream with just enough water to keep her going. As she approached the desert, she asked her Maker , ‘ Must I cross this? Is there an easier route around? ‘ Yes , you must cross this. This is the only way through to the ocean’, came the answer. ‘ Then how will I do this? It is impossibly scorching heat. I won’t make it to the other side!’ ‘Why do you worry? I will make a way’, He says. ‘But how?’, the stream asked, looking around and seeing no obvious relief to her problem. ‘I’m going to carry you through in a way you haven’t even imagined!’ The stream waited as a strong wind enveloped her, drew her into the heat as vapour and carried her as a cloud through the desert, to come to rest above the ocean. The wind blew again, as she poured herself out over the ocean, joining with it as she knew her purpose was, in a form she never could have planned or imagined…as rain…one drop at a time. In that moment she understood a mighty truth…. the scorching heat was necessary to get her here…” Aunty A stopped to catch her breath, her eyes gleaming at us with wisdom gained over the years and with the warmth of someone who had tasted and known that the Lord is good. As she got up slowly from her chair to get us some tea, we looked at each other. I swallowed a lump in my throat. God always has a way of talking to us. Always.

Have you ever been through a phase where you’ve wondered- hey, am I living out a plan B right now? Did I mess up plan A?
I’ve been through a phase like that where despite knowing with all my heart that God wouldn’t lead me to something that’s not His will for me, when things worked out differently from what I had actually planned or hoped for in my head, I have caught myself wondering one too many times- ‘Lord, must I really cross this to get there? Isn’t this too difficult? I could have been a happily trickling stream on the plains , you know. Or wait, did I miss out on plan A in the first place? ‘
It isn’t until months later that we had a sit down with this particular neighbour who told us this story. But I believe she was prompted by the One above to tell us this. Because it was so true about both of our lives- in a very short time, we found ourselves as a couple, completely out of our comfort zones, in a place we had never imagined to be in, facing testing times, but being assured all along the way of the Everlasting Arms that have been upholding us.
And after a particularly difficult week at work, when I was wondering whether we would really make it to the other side, we decided to spend an evening with this aunty downstairs, and now you know how that turned out!

‘ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)


I have been reminded of these words again and again in my heart over the last few months.
Think about it, when the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything else in all of creation, when He who calls the stars by name and knows the number of hairs on my head, says that He knows the plans He has for me…why would I even imagine that there was a plan B in the first place!
And thus I have resolved in my heart- That my only plan is to BE in Him as He leads me along- as water, as vapour or as a cloud. What He plans would be the best there could be to it!

Friend, have you been in a season of second guessing? You’re looking at the desert ahead and thinking it’s going to dry you up? Wondering whether you missed a train?
I don’t know about you, but, to me, it’s exhausting to even begin to imagine that I could make a perfectly balanced decision each time I’m faced with making a choice. I’m glad I have a Father in whom I can place my life and follow His leading all the way.
May I invite you to do the same today? Place your hand in His. And let’s just plan to BE in Him. Our lives will unfold in ways we could’ve never imagined or even hoped for.

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You’re working for our good
You’re working for our good and for Your glory
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us (Sovereign over us, Michael W Smith)

O Mira Gratia!

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have set in place;
What is man that You think of him,
And a son of man that You are concerned about him? (Psalm 8:3-4,NASB)

“Not writing a blog for New Year’s huh?” the sister (to whom I also owe the above pic) asked the other day. I said nope, don’t know yet. Truth being, like all of us, I looked back at last year, and was simply overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it. I looked to what lay ahead, and was even more overwhelmed by the uncertainty of it all. And honestly, I couldn’t find words to put down all that was going on in my mind. Nevertheless one word that could probably describe the one year gone by would be – GRACE. Amazing, undeserved, unending grace.

Have you ever been in that place in your mind where you really can’t see the way things are going and you are just forced to surrender it to God because your brain is exhausted trying to figure it out? That was me December of 2020… and now when I look back- I cannot even begin to fathom the mountains God moved for me and the seas He held back from drowning me. Then again, just like the rebellious forefathers, that’s also me in December 2021!

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I made a home next to some rose garden last year. There were doubts, anxieties, troubles, questions, sickness and prolonged waiting. And yet there was joy in the midst of suffering, tenderness in brokenness, favour upon favour, and each unexpected twist and turn to my story proving to be another opportunity to grow deeper in love with the One I gave my life to- Jesus Christ. More often than not, every single day of the past one year has been a reminder of the miracle of sweet grace the Lord has bestowed on my life.

Now you might be tempted to shake your head and roll your eyes and say…yeah, yeah…that wasn’t my case. Or a long list of unanswered prayers and disappointments might pop up in your head. But let me tell you, as I was reminded the other day, if you have have a beating heart right now, and you are breathing freely and you have the eyesight to sit and read this blog, you have enough reasons to be grateful and thankful for the grace that’s been given you- to simply see another day. Many a time we aren’t even aware of the miracle of life. Our routines so get to us that we fail to pause and consider…the works of the Living God.

When we slow down and look around us, we see the story of Grace…unmerited favor … bestowed on us by a perfect holy God. Sometimes all it takes is a good look in the mirror to wonder if just a big bang could cause you to be the unique individual you are- with each system in your body working in perfect synchrony with the other, and not another person among the billions of people on this planet having the same genetic code as yours. You’ve been created unique- there’s just one of you. And that’s just the story of human beings- think about the plants, animals, birds, insects, galaxies, stars, planets…the list goes on. I choose to believe in a Creator God who created the universe to perfection. He knows them by name. This amazing God, knew I could never match up to the holiness He required of me, He reached out His hand, lifted me out of the slimy pit and washed me of my sins. His blood cleansed me, set my feet on firm ground and gives me hope for eternity. Through it all, that’s the one thing that keeps me together. The story of grace, redemption and hope for an imperfect me in an imperfect world.

That’s the story that’s been on my mind these days. The grace that saved me, the grace that keeps me and the grace that will lead me on. As I sat down the other day and reflected on all the uncertainties that lie ahead, while going all drama queen on myself , I was reminded of an old hymn that we don’t sing often enough. It was written by a slave trader who was saved by this same grace we have been talking about. When he repented of his ways and experienced the fullness of joy that comes from Christ, he penned these words down that describe how he came to loathe his past mistakes but had the hope of a forgiven and redeemed future to look forward to.

So on days when the workings of my mind could be sufficient material for a many part thriller series on some OTT platform, I take a deep breath and remember:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures. (John Newton)

May this set the tone for the year ahead for you too dear reader.

“A woman who follows the Lord, the Lord will direct her steps, ” a calm seventy five year old voice was assuring me one night when I couldn’t see the way forward. Oh yes, He has directed my steps. I only had to surrender and trust He would. He will continue to..

O Mira Gratia!

Come…

She was a young girl, barely a teenager. He had always been a faithful son, respected in society and known to be hardworking. They were betrothed to be married as per the custom in those days. That’s all that’s normal about this story as far as we know. They were soon to face the wrath of their society when they learned that Mary was pregnant before the wedding, and Joseph had a decision to make.
We all know the story. That’s what we usually hear this time of the year, year after year. But let me turn your attention to a specific action of both Mary and Joseph that has really challenged me the last couple of years. Radical obedience to God’s calling even when it didn’t really make sense to them. Why them? What now? Why should this be so complicated? All fair questions they could’ve asked. For all we know they might’ve wondered the same as well.

Yet… they fully obeyed. What happened at Bethlehem was not a fairy tale. Instead it was a picture of absolutely surrendering their plans, their dreams, their reputations, their traditions, expectations of their culture at the feet of the Almighty God who holds it all– a picture of complete surrender even when it hurt and didn’t make sense. The baby in the manger was a symbol of complete obedience of the Son to the Father to fulfil His plan to save mankind from eternal destruction.
The story of Christmas is a call to humanity- to you and me. A call to obey and fully surrender to this Sovereign God.

Why should you?


You may have been going through a season of doubt, or barrenness or worry about the future or just frustration at how your life has turned out versus what you had dreamt it would be like. You may have been going through a season of unfaithfulness, of denying God because it seems like He is not seeing the pain you’re going through….you know what you’re going through. And as the world lights up, songs and colours and stars and all, it may seem like goads in your wounds, the carols might just be a lot of noise in your ears, you don’t seem to have a reason to rejoice. It’s good to remember that there were two lonely people on their way to Bethlehem the night before Jesus was born- a pregnant lady on a donkey’s back and her desperate husband looking for shelter- both despised, judged, looked down upon by the very people they had spent their entire lives with and forlorn. Yet they held on to the God who had called them to this great mission of being parents to the boy Jesus. Nobody else would understand them. That did not matter when heaven was on their side.
So this Christmas, I would like to ask you to bring yourself to that manger in Bethlehem- the place where the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, was born to save you and me from our sinful ways by dying for us. As you see the shepherds kneel in worship, look at the baby in the manger and his parents- that baby’s cry meant the beginning of your freedom from the clutches of sin. While we exchange gifts and greetings, let me remind you that this was the greatest gift mankind ever got. And the offer to accept that gift of salvation still stands.
You may have a lot of questions, you may have been living your entire life doing good deeds, you may have been brought up knowing the Bible inside out, you may occupy the first bench in church week after week, you might have celebrated many Christmases before this or you’re cynical about this whole thing, you still can’t seem to understand why a good God would allow suffering in this world- it doesn’t matter. The call is to fully surrender your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ and accept the salvation He gives. There’s nothing else you can do to get right with God. The answers to your questions will slowly come with the wisdom that God gives. Would you radically obey? The journey to Bethlehem and beyond wasn’t easy, neither will your journey of faith be. But it will be worth it. That’s the gift of Christmas… a call to experience that redemption…come!

O come, all you unfaithful
Come, weak and unstable
Come, know you are not alone
O come, barren and waiting ones
Weary of praying, come
See what your God has done
He’s the Lamb who was given
Slain for our pardon
His promise is peace
For those who believe So come, though you have nothing
Come, He is the offering
Come, see what your God has done
(O Come, All You Unfaithful, Bob Kauflin, Lisa Clow)

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Undaunted

“He’s not eating! He’s spitting everything out”, she complained as she cuddled her ten month old son close. She looked tired and distraught. ‘What are you giving him?”, I asked. “Pureed veggies, potatoes and so on.” “Pureed how?” ” In a blender…smooth paste and put it before him.” “Have you tasted the pureed food?” “Yes, I didn’t like it.” “Then how will your child like it?” A week later she came back looking happier and refreshed. I had asked her to mash the food with her hands instead of putting it in a blender. Baby and mother were satisfied. ‘He likes the different textures’ she says. I nodded.

There was a time when we, as children, were ‘forced’ to play outside, experience the sun and the sand, feel with their fingers , listen to different sounds, experience life with all its textures and colors and smells, interact with other children, spend less time in front of a screen. We had to solve our own problems. We had to get our hands messy with paint, to know which colors when mixed together gave what color. We also had to know that if we messed up one painting paper, it would take ages before we got one again. We learnt to get messy, but also be careful. We grew up to be adults who can live without having to run back to our parents with scraped knees each time.

And our children can do it too, if we stop putting the idea into their heads that swiping their fingers over a screen are a good, non messy substitute for playing, coloring, reading , learning, any life skill for that matter. Watch them close enough, and you’ll see. The walls of the house echo with their laughter over something we would have maybe smiled at. They’re the first to notice colors, a nice dress you’re wearing, a change in décor, appreciate you singing, or dance to a tune. They hold nothing back. It takes very little but something authentic and genuine to excite them. They’re not afraid to say what they like. They’re not afraid to ask questions. They aren’t afraid to say when something’s wrong. They aren’t afraid to love- fully and deeply- ‘cos that’s how they’re wired- unless we tell them otherwise. Been around a toddler lately? You’ll know what I’m talking about.

Maybe I’ve said it before, but for some reason I feel like saying it again. Somehow, somewhere down the line, we’ve all become too careful. So careful that we sometimes cross that fine line between ‘being careful’ and ‘being fearful’. Afraid of anything and everything? ( Of course…we have a pandemic, the current state of world affairs etc to blame.)

Have you felt more comfortable staring at your phone screen and going on refreshing your newsfeed , even when the room is full of other adults (who’re also probably doing the same thing), than having an actual conversation? Familiar scene?

We’re afraid to ask questions, because we’re afraid we might get asked questions. We’re afraid to appreciate ,’cos what if that other person doesn’t think the same way. We’re afraid to hold hands and pray with people, ‘cos ‘what if I’m not that eloquent at praying out loud?’ We’re afraid of talking to our neighbors. We’re afraid of doing anything new. We’re afraid of using our resources to help someone else. We’re afraid of laughing out loud- the neighbors might hear, afraid of moving out of something that’s not been very helpful into something new, afraid of change, afraid of challenges, afraid of opening up about our struggles to people, ‘cos we’re afraid of their judgement and afraid of hurting our ego. We’re afraid of everything and everyone. We prefer the safety of our cozy homes, our routine lives, our ‘zones’, our busy-ness. We somehow have started to prefer life bland, ‘cos we’re afraid textures might hurt.

I’ve been giving in to these fears too. I’ve been just learning my way around the kitchen these past few months, and when for the first time I put a pressure cooker on the stove, I stood outside the kitchen when the whistle blew because in my mind I ‘knew’ I might not have done it right and it would burst any moment and all the neighbours would come in to see food smeared all over the walls. ( Thankfully that didn’t happen) I stopped writing for a bit, because I simply couldn’t get over these thoughts of-‘what will these blogs come across to people who read them? What would they be thinking?’ As a doctor treating children, I’ve been terrified to give any sort of advice to parents, ‘cos I imagine a scenario in my head, where one of these parents might just turn around and ask me one day, ‘Hey you don’t have any kids yet. You’re so young. What would you know?’

So these kind of thoughts crippled me- Am I enough? Am I being criticized behind my back? Am I good at this? Can I do this? And this period of doubt took me back to my knees, in conversation with my Maker. I didn’t have many words to say, but tears asking forgiveness. ‘Cos I was reminded that I am falling short of loving my Lord completely and fully. My focus seemed to be on me, my reputation, my pride, my safety, all that pertains to me. But when I shifted my focus to my Saviour Jesus Christ again, I found these fears melting away in the light of how I can rest perfectly on His love for me, for,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

And by the strength of the Holy Spirit, I can rise above my nonsensical fears and embrace a full life -in all its colours and textures- fanning my gifts into flame for His glory, loving my neighbour as myself, reaching out to my patients with confidence, extending hospitality, making conversations that matter, being the wife, daughter and sister He meant for me to be and more importantly responding to His call on my life. I can…so can you!

It isn’t easy because we live in a difficult world. Cruelly critical of everything. But let’s hold fast to this truth. Let’s hold fast to our faith and fall back on the strength the Lord gives us. If Peter, the apostle, had let his fears of what would happen if he drowned engulf him, he wouldn’t have had the privilege to walk on water looking at his Master’s face!

What fear torments your soul today? You know your fears better than anyone else in the world. Lay it at the feet of Jesus. Embrace the life He’s given you to live with courage and joy and to fulfill the purpose to which you are called- undaunted. There’s only one of you on this planet!

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (1 Timothy 1:7)

Oh, my soul
You are not alone
There’s a place where fear
Has to face the God you know
One more day
He will make a way
Let Him show you how
You can lay this down (Oh my soul, Casting crowns)

Selah

The thing about being a medico is that more often than not, your timeline revolves around some exam or the other. You’re either preparing for one or you’re awaiting the results of one you’ve just given. I’m writing from a place of waiting on what verdict the national board is going to pass on the rest of what the next few years might look like for me based on a number of multiple choice questions I may or may not have done right. So this waiting is like the queue outside a public toilet I’m told- when you’re outside you really want to get in, but when you’re inside you desperately want to finish and get out!

That’s one kind of waiting. Then there’s the other kind- the kind where you’re waiting with baited breath for your doctor to tell you whether chemo has worked or not, or for the neonatologist to examine your baby and tell you whether things might turn out okay after all or not, or for the police to call back saying they found your missing person- the kind where after you’ve waited a couple minutes you start thinking, ‘know what? Maybe it’s maybe better I don’t know about it’ cos you’re afraid of the answer that’s going to come.

I don’t know what place you’re finding yourself in today- whether you’re waiting to get a particular outcome or you’re considering whether the outcome of all the wait might actually be worse than the wait itself, whether you’re glad that there’s some rest while you wait or you find yourself in a vacuum all of a sudden, like a noisy silence, and you wish there was some sort of breakthrough somewhere…but let me take you to an interesting word you find nearly 74 times in the Bible that caught my attention recently- Selah.

It’s a word that comes with no strings attached – it never comes as part of a sentence.

But it’s kind of always interestingly positioned. Smack right in the middle of a song or after a heartfelt lament or a poem of overwhelming praise. Some of us find ourselves in a selah position sometimes right? Like you woke up at 5 am to be in time for an appointment and then you ran all through the day to just make it happen and you end up being stuck in traffic so that you reach within a few milliseconds of the time you were given, and check yourself in, high on adrenaline, only to find yourself in the waiting room. “The doctor will see you in a few minutes”… a semicolon in the middle of your day.

You made a timetable for your life and tried to perfect it to the T- made it to the topmost college, passed out with honours, met the love of your life and probably you’re the youngest graduate around, but then the callback from the interview you gave hasn’t come. You may have to look for another job. It might take months maybe a year or so…a pause.

Who ever thought that when you got married to the love of your life and had plans and dreams and then maybe you may have problems conceiving? Who ever thought that despite having planned your delivery to perfection, you might have to wait for a few minutes for your baby to cry after being born?

These places of waiting come in unexpected and most times we’re hardly prepared for them. They have us wondering, ‘Did I do something wrong?’

So I looked up what this word really means- and most of the time it’s used as an interlude in a psalm. Though an accurate description is hard to find, the consensus is that it is a break, encouraging the reader/listener to pause and look back, some say to pause and praise- to catch a breath and consider how far you’ve come.

Find yourself wondering how on earth did you end up here? Or why’s nothing happening? The calls that never came, the unexpected outcomes, the sudden failure, the dreary diagnosis, the friend that never turned up, the stagnant family life?

Let me encourage you dear friend to do what this ‘Selah‘ phase is maybe all about. Look up to your Creator, look how far you’ve come, catch a breath, lift up your hands, and praise. He is just as good as He’s always been. The miracles we’ve read about? They aren’t just stories. They happened. And the God who made them happen? Thankfully for us, He is still the same.

You are just as good
You are just as kind
You are just as glorious
Just as divine As You’ve always been
You’re not changing
If the skies turn grey
And the lights grow dim
It doesn’t mean Your faithfulness
Is wearing thin It’s not wavering
You’re not changing
Anytime soon
(Not just stories, Maryanne J George)

Malachi 3:6
“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

Uncomplicated…

Looks were exchanged between the elders on the stage and the worship team just to the side of the stage. They stopped practicing. As the duo singing the song for the bridal procession got themselves into place and started the music, everybody else in the hall straightened up. The atmosphere was a mix of anticipation, excitement and happiness. The bride and the groom were about to enter. The youngest in the audience for this occasion, who were four and five years old, were strictly advised to attach themselves to their seats atleast for the first ten minutes. And so, after the cameraman, the groom entered with his parents followed by the bride. Just as they reached midway, this four year old cherub, who was also the groom’s niece, got up from her seat, and made a dash for her grandfather, calling out loudly, ‘appacha’ (a term for grandad in malayalam). She didn’t stop with that. She did a small twirl, clapped her hands together at the sheer joy of just seeing him and went and squeezed his hands and hugged his knees. She kept smiling at him till his creased brows and worried looking face gave way to a huge beaming smile that reflected hers and exuded a warmth that was palpable to anyone who observed. And before her parents could reach for her she walked back to her seat, looking extremely satisfied at what she’d just done, totally unaware about the fact that this was all recorded on camera, or that she’d just made her mark on an otherwise solemn occasion.

I watched her face as she walked back to the seat next to mine, and smiled. She’d just celebrated a person she loves a lot, she’d expressed that and she was super delighted at it. It made a lot of sense to her to express what she felt for him, and that was that. She shifted her attention to the next thing. No biggie. It was that simple.
…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these..‘ (Matthew 19:14)

Those words kept coming back to me again and again that morning.

As a paediatrician, an aunt and a sunday school teacher, I’ve had the honour and privilege of spending a lot of time around these little beings, day in and day out. Whether they’re sick, or they’re full of questions or they just want to have fun, they never fail to teach me something new everyday. If you’ve looked into the eyes of a child, you would know that there’s an unbeatable zest for life and love you see in them. Something that makes you yearn for your childhood days all over again. There’s something about the simplicity in their love for you and the trust they place in you, the joyful spirit that they have, that humbles you. That makes you want to understand why Jesus stressed on the importance of becoming like a child to experience the fullness of the joy we have in Him.

When a child starts to draw, one of the first things he/she draws is a house and stick figures of all the family members holding hands. And then when he/she can spell, they write down their names and the names of the ones closest to them. And then they show it to every person they come across. Sounds familiar? They simply can’t get enough of celebrating the love around them.

As the years pass by and we grow older, somehow the simplicity disappears. We just can’t trust God like that anymore. We somehow find it difficult to love Him fully. And gradually we discover we somehow aren’t that joyful anymore, and that translates into the relationships we have around us. We’re yet to discover at what stage of development does one learn to complicate things. When do we start thinking, “What will other people think?” as opposed to ” What does the One who created me, want of me?” How does that question become an essential part of our existence? Why do we stop celebrating God’s love for us by becoming so focussed on the doing than the being?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions myself. And as I placed these questions and doubts and struggles before my Maker, this is what I was moved to pray- “Oh to have the heart of a child before the Lord! To trust Him fully, to love Him more and more with that kind of simplicity, to celebrate Him regardless of what ‘others might think’, to declare His goodness out loud no matter what the situation looks like and to overflow with that zeal for life and love because I know I’m held in the everlasting arms.”

May this be your prayer too, dear reader, as you navigate your days ahead- to hear Him, to walk with Him, to unabashedly love Him, and to experience His constant presence- to be like a child before Him- uncomplicated. Then our eyes would be opened to see the million little miracles unfolding around us daily- in all its brilliant colours.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

The other side…

The pandemic rages on, coming and going in waves…nobody knows for how long or how many more waves we’re yet to see. When you say COVID 19 , among the many things that became a new normal, the prominent image that comes to mind is someone in a PPE suit- goggles and hood and plastic overalls and a tight fitting mask. The people on the frontlines.

“Doctor, I cannot express my gratitude for the risk you guys take on a daily basis to watch out for people like us,” my last patient for the day was saying. I was that someone in the PPE suit, and amidst the sweat and the poor visibility and the suffocation, all I could think of was finishing as fast as possible so I could get out of there and breathe in some fresh air. But Gopi wanted to talk. So I stood for a couple more minutes. He was still having fever, but the one thing that caught my attention was the fear in his eyes. He continued for some more time about his family and how people with the virus were being neglected elsewhere and how he was grateful he got a bed with us so he knew he would be looked after in a time like this. I gave him a half hearted smile which definitely didn’t reach him through all that I had put on, asked him to not worry, and came off trying to shake off that look of fear from his eyes and wondering how long it would be before I was in his place.

Needless to say it wasn’t very long before I did end up on the other side. This was another moment where one is reminded again that disease and death are no respecters of persons. As the next couple of weeks passed in quarantine- juggling between managing symptoms and worried family members, I was reminded again and again of the look on Gopi’s face- the fear. His fears were also mine- how far would this virus display its prowess in my body? Would I recover completely? How much longer would these symptoms last? Would it worsen?

‘Everybody just dies’, my sister was saying after a week of COVID ICU duties. There was nothing one could say to cheer her up.

And with news of new variants and newer complications of the disease coming up, what can one hope for? Where do you go with all these fears?

What could one offer to that patient wondering whether he’ll make it through to the other side of this, or to the tired medico who’s been watching helplessly as patients succumb to this disease? What holds you up when you’ve fallen ill while taking care of others and you’re wondering whether it was all worth it?

Hope.

That’s what we are all longing for this season. And there’s only one place I know of that I can point you to today- Jesus Christ. He knows. He sees. And He’s got this. Even when we do not understand it.

Being on the other side of the PPE suit has been an interesting and learning experience. The one thing I know for a fact is that no amount of reading or knowledge helped with the questions and anxieties, but there was an undeniable peace when I surrendered and chose to fall back on the Living Hope and move on in faith.

Amidst all the uncertainties we face today, can we place our hope in this God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End?

Hallelujah, praise the one who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope
(Living Hope, Phil Wickham)

Thus by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be strongly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… (Hebrews 6:18,19a)

Gooder!

Organic Malgova mangoes.

They’re tricky. Can’t really say when they’ll ripen because nothing much changes in their appearance on the outside. They’re just the same strong green. Unless you touch/ smell them one fine morning and then suddenly realize it’s time.
And then after all the waiting, you cut one. Then there’s that huge seed.

Ever wondered why the mango has to have such a big seed, almost as big as itself? I mean you look at a nice big mango, and imagine a lot of mango pulp only to find that half the space was filled with the seed! Or better still, why can’t pomegranates be seedless? Why do pineapples have such an impossible covering?

It’s funny how sometimes the best of things aren’t always really easy. They’re really good. But there’s also the seed you gotta be mindful of. Some big, some small and annoying.

Waiting for breakthroughs in life- whether it’s a job or a marriage or a child or any door to open up is sometimes like waiting on Malgova mangoes to ripen. ( I won’t blame you for already judging me for that comparison)
You wait, hope and pray. And then one day suddenly things come around. There’s that phone call or that person or that opportunity.
But most times the breakthroughs aren’t all rosy and easy. There’s almost always that big seed. It doesn’t really come in the package you’d expected it to. Yes you got the job, but you had to start over in a new place, or you married the person you’d waited for but it was right in the middle of the pandemic with all the restrictions thereof , you were planning on wearing that beautiful satin dress to your best friend’s wedding that you both had dreamt of for so long, instead you find yourself on ICU duty in a PPE suit while she says her vows some place else, you thought you’d be done with exams and there’d be clarity on what next by now, but now you’ve got more time to prepare but no definite timeline to plan on, you have the holidays, but nowhere to go to ‘cos of the lockdown, you’re finally carrying your precious child in your womb but you’re bogged down with work and can’t take all the rest you need, you got into the course you’d always dreamt of, only to wonder if you’ll ever measure up…. so on.

When the blessing comes with the seed.
When you’re extremely grateful and thankful but there are adjustments to be made, expectations to reset and plans to be remade.

Manna- the food the Israelites were praying for didn’t really come in the manner they imagined. They could only ask , ‘What is this?’ But it was better for them than they’d really hoped for.

“Oh this is gooder!!’ Four year old J was exclaiming the other day. Quick to correct him, I said “No, the progression is good, better, best.” And he goes, “Yes! And then gooder!” Like it was so obvious. You can never win an argument with a 4 year old and hence I carried that word back with me. Figured the world needs a word beyond ‘best’. So..

The last couple of months have been a time of standing back and watching God work out His ways of being ‘gooder’ to me. Better than the best I’d imagined for myself. There’s the seed though. It didn’t come easy and it isn’t gonna be easy.
But seeds contain the potential to bring forth new life. They challenge us. They enable us to enjoy the goodness of the fruit. And grow. They nourish and hold it together.

As I pen this down, I can testify to the fact that He’s been teaching me to enjoy His providence while I work around the seed. And then sow that seed to bring forth new fruit and keep the cycle of life moving, using the times and experiences I’ve gone through to declare the goodness of the Lord to you.

Answered prayers. Unexpected packaging. A whole new view. But definitely ‘gooder’.

Have you been in a ‘manna’ situation lately? Pandemic and all?

Know that the Lord your God, your Maker, is good. His ways….gooder.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, emphasis added)

I love You, Lord
For Your mercy never fails me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God

(Bethel music, Jenn Johnson)

Let Him..

“Fling wide the gates..” She pushed those words to the back of her mind.” Open the ancient doors,…” Nooo, she didn’t want to hear them, “….and let the king of Glory in.” Ahhh. The soft still voice was persistent.

It had been a couple of frustrating days. She was beyond irritated and angry. Her arched eyebrows and furrowed forehead as the hot summer sun beat down on her head would have made anyone hesitate to even ask her what was wrong. A soaked mask and the added irritation thereof. And then there were the tears she was fighting back- tears of frustration, lost battles, and the desire to emerge like the Hulk from her normal work clothes and just stomp over the world. Passionately angry. Because she had passionately loved. And passionately trusted and hoped.

And in all that mess, another passionate voice was calling out from deep within. Pastor had said that verse a number of times in church last Sunday, it was etched somewhere deep within her tired grey cells. “Let me in” the Father was saying. “Fling open your gates” She didn’t want to. She wanted to close herself up in her room and weep for sometime. Cry out the frustration, and spend some time wondering why she still did what she did. Didn’t want to let anybody in for that moment. Wanted to dwell in the darkness as the waves came crashing in.

After yanking the lock of her house open and banging her door shut, she finally gave in, letting Him in on the disappointment and the distress and the helplessness. And as she slept off on her knees from the heat and the exhaustion, the sound of singing filled her heart. The old hostel room. Her senior strumming this chorus on her guitar, ” Can you hear the sound of heaven, like the sound of many waters? Its the sound of worship coming from the throne of God…” As those notes played out, a loud thunderstorm woke her up. She ran up to the terrace and stood right there as the heavy raindrops washed over her. A calm descended and the din of the day died down, she let that river of living water flow right from the throne of God into her heart… some days don’t make sense, they hurt more than others, some battles are harder, some leave scars- but as long as her eyes were on her Maker, it was all worth the pain. She’d rather live out her life passionately being what God had called her to be than live from paycheck to paycheck- loving, laughing, crying, singing,sometimes winning, sometimes losing….living.

Tired, sojourner? The sun might beat down quite furiously, but it always rains . Look around. You’ll hear Him in the trees and the bushes and the birds and the plains and the valleys. Just throw open your gates, and let the King of Glory in. Let Him wash over you. Let Him remind you why you do what you do. Let Him take that burden. Let Him….Let Him…and then go live! In every sense of that word. Look up. It might hurt, but He is enough. More than enough.

Fling wide the gates,
open the ancient doors,
and the great king will come in.
Who is this great king?
He is the Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, victorious in battle. (psalm 24)

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Shine…

Ever noticed that most hospitals have a chapel within the building or somewhere in close proximity? Or even a prayer room? They’re small, simple yet beautiful.

As a freshly admitted medical student, I used to think about our hospital chapel as such an oddity – a place meant for worship and prayer built smack in the middle of a noisy hospital corridor cluttered with the sounds of trolleys rushed to and fro, people asking for directions, doctors screaming out orders over the din to each other and so on. Weird! I’ve thought. Who would even notice this place in the midst of this craziness? And besides, who would have the time to come in here anyways?

A few weeks into my training I decided to enter the chapel one day. There was a sudden change of atmosphere from the noisy buzz outside to a calm that gripped my soul. As my eyes adjusted to the lighting within, I saw two hands lifted up just in front of the altar. An elderly woman wailing out loud on her knees. She wasn’t saying too many words but her desperation was palpable. As I sat and watched her for sometime, I started understanding the strategic positioning of this space.

Many years and different hospitals later, I’ve developed a sense of reverence for these places. They are places of solace. Of light. Of hope. Desperate pleas. Honest prayers. Unhindered praises. Freely flowing tears. Unmasked selves. These are some of the emotions that mark these chapels.

People seeking refuge from the only One who can offer one. Where scientific explanations end and miracles begin. Where the search for a highly experienced super specialist ends with the acknowledgement and the desire for a touch from the Creator of the Universe. The Healer. Where there is no pretence.

Broken souls. Melted candlewax. Raw emotions. And just outside, a world that keeps moving.

Whoever thought of the concept of a place of worship smack in the middle of a crazy hospital environment couldn’t have been more genius. Beyond every level of expertise the world of modern medicine can offer, every man’s ultimate need is the need of a Saviour. In need of things only He can give. And that begins with the breaking down of walls we’ve built around our hearts , with taking off the masks we wear (No, not the triple layer/N95 ones). Right in the centre of our workplaces and our maddening lives.

He was a special child. Mentally challenged they say. Exceptionally intelligent I think. He’d seen me before and recognised me from a distance when his mom came to me to get his regular medicines. He kept nudging her to tell me to remove my mask so he would know for sure. I removed my mask for a few seconds for him. I did not expect the reaction I got from this 14 year old boy with developmental issues. A sudden throaty laughter- one of sheer joy, and a high spirited small jump. He was right about me! He came over and gave me a sideways awkward hug in a way he knew how. And then held his mom’s hand and walked away smiling through his teeth. That’s all it took to make his day. Me removing my mask for him. Covid-19 protocols had to go for a lunch break!

“It’s like we came to the chapel. He feels seen,” his mom called out as they walked off.

Hospital chapels, OPD waiting areas, ICU counselling rooms, operation theatres- are some places where all disguises come off. And they remind us of a greater need.

In a world that teaches us to pretend and live up to the expectations that nobody knows who laid out, there is also an aching people. Aching for grace, mercy and love. Aching for the love of Jesus yet not knowing where to find it.

A touch. A hug. A kind word. A nudge on the shoulder. A word of encouragement. A small note of appreciation.

A conversation with no pretence. A space where they don’t have to keep up appearances. Haven’t you longed for some authenticity like that?

This is what the Lord has been challenging me to be over the past couple of weeks and a thought I’m putting out there for you to ponder on.

Oh Child of God, you who have tasted and known of the goodness of this amazing God, what can you do today to reach out to an aching society? To be that space of no pretence to somebody who needs to be seen or heard? To be that conduit that guides them to the Saviour. To be the salt. To be the light. To shine. Beginning from right where you are. Right now.

In need of Grace, In need of love
In need of mercy raining down from higher above
In need of strength, in need of peace
In need of things than only you can give to me

In need of Christ, the perfect Lamb
My refuge strong, the great I am
This is my song, my humble plea
I am your child, I am in need
(Ross King)

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” ( Matthew 5:16)