“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”
How many times have you heard this verse in church or Sunday school? This verse is one of the most popular verses referred to when it comes to waiting.
You want to get married? Delight in the Lord and He will give you your desire. You want to have kids? Delight in the Lord…. You want a new car? Delight in the Lord… Any true desire that we have, the response is “delight in the Lord…”
Let me tell you about a time when the Lord put this verse on my heart, but I honestly did not know what the true desire of my heart was.
It was the end of my first year of college. I had just joined this missions group on campus called Ekballo. Shortly after I joined, we had a leadership retreat a few hours from the college at the vice president’s mansion. Now, I have to be honest and tell you that there was a very cute boy that was also going to this leadership retreat.
We were already pretty close friends, but I wanted to get to know him a little more. Ya know, see if there was any potential. So that was one of my missions for the weekend. On one of the days we did a prophecy exercise. All of our names were put into a hat and we drew a name and asked the Lord to give us a word for that person. The catch is that we couldn’t open the paper until after the word the Lord had given was shared.
As soon as I picked the piece of paper from the hat, I knew I had my own name. There was no doubt about it. The Lord said to me, “I am the God of the impossible and I will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37.4).”
My human mind immediately thought that was a promise that things would work out with this cute guy. For so long, I took that literally. I prayed and prayed and prayed that the Lord would send us out to the nations together. Then, we went on a missions trip to Southeast Asia together. I thought that surely the Lord was making this happen.
Things did not go as I had hoped with this guy though. He didn’t have feelings for me and then at some point we tried dating but realized it was just awkward, so not we are just good friends, and at one point, we were best friends.
So, that led me to still ask the Lord “then what is this desire of my heart that you plan on giving me?” As you may know from previous blogs I spent the beginning of 2018 until about April living in India for a study abroad experience. You may also know that I fell in love with that land and the people there.
Before I go any further, I need to share another little snippet of my past. After this guy and I went on this trip the Southeast Asia, we went to a missions conference back in the states. At this conference, they asked those who are willing and desirous to go the nations one day and serve overseas to fill out a commitment card. I knew I still had two more years of school left, so I said, “okay Lord, in two years, I will go and live on foreign soil to spread the Gospel and bring justice.”
Okay, now back the story… After getting home from my time in India, I did what most college graduates do. I got a job and started online classes towards my masters degree. I actually ended up having to get a new car too.
At first, I loved my job and was happy to be home with my family. I enjoyed hanging out with my cousin and best friend every weekend. I started playing tennis and doing all sorts of other exciting things.
Soon, I realized that this happiness was not lasting. It was so hard to be away from the land that I fell in love with. Not a single day went by where I did not think of India. I talked to friends from there everyday.
After a few months of working, I needed to re-evaluate my plans. It’s not that I hated the job, but it was not up my alley in what I wanted to do. The experience was incredible, nonetheless, but I wanted something more. So, I prayed.
I said Lord, I want to go back to India. I began searching for ways I could go. Maybe I could use education as a clutch again. I searched for an online job to keep me financially secure, and I reached out to my contacts in India to find proper housing. I didn’t expect any of it to work out in such an easy way.
Then, all of a sudden, housing fell in place, people wanted to partner financially with me, I had a project lined up for me to do when I got there, the only thing that was not set was the education piece. The school that I go to wanted me to go to a different part of India to complete field placement. They were not satisfied with where I had proposed I did my field education at.
I had a choice to make. Either I moved to a different part of India where I didn’t know anyone or the area, or stayed home. Then, the Lord put a third option on my heart that I didn’t even think would be possible. I could drop down to part time for my masters degree and complete it in two years, instead of just one.
That would mean that the educational piece would be eliminated altogether. After much prayer and surrendering my own plans to the Lord, this is what I decided to do. I felt so much peace about it. Probably because I knew God had a greater plan through all of it.
I texted my professor from my undergraduate college and told her everything was set into place and I was going back in just one month (this was at the end of July). She replied, “the Lord is giving you the desires of your heart!”
At that moment, the past two years of my life in wondering what the Lord meant in what He said to me at that leadership retreat all fell into place. While I do have the desire to be married one day, my biggest desire, and promise I made to the Lord, was that I would live overseas for an extended period of time serving the Lord.
That being said, I quit my well-paying job, hopped on an airplane and moved to India for the next 7 months of my life. As I sit here in my own room that I am renting with the funds the Lord so graciously provided, I am filled with the most joy I have ever felt because I know that I am completely and utterly in the exact place that the Lord wants me.
The Lord has gave me the desires of my heart. Friend, if there is anything that you get out of this post, get this: The Lord is faithful to bring His promises. It takes a little effort on our end. We are called to be obedient, no matter how fearful we are, and to trust that He is in complete control. So, take a step back and delight in the Lord because He wants to give you the desires of your heart too.
Probably over a month ago I stopped at a small park with a little lake on my way home. It was pouring rain and I could just imagine how beautiful the rain look thrashing against the still water. Normally I would go the actual lake (lake Erie), but it was late and I didn’t have time for those shenanigans. My dad used to take my sister and I to the lake all the time to watch storms roll in and reside, that’s where I got this idea from.
I did a very quick drive by and tried to swipe a good picture of the nature scene, but because it was so dark and rainy it did not turn out. But as I sat there for a small moment and watched as the sky saturated this already soaking wet land with its rains, I couldn’t help but just desire the same.
I was reminded of the verse from Song of Solomon. You know, the one that Jesus Culture turned into an incredible worship song? Song of Solomon 8.6-7:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for long is strong as death, jealousy demanding as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If man offered for love all the wealth of his house he would be utterly despised.
Let me repeat the very specific portion that I am referring to:
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
My basic, human, non-Bible or non-theology major interpretation of that is this: you can never have too much love in your life and there is very little that can extinguish love (or satisfy it). In other words, only love will truly satisfy us.
We can thirst and drink as much water as we want, but the only thing that will really satisfy us and bring that “quenched” feeling, is the love of God.
I’m not talking about some mushy-gushy-cheesy-romantic-Jack-gets-Jill-in-the-end kind of love. No. I am talking about the deeply rooted, never-ending, all-consuming love that Christ offers us.
As I watched the rains spill its guts all over that lake, the already wet, filled to the top with water lake, I couldn’t help but imagine that the water was actually God’s love. The lake was a lake of Jesus’ love and the clouds were Jesus showering even more love!
I want that.
We use the term “saturated” to describe things as being soaked that absorb a lot of liquid. That’s want I want. I want to be over-saturated in the love that God has for me. I want to be so caught up and consumed in His love that I don’t even think twice about what is means to delight in Him.
Similar to my last post, this post is going to be for a specific school assignment. Although it is for an assignment, I think it is a great discussion among not only the social work community, but also the Christian community. So, here we go!
When I say the word “leadership” what do you think of? What are the traits and characteristics that immediately pop into your mind? I usually think of the president of student council, the church board members, the principle of a school, the captains of sports teams, etc. The list could go on and on and on. Personally, I feel like leadership is an opportunity to show people you care. It is an opportunity to utilize your own giftings and skills to serve. Yes, that’s right, I said the “s” word.
I know the word “serve” is not the first thing that comes to mind when we hear leadership. Some of us might get the picture of a huge army being led by one single person. How could that one single person “serve” an army? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? But think about the concept of servant leadership… what does that look like to you?
To me, it looks like a leader stepping off of the stage for a moment to help a follower. It means having compassion for the people under you and being passionate about your leadership role. I mean, c’mon, who wants to be a “follower” under someone who is not really passionate about what they are doing? I had an experience with this once.
It was my second year of college and I was the action officer of our missions club on campus. My specific role was to plan events to do missions work on our campus and in the city surrounding the campus. I was under a particular leader, whom I adored, don’t get me wrong, but she was not as passionate about the club as a few other leaders and myself. It was very difficult to work with someone like this. There were a lot of tensions. And honestly, the club is no longer in existence (there are more factors to that).
As a student studying a subject I am extremely passionate about, I often think about how I want to be a leader in my future career. In my undergraduate studies I always thought being a leader in social work meant being the absolute best, all the time. I was the student that got assignments done when everyone else asked for a deadline. I was the student that made sure I understood my theories and aced every test I took. I met all the page count and source count requirements. I even participated in social work club as much as I could. I thought of myself as a leader.
But now that I am in graduate classes and even working in the field of social work, I am learning that leadership is so much more than that. Leadership is an opportunity to facilitate empowerment and encouragement among colleagues to help them do their best (that was such a “social worky” statement wasn’t it?!). Yes, being a leader is a chance to “shine” and show what you can do, but it’s not to be done in a selfish fashion.
One thing that we do not always realize is that there are different types of leadership. Peters (2018) shares a few of these different types of leadership: organizational, relational, and individual. I’ll let you use your imagination on how each are different. Personally, in the field of social work (as a student and looking towards my future career) my role is to be a competent leader, with empathy and passion, that works to serve not only my future clients, but also my colleagues.
It is crucial that if you are going to be a leader, you need to be an effective leader. Otherwise, your efforts are just wasted. Being an effective leader may mean accepting constructive criticism from those around you, taking on projects/tasks that aren’t so thrilling, and recognizing when it is your time to step down. In this profession (and in the Christian community) we are working with other professions (other religions). We encounter them on a day-to-day basis (i.e. medical staff, counselors, psychiatrists, police officers, lawyers, etc.). The actions we take as leaders in our community make impressions on those we interact with.
Just as we are “judging” the other professions to make sure they are doing their jobs right, other professions are doing the same of us. We are always being watched and critically analyzed. That is just another reason why it is important to make our leadership sound and effective.
Personally, I believe that to be an effective leader, the leader must make sure they are taking care of themselves. Effective leaders, desiring to serve, cannot truly be effective if they have no energy, motivational, or will to serve. Simply put, you cannot pour from an empty cup. This is a field where compassion fatigue is easier to accomplish then self-care. Do you practice self-care? Wait, do you know what self-care is?
I would describe self-care as caring for yourself. Yes, it’s that simply. So much of our time as professionals and leaders in this chaotic life is dedicated to meeting the needs of others. We deal with messy, fragile situations that take a lot of energy out of us in order to be effective. So, how do we fix our decrease in energy? By doing something for ourselves. I like to go for a walk, play tennis, play my guitars, nap, read, eat, nap in a hammock, etc. I have a never-ending list… Now, it’s time for you to make your list of self-care practices. It’s important to have these tricks in a bag so when you need to pull them out they are right there. I may not always have time to take a nap, but I can sit in my car waiting to see my next client and read a chapter of my favorite book. Here is a self-care starter kit to help you build your list of tricks! Feel free to comment your results!
Almost coupled with self-care is the ability to assume positive intent and recognize where you are on the mood elevator. This is crucial to being a good leader for several reasons. First, have you ever received a text message from someone and immediately thought the sender was being rude? Me too. Almost everyday. Now, texting is not the best form of communication, however in this developing world, some clients may not even want to talk on the phone, thus scheduling with them is done via text. Email is similar to this. We cannot assume that the senders meaning behind the message was to be rude. This would be assuming negative intent. In other words, their intentions were not to come off like a stone-cold, hot-headed, ungrateful individual. This article explains a little more about positive intent.
Assuming positive intent is also important because as a leader we never want to come across as being offended. We never want to open the door for us to respond negatively either. Thus, recognizing where we fall on the mood elevator during these times is important. Check out the picture to the side. Let’s say you are a supervisor and you open up an email on a Monday morning from your newly hired social worker. You specifically hired this worker because you loved their positive attitude and how they always used exclamation points in their emails. This one did not. It also asked if you could privately meet with them. How do you respond?
You could get anxious because you don’t know what they want to talk to you about. You may even assume it is bad because of how the email was written. OR you can be optimistic and respond by saying, “Sure! Let me know when you are available this week!”
In my Professional Development class, we read an article about the five components of emotional intelligence. They are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Basically, having these five pieces put together will help you to be an effective leader in social work practice. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. We will not be able to “master” all of these components. And that’s okay!
Personally, I feel like I will struggle the most with self-awareness. It is not that I am self-aware, it’s that sometimes I am overly self-aware. I mean, to the point of being afraid I might offend someone if I make one little mistake. However, I know that as I continue on in my education I will learn how to cope with this challenge and be the best I can be for myself, clients, and colleagues.
So now you are probably thinking, okay so why are you sharing this on your faith-based blog? Because while this is for a social-work specific class, the implications can be applied to any profession. They are also very important to examine in our own faith walks. I purposefully made an effort to not mention Christianity, Biblical context, or Jesus as much as I could throughout the article because I wanted to challenge you to make those connections. If you want to have a discussion about it, I encourage you to comment!
It is important for MSW students (and anyone else) to be introduced to what leadership is because this is the point in our education where we really dive into the field of social work. It is no more generalist practice like we had in UG. The stakes are raised, more expectations are expected, and we are all being challenged into our own little unique leader-selves that will eventually go out and serve out communities and the world. Learning this now instead of during our first job after graduation will most likely get us the best first job after graduation because we will stand out in already being effective leaders.
While I enjoyed this class I took very much, just like anything else, improvements can be made. Throughout this course I was able to do a lot of self-assessments that helped me become more self-aware (hey, there’s that word again!). I was challenged in unique ways and inspired to be a better, effective leader. This course also touched on a variety of topics. However, it would have been really interesting to go more in-depth with all levels of social work (micro, mezzo, and macro) as well as spend more time looking at how to be a leader when working with other cultures.
The last thing I would like to share is a specific leadership model. This model is called the social change model of social work. Iachini, Cross, and Freedman (2015) find several values in three different categories that help social workers promote change. Individual values consist of consciousness of self (being aware of beliefs and strengths), congruence (aligning forms of communication), and commitment. In a group setting values are collaboration (working together to complete a task), common purpose, and controversy with civility (handling conflict well). Lastly, the one social value discussed is citizenship.
The things discussed in this post are specific things to help us better ourselves as leaders. Everyone every now and then needs to do a self-check. This is a great time to do that if you are already in a leadership position. If you are not in a leadership position but would like to be, this is a great way to start!
Iachini, A. L., Cross, T. P., & Freedman, D. A. (2015). Leadership in Social Work Education and the Social Change Model of Leadership. Social Work Education, 34(6), 650-665. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1025738
Peters, S. C. (2018). Defining social work leadership: a theoretical and conceptual review and analysis. Journal Of Social Work Practice, 32(1), 31-44. doi:10.1080/02650533.2017.1300877
It was a warm Monday afternoon with a slight breeze shifting the sun’s rays from beating directly down on my already sun-kissed skin. I was trying to figure out what I did to deserve the blessing of getting off work early on a Monday afternoon. I had two and a half hours to spend doing whatever I wanted. After stopping at the LifeWay store to check out good deals on books, selling a pair of old jeans to Plato’s Closet, and using my buy-one-get-one coupon at CoreLife Eatery on two healthy-as-all-get-out salads, I had a decision to make.
I could either go to my grandmother’s house and accompany her in her scorching living room and do nothing, or go to the Starbucks that I basically live at to finish, yet another, assignment for my graduate classes. I chose neither. Instead, I went to a park with a river. I wanted to just rest. I wanted to spend time with myself. I wanted to just breathe for one moment before I had to go to yet another commitment.
I got to the park, grabbed one of the books I just bought (and the free journaling notebook with my purchase!), a pen, and my aqua blue water bottle and headed for the shaded bench along the riverside. There were several dads walking along the river with their young children. It was so precious watching the little ones laugh and giggle while walking in the smooth river.
As I sat there, I breathed in and thought this is it. This is what I need. A moment for me. I opened my book and began to read, but only made it through the introduction before the wind sent goosebumps up and down my spine. I got up and walked to another bench in the sun. Perfect.
I continued reading and sipping my cool water. I was in such unbelief that on a Monday afternoon I could actually take time to just be. This was a moment I longed for more of. No rushing. No cell phone. No worrying. A moment of pure bliss, I would say.
I kept reading and observing the beautiful wildlife around me. God had such an imagination when He created. I had enough time to read through four chapters of this new book I just got (the chapters were less than 10 pages!). The book seemed to be exactly what I needed. It was like the words sprang right off the page and into my heart.
The book, An Intentional Life by Karen Stott began by talking about passion and pursing the things that God has called us to. Karen shares her own personal testimony to help readers relate. And boy, could I relate! The words that she probably put her heart and soul into were some of the most empowering words I have ever read.
Eventually, I put the book down because I needed to process what I had just read. You see, we all have so many hopes and dreams, so many desires, so much passion. She described this one moment where she was doing something she absolutely loved and she could tell it was what she was called to do because she was thriving and just at complete peace. Have you ever felt that?
I felt that once, when I was in India. I loved the work I was doing. I loved the people that I was surrounded by. Sure, I missed home, but this was it! This is what I was passionate about! Someone even captured a candid of my pure joy of me doing what I felt called to do. But now, now I am home. I am back in the States, living with my parents while I finish (hopefully) the rest of my education in my masters program.
There is not a day that goes by where I do not think about India or my time there. I miss it. Even though there were so many times when I was so frustrated and did not understand anything, I miss it. Because that was clearly where God had called me to. I feel like one day, hopefully sooner than later, I will be traveling back to those not-so-foreign grounds that I fell in love with.
Eventually, it was time for me to leave the peaceful moment and head to my church to serve at our summer sports camp outreach for children. As I walked to the car I had only one thought: this is not the end-all.
After getting home from India, an experience that changed my life and that could never be topped, I graduated college and did what any other college graduate does, I got a job (and started my masters program). I started working full-time, getting re-engaged in my church, catching up with friends, going to school full-time, heck, I even picked up Tennis as a hobby! But something was just not right. I was not happy. I was not happy with where I was career-wise, or several other areas of my life.
I had this aching and passion to do other things. I wanted to move to Washington D.C. and work for the International Justice Mission or move to New York and work for the United Nations (I still do!). But I couldn’t. Not yet. It wasn’t “my time” to do that. Even though those are my dreams and passions and goals for myself, they were not what God had in mind for me fresh out of college. God had something else in store for me. He wanted me to work and get this other college education and focus on bettering myself (maybe I should say “becoming” myself?)
This meant, once again, putting my dreams on hold. I even had to recognize that I had to put a really important relationship on hold, trusting that if it were meant to be, God would make a way. This is a time where God wants to transform me. God wants to lead me to still waters. God wants to plant a yearning so strong in my heart for the things that I am already so passionate about that I will not ever be able to give up on my dreams.
This is my season of growing.
I was talking to my best friend (my best friend for over half of our lives now). She is also in a season of growing. We talked about how difficult it is. We are both in places where we don’t want to be, but where God has ordained us to be. It comforts me to know that my closest friend is in this with me.
Before recognizing this (and even after), I realized that at some point along the lines I lost my fear of God. I lost my reverence and awe for the one who created me, the very thing that connected me with God on a level I couldn’t even begin to describe. My heart hardened. My well was dry. I was in a desert. I was so stubborn, that I did not even recognize this.
I was angry with God. I was confused at why I had just experienced something so incredible and so life-giving that I loved doing, but was brought home to something I was not passionate about. I was upset with him that I met an amazing man, but the relationship was put to a halt. I asked God if He was punishing me, but He did not answer. He was silent. All of this warped my thoughts and made me question if I should even continue pursing the dreams I have. Should I even trust God that if it is His will, He will make a way with this relationship?
I felt like I would be stuck in this rut for the rest of my life.
But after this moment at this park, I felt renewed. After reading a few words of encouragement from another sister in Christ, I felt that it is possible to get through this. Even though right now, in this day, I feel like I am getting no where, or achieving any of the goals I have set for myself, God is taking me everywhere and I am achieving the goals He has set for me.
So while I am not living the “perfect life” I thought I would be right after I graduated from college, I am living the life that God has called me to live at such a time as this. And in this time, come hell or high water, I want to be so immersed in what God has for me that I will never be distracted. I want God to mold me, transform me, prune me, make me new. I know it will be painful, but it will be worth it. He is preparing me for something mighty ahead. He is answering my prayers in His own way, in His own timing.
This is not the end all and the best is yet to come.
Now, it is time for me to allow the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and to submit to what He has placed before me. Are you ready to join me on this journey?
I have not blogged in a very long time- obviously. But there’s a reason for that. If you look at my past blogs, they are all about my time studying abroad in India. Around the time when I stopped blogging, is around the time when I had about one month left in the amazing country. Now, it has been a little over a month since I have been home, and I still have not blogged.
It’s not that I don’t have time. It’s not that I don’t want to. You see, the thing is, I don’t know what to write. I didn’t want to write an “ending” to my time in India. I didn’t want to write about all the goodbyes I had to say, my airport stories, or how excited my family was to see me when they picked me up from the airport. Honestly, there are just not enough words in the English (or any other) dictionary for me to describe the experiences I had.
Now that it has been a little over a month, I have had time to reflect more on my time abroad. I have re-integrated into my complex American life and now it is time to share a little bit about what is going on in my heart and head.
If you read my first few blogs while I was in India, you know that I had a rough time. I was sick, I was missing home and my family, I was not very fond of the bugs, and overall, the culture shock got the best of me. Fortunately, as I spent more time there, I develop amazing relationships with locals that love Jesus and have compassion for community. These were the people I clung to.
I started being more intentional about my relationship with Jesus and allowing Him into my everyday life to cleanse me and heal me of past issues. When I started doing this, I was filled with so much joy and I became so content with myself and where I was at in life. I began to fall in love with the land that I had convinced myself previously I hated.
One of my closest friends began tutoring me in Hindi. We would have “tutoring” sessions at the Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) down the road. We had a deal. She would tutor me and I would buy her coffee. Sometimes, we just got so caught up in talking about life that we never got to Hindi. Either way, this was one of the sweetest friendships I have ever made in my entire life. I learned so much from this girl and cannot wait until our paths cross again.
When I hopped on my flight from Cleveland Hopkins Airport with the intention of landing in Chennai, India three days later, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I would learn, but I didn’t know what I would unlearn. I knew I would struggle, but I didn’t know how I would succeed. I knew I would grow, but I didn’t know how I would learn so much about myself. You see, I learned more about myself in these 3 1/2 glorious months than I have in my entire life.
Being in another country stretched me thin and pushed me to my limits at times. But ya know what? I think we all need to experience that in our lives. We all need to be tested and put on trial in a land we are not familiar with. That, my friends, is how we grow. I want to share a few more things…
In India, I became another person. I gained more confidence in myself than I ever thought possible. I learned to accept who I am and who Jesus wants me to be. And through that, came a wonderful fullness of joy.
I learned patience. I learned that you do not always have to be doing something crazy and adventurous. Want to know why? Because being a foreigner in such a “hectic” culture is adventurous enough… I mean, getting on the right train and bus is crazy enough!
Lastly, one of the most important things I learned is that it is okay to not know what is happening next. From day one of walking around nearly unconscious due to the horrid affects of jet lag, to the very last day trying to say goodbye to newly found lifelong friends, I was always in a state of not knowing. Now, if you know me, you know this is completely against what I stand for. Everyone knows that I have my life planned out 5-years in advance. But that was nearly impossible for me to do in India.
Indians are very flexible people. They are people that are adapted to change wherever, whenever. This grew on me. The whole time I was so scared of going home because I didn’t know what to expect. My parent’s house had caught on fire and they moved to a new one while I was away. I was graduating college, trying to find a job, trying to figure out if and how I would go to graduate school. At times, it spoiled my attitude and left me bankrupt of the contentness and joy I had just found.
Now that I am home, I have found that I’m actually okay when I just go with the flow. I CAN find contentment. I CAN adjust. I CAN succeed. And you know what? I actually kind of like it. There is something adventurous about being spontaneous that reminds me of my life in India.
Folks, in no way, shape, or form, does this blog post shed the slightest light on my time in what has become my most favorite country on Earth. But, I can tell you this, my life has been forever changed and until the day comes when I venture to that land again, I will do what I can to get my “India” fill. (Yes that means every time I see a person from India in public I will say “Namaste” and attempt to speak in the little bit of Hindi that I know).
To sum it up, my time in India was “a beautiful one”.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
It has been a few weeks since I have written about my adventures in India. I would like to say that it is because I have been busy, but in all honesty, I have been just pure lazy. Not only that, but to find the correct words to string together that describe all I am experiencing here is just no task man can handle alone. Not only have I been too lazy to write, but unsure of what to write. Now… where did I leave off last? Oh yes, I ended my last post with something about God’s strength being what I needed to survive here.
Yeah, that pretty much sums up my last few weeks. Shall we proceed?
Before we jumped into our field placements, we went on a trip with the other social work students to the west side of South India. We took a train for 7 hours, then got on a bus for another 3 hours, and then walked for about an hour through hilly lands. We were staying with an NGO that worked with tribal families in the area.Throughout our visit there, we spent time meeting with, collecting data, learning from, and talking about the tribal groups. We learned that they are being exploited and had several debates on how we, as social workers, can help stop the exploitation. No, we did not come to a conclusion.
On one of the nights we went to a village deep in the Western Ghats and spent an evening with a tribal family. The other students put on a program for them. We slept on the cold hard floors in a school building (one room) with about thirty other people… and spiders. But let me tell you, it was rewarding waking up to the sun rise over the mountains. It was one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen.
Meeting some of the tribal families was at times uninteresting for me. This is mainly because of the language barrier. Not only did they speak a different language, but some also spoke a different language then the students I was with. This made it very challenging for me to do anything other than sit and watch. But then again, when else would be a better time than to practice the spiritual discipline of silence and to just observe and breath in?
I was expecting to leave there feeling very guilty about my choice of lifestyle at home, but honestly, I didn’t. Sometimes I feel guilty for not feeling guilty, but then I have realized something. I have realized that they are content with what they have. The tribal people don’t worry and fret about eating the next day and only worry about a single day’s wage at a time. They do not usually save either. I come from a culture that plans weeks, months, and sometimes even years in advance. I do not feel bad about it, but am learning to accept this cultural difference.
To get back, we hopped back on the bus for a three hour ride. Then, we departed from the rest of the students that were heading back to the college campus. We were going to do some touristy sight seeing the next day and then head back. We went to a palace that was beautiful. Then, a few temples. We took a sleeper train back to Chennai the following evening. Now, I had never been on a sleeper train before, but it was so cool. There’s little beds everywhere and they hang off the walls, mostly bunked, and they give you a blanket, pillow, and sheet and you basically just sleep until they reach your stop.
Even though we slept on the train, we were pretty much exhausted when we got back. We took the whole day to recover. Then, the following day, I started my field placement.
I have chosen two agencies to intern at. One where I will be with four other students from the college and we will write grant proposals and create programs to help out the tribal groups just outside of the city. The second is with my classmate from home that is here with me, Abby. We will be teaching at-risk students life-long skills.
As the weeks have passed we have gotten into the routine of our placements and are finally getting a sense of what our lives for the next three months in India will be like. I am proud to say that I have successfully crossed the street and gone to the grocery store by myself. I am also excited to say that we have found the nearest Starbucks and it is just train ride, then an auto ride away. But if you know me, you know I’m willing to do anything for my Starbucks.
That’s exactly the thing though. I am learning how to do things and live life like a local. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I mean, I have never ridden a train before… or not been able to just get in my car and drive twenty minutes down the road to get my Starbucks. I have never walked from place to place more than I do now.
There are little things that I get frustrated about doing too.. For example, bucket laundry. My clothes hang drying I cannot simply put my clothes in a washer and dryer. I have to make a bucket of water and then let my clothes soak for 30 minutes, then proceed to rinse. I’m not gonna lie though, I’m pretty sure all of my clothes still have laundry detergent in them because I am definitely not wringing them out enough. After you hang them to dry and turn, you can then proceed to take a bath in the same bucket. Remember when you were a kid and you would take a bath and to get the soap out of your hair your mom would dump a pitcher of water over your head, covering your eyes? That’s basically what you do, except Mom’s not here doing it for you. It just gets exhausting and makes you question how bad you need to shower… then you remember that your clothes probably aren’t very clean and see how the bottoms of your feet are basically black… so you shower.
one Sunday afternoon all I wanted to do was just do my work, alone, at a coffee shop. Can’t be hard right? I just needed a little introvert time. So, I got my stuff together and was planning to check out this little coffee shop called Cafe Coffee Day. I knew I would have to take an auto-rigshaw from the campus gate to get to the road near it, but that was only 10RS. I could handle it.
So, I flagged down one of the buzzing, yellow tuk-tuks and simply said “Camp Road” to the driver. He knew exactly what I was talking about and motioned for me to get in. Luckily, my program direction, Anu, who we have been calling our Mom of India, taught me that you don’t get into the auto until you know how much they are charging. And you always go to them with a set price in your head. So I asked the guy, “how much?” He says “10RS”. So, I got in.
I was trying to keep track of how far we were going in case I wanted to try to walk back. After awhile, however, I realized that it was further than I remembered. Then again, I hadn’t been there since my first day of being in India, so that was understandable, or at least I thought. He pulled off to the side of the road right at an intersection. I knew it was the right spot because of the giant green sign that said “Camp Road”. Some things never change between cultures…
I knew I would need to walk a few minutes to reach a corner before I got to the little shop. I also had landmarks to look for. I was told there would be a KFC a little ways from it on the opposite side of the road and a Papa Johns directly across from it. I started my walk and kept my eyes peeled for these places. By now, I was ready to sit in the cool air conditioned shop and sip some type of iced coffee beverage while writing my field log and reflection paper.
After a bit, it seemed as if maybe it was taking too long for me to get there. I pulled out my phone and tried to type the shop into my maps app, but it said it was no where close. “This has to be wrong,” I thought to myself in desperation for a cup of coffee. But as I kept walking, there was still nothing. I was becoming more and more disappointed. Finally, I flagged down another auto driver, giving up and ready to return to the college to pout.
When I asked the guy how much, I realized he did not speak English very well. He showed me a “5” with his hand and I hopped in. I thought it was a good deal… but after I got out and I handed him the coin that is 5RS, he laughed and then signed “50”. I said “you mean 50?” At that point, I wasn’t going to argue. I pulled out a 100 and he gave me my change. I walked away not knowing whether or not I had been jipped. Either way, I just wanted to get back and figure out how to get to this coffee place next time. But, it’s been a few weeks since that point of utter frustration, and I still have yet to go. Instead, I made the trip to Starbucks.
It’s little things like trying to saree shop in a four level building and not knowing how to say what you are looking for so the store clerk just keep sending you to other levels of the store hoping you find what you look for or when you are in the Big Bizarre (a store very similar to Walmart) and all you want is marinara sauce for your rigatoni noodles, but have to get pizza sauce because this week they don’t have marinara sauce that you just have to remain calm, and even laugh at. In that same trip to the Big Bizarre, the Indian Republic Day, that is, Abby and I were just trying to find the right food so we could cook in our little kitchenette because the Mess Hall was closed for the Holiday.
We finally gave up on finding some things because of how crowded the store was. Also, there is no such thing as personal space, being rude by walking in front of someone while they are looking for an item, or even problems with cutting in line. When we were ready to checkout, we hopped in different lines to get out of there quicker. I was third in line and the first person in line was almost finished. Then, out of nowhere, a woman comes with a cart of items and cuts me. I realized that it was her husband in front of me, so she was just finishing up the rest of the shopping while he stood in line. Then, as if that was not bad, their daughter comes with yet another loaded cart of stuff. Abby and I looked at each other from across the checkout lines, her being the next in line, and we just can’t help but laugh. How humorous this was. Eventually, I switched lines and made it out. We decided after that to try to never have to go back to the Big Bizarre and to try to maintain our stopping at the Pik-N-Pak or Fresh, which were smaller, but much closer to campus.
So friends, as one who is learning to live in the country of India, let me tell you that it is not an easy thing to do. I struggle with it, most of the time. Not because I dislike the culture, but because of how foreign it really is. It becomes less frustrating and less surprising each day, but that doesn’t take the difficulty out of it.
Some things I have had a hard time adjusting to. One of those is food. It’s not that I don’t like the food… it’s just really spicy and I don’t like spicy food. I have my nights in the Mess Hall where I know it’s food I will like and I usually always have some rice with gravy. But I don’t eat nearly as much as I do when I enjoy the food. I can’t always have rigatoni 😦
On another note, I have never been more sick in my life than I have been this past month of being here. Between getting sick the second day and random times of exhaustion and this past week (I mean like Tuesday night to Sunday night) of being bedridden with two trips to the doctors and a full round of antibiotics and not eating anything but a slice of bread for four days… I think I’ve got the rest of my life’s worth of sicknesses while I’m here too.
The one thing I love, however, is how easy it is to see God in the small things. While I am living here, I am almost forced to live in simplicity in some ways. I am actually enjoying it and God is opening my eyes to see Him in a new light in the midst of it. It’s like no matter how bad something seems to me, like being sick and missing three days of fieldwork, I just cannot stop falling more in love with God. There is no limit to it. If the reason He brought me here was to show me that, then I am glad I am here. I am blessed to even have this opportunity in my life and God is teaching me to cope and live life with the things He has provided for me, not with the things that I think are necessary.
That being said, I know I am going to struggle with the rest of my time here. I just will. But that is okay. God has never failed to pull me back to Him and remind me of His all-consuming love. I even could not contain the idea of not having my guitar to worship, so I splurged a little to buy a new one here. I don’t want to live my life in India as if God is waiting for me back in America. I want to live it as if Jesus is walking with me daily. That means, living in confidence, freedom, and contentment in all circumstances.
I hope some of my struggles may have been able to speak to you today. Maybe you are finding things difficult lately and you just need to bask in the presence of Jesus. Let me encourage you dear friend, do it. He is with you through that hard time. He is sitting with you while you are sick. He is making dinner with you after your long day at work. He is jogging with you on your morning run. Just know, that you can get through it because Jesus.
I haven’t even been in Chennai for a full week, but I feel like I have months and months of experiences to share. On our first day here, we met with a lot of people. We had to meet the director of our program and the director of our department and everyone else. I honestly do not remember everyone’s name or what their role is and why they were important for us to meet. They were all very kind and asked us how we were doing in regards to jet lag. Honestly, It was so hard for me to stay awake towards the end of the day. I could barely keep my eyes open through one of the meetings.
By the time we got back, it was only around 4PM, but I allowed myself to lay down for just a minute and ended up falling asleep. After that, we decided maybe it would be best to just try and wake up earlier in the morning. I had an apple and went to bed around 6PM and got up around 7:40AM. I did wake up at about 10PM and thought I must have slept for four days straight because of how good I slept, but I still had a lot of sleep left in me.
The next day we proceeded to meet with a lot of professors and other important faculty members of the college. We were even invited to have dinner at the Principles house. Before that, we spent the majority of the day shopping for “kurtas” to wear to our field placements. There were so many options and so many beautiful colors and designs. It was very difficult to decide which ones I liked and to stay within my budget, although we did find some decent sales!
We left in our nice new kurtas for dinner at the principle’s house a little early to take pictures of the campus and with each other. Unfortunately, as soon as we stepped outside we realized that we would definitely need to learn how to use the flash on our cameras because it was dark! It wasn’t even 7:30PM yet and it was dark. Now, I realize that at home right now it gets dark around 5PM, if not earlier. But I guess we were just thrown off by the heat and expected that because it was so hot out, the sun would stay out later. But we were wrong! It was fun trying to take pictures in the dark though!
At the dinner with the principle another group of college students from the states joined us. They were taking a class for their “Jan term”. I did not get to talk with them very much, but I did get to chat a little bit with a faculty member in the social work department and a political science professor from Appalachian State that reminded me of my favorite political science professor from home.
So now you’re probably thinking, okay that’s cool, but what about the food? Let me tell you about the food! Honestly, I was a little afraid of Indian food because I knew coming here how spicy it was going to be and how I do not tend to eat very spicy food. However, we have been full blown thrown into the Indian food and you know what? It doesn’t have to be spicy! I really enjoyed a cauliflower gravy that we had on the first day. Then again, if anyone knows me, they know how much I love my cauliflower.
One of the most important drinks besides water that we learned about is the fresh lime soda (pictured to the left). You can get this just sweet, or sweet and salty. Ironically, most students from previous semesters have only liked it sweet, but my small group loves the salty one! I have some foods pictured about with captions on what they are. One of the most popular food items is naan (pictured to the right). Now, if you have never tried naan, you better go find a place where you can because it is the best flat brad I have ever had.
What I have noticed about the culture is how important meals are to the community. You eat with your hands and split dishes when out to eat.
The picture to the left is chicken tendoori. The sauce in the middle of the plate is kind of minty, but I loved it! In the other picture, the rice dish is called biriyani and is basically rice cooked with a meat. Underneath all the rice is a giant chicken leg! The other dish is a gravy called paneer butter masala. The masala was my favorite as well. Lastly, the picture with the little silver bowl that has little white dots in it, is sauf sugar coated fennel that tastes like licorice. It is given at the end of meals, just as we would get our olive garden mints. People take them in handfuls! They were very good! At another restaurant they actually gave us mini sugar cubes too!
As much as I would like to say the food agreed with me and everything was fine, I simply cannot. You better believe that on the second night at 2:30 in the morning I was sicker than a dog. Actually, I don’t think I have ever felt so terrible before in my life. As I laid on the bathroom floor I found myself thinking, this is it. This is the end. I am going to die because I tried to be adventurous and go to India for a semester, but my weak body couldn’t handle the food.
There was also a point somewhere between laying on the bathroom floor and in my bed that I thought I would not be able to survive the full semester here. In fact, I was one Google search away from finding the cheapest flight home. It’s not exactly “whimping out” if I’m sick is it? I mean come on, health should always come first. However, despite the fact that I was letting these negative thoughts overtake my mind while I was ill, God helped me through it.
After feeling defeated (I will spare you the details), I felt like God was saying “that is what the enemy wants you to think”. I thought about this for a moment. Then realized that I shouldn’t let myself give up so easily just because I got sick within the first week. Despite the fact that it felt like I was dying, I had enough strength to recognize that God was trying to tell me that I cannot do this on my own.
I cannot just go day-by-day in this foreign land and expect to be successful. I simply do not have enough strength to carry on in a place where I have to try extra hard just to understand what someone is saying. I need a supernatural strength, a spiritual strength. It’s the same strength that God gave me to get through all of the other overseas trips I have been on. It is the same strength God gave me through all of my other college semesters.
It was like God had to take away all of my strength to show me that I need to use His to get through this semester.
I spent the majority of the next 24 hours resting and when I was not, I was in class (which was held in our room so that I could stay in bed). It was the reminder I needed to keep inviting God into my daily life. Sometimes we forget to do these things when there is so much change happening in our lives. But God wanted to remind me that despite all of the change, He is that one constant.
There is much more I can tell you about my first few days in India for the semester, but I think I will save it for the next post. What I want to leave you with is to just bask in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Remember that God is good. He is such a giving God. When we are weak, He is strong. When our lives are forever changing, He is forever the same. Where our circumstances seem to defeat us, God reigns in victory because of these truths. It may be hard, but as my best friend texted me this week “Don’t give up!”