Over A Cup Of Hot Chocolate!

Christmas bade a cheery adieu. The New year crossed the threshold. And I forgot about my scribbles until I opened my little book to pen a few notes today.

The last entry took me by surprise because I had forgotten how I felt and what thoughts were galloping through my mind that evening, on December 7th as I sat over a cup of Timmy’s delicious hot chocolate!

Isn’t it interesting how we move from various stages of emotions, thoughts, and expressions and how writing it down works as a release button?

Whatever the feelings – anger, frustration, regret, sadness, joy, nostalgia, a sense of achievement, gratitude, hope, whatever – writing is cathartic… therapeutic.

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A cup of hot chocolate, a pen, and a small notebook.   It started with a walk… a stop at Tim Hortons… here goes —

“How Great Thou Art!”  That’s the thought playing in my mind. I’m always gobsmacked when I consider my plight; my circumstances in January 1992 when David died and left me penniless and totally bereft of any support, shelter or sufficiency.

I was not in the place I am today vis-a-vis confidence, ability, capability, wisdom, and information and knew nothing about fending for myself. I was a big zero in that department; naïve, ignorant of the way-of-the-world in a practical sense. All my knowledge lay in theory. I  believed it would suffice!

Was I in for the biggest shock of my life! It was time for Truth & Dare.

No, not the game we play with our friends but the game life plays with you when the only thing you can do is: face the truths and dare to do whatever you have to do; even if your knees are knocking, your heart’s in your throat and you’d rather be the heroine in a fairy tale than in the story of your life. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed in life.

I learned all about endings and beginnings.

I had been cocooned far too long, it was time to crawl out. And that’s what I did… crawl out.

“Change is about submission.

Once you submit to change it happens,

whether you are awake or asleep.

This is what the caterpillar told me” -Joy Clarkson

It was a heady experience. Dread, anxiety, anger, fragile self-confidence, bravado, strong will, determination, strong faith, hope and trust in God, self-pity, defensiveness — a cocktail of positives and negatives at its best and worst.

That’s how I stepped out on my own: Single, alone, and lost.

I was a toddler again; still not steady on her feet; tottering, falling, getting up, and stumbling and falling again. But through this, I learned. Not always in the best way nor with the right attitude. I viewed the world with distrust. Was always on the back foot – and defensive. A single mom trying hard to be both mom and dad.

I became the sole provider, and it was scary. I wasn’t earning enough as a teacher. My salary, which David called “a drop in the ocean,” now shrank into an even tinier drop in an ever-growing ocean of expenses. But that’s all we’d have to survive.

But God had been working to prepare me for this day.

About three years before tragedy struck like a bolt from the blue, I felt an urgent and strong need to further my education, even against opposition from my husband.

I got my Master’s degree, a second Bachelor’s degree {this one in education} and also auditioned for and then worked, ad hoc, in the drama division of All India Radio.

The degrees would ensure a better position as a senior teacher with a higher salary. The drama hobby at AIR didn’t pay much neither was it a regular thing but I did it because I love dramatics. That’s what I thought the urge to join AIR was!

I didn’t know it then but all these came to my aid in a bigger way than I had imagined.

I completed my MA in Eng. Litt. but had only cleared the entrance test for the B.Ed. degree course when he died. My Master’s degree put me in the senior teacher category and I moved to teaching the secondary and higher secondary classes. The acting hobby paid off as they selected me as a higher grade artiste, so there were meager improvements in our finances. 

Although the money coming in turned out better than if I had not upgraded my qualifications for the job, it was still far from enough. But definitely, more than I could have expected at the time!

The Principal of the new school I joined, when we shifted back to the hometown, was kind enough to offer me the complete basic salary of a fully qualified senior teacher ( I was in the middle of my teacher’s qualification B.Ed. so he couldn’t add in the benefits). This was more than I had expected and I hadn’t even asked for it! 

The Station Director at AIR assured me of at least one drama each month, sometimes there’d be two. I had not asked her either. 

God was at work here!

None of this was as easy as it sounds. Not being a confident person I found myself in a quandary at this difficult time. It scared me and I hid my reticence and ignorance under the cloak of bravado. But with God on my side, I picked up the courage to fight my battles.

I dared to step off the cliff. Dared to dive into deep waters. I didn’t know how to fly nor how to swim but I had a life jacket and a parachute: FAITH!

I survived the buffeting waves and raging storms.

Was it smooth sailing and a smooth flight? Far from it.

I had lessons to learn. Faith is a teacher. When you walk ‘with’ faith, it teaches you many things and the first thing I learned was that faith doesn’t support foolishness, foolhardiness, and arrogance.

These were tough lessons.

They were foundation lessons.

Lessons that gave me a strong platform on which to stand firm. Today, it looks as simple as a hop, skip, and jump! Yes, a shaky hop, a daring skip, and a scary jump.

I made terrible mistakes: Regrettable decisions, wrong judgments, wrong actions. Actions that were not thought out. I did not consider the repercussions of what I was doing; the negative fallout which would harm or hurt me more than anyone else.

Yes, I learned some hard lessons. I made mistakes, but I learned from them. That was the saving grace! Making mistakes is not the mistake or the problem. Not learning from them is. Not taking home the lesson and working on it is. Not changing, not growing is.

So how do you know what is wrong?

How do you know where you’ve gone wrong?

And how do you know why you’ve gone wrong?

At which point do know you’ve got to change?

When do you ask yourself, ‘how do I change’?

Questions and more questions. I searched for answers. I prayed and sought wisdom in God’s word. I listened to teachers and spiritual leaders. I read articles, messages, and books. I argued with myself… I fought. But when you seek you find. What you seek you find. The best lessons came back to me down the years; Daddy’s lessons. I recalled all that he had talked to me about. All that he had taught me. That’s how I grasped the most important lessons and started the process of change that would pull me out of the rut of despair.

I squirmed, groaned, and moaned. Disappointments, let downs, depression, despondency, anger are formidable opponents. It takes a strong will to change and humility to accept that you need to change.

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This marked the end of a significant chapter of my life and the start of a new one. A chapter that would see the birth of a new person and a new tale, in the sequel to my life story before January 1992!

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He Is Risen!

“A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” -Mahatma Gandhi

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“Here is the amazing thing about Easter; the Resurrection Sunday for Christians is this: that Christ in the dying moments on the cross gives us the greatest illustration of forgiveness possible.” – T.D. Jakes

To those who believe and revere the day: Have a blessed and joyous Resurrection/Easter Day!

 

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Thank God It’s Friday – and it’s ‘GOOD’!

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When I was a little girl, I never knew whether to be sad or happy on this day. The visuals and the story of the crucifixion did nothing to convince me it was a day to “rejoice” or be happy about. I was too young to comprehend ‘God’s love’ in connection with ‘sacrificing’ His son for a whole bunch of ‘sinners’ who would happily save a Barrabas and let an innocent, no less God’s son, hang on the cross.

So I would try to tone down my play and general joviality in keeping with the solemnity of a death (and worse, a death that I too was somehow responsible for.) I just didn’t get it…any of it!

Then there was the three-hour long church service I’d go through playing with things my mother would make with her handkerchief to keep me engaged. I loved the kerchief mouse a lot! I made it hop and pounce all over and crawl under benches to retrieve it! And the little kerchief purse came next. And when I’d be exhausted and bored with this she’d have some snacks and orange juice ready for me, and I’d munch my way through thirty more minutes!

The next thing would be to curl up on the bench with my head in her lap and drop off to sleep. That was the spiritual part of my day.  And that’s how it remained until I turned eight. From ten to fifteen, church-going became a sporadic exercise because we moved to the country and our church was about twenty-two miles away.

It was only after I began going to church regularly, at sixteen, having returned to the city once again, that I began to understand a lot of what had gone over my head earlier.

Now, many of my non-Christians friends or acquaintances ask me why we call it “Good Friday” when our Lord was so cruelly crucified. They listen to the explanation and nod their heads as if they understand, but I can see the confusion in their eyes.

They just don’t get it.

For me – It’s enormous!

This love and sacrifice… and often I wonder – “How?” I don’t see myself or the human race worthy of such a huge sacrifice. God’s own son sent to die on a cross for my sins! I’m just zapped by the ginormous love God has for us, rather unworthy humans! Every year, come Good Friday, it comes into greater focus – this love divine, this love sublime.

Thank God we have a Good Friday!

 

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There is something about the cross that compels us to make a choice, either for him or against him. You can’t find a middle ground when it comes to Christ, even though at times we try to. (Fr. Sunny John O. Carm. )

 

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Does Your Toolkit Have The Right Tools?

I have often been asked how I have managed my family, home, relationships and life in general. A verse from Proverbs 14:1 comes to mind – “Homes are made by the wisdom of women, but are destroyed by foolishness”

I believe wisdom here lies in having the right tools of the trade. My tools have consisted of Faith, Love, Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Humor. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have these tools and to use them.

Faith has been my bedrock. I know whatever may happen and however rough times may be, my Lord and my God will be there to guide, protect, and carry us through. My faith has been put to the test many a time and I have turned and put my Lord to the test and He has never failed. Faith has taught me patience. It has taught me to trust and wait for His timing. Faith has shown me how to cast my cares on God. When my family was in need He provided for us. His grace keeps restoring our hope and faith.

Love has always acted as an all-purpose tool. When everything fails, pull out love; it never fails. It will not only transform the home but will also transform you. When I say ‘love’ I mean the kind of love as is written in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

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1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I sincerely believe love makes you calmer, reasonable, sensitive and definitely more approachable. Love is the best beauty treatment you can ever have, inside out, it makes you radiant.

Forgiveness is an important thread that holds families together. If we must survive the hurts that we cause to one another we must have forgiveness. Much as we don’t want to be hurt we do get hurt, disappointed or offended. People hurt people.

It is a flaw of human nature that we tend to hurt the ones we love the most. This is because of the ill-placed expectations we have of them and when they do not come up to our expectations we tend to deride them, be angry, take offense and blame them, thus adding insult to injury.

Forgiveness lightens the distress on both sides. It isn’t easy, but the good news is that it is possible to forgive. We need to forgive ourselves too. Often our guilt or anger at ourselves builds up walls of bitterness and resentment. We can’t face ourselves.

To forgive others we must first be able to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we may have to work harder at it, especially when we have been deeply injured. Turn to Faith. Turn to love. Turn to Forgiveness. Forgiving families are happy and united families.

Humor is one tool that can never be used too much. It is a wonderful tool and can lighten gloomy days and chase away the blues. It should be readily available and used liberally.

“Laughter disarms, relaxes, distracts, enhances, and connects us to one another. There is no sweeter melody than when our families laugh together and sharing joy causes us to bond at the heart,” says Patsy Clairmont, and I couldn’t agree more.

Seeing a funny side to a situation, helps us to be more positive and cheerful. Laughter acts as a safety valve to release repressed emotions or stress. It improves mental health and lends an amiable disposition.

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Gratitude, simply put, is thanking God for everything He gives. A grateful heart acknowledges even the tiniest help rendered.

Thank God in good times, thank God in bad times.

A thankful heart will let us look beyond our difficulty and see the lesson. The message comes from our ‘messes’ – a learning point.

There is a fable about a man who was miserable and couldn’t stop bemoaning his fate. He was forever focussing on all his problems and felt life had been very unfair to him.

He looked around and found that his family members were more fortunate, his colleagues were lucky, his neighbors were better off.

He declared that God was not just and it was no use worshipping him.

Finally, God appeared to him in a dream and told him that he could put all his problems into a sack and take it to the Tree of Destiny and dump it in exchange for any other sack over there.

The man happily lugged his sack to the tree. There were many other sacks there and he found many belonging to some of the people he had envied. As he started opening the sacks, one by one, he found he didn’t want any because what he saw there did not appeal to him.

So he gathered up his bag and walked home. The morning saw him as a changed man. He had developed a grateful heart and he thanked God for his lot.

Be a family that is thankful for God’s mercies. Be a family that appreciates anyone who has done anything good for you.

Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!

Stack up your toolkit with the right tools.

 

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A Bit of Christmas Every Day

Yes, another ‘Christmas’ post! Why? You might ask. The day has come and gone.

Not for me. The so-called “Holiday Season” carries on for me through to New year, as calendar days go. I love this time of the year and loathe letting it go. So…

I wish I could bottle the spirit of Christmas in jars. Yes, and open each jar every month for a dose of ‘spirit’!

Actually, I do. I do store a bit of Christmas in my heart. Little pockets of the cheer, the joy, the hope and the love; the promise. Life for me is a celebration of all these things that culminate every year, in Christmas…a date; a day on the calendar, when everyone who believes joins in a common celebration and in gratitude for God’s love towards mankind.

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Unless you have carried Christmas in your heart, throughout the year, you’re not going to find it under a tree! Sure, there’ll be gifts, the kind you can buy off, of shelves in a store.

The gifts of true value, however, cannot be bought but they can be received because they were paid for a long time ago. All you have to do is open your heart to get them. And the best part is…they’re available throughout the year!

You don’t have to stand in long queues, wait for sales, scout for them in a hundred shops…you just have to ask and receive.

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The babe whose birth we welcome and worship, on Christmas, came to give us those gifts of love and salvation. He paid a high price. Now… It’s yours for the asking.

Just believe.

 

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Keeping ‘CHRIST’ in Christmas

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” -Steve Maraboli

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From the start of December, my prayer breakfasts got a touch of the holiday season! The mugs became cheery!

 Christmas, perhaps, is one of the most commercialized festivals, anywhere in the world. I may be wrong. I’m speaking from my own experience in my country. When we say “everyone celebrates Christmas,” what we’re saying is, actually everyone has fun and ‘celebrates’ Santa Claus! Jesus is not mentioned, not prominent anywhere; in any store, or mall, in the decorations in hotels and restaurants…all one sees is Santas in all shapes and sizes, adorning show windows, stairways, everywhere…and even on cards! To bring the point home, I’d like to relate an incident that took place one Christmas, long ago, at my sister’s place.

She had this huge Santa Claus, and when I say huge, I mean life size…a tall Santa. He was prominently displayed, by the entrance, inside the house – not that he’d be unnoticed, placed anywhere else in the room! Anyway, to get back to my anecdote, there were many people invited to the Christmas party that my sis was hosting at her place. Among them were a large number of close family and relations as well as friends, both, Christian and non-Christian. Everyone, or well, almost everyone walked in, admired the huge guy in his red suit, some laughed, some cracked a joke and a few clicked a pic with him and walked on. However, one or perhaps two or three of my niece’s non-Christian friends made a short stop to admire him and pay obeisance. They folded their hands, bowed and said, “Jai Santa Baba!” And one even removed her shoes before she approached and touched the rotund guy’s feet! These people did feel silly, later, when it became the joke of the night.

But, seriously, how can one laugh at them or be surprised at their ignorance? (We laughed too and still do, whenever we recall the incident!) But in all honesty, we really can’t. The joke is on us, not them. The most famous song sung in even Christian schools’ Christmas celebrations, and everywhere else is…’Jingle bells, jingle bells….’ and the most visible character is Santa Claus! Except for the church services and in the homes of those who keep Christ in Christmas, the day has been hijacked by a plump guy in a ridiculous red, fur-lined suit.

I’m not against the idea or concept of Santa Clause. We sing Santa songs, we talk about Santa and the presents he gets for kids, about his reindeer, especially the popular red-nosed Rudolph, to maintain the excitement for our little kids;  We grew up writing letters to Santa, addressed to some place in the North Pole! And we soon outgrew that. But, never ever did we, even remotely, think that he was the reason we celebrated Christmas. Our home was Christ-centered. Anyway, in those days, Santa wasn’t a lucrative business proposition.

The commercialization of Christmas is totally a business-centered, money-centered concept in which Santa Claus sells like hotcakes. He doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable. But for some reason, I can’t comprehend, telling people about Jesus and his birth does. Why, even the usual prayers that we’d say and the carols and hymns that we’d sing before we started the party, has been dispensed with, these days, because we are embarrassed to do so in front of our non-believing guests. Or worried that we might offend them!

So, how can we laugh at someone who believes that Santa Claus is our ‘Babaji’ or god? When we ourselves speak more about him, think more about the social aspects surrounding the festival, and set aside an hour for church – and that too may not be on the agenda – to think about Jesus and what Christmas means to us and what the message of Christmas is. I find that in the USA one says ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of Merry or Happy Christmas!

I’m not judging anyone, just saying what I believe and feel about how we allow people, even in our small world of friends, to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas. It’s not them, it’s us. We don’t keep him in it.

Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy and celebrate the festival. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a Christmas tree, or hang up stockings, or even a Santa or two, or build a snowman. We can do all that and still keep Christ prominent in our thoughts, actions, and celebrations.

Keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas isn’t for just a day or a month, it is a way of life; the Christian life. A guide on how we must conduct ourselves. How we maintain relationships. How we treat people known and unknown. It is our everyday faith and belief in action.

Let Santa ride his sleigh for a night and leave. Let Jesus stay on.

Note: These are my personal thoughts. Again, I’m not criticizing or judging anyone. If you don’t agree, please, don’t read the whole post and kindly refrain from posting any negative or rude comments. Thanks in advance.