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Saturday Afternoons

I hear the pitter patter of their feet as they come up the stairs. Most of the time I am sitting on the porch and I get to listen to their whisperings, as they carry on unaware of my presence. They stand on tiptoes to ring the bell. Miss? Miss? They yell up at me.

I smile, grab my dupatta from its place on the chair and open the creaky screen door to let them in.

Sometimes it is just Hina and Sita, sometimes their younger brother Kewal comes too, sometimes they bring a friend. Hina always begins by asking to take pictures. She knows how to use my iphone to get to the camera, to change the filter, and to take more selfies than is probably healthy at her age, which is 8.

After a short photo session, if she has brought a friend, she makes them sit down across from me in the other wicker chair. She takes the photo album a friend made me for a bridesmaid’s gift and gingerly lifts the cover. She knows the pictures by heart. This is Miss Caroline’s friend, she says. Her name is Lindsey. This is Hannah (pointing to Jess), this is Jess (pointing to Hannah), and this is…this is…. Karen? Callie, I say. Callie.

This is Miss in an ocean (hot tub). This is Miss eating cake. This is Miss sad because all the cake is gone. This is Miss dressing up like a lion (Thank you Step Sing.) Miss, why do you look like a lion again? This is Miss at her ceremony because she passed her class (graduation).

She asks if I have any new pictures, which most of the time I do not. This is followed by requests for me to braid her hair, for candy, for another photo shoot with me, or for a dance. Most of the time, we dance.

Her favorite song is a Bollywood one called Hookah Bar. I have no comment regarding this or its appropriateness for an 8 year-old. But it does have a good beat.

After 15 or 20 minutes, the others are ready to move on. C’mon Hina, they say, lets go. And Hina looks for reasons to stay. Something new on my fridge. Another photo idea. A cat on the stairs. An unmade bed to scold me about.

Reluctantly she clomps down the stairs back into the compound, her sister hitting my bell as she goes past. Hina’s hand slides around the corner wall and she smiles back up at me, See you later okay bye!

Every time I come into the compound from the market, from the office, from anywhere at all- Hina runs up to me. She is always playing outside, she always waves. And regardless of whether I can wave back or whether my hands are full, she gallops up towards me. Her admiration is enchanting, slightly overwhelming, and mostly so incredibly affirming in ways she cannot possibly know. She quietly, unconsciously tells me that this is indeed where I belong.Image

How I learned to listen

Learning is a much too active a word. This learning for me was and is so much more passive than that. It was more that I took part in something. That I willingly gave myself over to some experiment of sorts, with no hypothesis in mind nor process or procedures outlined.

When I made the decision to come, I knew language would be a barrier, would be a challenge. But to the surprise of my language teachers and fellow foreigners, I picked it up much more quickly than I should have. This is not to say that I am a poetic speaker of Urdu who can craft sonnets or write dissertation papers. This has much less to do with my intellectual ability than it does with my un-fear of looking ridiculous and my abandonment that leads me to practice and try to speak as much as I can. My amazing talent of making mistakes and lack of worry about looking stupid yields fruit in my language learning.

After 4 months of intensive language, I could communicate. I could explain myself and my ideas, lead trainings, play Simon Says, and comment during devotions. It has been a beautiful thing. But what I have learned most is not how to speak, but how to listen. 

I have learned that when emotions are high and things matter most- my Urdu slips away (and for the better.) That when a friend is in sorrow and I cannot seem to recall the difference in saying I’m sitting in this sorrow with you and I’m sitting in your lap; that when a friend is frustrated because I understand their language but not always the customs and traditions that direct it; that when a group of leaders are plundering through problems to get to root issues and I can only draw the diagrams on the board because my words are too excited to stop dancing around and make sense; I learned that understanding the other is so much more vital than being able to comment.

I didn’t learn to speak; I learned to listen.

I remembered and re-learned and came back to what is perhaps central in each of us. That language is a tool for relationships, but not always the best one. The best one is often sharing a meal, squeezing a hand in love, braiding her hair, an apologetic exhale, or a nod that says- I know. You are understood. The only tool we really need in relating to another child of our Creator is an open heart. Large enough to carry their hurt, wide enough to bend and see through a different perspective, and flexible enough to expand and contract as life flows through.

So when my tongue is exhausted and I have no more words, what I want most is for another pilgrim to nod their head, squeeze my hand, and declare with their loudest heartbeat- I know. You are understood.

May we learn to listen. May we learn to hear another’s heartbeat more loudly than any other chaos.

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Psalm 23

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

I shall not want. I shall have all the things my faith requires. I shall not want for grace or love or mercy. You, my shepherd, provide.

You make me lie down in green pastures.

You give me rest. You sit with me so that I might find peace in your presence.

You lead me beside still waters.

Waters of comfort. Waters that soothe my spirit and wash over my wounds. Waters that bring healing.

You restore my soul.

You make it new. You make it unbroken. You heal the parts in me that are heavy and impure.

You lead me in right paths for your name’s sake.

Not for my own glory. Not for my benefit. Not for my own gain or good. But for your name’s sake. For your perfect and holy name.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley

Even though I am afraid. Even though darkness surrounds me. Though I cannot see what is ahead.

I will fear no evil.

I will not allow fear to consume or control me. I will not fear the unknown, instead I will trust. Instead I will choose to believe again and again that your timing is not my own. Instead I will fear only being apart from your presence. But I will not fear evil. 

For you are with me.

And that is all I need to know. For you are Emmanuel. You are God with us. With me.

Your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

You direct and guide me. You discipline me out of your abundant love.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You never promise this life will be safe or easy or comfortable or anything less than dangerous. But you do- 

Anoint my head with oil

You have chosen me. You continually choose me. You have called me beloved. You have called me to your purposes, which are far greater than mine.

My cup overflows.

With blessings. With grace. With beautiful things I do not deserve.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Not because I am good or merciful. Not because I am perfect or kind. Not because I have earned the right to be in your presence. But because you are the one who goes with me.

And I shall dwell

I shall dwell. I shall dwell.

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my God.

My Emmanuel. My Jehovah. My Yahweh. The one who see my sorrow, hears my cries, and knows my heart.

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my God forever. 

And ever.

All the days of my life.

Amen.

 

 

{This was given by Hannah Valentine (who kindly translated the comments into Urdu) and myself at an event with the Church of Pakistan}

Grocery Store Contemplation

Some day, grocery store trips send you pondering deep philosophical thoughts.

Ap kis ciz per ay? What thing did you come here for?

There is a sanctuary in my city filled with boxed cereal and scented candles and imported cookie mixes and canned corn. This grocery store is a lovely, AC filled place of joy where there are aisles and things have prices and labels are on every item and people hand out free samples and it is just so easy. 

I’ve only been there a handful of times because the markets near my house are so much closer and cheaper. But there are days when this store becomes my oasis, my refuge. Where I get giddy over the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they will have popcorn this time. 

On one particular Friday afternoon, I happened to run into 4 different people I knew at this haven in the heat. We smiled and small talked. We said, “Did you see they have this now?” and “I’ve been looking for that…” And I felt I was in community. That somehow grocery store small talk meant I had made a home for myself. That chance encounters with friends justified using Pakistan as my home address.

One of the ladies kissed my cheek and asked me what I came for. I laughed and said the AC but I ended up with a basket of peanut butter, mango juice, and coconut hand soap. She said, me too and showed me her own basket full of ends and odds. Our camaraderie sealed with our

My treasure finds bagged, I headed home.  Yet her question lingered, even after the doors closed behind me and the last swoosh of AC brushed my feet.

What thing did I come here for?

To show love? To fight injustices? To learn about another culture? To prove something? To seek God’s presence? To not disappoint? To follow my heart? To chase a dream? To do good?

Maybe for all of these things. Maybe not.

Maybe we come here for one thing and realize half way through that what we wanted most was to feel at home. Maybe it isn’t as important what we came here for, but who is with us in the journey. Maybe we get distracted along the way and still something beautiful rises up to meet us. Maybe coming with empty baskets allows us to fill up with joy and laughter and peace.

Because I don’t think I came to the grocery store that afternoon to learn a lesson in how I posture myself, but I think learning the beauty of community was a far better deal than the peanut butter I bought. 

Abundance

The question is asked with the same tone one might use to ask, you know about Mother Teresa, right?

You’ll eat with us? she asks. 

But the answer is not so easy, in fact I haven’t yet really found a correct negative response.

The impression is that of course- I am here, it is close to dinnertime, I consume food regularly- why wouldn’t I eat with them? Who wouldn’t know about Mother Teresa?

Except that this generous question is asked of me multiple times a week.

She cooks for 10 at lunch, though her family is only 4 ½. (The ½ is the baby, who most of the time is referred to as “the small one,” who also only eats mush.)  You never know if someone might drop by, a sister in law, a cousin, a nephew, at the same time that you might be eating. The roti dough is ready and only takes her 2 minutes to flawlessly prepare. (I tell you this with slight disdain, due to my complete inability to perform this most basic of tasks.) She’ll laugh if that family from church really does decide to stop in, put some water in the curry, and make it go further. If something is leftover, it is eaten at dinner or breakfast or by the wandering white girl who lives across the way.

She tells me, Caroline- when you go back there (it is never referred to by name, it is simply there- as in, it is not here, so it is there), you’ll have to make your own food. Relax now. And what would you do at your house? Eat alone? She says this in the same tone you might use to tease a child to ask if they brought their brain to school. And she beckons me into her kitchen to hold a chubby cheeked baby while she peels potatoes or slices carrots. She doesn’t mind if I can’t think of anything funny or exciting to share, the mundane will do. She doesn’t care if my Urdu has gone for the day and I can’t even share the mundane, she’ll do all the talking. She thinks it’s great if some days we just watch the Arab World’s version of Downton Abbey; I catch words like princess and murder and marriage and I smile. 

It’s her kitchen that I think of when I think of the abundance of the Kingdom. How God is more than pleased to dish up a few more servings of grace. How she assures you that your time is so much better spent with her and her family than alone. How she invites you to take part- wash these peas, give the small one a bottle, grab the plates. How she is always prepared, in spirit and with hands and feet, to share with others. How she accepts everyone at her table of misfits and family members and friends from way back when. How she shows abundance by welcoming others into abundant living.

Yes, I’ll be surprised if heaven doesn’t smell a little like curry powder and feel like here (as in, it isn’t there, it’s here- among us.)  

Firsts

His right pointer finger pokes out the keys, h-e-l-l-o. This is right? He asks me unsurely. I nod and he tilts his head in that way where you know there is doubt, but not quite enough to question. And then, this one? I nod again and smile encouragingly. Okay. Okay. Yes, done.

I hold out my phone in front of them, mailbox open. I’ve turned on the volume just for this moment. Ding-dong! One new email.

He visibly jolts back from the phone, gasps, and then begins to clap his hands. The 4 other men in his group also applaud this action of mystery and wonder and magic with grins stretching across their faces.

Just like that? Just like that.

Firsts.

She plops her midwifing manual onto the bed. Caroline, you will not believe this. I smirk and answer, try me.

Today, in class, the teacher started talking about (motions below the belt) and was saying everything out in the open! Just saying it! The married women were all like nodding and saying, yes, yes. But the rest of us sat like (opens eyes and mouth as wide as humanely possible). And then the teacher told us that we would also tell women things about their (again, motions below the belt) when their babies are coming and I said (shakes head vigorously, while biting her bottom lip)!

I say through my laughter, But you will! One day you will, sweet girl!

She collapses onto the bed, still shaking in disbelief; her manual falls open to a hand drawn picture of the male anatomy.

In her bursts of giggles she clamps the book shut and asks, quite sincerely, Just like that?

Just like that.

Firsts.

She splashes water towards her brother. I’m floating nearby and the salt hits my eyes. Sorry! She yells as she splashes over, making her way towards me. I spit out the equivalent of saltshakers, smile, and assure her no permanent damage is done. Caroline, what is this you’re doing? Floating? Yes. This. I want to try, says the girl who has never learned to swim.

Lets do it! I pick her up underneath her arms, she flails against me. No! No! No! Yes, yes, yes! Lift your feet up, I cheer her on. Through salty, spitting, unsure, chuckles she asks me, Just like this?

We are always learning something, always having one first or another, whether we recognize it or not. If you aren’t, I’d recommend a change in the daily routine.

“Firsts” remind of courage. Of what it feels like to do something you have never done before, like sending an email. They remind us of learning. Of how none of us has arrived, that we are all still working towards becoming whole, that none of us know how to do it, that we are all still creating and birthing things within us, like becoming a midwife. “Firsts” remind us of grace. Of how each of us is on a journey, kicking as if our life depended on it, splashing others along the way, and realizing that it is only from one another that we learn to float.

Have a “first” today, be gentle as others have theirs, and may there be much laughter on the way. 

New Year

It is hard to believe that I have less than five months in this beautiful place. Leaving time with loved ones at Christmas was bittersweet knowing that I wasn’t saying goodbye to them for long, but also with the knowledge that in a few months I will be saying more goodbyes than I want to think about.

It is an incredible feeling to know that the whole of my 2013 was spent in the country I dreamed of coming to. Christmas was filled with many conversations of how much of a miracle it is that I’m here, how much peace and joy have been poured on my parents, how amazed I am at the protection I’ve felt, and how lucky I am to be exactly right where I want to be. So many times we spin our wheels thinking of the next job/house/school/city. I’m more than grateful that for now, for this time, I couldn’t create a place I would rather be living in.

From the moment I touched down in Karachi, I have been saturated with hospitality and love. Some friends came with the driver to pick me up at the airport to welcome me back, despite the fact that my flight came in at 4am. A lady I work with stocked me up on the basic fruits and vegetables because I flew back on a day the markets were closed. A neighbor had me over for dinner and we told stories over much-missed curry. A dear friend mailed me Christmas Tree Little Debbie’s from 8,000 miles away. I only hope that I can share and live out this much warmth with those around me. I feel so blessed.

At the moment I am knee deep in grants, trainings, mentoring, and programs. The air is thick with possibility for PEP’s children’s financial literacy program, for the computer training I’m leading in two weeks with our Field Staff, for the wonderful young woman I’m training to be the PR Officer, for all the wheels in motion in our schools. (Including some new bicycle wheels so our graduates can continue their education!)

I’m anxiously anticipating all this year will teach me. I pray that your new years begins in expectation of the miracles that you will witness, with a full heart ready to be poured out, and knowing the joy that each of you bring me.

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