Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dr. Beth on the Chronic Singleness Disorder


Dr. Beth, 8 (pad and pen in hand): Can you tell me your name and the sickness that you have?

Me: My name is Humility and I suffer from chronic singleness. What can you do for me, Dr. Beth?

Dr. Beth: Well.. I need to ask you. When you watch shows about couples, do you feel sad for yourself, or good for the other person?

Me: I feel good for them, but I also feel bad for myself.

Dr. Beth: Hmm, okay well, I see... I think that's a little... what do you feel more?

Me: Depends on the time of the month.

Dr. Beth (looks confused): Huh?

Me: Never mind. Moving on. What can you do to help me with this problem of chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: (places a finger on her lips thoughtfully) Well.. (succumbs to a fit of giggles)

Me: Keep going.

Dr. Beth: Okay. I have.. I have sent you, well, not sent you, I am going to put you into a volunteer school to teach kids.

Me: Okay... but what's this got to do with...

Dr. Beth: You'll be working with another teacher..

Me: Oh!

Dr. Beth stops and stares at me, smiling suspiciously.

Me: What's this got to do with my chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: You'd have to be come friends with the teacher.

Me: Uh huh? Tell me more.

Dr. Beth: (Big smile) He's a male.

Me: Oh, is that a fact?

Dr. Beth: (nodding and smiling self-consciously) Yes.

Me: Is he a good Catholic?

Dr. Beth nods yes.

Me: Does he love the Lord?

Dr. Beth: He's a volunteer!

Me: Oh. Okay. Where do we go from here? Why is he still single? How come there's not a lot of girls already trying to marry him?

Dr. Beth: (shrugs) They don't really care.

Me: Is he not really nice?

Dr. Beth: He's nice! Some girls just don't see it in him. Coz they treat him badly. He's been encountering lots of girls which have been mean to him. But (big smile) I don't think you'll be mean.

Me: Uh.. nooo.

Dr. Beth: So that's why I'm putting friends with him.. with you. So.. well.. um.. yeah..

Me: I thought you had a different plan which involved lots of possible guys.

Dr. Beth: No. Well.. there's a website. And you just told me you wanted to pick someone from a whole guy.. line of guys..

Me: No! What? I didn't say that!

Dr. Beth: Then?

Me: I want to meet them, not just pick them from a website!

Dr. Beth: Ok. So um I'm going to order some guys.. not order but ask them to come here.

Me: How do you find them? I still don't understand that part.

Dr. Beth: It's a website, dear.

Me: How come? There's so many nice girls out there. How come they haven't met any of those nice girls?

Dr. Beth: (Shrugs) I dunno. How am I supposed to know other persons' personalities?

Me: Tell me about that whole personality thing. You were telling me something about personalities. Like, that's how you found them?

Dr. Beth: What?

Me: You said something like you checked my personality and then you checked their personality...?

Dr. Beth: Yes. (Picks up Mother Teresa peg doll) Mother Teresa here, she put everything on my... (pause) something that you put into the computer, and it helps.

Me: Like a USB?

Dr. Beth: Huh?

Me: Like a flashdrive?

Dr. Beth: Yeah, a flashdrive. So, uh, it stores everything, and then I have a website, everyone has their website, of um, Look For Me. The website is called Look For Me. (Big smile, pleased with herself.)

Me: Really? Lookformedotcom?

Dr. Beth: Yes! Have you looked at it?

Me: I have not looked at it as yet.

Dr. Beth: I'll download it for you. So Mother Teresa here has downloaded all your information, just by kissing you on the cheek.

Me: Wow. Impressive.

Dr. Beth: I know. She's very cool. Thank you. Yes. So, as I was saying, you will need to... (long pause)

Me: That's it?

Dr. Beth: You'll have to come to me tomorrow at 2.

Me: Thank you.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What To Do When Things Don't Go Your Way


Everyone assumes everyone else has got it together and they are the only ones suffering. But the more I live (not so subtle reference to my wisdom-laden thirty years), the more I find that we are not alone, that the human condition is really pretty similar.

The particular human situation I refer to is that of disappointment, or major setbacks in life, of dreams that come tumbling down, or life just not turning out the way you thought it was going to. Either this sounds like an overused homily to you, or you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you are going through it right now.

You did everything right, you worked hard, you got your degree, you applied for jobs, you even went for interviews. And yet here you are, unemployed, and waiting, waiting. This was not how life was supposed to turn out. This was not where you thought you would be at this stage of your life.

Or you were working on your dream project, the culmination of your hard work, brainstorming, focus, determination, blood, sweat and tears... It seems inspired by God, you followed His leading... and then CRASH! It all falls flat. It's sabotaged, destroyed. It's all gone down in flames and you can't understand why. Why?

Or you were in a relationship that seemed like IT, the one you were waiting for your whole life. Everything seemed right, all the signs seemed to point to this being The One. You looked ahead, and said "Yes. I think I'm ready to say forever." And then something changed. He didn't want the same thing. She wasn't the person you thought she was. Family interfered. And he accepted it. And now you're alone, all those dreams crashing and burning.

Or you found the person to marry, you went through all the things everyone does- you spent months planning a wedding, receiving the congratulations and well-meaning platitudes from all one hundred and sixty seven of your aunties and cousins and coworkers, you received the gifts, and moved into the new home, and you started this rosy life with so much anticipation... and now it's not what you thought it would be, because of the painful gut-wrenching experience of infertility. Or anxiety. Or depression. Or unfaithfulness. Or a spouse with deep unresolved anger issues.

Or you had it all,  the dream did come true, but then so did unexpected and crippling loss in the form of a miscarriage, or your spouse or a child dying.

Now what?

Where do you go from here? How can you go on when your chest is tight and your stomach hurts and you've forgotten what it feels like to be excited about the future?

Stop comparing. The burden of social expectation is too heavy to bear, and anyway God hasn't even asked you to carry it. Facebook makes it seem like everyone has the thing that you don't- the perfect job, the romantic spouse, the exotic getaways, the picture perfect children, the close, bonding family get-togethers. But you just don't know. Nobody has exactly the life they hoped they would have. So many have hidden sorrows. Each one has their own apportioned sorrows, and their own particular consolations. So you're not left behind. Everyone is at different places, but they have their own journey to make.

Accept that it's okay to feel hurt and confused: I read a beautiful reflection from Bishop Robert Barron about Saint Joseph- 'Joseph had become betrothed to Mary and this union had been blessed by God. And then he finds that his betrothed is pregnant. This must have been an emotional maelstrom for him. And at a deeper level, it is a spiritual crisis. What does God want him to do?' Saint JOSEPH was confused? He must have gone through an EMOTIONAL MAELSTROM??!! If saints can have deep pain and questioning, then we can too. It doesn't mean you need to get your act together. Sometimes it's okay to just feel pain... just allow God to hold you as you pummel his chest and cry your eyes out.


Reject unnecessary guilt, blame and over-analyzing: Pain doesn't mean you messed up.  Pain doesn't have to be someone's fault. Sometimes it is. And if it is, come before God with a contrite heart, beg His (and anyone else's) forgiveness, and move forward. Make the changes you need to get your life back in order. But a LOT of the time, disappointment, suffering, and pain just happen because we live in a broken world, and that's part of the human condition. No matter how much you try, you can't avoid pain. So stop blaming yourself. And stop blaming everyone else.

Okay this one is the hardest:

Don't believe that just because you can't see the big picture. there isn't one: Continuing the Joseph story: 'Then the angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” He realizes at that moment that these puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s. What appears to be a disaster from his perspective is meaningful from God’s perspective.' 

You heard that?

These puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s.

Your particular puzzling and painful event is part of some greater plan of God's. What could it be? Like Tevye sang in Fiddler on the Roof, "Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?" Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were to get what I want, for my life to play out the way I hoped it would?

Well, that's where you have to take the big leap of faith and say- I am not God. God is God. I don't get it. But I am weak, helpless, with a limited perspective. I've been wrong about many things before. So maybe it's possible I'm wrong in thinking THIS particular outcome was the perfect way my life should have gone. God draws beauty out of brokenness. Sometimes we get glimpses of it- "Oh, THAT'S why You allowed that. How perfect." But sometimes we have to wait a long time to see it.

Choose to hope: Not about the thing that has been left behind, but about the future. Bishop Robert Barron again: "Jesus wants to cast a consuming fire on the earth. Not because he delights in seeing us suffer; rather, he wants to burn away all that is opposed to God’s desire for us. He has to clear the ground before something new can be built." God is doing something in you (if you are allowing Him into your suffering). He is burning away old attachments, dependence on particular outcomes. He is shaking up comfortable notions about the stability of this world, because He wants to give us more than just this world. He has something more, something new! I know, it's hard to believe sometimes.


But if you are a Christian, we DO believe in happy endings. Just not necessarily in the exact way we thought it would be. Bishop Barron: "Christians are basically and irrevocably an optimistic people, believers in the divine comedy—in good times and bad, in success and failure. I always think of Thomas Merton in this context, telling one of his novices to get rid of his long face—and meaning it as a positive command. Christians have no business moping around...the overwhelmingly good news is that we have been saved through the mighty power of God, and that's the reason why we are an essentially joyful people."

Allow yourself to be led: Bishop Barron: 'Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest purpose. Like Mary at the annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led.' Now what? Now seek Him. Spend time in silent prayer, in an Adoration chapel. Lay it all before Him, and ask HIM the question: "Now what?" He will not only quiet your heart, and the loud voices shouting that this is a disaster, that this suffering is too much, that you can't handle it. But He will also guide. He promised to. Should you make a change, start something new, take a new direction? Should you get help? It may not be a voice from heaven, or dreams and visions like for Saint Joseph. It may even be just circumstances changing, doors closing, other ones opening. But He will show you. Let go of the resentment, the resistance, and go with the flow.


Build your life on the truth that God alone suffices: 'Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.'  -St. Teresa of Avila. Can it be true? That as good and beautiful as the many joys of this world are- successful projects, the intimacy of a happy marriage, the satisfaction of raising a family, of seeing the fruit of your hard work, a steady paycheck and a fulfilling job... all those things are passing away. And nothing will remain but love, and the God of Love. So don't hold on too tightly to the things that pass. One thing remains. And if He is all that we have for the rest of our earthly lives, He is more than enough.

I'm praying for all those of you who are going through a hard time this month. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Movie Reviews: Jane Eyre and Fantastic Beasts


I've reached the stage of my life where I don't want to be bothered with a movie unless I know it's going to be good. And I'm kind of picky- I want the acting to be good, the plot and dialogue engaging, not too much action, not too slow, not glamorizing sin, not depressing, but not too fluffy, the list goes on. This one was everything I hoped it would be. Why, yes this IS high praise from me,

The best thing about this 2011 British Jane Eyre was Mia Wasikowska. She was understated, subtle, and so believable as Jane- a deep thinker, an old soul.

But but but... JANE EYRE WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ATTRACTIVE. C'mon guys, can we have ONE movie with a plain female protagonist? She was supposed to be plain! That was part of the charm of the book- these two plain characters, misfits in some ways, not attractive (and in her case not valuable) in the eyes of the world- and yet with a love that made those things irrelevant.

Anyway.

Guess what? Edward Fairfax Rochester was played by young Erik Lehnsherr! I mean Michael Fassbender. So weird to see him in this role, and yet he was so good too!

And Dame Judi Dench played the housekeeper, so odd to see her in a supporting role.

No 2 hour movie is ever going to satisfy fully someone who loves the book. I wish they hadn't skipped the whole Rochester dressing as an old gypsy and reading Jane's face. But I guess we can't have everything.

I was very pleased to see that one of the best lines of the book stayed, and was said with just as much heart wrenching passion as the book demanded:

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”

And also that at the great wrenching moment that she held herself away from him because of what she believed to be right, they DID leave in the source of her strength as she cried out, "God help me!" Because of course as I wrote earlier, her faith was such an important part of the story.

Anyway, loved it, you should watch it. I only wish it had been longer, and with an epilogue.

(Fun fact: There are EIGHT Jane Eyre films already made with the earliest in 1910, and the latest, this one, in 2011.)



Well, let's get down to the movie review you REALLY came here for- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

My sister and I watched the trailer, and were instantly charmed- 1920s Britisher visits 1920s America and plunges into 1920s wizarding world. So fun! We were especially charmed by the awkward protagonists- both Newt Scamander, but also Tina Goldstein.

But then I watched the movie, and though I did enjoy it, it left a lot to be desired. I supposed basically it needed to be a book, to fill in the details, to make the characters more familiar and beloved. We liked them, but didn't really get to know them well. Tina looked stressed out THE ENTIRE MOVIE. The first time we saw her smile I think was in the last scene. Newt rarely looked us in the eye. Yes, I get that he's the offbeat animal crazy adventurer, but I still didn't feel like I knew him by the end, except for his love for his beasts. (And can I just say that as he yelled 'They're not dangerous' a zillion times... that didn't seem to be strictly truthful?)

Also, there was a little too much action and destruction for my taste. I mean it's okay that those things happened, but wouldn't it have been nicer to include more dialogue-rich scenes like the dinner at Tina's place instead of so much time wasted chasing various beasts all over New York? Oh well, maybe I wasn't the target audience.

Still, in spite of all that, I appreciate a new world of imagination to plunge into, and am excited that it's part of a trilogy, so two more movies to look forward to.

Side note: I occasionally stumble upon the Harry Potter fandom- and it seems a little over the top. I mean I understand- you loved the books and the movies, you've re-read and re-watched them a zillion times, and it feels so good to feel like you belong to this world of people who feel the same way. But I feel like there is a line between heartily enjoying a fictional world, and losing track of reality as that world becomes your main identity. Sounds like an escape from reality to me. There's a big, fascinating, even magical world out here in the real world guys! Come on over!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Thoughts on Re-reading Jane Eyre


--1--

With what high sounding words did the characters express love! It almost makes one choose to do likewise after several hours of reading this piece of literature from yesteryear.

Behold, for example, these impassioned words spoken by Mr. Rochester to our little Jane, the first words that revealed his tenderer feelings for her, the night she saved him from being burnt in his bed by his SPOILER ALERT mad wife.

"I knew," he continued, "you would do me good in some way, at some time;-- I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not"- (again he stopped)- "did not" (he proceeded hastily "strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, goodnight!"

Let's put that in simpler modern-day English.

"I thought love was only true in fairytales, meant for someone else but not for me. Then I saw your face, now I'm a believer! Not a trace of doubt in my mind. I'm in love, I'm a believer!'

Guys, looking for words to express your love? Give it a try- "Your expression and smile struck delight to my very inmost heart!"


--2--

Well before the day of hookups and make out sessions, Mr. Rochester and Jane showed us that hand-holding can be very romantic, and an even thrilling encounter. No casual hand-holding for them! (Or me.) No stray kisses before love was committed. Physical contact meant a lot.

He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, then in both his own.


---3---

Morality and an awareness of God, a desire to do what is right in the eyes of God was a major turning point in the novel, not something you would expect from most literature today, except third rate horribly written Christian romance novels. I can't imagine most people agreeing that Jane made the right decision, SPOILER ALERT denying herself the joy of loving and being loved and fleeing Mr. Rochester when she found he had a mad wife.

Her inner struggle was fascinating to me, because she was tempted for sure, but I love the point where she says, "I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual conscience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth- so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane- quite insane; with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

Wow. In the age of 'if it feels good, do it', who has that kind of inner strength? And yet her struggle has been experienced by us all at some point. If my God allows me to do what I want when I want and how I want it, and never demands of me anything hard, then my god is ME and my selfish whims.

---4---

But of course, as I often do when I get engrossed in fictional stories of unhappy marriages, I ask myself like any good Catholic INTJ would- 'Would he have grounds for an annulment?' And I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize that in this case, there are the clearest grounds for annulment I've ever read. He was pressured into this marriage, information about the mental health (not to mention age) of his prospective wife was hidden from him, he was told that his mentally ill mother in law was dead.. I'm no canon lawyer, but that does NOT sound like a valid marriage. Phew!

(Just FYI, as a Catholic I believe that if a couple freely make a lifetime commitment to each other, they are in fact bound for a lifetime to each other. An annulment is not a 'Catholic divorce', but a marriage being declared invalid (that it was never a real marriage) because there was some element missing when the vows were made- like one or both were forced into the marriage, some important information was hidden, one or both did not really plan to be open to children, etc.)

---5---

As I read Jane Eyre, I was reminded that the details of attraction and falling in love don't really change from culture to culture, and age to age. There is the acute awareness of where the other person is placed in a room at any given moment, there is observation of the other person's every passing mood, and inferences made in one's mind about the why and wherefore of every fleeting expression, there is a strong resolution not to make it obvious that one is observing, especially if one is not assured of the other person's affections, there is much pondering and reflecting on the character of the other person, there is pleasure taken in the smallest sign of affection, as there is in knowing that one has the power to make this beloved happy. Amirite? (Or is this just INTJ romance?)

---6---

And although there is much that is easy to identify with, the dramatic elements of Jane Eyre are hysterical. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, A mad wife! Who laughs maniacally, and attacks, and bites, and drinks the blood of the one she bites. The madwoman ripping the veil in half the night before her husband is supposed to be married to another. A wedding stopped at exactly the point where the priest says "If any of you has reasons why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace" (well, the fancier version of those words). The mansion being burned down. Supernatural communications between lovers. So dramatic, and yet so enjoyable.

Okay, I'm done.

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Time I Went on a Five Day Silent Retreat

You'd assume for a self-identifying introvert, a five day silent retreat would have been super easy but those who know me, know that I am an externally processing introvert who talks nineteen to the dozen. And yet... five days of silence was very beautiful.

This retreat was an answer to prayer- for about six months I had felt God was telling me : 
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43: 19a
"Great! I'm all for it," I told Him. "But I have no idea what that new thing is."

Of course a part of me was like, "Vocational fulfilment! Yay!" But that's just every Catholic single who think they are called to marriage.

He was like, "You'll see."

And I did.

The past week I felt like He was opening a door in my journey with Him, and saying, "We're not there yet. Let's go." What He said was so full of light and truth that it overshadowed every other desire and goal and dream for my life.


What am I talking about? There is no way I can share with you everything that I learned, and most likely even if I did, coming from a blog post it probably won't mean much to you. What I really want is for you to go on this silent retreat and find out for yourself, as you sit before the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the glass walls giving you a glimpse of hovering eagles at eye level, the river far below meeting the sea in the distance, as you listen to a Carmelite priest speak words of SOLID truth, practical wisdom, and poetic sweetness, revealing the heart of the God who desires to be known by you- as taught by Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross.

The second part of that bible verse was:
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
...I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah 43: 19b-21
And the retreat was all about the river, the streams of living water which is the Presence of God coming to meet us in contemplation.

These are three insights that impacted me big time:

1. Any sensory pleasure I take that uses up hours and days of my life dulls my senses to God in prayer. I’m an obsessive TV serial watcher. I think I have an addictive personality. Luckily I don’t have TV in my volunteer post, but every time I go home, I binge watch hours and hours of some show or the other. Years ago it was LOST. It has been Downton Abbey, Gray’s Anatomy, The Mentalist, Castle, 24, House. Most of my life (until the Internet) I was a voracious reader, I could read for hours every day, and late into most nights. My latest obsessive behaviour has been reading Facebook comment threads from Simcha Fisher, one of my favourite Catholic bloggers. Her posts, and the comments that follow are witty, insightful, and thought-provoking- a feast for a Catholic INTJ’s mind. It all seems harmless, especially if the content of my latest obsession is clean, and it doesn’t interfere with my daily duties.

But this was the point- if my prayer is lifeless and dull, if I’ve lost my taste for prayer, it’s because my intellect and memory are constantly caught up in those pleasures. I am caught up in self-gratification, rather than being able to open myself to loving God and my neighbour in the present moment. The Lord is like, “If you allow those things to satisfy you, then where is there room for ME to satisfy you?” It’s like eating popcorn throughout the day, and when the feast arrives, you don’t have an appetite for it. So painful as it may seem, God is asking me to cut out some of my ‘harmless’ sensory pleasures… so I can relearn to take pleasure in His presence.

The cool thing was that actually happened at the retreat- I had never felt more joyful, peaceful and excited to just sit with Him in the chapel at random moments.


2. The way to go deeper in prayer isn’t some new meditation technique or effort at focus, but the way of charity, humility, detachment and ‘stealing moments’ of silence. Fr. A, who led the retreat was very clear- charity, the attitude that allows me to accept my brother or sister as he or she is, without judgment or analysis, is ESSENTIAL to experience God. Love cuts through my ego, my self-centredness, my judgment and makes a way for God to break through, and touch my deepest, innermost self. Saint Teresa of Avila said that the only sign that shows progress in prayer is that you accept your brother or sister in community. And love of course isn’t a sweet feeling, but a decision, and even a struggle- but a struggle that purifies. Only love can liberate me from ego. And a handy tip that helps me love people in spite of the way they treat me is: ‘There is no event that takes place without the knowledge of God.’ And therefore he has allowed this person, this event, this circumstance for some greater good- usually my own growth.

3. If my soul wants to be like a watered garden, I need to use the drip irrigation method, plus a morning and night watering: If I really want to grow in prayer, I MUST make time to meet Him not just once in the day, but for a chunk of time at the beginning and at the end, and frequently throughout the day, even for a few minutes at a time- singing hymns, practising the presence of God, doing an examen, just saying a few words of love. As most people who know me probably know, I’m one of the laziest people alive. Sloth in particular is my besetting sin- laziness in spiritual matters. I do the bare minimum. If I’m praying once a day, I think I’m doing GREAT. And yet, something has changed with this retreat. As Fr. A said, “You don’t have to do it. I can’t tell you you have to. But if you have a desire for God, you can do it!” And I can. If I can make time to check Facebook through the day, surely I can make time to turn my gaze to the Beloved.

There was SO much more. But I’m going to stop. You should go for this retreat. Seriously. If you live in India, take a week off and go. Leave me your email in the comments or contact me if you want details. Really. Do it.


Monday, 8 August 2016

The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress


“Let’s go wedding dress shopping!” A normal statement for a maid of honour to make to a bride-to-be. But this wasn’t a normal situation. Kristi* and Annie* were Americans, working as full-time Catholic volunteers in Taiwan and India, respectively, and the conversation was happening in the Philippines. And the bride wanted a free wedding dress.

Let’s back up. Two years into her non-traditional life as an itinerant Catholic volunteer serving the poor in India, Annie met Ajay*, a young Catholic man from a traditional Maharashtrian family. Deeply impressed with each other’s faith, they soon started discerning marriage. Many were skeptical of their choice to trust God and put Him first in their decisions. “Can serving God fill your bellies?” they were asked. They prayed and steadfastly continued to prepare for a simple wedding.

Most brides expect to pay huge amounts for a wedding dress, but Annie wanted to spend as little as possible. She planned to borrow a friend’s dress because it would be free. But her maid of honour, Kristi, had other ideas. When they met in the Philippines for a visa run and retreat, she convinced Annie to look at wedding dresses. She skeptically agreed. Kristi made HER preparations for the shopping trip- by praying that God would guide them. They believed in a God who was involved with the little details of their lives.

The two girls walked through the shopping area of Cagayan de Oro, a busy city in Mindanao, in the south of the Philippines. There was a plethora of wedding dress shops, a big business in the Philippines. Some of the shops were a little seedy, with dressing rooms made up of a curtain drawn across a wire. There were so many ugly wedding dresses! And still so expensive! Annie was soon tired, and ready to give up.

Then Kristi saw one little boutique with just one wedding dress in the window. The store window next to it was bursting with wedding dresses, but Kristi ignored it, and purposefully walked into the little one. Something told her this was the one. As they entered, Annie was overawed by how posh it seemed- a big mirror, fluffy white couches.

“We should leave,” she thought uncomfortably. “This is going to be way too expensive.”

They sat down and talked to the proprietor, a little Filipino lady in a expensive-looking cocktail dress.
“I don’t make dresses, I design them,” the lady told them.

 “Oh, great!” said Kristi, brightly. She knew Annie's modesty standards were becoming difficult to find. But Annie just wondered how soon they could leave without being rude.

 “We’re Catholic volunteers,” they told her, and she seemed happy to hear that.

“I’m Catholic too! And I give discounts to Catholic volunteers. I’m grateful to God for the blessing of this store, so it’s my little way of giving back.”

Annie and Kristi shot looks at each other. This was beginning to sound more promising. But then she pulled out a piece of paper with the price ranges, and their hearts sank. The range was from 45,000 pesos to 300,000 pesos (about $950 to $6300).

“Can you manage 45,000 pesos?”she asked them kindly.

After looking at each other, they both answered, “No,” dismally.

“Never mind. Can you stand up?” Annie stood up, confused, and turned around, and the lady looked her up and down, as if she was calculating how much fabric she would need to dress her.

“What kind of dress do you want? Tell me.” She pulled out a paper and pen, and sketched as Annie described a modest, old fashioned, lacy wedding dress of her dreams. She commented several times, "You are really conservative." It's true, thought Annie. That was why none of the other dresses were what she wanted.

“Do you like this?” she showed her the finished sketch.

“Ye-ess… It’s really pretty.. But I can’t afford it. We’re volunteers.”

“Okay. What can you afford?”

“Less than 10000 pesos ($220).”

“That’s nothing! That wouldn’t even cover the cost of the material,” she responded.

“But.. I’ll do it for that.”

That was unexpectedly generous, but Annie, cautious as ever, was still worried. That was still $220 more than free. They looked at fabric, and then told the lady they needed to think about it. They left the shop, and sat together at an empty bar, eating french fries.

“I don’t think I should do it. I could still borrow a dress for free.” They stopped and prayed, and asked the Lord what she should do.

“I think the Lord wants you to have it,” said Kristi. “From 45,000 pesos to 10,000 pesos! I’ve been praying all day, and this is a gift from the Lord.”

So they went back in and said, “We want it!”

They left for the retreat, but Annie was still whispering to the Lord, “Please, Lord! Can I get it for free?” She told the other girls at the retreat the story, and they were amazed at the miracle of a wedding dress for $220, and yet she told them that she was begging the Lord to give it to her for free.

In preparation for paying for the dress, Annie emptied her bank account. She had only $6 left in her account. She had no money left for her remaining three days in the Philippines. A friend gave her money for her taxi to the airport, so she hid that away. But she had nothing else. She and Kristi lived off dry oats and chocolate bars, because that was the only thing they had with them. Annie’s stomach felt strange, and she was hungry all the time, and couldn’t stop thinking of food. Someone had even offered her food once, and she politely refused, because in India she had been trained to say no the first time, and yes when the offer was renewed, but to her disappointment, her refusal was accepted.

During the week, they returned for a few dress fittings. Each time they would talk with the owner, getting to know her better. They asked about her family members, and they found out she was a famous designer all over Mindanao. On their last visit, Annie asked her if she knew where they could get a taxi that would take them to the airport in the middle of the night.

“Oh, my personal driver can take you!” she said, nonchalantly.

“How much will that cost?” ventured Annie.

“Nothing!” she replied, laughing.

Annie was in awe at God’s providence. “This is the nicest person in the world.” As they chatted, Annie asked if they could write down the names of her family members so they could continue to pray for them. She wrote down the names, and then they prayed with her for her work, and her family. After they prayed, she asked for the paper with the names back, and made two copies of it. She began to roll the paper up, and they saw a glimpse of money being rolled in with the papers.

“That’s so generous, after everything else she has done for us” thought Annie. She thought she had seen a hundred pesos.

“This is for your volunteer work in India and Taiwan,” she told them, and they thanked her. Then she presented them with the bill for 10,000 pesos, and Annie in that moment turned to the Lord and said, “Okay, Lord. It’s fine. I prayed that you would give it for free, and even though I am paying now, I will trust you. I don’t have any money left. But it’s fine.” She pulled out the money, and handed it over.

The owner laughed as she received the money and said, “You’re giving me money and it’s like I’m giving it right back to you.” That’s true, thought Annie, since she’s given us a small donation.

They thanked her for doing it so fast- she made a wedding dress in a week! Then she handed them two boxes of Dunkin' Donuts which she had lying by her. Kristi and Annie walked out with the wedding dress, handing out doughnuts to the street children, and beggars that they saw, feeling like Santa Claus. They headed to Jollibee, the most popular fast food chain in the Philippines, and ordered fried chicken and french fries and ice cream with the taxi money.

As Annie returned to their table with the food, she saw Kristi’s face in shock.

“I think you just got a free wedding dress.”

“What?”

“There’s 5000 pesos in my envelope. Look in yours.”

Annie opened her folded piece of paper, and there was 5000 pesos. She started crying, and they both started shouting ‘Praise you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’ aloud, oblivious of the other Jollibee customers.

Because through this miracle of the free wedding dress, God had confirmed in her heart that this man and this wedding WAS God’s plan for her, that He COULD fill the bellies of those who served him and trusted Him, and that He loved not just her, Annie, but Kristi, and the boutique owner enough to get them all involved in and blessed by His surprises and extravagant love.

*Names have been changed.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Best and the Worst of Goa Monsoons

Coming from Pune, I thought I knew all about the monsoons “You’ll see,” Goans prophesied darkly when I gaily remarked how much I was looking forward to the monsoons. The summer in Goa was so suffocatingly humid, that only the thought of the monsoon kept me going while the sweat rolled down my body at 7 am in May. And then the monsoons came! Now I know.

One of the few pictures I didn't steal from the Internet

The Best 

The weather is cool, even cold sometimes, and I remember thinking I had almost forgotten what cold felt like during the summer. I get to wear sweaters, huddle in my Mexican blanket, and drink endless cups of chai. Perfect for introverts who prefer to never leave the house, and now have an excuse not to.

Me to a T.. until i have to leave the house

Also I don’t have to change my clothes multiple times in the day because they’re soaked in sweat. The world is lush with greenery, bursting with fresh, rain drenched life! It’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful. We found a new church to go to Mass too, and riding down the little roads framed by green was like bursting into a storybook, or one of those gorgeous, larger than life, aesthetically fascinating movies like Avatar or Life of Pi or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Strange movie.. and yet feels like a vivid, vivid dream

The Worst 

Mold! Mold, I tell you, everywhere! On my shoes, on my clothes, on my bags, on some books, on the walls. I feel like I smell mold when I put on my helmet. Ugh. Clothes take forever to dry, but if anything stays wet, welcome to the world of mold! (Oh shoot, I just remembered that I had some wet money in my rain jacket pocket this morning. So I guess I have mold-covered money too.)

I'm not even joking

Riding a bike in the rain- well I thought I used to do that in Pune. I’d wear a rain poncho (kinda like wearing a plastic bag), and even if I forgot it and it started raining, I had at least five minutes before the rain got heavier.

This might work in Pune

It was more of a steady drizzle that would let up in 15 minutes. In Goa, now. How do I describe this? You feel a drop of water. Within the next five seconds, it is as if it is Holi and your upstairs neighbour is gleefully emptying buckets and buckets of water directly on to your defenceless head. Which leads to my next point…

Exactly like that

Exremely attractive rain gear. I used to avoid even the thought of rain pants in Pune because although I wouldn’t call myself particularly concerned with fashion (I’m sure my sisters would call that the understatement of the year), even I had some standards. Well, standards just got thrown out the window for the monsoons, as every time I leave the house, I don the ugliest baggiest most shapeless pair of rain pants I have ever seen (apart from all the other ones), and then my rain jacket, hood, helmet, backpack with personal rain cover, and rain poncho over everything. Quite the sight.

Riding in the rain: While a gorgeous adventure in theory, it’s more like a fraught-with-danger, almost foolhardy death wish in reality. Between the puddle covered potholes, the rain so heavy I can hardly see the road ahead of me, the likelihood of skidding on the steep gravel-covered wet roads while hitting the brakes, the other big vehicles that splash water over me, and the water seeping into my clothes in spite of my ugly rain gear, you might hear a lot of ‘Praise you, Jesus’s (our volunteers trained response to scary/difficult/challenging moments) and my team mate singing loudly ‘ LET IT RAIIIN DOWN, OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF HEEAVEN.. oh wait, just kidding, Lord, what I meant was ‘LET IT STOOP NOW, CLOSE THE FLOODGATES OF HEAVEN!’.


Who knows what might happen?

In conclusion, Goa monsoons are STILL better than the oppressive summer. Anyway, it’s going to be September soon, and the beginning of the coolest, driest, most beautiful time of the year in Goa. Woohoo!