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Jessica RoseA few days ago, I told my kids that we would practice a little bit of “school” each day, to get ready for when school begins in about a month.

Our neighbor’s son has been coming over to study with my kids, so my focus has been more on the three boys, practicing math and reading with them.

Yesterday, as I didn’t have much for my daughter to do, she asked if she could write an essay.

Sure!

She finished it this morning and – wonder of wonders – she gave me permission to post it as well.

This essay was unprompted and I had no idea of the topic until she read it to me about 15 minutes ago. All I could do was smile.

 

We Are Called by Jesus to do Different Things

By Jessica Rose, 7 years old

Some people want to serve Jesus. There are many ways to do that.

Example: I want to go back to India and witness and help the poor.

Sometimes people are called to do things at places they never even thought of going.

Example: My mom thought she was going to Ireland or Scotland, but she went to India instead.

We are all God’s children. He has a plan for all of us.

Whether you are big or small,

God has a plan for us all.

Sometimes God wants us to do little jobs. Other times God wants us to do big jobs too.

So I will do my job the very best I can wherever I am.

The end.

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It was mid-July when I heard some great news: the family I had traveled with to India and had been staying with were planning to move to Lonavla. They invited me to come along and I jumped at the chance. They had found a bungalow outside of town, and we planned to move in early August.

Besides this family, another young couple with a newborn baby planned to move with us. They were good friends of mine and I was happy about this turn of events.

We traveled back and forth between Mumbai and Lonavla over the next couple of weeks—cleaning, packing and moving. We arrived just in time for monsoon, the rainy season. I loved the magical feeling of rain falling all around, green fields and hills in every direction. The walks and hikes we took were great fun and full of discovery. We often made it home just in time to watch the afternoon downpour from the safety of our cozy home; we didn’t always make it back in time, though, and ended up looking as if “the bridge fell in.”

After a couple of weeks, Jonathan and his family asked if I would be willing to return to Mumbai for a couple of weeks to help with a couple of projects. Of course I agreed. The couple of weeks passed quickly, involved in projects and programs for the underprivileged.

Mid-August found everyone back in Mumbai to celebrate India’s Independence Day together. We had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. “I could get used to this,” I remember saying to a friend over the dinner, which was arguably the tastiest food I ever had; it ended with fresh mangoes and vanilla ice cream—still a favorite of mine.

The family was returning to Lonavla the evening of August 18—my seventeenth birthday. I had originally planned to return with them, but a friend asked if I could stay on in Mumbai for one more week, to plan her mom’s birthday. So I stayed an extra week…it passed very slowly. The highlight of that time was a birthday card and letter from my best friend. She hadn’t forgotten my birthday, and I was so happy to hear from her.

It was at the end of the week that I got the phone call, which came from Lonavla, letting me know that my best friend had passed away. (Read the full story, “We Shared a Heart”)

Two days after that, I was still reeling from the shock when the young couple returned to Mumbai, on their way to the airport. Their newborn baby wasn’t granted a visa, so they had to return to the States.

I wished I could go back to Lonavla right then, but there had been a misunderstanding and those I had been staying with in Lonavla were under the impression that I had wanted to stay in Mumbai for good. They wouldn’t be able to pick me up for another two weeks.

It’s not easy to describe how I felt during those couple of weeks. My best friend had died; any other close friends or family were thousands of miles away. I felt every comfort had been removed and the familiar ground pulled from beneath my feet.

Had I done something wrong? Did I make a big mistake somewhere along the line to bring me to where I was now standing (and felt like falling)? Why was everything crumbling apart around me? I had nothing to hold on to, and I never felt so alone. I wanted to call my mom—to whom I could always talk and find some form of comfort—but she was away from home at the time and I didn’t have a phone number to reach her.

I had only one place to turn. It’s strange—almost funny if it weren’t so pitiful—how, when everything is going fine, we find it difficult to draw close to the only one who is always with us. Yet it was at this time that I grew to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and the depth of His love, a comfort that could only be felt through deep sorrow and a peace that could only be understood through great turmoil of spirit.

I realized that no matter how alone I might feel, how far from friends and family I was, how distant from the comforts in which I always found solace—I still wasn’t alone. Beyond feeling, I knew that there was a purpose. Perhaps it would take time to find it. Perhaps there would come more sorrow and difficulty. Perhaps the path of life would be just that—a path—with rocks and boulders and hills, rocky and cold mountains, lonely and sunless valleys.

I knew I was meant to walk the path and I knew where the path led. One day the path will eventually lead to a home where no tears will again dim the eye, where pain will finally be drowned out in abiding joy. Yet I knew that as long as I traveled this road, I would not be home, because there were still many things to experience, learn and understand upon this path. Sometimes I would feel I walked the road alone, and sometimes I would have those beside me with whom I finally felt at home. The journey beckoned, and I was only just beginning.

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One element made the “adjustment period” easier. She wasn’t an element actually; she was a friend.

Then, much as now, I could “get along” with just about everyone, but it was a rare person to whom I would open my heart or share my thoughts. With her, though, I knew my secrets were safe, and that my thoughts were not only understood, but even mirrored at times. You know, those times you think that you’re the only one who sees life a certain way and finally someone comes along who says, “that’s what I’ve always thought too”. Or you say something and they say, “that’s just what I was about to say.” It’s not just conversation; you feel comfortable with silence too. No awkwardness or, feeling that “I need to say something. It’s been quiet for too long.”

And of course there was the invariable finishing of each other’s sentences or adding to the other’s train of thought.

A year before I traveled to India, she thought it sounded like a great idea…for me. Three months before I made the journey, she wasn’t sure what her plans for the near future were. One month before I was to travel, she was already in India. I thought it somewhat ironic that I had been planning for about a year, and she spontaneously made it there in about a month. I didn’t mind though. Having her already there when I arrived added that element of stability and reassurance to my otherwise rather topsy-turvy sense of being at that point in my life.

That first evening, we took a walk around the neighborhood. I pretended not to be overly overwhelmed by the new sights, strange sounds and smells—both pleasant and on-the-opposite-end-of-the-spectrum. After all, I lived here for three years when I was young. Hadn’t I seen it all before?

As we headed to a little shop, she spoke of her adventures shopping over the past month, and the few phrases she had picked up so far.

“Hide and seek?” she said to a shopkeeper with her ever-present smile. I looked sideways at her questioningly. Did she just invite him to play a kid’s game? He didn’t seem too surprised as he turned to get something. He presented a package to her and she, in turn, handed it to me. Hide and seek—a brand of chocolate chip cookies. They might not have been chips ahoy, but they weren’t bad.

Those evening walks became a bit of a tradition, and when we didn’t feel like being a spectacle in the rural area we were living, we chose to sit and chat up on the roof. Our discussions were never superficial. To this day, I still can’t abide surface relationships and conversations. There’s gotta be a deeper side, some substance and it’s been a rare blessing to find a friend as deep as she.

View from the roof, trees and flowers

View from the roof

Unlike me, she had only a three-month visa. What I knew was going to be somewhat of a life journey for me I realized was a short trip for her. It was not long before I was to realize that would be the case in more ways than one.

Since she had arrived about a month before us, it seemed I had barely arrived when she began talking about going back to North America. She had plans to return to India though. We discussed so many plans that now it’s hard to remember what had just been great ideas, and what were actual concrete plans.

I made pineapple up-side-down cake the evening she left. It wasn’t a favorite of either of us. I just hadn’t yet discovered a single local shop that sold baking powder. We sat on the roof. I was quiet. These last couple months had brought so many changes. It sounds silly now, but a concern on my mind was, did she still consider me a close friend?

It was one of those times we sat in silence.

Somehow though, she knew what I was thinking. Over plates of juggery-sweetened cake, and under a darkening monochrome sky, she thanked me for being the best friend she ever had, and I knew she knew I felt exactly the same.

We headed back downstairs and said goodbye. She left carrying a single suitcase and a backpack. She always vowed that she would never own more than she could carry on her back and in one hand, leaving the other hand free to help someone else. After she left, I noticed the pile of things she had left of things had decided not to take with her, not to be bogged down with. She was always a traveler, just passing through. I sat at the foot of my bed, going through the items, feeling a hole in my heart bigger than the pile in front me. It felt like my adjustment stage in a new land was starting all over again.

Funny how a hundred people can come and go and not make much of an impression, and yet just one person can be in your life for but a moment by comparison, and change your life and perspectives forever.

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misty sky over forest and hills

Future: unknown, exciting, foreboding, yet beautiful

One old, large suitcase that couldn’t decide whether it was red or purple… Maybe it had known in years past but by the time it came my way, it had lost its sense of identity.

One steel-string guitar, with colors deeper and richer than any tune I ever played on it—complete with a plush lined black case. I remember the day I spent with my dad as he drove from one music store to the next helping me to choose the perfect instrument. The fact that I didn’t play guitar was non-essential at the moment. I planned to learn and anyway, I had to spend my babysitter money somehow before making the “big trip”.

One green backpack, lined with brown leather. You just got a feeling it was worthy of the name. I still own it and it’s still my preferred bag for any journey.

Each piece of luggage was stuffed to the full, to where I and a friend had to sit on my suitcase while another person finally managed to zip it.

Then there was me. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but how to do it was another matter entirely. I knew where I was going, but what to focus on once there was beyond me.

Just a few months before the journey, I had been thinking of different friends and siblings, comparing myself with them—as we all know we shouldn’t do but most of us do anyway. My perception of myself became smaller with each person I considered.

She sings and plays guitar.

He’s great with people and always knows what to say.

She writes beautiful poetry.

He has an awesome sense of humor, and is an artist to boot.

I was familiar with the story of the talents in the Bible. My question at the moment was, what about the person who didn’t have any? Like not a single one. What are they supposed to do? I had placed myself in that lonely and disadvantaged category, and I did not know the answer.

I made it through the first week or so in India. Jet lag had been overcome, the tummy bug passed, and the toughest phase entered—culture shock. For me, it wasn’t so much as case of,

“OMG! Is that a cow walking down the street?”

Or:

“Seriously, that guy is peeing on the fence.”

It was more a case of, “What am I doing here and what am I hoping to accomplish?”

I have since realized something I wasn’t quite aware of at the time—a part of my personality. I think ahead, like, way ahead. I always like to have things planned for way in advance. I remember when I was seven and my parents told me we would be taking a camping trip. I packed 26 days in advance, taking my toothbrush out of my backpack every morning and evening for the next three weeks. It’s not always a conscious thing, but I run through tasks mentally in my head, or the step-by-step plan of what I will do that day.

Having just arrived in India, I didn’t know what was next. I knew we would be involved in projects. A part of me was happy just learning new things and experiencing life. Another part of me was reeling through space, not knowing what the future held, and not sure I would be able to just wait around to find out. I realized that I didn’t have a choice but the feeling of “not knowing” was disconcerting.

Other things took some getting used to as well, which just compounded the perpetual hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was used to the dry heat of California’s central valley, not the extreme humidity of Bombay. My nature took to wide open spaces and I found the density and congestion of the city suffocating. I loved the blue sky and clouds of every color. When I went to the roof, no matter what time of day, it seemed as if an artist had made a photocopy error and created the vast expanse in “grayscale”.

“Give it six months,” a friend told me. I can do that, I told myself.

Little did I know my experiences over the next six months would leave my emotions stretched thin to the point of drooping, and then squeezed back again into a tight wad, like a piece of silly putty in the hands of an experimenting child.

Or maybe it was akin to something else. Maybe it was like a piece of clay in the hands of a potter, who had a particular creation in mind, but had to start with the squeezing and molding before he could get into the shaping, polishing and finishing.

After all, He doesn’t give the talents we think we need or that we are sure we deserve. He gives us what He knows we need, when He knows we need it most and will decide to use it for a greater purpose than we might originally understand or plan, to make for an exciting and wonderful future.

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The henna on my hand, before I washed it off

After four days in India, jet lag had begun to fade and I thought it about time to see some sights. That morning, Jon, who had been involved in social and mission work in Bombay for a few years, stopped by to let us know what was happening that weekend.

“A nearby district is hosting a carnival to raise funds to beautify their neighborhoods. Would any of you like to help?” He asked the about-half-a-dozen-of-us young people who had recently arrived in India. Most declined.

“I’m game,” I volunteered.

“I’ll go too,” said JD.

Late that afternoon, we painted our faces as clowns and donned colorful costumes. Our role at the carnival?—creating balloon sculptures for the many children running around, emphasis on many.

By the time we arrived it was early evening and the sun was setting, giving us a break from the extreme heat of that season. I don’t know what was more unique for the district, having a couple “foreigners” helping at their carnival, or seeing the many characters and shapes we designed with balloons. In any case, we were busy the whole time, creating all sorts of excitement for the kids and teens and even a few adults. I found that the same rules as the road seemed to apply here too: press as close as possible, and do everything you can to get in front. “Get in line,” and “That little girl was first” seemed incomprehensible, no matter how many times I uttered it.

Finally, the throng began to dissipate and we could finally see beyond the crowd of children pressing in on every side. It was close to 10 pm. A few people were still hanging around, who we realized were the organizers of the event. They invited us to check out the rest of the carnival. There were a few rides for the kids, and, of course, snack stalls.

“Try the chocolate! My mom made it at home!” It looked good, and tasted very unique. I considered asking what it was again, because it definitely didn’t taste like any chocolate I had before, but the eager face of the girl who was talking to me made me change my mind.

“It’s great! Your mom must enjoy baking.” The girl looked like she was on top of the world.

Another young face took over. “Try this!” he offered, handing me a plate. Looking down at it, I couldn’t quite decipher what it was. Some potato pieces, different colors of sauce, crunchy bits of something on top.

“Chaat!” Jon came up behind me.

“Is it safe?” I whispered to him.

“Well, sometimes depends on where you get it from, but chaat is probably one of the tastiest snack dishes that exist. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”

I ventured a taste. It was spicy, but tasted great—an explosion of flavor—salty, spicy, even a bit sweet. I polished off most of it while observing the goings on.

The girl returned. “Come, I want to show you something!” She eagerly led me to one last stall, where a woman was leaning over another woman, doing some kind of painting on her hand.

“It’s henna, mehndi,” the girl enlightened me. You have it painted on for special things, like before a marriage. Do you want to get it?”

I wasn’t so sure, but Jon and JD said they’d wait around a little longer, until the woman could get around to me. They went back to the chaat stall.

“Hold out your hand,” the woman said. She began her work of art. The brown cream was cool on my hand, and it didn’t smell so great, but it looked pretty cool. “Leave it on for a few hours, or once it is dry and then wash it off. The design will stay for weeks.”

I thanked the woman and bid farewell to the others, who all waved and smiled as if I was one of their closest friends. I felt special.

At home, I tossed and turned all night, and it wasn’t just because the power cut killed the fans. I rose with the sun, feeling very queasy. I headed downstairs to get something to drink. I sat there for a few minutes before realizing I better get to a bathroom, and fast. I ran back upstairs, but one of the girls had just locked the door. “In the shower,” she called when I knocked.

I ran to the boys’ room and burst in. “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?” was the surprised response. I couldn’t answer and ran straight into the bathroom which was thankfully empty. As I heaved, I could hear the voices outside: “What’s wrong with her?” “I think she’s sick.” “Musta been something she ate.”

After losing everything I had eaten, I tried to look as dignified as possible while exiting the bathroom. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem. Hope you feel better soon.”

It took a couple days to feel better, but at least the henna design lasted longer than the upset tummy. And, perhaps surprisingly, chaat remains one of my favorite ethnic snacks.

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cooking dinner in India

One of my first cooking experiences in India: peeling garlic = tedious

I must have spent at least 80% of my first 24 hours in India under a cold shower, trying to cool down; the humidity would take a bit of getting used to. By the second afternoon, though, I was ready to pitch in. Hoping to make a good impression on those I would be working with for the next few months, I enthusiastically volunteered to help with anything that needed “doing”.

 

 

They immediately took me up on the offer. “Can you cook?” was the question AJ eagerly asked. “Angie, who has been doing a great job in the kitchen, is going to Orissa for a few weeks to help with relief work due to the flooding.”

 

“Yeah, no problem; I cook.” After all, I had taken Home Economics in high school, and my mom had taught me a few things from her kitchen expertise. She was a great cook, and they say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Up until now my actual practical experience in cooking had been heating up ready-made lasagna and making a salad while the lasagna was in the oven; or opening a can of cream-of-chicken soup, pouring it on boneless chicken, roasting it while making a pot of rice—in the rice maker of course, no chance of burning there. But how much more complicated could cooking be here? I’d be done in an hour or so and ready to check out the city.

 

“Great!” AJ said, a little too enthusiastically. “I took a trip to the market and got some fish. It is in the bucket there, enough to feed 20 people for dinner. You just need to clean it and…”

 

“Excuse me…sorry, did you say, clean it?”

 

“Yes, they’re whole fish. But they don’t have much of a smell, compared to some of the others at the market.” He wrinkled his nose as if at the memory of “the market” as I made a mental note never to find myself in such a place. “But give me a holler if you need help with anything. I’m sure you’ll do great.”

 

I strongly considered hollering right then and there, but remember my original intent: being a help and making a good impression. I took a deep breath and, with an attempted smile on my face, nodded my assent. I had no idea how to even cook fish. My last experience with fish was while camping with my dad when I was about 10, well, besides Long John Silver’s.

 

I got started…

 

Five hours later, I was still in the kitchen. I had not realized that everything needed preparation from scratch, no help from the familiar cans and jars.

 

The rice turned out crunchy. The fried fish did not. Everyone attempted to compliment me at my noble attempt to cook. I took another mental note: learn some genuine cooking basics, and quickly!

 

The next day I was eager to improve my culinary reputation, before it was permanently irreparable. No more grading on the curve of what I had thought signified a good cook.

 

“What’s on the menu?” I asked Angie, as she was packing and preparing to leave.

 

“Dahl fry, with rice.”

 

“Rice, I think I can do. What on earth is dahl fry?”

 

“Dahl fry is one of the most common staples in Indian cuisine. It is something you need to learn to cook, and cook well, if you plan on staying here for any length of time. It is like a pulse, boiled and then fried with masala (spices), garlic, onions and tomatoes. The way they make it in each state or region of India is slightly different, as some people eat it with chappatis or naans, as they do in the North. In the South, they always have it with rice, so it’s not as thick.”

 

I stopped her before she continued the interesting but presently irrelevant history of dahl. “Mental overload. Bottom line, how do I make it?”

 

“Come on, I’ll show you.” We worked together and the meal was not just passable, it was downright tasty, thanks to Angie’s expertise.

 

I can do this. I affirmed to myself, in regards to success in the area of culinary arts. But for now, I’m ready for another cold shower.

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Now if I had just met someone and they told me they spent years in a “foreign land”, my first question would probably be something along the lines of, “Why did you go?” or “What did you do there?” or perhaps even, “Why there?”

Why India, especially at 16 years of age? Most teens at that age are in the middle of high school and in the middle of the turmoil of deciding what it is they want to do with their lives. Surprisingly, I already had those covered.

It started quite some time ago; in fact, when my mom was pregnant with my little brother. She was faced with a predicament. She had a three-year-old and a four-year-old and she knew she needed to get them started in early education before the new baby came along. There were already three older children whom she was educating. She started trying to teach her two younger daughters to read. It just wasn’t happening though, resulting in everyone being quite discouraged. Then one day, the two little girls came up to her interested in learning how to read (probably wasn’t both on the same day, but something to that effect). I don’t think I’ve put a book down since. I was always “ahead” in school, thanks to the fact that mom started us early.

By the time I was 12, the second main “life issue” had already come to the front of my mind and was speedily resolved. In the week leading up to my birthday, I had the opportunity to attend an extended weekend of day camps planned and conducted by young people from a mission base in southern California. During that weekend, I was faced with an unexpected feeling, along with a realization.

The feeling? It was like I was finally coming home… belonging.

The realization? This is what I want to do with my life, to help others find purpose and hope.

So there it was, and from that time on, my main focus was completing high school, which I started about that same time. With help from my mom during the first two and a half years of high school—and a couple of semesters in different schools to complete all the required credits—two months before my 15th birthday, I had a high school diploma in hand, and a 4.0 GPA.

Where did India come into the picture? Less than a year later, I was in southern California, at a mission training center. A young adult, who had been in India for a year, came to stay at the center for some time. She had some stories about what an exciting (and somewhat crazy) place India was. A feeling and idea began to form in my mind. It started one night, when I couldn’t sleep; thoughts, pictures, ideas, feelings, all vied for a place in my head, making for one confused individual. The next morning, I sought out a friend and confided that I thought I felt some sort of a call to India.

My friend was probably ten times more eager than I was at the idea. His enthusiasm was catching, though, and the idea began to formulate into a plan. It was April, 1998, and would be one year before the plan became reality.

Why India? I just knew it was the place for me, the path I was meant to take.

In saying this, I realize I broach a sensitive and highly controversial topic: destiny vs. choice. If I was meant to take a path, does that mean I believe in destiny? If so, where does choice come in the picture? I consider choice to be one of the supreme purposes of our lives on earth; we have the ability to choose whether or not to take the path of the highest purpose for our lives, or we choose any of a thousand options otherwise. I sincerely believe there is a unique plan and purpose for each life on earth, often more than one singular purpose.

I knew, somehow, that traveling to India was part of my purpose. The problem or question lurking somewhere in the back of my mind was, how much or how big a part did India play in my overall “purpose”? I didn’t know the answer; more than that, I feared the answer. I was afraid that perhaps there was a greater plan than I had the desire or drive to follow at the time. It was not easy for me to recognize (after all, I was only 16) that just because we take one step upon a path does not mean that we have the strength or the stamina for the entire journey at the very moment we take the first step. Nor does it mean we even understand or realize what the journey will entail.

For me, at that time, it was about discovery, realizing who I was, what I wanted in life, what things truly mattered to me, and how far I would be willing to go to reach them.

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