Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Blessed Christmas

     Everywhere its lights and decorations; its Santa's and his reindeer; of course, how can I forget the snowman; and many many plans to a wonderful fantasy world lies in wait. Yes, there is no denying that X’mas is here for many. It’s time to relax, de-stress and fun before getting back to the routines. It’s also time for gifts and plenty of them. It’s also important time for the many resolutions to make. A question keeps getting asked as if it’s just part of X’mas as to what would make this season wonderful and meaningful. And then we move on because we already have a long list of desires to keep. But, something bothers me and I keep hearing this question over and over again. “How do you want your Christmas to be?” And I have realized over the years that there is a big difference between X’mas and Christmas. And I have forever wanted to only celebrate Christmas. And each year I have learnt exactly how to bring merry Christmas to heart. Little by little and now I am looking forward for my 2016 Christmas, just a few days ahead.   
The story of learning about the real meaning of Christmas has been a long one. Well, for a long long time, it has meant to prepare for that midnight mass, to find some special clothes to dazzle, bring out  that wonderful smile to literally stick on my lips no matter how grave the situation is and then it’s all done for the night with the many hugs and kisses to everybody around, known and unknown. The next stop is the amazing five course meal on the 25th, with all the guests coming in and having an awesome time. And then, it’s all over. It’s time for fun and relaxation.
     All that changed a few years ago, when I was all alone at Christmas. I did invite a lot of people and everybody had a place to go but mine. All I could do was call family and friends back home and then wait for the next day to come. This continued even after marriage when my wife and I would have that empty feeling on Christmas day. Empty roads and silence filled our Christmas day. And luckily for us the fantasy world did not appeal. So, we did not make it to the malls or any other place where some fantasy would fill our Christmas day.
     Then, it changed. We had our little baby. We were under pressure now as parents to introduce Christmas to our little girl. That first Christmas of hers, we started to make a plan a month in advance. It was a desperate plan because we could not fail on this one. And for starters, we started making a nativity from scratch and it filled the entire room by the time Christmas arrived. And she would sit in awe in front of it and learn about each tiny blade of grass. Most importantly, through her learning, I recognized the power of a babe in a manger. Every day from Christmas day onward, we would invite a family or friend for either supper or lunch and spend time with our little one. And the ones who would accept to come home were someone who had nobody to go to that day. And we were so glad that we shared that beautiful day with them. And this tradition has carried on and we have been very proud that what started as simple act of making it a lively Christmas for our little ones has turned out to be a tradition of laying out the best for that “Babe in the manger” and sharing that joy with someone else. But, in all that happiness, I still had that question, “Have you done enough this Christmas?” And I could not put my finger on a satisfactory answer until 2015.
     2015 was an amazing year. I am not being sarcastic because I still needed to find a job after almost 2 yrs. But, I had two wonderful kids and an ever loving wife. I also had wonderful wishes from family back home in India. I also loved being the family dad running around doing errands for my kids and family rather than being the grumpy stressed out, ‘leave me alone’ head of the house. I also enjoyed the wonderful mass at St. Jerome where I was part of an amazing choir and my little angelic daughter was in the Christmas pageant playing Angel. And then my Christmas got more amazing than ever because of a homeless man across our street, sitting in the park all alone no matter what the weather was. My Christmas became the most amazing because our family shared our Christmas hot meal with Kevin, a homeless person right across the street, sitting on the bench, cold and frozen, looking at empty roads with nobody driving around. We had seen him since May. I had even gone and sat down with him and tried to find him a shelter to stay. But, he refused and frustrated me. He had a wonderful home and a decent job until one fine day he along with his two brothers was thrown out of the home as it foreclosed. His brothers had found a shelter where they could stay at night, but Kevin refused. And he said the reason was that he did not want to mix with the character of people that came there. He wanted to stay along as pure as he could as long as he could hang on. I was amazed by his single minded dedication to do it day in and day out. And he never wanted anything. He even refused when we put together a set of things that we thought he may need. It hurt me when he refused. He was the homeless and had nothing. And he still had the audacity to refuse. And he always said something that has stuck with me. He always said that he had no doubt he would survive because there were many good, wonderful people around. One day, I was rushing to give him some breakfast. And I saw a truck stop by. There was this mechanic who got down and walked up to Kevin with a couple of cups of Coffee and bagels and some sandwich. He offered all to Kevin. And it was cold that morning. And Kevin smilingly refused everything except a little sandwich. And I wished that mechanic as I was fighting tears in my eyes at the scene that was unfolding. Kevin later told me that many many people stopped by and therefore he was always full. And he had no place to keep. So, he had to refuse. What amazed me was that the only thing he probably needed was a shelter. And interestingly enough, he was refusing that too. He was not tempted with anything. We, as a family were desperate. We made a few calls to see if somebody could help. Everybody had a suggestion and it seemed he could get into a shelter in no time. But, something kept Kevin out with nature. I offered to drive him to the shelter and ensure he was safe and all his concerns had been met. Still, with a very simple smile, he told me that he did not want it right now. I started wondering if I was bothering him and was worried he would leave his safe haven in that park because of me. So, I stopped bothering him until that Christmas day although I kept looking out for him. Days he wasn’t there filled me with fear as well as hope. I feared something bad had happened, yet, I hope he had made up his mind and gone to a shelter. But, then he would return back to his old spot. My 4 yr old angel kept reminding us when we were planning for our Christmas week as to what would happen to Kevin grandpa. She literally helped us plan that we would all go together and offer our first meal to him. And nothing else has made me so fulfilled at Christmas, ever. And blessed, I should add. For I kept thinking about the “Babe in the manger”.
       That year of 2015 helped me learn how fake we have made our world. We know that Christ comes to us in the homeless and the needy. However, we like to satisfy ourselves by doing that little bit and then going ahead with our plans. Kevin’s homelessness and that smile when we went together offering him the meal that Christmas afternoon had taught a lesson that we always knew, but never executed. And from then on to this day, the question has been “What does Christ want of me this Christmas?”
     As I look at my nativity scene to understand what it means, I learn a number of beautiful messages. First of all, He was born in the manger. He was born among the cattle that are used and ignored. He had connected with Genesis where GOD had so lovingly made everything so beautiful and offered it to Adam and Eve. He was born into a family to the most awesome of parents who never doubted GOD’s direction in spite of not understanding the logic of it. And they would do anything to obey HIS command. And then his very first guests were the shepherds, not royalty. And even if the three kings arrived right after birth, they were unique in spite of being royalty. They, even in their royalty, looked out to GOD’s direction and word and followed. And for their obedience, they had the honor to meet their King, born in a manger. It was loud and clear to me. If I was looking for the true meaning of Christmas, I had to find something between the manger and the cross. And with few days to go for Christmas, I am eager to see how I can be blessed again this Christmas like last year. And I wish a beautiful blessed Christmas to all of you.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Joseph's who make Christmas possible

      When I walked into this month’s prayer meeting, little did I know that I would find another Joseph? And I had wanted to write about this for so long. But, maybe I needed to be inspired by another Joseph in order to adore the one who made Christmas possible. Yes, dad of Jesus, which the world never gave its due. Infact, it struck me profoundly last year when multiple times in the homilies, he wasn’t even considered to be Jesus’ dad. So, this one is to the millions of Joseph’s around the world who have never been recognized.
But, here is the story that inspired me to write this. 
        I saw Raj, right up near the altar at the prayer meeting. So, I wondered if Veena, his wife had returned because I knew that she had travelled to India to be with her father who had been diagnosed with brain tumor and was operated upon. And they have a wonderful daughter in Ivana. And Raj looked in his elements. Therefore, I thought everything must have been amazingly fine. Nevertheless, when the prayer session ended, I stopped by for a chat. And quickly I realized that Veena had not yet returned for more than 2 months now. So, how did Raj manage with Ivana? I knew he was a programmer who worked from home. I guess that made it very easy. Nope. It was tough. He had to ensure that his work didn’t suffer as he tried to ensure that Ivana’s hectic schedule was on the spot each and every day. And he had to make sure that his 7 yr old would not miss her mom in any way. Now, that’s tough at that age, especially, when one is talking about an Indian mom. Dad has no chance most of the times. But, what struck me was when he said that his daughter never complained. I agree that she is a sweet heart. But, I want to give it to Raj today. Its not possible to maintain that over 2 months. Especially, when one has not done it before. And when it has been an emergency and the child has not had any time to prepare mentally. That’s where the conversation turned to a very poignant moment. That through adversity, God had given an opportunity to Raj and he had taken it whole heartedly and done his best. It was GOD’s way of highlighting how wonderfully gifted father, Raj was. Not just to others, but to himself.  And when we brought this point up, we thought about someone else. The one and only Joseph. The one who made Christmas possible. And while we know how hard it was for Mary and she is the center for all Christians, we don’t know anything about Joseph. Except, that when the angel appeared to him and asked him to do exactly as told, without hesitation he just did it. While we know that Mary moved around on a mule, all we know of the carpenter Joseph was that he walked. And he walked quite some miles, sometimes even crossed countries just to ensure that Jesus and Mary were safe.  And then when the word was fulfilled, just disappeared into wilderness. Never someone who wanted any spotlight on himself. He was happy that Jesus and sometimes Mary had it on them. Its amazing that the Church has never given this amazing dad any recognition. But, maybe that's the Joseph, God wanted us to know and follow.
           Every wonderful dad I have known has been a Joseph including my very own. And I deeply wanted to ensure, for once this Christmas, I could bring it to everybody's attention. Because, without the Joseph's, Christmas is not possible.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Questions to the canvassing Catholics

Almost everybody has had their say on the US elections. I also have shared my thoughts with a couple of people and to say the least I have been blamed for not being blessed by the Holy Spirit. I am not a political person and I definitely would not be impacted a lot by who became the President of the USA. But, I also need to voice a few thoughts because for the first time I have realized that many will actually be adversely impacted by who eventually became the president of USA. Trump, no doubt snatched victory and I am sure he really worked hard for it. And from his point of view, he deserved to win for just the amazing emotions that he was able to generate among quite a number of people. And I have no qualms about those who went and voted for him by considering carefully where their hearts belonged. There is no doubt that Hillary did not appeal to many and carried quite a baggage for many to surmount.
But, I was bothered about a group of people who really came to canvas for Trump just when things were fading for him in the last month. Yes, as analysis has now revealed that in the last month, the single largest group that made his victory possible by voting for him was the Catholics. I am not a man of statistics and numbers. And the one major reason, which I actually found out from some of our friends, who vehemently canvassed for Trump was that he would be the one delivering on the “Pro-Life” issue.
I don’t grudge their cause. My wife and I lost our first pregnancy the very day we knew we were pregnant. And the mighty healing hand of GOD is how we healed and we now have 2 beautiful kids, since. That should reveal how precious and delicate I consider life to be. Here is where I like to challenge each one of those who canvassed in the name of GOD and religion. Not those who exercised their franchise, but the ones who actively canvassed, including the so many priests who could say it at the altar where instead they should have been consecrating Jesus. My friends showed me all literature as well as biblical prophecies as to why they made their decision to support him wholeheartedly. They even found abundant words to make Trump look honorable in every aspect, even insulting Pope Francis, who by the way currently occupies the seat that Jesus bestowed upon Peter. Some even forgave him and equated him to Mary Magdalene who became Jesus’ most reliable confidante, even though she was a sinner. Little did they take into account that Mary Magdalene washed away her sins at the feet of Jesus.
Here is where they were wrong. For one, they did not remember “ Do not take the name of the GOD in vain”. It’s the first of the Ten Commandments. Where was it GOD’s work, when you take GOD’s own cause and give the reigns to a Devil? Have we forgotten what happened to Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. Yes, they ate an apple. And by the way, it must have been an amazing fruit because Eve even got it to Adam after she tasted it. The problem was not the fruit that they ate but the fact that they had disobeyed GOD inspite of HIM having given them everything. And that was the beginning of the “Original Sin”. This is exactly why there are problems in this world. And it has plagued the Catholic church too from time immemorial. Why Mr. Trump does not even come close to Mary Magdalene is because he has never repented for anything. And that is the main tenet to get to God’s kingdom of heaven. To humbly and modestly accept one’s frailties and sins and put them at the feet of Jesus, because HE no doubt will forgive.
I am so much more looking forward to Mr. Trump being a servant and being the repentant sinner. For there is no doubt that just like Jesus does, I shall accept his being human too.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Faith brings hope, healing and something else

In today’s world we are challenged in innumerable ways. And marriage is one such institution that has incredible challenges which were not there when my parents were married almost 45yrs ago. In the 9 yrs that my wife and I have been married, I can safely vouch that our challenge started even before our marriage day. But I know the one magic reason that will help us survive any adverse situation challenging our marriage.  Faith was, is and will always be the center of our lives. I want to narrate one amazingly hopeless situation we were in right upfront in our marriage. But for faith, we may never have recovered from these jolts, but here we are feeling awesome as a family. The reason I want to share this experience is because I need to share how hard GOD works in our lives and how little we realize it. And my hope is that everybody who reads this would reflect and recognize HIM in their lives.
This story started the day of my marriage on Dec 22, 2007 to a wonderful person in Priya. Priya was so grounded in her faith and so connected to Jesus that until this day I am the 3rd person in our marriage. Well, the first person in our marriage is Jesus and hence I could see how we were so connected to each other. On our first night, I learnt that our immediate future plans were different. Priya was inclined to have a number of children, whereas I was more inclined towards consolidating my career and building my family was secondary. I wasn’t perturbed by this as I thought that it was more about her being a woman and me being a man. In just a couple of weeks after our marriage, I left India to the USA to continue my postdoctoral studies at Yale and Priya joined me a month later. Living in a small rented apartment, far away from our loved ones, we set about building our little home hoping our innumerable dreams would come true. But challenges started right away. In a month, we realized that my postdoctoral salary was not sufficient to sustain us.  And while we could barely survive for now, it definitely would not help our future family.  So, just after living together for 4 months, Priya flew off to Columbus, Ohio, about 1000 miles away from where I was to work for an insurance company. And thus started a game to collaborate our very demanding jobs with marriage and future hopes. Every other weekend or two, one of us would hop onto the plane, sometimes paying exhorbitant ticket fees in order to spend a few hours with each other. And this continued for just less than two years. But, deep within we had already learnt how much we loved each other and how beautiful the institution of marriage was and we already started entertaining the idea of having a child inspite of this difficult situation.
But, a greater challenge was at hand. We realized that we were at the precipice of being infertile given our very stressful lives. We started working on this issue with our medical doctor with a fervent hope that with time, we would overcome this challenge. Interestingly however, our pillar of hope was not the medical intervention, but Jesus himself. We started to strongly pray to HIM everyday, believing that GOD must have had a beautiful plan for us. What that plan was and how HE would execute it, we did not know. As time went on, and all our situations remaining the same, hope started slipping away, especially to me. For someone who had not taken the issue of fatherhood as a top priority for more than a year into marriage, I started dreading of not becoming a dad, ever. And the fact that we were working far apart did not help matters of the mind.  How would we settle down as a family if we were so far apart and meeting for a couple of days a month?  We had no idea how we could overcome these challenges. While my faith was strong, I did not understand GOD’s will and direction. And clearly things had to change as this was not what I imagined our family path to be. And then appeared a sign.
The company that Priya worked in Ohio allowed her to work from home in Connecticut. Having lived almost couple of years apart, we recognized the first sign for that GOD had started to work on us and we just had to keep up our faith and work accordingly. And true to our faith, in just a couple of months we had another miraculous news. In spite of our medical symptoms persisting, we were pregnant. It happened over a Friday when Priya had gone back to Ohio to attend to some urgent hectic work.  She kept complaining of nausea even though she had been fully healthy and well. And when she returned over the weekend and her nausea became worse and persistent, we doubted if we were pregnant. We quickly got in touch with the doctors and they confirmed that this was no fluke. They were happy for us and we were ecstatic.  And immediately my confidence soared to such heights that I broke a golden rule. I wanted to share this news with our immediate families right away instead of waiting a while. And when I called, I was surprised that instead of great excitement, we were cautioned not to reveal this news until a couple more months. I did not understand why nobody was as excited as me. This was the most wonderful news. And happy news didn’t come often.
For Priya and me, this was a perfect story. We had gone through a tough test right upfront our marriage and we had come out of it with flying colors. And we had the best news ever. But, happy news does not last as long as we want.  We were right at the top of the mountain waving out at the rainbow when a thunderbolt hit us and hit us hard. The very next day after discovering our pregnancy and announcing to our skeptical families back home, our pregnancy started going downhill. We started having symptoms of miscarrying. And nothing helped. We rushed to the doctors and they could do nothing but feel sorry for us. It was all over for us and when we came back home all we had was eerie silence and tears. We were just dumbstruck and had no idea how we could recover from this.  We just could not understand where our life was heading.  The worst case was that we had nobody to console us. I always knew that life was precious. But how delicate it is, I had just experienced.
Having no answers to lift us up, we lay at home in darkness. Nobody said a word. Tears kept welling. We were totally shattered and broken. Even dawn was far away. So, we encouraged each other to say the prayer for the night and retire to bed. It was best for the worst day of our lives to end fast. When I got up to light the altar candle, I realized that amidst all the grief I had forgotten Jesus. And it was then that HIS words started resonating in my mind repeatedly. “Your faith has healed thee”. This was completely against the emotions I was going through. Here we were dealing with the greatest loss of our life ever and here was Jesus talking to me about being healed. Luckily, for once I was patient. I had nothing to lose, but hold onto these words and try to comprehend. And then it hit me. For the first time I realized how GOD had all along heard our prayers and had got to work on our lives. And when I shared this thought with Priya did we realize the power of GOD and how strongly HE was working in our life. 
We were HEALED now. We were no longer barren. We had conceived. Yes, we were broken this moment. But now we had our very own angel. We had found our peace. I was once again climbing the mountain looking at the rainbow, this time more beautiful than ever with an angel smiling above it. We named her Gabrielle. Now we were as ready as ever to receive HIS blessings. And till this day, each and every moment, we feel HIS blessings. We conceived in 5 months time, and again 3 years later. Claire and Noah are our testimony that when we act out our faith, HE never lets us down.  We know that there will be many difficult tests on our journey. But, one thing is for certain. In our boat, just as the disciples experienced on the stormy seas, Jesus is present and showing us the way. As long as we keep our faith in HIM, He will lift us up time and again. That night, just like a parent puts his kid to bed, I felt HIS hand and HIS lullaby. And I hear HIM and feel HIM ever since.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A special one for Dad

     Today is a very special day. It’s a milestone day for my dad. Today, the 24th September, is his 75th birthday. I am very sure, knowing his nature that he will be wishing hard that tomorrow comes fast so that he does not have to be center of attention. I am sure that for every person in this world, their dads are the best ones ever. And its true for me too for many many reasons. And today is the special day to celebrate what he has been to me, my family and everybody he is connected to. And I won’t be surprised if many never knew or acknowledged his little acts of selfless giving. The reason being, he would never have claimed his worth at any point of time and would have just moved on to the next thing.
     In the summer of 2015, I came a full circle to connecting with his act of selfless compassion and dedication even though I was almost 10,000 miles away. My little daughter Claire was 3 yrs old and little Noah was not yet one and wasn’t even standing on his own, let alone walk. I took upon myself to take Claire to a summer camp far away from home where she would learn ballet. Since the camp was for 2 hrs a day, I had to stay back with Noah somewhere around the place and get Claire as soon as she was done and then go ahead with the rest of the day with some other activity. Since I was going to a new town that I was unfamiliar, I was nervous and I was unsure how I would also deal with a 9 month old baby on my own. So, on the first day, I reached on time to Claire’s camp, quickly got her signed in and then as I walked out, I had this lingering question of what I would do with a 9 month old on a hot summer day for the next 2 hrs. I started to drive back on the same way I came on, totally blanked out. And, as I drove towards the town center, I saw a park. I decided to try it out and so after parking my car, took Noah in his stroller. It was a beautiful place. It had a corner flower park and a play area and a large expanse with a number of beautiful big trees. But, there was something missing. There was me and Noah and nobody else. And I was in a town I didn’t know much. So, after spending time at different corners of the park with Noah in his stroller, I decided that since there was at least another hour, I would experiment with Noah a little bit. So, I got him off his stroller and made him stand up supporting the stroller and I waited to see what he would do next. Noah looked around. He had been pushed around a lot that day just like any other day, feeling helpless. He barely could stand on his feet. But, he held on to his carriage tightly and moved in the direction he wavered. One step became two and then four and then many. Baby Noah could not stop. He was doing something himself with a lot of freedom. And, yes, he was strong enough to move his cart. He had so much joy and a sense of achievement. It was his milestone that day and he has never stopped ever since. And I was very proud of him. But, there was nobody around me to sense my joy and sense of achievement.
     I had such a tense start to my day. I had not known what to do. In my heart of hearts, I had hoped everything would end fine and the day would end without incident. And then I decided to get a little bolder. Before they were done, I rushed with Noah, stealthily to Claire’s camp wanting to see how my little 3 yr old was doing. I hadn’t realized that she was also having her first day of the camp and may have been nervous. It was a new place to her and new people around. She may also have felt like I did, tense about the unknown. I wanted to ensure that Noah and I would not make her miss her sense of joy and pride of achievement. And in the midst of moms and their little kids, I rushed to look through the mirror as the camp was in its last minutes. And there I saw amongst the many beautiful butterflies, one little precious one fluttering away her wings. I could see a big grinning smile and a shriek here and there. But, then I saw another thing. Every other time she went around, her eyes gazed to the big mirror looking out if her papa was there. And I was, not only myself, but with another bundle All excited and joyful, little Noah. And seeing us brought so much energy out of her that it was a sight to behold. And I have never missed another opportunity ever since to be there for both Noah and Claire . For, now I had my pride of being a dad.
     And as we did this day after day that week, I thought of my dad. I was once a little kid and so was my sister. And my parents worked day and night for they had a dream. A dream that was us both and they would not stop. Somebody had to be there to pick us up after school and my mom could not as she still was at school teaching. So, the onus was on my dad. And he had a very hectic day at work. He would have gotten up at 1AM, when all of us were deep asleep, to get to his work. And he would have gotten back at about 1PM when we were still a couple of hours away from being done. He would be tired and sleepy. And he couldn’t have gotten home. There was a little cemetery where people were laid to rest. And my dad would wait for us day after day for at least a couple of years, sleeping on one of the tomb stones, catching up on his sleep. And then be there at the school gate for both of us. He never regretted doing this, nor did he hesitate. And now I had understood why. Because greater than everything else, he was proud of being a dad. And although nobody has ever saluted him for such acts that he so selflessly did, I remember. Because for his act of being a dad and doing it in the cemetery, I had the honor of being in a beautiful park, full of trees and beautiful flowers. And even though it had been years ago and even though we had been 10,000 miles apart, there had been a connection. A connection of hearts. And for all of this, dad, if you are feeling alone at any point of time, you should know, that Claire and Noah are very very proud of their grandpa. And so am I. Happy special birthday, Da. May GOD bless you many many more glorious ones.