Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Give Thanks...

Give thanks, with a grateful heart
Give thanks, to the Holy One
Give thanks, because He's given 
Jesus Christ, His son
And now, let the weak say I am strong,
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done, for us
Give thanks
We give thanks

We do give thanks.  We live in amazement for the good things we receive in the middle of deep challenges all around.  For God's patience with us despite things being less than what we would like many times.  For light in the midst of darkness, and courage to be honest with each other and hold each others hands.

All is not well.  But the King is coming.

We are grateful to have Mum and Dad here with us at Bethel Villa on the campus of the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital in Lalitpur.

We are grateful to have a visit yesterday and today by Dr. Tony Bishwas - the medical superintendent and head of the palliative care work that HBM hospital does here (one of the very very few palliative care units in rural North India ... make that all of North India!  What a privilege to have a home visit!

We are so grateful that Vikram Singh (who everyone calls "Vicky") came down with us from Mussoorie.  He has over the years become such a deep part of the family - and would have cried buckets (his words) if he were not able to come with Mum and Dad and spend at least a few days with us in Lalitpur.  

Vicky's cheerful presence and kindness shines through beautifully.  We are so thankful to God for him.

We are grateful for all those who have been praying for us.  Your prayers are so very precious - they express you concern for us - and are heard and answered personally by our saviour Jesus.  What a glorious hope we have in Him!

We are grateful for my brother Rudy Gomez who has flown in from far off Hawaii to be with Dad and Mum for some time.  We last had a significant time together in 2005 when he was stuck with us in Thane for an extra week because of the great Mumbai monsoonal floods (the few hours in 2013 do not count).

And who should show up today but the indomitable Vasu Vittal.  What a joy to have him here too and we are grateful for his love for Dad and Mum - and for the fruitful discussions we are having about some of the anti-human trafficking work that we would like to do more intentionally here at the HBM Community Health and Development Programme.

At the end of the day the men were immersed in reading.

Sheba is at the Chhatarpur Christian Hospital for 3 days of training in Neo Natal Survival - and so we have a bit of an empty nest here - but we are so grateful that she is able to take this training.

Most of all, we are grateful to have Dad and Mum with us here.  These are challenging days.  Dad is working through the pain - and we are upping the doses to discover what the current sweet spot is.  At the same time, Dad does have breathing difficulties for which we are praying and which makes sleeping at night difficult.  Each day is a challenge - and each day a blessing to be able to share together.

We are grateful for the here and now - with all its messiness and complications.  And all its beauty and serendipity too!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Coming home to Lalitpur

The last 24 hours have been a blur.  But here is the focus.  24 hours ago we were in Mussoorie.  Now we are reunited as a family here in Lalitpur.  Dad, Mum, Vicky and I are here with Sheba and Enoch.

The beauty of it all.  These are days of miracle and wonder...

We have received grace upon grace.

Start with 3 days ago when we made the prayerful choice to come here to continue Dad's palliation at Lalitpur.  With Dad in such pain and discomfort, just moving from bed to chair being so difficult, a trip down to the doctor in Dehra Dun a basic impossibility... the idea of all of us doing the multiple legs of the journey to here seemed absurd.  And yet we had' prayed and had been given an inner peace and common focus that we needed to make this decision in this way.

Just to see Dad dressed and ready to go was amazing.

And so swelled by a huge cloud of witnesses, we left the clouds for the plains.

Of the many prayer requests that were granted, the first one was this: It had rained almost non-stop in Mussoorie for days.  The thought of carrying Dad up in a stretcher to Sisters Bazaar was daunting.

And lo and behold - yesterday afternoon the rain stopped.  And it did not rain in Mussoorie until after we had transported Dad up using our stretcher at 8 PM.

There was plenty of mist around, but not a drop.  As the twilight settled in, I could not resist taking a last shot of the Shanti Kunj gate.

Dad had to do some last minute sorting out - and what a joy to see him at his old desk, getting some of his important files.

One of Dad's life-long habits is his organisation.  All the documents so neatly put away.  A place for everything and everything in its place.  It is times like this when the hard work and diligence he put in pays off big-time.  All he needed was a few minutes at the desk and we were ready to go.

When will he sit at that desk again?  Hard questions to answer of course.  But we know that from here he touched the world through his emails of encouragement - and the prayers that he poured out for the many.

And so into the darkness of the night.  We had 15 people materialise at the appointed hour.   Most not directly invited, but there because they heard about Dad's big shift and their love for him and Mum.  A quick prayer and the stretcher (first time in use) carrying Dad was borne up to Sister's bazaar by willing hands.

Another prayer at the top and we were moving down in the darkness through the twisty streets driven with extra loving care and caution by our dear Bhagat.   The twistyness gave Dad nausea and after a massive bout of vomitting, I was wondering whether we could go ahead with the journey.  But we prayed and carried on.  Dad was fine all the way down to Dehra Dun.  

On the way another party met us.  Dear pastors who love Dad and Mum so much.   And at the Dehra Dun railway station another group of loved ones.   The train was a bit late so we stayed in Bhagat's vehicle till it arrived - and then wheeled Dad using a wheel-chair the railway provided over to the berths we had reserved.

What a miracle to be in that train and see Dad getting almost 6 hours of sleep.   And that too on a noisy train - when in the thick silence of Mussoorie the slightest sound would have him clutch his chest.   We are so grateful for the pain medication that morphine brings.  It is not complete at this point - as Dad's pain levels seem to be spiralling up - but we are thankful for the help it gives Dad.

When the train pulled into New Delhi station - we had another set of blessings.  Ram Surat, David adn Stephanie, and Raaj were there.  Dad was wheeled over to the correct platform for the next train and we sat drinking coffee and talking - glad that Dad had done so well so far.  Then Mum swooned.  The tiredness of the past few months plain to see.

We had her lie on the bench and talk to Stephanie.

How much we felt the swell of prayer all the way through.  Dad experienced pain - but this was largely controlled by the medication.  He was tired - but was able to sleep.  He revived and spoke to his fellow passengers much like he always does on train rides.  It was almost as if we were on one of the many many trips of yore...  Indian Railways has had loyal customers in the Eichers of the years.

But here it was - the seemingly impossible - Dad who was in such pain and discomfort 5 days ago - now travelling across the country - switching trains...  Amazing grace!

All through the day grace was tangible.  We could feel people praying for us - and are so grateful for all who did.

And so we arrived at Lalitpur station 1.5 hours late - but so full of thankfulness.  

And once again we saw love in action.  The HBM hospital welcoming team had 5 strong men ready to assist Dad with a wheel chair and stretcher - and they brought both the jeep and the ambulance... just in case Dad was unable to sit in the jeep.  Dr. Tony Bishwas was on hand to give any immediate care needed - and Enoch was their as the family rep.

When we drove into the HBM Hospital campus it was really a sense of coming home.  And there was my beautiful Sheba at the door of Bethel Villa - and with her... another amazing set of people - the HBM hospital community - with the palliative care team all ready to pitch in to help.  We had returned to so much love.

Its very late at night, but we are so glad for every person who prayed for us.  It is a miracle to have dad here with us in Lalitpur.  We have started a new chapter in our lives together - and are so grateful to the peace of heart that God gave us to make this big step - and the fulfillment of grace through bringing Dad here with so much strength and such a wonderful sense of his old spark - given the way the cancer continues to eat away at his 'outer man.'

At the end of the day (and that is what it is now) we have had an extraordinary trip.   One more twist in the long winding road of our grace-filled lives together.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with us!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Such a long journey....

In a few hours we are about to make the trip of a life-time.

At 7.30 PM some dear friends will carry up Mum and Dad’s luggage from their beloved Shanti Kunj up to where Bhagat and Evie’s vehicle at Sister’s Bazaar.   We will then gather for prayer, and then they will carry Dad up in a stretcher to the car.

Our common destination – Dad, Mum, Vikram and me – is to be united with Sheba and Enoch at our current home: Bethel Villa on the HBM Hospital campus in Lalitpur.

To put it briefly - Dad has come to a stage where we all need to be together.  And so over the past 2 days we have tried to weigh out which place is better for his palliation... and after discussing and praying we have come down on the side of taking Dad and Mum with us to our home and hospital in Lalitpur.

Deep breath time.  This is a  h  u  g  e  journey.

Almost 800 kms of God's beloved country of India needs to be traversed before we end up at 'Bethel Villa.'

At this point is seems almost silly, with Dad in pain and needing help to even walk short distances.

But then life is almost never about the easy issues.  

We need to be in a place where we can help when Dad is very sick.  That time is now.  And the cold isolation of Shanti Kunj - so lovely for those who want to drink deep of silence - with its non-functional phones and steep terrain is just not the place for Mum to be alone in her care for Dad.  No easy push-button solutions here.

And so we are about to take a stretcher up to Sisters Bazar, a drive down to Dehra Dun, the Nanda Devi Express to New Delhi station overnight... we should arrive at New Delhi at 5 AM and hope to catch the Hirakud Express at 8 AM to Lalitpur, arriving there (D.v.) at 4 PM Sunday afternoon...  about 24 hours from now.  Hopefully within 30 mins of arrival we will have Dad resting in our home.

Please pray for Dad - that he will withstand the rigours of the journey.   Ask Jesus to help each one of us as we support Dad and see these next few days be as full of light and rest as possible.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Nunc dimittis

We are wrapped in mist.

All day long.  Cold, white clouds outside.  Yellow light inside Shanti Kunj.

The silhouettes of our beloved banj oak trees fading and emerging in the whiteness of the world and the absolute stillness of monsoonal Landour.

It's been a hard day here with Mum and Dad.  At its end, as we inch towards the midnight hour - I am typing out these words and Dad is sitting in his chair reading Kipling short stories.

It's hard to see those you love in pain.  And pain is what Dad has been experiencing these last ten days.   We were so glad that Stefan was able to come and spend a precious set of days with Dad.  Stefan painted a number of portraits of Dad over the course of long leisurely conversations.

Here is one of them, which is already hanging up in Mum and Dad's room:

When Stefan left to go back to his family in the US and the second half of his two year Masters of Fine Arts in painting, he posted this picture on FB and said: 'Our last walk. For now.'

It made me want to cry - for the beauty of the image - the two dear ones walking into the mist.  Will there be another walk together, or will that have to wait for the unveiling of the New Kingdom and the life eternal?

The day after Stefan left, Dad had a fever and was admitted at Landour Community Hospital for four days.  The fever was taken care of the next day and after 3 days of good care, Dad was discharged home.

And then the pain started to kick in for Dad.  Big time.  I was attending the EHA annual meetings at Ramnagar. Sheba was with Enoch at Lalitpur and I got a call from Mum and Dad on Monday night saying that he just was not doing well.  I had earlier planned to be up in Mussoorie for 2 days after the meetings.  This became imperative.

So yesterday morning I got to Mussoorie blurry eyed in the mist.  It took some time to get to understand how Dad really was.   One thing was clear, his pain meds were way below the amount needed.  Dad now has significant back pain and continues to have different levels of pain in the abdomen throughout the day.  And he has trouble breathing too.  He finds it easiest to sit in his chair.

We tried to address the pain today.  We are back to taking the meds every four hours - but at double the dose that we started out with.   Dad keeps a meticulous record of every medication he takes.  Today's levels were serious stuff.  Every time I asked him about pain and he admitted having it - we took another dose.  By the end of the day he had taken 90 mg of morphine.

We were also able to give him a shave and a bath, but at present Dad is very weak and can hardly move between his bed and chair.   The walks that he had with Stefan seem a distant memory now - and yet it was only ten days ago.

Mum has been a rock of strength for Dad.  She has poured herself into caring for him.  A beautiful sight - their 49th year of marriage being lived out in its fullest.  To have and to hold, in sickness or in health...  It is hard for all of us to have Dad so unwell.  We are praying and trusting and living each day as it comes.  Mum sits with Dad and reads the Bible with him.  Prays.  Makes small tasty meals for Dad.  Gives him back and foot massages.  Prays.  Talks with him.  Looks out at the mist-shrouded trees outside.  Checks her emails.  Gets the odd phone call (when the phones spark back to life).  Checks in on Dad.  Prays. Plays the piano a bit.  She is a living embodiment of love.

Dad took a cold hard look at the number of pain killers he had to take today.  We had a long conversation after that.  Long because at this point Dad finds it hard to breath and speak.  His words sometimes are in a whisper.  He expresses a thought s l o w l y.   And will wait to share his next thought.  It is clear to Dad that things are pretty serious.  The cancer in him is not diminishing.  There is always the room for the miraculous - and we do continue to pray for healing - but all the signs are that our loving God is allowing the cancer to continue to work its way through Dad.  The end looks increasingly nearer.

And so tonight we talked about how Dad has come around to trying to 'grit it out' with his pain - to being ready to ramp up the meds without fear of addiction.   About how at this point he feels weak and helpless and in need of intensive care - even though he does not really like going that route. Though he wants to be independent, he is very dependent now.   Dad asked me to call Mum and we reviewed what our conversation had been and started exploring whether Dad and Mum should come down with me to Lalitpur for the next season of care.  We prayed about this and are asking God to show us the next steps forward.

Dad has been ready for death for many years now.  He loves Jesus and knows that whatever God chooses to do is good.  But the whole process is just not easy.  We are walking down a path that none of us has trodden so far.

And so we have slipped into  a new day.  The lights in both of our rooms are still on.  Mum is asleep, but Dad is still reading.  I thought he just whispered my name so went across - but he did not, and seems to be in a cheery mood again, ready to brush his teeth and then sleep.

Here is a shot of Mum and Dad which I think sums up their life together.  She had just persuaded him to have some food - and then managed to get him to eat some dahi with plum jam.  What a life-time of love our dear parents have modeled for us.  And continue to do so in the twilight of their lives.

So how long more will we have Dad with us?  Only our loving Lord Jesus knows for sure.  Is it two days, two weeks, two months or two years?   We know one thing for sure - that whenever the Lord chooses to call Dad to the next level of living, Dad will be ready.

Dad's whole life is a fleshing out of Simeon's prophetic statement when that man-who-had-waited-a-lifetime held the infant Jesus in his arms:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” 

- Luke 2.29-32

Thursday, 14 July 2016

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Demographic Studies redux

My old mate from way back when (read: when we were in our salad days at boarding school up in the Himalayan foot-hills), the amazing Anand V. Sinha writes a mouth-watering blog.

Here is his latest offering.  Do dip in here!

The balancing rock of Lalitpur

You are driving North of Lalitpur, along National Highway No. 26, headed towards Jhansi.  And there on your left in the near distance of a monsoonal morning you see a rock on another rock.  Big deal right? 

Well, it certainly is big!

I had seen the rock many a time on my way to and fro from our HBM Hospital Community Health and Development Programme field visits.   But on Monday I determined to take a closer look.

It's the monsoon here in Lalitpur, so there was plenty of mud to walk through as I meandered through the scrub towards the rock.

Coming close you realise just how big it is!

And how amazing that this large, odd shaped rock will stay put - rain, shine, hail or thunder - over all these years!  It is a 'balancing rock' and has been there for how many years?  Centuries? Millenia? without falling.

In a world where so much seems to be tipping and tripping, it is refreshing to see something so apparently precarious, but so solidly and utterly immovable as to have stood the test of time.

Would I like to try and tip this marvel?  Never!  I tend to be on the cautious side (I think at least) and seeing so much solid stone in such an apparently tip-worthy state... I have vivid thoughts of the great granite ending its year's of being upright by falling down on me and squashing my good-self.

So instead I take a quick tour around it.  The other side looks very different!

And just to give you a picture of the size involved, here is our dear Bharat Singh - who serves as one of our community coordinators in the HBM CHDP - and is an ace driver too.  Bharat kindly walked with me through the slush to take a look at the stone - and is a good way to help get a bit of a feel for just how big the stone is....

Presenting: the balancing rock of Lalitpur!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Down home on the Eicher farm...

We understand that our hardy Mennonite Eicher forbears left the old continent for the new expanses of Ontario in the late 1880s.  They were farmers and settled down to tilling the New World soil - and then their progeny moved out across the mid-west so that today you can still find plenty of Mennonite Eichers (some still farming too) across Indiana and Ohio and points west.

The tiny bit of the Eicher family that has been grafted into our dear land of Bharat 3 generations ago has not been very agrarian.  But could that be changing just a tiny bit?

Having moved to Lalitpur, our family is back in a pretty rural setting after 14 years in the big city. Today we live on a big spacious hospital campus in a ground-floor building... with a bit of space for a garden outside!

So lets take a little look at our new world...

We will start by going back in time.  This is what the 'Bethel Villa' looked when I was commuting between Thane and Lalitpur earlier this year.

We had to do a fair bit to get the venerable bungalow ready for the Eichers, including moving the kitchen from the back to the front and adding another toilet to the right of the entrance. 

About half-way through the rebuilding, this is what the future Eicher homestead looked like:

In mid April - four of us Eichers had a traumatic leaving from home as we were not given permission to take Yohan along with us by the authorities - a situation that frustratingly continues into today, and is one of the areas of our life where things are far from 'happy-happy.'

Our arrival in Lalitpur had its own set of hiccups and it was a few weeks before we finally moved into the (mainly) rennovated Bethel Villa.  As many of you gentle readers will have experienced - being the first to live in a 'new' house has its own joys.  An almost endless set of things that need to be adjusted (this door does not close,  that switch does not work, when the power goes off we are left in boiling heat darkness etc.).

And our arrival in May also coincided with one of the hottest summers in memory at the end of two years of scanty rainfall.  Each day was a new experience of what living inside a tandoori oven is like. 

Sauna?  We had one all around us - 24 hours.  I remember idly picking up an empty bottle in our living room - and being surprised at how hot it was.  Our flat cement roof absorbed heat and efficiently radiated it down into us. 

Garden?  A distant dream.

But what a difference some rain makes!

 In an amazingly short time, we have swapped worlds.  The arid, parched days are somewhere in a distant memory.  We have been transported into a cool green planet, with not only rain, but abundant, gushing rain, pouring down now, lightly drizzling then, a week without sunshine but the cool blessing of water all around.

It's time to break the soil, and we found an old man who agreed to dig up the plot of land outside Bethel Villa for us and plant a small hedge.   So at the end of the day, we found ourselves looking at a blank sheet - ready for things to be planted.  The few plants that came along with us (and who survived the Lalitpur summer grilling) remained clustered at our door.

Our first thought was to hire a 'mali' - a man of the soil to plant and tend our little patch of Eden.  The wizen old fellow who did the initial work was candidate no. 1, but said candidate proved surprisingly hard to pin down and a week later our plot was still barren and the rains were still coming.

So last weekend we swung into action.

Act 1.  Drive into town in our Papaya in search of 'plants.'   Find out more about the geography of Lalitpur.  Meet a plant seller who also seems to be a candidate for a political party.  End up at the nursery of the horticulture department - and yes, they have plants for sale.  Lots of them.  And at an unbelievable (for us Mumbai types) price of Rs. 10 per sapling (with a few at Rs. 20).   In Mumbai that would hardly buy you a small plastic bag of soil, let alone a whole plant.  we certainly were not complaining.

Did the horticulture folks have any vegetable seeds for sale?  No they did not - but they did have some Lady's Fingers (okhra) seeds and some Lauki (bottle gourd), which they kindly gave to us.  The price?  Just a smile.  Bless those dear men.

Act 2.  We lug our plants back and array them.  We borrow a mattock from our dear and experienced gardener colleagues Drs. Tony and Asangala Bishwas.  

Some local roses, a few hibiscus, two 'Raat ki Rani', two jasmine, we are set.   Plus we also have our Easter Lillies that have come up from Mumbai with us.  And we have our seeds to plant too.  

Now to delight of deciding where the plants should go.  Let's put that one here - and this one there.  A quick consultation, a hole is dug, the plastic bag cut off and in the plant goes.

We decide that the 5 by 5 m section just outside the kitchen will be a veggie plot.  Using a spoon, we dig little holes a hand-span a part and drop in the Lady's Finger seeds.  Will these little dried balls actually sprout?  They go into the soil and are covered.

The next day we decide to get some manure.  A local family gives us 3 big bags of goat-dropping based mulch.  The local hardware store equips us with some implements.  Mattock?  Sure.  Water pipe? Check.  The manure is spread and our new mattock mixes it into the soil.

Dr. Tony's garden gives us some local grass which we plant in little tufts to colonize the front portion. Will it grow to be a lawn?  Lets see.  Tony and Asangala also give us some maize seeds which we planted in the little portion on the right of the building.  The lily bulbs - when we get them out we realize just how many there are - get spread out liberally.

And the rain comes down again.  This time in buckets.  And so this is what the Bethel Villa looks after our first round of planting the Eicher garden.

These days when we wake up in the morning, it is usually to the greyness of a monsoonal day.

And we take a peek at the plants.

Glory be!  The seeds actually have sprouted!  Who would have thought.

Here is what the Ladies Fingers looked like a few days ago.

Humbling to know just how little we actually do in this great business of growing food.  Yes, we prepare the soil a bit (usually by tilling it).  Yes, we drop in the seeds and water and weed.  But the actual growing?  Those little balls of life which magically transform and start feeding from the soil and the light and the air and building themselves up and reaching for the sky in green-goodness-of-fruit-bearing?

Amazing grace.

Here is another evidence of the finger prints of a Master-Designer who makes all things well - courtesy of our front garden:

So there we have it.  A bit of green in our lives.  We are waiting for your visit to us Eichers at Bethel Villa - and hope that our little bit of Eden will be all the greener when we welcome you.

A last look when a bit of sun visited us recently.  See you soon!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Auden for the second half of 2016

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

- W.H. Auden