I prayed for a family.
Lord, I’m on the other side of the world, please give me a family.
And He did.
We were an odd sort of family, the kind that only comes around once in a while.
Like the one priceless item finally discovered after hours and hours of Antiques Roadshow footage.
Underappreciated and not really understood by anyone looking from the outside.
But possessing so much value, so much story, so much depth.
I’m convinced that this kind of family was purposefully intended by God, to teach and to challenge, to love and to bless.
I’m convinced that though our genetics are far from matching, that we were a family.
We were a family that laughed, a family that cried. A family that called each other out and challenged our ways of thinking.
We were a family that prayed together before bed, when we’d only known each other for a day.
We were a family whose skin didn’t match, whose hair was different colors, whose eyes were not the same… and we didn’t pretend they were. We realized our differences and celebrated it.
We were a family blessed and sent out to the city….the city to which God brought us individually and together, as a family.
We were a family that may have thought we could save the day, but quickly realized that it was our time to be transformed and broken and rocked of every comfort or belief we had.
We were a family that cluelessly embraced the newness and the chaos. That walked around with no idea where we were going or where we were. That got ran over by herds of goats and chased down other foreigners to find out their name. That got kicked out of bookstores for sitting and talking in the quiet area. That drank chai for the first time and smashed the cups as hard as we could, drawing even more attention to ourselves, this strange American family.
We were a family that held the hands of orphans. That walked by people dying on the sidewalk and felt our hearts break.
We were a family that gave food to the beggars, and ate lunch with the people on the street.
We were a family that got lost. That often had no idea what was going on, but embraced it with laughter…we always had good stories.
We were a family that was overwhelmed by the noise…but eventually found comfort in the constant city lullaby.
We were a family that did what we thought was right and appropriate, and laughed when we were wrong. We were quick to give ourselves grace because this place we now lived resembled home about zero percent.
We were a family obsessed with biscuits. That would sometimes announce going out and took orders for everyone’s cookie preference. That would sometimes go out in secret to avoid the list of orders.
We were a family that shared the coveted face wipes and Tums and Gatorade powder.
We were a family that saved our fingernail clippings in a Ziploc bag. That hung our underwear in the window frames. That soaked up leaking bathrooms with pillows and mats. That sometimes forgot to mop the shower water out the wall. That never changed the purple hand towel tied to the rack, despite the fact that most of the time it was dripping. That washed our clothes by hand in the same few buckets on the roof. That tied our clothes to a rope to dry.
We were a family who got excited about fabric scraps. That taught each other how to braid them together to make head bands and bracelets and necklaces and anything else we could possibly make from the scraggly material.
We were a family that spent hours making dinner. That got excited about new “recipes” and always complimented the cooks, even though the mush basically always tasted the same.
We were a family that ate with our hands. Whose hands crusted over with food because our conversations lasted longer than our dinner and we didn’t want to leave to wash them.
We were a family that prayed over sickness. That celebrated healing. That had compassion for the physical reality of each other. That spent hours massaging constipated stomachs with soothing oil. That showered quickly so those who needed the bathroom could get in faster. We were a family that stood outside the bathroom laughing and listening to the laxative take action. “Can you hear that?! I’m not even trying!” We were a family that asked about how big and how much and how often we pooped. That celebrated properly functioning bowels. That laughed about silver rocket suppositories and spared no detail on how it all was going. That offered to play the flute while another guarded the door of the toilet on the roof so that the one squatting could sit and relax and hope the bowels would finally have movement.
We were a family that chose to sit feet apart from each other when every room was open. That discovered the joy in community and the loneliness apart from it.
We were a family that took afternoon naps. That lay on the floor, despite the hair and crumbs and ants and dirt and city that it wore.
We were a family that found joy in the little things…like Masala Munch and Limca and chocolate and new jam and exotic fruit and fans and new laundry soap and the magical women’s train.
We were a family that celebrated birthdays with chocolate cake and mango juice shots and midnight surprises and always a soggy paper card with birthday wishes scrawled out in ink.
We were a family that played Hot Seat at dinner. That never failed to ask “So what do you actually wear in real life?”
We were a family that sat around to listen as one person read cheesy Christian mystery novels. We found so much humor in little things. We were a family that shared laughter.
We were a family that played Bananagrams. That used up all the tiles into one large crossword puzzle with an outer space theme. We were a family of simple creativity and entertainment.
We were a family that sat around sharing “How I Started Dating ______” stories, like it was some kind of reality dating show.
We were a family that went shopping together and helped pick out each other’s outfits. That got excited for new tailoring. That knew everyone’s entire wardrobe and always knew when there was something added or different. We were a family that complimented each other’s appearance, even when it never seemed to change. That got excited for new haircuts and shaves and trimming of pitiful mustaches.
We were a family that sang with no instruments. That made up new verses. That sang the same songs because they meant so much. We worshipped with our hearts. We sang out on the roof over the city, praying and prophesying the return of Jesus.
We were a family that wept over brokenness. That felt anger. That sought righteousness. That prayed for joy and wisdom. That sought justice.
We were a family that was often dry and numb and unfeeling. That encouraged each other even though it felt so hopeless. That gave grace for words said out of frustration.
We were a family that danced in “Deega” and ate egg toast in air conditioned rooms. That hung our clothes on bushes. That stood in pitch dark streets when the power turned off, laughing and never really phased. This was India after all.
We were a family attacked by fire ants. That woke up and counted the red bites and never ceased complaining. That burned coils as we slept to keep off the mosquitoes. We were a family that hated bugs.
We were a family that warned each other before we ate. “There are ants in the bread but when you toast it they burn in the coils. … There’s mold on the bread, it’s blue. If you see it just pick it off.” We were a family that put jackfruit on our heads like caps. That saved the leftover rice even though we knew we’d never eat it…but faithfully kept it in the freezer or in bags on the floor.
We were a family with a broken blue refrigerator. That kept our money in the freezer in a grimy plastic bag. We kept the fridge as our pantry and the freezer as our cooler…it was too warm to freeze but too cold to refrigerate.
We were a family that slept on the floor. That layed on thin chunky mats and flat pillows covered with oddly patterned sheets. That stepped on each other when we woke up in the night. We slept so close that we followed each other’s breathing and opened our eyes to their face.
We were a family that ate small bananas and overripe mangoes, toast with jam or butter, rice and dahl. That enjoyed a chicken burger every now and then. That looked forward to Friday nights when we didn’t have to cook and were blessed with food made for us.
We were a family that was never really clean. That never stopped sweating. That after awhile, didn’t really care.
We were a family of miniskirt loongies and giant nighties.
We were a family of adventure. That hopped onto moving trains. That threw each other into the train car to make sure we all made it. That followed random people who we hoped really were leading us where we needed to go.
We were a family that kept stacks of chai cups on the window sill, beneath the underwear, in hopes they’d survive the flight back home.
We were a family of drastic haircuts.
We were a family where the boys held hands with boys and the girls held hands with girls.
We were a family that played soccer in the slum…in the mud and poop and filth.
We were a family of the Aladdin pants.
We were a family that saw each other in our entirety. That saw the weaknesses and fears and sinfulness. That saw each other with the mask removed.
We were a family that grew together without really even trying. That experienced what real community feels like…the blessing and the challenge of it.
August 1, 2012.
Last day of debrief in Bangkok, Thailand.
Michael’s ankle is infected and he is in the hospital. It’s our last night and we all wanted to be together, so we went to visit him. Twenty four people walked into this beautiful hospital, so clean and fresh…in a hospital sort of way. We waltzed up to the 16th floor and into his room. We made ourselves at home…lounging on the couch, cuddled up in blankets, googling over the food menu, sitting on his bed, admiring the infected ankle exhibit, reading the newspaper, raiding the cupboard for tea, coffee, and Ovaltine, watching women’s shooting and men’s gymnastics on the Olympics, enjoying the excitement of email/Facebook/cell phone repossession, music playing, salted peanuts, Thai croissant buns with weird green filling. Caleb walks in and yells and holds his prize high: “Meaties!! I brought the meat skewers!” There are banana peels falling and splatting on the ground. We gave Deanna the fingernail and hair collection! Then the little Thai nurse comes in, clearly weirded out and finding humor in the array of people and activity. It’s funny that this is how we spend out last night together…hospital, Olympics, and meat sticks. It’s like watching a movie. We would be the most obnoxious reality show.
I prayed for a family, and looking back, that is what the Lord created in us. I didn’t fully see it then, but it is so obvious now. Even if the only thing that came out of that trip was the reality of family and the understanding of joy and pain in community, I would be so thankful.
We really were a family.