Sunday, April 14, 2013

India 2013: Poverty's Prison

I've been staring at a blank screen all week, an empty slate, a white canvas...  I have been praying for the words only He can lend me that can paint the picture that I want to share with you.... the picture that my camera, my skills, my gifts can't capture on their own.  I have been broken silent and yet my heart is crying out loud for what my eyes have seen, my ears of heart, my arms have held...

The words have brewed all week, all month...  when He gives me something to write, He gives the words to me as He gives the earth snowflakes, seemingly random and haphazard yet you know they grow heavy and hurl fast to the ground and you can't catch them all, know them all...  they increase in intensity as the storm brews near, falling closer and closer together in a blizzard of thoughts and emotions and memories and right now, as they form on the ground, settling into first sentences, then paragraphs...  I will interpret the scenery before me, so that it will stand before you, unheard until now, from God's paintbrush and inkwell, through my hands, to your screen...

I have no idea how He will share this, what it will look like when it's done... much less how to hold my heart together long enough to put it to life, please bear with me, and gently stay a while...  we need you.  He needs you.

We arrived, unannounced as there is no way to communicate our arrival other than to simply come, as we are, to meet them there, as they are, where they are.  We walked down a beaten path, far from the road, through groundnut fields.  The sun beat down harshly on our backs as we walked single file towards the simple house.

We had heard of this woman, Amutha, from Pastor Michael, hearts broken over her story.  Her husband had run away from their marriage, left her for another woman.  Leaving Amutha to care for their two disabled children, a boy and a girl.  I had met both children briefly, but I wanted to do more than meet them, I wanted to see them, hear them, understand their situation and partake in their suffering.

I thought she was perhaps 10, with her bright green dress and her wild hair pulled back, scarred legs fidgeting restlessly, impish grin shining of innocence.  Her hands flapped as she fretted back and forth, pacing excitement and perhaps anxiety, she couldn't say, and we didn't know...

She was like a bright butterfly of a girl, one minute exploring, the next squatting quietly by the front door, studying us, it seemed.

We waited by the door to come in, and if I had not been watching at that very moment, I would have missed Amutha's embarrassed face as she swooped low with a dirty rag to wipe the trickle on the floor that had been left behind, before humbly and quietly ushering us into her home.

It was at that very moment that I connected with Amutha, even though she may never know the depth of my understanding and compassion.

Eleven and a half years ago, I gave birth to a precious little girl with a hint of red hair to go along with her more-than-subtle hint of intensity.  By the time she was a few years old, I knew something was different about her... but having had two boys, and both boys being different from each other as well... I simply pushed aside the gnawing feeling and told myself "boys are different from each other and girls are different from boys... she's just intense in a way her brothers weren't, and she's just her own quirky, unique self..."   That would explain her lack of fear, her inability to answer a question, her hyper-sensitivity to sensory input, her delayed development, her inexplicably late toilet training... her selective mutism... her thirst for spinning around and around and around and around...  her intense energy and spirit...  right?  

By the time she started school, I could no longer accept that "girls are just... different like that".  She was the one child rocking under a desk, self-soothing to cope with her inability to function and integrate herself in the world around her.  She couldn't speak most of the time, had no bladder control, could not brush her teeth, comb her hair, had no impulse control...  and the list went on.

As a mother, I needed help, I cried out to Him, overwhelmed...  and God provided, in abundance.  Specialists began to reveal after months of testing, that my daughter, Jillian, was on the autism spectrum, and that would come to explain so much about her intensity, her quirkiness, her hardships.  Her teacher came alongside of me that year, and taught us both how to cope, how to embrace the differences and work with them, how to help her reach her best potential, how to draw her back out of her shell and into a world made safer for her.  

Back in India, I stood before this woman that was me... me years ago, except Amutha had not one but two special needs children, both profoundly disabled, and she was completely on her own.  Her little girl is not ten, nor is she a little girl...  she is 21, trapped inside the broken body and mind of a young child.

Their government housing was miles from anywhere, specialists were not at Amutha's disposal for her daughter or her son, she had no award-winning teacher blessing her with guidance and solidarity, her mother does not live nearby, she had no spouse to bring her relief...  no neighborhood mom's group to rally support from.  No Small Group.

There was no one but her, God, and this precious shepherd -- Pastor Michael.

My heart convulsed.  I felt sick, not understanding how mercy and grace alone can have two women in such an eerily similar situation, and yet have such profoundly different outcomes.

Years of therapy and intervention, of specialists and provisions at our fingertips...  and now?  Last Friday morning, Jillian, now eleven, got herself dressed, made her lunch, confidently did her hair and chit-chatted as she prepared herself for school.  Skipping out to to the bus stop, I called her back to the door so that I could kiss her on the nose and wish her a great day at school.  She grinned and said in a singsong voice "Oh mommyboo...  I love you!" 

There are days with Jillian that I had to choose which battle to fight -- but this woman before my eyes, this woman's daily choice made my own battle seem like child's play.

Every day, Amutha chooses whether or not provisions are worth poverty's prison.

Amutha is strong and healthy enough to work, has experience with agriculture and brick work, wants so much to be able to provide for her family, and can scrape together a meager existence for herself and her two children when she does work.  She's not seeking wealth and abundance, she's simply seeking enough -- enough food to out on the tabble, enough provisions for the children's needs and hers... nothing more, nothing less...

...  but in order to do so, she must do the unthinkable...

...  in order to work when her children are not attending class, she must lock them alone in the house to keep them safe from predators, safe from wandering, safe from themselves.  The lock that dangles the front door keeps the predators out, and keeps the children in.

After a hard day's meager wages, Amutha comes home to a ransacked house every single time, as the kids, left to themselves, destroy their few household belongings.  Furthermore, the children, left for hours at a time, can not relieve themselves outside, so they must relieve themselves in the house.  No one to swoop down and patiently wipe the floor with a dirty rag.  There are no bathroom facilities, no running water.  No nearby stream.  Miles by foot for the nearest water source -- beyond a locked door.

Barely a way for her children to communicate with her when she is home -- never mind when she's nowhere near the house and working to provide for them.

One must wonder if a day's wages is worth the discouragement of coming home to heartbreaking conditions, heartbroken children, and a mother's breaking point...  but is starving a better choice?

There is a yoke of oppression and burden weighing heavier on this woman than her thick cotton clothing under the sweltering Indian sun....  there is a shackle of poverty that can be loosened and broken...

Poverty is a prison.

We were given the keys.

And the command to use them.

Feed My sheep, He said.  
Loosen the chains...

Undo heavy burdens...

Set the oppressed free...

Break every yoke...

The key is simple...  

A sponsorship of only twenty dollars a month provides for Amutha and her household so that she no longer has to make that heartbreaking choice until a better option is available to her and her children -- until she is able to work from home or begin a business.

Help unlock poverty's prison...

So that she won't go hungry and can tend to the needs of her children without resorting to locking them up.

So that she can pour her strength into her children's well being.

So that she experience God's provision like never before, and share of Him with all who have ears.

So that the hopelessness of poverty's prison will no longer hold her and her children captive.

To be that key, please consider a Family Support sponsorship of $20/month, or a general donation in any amount (indicate "Family Support" in the notes).  One time donations earmarked will be equally divided amongst Family Support program families who do not yet have a sponsorship. Tax receipts available (U.S. only).

Please note that one hundred percent of funds provided towards the Family Support program goes directly to the families in need.

To learn more about the Family Support program, see also this post.