I’m Betraying My Culture? My People?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. I made a decision when I booked that one-way flight to India, which I don’t think I fully understood at the time. I made a deliberate decision to pursue holy overseas work in India, not in Puerto Rico or any other place. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about that, especially considering what has happened on the island in Hurricane Maria’s wake. There is a severe shortage of teachers. There are hurting women, men, children, and teenagers. There are a lot of suicides happening in Puerto Rico. The U.S. government won’t openly admit this, by the way. Those who can leave are leaving the island in droves. It’s completely falling apart even though the U.S. government has a responsibility to provide for Puerto Ricans just like they would for white people in the states. BECAUSE WE ARE CITIZENS, DAMMIT.

 

Yet I didn’t go to Puerto Rico. I absolutely could have. For a while, I was in talks with this organization that sends people out to do holy overseas work. We extensively talked about Puerto Rico. Instead, I chose to come to India, a place where I’d have to learn multiple new languages, change the way I dress, eat differently, behave differently around men, and say goodbye to my favorite American/NYC things. Oh, and I said goodbye to my family and friends, too. I said goodbye knowing full well that I had no intention of returning in the foreseeable future. The only way I will return is if God audibly speaks to me and tells me to leave India or if everything completely falls apart, leaving me with no one to help. The former may happen and the latter is  borderline impossible.

 

Some may say that I’m betraying my culture by doing what I’m doing. Why am I not focused on Puerto Rican suffering? Instead I’m intentionally immersing myself in a culture I was not born into, changing so many things about how I present myself to people, and even changing the way I spell my name (although I hate it), because I want my name to be better understood and pronounced by the Indian people. I will belt out “Jana Gana Mana” in a heartbeat but will never again sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” You don’t have to reject your home country completely in order to do this type of work, but I just intensely dislike the U.S., so that’s me. Sometimes I pull my hair back into a bun so that my afro isn’t so striking. I try to stay in the sun for a bit every day to steadily darken my skin. I’m intentionally getting darker, which baffles every Indian I talk to about being tan. They tell me that my color is good and not to get darker. I tell them I want to get dark. They stare at me in amazement. I don’t see any of this as a betrayal. I see it as beautiful. I think of Amy Carmichael who went to Tamil Nadu from IRELAND, basically one of the whitest places on Earth. She wore Indian clothes and was one of the first overseas workers to do so. She stained her skin with coffee so her light skin wouldn’t be too shocking to the Indians she served. She had a strong cultural background as well and she gave it all up to be His hands and feet in India.

 

For now, I have traded arroz con habichuelas for rice and dal (chicken curry as well if it’s a good day). I have put the t-shirt and jeans aside in favor of salwar suits. Jhumkas jingle in my ears and chudiyan sparkle on my wrists. I have just about given up the hope of finding many people who speak Spanish, although the Lord has blessed me with one here who is learning Spanish! She calls me a “chica bonita”, a “pretty girl.” I probably won’t see my biological family for quite some time. But, to me, it’s all worth it. He’s worth all this effort, which honestly doesn’t feel like much effort at all. It’s all so easy for me, which I thank God for. To be frank, I don’t really see what I’m doing as very different or special. To me, this is the only way I know how to live. But, while writing this, I heard God say to my heart, “Do you realize the magnitude of what you’re doing?” I really don’t! I pray that He shows me. Just like for those who came before me and for those who will come after me, it’s all for Him. This is what I want to be remembered for: loving Him and loving His creation.

Advertisements

My Three Days in Goa with an Israeli Man

I know that this title makes this post sound like it’s going to be full of juicy, rambunctious rendezvous with an Israeli man in Goa, but not quite. Sorry to disappoint.

God brought this Israeli man into my life at such a time as was necessary to help me grow and come to terms with who I am and what I’ve suffered from in my life. How we met was what anyone would call “pure chance”, but I know that nothing is a coincidence. I suppose I should preface this by saying that I’ve always been passionate about the Jewish people and the Jewish roots of Christianity fascinate me. I wear a cross and a Star of David together around my neck, a piece of jewelry which has always begun interesting conversations.

 

So, this man. We met at a restaurant/guesthouse called “Wellness Inn” in Goa. I had just finished breakfast and was about to head out to the beach or to town, when a thin, tan, blonde man with the tiniest swim trunks ever sat down across from me.

 

“Can I sit here?”

 

“Sure.”

 

We began talking and I learned that he was from Israel and that he came to Goa to learn Ayurvedic massage from some of the best teachers. Just as we began chitchatting more, another man showed up. (Ha! You thought I was into the borderline naked guy.) This man was tall, slender, with long dark, curly hair pulled back into a little ponytail. As he slipped off his shoes before entering the restaurant, I acknowledged him with a polite smile. He smiled back and glanced up at me twice before sitting away from me and my new breakfast companion. We asked him to come join us and we learned that he was also from Israel and was in Goa simply as a tourist. But, he also knew how to give massage therapy.

 

He and I began chatting like one does when one first meets a person. We covered all the basics of our respective countries and what we think about them, our respective ages (he is 31 and I’m 24), what I think about his English, etc. The other Israeli guy invited us to come to the beach with him, but the sun had just begun sitting high overhead and I had no intention of suffering from heat stroke. Instead, while the blonde Israeli man went to pay his bill, the dark-haired Israeli man and I talked more and made plans to walk to this market about twenty minutes away. I immediately felt comfortable with him and I could see that he felt the same with me as well. We sat quite closely and leaned into each other as we spoke. At last we got up and left the restaurant and our other Israeli friend behind (sorry, dude.)

 

Over the next three days, we went to a market, the beach, a fruit stand, various shops, another beach (it was Goa, after all), and a restaurant for dinner. Every day he picked me up for our little excursions. I’d hear the little jingle of the bell and open the door to see him standing sheepishly to the side, fidgeting with whatever little thing he could find. Each time I’d open the door he’d say things like:

 

“Wow, you look like that when you’re just relaxing at home?”

 

“Wow, you look like this when you just wake up? How is that possible?”

 

“Wow, you’re wearing Indian clothes. You look great!”

 

He made me feel so beautiful. Everything he said about me, from my hair texture to my skin color was a compliment. He thought I was beautiful and had no fear expressing that, although he did so subtlely. Every day he glanced down at my neck and commented about how he loved seeing the cross and the Star of David together like that. He had never met anyone who was like me in that regard.

 

As we walked about the sandy Goan streets, he and I talked about everything. Honestly, we delved into deep topics quite quickly, which has hardly ever happened to me before. We talked about my depression and anxiety, his family history and the Holocaust, my dad’s abuse of my family, and his dislike of Israeli hypocrisy and Orthodox rules. Although I shared pretty heavy topics like that so early, he was still interested in me, which surprised me. When I’d tell him difficult things, he’d respond with something like, “Wow, that just shows me how incredibly emotionally strong you are.” That comment brought me to tears, internally of course, because of how much I needed to hear it. I haven’t thought of myself as emotionally strong for about a year now so to hear someone say that and see that inside of me was shocking. When I shared with him about my hypochondria, he helped me out by laughing with me about it. That actually helped, believe it or not. I said something like, “You know, sometimes I walk around afraid I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack. Isn’t that ridiculous?” He smiled and said, “That’s very funny. That’s great.” I felt free to go on: “Sometimes it’s a heart attack, other times it’s a brain tumor or a stroke. It depends on the day.” We laughed together about it and for the first time since dealing with hypochondria, I didn’t feel so alone. The whole thing didn’t feel so overwhelming.

We parted ways the next afternoon with a sweaty hug and a promise from him to come visit me elsewhere in India as soon as he was free.

He said he’s sure we’ll meet again. Even if we don’t, I’m grateful that my three days with this stranger were so restorative and affirming for me. I hope that my openness about the Jewishness of Christianity and my love for the Jewish people encourages him to investigate the claims of Christ.

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Receiving Holy Hospitality is Hard for Me

Readers and friends,

I’ve been in India for a month now, well exactly a month yesterday, and although my time here has been fun and fulfilling, God has been trying to bring another f-word into my life: freedom. For far too long I’ve been sitting on the sidelines, hesitatingly accepting hospitality from others, feeling afraid to fully immerse myself into the lives of the families that God has placed me in for the time being. I’m too scared to jump right in, allowing others to treat me as part of their own. I’m afraid that one day they’ll suddenly look at me and say, “Who are you? What are you doing here? You don’t belong here! Get out!”

When someone does something nice for me, an act of service, I find it hard to fully embrace it. I often feel like I owe them something. I feel like I’m in debt to them. I feel so incredibly guilty. Even with people I’ve known for years, I find it very hard to accept their open and giving hospitality. Here’s an example:

I have a family in India that I call my own family. I met them three years ago and have hosted them once in New York. They’ve hosted me twice in India. I call the wife “Momma” and the husband “Dad.” Their two sons are my two brothers and they call me their sister. When Momma and Dad introduce me to their friends, they refer to me as their “daughter from the U.S.” When one wants to care for their family members, they do anything, right? With no complaints, right? Why do we care for our family members with all of our hearts? Because we love them. Because they’re family.

Well, my biological family is different. Growing up, my childhood was terrible. I grew up in a home where I was yelled at for every little thing. If I sat for too long on the couch, I was yelled at and called lazy. If I forgot to do the dishes or take out food for dinner, I was yelled at and called lazy. If I left my room a little bit messy for a few days, I was yelled at and called lazy. If I finished a bag of chips or cereal, I was yelled at and called greedy. I became afraid of doing anything. I couldn’t sit, stand, eat, clean, or do anything properly. My entire existence was just me walking on eggshells around my own house. The thing is, I never realized this when I was a kid, because I was just living it and trying to survive. Now that I’m approaching my mid-twenties, flashbacks and memories are coming up every so often and it reduces me to tears and maybe a little panic attack, which is what happened last night.

My Indian momma and dad consistently care for me, through feeding me, giving me the room with the A/C, taking me wherever I have to go, buying things for me, and just generally loving me in spite of my past and flaws. They give me advice, guidance, and unconditional love. Last night, all of this came to a point where I cried a little in the car on the way home from driving twenty minutes to pick up my contact lenses. My Indian dad just drove me there and back with no hesitation. While in the car, I had memories of being a child and teen, having different appointments, and hearing complaints from my father. “Why do you have so many things to do?” “You’re costing me so much gas money.” “Everything you do costs money.” I distinctly remembered feeling like a small child when these memories came back to me. I heard my father’s voice in my head. I was transported back to that time and the panic began. My pulse quickened. My body flushed. I didn’t want my dad and brother to know I was having a panic attack, so I swallowed my feelings and prayed that God would let me get home quickly so I could cry in my room.

I got in my room and called my mother in the U.S. She cried with me and lamented for what happened all those years ago. She encouraged me to share these feelings of guilt with my Indian parents. I really didn’t want to. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to express them well. I was scared that they wouldn’t understand. They saw that my face was sad so they asked me what was wrong and that opened the floodgates of my feelings. They already knew about my childhood so I told them that I was having flashbacks and that I felt guilty for eating their food, taking their nice room, and letting them do nice things for me. Momma immediately started rubbing my back and Dad said countless encouraging things. One of my little brothers came over to me with mango ice cream. He shows love with acts of service. The other brother gave me a little smile from across the room. He’s not the best with emotional things. My Indian parents immediately said, “Gabby, you’re family. You belong here. You belong so much here. This is your home. No need to feel guilty.” Then they reminded me of Christ’s words when He told us that when we leave our biological families, we find parents and siblings everywhere else.

Lord, help me accept these families as gifts from Your hand. 

Gabrielle G.

Two Weeks in an Indian Village

When I first arrived in Jagiri, I didn’t expect much. I knew I wouldn’t have any cell phone service or WiFi for two weeks. I knew there were no local shops I could walk to when bored. 99% of the people there don’t speak English. My hosts would only be around for a short while on the weekends. I was essentially on my own, save for one or two people around me who could communicate with me in my language, English. May I just add here that a strong linguistic barrier is the experience for the majority of new immigrants in the U.S.? This was going to be one of the few times I would ever experience this. The old Gabby would’ve been excited by this new challenge! She would’ve delved into studying Dangi and Hindi to be able to communicate with the locals and show that she cared about them and their culture.

 

That was what Gabby in 2015 would’ve done. That’s what I did in Kolkata, with joy! But, I was a different person then. I was more open, less cynical, more trusting of God and of life. 2018 Gabby is much more careful. I’m wary of everyone and every situation, always deciding what my plan is in case something bad happens. Always formulating an escape plan in my head. Constantly aware of what could go wrong. That’s me. So when the truck first arrived in Jagiri, I was already tired of the heat (Gujarat gets HOT HOT HOT) and I was annoyed with the prospect of two weeks with no WiFi. I felt that I would get cabin fever in this village and hate every moment of it. A part of me wanted to hate it, for some reason. I didn’t want to connect. It’s easier that way.

 

As I climbed out of the truck, I just wanted a cold drink, an air-conditioned room, and time alone to stew and complain about my lack of comfort in my circumstances. Instead I was greeted with an orange and yellow flower garland around my neck, tons of small children throwing orange flowers at me (blessing me and welcoming me), and older boys playing Indian drums. I walked between two rows of little Indian children and Indian teenagers. At this point, my heart was still hard toward this place, for reasons unknown to my spirit (which later turned out to be a Satanic attack), so I couldn’t fully embrace the moment. But I felt my heart softening a little bit and I began to feel guilty for feeling a dislike for a place I hadn’t even seen yet. After that, an older woman sat me down and washed my feet. If she and I were alone, I would’ve burst into tears. As she washed my dirty, worn out, scarred, bug-bitten feet, I felt my eyes fill with tears. I felt loved but also immensely guilty at the same time. “Who am I?” I thought. “I don’t deserve this treatment. I’m nobody. They all work so much harder than me. I’m just a complainer. I don’t deserve this. They do.”

 

I walked up the hill to my room, led by the hand by my hosts’ adorable five-year old son and began to feel more connected to this place I had only first seen ten minutes prior. I unpacked my things to a certain extent and came out to the dining room to my first Indian meal in India this year. I was in Goa for a week before this but I couldn’t find any Indian food there. I appreciated this meal. But, my lunch companions enjoyed conversations only in Hindi, stopping once every ten minutes to give me a hint of what they were saying. I felt left out. I didn’t expect everyone to speak English all the time, but my mother taught me that if you’re with someone who doesn’t speak a certain language, you don’t speak it in front of them because it’s rude. My mother always scolded me about speaking Spanish with her in front of my white American friends who didn’t speak the language. I never understood why until I sat at that table, only hearing Hindi around me, distinguishing a few words here and there, but being thoroughly excluded.

 

The next night, they had a graduation ceremony for the 8th graders, the kids I would be giving extra English classes to. They had me on stage, handing out certificates to a few of the kids and I again felt that this was so undeserved. I didn’t do anything to contribute to these kids’ success. I just got there the day before! It was so hard for me to receive any of this honor or hospitality. I felt it was so unwarranted. Before this, I sat with the little girls and watched as all of the schoolchildren performed various tribal dances and sang songs in a few languages. It was all so beautiful. The purity of the culture being celebrated by these children was just too powerful for me to explain. It was something you had to see and feel if you wanted to truly experience it.

 

As the next few days passed, I started teaching English to these 8th graders. In my limited understanding, I assumed I’d be teaching 14- and 15-year olds. Nope. Here in the village, you start school when you start school. One of my students was 24, my exact age. Many of them were 14 or 15, but I had a few in their early 20s. It felt odd to be teaching to girls and guys around my age. We should’ve been peers, but because of my privileged education, I was their teacher. One of my students, we’ll call her J., is a 20-year old woman in 8th grade. She’s wicked smart. She speaks Dangi, Hindi, and Gujarati. She’s currently learning English. She makes the best chai. She has an adorable laugh. She has baby feet compared to my monstrous American feet. Yes, we actually compared our feet because the size difference was so astonishing! But, in the shower one day, I thought about her as I washed my hair and reflected on my time in Jagiri at that point. She is 20 years old and in the 8th grade. When I was 20, I was preparing to finish my junior year of college. I was well on my way to finishing my Cum Laude Bachelor’s degree from a prestigious New York university. Because of where I was born, I was able to achieve this with absolutely no one stopping me and nothing limiting me. It was easy and natural for me to go to college and finish in 4 years. Because of where J. was born, she could not so easily receive an education. I began to feel pity for her, but then God reminded me, “She’s getting an education now. It’s never too late to get an education. Be happy for her.” I am. I’m so happy for J. I hope she goes far in life. What I want for her, for all of my girls, and for my boys, is simply the chance to choose what they want for their respective lives.

 

I was told by a man in Jagiri that it’s common in the village for kids to get married around 15 or 16 years old. This man and I lamented together about how marriage derails their lives, is unnatural for their maturity level, and is harmful to their bodies. Young girls should not be giving birth. I immediately thought of Kajol and I told him about her, tearing up a little. I’m happy that my students aren’t married yet. There’s nothing wrong with them choosing to get married at some point, even if it’s at a young age like 18 or 19, but I want them to be able to choose. I don’t want marriage to be their only option. I want my students to one day tell me, “Ma’am, I got accepted to college!” or “Ma’am, I was offered an incredible job opportuntiy!” I yearn to hear those words and see the joy on their faces.

 

Throughout my two weeks here, I’ve had a few good conversations with these kids. I’ve prayed for some, listened to their stories about their Hindu families pressuring them to become Hindu again, hearing the passion and urgency they have in sharing the Gospel, and seeing how deeply grateful they are to God for revealing Himself to them. I’ve gotten the shyest girls in my class to speak up, even if that’s just whispering the answer to me. But, I definitely shout out that answer and let everyone know who said it! I’ve had fun acting out prepositions with my students (there’s really no other way to do it), creating murder mystery games, reading their stories, watching Tarzan with them, playing Badminton with them, painting their nails, drinking chai with them, and just being with them.

 

The night of the graduation ceremony, I tried to sleep but felt that God wasn’t letting me. He had things He wanted to address with me! As I prayed, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to pray for something I didn’t want to pray for. I asked God to help me, “If not love this place, then at least appreciate Jagiri for what it is. Help me learn something here. It’s going to be hard, but I want to at least learn one thing. Clearly You don’t want me in India. So just let me learn something here before I leave.” Well, God answered that prayer. In my ignorance and arrogance, I thought that because I wasn’t “feeling it”, then God must not want me in India. My attitude completely shifted the next day. I went from hating this place to absolutely loving it and not wanting to leave. I’ve come to a place where I want my life to be woven into the lives of my students. I want to follow their success and root for them from the sidelines, inserting myself into their personal narratives whenever they need a shoulder to cry on, a person to vent to, or an advocate to fight for them.

 

Today was our second to last class and we sat in a circle sharing our hearts. I encouraged them to ask me any questions about myself or life. I received a few good questions about my educational background and life in New York, but what I wanted more was to answer their questions about life. I wanted to advise them. Before sending them off for lunch, I told them that if anyone wanted to talk with me privately, I’d stay after class and they could talk to me. Three students stayed back, two girls and a boy. The first girl asked me what to do regarding her problems with a friend who was lying to her. I felt honored to give her advice about her situation. She chose me! She trusted me enough to come to me. But, the second girl brought me to tears and left an indelible mark on my heart. She, close to tears herself, said this, “I feel very alone in my house, so can you stay? Can you stay for a few more days?” As she asked this, she looked down at her notebook where she had written my name “Gabi ma’am” and she began tracing it over and over again with her pen. When she first asked me that, I hardly knew what to say. I wanted to hold her, cry with her, and promise her that I’d stay. But, I didn’t know then that my hosts would allow me to stay here and teach. So I asked a few questions, got a bit more information from her about her home life, and gave her advice. I cried with her, telling her that I grew up in a difficult home as well and that I understand one-hundred percent what she is feeling and suffering. Then we prayed together and I held her hand. I told her that I wished I could have my own house and she could live with me, in freedom. I encouraged her to keep studying so she can break free from her oppressive home and live however she wishes! Education is the best way for her to break free. When she asked me to stay and began crying, I knew for certain that God wants me here. I have no doubt that the vacant teacher position is for me. Those teenagers are God’s and He wants me to steward their little hormonal hearts and guide them throughout the next few years. I’m praying and asking God to let me stay in Jagiri and keep working with these teenagers. I know that God has called me to work with teenagers regarding education, child marriage, and depression/anxiety/and suicide. I know that He will use me in all of these ways here in Jagiri. I pray that He lets me stay.

 

God used this time not only to allow me to love on my students, but to receive love and revelation from them and from Himself. The other day, I sat on a couch in my hosts’ home during a particularly hot afternoon and began writing in my journal. Throughout these two weeks, I read three books on marriage, sexuality, and Jesus. After all of this knowledge intake, I felt the words pour out of me onto my paper. I’ll write separately about this in more detail, but God revealed to me that He doesn’t want me to live a vagabond life, especially not out of fear. He wants me to be open to the idea of a husband, of a home, of a family. He showed me that not all men are abusive. Not all homes are stifling and trampling. Many homes and families are encouraging. They are places of peace. What I want is not a sense of false freedom by roaming about here and there under the guise of “Biblical mission work”, but I want a peaceful home where I can become part of whatever community I settle in. I want “Un hogar de paz”, a peaceful home. I praise God for revealing this to me and ask Him to provide me with this blessing.

 

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Feeling Lonely in Goa (Unexpected Encounters)

GOA, INDIA

DAY ONE

Welp. I didn’t expect this. Perhaps it’s the jetlag or the overwhelming sense of solitude/anonymity, but I felt terribly lonely here in Goa.

It was my first day so I suppose I shouldn’t have been too disappointed or too dramatic, but I felt disappointed already. I was itching to leave Goa already. The ants in my room were insane and they wouldn’t leave me alone. It was incredibly hot and the fan I had wasn’t doing much. The only other foreigners here were Russian, or so I thought, and they don’t speak English so we couldn’t communicate. The only people who talked to me were Indians, which I honestly don’t mind. I just wish I could make friends here.

Despite feeling this way, I did have two amazing encounters with Indians here. The first one happened at the restaurant where I ate breakfast. The second one happened at a clothing shop around the corner from my Airbnb.

That morning, for breakfast, I walked out of my Airbnb, went the wrong way (the longer way), and ended up at a restaurant called Sunshine. While walking there, I passed through a small area with just Indians. The women wore sarees and were sorting through rice and lentils. The kids ran around, chasing each other. It was beautiful. This is the India that I remember so fondly.

At the breakfast place, I had an amazing cheese and mushroom omelette with some of the best masala chai in the world. The owner of the restaurant, Vijay, approached me and asked me what I was thinking about. I lied and said, “Oh, I’m just thinking about WiFi. Do you have it here?” He put in the WiFi information and sat across from me, staring into my soul! He asked me the basic questions, “Where are you from?” “Where are you staying?” “How long are you here?” and he gave me some advice. He said, “Don’t think too much about the painful things you’ve experienced. You won’t enjoy yourself here if you constantly think about the past. Your body is here but your mind is elsewhere. Push past that. Push through that.”

That gave me so much to think about, even though I wasn’t able to see how I could work through my anxiety and regrets about the past.

Later that day, I hid in my Airbnb room, praying for the fan to supernaturally become an air-conditioner, and feeling like I would pass out from the heat. I felt dehydrated and jetlagged.

Endeavoring to explore my neighborhood, Mandrem, a little more, I put on an Indian dress, some sandals, and walked around the corner to a more populated area than before. An adorable little Indian girl called to me from her clothing shop across the street, “Didi!” I walked over and when she realized I wasn’t Indian and didn’t speak Hindi, her mother came over and we had a long chat where she tried to sell me clothing for Rs. 15,000 and I said I’d pay no more than Rs. 3,000. After a back and forth barter which I wasn’t comfortable with, I told her I’d buy three things, get henna on my hands, and get my eyebrows threaded by her for Rs. 4,000 which was still a lot. But, I knew I was in a tourist town so there’s that automatic surcharge.

While sitting on the floor with this woman, Sita, I learned that she was from a neighboring state, Karnataka, and she works here during the tourist season. I felt so happy to be back in communication and communion with Indian people. I began to feel better about my trip to India. There I was, making connections with Indians on the first day! I left with a beautiful henna design on my hands and a slightly more positive outlook on my time in Goa.

 

More on my week in Goa to come. 🙂

 

 

Goodbye, America

Wow. I can’t believe I’m actually at this point. After three years of dreaming, praying, hoping, crying, cursing, screaming, and all of that good stuff, I’m finally leaving the U.S. I have plans that will keep me for 6 months in India, but it’s likely that I’ll be able to stay on longer. I have no intention of coming back to the U.S. for quite some time. Seeing the amount of school shootings, shootings of unarmed people of color, and the disgusting way the U.S. treats immigrants and Puerto Rico, I knew I could no longer live in such a place. The facade of freedom in this country is strong. No country is perfect, but the U.S. loves to pretend that we’ve got it all together, that we’re NUMBER ONE! We’re not even close.

As I reflect on my 24 years of living in the U.S., most of them spent in New York, I think about all of the amazing things that being an American has provided me. I have an incredibly strong passport, one that people trust and respect around the world. I was able to study at college with no problems whatsoever. I was able to live on my own and work, building up a career for myself. When I had my period, I wasn’t shunned or cast aside from the rest of society. No one forced me or pressured me to get married.

I was able to walk around my neighborhood at night and feel safe (except when it came to drug dealers -____- ).  I was able to freely post on social media about my disdain for Donald Trump and how much I dislike this country. When called in to jury dury, I was able to look the judge in the eyes and tell him, “I can’t serve on this jury because I don’t trust cops.” A cop’s testimony was going to be included. He asked me why and I responded with, “Cops systematically assassinate black people.” I was easily dismissed from jury duty and wasn’t silenced or attacked for speaking the truth. After Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico and the U.S. government did nothing, I openly railed against the government and attended protests in NYC with no fear for my safety. 

No one expects me to do less because I am a woman. No one thinks there’s a stopping point to my dreams. I can do whatever I want. I can easily work hard, land a well-paying job, and watch the money flow in. It wouldn’t be a struggle for me to develop that kind of life. Most of the people I know are quite content with that kind of life. Yet, I am not. 

It is insane to most people that I’m choosing to leave behind a life of luxury to pursue something else, something bigger, something of eternal significance. I’m choosing to live a life in a new place where I’ll have to learn a new language (or three), figure out how everything works, and develop a new life there. 

While thinking about how hard this is going to be for me, even though I know people there, even though it’s not my first time there, a realization came to my mind. This is how foreigners feel when they begin new lives in the U.S. They have countless hopes and dreams. Many of them don’t speak English. They live below the radar, cleaning after us, cooking for us, and managing our gardens/yards. They don’t want to be seen too much. They just want a better life.

I’m going in search of a better life, but not for myself. I’ve already been given so much. I have no expectations of great wealth or health. I want to show women and girls how incredibly special they are. I want them to learn that God made them to do great things with their lives. I trust that He will help me do this.

So as this chapter of my life closes, well it’s really more of a book (24 years!), I look toward the future with thick anticipation, a little fear, and trust in a God who knows what my heart needs. 

Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Jane Eyre and Me

Readers,

On my blog, I typically write about faith, travel, family, mental health, and my shortcomings. Tonight I want to write about something different: Jane Eyre.

For those of you who aren’t acquainted with Jane Eyre, this novel was published in 1847 under the name “Currer Bell”, a man’s name. The real author was a woman, Charlotte Bronte, one of the famous Bronte sisters. The novel tells the story of Jane Eyre, an 18-year old woman, who leaves her evil and abusive boarding school to become a governess to a child in the care of a man named Mr. Rochester. Now the romance between them is of course beautifully written and makes my heart soar when I read about it, but what interests me more in this novel is Jane Eyre herself. Because through reading about Jane, I began to learn more about myself. I began to heal.

We first meet Jane as a child who suffers abuse at the hands of her aunt, Mrs. Reed. Mrs. Reed is a terrible human being. She constantly berates and punishes Jane for simply being who she is, a precocious, headstrong, painfully honest little girl. She is often locked in rooms, hit by her elder cousins, and treated like dirt. She’s eventually sent off to a boarding school where she is abused even more. The headmaster and teachers continue this cycle of abuse and Jane is on a path toward becoming a bitter child until an angel intervenes: Helen. Helen is Jane’s best friend and she’s a young girl who knows the Lord on an incredibly deep level. She believes in holding no grudges. She trusts in the Lord and looks toward heaven as her secure place of joy. This faith inspires Jane to pursue her own relationship with God and she softens toward people as Helen teaches her the ways of Christ. Unfortunately Helen becomes ill and dies. This greatly injures Jane. Yet another person, really the only person who has ever loved her, has left her alone. 

Jane grows into a young woman and as she is anxious to escape her boarding school, takes a position in Mr. Rochester’s home. Throughout the novel we see Jane impressing Mr. Rochester in unforeseeable ways. Her faith, purity, wisdom, morality, and kindness shock him. He’s not used to seeing such a person, considering his past. Although Mr. Rochester is a gruff sort of man, Jane consistently stands her ground, speaks up for what’s right, defends those who can’t defend themselves, and is confident in who she is.

Although Jane isn’t confident in her looks, and she is described as plain (plain Jane, get it?), she’s extremely confident in who she is as a person. She’s grounded. The totality of Jane’s essence attracts Mr. Rochester and they fall in love and eventually marry, of course. 🙂

 

 

There’s your plot summary. Now, when I first read Jane Eyre, I found myself amazed at what I saw written on the page. I saw a young girl being called names and abused by her family members. I was also abused as a child and felt rather small because of it.

As she grew, I saw a young girl with a strong mind, firm convictions, and passion for everything she did. I also prided myself on my convictions, my intelligence, and my passion for what I loved.

When she became a young lady, working in Mr. Rochester’s house, I saw a woman who was insecure and simultaneously confident in her personhood. She’s quite a complex character and if one isn’t familiar with people who’ve been abused, they’d find her a rather confusing person. But because I was also abused as a child, I understand Jane.

She’s a person of opposites: she’s insecure and confident. She’s passionate and fearful of loving too much. She’s open to others but wary of Mr. Rochester’s attentions. She yearns for love but is discerning and only allows certain people to become close to her. She seems like she’s neither here nor there. She’s not from any particular place, she has no ties anywhere, and she lives her life, hoping for something better, believing that her intelligence and character will bring her what she needs in life. 

In fact, Mr. Rochester describes her as other worldly and almost like an angel because she doesn’t fit any stereotypes. She isn’t a coquette like every other woman Mr. Rochester knows. She isn’t a stuffy old-maid type. She has a quick mind, a sharp tongue, and an open yet deeply fragile heart. 

When I first read Jane Eyre, I think I was 18, Jane’s exact age. I was still living in an abusive home and dreamt of a future where I could be free to come and go as I please and to be fully myself. She inspired me to keep pursuing my goals and to love myself, even though I didn’t feel very loved. She showed me that an adult with a childhood full of abuse can overcome anything and everything with faith and fortitude. 

If I had a cup of tea, I’d raise it to Miss Jane Eyre and to Ms. Charlotte Bronte. I’m eternally grateful for having the opportunity to read a book where the protagonist is so very like me. Abused, broken, cast aside, demonized, and every other evil imaginable, yet powerfully persistent in creating a life of freedom for herself no matter what.

Check out the book and the 2006 BBC production of Jane Eyre. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Love,

Gabrielle G.

Being Despised for My Youth (It Sucks)

Readers, I’m pissed. Yeah, I said it. I’m absolutely 100% pissed off.

I don’t typically approve of myself when I become angry, but this time I learned a few things about myself and my life. Here’s the story:

I met one of my cousins today for the first time ever. She’s ten years older than me and is in a different place than me, literally and figuratively. She’s from the South, she has a romantic partner, and a full-time job in an office. It seems like she’s content with that life. 

If anyone talks to me for five minutes, they can figure out that I would never be satisfied with that life at all. It would drive me crazy to be confined to one place, the place where I grew up, and just get a job in an office. Ugh gag me now.

So, of course she knew I was going to India because although we just met today, we have been friends on Facebook for a while. She’s seen my posts about India. Not knowing anything about me, she made a few judgements about my trip to India and that’s where ya girl got a bit upset.

So my cousin begins this line of questioning with a blank face. It felt like an interrogation.

“I don’t understand this trip.”

“You’re not working?”

“So why are you going? You’re going just to go?”

“Don’t be one of those Americans who thinks they can drink that dirty water over there.”

“Are you just going for the experience?”

“You say you hate living here but every country has its problems so I don’t understand why you’re going to India.”

“But where are you going to stay?”

“You’ve only been there for six weeks before? Ok, but that’s different than a few months.”

“I’m just concerned because you seem to have no plans.”

 

Now she said all of this before I even got a CHANCE to explain my trip. Before I had an opportunity to tell her about my plans, my accommodations, and my goals. All I was able to say, before she took over, was “I’m going to India for a couple months.”

 

The way she spoke to me was just how a condescending adult talks to a person they deem an ignorant child. No, my life choices won’t make sense to someone who thinks that working the same office job for ten years is satisfying. I don’t have a permanent home on this earth. I don’t have a lot of money or a lot of material things. I don’t care about any of that. I live a sort of vagabond life, neither here nor there. There’s nothing wrong with that. You think I’m crazy for living that life, but I think you’re crazy for living your life. Maybe we’re both crazy. Maybe neither of us is crazy.

 

Either way, don’t be rude about something you don’t understand. Damn.

 

P.S. I’m starting my period soon so I guess I’m a little sensitive at the moment. But, still!!

 

Gabrielle G.

 

 

Struggling with Anxiety and Fear (India)

So, just the other day I realized that I have two weeks before I fly to India. Gee. Just two weeks! I feel like I haven’t done any prepping at all. I guess I felt like it was such a distant date that I didn’t feel the rush to prepare. Well, I’m rushing now.

As I begin preparing more earnestly, I’ve begun to experience something I didn’t really expect: FEAR. When I think about serving with the organization in Gujarat, I feel no fear. Believers will be there with me, to house me, feed me, and keep me safe. In Kolkata, I have no shortage of people I can call and be with. I probably have twenty people on hand in Kolkata. I’m super blessed.

The fear comes when I think about Goa, the first stop on my trip. I’ll be there alone, for a week. Goa is a party town. There will be a lot of drinking and drugs. Now, I’m not going anywhere near that. I’ll be staying away from all of the parties, and I will never go out late at night. I’ve been to India before; this is pretty standard. 

But, for some reason, this wave of fear rushed over me today as I thought about Goa. Although the Indian government has declared Goa the safest state in India for women, I felt afraid. What if something happens to me? What if someone robs me? What if someone in the hostel hurts me? Who do I know in Goa? No one!

Now, I think that if this fear were of God, meaning that God didn’t want me in Goa, He would’ve told me that WAY before. I had a plan to see Goa for months. I was excited when I booked my flight and accommodations, feeling absolutely no fear. You guys probably know I have a bit of a nervousness about me, so it’s natural that I would have feared Goa from the beginning. But I didn’t! I felt no sense of danger whatsoever. I knew I’d be safe because I have God and I know I’ll be staying away from the party scene. 

Yet this fear rushed over me today. A lot of fear about my sustainability in India has come to mind lately. I’ve had moments of “This doesn’t make sense. This isn’t going to work. You’re going to fail. What are you even doing with your life?”

The way I see it, these fears can come from one of four sources:
1. Myself
2. Other people
3. The devil
4. God

I believe that if God didn’t want me in Goa, if it were so terribly unsafe, He would’ve impressed that upon my heart from the beginning! 

I think this fear is of Satan. Please stand with me in prayer against fear, but also pray that I sense when it’s God cautioning me or Satan trying to scare me.

There are moments of questioning that I suffer from simply because I have a history of depression and anxiety. I ask myself, “What will I do if my anxiety is out of control?” “What if my depression comes back while I’m in India?” “What if I fail in India, what will I do after that?”

Now, I know I won’t be alone. I’ll have brothers and sisters around me to support me, love me, and care for me. But India is a hard country. It overwhelms all of your senses and as a woman, I have to be extra careful. 

Countless women have done this before me, women who don’t fit in as well as I do. Because of my tan complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair, I don’t stand out too much. There are women with fair skin, red hair, and blue eyes who have gone before me, paving the path for me. They’ve gone and done it all, by His power and for His glory. They undoubtedly faced seasons of anxiety and depression. It comes with the territory of this work. But, those seasons don’t mean the end is here. Our lives and purpose are FINISHED when Christ Himself takes us up to be with Him. As long as our hearts beat and our lungs fill with air, we have purpose here. I have to let Him bring me through these fears as they arise. I have to let Him hold me in these moments when Satan tries to make me think that I will fail and come to ruin.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” – Luke 4:18

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

When Your Family Doesn’t Understand

Readers,

I feel like I’m not even sure where to start with this. I have so many thoughts muddled in my brain that to even begin feels so daunting. But, begin I must and therefore here we go.

If you’ve been a reader of mine for a minute, you know that I have a divine calling for overseas, cross-cultural work. It is a calling that is beyond me. Lord knows I could easily work full-time, invest in a career, marry, and have children here in the U.S. I could go on vacation once a year and sit in a church pew every Sunday. I could give to homeless people sometimes and maybe have a brief chat with them. That would be easy for me. That’s the “American Dream” now.

Yet that is not my calling. Since my childhood, I’ve had a strong feeling that I would not live in the United States, that I would not marry young, and that I would adopt children. I can’t quite explain why I felt this way, but it almost feels as if I was born this way.

If you want to know more about this feeling and how my life has played out as a result, please let me know and I’ll write about it in more detail.

Now, most of you know that I’m going to India for at least two months. While there, I’ll be exploring different parts of India that I’ve never seen before. I expect to see amazing things and meet incredible people. I have a good Father and I know He wants me there! He has made that VERY clear.

As I get ready to go, as I raise funds, and tie up loose ends here in NYC, I’ve felt so much confusion from my family members! A few have said, “Why can’t you just get a full-time job here and build up your career? You can serve Him here.” Others have said things like, “It must be nice to not have to work full-time, take care of kids, and just go travel.” 

If they think I’m going on vacation, they’ve clearly missed the point of everything that I’ve ever written or spoken about. 

While reflecting on all of this, I’ve come to a realization: it’s okay if my blood family doesn’t understand why I’m doing this, why I’m going to India. My eternal family understands and supports me. That’s what matters. Our Lord wasn’t understood by His family or disciples while here on earth, so why should I be understood?

The life I’m choosing, or rather, the life that I feel has been chosen for me, doesn’t make any sense to the world. The world says “make money moves, build an empire, build a kingdom, get what you want.” Oh, I want to build a kingdom alright, but it’s not my kingdom at all. It’s His. I’m going to do kingdom work. 

So, no, it won’t make sense to worldly people that I want to leave all of my possessions, go to a country where I don’t speak any of the languages, and serve my Father. It just won’t. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much sense to brothers and sisters in the faith either. It’s “too extreme”, “too risky”, “too dangerous” to do what my Father has called for me to do.

Yet He has called me out. I must respond. I must go. He has commanded me. He has commanded us. GO!

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.