Tuesday, April 20, 2010

That old, familiar feeling



It's here again - that familiar, yet uncomfortable feeling that I get whenever all of the strings attaching my heart to multiple places begin to stretch and pull wildly, stealing all of my attention away from those around me and forcing my mind to only think of where I need to be in life.

My heart easily attaches to situations where the potential is high, but accessibility is low (if ever existing) and I can easily fit the position of accessibility. My heart attaches whenever I am with students that could move mountains with their artistic abilities, but just need some pushing and belief from someone who is willing to invest in their lives.

My heart is torn when, on the first day in India, I am told by the pastor of the Lady Willingdon church that I am "the one;" that they have been praying for God to send a musician/keyboard player for two years and now I am here.

I don't know that he has any idea of the conflict and torment that adds to my heart's tugging and pulling. Surely not.

Why am I only here for eight days? This is another question that I have been battling with all week. I suppose the purpose of this trip was designed to be for encouragement of the team that is already here for six months and that is an awesome purpose, to be sure. For some, the purpose of this trip is for exposure to cultures other than their own. For some, it is for a new burden for the lives of those hurting or struggling around the world.

For others, it looks like a foggy, blobbing mass of gray, with no real peace or answer - just another string added to the tugs of the heart to go and serve where needed.

Here I am, on the final day of this trip, and I am face to face with a foggy, blobbing mass of gray. No peace, no resolve. Just a desperate attempt at holding to the hope that answers will come in time. That these strings will, one by one, quiet their flailing until only one remains in the fight for where I will go next.

I don't mind vagabonding at all. As a matter of fact, I am an advocate and practice it frequently.

I also know now that I don't want to vagabond for the sake of vagabonding. I want to go where I can be used. More specifically, I want to go where I can be used to inspire and encourage others in their untapped abilities.

I won't get into the most specific details of my daydreaming within a move-to-another-country-and-teach-music context. Those are dangerous thoughts for me right now, especially with such a delicate heart situation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sunrise at Dar Ul Fazl.


Jagged, snow-tipped outlines
Neighbor the well-worn hills of Manali..
Old and new are here in this place.

Sing, sing, sing.
Early to rise, a flocking chorus of birds
One, two, then six.
Songs echoing off the concrete walls of this third-story porch.
Early to rise, their story lines
Meet the new light of the morning.

The cracking of open doors and
Clanging of window panes from nearby homes..
Families beginning the day's routine.
Clip-clop, as the workhorse is drawn from its slumber.

Early to rise, a young boy
Brings the water pail to the front garden,
Bringing life to what will grow in the Indian sun.
Soon the small girls will stoop over and,
clasping their tiny hands in another's,
begin to form sounds of wonder and awe
as they choose which color will best fit the day.

Early to rise, the voices of tenants
Are slowly blending into the melodies
Already begun by nature's trumpeteering vagabonds -
Those who have already sounded
The morning's first notes of rejoice and bewilderment.

Not long now until the sleepy eyes of children will wake to this day,
Fresh and anew with places for learning and growing..
And we will all sit together with
Heads bowed, giving thanks for the
Song of morning.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Battles with Fear and Insects


Sleep has certainly not been the theme of this week. I spent the night in the Dar Ul Fazl (DUF) children's home last night: a beautiful campus of 3-4 story buildings, gardens, courtyard where the children play and smiling faces of the young residents here. It's just outside of the markets of new Manali, set deeper in the Himalayas, accessible by a steep, winding dirt road.

I had the true priviledge of rehearsing music with Charlene and some of the boys that live here in the home - a rehearsal for a service on Sunday morning. I then taught one of the boys a piano lesson for about an hour and, by the time we were finished, I was definitely ready for some sleep.
By the time I reached my room for the night, it was well into the darker hours of the night. As I shut my bedroom door, I was face to face with what sparks my inner girliness like none other: indoor insects. Moths fluttering around the long flourescent tube on the ceiling, unidentified crawlers on the walls (a few in my bed as well) and three to four stringy webs with their spider makers scattered around the room.

No, I did not sleep but maybe an hour or two, collectively. Yes, I lay in bed covering my ear with my hand (to keep the curious crawlers out!). True, I forced my eyes shut, trying desperately to also force out the sound of beating insect wings against the window above my head.

But I also became one of the quickest, most ruthless fly swatter users in all of northern India.

Worth it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shed a little light...

"Shed a little light so I can find you.
Don't let darkness hide you from my face..." --Foy Vance

I am very happy with the songs chosen for my traveling playlist: The Wider Sun (Jon Hopkins), Higher (Paper Tongues), This Family (Campbell), Mile-Long Driveway (Jeremy Current), Homebird (Foy Vance), Take To the World (Derek Webb), For the Widows in Paradise (Sufjan Stevens), Forgiveness (Patty
Griffin), Sliding Down (Edgar Meyer)....

As I was fading off into the night landscape of the view outside of my bus window, the song "Shed a Little Light" by Foy Vance took its' turn on my playlist. This song is such a prayer for my time here in India.

I have been told by several people that there is a certain darkness to India. That, spiritually, it can be a very empty place (Though I believe this to be true of my own country as well, with Christianity far from exempt...).

In any circumstance, I believe that hope and reconciliation cannot be achieved without that shedding of light. "Darkness," to me, extends beyond a difference of spiritual beliefs to a complete isolation of ourselves from other's lives - letting our cultural, physical, personal boundaries, spiritual, traditional differences separate rather than unite.

My prayer is for that light to be shone - that respect, that listening ear, that sharing of one's life - so brightly that the darkness is unable to hide us from one another. Because, at the core, are we not really bound by our similarities as well? Our need for

something to believe in.
a search for something greater than ourselves.
healthy relationships.
creative outlets.
sense of purpose.

These are lights worth shedding.

The loooong ride upon the Himachal Predesh...


I've tried repeatedly to force myself to sleep on this long bus ride from Dehli to Manali, knowing that I will be much better off if I can get my body to adjust to Indian time, to this 10 1/2 hour time difference.

I suppose it does not help that I am so curious. Even traveling in the dark hours of the night, I cannot take my eyes off of the Indian countryside: huge abandoned buildings in the middle of vacant fields; small, scattered communes of makeshift tents and scrap pile shelters; homeless Hindu men, some seated in meditation and some curled up in roofless sleep alongside ditches; huge piles of dirt, a result of endess and forgotten construction.

I've woken three or four times now - once to a middle-of-the-night rest/food/coffee stop, again to the man behind me succumbing to his motion-sickness, and once more to the large, black shapes of mountains towering beside this curvy road upward into northern India.

And my first sight of the stars in India.

[Jeremy Current singing "Mile Long Driveway."]

We've stopped to drop our first passenger off in a small, slum-ish ares - lightly populated with a few gathered around a tiny fruit market stand.

I wish I could sleep.

But I cannot - no, I am fully awake now, so I will write. If anything, I hope this writing can serve as a way for others to get a small perspective of India, at least from my seat here on a traveling bus.

[Foy Vance singing "Shed a Little Light."]


The world is beginning to light up a bit. As we draw closer to northern India, I can now more easily see the landscape - huts carved into the steep hillside, surrounded by layers and layers of mountains - if not the Himalayas, surely the outskirts of them. A dark river (Beas) cuts through the base of these giants, encased by huge white rocks on each side.

The sun and its' colors are finally peeking out from the corners of the mountain chain. This really is a stunning scene to wake up to. I was told Manali at its' best is the moment the sun begins to show. I am now thankful for a lack of sleep...

My camera is down. I have chosen to see this world with two eyes for now. Roadside shrines. Huge, elaborately-decorated Hindu temples set deep in the side of a mountain. I look to my left and I am face to face with a bright blue Hindu god, carved into the rock. I look straight up out of my window and I am at the mercy of the cliffs. I look ahead and see an Indian man peeing on the roadside.

Some things are universal, I suppose.

Stray, vagabonding dogs line the sides of the road. Sporadic groups of goat and sheep herders. The occasional monkey or two climbing around on the rocks. Beautifully-dressed women tend to their gardens. Men begin to open their shops in the village markets. Others stand or sit and stare out at passing cars or just out into nothing.

The land becomes more and more beautiful the further north we drive. The buildings are just as colorful as the dress of the people. I am fascinated by the temples and shrines here. Thet are everywhere. Such value placed on icons, statues, brass cows. A dependency on thousands of gods to bring blessing to this way of life.

We have been traveling for 13 1/2 hours on this bus now.

CLT ----> DEL.


I woke up on top of the world.

No, really. When I awoke, after a few hours of awkwardly-positioned, contortionist airplace sleep, I checked the flight map. Just along the Denmark Strait, sandwiched between Iceland and the Greenland Sea at -75 degrees F and having traveled a mere 2, 938 miles outside of Newark, NJ. One little airplane computer icon in a large blobbing mass of white at the top of the world.

Yes, folks. We have reached the north pole.

My thoughts are with a memory from the earlier part of this day of traveling, nestled comfortably on the couch of Justin and Jess Brock in Boiling Springs, NC, with a plate of french toast and watching the morning news with my two dear married friends. The program began light-heartedly - interviews with newborn baby photographers and casual jokes/banter between the show's hosts. Commercial break. A reminder that the upcoming interview with a member of that West Virginia mining town would be emotional.

Turns out it was heart-wrenching.

The interview was with a man who had lost his son, brother, and nephew to the recent mine explosion in West VA. We watched as he recounted the last words he had spoken to his son; the last words his son spoke to him: "I love you son." "I love you, Big Guy."

The interview ended with the man choking back tears, wringing his hands uncontrollably, and his wife next to him - arms folded across her chest, staring straight ahead, motionless. In shock.
I think now to my prayers - how I have so often asked to be burdened with a heart that chases after the broken-hearted of this world, with hope that we can all be reconciled through our need for redemption and our recognition that none of us are beyond it. My hope that our hearts, so starved for pure love, would find one another and begin to heal and grow (albeit via growing pains, to be sure) through the recognition that we are not alone in this world.

But this is a burden I am asking for, lest I forget the weight of my request. All of this talk of pure love and reconciliation sounds so nice & pretty, and, though I truly believe in it, it is so much easier to write it out than it is to act it out.

Because we humans are impatient. We start thinking selfishly. We grow in debilitating fear rather than the liberation of truth. Because we need more than just ourselves in this world.

So my prayer this early morning is for what I am incapable of on my own. For what I can only do through the love of Christ and the spurring on of others.

Because this is a world of heartbreak. In every form, fashion, and shape you can think of. From the man who has lost his son in a mining accident to the orphans of small towns in India that may feel alone in the world. My prayer is for healing.

In other news, we are now flying over Norway and I am considering bribing the pilot into giving me a parachute so that I can make my merry way to Oslo.

Or I suppose I can wait for India first.

One thing at a time, Erin Dalton.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Above and beyond...lessons in sharing & comfort zones.

Three years ago, I was invited to be a part of the first student-led international Prison Fellowship missions' trip. We would be spending two weeks working alongside of inmates in several prisons in and around the region of San Jose, Costa Rica.

"That sounds amazing." (first thought)
"Way out of my price range." (second thought)

$1600. For everything included in that price, the deal was not so shabby. For my rational, disbelieving mind, the idea was outrageous. Me? Asking people for money? No way. That concept was nowhere near the vicinity of my comfort zone. I hated "bothering" people for their resources and I have always held strong tendencies towards inefficient (more so than not) stubbornness, independence, and pride.

To make a long story shorter, I decided to write support letters for the first time in my life. I had been asked to join a number of teams for out-of-country trips, but this was the first that I really felt a strong pull towards. A good friend of mine had given me $200 towards it because they "really believed in me and what was going on in my life." Awesome. What's even more awesome? The campus ministries department of Gardner-Webb University had a missions' fund set up for a student interested in summer missions. And, with it being dangerously close to the end of the spring semester, it amazingly had not been used by anyone yet. I, for whatever reason, told them the wrong amount needed, so they wrote me a check for $1400. But wait. I already had $200 towards the trip. Perfect.

That story is a strong marker in my life. I get so caught up in financial issues much too often (and I don't think I am alone in this) - to the point that I lose that familiar faith and trust that I always come back to when all my other flailings fail me. And where does excessive worrying ever get me? I can tell you that - a snappy attitude, in tears, and usually catching a cold because of all the sleep I lose. Tell me that result isn't sooo appealing to you.

Like I previously mentioned, that story is a strong point of reference for me. When I decided to go to India, I felt that familiar stress make its' way towards me again: "Where would the money come from? Am I just another person looking for others to pay for my world travel? I just quit my job - how will this scheduling work out?" I lived in these questions and concerns for a couple of weeks before I came to the realization that I didn't have to fall to that same dead-ending pattern I so naturally gravitate towards. I could actually choose to be obedient and trusting instead.

That choice works. This time around, the process has been much less stressful. I have had a few days of frustration here and there, but the majority of these past couple of months have found me resting in a deep-rooted peace. Why am I going and what do I hope to accomplish once there? I don't know. And that's okay. I know that I am serving alongside of brothers and sisters in need of encouragement and fellow willing hearts. I know that this deep-rooted peace resides in me to serve as an affirmation to my travels in the next couple of weeks.

Now to the most important part of this post: my humble thanks to everyone that has supported through finances, verbal encouragement, listening ears, prayers, thoughts, and letters. I am deeply moved by the selflessness I have seen in others. Taking a moment out of one's day to give thought to someone else and how they can be used to be a part of that person's life is a virtue that has not gone unnoticed.

Thank you.