A good friend of mine just returned from a trip to India, and she came by recently to share her stories. Stories of hopelessness. Stories of darkness. Stories of Jesus in the midst of it all.
In addition to her stories, she gave me another gift: a gorgeous, hand-sewn bag covered in the faded colors of vintage sari fabric. The label inside says it was sewn by Shamoli.
My friend told me about visiting Shamoli and her coworkers at SariBari in Kolkata, India. She described the laughter and happy conversation that fills the space where they sew blankets, pillows, bags of all sizes, and (this I’m really excited about!) baby blankets, changing pads, and diaper bags.
These women have been rescued from slavery. Their happiness testifies to the truth of another label tucked into my bag. This one says: “making life new.” And yet, for every woman given hope and a new livelihood, so many women and girls continue to be trafficked into the darkest forms of suffering. We wonder together, my friend and I, if it’s enough. What is a little happiness when set against so much ongoing evil?
Is Jesus enough? Is Jesus enough, even when the darkness remains dark and happiness is unimaginable? I think we should all be asking this question.
For me, it took being bedridden by asthma, pregnancy, and various nasty cold bugs (not to equate these three but, physically at least, none is a walk in the park) to acknowledge that I haven’t been happy in a long time.
Happiness. Maybe you prefer a different word, but I’m talking about that it-just-feels-good-to-be-alive rush. I’m talking about those days when we wake up singing “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I’m talking about the days when we’re still singing that song as the sun goes down.
The truth is, I haven’t been really, truly, all-day-long happy since we moved to Florida two years ago.
My confession isn’t a complaint however. My Florida life is packed with blessings: a few friends, a good church, a comfortable home. But I’ve been living this verse: “Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down … so I will watch over them to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 31:28). Well, I’ve been living the first half, at least.
For two years God has held me in his hand while uprooting old dreams and plans, while tearing down old joys and comforts. In two years I’ve gone from pursuing an academic career to staying home with my kids and stealing hours to write a book that may never see the light of day. I’m content with that trade, but it hasn’t been easy either.
For two years I’ve lived without almost every single thing that used to make me happy: my city neighborhood, my university, my large circle of friends, the apartment in which I hosted dinners and parties nearly every week.
I’ve missed winter, the city skyline, bumping into friends on every sidewalk. I’ve missed apple picking, drives through rolling corn fields, and long summer evenings when it seems that every neighbor you’ve ever known has come down to walk by the lake.
I know that happiness is possible, but I’m not sure that it’s a promise. Or, even, that it’s always in our best interest. Which is why it took a few months of being imprisoned near my bedroom air-purifier to tell God how much I wanted to be happy again.
I accept that the uprooting and the tearing down have been good things, but, oh Lord, am I ready for the building and the planting.
A few hours after my friend’s visit, I carried my new bag to the library. I had one book to pick up and the big bag was overkill, but I was eager to carry it around. Standing at the librarian’s desk, I saw her struggling my way under a tower of books. I expected one book, but it seemed that every book I’d ordered in a month had arrived this day.
I filled my beautiful bag with these long-anticipated library books until the bag overflowed. I stood, considering my bounty, and was suddenly bathed in warm, delicious light. I was standing beneath a skylight, and, I don’t know, maybe a cloud had just blown away from the sun, but it felt like a shower of grace.
In an instant, my heart was filled and overflowing with happiness. My bag – my cup! – overflowed. And then, I remembered the words that come just a little higher on the page: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).
I knew then that Jesus is enough.
I don’t have the authority to speak that truth on my own. Honestly, I haven’t suffered enough. My own troubles are small.
I speak it because others who have suffered say it is so. They have shared their stories. The shepherd David. The Indian seamstress Shamoli.
Before giving me the bag, my friend told me story after story of Jesus’s presence in the darkest places. In my friend’s own words, this Jesus is enough because he “steps into our suffering and brings love, joy and peace where it just doesn’t make sense to have it.”
It’s true in the valley of the shadow of death. And, to my surprise, it is even true in the library.
We all know babies in need of welcome gifts, mothers in need of mother’s day presents, and nesters who would love a pretty pillow. The equation here is actually quite simple. The more items sold by Sari Bari, the more women will gain their freedom from either the reality or the threat of human trafficking and forced prostitution in Kolkata, India. Our dollars are one way we get to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a suffering world.