I wandered downstairs this morning in India. Many of the children are in their home villages for a holiday from school. The campus is quiet – devoid of bell-like singing and guttural laughter. Two boys will remain on the campus during this break. They do not have families to return to, so they stay with staff who continually pour into their stories.
Abdul*, one of the boys staying here, calls from inside the door as I walk up on the porch of his home. “Hi, sister!” I peek inside and he is playing a popular game here in India: Carrom. It is a large, wooden board with checker-like pieces. You stack them in the middle and flick a larger checker piece at the smaller ones attempting to put them in one of the four corners for points. The children are exceptional at this game – moving the piece soft when it is necessary and more firmly when needed. There is larger commentary here about a finesse of life I’ve yet to finagle, too, but we will come back to that.
I asked Abdul if he would teach me how to play the game, and he quickly grabbed the board nearly as big as himself and brought it out to the breeze on the front porch.
“No problem, sister. Here we go, sister.” And he proceeded to teach me. He cannot be older than 8, but his patience with me exceeded anything I’ve ever seen before.
Friends, I am terrible at this game. For every five pieces Abdul got into a corner, I was lucky to collect one – and often because he gently gave me more tries than is legal. “One more time, sister. Okay, sister, you’ve got this, no problem.” He spoke softly across the board at me, and when I marveled at his skill, he smiled shyly and re-placed the game piece and directed me.
And that’s how the game went for over an hour. He would place the larger piece on the board and direct me on how to accomplish my goal. “Hit this black piece, sister.” “Softly, sister! Softly!” “Reverse, sister – here to here to there,” as he pointed at various places on the board to win the piece.
Gentle. Forgiving. Patient beyond all means.
Later in the game I missed a very easy point and clapped my hands. “Oh, I am just terribly bad at this, Abdul!”
He reached his hand out, replacing the large piece on the board for me. “Not bad, sister, never bad. Try again.”
I eventually collected five pieces all in a row and he cheered louder than even I. “Five in a row sister! SUPER!”
And it was on the front porch of the boys’ home in India, that I understand the phrase Jesus with skin on. Because what is our Father if not gentle, and forgiving, and patient beyond all means? Who is our God if He is not always giving us more opportunities to do it right, get it the first time, redeem what has been lost? How do any of us know how to celebrate and cheer when something goes right – even a simple, Indian board game – without the Author of the universe doing just that every time we realize we cannot do life, do victory apart from Him?
I just wanted time with Abdul this morning. A simple game with a little boy so he was reminded he was deeply treasured. But I watched him play intently, listening to his directions, and I began to imagine the man he would become, the kind of husband and father he has the ability to be. I saw in Abdul a friend who would listen and help when needed, comfort and congratulate when it is warranted. Abdul was no longer the one in need of remembering his treasured status. He was the teacher. One of excellence and generosity and pure delight at being heard. He was a picture of grace and more than second chances. He was a cheerleader and co-player. He was for me across the wooden game board.
And so when I get caught up in thinking I’m the one making the difference, bringing the lessons, fighting to be heard, I will remember this game with Abdul. I will remember his kindness to me, his celebratory nature, and his sweet, perfect smile. I will remember I heard him not because he was forceful or boastful or loud, but because he was tender and informative and forgiving.
Oh, Lord. Help me to love and live and play, instruct and speak and breathe like a child.