One of the things I like about being in India is wearing the traditional sari - 6 yards of brilliantly colored fabric draped around the body, pleated and pinned over the left shoulder. I never feel more beautiful nor feminine than when I am wearing a sari. There is only one problem - I cannot dress myself in a sari.
Thankfully, there are all too many eager Indian women who are willing to help and before the second day of the women's conference I recruited just such a volunteer. As we were walking to a room where she could dress me, she matter-of-factly stated, "I have another fat friend like you who couldn't make a blouse out of this fabric..."
Ouch - that sort of stung. She went on talking about her friend, but I didn't hear what she was saying because I was so surprised by this seeming dig.
Once we got into the room and she said, "If I knew you were going to wear a sari, I would have brought you a more beautiful one."
Ouch - once again, my heart deflated. Here I was, half way around the world to teach the Bible to these women, and I felt stripped of all beauty. I was going to stand in front of these women as a fat lady with a grievous fashion faux paus.
Even more interesting - the very message I was delivering that day was that the fallen beautiful one (satan) wants to steal our attempts as women to bringing beauty into the world. These "attacks" (though not meant as attacks from this woman) were so obviously connected and smacked of the fallen beautiful one trying to steal this messenger and her message.
Dressed in my "so-so" sari, I shuffled across the dirt courtyard to the church building where I was supposed to speak at 9:30...and I sat there. Sat and sat - one hour passed...then two. Various people got up to sing, pray and utter a lot of words in a language I couldn't understand. I felt like I was sitting at an "open mic" night.
As the minutes ticked away, I was getting so angry. I was eager to share the word of God...but I just sat. Then they brought tea and cookies - which delayed my teaching time yet another half hour. I was so frustrated and discouraged - one of those "I don't like this culture anymore" days. I had words of life to hold out to these women...and yet there were these ongoing stabs at my heart and delays for me being able to teach.
Finally - I got up to teach. I shared my testimony - how I was conceived in rape and in the eyes of God wasn't a mistake. And throughout the morning I shared how none of us are mistakes - and that we are all "raja kumari" (princesses in Tamil - literally King's daughters). I had the women turn to one another and introduce themselves, "Hello, my name is Paula Raja Kumari." (and the whole rest of the week the gals would come up to me and call me Paula Raja Kumari and then tell me their name, like, Bardi Raja Kumari. I said that God chose us to be royalty - so that we could declare His excellencies (1 Peter 2:10) and so that we could bring beauty and light to the broken places in our worlds. "But," I said, "This beauty will be opposed by the fallen beautiful one." For the one hour (out of 4) that I got to teach, I poured my heart out - and it felt good to finally proclaim the truth.
Upon finishing, my translator turns to me and says, "I cannot believe that you shared that story: I was born of rape too and was struggling with the meaning of my life. It was so oddly wonderful to have you be speaking directly to me...and then me having to process it, turn it around and translate it. I cannot tell you how powerful your words were today. Thank you so much - this was a message that we women in India needed to hear."
Words cannot describe the heart connection and gratitude I had with dear Beulah. God sent the perfect translator - not only to be ministered to, but also to transmit this God-given message to the other women present.
I handed her a small gift - 2 bottles of perfumed lotions, and she said, "Oh, I wish I had something for you."
"No need - it is not necessary. I just wanted to thank you for translating," I replied.
"Well, I want to thank you for teaching," she said.
Just then her 11 year old daughter, Mishal, walked up. "That's my middle name," I said joyfully.
Beulah replied, "Well, we will always remember to pray for you then...as we have a daily reminder."
I noticed a strand of pearls on Mishal's neck. "Those are beautiful," I said.
"Then you must have them," said Beulah as she reached to take them off of Mishal and put on my neck.
A floodgate of emotion burst out - I'm sure no Indian woman has ever seen a Western woman nor a "respected" teacher cry like that. I didn't even know all that emotion was in there. But after being stripped of my sense of beauty prior to the talk (on beauty), waiting over 2.5 hours for my chance to finally teach, AND seeing that it was not all for naught AND having this divine connection with my translator, I could only weep at God's generosity. As I retold the story to my teammates on the van ride home that night, Mike Parker got his big dimpled smile on his face and said, "Princess Paula, you were stripped, so that you could be adorned."
And that was the stunning beauty of the Lord on Saturday - letting me live the message I was to preach...letting me experience how the stripping leads (and will eventually lead) to full adornment.