If I am asked to look back on life and state it in one phrase, I would call it “the unrelenting grace of God”. I am writing this article as a reminder to myself and as a testimony to those who read it. I’d like to thank Prince who encouraged the entire fellowship to write “The gospel according to you.” I have tried to keep this subjective and objective.
Dear reader, I was introduced to Christ at a very young age. It is truly a blessing to know Him while one is still a child. While this prose reeks of sadness, there were many moments of euphoria and joy. However, God has been bigger and more evident to me in my valleys. God has been with me when I was pushed to a corner. And that is the God I would want to introduce you to. Kindly note, that this isn’t an article that begs for sympathy. So show me none. Rather, join me as I sing out my psalm of praise. This is the story of my God and I. This is a story of Abba’s friendship and His unconditional love. This is the gospel according to Martin.
The earliest years: Born last in my family, even among my cousins, I was the youngest one. The closest cousin I had was 6 years elder to me. I was hence a misfit at every family reunion. Even my own sister was ten years elder to me. As a child, I was one of the most unwell kids you would ever meet. I would be sick almost every other day. Fever and intense asthma clung to me like the crawler that sticks to a wall. I would fall ill so often that I even earned a nickname. “Jwarala Jaggu”, something like- “Sick Sonny”. We moved to Ethiopia when I was in grade 1. Once again, I was a misfit- an Indian in an African country. My asthma took a turn for the worse. I remember going through night after night of no rest. My father would stay up with me and pour warm water into my throat. My mother would take turns and pray.
Dad would take me to a stadium every-day and make me play basketball and cycle to help me improve my breathing. He was so concerned that I may be sick for all my life- that he started working on his fitness. “He will need me to be strong and healthy”, he would say to my mother before he would do his daily ritual of 100 push ups. He was my only good friend.
I was good at academics and excelled at studies, but never could play enough as I didn’t have many friends- or, I would be too weak to play. My grand-mother taught me to say the name of Jesus through my wheezy, asthmatic breath. So, night after night, His name would be on my lips. For many years, I had a child like faith and honestly believed that I would be healed. But later on, it was more of a ritual because I believed that I was doomed to live like this forever. However, that weak breath and the name of Jesus sustained me through those long and restless nights. I’d like to believe that he held my lungs each night in His hands as I wheezed for the first 11 years of my life.
“The great Physician now is here! The sympathizing Jesus.
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer. Oh hear the voice of Jesus!!
Sweetest name on Seraph Song-Sweetest name on mortal tongue
Sweetest carol ever sung-Jesus Blessed Jesus!!!”
Suddenly, like the mist that vanishes at the set of dawn, my asthma fled. I was healed in sixth grade and I could triumphantly say, “God, my healer”. We returned to India a year or two later, and the culture shock was something I needed to deal with. No one wanted to speak in English. Telugu was foreign to me. So in a desperate attempt to fit into the crowd, I learnt the local language and changed my American-ish accent. There was one girl who spoke good English in my class. I enjoyed talking to her so much that I had a childish crush on her that sustained for a good 8 years. I toiled through my education. I was still standing tall in academics but was beginning to lose interest. I never fit in the crowd. I was the misfit. I would do a hundred things to impress people. I wanted people to love me. But no matter how hard I tried, it just didn’t click in place. Instead, I was a bully magnet. I hated being bullied and hence turned into an introvert. I will never forget the day my lunch box was tossed out of the window by a senior bully. I remember the day I first cried out and addressed God for the first time as “The God who is not a bully”. This has stuck to me to this day.
Hello Teenage! A year or two after Asthma died, there came epilepsy. The worst of my battles. I succumbed to frequent bouts of epileptic attacks. My parents were horrified. Dad would put his hand in my mouth whenever I showed symptoms so I wouldn’t bite my tongue off. As my muscles went into a spasm, my jaws would bite into the palms of his hand. He would lift me up once the fit would stop and carry me in his arms to the car. I was pretty heavy. We would be in the hospital for days together. One night, in the hospital, I heard my father cry and pray “Take my life instead of my son’s!” The medication I took began to make me fat. Zits and pimples ruled my face. The weird one, who was till now a misfit, now just turned ugly, fat and sick. The whole experience made me dream that I would one day become a missionary doctor who helped people, particularly children with epilepsy.
I was compelled by my parents to consider Engineering as a field of study for my graduation because, my health could not handle the pressure of a pursuit of medical studies. It really made me feel like a huge dream was dying, but I obliged. The four years of engineering were the worst time of my life. Not a semester would pass without me failing in at-least one subject. I wasn’t used to being the tail ender. I wasn’t used to being made fun of because of my faith. I was the worst in the class and I felt I was failing God by not excelling at academics. I was bullied and called names. All my cousins excelled in all that they did. While one graduated from the IIMs, one played the cello for the President of the US. This time of failure birthed an annoyance in me. I was angry and annoyed all the time. I would go into fits of rage and break window panes and glasses. I was becoming crazy. I would cry endlessly in prayer. “Are you not the God who helped David beat the bear, the lion and Goliath? Are you not the God who promised that you would give wisdom to whoever asks? I feel like a fool. I feel worthless. All those around me at-least pass their exams. Did you not say you would make us the head and not the tail?”
Now, I was the sick one, the misfit and the Tail Ender. The failure. The one with a hot temper. No matter how hard I tried, this was me- nothing changed. I got baptized in my final year of engineering, after God healed me from my anger. God’s healing was slow and painful- like a bitter medicine. But it worked. I was humbled beyond words that Christ would care to chisel one like me- I sucked at life. Sometimes I would wonder if I am worth the trouble and investment my parents poured into my life. There were days I would ask myself if my birth was accidental. I would brush away that question quickly and pretend it never occured. However, in all of this, I pursued God with all my heart. He didn’t change the conditions that surrounded me, but He did change me. I had a trillion personal flaws, but each day He worked on me, I got better.
I finally finished engineering. By this point, I was so low on academics that although all my friends had jobs, my scores did not let me qualify to even attend the interviews. I was ashamed of myself, especially because my father was the Vice Chancellor of the university from where I graduated. My dad never chided me. He swallowed his pride and was kind and reassuring all the time. He would always say, “I know you start off slowly, but you will pick up while the race is heating up”. It hurt my self esteem so bad that when people would ask me about my job, I would lie to them saying, “Oh, I got an offer from a company but I turned it down”. This season was humiliating and taught me infinite lessons on humility and empathy.
Now, I was not just the misfit. I was not just the tail ender with a terrible temper. I was the guy who didn’t have a job. It hurt my self-esteem so bad that I contemplated quitting everything and just do nothing. I wanted to run away from the country to escape all this, but I heard God telling me to stay in India. (1Sam 12:16, Exodus 14:13)
Stepping into adulthood: Post-graduation: MBA. Location: Bangalore. I excelled at studies. I topped my class in every single exam. The very subject of mathematics that I had detested: over-night became my best friend. My epilepsy vanished. My medication came to a steep halt. I was still a misfit, but it was something I learnt to handle. I was one of the first people to get a job in my Post Graduation- 8 months before college even ended. My temper was completely gone. No one would believe me if I would tell them of my anger in the past. I cannot think of a day in the last 6 years when I was truly as angry as I was before. I could say with 100% conviction that God decided I had enough of thorns, and thus laid out for me- a bed of roses.
One would assume that with all good things, a guy like me would pursue God more. I wish I could say that of myself. My greatest failures were in my MBA. At a time when life was a bed of roses, in a time when life flourished, I turned my eyes away from God. I was a Christian who needed to mingle with people I could not tolerate. Pornography played loud in the college hostel. There were ridiculously beautiful girls. The temptations were intense. I could not find a good church and hence, gave up the search. I stopped seeking God’s will. I tried to be a part of everything, but also tried to stay away from everything. I would trod on the grey. I knew Christ called me to choose black or white, but I chose to stand in the grey. Everything was “good enough” as long as it was not “bad enough”. White became a thin line as Darkness enlarged her territory. I slowly started letting myself be a part of the world. I really needed to fit somewhere!
As I reached the end of my MBA, I realized that I was no longer the tail ender or the ugly one. I was less of a misfit because I did everything in my capacity to fit into the crowd. I even received a fair share of attention from the ladies. My sicknesses were taken away. However, I realized that I was more of a sinner after baptism now, than I was before. I was more of a compromiser than I was before. I was like the Israelites in the book of Judges who turned their face away the more God showered his blessings upon them.
A second chance: I remember going to an Intouch Fellowship camp in 2013. And one pastor, Phil Stevenson, told us the story of the prodigal son- and enacted it. Although I have heard and read that story countless times, in that instant, I knew that the Father cared more about me than He did about my past. I felt like Christ spoke that parable only for me. For the first time, I comprehended what Paul meant when he said that Christ loved me “while I was yet a sinner”. I stood there and genuinely took a survey of the wondrous cross. It was a leap of faith from intense guilt into the lap of my gracious Father. Three years hence, as I stand looking back today I realized how He didn’t let go of me even when I let go of Him. He gave me a good church. A wonderful fellowship. He taught me humility. He blessed me with a capable brain. He gave me a job and a home. He redeemed me from the pits of sin, anger and depravity. I know what it means when David wrote in Psalm 23 saying, “He restores my soul.” This God of Misfits- chose to love me.
I can only breathe an endless “Thank You, Abba” after witnessing how Christ has saved a wretch like me. Not just from sicknesses and poor grades, but from the world. I know what it means when I say, “He is my savior and my healer. My redeemer. My counsellor. My chastiser. My provider. My rock. My shield. My salvation. My banner. My commander. The God of the ugly one. The God of the good times and the bad. The God of the mountain and of the valley. The God who is not a bully. My encourager. My one true love. My perpetual hope and strength. A God of second chances. He bids me die that I may live. This God of the Misfits”
I am still a man of infirmities, of weaknesses big and small. I have many regrets about my past. They keep me in check. I do not trust my inner man anymore. I know I have to trust only Him. I have been unwise. I have been unjust. I have been judgmental and scornful. My heart hasn’t always had its guard up. I haven’t always had a sweet tongue. But I am pressing onward, pushing harder, with the strength I find in Him. Sometimes, my self-esteem takes a bend. It is a struggle. But I know He is enough. He is truly enough for me. He deserves my all. I may have been chosen for small things in life. But in the small things, I shall persevere to be faithful to do what I am called to do. God calls some to be missionaries. Some to be humble prayer warriors. Some to be sweepers of the church. Some to be all the above.
Whenever I see a missionary doctor, I feel a pinch of jealousy and a pang of sadness that I could never be one. But as John Newton once wrote, “If two angels were to receive at the same moment a commission from God, one to go down and rule earth’s grandest empire, the other to go and sweep the streets of its meanest village, it would be a matter of entire indifference to each which service fell to his lot, the post of ruler or the post of scavenger; for the joy of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will, and with equal joy they would lift a Lazarus in his rags to Abraham’s bosom, or be a chariot of fire to carry an Elijah home.” I pray that I be faithful in the little and in much and not fret if I am a missionary in the country, or a sweeper at church.
I stand and testify by the grace of God, that I have decided to be persistent in my pursuit. The cross is before me. The world is behind me. Whatever my Father says, I will do. Where He sends me, I will go. I am available to Him and when He calls, I will obey. My life will be an evidence of His grace and goodness. I will seek His face and let Him be my only consolation and prize. I will be a channel of His love to those around me. I love this God of the misfits- only and only because He loved me first. I cannot emphasize how weak I am on my own. I draw my strength from the Well that never runs dry.
I still don’t fit perfectly well in the world I live in. That is now the least of my concerns. I fit in the hand of the One who made me and who has engraved my name on the palm of His hand. It is a rapturous realization when I understand what I mean to the Father. I may have not always got what I wanted. But I was given grace in abundance, at all times. I was given what I needed.
I am a child of a God who died for a weird misfit like me. That is what makes me joyful and allows me to let out a chuckle of happiness. That is what sustains me. That is what amazes me. This God is a God of misfits. And he won’t stop carving me until I am perfect. Until I am His perfect fit. 🙂
I would emphasize, before I end my prose- This is not a story of my success. If success is anything but spiritual, it is trivial and will go with me to the grave. This is a story of God working on me. Please do not consider this as a product of pride. This is only a product of all the humility I can muster. Without Christ, I would have died by now, or at best , led a self absorbed, vile and shallow life. As I end this long write-up,I’d only say this to you, dear reader:- “Come ye sinners, lost and lonely. Jesus’ blood can set you free. For He saved the worst among us. When He saved a wretch like me.”
Carpe Dios, as my friend Christina would say. Seize God. Because Carpe Dios > Carpe Diem.
(*Carpe Dios- Seize God. Carpe Diem- Seize the moment)
He’s worth it all. He’s worth it ALL. 🙂
Forbid it Lord, that I should boast-Save in the death of Christ my Lord.
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood!
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine: Demands my life, my soul, my all!