From the moment I climbed on a small rickshaw and tried to clutch my luggage to avoid losing it along the bumpy road I was in love with Varanasi.  It is an amazing city with history and stories at every corner. I wanted to do more than observe….I desired to soak it in with my pores. It has taken me a while to make it back to the wrinkled pages of my journal but I am so glad I did because reflecting on this place has helped me gather my crumpled thoughts about my present.  
I wandered around the narrow streets and sat along the seemingly never ending ghats or steps along the Ganges River.  Of my entire time in India this was the most emotional and powerful for me personally.  As I walked around without much agenda, something that rarely happens in my “real” life, I was struck with the prayers and rituals performed at every corner.  Shrines and temples are everywhere and the line we often have in the US between sacred and secular is completely blurred.  I was so overwhelmed by the expressions of faith that one morning I just sat on the steps and cried.  I guess it was a combination of a lot of stuff;  the personal choas in my head, things I had tucked away neatly over the last few years, and a profound loss a dear friend had experienced during my trip.  But what was making my heart feel heavy and weightless at the same moment  was the reminders God was showing me of His faithfulness to me even when I was ugly towards Him, when I doubted His goodness, and when i was in a dark place.  I was reminded He does not desire to make me comfortable but holy and what He brings in my life in meant for my ultimate good even if I fight and kick and scream.  Jesus was gently and quietly reminding me His grace and sacrifice is enough and I can come to Him broken and in need of His touch again and again.  He came for the sick, not the well.  And I am sick, often. For me there was some healing in Varanasi for my soul.

The second morning after awaking in the wee hours I was down near the water watching the pilgrims bathe in the river (as they believe bathing in the holy Ganga (or Ganges) River will cleanse the body and soul). I sat just watching and taking a few pictures of a group of women bathing together.  One woman quickly grabbed my hand and invited me to join them.  Immediately all the warnings I had heard about the ick in the water  (not to mention the dead bodies) rushed into my mind.  But before I had much time to consider she pulled me into the bottom step covered in water.  It was as if they were saying “don’t watch, join us!”  In that moment I had to chose to freak out of embrace the experience.  I chose the later and by the last morning I decided to just go all the way in!

These are some images the leader of our trip took of me getting “all in.”

Going “all in” is something I need more of in my life.  Not dabbling, but committing even if that means risk.  And I do not have any deadly parasite (at least not yet) so my my philosophy that I’d rather regret the things I did than the things I did not do seemed to serve me well that day. I posted some of the images I captured that day here. Each night we were there we attended the Ganga Aarti ceremony and you can read more and see some images here. There were so many memories of my time there and I loved watching the young boys studying at a Vedic school do their morning prayers and routine.  Boys of a different culture, religion, and language than those I taught in Chicago but a reminder that children everywhere have a playful nature. See more here.  

The day before leaving Varanasi a I was able to join a boat full of Indian pilgrims who had journeyed here from all around India.  It did cause quite a bit of chaos as the boat drivers were not excited about us crowding on a boat with locals when they could make us pay more and take us by ourselves but after some smooth talking by Mitchell we were allowed to go.

Proof that the camera DOES not make the image!
Hilarious…one of the boat drivers insisted on taking a photo with me and the tour guide and this was the result. Love it!!  The tour was all in Hindi so I did not benefit much from the information shared but it is amazing how much you can pick up just from gestures (and our boat tour guide LOVED to gesture).

Yep, the tour guide was very animated and loved having us on his boat! My absolute favorite part was the moment I was laying on the deck of the boat shooting (trying to keep it classy and my skirt appropriate and avoid rusty nails…ahem!) and realized that folks were completely rifling through my bag and not only looking at everything but passing stuff around! Of most interest was my little photo book full of images I had brought to help start conversations and share a little of my life with the people I met.  It was such a privilege to share with them;  I gushed about my kids and as I asked a million questions about their families, life, culture, and faith.  I love that they were as curious about  me as I was about their lives!

Everything was returned and I was even given some food and treats to take home for my family.
You can see the images I captured from the pilgrim boat ride here.
In the end I learned a lot, have a few new facebook friends, and gained an appreciation for fellow pilgrims in the journey of faith.  I pray they (and I) are blessed and find the truth and peace we all seek.  For me, God often speaks to me when I withdraw from the normal routine and time and time again I have learned from friends of different faiths more about just how amazing the God of the universe is, just how wide His reach is, just how much He loves me and all people, and how Jesus took the time to step into our mess and continues to to interrupt and offer truth gently.
I am so grateful for this experience,


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