Updated: Sep 8, 2020
At six-thirty yesterday morning, I awoke to the sound of my Labrador Waza barking furiously just outside my window. Through the muddle of sleep, I knew something was wrong. Our dogs are always closed in at night because of the leopards that roam the forests. Why was Waza out of the garage, and why didn't I hear our smaller dog Pita, barking?
Waza's tail was tucked between his legs as he anxiously ran circles along the chainlink fence that borders the national reserve forest land. I knew instantly Pita had been taken; pug marks in the mud proved it. A quick walk down to the barn and chicken coop and my survey of a night of chaos was complete. A broken gutter, scattered storage boxes and saddle pads and more pug marks said the leopard had visited the horses. Fortunately, they were fine. Two of our chickens, however, didn't fare as well. Feathers were scattered everywhere, and the mesh floor of the coop was ripped out.
Sick at heart I reminded myself, “I chose this wilderness; this is normal,” Mother nature, a hungry leopard and a door that must not have latched perfectly the night before, all combined for the perfect kill.
Eight years ago when we made the decision to put down roots in India, take axe to trees and spade to red earth, we purchased 2.5 acres of mountain ridge backed by National Forest, and flanked by ten acres of empty land. With no existing road access, electricity, water, or septic system we knew we were in for a challenge. Donkeys brought the first bags of sand and cement from the main road through the forest to our plot, both littered with hundreds of jagged stumps and blessed with one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen.
Rachael, just eight then, scampering away to explore, fell and scraped her leg on one of the stumps. I remember blood and tears and a sense of danger, even then, mingled with the breathtaking beauty of the landscape and the promise of a real home. After fifteen years of moving and rentals, home sounded like heaven. We bandaged up her hurt, dug the foundation, and a year later moved into a raw shell of a house.
Coupled with the fact that we built Freedom Firm at the same time, our house took over seven years to finish. Our work, forged in the human frontier of anti-trafficking in India and at home, the physical wilderness, has mirrored each other, every second and every day. The painstaking gains and setbacks in the world of corruption and setting girls free echoed breakthroughs and losses at home.
“We knocked down a door and a wall and found a fifteen-year-old girl that had just been in the brothel for a week,” Greg's voice sounded elated over the phone after the most recent raid in Nagpur. “I just watched while our team did everything; they can do it on their own now, I am so proud of them.”
Meanwhile, at home, some men we hired to remove massive pieces of granite (by hand) to lower our driveway completed the task after four months of backbreaking work. A couple more feet down and in a different part of the 300 ft drive we encountered yet more rocks. At least another month looms ahead before we can drive home.
As I surveyed the damage in the barn, and later sitting in church, tears running down my face for our lost pet, I realized I was afraid. Afraid of the leopard that stalked in the darkness and prowled its way through our buildings looking for food. Afraid of a potential outcome in an Indian court that may bar us from our home forever. Afraid for my husband, afraid for my children. Afraid.
I tuned into our pastor, who was talking about a little baby, born so long ago in a barn. I imagine the stable was much like ours, unsealed against the elements or predators. A dangerous place for a baby to be born. I've always heard preachers talk about how dirty and smelly the barn must have been. But I am quite sure the stable was dangerous too. He chose to send his vulnerable Son into a world full of peril. He risked so much to bring us hope.
Sipping a cup of coffee as I look out this afternoon on blue mountain ranges above the patchwork valleys of tea, I am grateful for this fierce and wild beauty and today's comparative stillness in my soul. In the barn, our new horse Summer is pregnant, and the foal promises to be born soon. While I need to shore up the gaps in the structure with all that granite from the driveway (oh no, nothing is wasted) and finish building the doors to make the stable more secure, hope flutters in my heart. Christmas is coming!