Amazing are the ways in which the Lord takes care of His loved ones!
Most of us have been through tough life situations – may be financial crises, difficult relationships, disappointments and losses or critical health issues. The intensity of the situations are better known by the people who live them.
One such person I know is 44-year old Chiradeep Patra who hails from Cuttack, in Odisha (a state in India). I happen to belong to the same home city as he does. Though he is quite elder to me, I have memories of this name ‘Chiradeep Patra’ from my childhood days. The reason being that my family and his worship in the same church in our home city and so almost every Sunday there would be prayers for Chiradeep’s health. I had never interacted with him till I wrote for his bimonthly journal Candles in 2006, (which was a four-paged hard copy then and is a blog by the name of Candles Online now).
Chiradeep Patra is one such person who has tasted the love of God amidst adversities. His journey through life’s pathways is definitely not one that you would desire for yourself. But, his faith in God and his upbeat spirit is worth emulating.
I interviewed Chiradeep to know more of his life and his walk with God through his own words. As you go through it, I’m sure it’ll intrigue you and give you renewed strength as you walk along your own pathways.
Me: Chiradeep, I’m glad that you consented for this interview. Your name literally means ‘forever lighted’. And from the little I know about you, you attempt your best to let your light shine and lighten the lives of others. Is it easy to be ‘Chira-deep – forever lighted’?
Chiradeep: Firstly, I’m thankful to God for yet another opportunity to share His grace. Well, it is so very difficult to stay ‘forever lighted’ in this sinful world when I, myself am so susceptible and weak in all regards. It is only God and His words that have kept me within the hedge that He has built around me. Probably, my poor health condition played the role of a moderator to keep me within His holy hedge or else I am sure, my desires would have taken me away from Him forever. So, I am thankful to God for making me weak and sick which has still kept me ‘lighted’ for myself and for others by inspiring and motivating. ‘Forever’ is in God’s hands!
Me: You just said that you are thankful to God for making you weak and sick. That’s a strong statement from someone who continues to consciously jostle with uncertainty every day. It reminds me of Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Profound words!
Chiradeep: Not easy words, though! But I have no alternatives, no choice left for me to follow. I was shown a pattern of life which I just followed without thinking much about. The pattern was – “I am weak, He is strong. I will follow, as He leads.” This way, I didn’t have to work for my life so much, but by just waiting upon Him each day got easier and worth living.
Me: Tell me something about your early life.
Chiradeep: Well, I was born in 1975 and till 1983 I stayed with my parents where my father was working. But afterwards, I stayed with my maternal grandparents, away from my parents for better care for my health conditions. Though I was physically under immense care and protection, without my mom around me, I became very emotionally vulnerable. I lacked freedom (due to the much-needed constant supervision) and spent my time daydreaming. I feel that those years made me very timid in life.
Me: Would you mind elaborating about your health condition in detail?
Chiradeep: My first ever discharge summary sheet on 29th August 1978 says, my heart problem was detected when I was taken to a doctor for dysentery. I was diagnosed with TRICUSPID ATRESIA. It is a type of heart disease that is present at birth (congenital heart disease), in which the tricuspid heart valve is missing or abnormally developed. In my case, it was abnormally developed. This defect blocks blood flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle. In my condition, a mix of oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood is pumped out into the body from the heart causing the oxygen level in the blood to be lower than normal. So to improve my condition I had to undergo two surgeries, one was in the year 1978 and the other one was in 2001.
Me: Oh! You underwent your first heart surgery when you were just two and a half years old. It must have been such a tense phase for your family! Did you ask questions about your health condition to your family members?
Chiradeep: Yeah, I must have surely asked so many questions to my mom, being an inquisitive kid. But I don’t remember what I asked that time as I was so small. It was definitely a very difficult phase for my family members when they had to go to Vellore (in Tamil Nadu) and get me admitted to the hospital and go through the whole process. I was the first child in my maternal grandparents’ house so I received all the attention. Praise God for that! My maternal grandfather took the whole burden of my surgery and spent his entire being on me. He was a human saviour for me at that time. I thank God for him in my life.
Me: As someone who has been in and out of hospitals too often, how would you like to describe your hospital experiences? Any experience in particular which remains etched in your memory?
Chiradeep: I think, I have lots of articles on my experiences in the hospitals which can be found in my blog. Some of them are – My Love Story With Nurses, Nourish With Unadulterated Emotions, How On Earth I am In The Midst of Babies and Coughing Blood – Saved by God.
But the moment which will remain etched in my memory would be the moment when I battled death though I have faced it a couple of times more as well.
Let me explain the moment briefly…
Feeling the blood flow running again through my veins is the best experience that anyone can have which I had after my second surgery was done. When I came back to consciousness, I asked the nurse by my side frantically, “is my surgery over?” she said, “Yes.” I checked my chest and it was covered with bandages. Whole of my body was aching and paining. Later, I came to know that it was not after sometime, but after 6 hours! My surgery had taken 2 ½ hours and I gained consciousness after 3 1/2 hours. There was a deep relief within myself. I thanked God and worshiped Him in my heart.
Till now, if I count the number of times I have stayed in the hospitals, then it would be 12 times that I remember of. Each hospital admission has immense value in my life. They are like entries to battle arenas and each discharge from hospitals are like my banners of victories – Victories over sickness, victories over negativity and most importantly victory over death in the sweet name of Jesus.
Me: What was it that you hated most about your condition in your youth?
Chiradeep: When I had to go to school and then to college in cycle rickshaws whereas while other girls and boys were on their bi-cycles and motorbikes – that was the time, I literally cursed my life. That really hurt my ego, rinsing my youth ruthlessly. The time when I was supposed to enjoy with friends showing my abilities, impressing girls as is normal for any young guy, I had to put up with being a dependent. So, I felt that my youth was a failure.
Me: Must’ve been tough to have the mind and emotions limited because of physical health. God has blessed you with a loving and caring wife. How did marriage happen?
Chiradeep: Yeah, I am blessed because of my wife Asmita in my life, no doubt about it. She is loving and caring. Our marriage was arranged by our relatives which is very normal in India. But I had enough opportunities to interact with my wife before marriage. The first question that was raised in my family when I was of marriageable age was – “Is he allowed to or fit to marry?” My surgeon was asked and he nodded in the affirmative. That’s how we went ahead with it.
Me: So, how does Asmita cope with the pressures that arise each time you fall sick?
Chiradeep: Being married to such a person as me, she never had much of a choice. She was forced to suffer when I suffered. She didn’t really have any alternatives to opt for herself. Each time I fall sick even now, she struggles dreadfully. She becomes anxious and panics thinking, ‘If he dies what will happen to me?’. She prays and continues to stick with me under pressure without any way out. That’s painful for me. I don’t like to see the one I love, go through it all. But I’m helpless and I’m still searching for ways to help her cope with this as I am getting slower and slower with the passage of time.
Me: Tough! Tell me about your parental family. How have they responded to you?
Chiradeep: My parental family is a God-fearing and God-dependent family. Prayer is one thing that is always on in my family concerning my condition. They definitely had a tough time handling me, especially my Mom, who literally sacrificed everything for my sake, especially because I was placed under so many restrictions from the very beginning of my life. I was brought up in a very cozy, ‘touch him not’, ‘handle with care’ environment. Somehow, I didn’t like it and I felt it could have been a little different than how the restrictions were applied on me. However, what’s done is done…
Me: It’s great to have a supportive family to uphold you in prayers everyday. What about your personal faith in God? How did you start believing in God?
Chiradeep: It is always good to be born in a family that loves the Lord. So I am really thankful to God to have put me in a God-Believing-Family. So I grew up with the knowledge of God which eventually was tested when I went through different difficult circumstances. Everytime I got sick or felt weak, I was encouraged to remain in prayer and supplication to God so that He can provide health and strength in the due course. The constant inputs from fellow believing family members and His words from the Bible strengthened my faith in God. A life of faith is developed over the years and so has it for me. I am in awe of what Jesus Christ did for me on the Cross – paying the price for my sins.
Me: As you said, you’ve been in hospitals 12 times. Have you ever questioned the presence of God during the times of your suffering?
Chiradeep: No! I have never questioned the presence of God. But I have asked Him quite a few times why He allowed such a pathetic life for me to lead. And, I have literally fought with Him and argued with Him during my suffering and pain. That proves that I never denied His existence and even His presence around me.
Me: So, what kept you going?
Chiradeep: Grace – which is God’s kindness to an undeserving human, was my real strength. Only His grace strengthened me to accept everything that came my way. Prayer – which embalmed me all the time to let His grace flow into my life. Thirdly, I would say, it was His purpose in my life that has kept me alive. So, I know that I won’t perish physically till I finish the goal set by Him for me on this earth. These keep me going…
Me: And, He would continue to strengthen and sustain you till His purpose is done. What have been some of your biggest struggles and how have you coped with them, if you have?
Chiradeep: Let me start from the very beginning of my life… I love cricket. But I could not play in the fields ever in my life. I could only daydream myself to be an excellent cricketer, hitting fours and sixes in matches. I invented a small cricket kit and used to play with my cousin or all alone by myself at home. And trust me, I enjoyed doing so. I struggled to help others physically… like, carrying weights, travelling in summer heat or extreme cold, run faster to help someone or save myself and so on… I hated it when I could only watch but could not help anyone, though my heart yearned for it. I hated when I saw others carrying heavy things and I was not allowed to do so even if I could have carried them. I could not ride a bi-cycle, bike, drive a car, enjoy with my friends and the list of struggles are so many as they continue to persist. I keep encouraging myself that there are things which I can do, and no one else can do… I keep my focus on what I can do instead of brooding about what I can’t. Marriage has been the biggest struggle. But, God continues to sustain me. I am hopeful and trust God for doing miracles in my life as He has been doing from the beginning till now.
Me: How then, did you manage to complete your education considering your health conditions?
Chiradeep: I got admission in the school because my aunt was a teacher in that same school. I was already a 10 year-old that time. So, I was admitted straight into the 4th grade. But, I stood first in my school in class 10th. When there was a dilemma about my going to college, I was adamant to go to college as all normal boys and girls. It was approved by my family with God’s grace moving above me as a protective shade. I completed my college and then Post Graduation in Commerce with a first class. I did my Post Graduation in Bhubaneswar, away from my cozy home, though I stayed with my nearest kinfolks.
Me: How did you get your job? And, how do you manage to cope with job demands day by day?
Chiradeep: No one will ever believe that I started earning by setting up a grocery shop alongside my father. That was in the year 2000. But when I got a job in YMCA for a project, my grocery establishment was neglected. My father looked after it for sometime before closing it down. That was quite an experience I would say!
In 2001, after my second surgery, I got an offer from one of my uncles to join him in an organization founded by him, as an Accountant. I accepted it and I’m working there even today.
To be honest, I don’t have too much of work pressure as such. Yet, at times, I struggle to cope with all the responsibilities I have…especially when it is necessary for me to go out on a tour or do little work outside the office. Initially after my second surgery I was able to take a lot of physical strain. But as the days passed by, I started to become slower and slower. By God’s grace, I still can work normally as all others, though I do everything a little slower than others if it is about a physical task. Otherwise, I can work for long hours on a computer.
Me: Ah! There you are. Working swiftly on gadgets – that’s a strength God has blessed you with. Have you ever wished that you would be perfectly well just like many others around you?
Chiradeep: Yeah, I have always wished it, though I don’t dwell in frustration.
Me: What has been your biggest regret?
Chiradeep: I have thousands of regrets but all have been short lived because I have ultimately accepted all of it as part of my life, purposefully designed by my God. So that brings the regret scores to ZERO.
Me: In times of hopelessness and despair, which I’m sure would be there in plenty, whom do you confide in?
Chiradeep: There have been people around me who are acquainted with my condition and my struggles. Many a times, I receive comfort from them without having to speak out. I do confide at times, in a God-fearing Counselor – sharing my heart and struggles. I wish, if I would have gotten the opportunity to stay close to my mentor, Rev. Dr. P. N. James then I would have confided everything in him. But as we live in different places, I do not get the opportunity to let my heart known to him. I usually don’t dwell in hopelessness and despair. I shake the dust off and trample over it. I can very easily share my heart and open myself to any person close to my heart. But yeah, I chose the right person carefully from whom I receive any advice.
Me: What helps you remain cheerful and ever so interested in impacting the lives of others?
Chiradeep: Probably, I have a cheerful gene in me. Hahaha! When I know, there’s no use remaining sad and depressed, I choose to stay happy and jovial. And I believe those who maneuver pain and struggles in the right direction and get out of their depressing shells to look beyond themselves – they are the ones who can look at the people in pain. They choose to impact others rather than dwelling in their own pain and suffering.
Secondly, I realised, I have been loved and shown mercy in abundance by people around me and by God Himself all through my life. So I tend to pass on that overflowing love and care to others unconditionally.
Thirdly, because of my life conditions, I grew up being an observant and understanding person. And I believe the more we observe, the more we understand others. The more we understand, the more interested we become in others’ lives. The more interested we become, the more we try to impact the lives of others.
Fourthly, God made me understand the very purpose of my life – ‘being poured out for others’.
Me: Who are your mentors?
Chiradeep: If I have really accepted someone as my mentor it is Rev. Dr. P. Niranjan James, whose name I mentioned a little while before. The amount of knowledge and wisdom that he has instilled in my heart and mind is unexplainable. I can be inspired or motivated by others but it’s very difficult to mentor me or you can say, it is difficult on my part to accept just anyone as my mentor. I am very rigid and strict on what I believe and think about. My mind and heart can be invaded through only with advice well supported by God’s word and an understanding heart. Rev. James proved to penetrate my mind perfectly. So, he is the only one human mentor, I have in this world.
Me: Have you ever had any experience which you can term as ‘life-changing’?
Chiradeep: 20th February 2001, was the date when I had my second surgery. I was transformed after this date. I became physically more active, felt fresh, better as well as a new zeal was instilled in me to live on and on. After four months of my surgery, I came to Kolkata for work and I found a new me, which the people see today. My faith in God deepened. My dressing sense changed, my thinking and my mindset changed, I kept growing with a new and better perspective on life. Though there were many ups and downs involved…I would reckon it as life changing.
Me: Which is your favourite verse from the Bible?
Chiradeep: Three actually…
First, one which burdens me – Exodus 6:9 “So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.” Unless I listen carefully to the people in bondage then they won’t listen to me. I remind myself of this lesson always, before I judge someone as wicked or bad.
Second, one which strengthens me – Psalms 4: 8 “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” When He makes me dwell in safety, I have nothing to worry about… I will smile, laugh and be at peace always.
Third, one which builds my character or attitude towards fellow humans – 1 John 4: 7 & 8 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” These two verses keep reminding me of His love for me and that I should be displaying the same love for my fellow human beings.
Me: What is the one message that you would share with the readers of this blog?
Chiradeep: Everything starts with God and ends with Him as well. Nothing can be done keeping Him aside. He is the sustainer and He is the life giving water who can nourish our souls. I am a living example in front of all…who has nothing much to hold on to, yet is happy with whatever he has been given. Jesus gives me hope – each day each moment even in the midst of hopeless situations. He offers the same hope to all who put their trust in Him.
Me: No one is on earth to stay forever. We’ll all die one day sooner or later. What is the legacy you wish to leave behind?
Chiradeep: This is the most difficult question you’ve asked me.
Firstly, I always accepted things that have been given to me without much grumbling or being grumpy. I remained happy and jovial.
Secondly, I’ve tried my best to love people as Jesus did, without being judgmental. I know very well I can’t match up to Him but I tried.
I wish to continue the same till my last breath and leave behind these as a legacies.
Me: It has been an overwhelming to know of your life, your struggles and your unflinching faith in God through all this. I believe God is not done with you yet. He is holding your hand. Thanks for sparing your time and sharing your life’s journey!