A painting hung on the whitewashed wall in the hospital room of Pari, a fourteen-year-old girl from India diagnosed with leukemia. In the middle of the painting an enormous angel’s wings unfolded as a rainbow, encircling and guarding the girl child who sat with her arms locked around an empty birdcage in her lap. The cage door was open and a handsome, white bird had perched on the ledge of an open window, ready to fly to freedom.
Grace, the artist, studied in India with Pari but was English. Her parents lived and worked in Japan. For her, the painting depicted her separation from her parents. She was the girl gripping the cage, unable to let go of what kept her captive to sadness and enslaved to fear. It had been a painful piece of art.
Pari found unending joy just gazing at the painting. That was why Grace gave it to her. It was placed in such a way that lying on her bed, Pari could look straight at it —and she spent many hours doing just that, pondering its meaning. Pari saw herself as the girl in the painting —Jesus sent the angel to guard and carry her through this illness. The cage was leukemia… but what about the bird?
I arrived in India to fulfill the lifetime dream of starting an orphanage. How could I have been so ignorant about what that would mean? One doesn’t think these things through as a seven-year-old. By the time I was 20, the person I had become was very different from the person who first dreamt of India. The dream person was more of a life-saving, happy-go-lucky, do-gooder type. At 20, I was far from that. I was a God-hating do-gooder (if there can be such a person). A few years prior, my mother had been murdered in our house; beaten, stripped, raped, shot and strangled. Truth is not always nice. Now I was that girl holding the caged bird —a cage full of anger, bitterness and confusion. I despised God and did not care whether I lived or died. I did not go to India as a self-made savior, but I went in search of truth.
Jesus visited Pari in a vision while she was in the hospital; she longed to be with Him. Because she’d seen Him and knew His love for her, Pari changed in character so drastically that her parents couldn’t recognize her. She was no longer locked into her body of death… she had escaped and she had found life. Once, Pari’s mother asked her, “Are you with Jesus much?” Surprised by the question, she replied, “I’m with Jesus all the time.” No one doubted that anymore. A few minutes after successfully convincing her family that THEY had to release her, she announced, “I’m going home,” and she left them. Pari, the white bird, was freed, no more fear, no more death; she had been given permission to live.
Grace learned that her parents were praying for her daily. When she understood their deep love and heartfelt concern, she had assurance that they were as close as their prayers; they had never left. Disappointment flew away. She was released and put the cage down and let the bird fly free.
In India, I lived in one room with fifty girls who spoke no English and I spoke no Hindi. There was no water, electricity, vehicle or phone. I had a head full of lice and so did the girls. But those girls loved me and fought over who would hold my hand and wash my feet. The self-centeredness of worrying about my own needs vanished as my heart grew in love for them. I began to see past myself. I became so desperate and unhappy with who I’d become that I finally let down my guard of hate and was humbled. Alone one night, I prayed, “Jesus, all I want is to be your friend, to know you and talk to you like a friend.” I started my real life that night. Jesus entered the room, and I knew He was there. Life can begin at twenty, unless you are as smart as Pari, who began life at fourteen.
How do you set a caged bird free? Identify the cage; whose prison is it? Seek to know what needs to be done to free the bird —humble yourself and do it. Set the cage down and don’t ever pick it up again.