If You Don’t Know Now You Know (Part IV)

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  1. Riding a motorbike with a full bladder is literal torture.
  2. Learn Thai words. Speak Thai words. Have Thais look at you blankly. Have Thais repeat the Thai words you just said to Thai friends. Have Thais now understand with complete clarity. And smile 🙂 [Tonal language woes duly noted]
  3. Why yes, that snack DOES come in seaweed, shrimp and green tea flavor!
  4. Ants, rats, cucarachas, giant winged moths. Deal with it.
  5. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are just society manufactured labels to talk about the proper ‘times to eat’. Real Thais eat anytime, anywhere. I not only believe in the Thai way, but I embrace it with open arms.
  6. Parking attendants REALLY like their whistles.
  7. Never trust the new popcorn flavors at the theater. BBQ. Mango. Banana. Doesn’t matter. ALWAYS TASTE TEST before you invest in a whole bucket (pro tip: they are ALL TERRIBLE).
  8. You know hot season has arrived when Thais give you a hug and proceed to ‘dab’ your arms and tell you to take a shower. BONUS. Baby powder is an excellent cheap substitute for both facial powder and dry shampoo. Your soft skin will thank me later.
  9. In Thailand, the proper greeting is actually, “Have you eaten yet?”
  10. Never be fooled by those cute cheap techy products at the market. Or do, and enjoy the cuteness for about 3-5 weeks and begin the hunt for a replacement all over again.
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If You Don’t Know Now You Know (Part IV)

wilderness

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Ah, the proverbial wilderness. I’d wager to say we’ve all been in a season marked by seemingly aimless wanderings and parched souls. Where unanswered questions and frustrations are home-base, or waiting to wait some more is the only movement you’re sure of. It takes many forms but if you can’t relate a portion of your life to it, I’d also wager to say, just give it a minute.

To say I’m acquainted with the lonely, lostness of the wild seems an understatement. I’ve spent years surrounding myself with incredible friends and life-giving experiences, all the while returning to a dry deserted camp to rest my head. I quickly learned that loneliness doesn’t have much to do with the quantity of people around you but rather the wholeness of your heart – yet my well-intentioned heart sought half-heartedly like a champ, coming up empty too many times to count.

Sometimes we call ‘loneliness’ what God’s word calls a longing for unhindered intimacy with him and others. And we start thinking that other people can provide us what only God can provide. And it amazes me how often I call ‘loneliness’ what is actually a groaning for redemption. (Paul Matthies)

The beginning of this year felt like a fresh slap in the face to my pride, self sufficiency, and the all too familiar mask of keeping it together on the outside. I hit a low, a wall, a whatever that left me looking my brokenness right in the eyeballs. My self-imposed expectations of one in my context of life and work made the sting of my utter humanness particularly poignant and I’ve found myself yet again feeling a bit… lost. Seeking wholeness, newness, clarity, and grace.

In this space I’ve been confronted with an onslaught of my faults. Failures and shortcomings rise to the surface daily and hit me like daggers. In so many ways it’s beautiful though, because it feels like a redemption of the time I’ve wasted not letting the truths of the Word cut to my depths, rooting out disease at the source. It’s like God said, ‘All your doings, your healthy habits and even seeking me – it’s not enough. You still have to let me in and heal you from the ground up.’

Leviticus talks about the ins and outs of the wanderings of my good friends, the Israelites. God gave them laws and a covenant and structure to live out their days in obedience and reverence of the One that promised a land of abundant goodness. As the sacrifices for atonement are outlined (in incredible detail, I might add… guilty of skimming these verses, can I get an amen of solidarity??), the following verses stuck out:

He will put all the sins on the goat’s head and send it off into the wilderness, led out by a man standing by and ready. The goat will carry all their iniquities to an empty wasteland; that man will let him loose out there in the wilderness. (Lev 16:20-22)

The goat was taken to the wilderness to remove all the sins of the Israelites. Their iniquities. Rebellion. All of it. The wilderness was a place to let loose the things that separated them from God in order that they would be right with him again. I can’t help but see the parallels to my own life as I slowly confront and let loose junk that I’ve held onto for too long and let God rebuild the foundational parts of me. Preparing me to go to new depths and heights.

The wilderness isn’t just a place to wander. It’s a place to release. To surrender and repent and give up the things that have kept me from walking in true wholeness of heart. Hebrews 12 tells us to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.” (NLT) While I often seem to ‘find myself in a wilderness’, the picture above shows such intention. A season of wilderness isn’t passive.

Another thing that takes intentionality? Being. I mean, there’s not much to DO in the wilderness. Lots of wandering. Waiting. Listening. And isn’t that one of the most difficult parts of the wilderness seasons? Letting go to simply BE. It doesn’t come naturally, yet God calls me to be with him. To sit in his presence and soak him up, filling the empty places that sin once occupied but now are free for something richer and lasting. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Loneliness is a wilderness, but through receiving it as a gift, accepting it from the hand of God, and offering it back to him with thanksgiving, it may become a pathway to holiness, to glory and to God himself.”

I now am beginning to know that God has a way of helping me see myself as I really am, over and over again, in order that I would more clearly see him as he really is – so deeply vested in the wholeness and worship of my heart. And oh, what a gift that is if I let him truly take root. A friend of mine drove out to the desert recently and talked about the sturdiness of the vegetation out there and the depth of the roots underneath the surface. It made me think about how it’s in the desert places that we really establish our foundations. It’s the dry places where our roots go deep to find their source of life.

Verses 26-28 go on to talk about the man that is to take the goat to the wasteland. He was to wash himself and his clothes before coming back into camp. And it makes sense – if I’m truly going to release sin and its hold on me, I can’t bring any back. I have to leave it ALL in the wilderness, cleanse every part of me that was associated with it and come into the next season clean. Whole. Healed. Released. In Romans Paul reminds us that we are the offering to God now. Our whole selves made whole and holy by the Holy Spirit (15:16). Under the new covenant, the goat symbolizes the work I’m called to do in this wasteland, amidst my wandering.

Hope rang out for the chosen people, “God has promised good things for Israel” (Num 10:29), and oh, how I cling to what rings for me too, wilderness and all.

“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19-20)

“As it is written, what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)

 

wilderness

birthday in a bar

pattaya wonderful

A few weeks back, we stopped in to say happy birthday to our friend that sings at a bar and bring her a cake. There are customers and bargirls like any other spot, so the lightness our friend’s cover band brings to this place is welcomed. We were sitting up front, singing along to the usual set when a girl sitting a few stools down with an older man looked over and smiled – leaning over to engage my coworker/roommate Meagan and I in conversation and ask us our names. We exchanged the usual small talk and I spent all my Thai as she offered broken English. We told her we were there to celebrate our friend’s birthday and showed her the tiny cake we had hidden away under the counter. She lit up and started sharing about a friend that had recently given her a birthday card and gift – and how it was the first birthday party anyone had thrown her. I’m not exaggerating when I say she got giddy telling us about this precious moment. I shared with her our jobs as teachers from America and she exclaimed, “I have a friend who is a teacher in America! Same as you! Except she teaches little kids.” My brain instantly connected dots… “Wait, Valerie??” I asked. “YES! And Angela!!” We pulled out Facebook and confirmed our mutual friends… amazing women who had just recently come to build relationships with women in Pattaya on the Not Abandoned Red Light outreach trip.

She continued to share about the time “Angela and Valerie” brought her a gift and made her feel so valued and loved, her eyes got teary and in that moment I saw a woman who truly cherished what it felt like to be loved with no strings attached. She then looked at me, and to Meagan, and points to Meagan’s face and says, “As soon as I saw you I knew you were same same as Angela, because you have the same smile! I can just tell you are same same as Angela!” Meagan and I exchanged looks and tried to hold it together. “There is something about you, I can just tell, as soon as I saw you…” she went, on and on.

Zoom out for a second – we later learned our beautiful new friend was here with this older man ‘just to party.’ She was going back home to her family in a day or so, but had been in Pattaya on holiday and ended up at this bar with this man. Apparently he frequents this bar to buy out a handful of girls to go to his hotel/condo for pool parties and drinking. He had been buying her drinks and she was feeling the affects as she talked to us – repeating herself constantly.

In a moment where annoyance would have normally settled in for the way the night would end for this woman, and the 30 times we heard the same thing repeated, and the man who kept trying to interrupt our conversation, and the fact that she was supposedly on holiday but spending time with an individual she clearly had no interest in … In that moment everything evaporated. She was a woman who had experienced the light and love of Jesus through two of my friends from America so tangibly, she RECOGNIZED it in a smile at the bar that night. In talking with us for only a few minutes, she saw something that connected dots back to a maker she may or may not know exists who loves her INFINITELY and PERFECTLY and BEYOND anything she could find through human interaction on this earth.

We took selfies to send to Angela and Valerie. We exchanged information and I invited her to our classes at Not Abandoned – and I haven’t seen her since. That part always stings. Probably always will. But that night – I was reminded of the power we carry INSIDE of us. The power to literally shine a light through our words, actions, and smiles. By showing up. By bringing a card and a cake. By celebrating. By starting a conversation. By listening. By loving.

I recently read a devotional that struck me as we so regularly fight for energy and joy to serve in this city:

“When all of cultures says, ‘Fill yourself,’ God tells us to fill others… Serving isn’t something we DO. A servant is who we’re called to BE. Because when we serve, we become like Christ.” (Craig Groeschel)

I do this FAR from perfectly. As I said – it can be a fight. The enemy has a hold on this city, but. But. BUT. We serve anyways. Because we are called to. Because our God’s hold is stronger. His love is brighter than the darkness that envelops these streets. His truth brings hope and healing. And He can shine into a life even through a smile across the bar.

birthday in a bar

Love is a Battlefield

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I woke up today feeling like we’re in an epic battle. Yes, I know there are a million already used parallels and illustrations for the reality of the spiritual battle we’re in, as well as the battle for our hearts. This doesn’t negate those, and it isn’t necessarily different – but it’s personal on a different level, because it feels like a battle for others.

I’m so familiar with the battle of my heart. I return often to Romans 7:15, finding solace in Paul’s cry of not understanding the constant ebb and flow of fighting against my flesh, thankful for the solidarity in those simple words, ‘I do not understand.’ Praise God I’m not the only one ha. But this season – while not void of those personal battles – is revealing a battle much greater than my personal sphere of self.

My LINE and Facebook messenger are lit up constantly. The conversations in my living room revolve around the intricacies of the corrupt networks we live and work around. Group chats and my head whirl with brainstorms of how to best offer and approach and respect and love well… of connections made, promises and expectations set. Phone calls are being made. Games are being planned. Brownies are being baked. Appointments are being confirmed. Prayers are being offered up.

It’s a little sad, but I’ve learned (to an extent) to delay or reduce my expectations. In a culture of saving face and hiding any truths that may be hard or ugly – you learn quickly that – though intentions may have been good, follow through is becoming a lost art. Then there’s the unintentional disappointments. The ones that make you lose your breath and threaten to boil your blood (mine still does, working on it). When you make plans with friends only for them to get a customer for the night. Or week… When they’re providing for the well-being of their family, work comes first. I get that. I say I understand. But my heart doesn’t break any less. After almost 2 years, I’ve learned to guard my heart a bit. Set the bar a little lower. I’ve watched myself get a little more jaded. But this battle. This is different. I feel like God is telling me to stop it. Sure – coping mechanisms keep you sane for a time. But this isn’t about me. There are souls on the line.

Yes we need to fill seats in a program. Yes we will continue to build relationships beyond this season of starting a new school year. Yes it’s never not important. But today. These weeks. These hours. They feel WEIGHTY. There are enemies blanketing this entire city – waiting and watching and destroying at literally every corner. And every student we invite into our lives and this program is unknowingly waged in this battle.

There is no coincidence in the Pricilla Shirer talk I listened to this morning on the armor of God and prayer. My heart is quickened with an urgency to cover these students and every step and puzzle piece with a power greater than I can ever see or produce. I’ve been reading through the bible this year and the NLT constantly uses ‘The LORD of Heavens Armies’ … this is the very battle he’s prepared to fight. This is very fight I need him to win. If you have any praying gumption in your spirit – would you join me in battling over the men and women we are pursuing? Because ultimately – the fiercest pursuer our greatest warrior is not flesh and blood.

“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.” Ps 46:7

 

 

Love is a Battlefield

Dicey Lounges & Unexpected Friendship

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Below is an excerpt I wrote from the last redlight outreach I did with Not Abandoned (many months ago now – we just finished up our fall redlight outreach… more on that to come). I don’t know why I didn’t post it, and reading back now, I can remember so much about this night. I can picture these girls’ faces – though I haven’t seen some of them in a while. I hate that that’s also a part of life here. Making connections and watching women start to engage, and then back off and fade away or move bars and lose contact. We’ve gone back to this bar and spent time with these women – loving them without expectation of anything in return. Freely offering our encouragement, laughter and friendship in hope that they would recognize that we don’t see them as they think we do. But they haven’t come to the center in some time. I wish that every story like this had a perfect ending where the women received what they needed to take the next step toward freedom. Where we would see them leave the city, equipped and motivated and ready to start fresh. Going back home to pursue their dreams and live out their true potential as women – dignified and loved and powerful.

I post a lot of fun and beautiful things on social media because a lot of days, it’s not fun or beautiful. It’s heart wrenching and hard to think of all the women I’ve connected with and met who are still somewhere in the city… hustling to provide and make ends meet. Who aren’t at the center today as I teach English or in Shear Love or at Tamar.

I’m glad I ran across this post though – because I need the reminder, often daily, that amidst it all God is orchestrating and working and present. There are beautiful things happening all the time as we step out in obedience. Even now, I can hear the girls at the center downstairs chatting and crushing chili and garlic to make som tam… we will share a meal and study together, encouraging each other and laughing and ::hopefully:: learning some new English 🙂

And ultimately I’m reminded that it’s all bigger than me – and I have the privilege to be faithful right where I am, today.

In classic Thai form, the rains came in torrential sheets while we waited for our translator, Thip, to meet us on Soi Buakhao, a busy street home to hundreds of pubs, bars, go-go’s and men and women for sale. We started toward a bar where our friend worked to check-in and say hello but the rain had other plans and pushed us to take cover at a dicey looking lounge with zero customers. With the storm not letting up, we ordered drinks and asked the girls working to join us.

Their stand-offish demeanor subsided as we talked about their families, hometowns, past jobs and time in Pattaya. Before long, we were laughing and inviting them to join our community at the Center. One woman shared that she came to Pattaya after her husband was killed in an accident and has a 2 year old daughter to provide for. Their ages ranged from 23 – 48 and their stories were unique – save for the ever common theme of needing more money to care for their families.

As we exchanged info and took selfies, feeling their excitement to come to a free English class, they told us they were thankful for the rain so that they could meet us and learn about this opportunity.

I love watching God orchestrate encounters like that. Two of the women have already come to classes – and we continue to love them all unconditionally and are praying they would understand their true value and worth as they courageously take steps toward a life free of exploitation.

 

Dicey Lounges & Unexpected Friendship

If You Don’t Know Now You Know (Part III)

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  1. Scenario 1: Choose the poncho ::just in case:: The rain will not come.
    Scenario 2: Choose to wing it because you’re close and there’s a break in the clouds – 200% chance the rain will come.
  2. Need a napkin? Toilet paper. Dry your hands? Toilet paper. Blow your nose? Toilet paper. 1 stop TP shop.
  3. Hydroplaning on a motorbike is like riding a roller-coaster without straps. Not recommended.
  4. Thai names are long. Real long. So long in fact, that ALL Thai’s have nicknames for us poor non Thai speaking souls. My personal favorite is still our gardener’s – the tiniest Thai man you’ll ever meet whose nickname is ‘Big’.
  5. Speaking of long names, did you know Bangkok is a nickname – short for “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.”
    Mhmm. Bet you didn’t see THAT coming.
  6. You haven’t seen people put away food until you’ve gone to a seafood buffet with Thais. [How, you ask? No rice. Duh.]
  7. I’m convinced getting stuck behind the smog laden tour buses of Pattaya is a little slice of actual hell.
  8. Family style is the only (read: best) style.
  9. Motorbiking in the rain = prune fingers. Sometimes even prune toes. Weird.
  10. New baby? Marriage? Birthday? Bananas! They symbolize abundance, long, fruitful life, and a big, united family.
If You Don’t Know Now You Know (Part III)

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IMG_5519you know those weeks? the ones that pass by, feeling simultaneously like a lifetime and a millisecond. you try to recount all the things that happened in the last 7 days (or 14 or 21 when the next weeks sneak by just as quickly) and your brain strains to bring to light anything at all because it’s jumbled and rich and mundane and heavy and normal all at once?

who am I kidding – this is every week in thailand. and everywhere, i suppose. i just notice it more here.

a couple weeks ago, a new friend came to check out ministries in pattaya and i was able to bounce around the city with her a bit, popping in to see friends and running into faces that may not have otherwise made it into my week.

it was sweet. a reminder of the incredible community i’ve found here – so much joy to share in and wisdom to glean.

I listened to the staff at GRACE brainstorm ways to partner with their student’s schools so they could better assist with homework tutoring. a long, curly haired man gave me and tay a bracelet and flower necklace on the street, imploring us to come listen to him play on walking street sometime. the guys at boystown were sweet and welcoming – it was the first time i felt like i belonged there. like we were all truly just friends hanging out, dropping by to say hey and give a moment of relief and normal to their life of anything but. i ran into a fellow volunteer on the street while driving to teaching and struck up a friendly conversation with the cutest waitress I’ve seen a dozen times at on of my favorite cafes. the market vendors were so friendly, one gave me her LINE id so we could take the bus up north together next time I go… (I still attribute the extra show of friendliness to my new friend lucy. I swear having a cute British girl by your side makes you instantly more approachable ha #comebacktovisitsoon). one of our students at Shear Love brought us a big tupperware of the sweetest mangoes and another of our students from last year met us for an all you can eat seafood buffet (for a whopping $6. it just doesn’t get better than that people). we celebrated our sweet translators birthday and had our weekly staff meeting to connect on ongoing projects. I had at least 5 great conversations with roommates and friends throughout the week – full of intentionality and depth. two new volunteers arrived and dianna returned from the states. our home was full and community skyrocketed. my extroverted heart was in heaven so i baked cookies. day after day i watched jesus’ faithfulness to remind me of the beauty and goodness he’s brought to my life here.

and it was also exhausting.

my days were more full – but introducing a city so wrapped up in its own depravity that it all looks ‘normal’ can take it out of you emotionally. driving down bar lined roads I visit weekly, knowing that down each ally lies more of the same. steaming streets teeming with men and women trying to make a living with emptiness in their eyes. talking day after day about the hard and often incomprehensible realities we’re up against in offering opportunities and training and a truth bigger than today’s paycheck, superstition, luck or cultural expectation … the decisions of the people around us can be heartbreaking, and the path to wholeness, while often clear to us, can seem speckled with roadblocks to bring to fruition for others. there are no shortages of reminders for why we’re called to work in this city.

one afternoon, lucy and i looked out over pattaya from 2 completely different viewpoints. one a brothel lined street, the sun scorching us as we watched women sit bored on their phones while others engaged with customers and vendors pushed carts down a pothole laden road. laundry hung from the roofs across the way with curtains drawn on windows above bars.

the other was on a breezy hilltop surrounded by golden ‘gods’, their frozen bodies and chipped paint watching over apartments buildings and rooftop pools close to a shimmering sea, islands off in the distance and thai temple tops peaking out amidst trees and businesses. money clung to chinese new year trees and sandals scattered across the stone steps.

it was such a contrast – the beauty and the depravity. the kindness and the evil. this city is so peaceful and so chaotic all-the-time.

i suppose i’m no different to jesus. he sees my beauty and perversion. my faults are always before him, yet he pursues my heart intimately, desiring me to walk in fullness and abundance all the while calling me beloved. much like this home of mine, it doesn’t always make sense. but oh how i’m thankful for it.

The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)

i’ve recently been thinking about how lucky and privileged i am to live here. after a year and some months now, some of the charm and shine has worn off and it’s easier to let myself get frustrated or lazy with the people and processes around me that aren’t kind, helpful, or make sense. even writing that makes my heart cringe, because i also love this place and these people so much. and God has called me to serve and love and humbly give even a piece of the hope i have to walk through this life with joy. that is such.an.honor and should compel me to give more of myself daily.

what God has up his sleeve will likely always be a mystery, but i’m reminded that in seeing the rough edges of not only this city, but of my heart, God’s goodness gets to shine that-much-brighter. even the darkness is light to God. no matter where the dark is found. no matter how much or how often. there is ALWAYS reason to hope, to seek the good and rejoice with a thankful heart.

The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. (Psalm 146:8)

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