Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Found What I'm Looking For

In a few weeks, this will all be over. I will be flying above the North Pole--Thailand and everything and everyone that makes it what it is just a speck on the horizon in the rear view window. Thailand behind me, the Lord's daily unfolding purpose and plan before me.
You know, I used to hate the months in between mission trips. I thought of myself as exiled; how ridiculous is that? I would spend the entire year daydreaming and impatiently awaiting those ten days, that one month, two months in the summertime when I would run away with the Lord to read His word on flowery hills during sunrise, to hold and love lonely children. (I have to ask myself, though: How many times when I left was I actually running toward my God, and how many times was I just running?) So many years with three hundred and thirty-four days rushed through and wasted for only thirty-one, fifty-eight, ten days to come. It's funny, but I never noticed before the hills soaked in morning glory outside of my Mississippi bedroom window, or the beautiful children in my own life who ate just as starved for love as the kids I have to hop on a plane to see.
At least, not until now.
I'm not really quite sure what I was expecting, y'know, deep down inside when I put my usual life on hold to come to Thailand for two crazy months. Maybe I was expecting/hoping to learn a little bit about life itself--and me. Maybe I was expecting to come and fall madly in love with the country and just know know know that I would move back someday and live here forever, adopting millions of Thai babies. For years now, I've been searching for where my heart is (or is supposed to be). My mom's is in Swaziland, and my older sister's in seeking justice for those who cannot on their own. But until Thailand, I didn't know where mine was. In Romania, where I spent last summer? In Swaziland, with the children living in the city dump? In Mexico? In inner-city Jackson? In art? In what? Had I already discovered what and where, and just missed it? I guess, really, I was just looking for something I hadn't found yet. Like U2's beautiful ode to longing, "I have climbed highest mountains/I have run through the fields/Only to be with you/Only to be with you/I have run/I have crawled/I have scaled these city walls, these city walls/Only to be with you/But I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

"...Only to be with You, only to be with You..."

Ah. That's it, isn't it? Four mission trips, one hundred and nine days away from home (one hundred and twenty-one if you count summer camp), and I'm finally beginning to learn. Maybe I don't have to find my heart in jungles of the rain forest or in the Sahara of the African plain--maybe it's just enough to find my heart in the open palms of my God. Maybe being in His will and wherever that may lead (China this summer, Russia the next, etc. etc.) is enough.
There's a prayer my family and I say every morning after breakfast and morning devotions. After doing it for so long, we can recite it without looking at the book while we peek at one another and early morning sunshine floods in through the east window.

"May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors."

I will be sad to leave Thailand because I have grown to love it over this past month and a half. But I will leave it because the Lord is calling me away, back home, and I am growing to love Him more than everything else and above all else.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What It Is; Who He Is


Love is not proud. Love does not boast. Love after all, matters the most. Love does not run. Love does not hide. Love does not keep locked inside. Love is the river that flows through. Love never fails you. Love will sustain. Love will provide. Love will not cease at the end of time. Love will protect. Love always hopes. Love still believes when you don’t. Love is the arms that are holding you. Love never fails you. When my heart won’t make a sound, when I can’t turn back around, when the sky is falling down--nothing is greater than this, greater than this. Love is right here. Love is alive. Love is the way, the truth the life. Love is the river than flows through. Love is the. arms that are holding you. Love is the place you will fly to. Love never fails you.

Brandon Heath is kinda the best. Last Wednesday, as I prepared for my Level 3 class--writing the seasons of the year in blue marker on the board--, I played worship music through borrowed speakers and appreciated the peace. The empty classroom might as well have been a cathedral, the way that the notes and acoustics filled the space. I discovered Brandon Heath's love song that afternoon.
This Sunday, a girl sang the same song during church. It was like a personal "I love you" from God. A personal "I know what you're thinking and what's going on in every bit of your life, even the Wednesday afternoons, and hey, I care." It's moments like Wednesday afternoons before class, sunlight and the Holy Spirit's presence streaming in through the big window across the room from my desk; standing amidst a congregation of brothers and sisters in Christ of all nations; singing Needtobreathe songs with English students--that remind me that God is love.
God is not proud. God does not boast. God after all, matters the most. God does not run. God does not hide. God does not keep locked inside. God is the river that flows through. God never fails you. God will sustain. He will provide. The Lord will not cease at the end of time. He will protect. He always hopes. The Father still believes when you don’t. God is the arms that are holding you. The Lord never fails you. When my heart won’t make a sound, when I can’t turn back around, when the sky is falling down--no one is greater than this, greater than Him. God is right here. He is alive. He is the way, the truth the life. God is the river that flows through. Our Father are the arms that are holding you. He is the place you will fly to. He never fails you. And thank goodness He reminds me daily of this, because sometimes outside of the Wednesday afternoons and worship sessions before class, I forget it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

C. S. Lewis Brilliance

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a new wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."
-C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

My best friend and my sister each wrote twenty-nine letters, so that I would have one from either of them every other day of all the days I spend in Thailand. Today, that was what my friend wrote. Through those words, and C. S. Lewis' God-given ability to see things as they really are, I saw that that was the misunderstanding of my heart.
I think that we (meaning "I") push our own low-expectations onto God. From the very first cruel insult heard on the playground--all the way up through the cruel insults heard in high school, college, marriage, etc.--, we continually hand our Creator the lying words that we have grown to accept as truth everyday for the entirety of our lives. "Inadequate", "loser", "incompetent", "ignorant", "good-for-nothing"... all these words written on our bodies and self-esteem, the Lord's creations, by ourselves. We do this until we truly believe with all of our miserable heart that our Father thinks just as much (or little) of us as we do.

"You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace..."

"A decent little cottage" might as well be "a friendly lady with exceptional skin that is the leader of the youth group and whom everyone likes"--it's all the same if that's all it is. "A good enough mother that manages to train up her children to not be hooligans and never loses a sock behind the dryer." It might seem lame, but these are the things I want to be someday when I'm grown. A wonderful mom like my own, a wise woman like the women in my church, joyful like them, too. When it comes to wanting to be like someone, you could definitely do far worse than those ladies (in fact, I don't think you could do better)...but they're not me, and I'm not them. They will always be so much more than I could possibly copycat, and I...I will be so much more than them, in my own way.
He is the King, and I am His daughter. So I am a princess, we all are. But not because we deserve the title or have somehow earned it, but because of Who our Father is. Only because of Him. Always because of Him.
"He intends to come and live in it Himself..." A locked, enclosed garden; a holy temple--isn't that what we're supposed to be? However, only holy because of His presence inside, and only a temple for Him. Jesus said that we Christians should be as visible and unmistakable as a city on a hill; but the only things on the hills here in Thailand are temples, visibly and unmistakeably honoring a god people have made for themselves. A god who cannot hear they chants or anguished cries, for it has no ears to hear with. Nor can it ever answer, for it has no tongue, only molded, cold gold. And it cannot possibly love, for it has no life and never will. Yet they still bow down to it, chain themselves to it every single day.
Just as we do ourselves to our man-made gods.
My body, the chambers of my soul, are not supposed to be a home for selfish picket-fence dreams; for money or a passport with every blue page stamped; for ourselves or anyone we know. It is supposed to be a home not for my gods, but for my God.

"But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards..." Build, tear down--why shouldn't He do with it (with us) as He sees best? After all, didn't we say we were His clay? And a cottage is nothing compared to a palace, and He wants all of us to be palaces. Houses of God.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You Give, And Take Away

Blessed be Your name
in the land that is plentiful
Where your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name.

I have a beautiful family. Really, I do. And thank God for yearly long mission trips that help me to remember just how blessed I am to have each of them in my life.
Once upon a time, there was a girl that moved across south with her mother, father, and younger brothers. Her brother would kidnap her Barbies, and she occasionally bathed in a river. There was a boy, across the country, chasing girls around the school playground, demanding kisses from the poor, terrorized things. They grew twenty-something years, both into beautiful people of the Lord emerging from broken stories. They met in college, but she graduated and chose Africa over him. The Lord led her to Africa for two years as a Journeymen missionary, and then at the end of it, He led her back home and into the young man's awaiting arms. They married.
They're my parents.
My father has always pushed me to be better than my best; and my mom has always been there to let me know that no matter what, I'm good enough for her just the way I am. A Captain Kirk on the schoolyard and a missionary--obviously they were going to have quite the life together. They did, and they gave life. Seven times. That's me and my siblings.
I have this quirky baby sister, who we allow to dress herself so that she can express herself, and be independent. More than a few mornings a week she'll stomp down the stares, modeling her scrunched up freckle smile, motorcycle boots, and black tulle "rock girl" miniskirt. With a kitten t-shirt. (My parents let me express myself in a similar fashion when I was thirteen, through the wonders of violet purple hair.) That same stomping and rocking sweet little sister will spend endless hours in my room with me when the middle students shun her, flipping through TeenVogues and Elles. More than once, I have come home from work or a friend's house absolutely exhausted, to find my bed--which I left in a I-just-rolled-out-of-you-and-left disaster for I had no time to give it any attention--made, compliments of her.
I have a little brother that is a ladies man. He's only seven. (I think...) He always has a grin and less-than genuine compliment (but a compliment all the same, so I'm not complaining!) prepared when I'm grumpy. I don't think anyone thinks I'm more beautiful than him.
I have a brother that puts ketchup on everything, and a sister that hates me, but actually loves me. Even though I pull her hair during meals. I have another brother that I can spend hours wandering through topics of universe-big things, like God and girls (for him) and guys (for me) while perched on the kitchen counters. He's always on my side, unless it's him I have the problem with. Then I'm always wrong, obviously. (Ah, sibling love.)
And then there is my older sister, who is just as quirky as the youngest. She gave me a reason to invent the word "cool-edge", and when Webster's finally recognizes its legit word validity, she will be the definition they put next to it.

1. Someone's behavior, way of life, or appearance.
-The girl's wardrobe could only be labeled as cool-edge

That's her. My sister. Anna is Anna is Anna.
I have a life full of Scrabble games and missions, of homeschool curriculum and very Walton memories. I am blessed to be a part of my family, which seems to grow every year, even after my mom was unable to have any more children. Thanks to my parents open arms, I have a wonderful "brother of another colored mother" and two girls that started out as just my friends, but now I count as sisters. But my family also grows outside of the boundaries of our hobby farm--I have boys I have grown up with that I count as my brothers; young girls that I mentor as my older sister mentored me; incredible Godly women that I can spend hours with, cappucinos and simple conversation enough to satisfy us for hours. My family spreads across the plains of Africa, snuggled in the valleys of Romania, the streets of Thailand, all of us joined by hand in our common love for Christ.
Yes. I am blessed.
But that's the thing about Scrabble games and hours perched on the kitchen counters--the kitchen counters won't always be the same over the passing years, and the Scrabble games will be pushed to the back of the closet as there is no time for it anymore. Sisters turn eighteen and move out, and then on to college. Entire families, ketchup eating siblings and all move overseas to Africa as missionaries. Or at least, mine does. Will.

And blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name.

And through it all, these last years of homeschool curriculum before college textbooks; of Scrabble games and scanning TeenVogue issues while my baby sister is still really a baby; of afternoons spent in a cafe, in fellowship with mothers and sisters I've--unfortunately--lived most of my life without, the Lord calls me away. From all of it. Yes, it is only one month, two months at a time, but still. You miss your brother dealing with a crush, your sister getting her first ticket, your ketchup maniac brother looking after a litter of newborn kittens. It's not a lot to some people, I suppose, but it is when you love and cherish all of those people a lot.
For the first time in my life, I, world-traveler-can't-stand-to-stay-in-the-same-place-for-too-long-and-risk-actually-getting-attached-to-someone-to-many-someones me, misses home. Maybe it's because I never really saw how much there was to miss...

You give and take away
You give and take away
God, you give and take away
But my heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name!

Just like Abraham once, or Joseph, the Lord calls us away with Him because He has things He wants to show and teach just us, on our own, individually. But in the end, our paths always lead home, whether that is our temporary home, or our heavenly one. And our families are there waiting, with open arms, and we can run into them, bringing with us all the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us. Our Father's ways are greater than ours, He can see all and He works everything for our good, so obviously His plan is the best. I will strive to learn that being in His will is home enough for Him, being in the palm of His hand is enough. I will choose to love my sisters in Christ in Thailand as much as I the little girl in motorcycle boots, to love my family in Christ here as much as I love the family on the hobby farm. And, through all this, even when He takes away, I will choose to bless His name.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Time To Be Found

I recently played a part in a theatrical version of Peter Pan. I was Tinkerbell, a little girl's dream role. (Or a fifteen year old girl's dream role, too...) I was a part of a beautiful and--surprisingly for the drama department--undramatic cast, who all wrote me letters of encouragement for me to read every day while I'm here in Thailand. Reading these and the letters that my other friends, family members, and church family wrote has become the highlight of my days. Some nights I'll stay up till midnight just so I can go ahead and open a new one, guilt free.
Last night was no exception. It was a letter written from one of the Lost Boys (actually played by a girl, believe it or not) in Peter Pan. Among all the words of encouragement, she quoted Tinkerbell, my character. Now, Tink has two defining and memorable lines. The first, "You silly ass!" And then the second is an indifferent retort to an insult that Wendy flung at her. "Tink is an abandoned, poor little creature!" Tinkerbell's haughty reply? "I know I am! And like a true woman, I glory in it!" The writer of the letter reminded me of that last line.
You are an abandoned, poor little creature...and like a true woman...you glory in it! That's what she wrote. A little harsh if you were expecting fluffy promises of vigilant prayer and "you'll do great!"s, but sometimes you need a little more substance than that to comfort your soul. Sometimes you need truth. Harsh truth.
Yes, just like everyone at one time has been or will be, I was once abandoned. Rejected. And I wallowed in it. Oh God, I was abandoned. Every view, every thought I possessed--poof!--changed, transformed, because of one instant, five words. Trust failed. Beauty tainted. I applied that wound to everything, and looked at everything else and everyone out of my wound's eyes, Bitterness. It was rapidly spreading, unchecked and coming up against no resistance, throughout my every limb, my very marrow, my organs, my whole body.
Yes, I was abandoned, and yes, I gloried in it. I chose to stay abandoned. And the Lord knows all this, and He gives me free will. But thankfully blessed Jesus loves me too much to abandon me, even when I want to be. He is whispering daily in my heart, This is a new time. This is a new time. A new season. What season, though? A new time for what? For what, Lord? I have been asking this question, crying it out in desperation to my Father ever since I got here. What season is Thailand? What is it time for? What, what, what? I have spent hours scanning His Written Word, trying to find an answer there since I could not find one in my soul.
And then! Last night; Isaiah, Ecclesiastes, a feeling of a burdened lightened... I saw not through my bitterness, but through the hope of the Lord, and I saw that maybe...just maybe...I knew what season I was in, what time it is...

"Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not
perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert."
-Isaiah 43:18-19

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to
build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time
to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain
from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven... I finally see it, I finally accept it: Maybe, just maybe it is time for me to be found. Maybe it is the beginning of me finally seeing that I am His beloved. Maybe it is time for me to instead of glory in my self-pity, glory in His unfathomable love.
I am so glad that that Lost Boy reminded me how lost I was without my Father, because until last night, I was completely unaware.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Culture Immersion

Sunday night, seven of us squashed damp into a five-seater tops, typical Hello Kitty decorated Thai car, and headed to my very first professional "football" [soccer] game. Chiang Rai United vs. Pattaya United.
We parked, schlepped through rich, red dirt transformed into man-eating mud, bought pineapple wedges and squid-on-a-stick, and then made our way inside of the stadium. As our we filed through the metal detector and our faces were peered at to make sure we weren't escaped convicts trying to sabotage a football game, it was beginning, those few minutes leading up to the match that drive your excitement insane. A ticket-taker next too me abandoned his post so as to dash up the stairs ahead of me and get a glimpse of the action that was about to ensue on the field below. He was what you would call back in the South a "punk", or in the seventies "a greaser." Black hair gelled up an impressive six inches above the head in a shark fin, skinny jeans, leather jacket, all that jazz. He was the poster kid for a Thai teenager boy enjoying a football game. I wished that my camera was in my hand, ready to frame that moment, instead of buried deep within my raincoat.
Chiang Rai United's color is orange, and we made our way through a crowd that wore it proudly, uniformly, and patriotically to find seats. As we ate our common Thai game food (i.e. squid-on-a-stick), the game began, and the crowd became alive in an instant. About five seconds in, I realized: Thais are passionate about their football. Total maniacs for it. The crowd around me displayed feelings of comradeship and ownership toward Chiang Rai United, their team. Comradeship because deep down, every die-hard Thai fan counts each player as their very best friend. After all, hadn't they always supported them? Been to every single one of their games? And then ownership because they didn't think twice about shooting up and flinging outraged curses at their "very best friends" when they goofed a play up.
Thais are proud of their team. Most of the football teams' names in this country end in "united", and that's exactly how they feel. Our team scored the first point, and the crowd was ecstatic, jubilant. They chanted "Chiang Rai!" like it was a war cry underneath a shower of orange confetti, threw their hands up in triumph and emotion. With each pelvic thrust--which there were a lot...--, they staked their claim in this celebration. With each happy dance executed they proved that they were just as much a part of the victory as the player himself that had sent the ball flying into the goal.
It only took two points, and then the orange jerseys began to be ripped off and waved round and round above heads and bare backs like lassos. I don't think even Shakira can shake her hips quite like an aged, Thai father celebrating at a football game. With each point scored, the crowd showed that they were just as much a part of the action by jumping to their feet as if they had won a personal victory.We had the joy of an entire stadium roaring around us, and a legitimate Brazilian in our party with childlike enthusiasm; the excitement was contagious. We were soon singing the cheers along with the impromptu band near the bottom of the bleachers, outcries of "Chiang Rai"s shouted by over a thousand people pulsed through the sound waves around my head.
When your specific job, appointed by the organization you're partnering with and your mom, is to immerse yourself in a culture and to build relationships--being in a foreign country halfway around the globe for two months can be a blast.