Archive for the ‘ Ponderings ’ Category

Sacrifice

As I traveled through the States over the holidays I had the chance to reconnect with friends and family and be reminded of the beauty of the American world.

On a minor scale, it’s being reminded how tasty homemade Christmas cookies are. Or how my friends at Ebenezers Coffeehouse in DC know how to make my ridiculously complicated coffee drink just right, at which point I can enjoy it over life-giving conversations with friends from my home church.  It’s hugging my nieces and nephews, siblings, parents and grandparents and realizing how much of our individual strength has come from the collective strength of our family.

Yes, the world on the other side of the world is a pretty sweet one.  But here’s the catch.

Those cookies wouldn’t have tasted so good had I not been without them (or an oven for that matter) for a year.  The coffee wouldn’t have tasted so good had it not been shared with a friend as we visited about what God had been doing over the last year in each of our lives.  Those hugs with my family would not have been as sweet if I hadn’t just spent a year surrounded by people living in extreme hardship stemming largely from broken families, and realized just how preciously rare a strong, healthy family unit is.

When people tell me that they are inspired by the sacrifice of leaving a comfortable world behind, I have to correct them.

I made no sacrifice.

Rather, by not leaving, I would have remained trapped in my own sense of pride and drive for accomplishment and sacrificed the beauty of being humbled by those that live with so little and yet live with so much.

I would have sacrificed learning the depth and richness of love, community, compassion and restoration and recognizing each of them more fully in my life.

No, I made no sacrifice.

 

Let it Rain

I realize I haven’t said much to offer peace of mind that we’ve stayed above the crocodile-infested floodwaters rumored to have consumed Bangkok.  So…  here you go.  After weeks of warnings that we may be submerged any day, our neighborhood is still dry and is expected to stay that way.

The water situation here truly has been a national disaster worthy of those sensational headlines circling the globe, but there’s always more to the story.

Sandbags near the Chao Phraya river after the tides subsided on Sunday.

Many districts in the north of the city and along the river remain under water and will likely stay that way for some time.   Floodwalls constructed on the outskirts of the city kept the water from drenching the economic center of Bangkok, but required the folks on the other side of the wall to endure more than their fair share of the water.

The impact on those of us that stayed dry has been limited to bare grocery store shelves and the threat of limited supplies of drinking water due to disrupted supply chains.  And, of course, all those that prepared protective concrete walls and piles of sandbags (some even with an inflatable raft out front ready for escape) look a little awkward in light of the current sunny weather and no signs of water.

This panic-ridden season, though, has caused many of us to consider the state of affairs in Bangkok and the rest of the country and let our mind wander to a myriad of flood-related analogies.

In the words of Jim Larson, our fearless leader at The Well, “…when will the flood of teens and tweens into the sex trade subside, and when will God flood this city with Heaven. Let it rain.”

The needs generated by the flood disaster aren’t going away anytime soon as the impact goes far deeper than just the water levels.  Many families remain displaced from their homes and over 350,000 have lost jobs due to factory disruptions. In addition to the millions of individuals affected – many of them in low-income brackets  – the widespread economic disruption will take some time to turn around.

I shudder to think of how few economic options are left for these individuals already living at the margins and now pushed even further. I know all too well what one of the options is.

I can only hope and pray that this nation will come together at every level with a commitment to provide creative and healthy roads to recovery, especially for those at the margins.

What’ll it take?  Well, at the very least it’ll take a lot of folks in government, the private sector and the non-profit sector putting their heads together and figuring out how to put the needs of others first.

Powerful presence, direction and intervention from the One who taught us best how to love our neighbors would certainly help…  Let it rain.

 

24 Hours

Saturday morning alarm set for 5 AM I wish I could say it was done with a joyful heart, but I’d be lying.  It had been a long week; I was tired and grumpy.  Nothing seemed to be going as planned.  Expended energy seemed to be yielding little fruit. But we knew we had to go.  Motivated by the fear of regret, we went.

Three sisters, part of our family at The Well, had a family crisis.  And when one in our family has a family crisis, we go.  A child was in the hospital in critical condition, and we hadn’t seen two of the sisters in some time.  We wanted to give hugs, prayers and encouragement. To do so would require an eight hour bus ride upcountry followed by unknown local transport to their rural village.  A few hours into the trip, a phone call informed us that both sisters had been called away to work and wouldn’t be able to meet us after all, and the child in critical condition had been taken away by his dad to a different hospital.

My first reaction?  Resentment.  Not a glamorous missionary reaction, right?  5 AM wake-up followed by an 8-hour bus ride on a rare, open weekend and nobody would be there. Seriously?  Isn’t my time more important than a wild goose chase literally across the country?

Jub smiled at my clear disgruntledness and settled in to her bus seat to catch some sleep on the way. Her calm attitude convicted me.

Almost to our destination, we called the girls’ mom directly since she was likely the only one still home. She had gotten very sick and asked us to meet her at the hospital.  We met her at the local clinic where they had given her a shot of morphine and sent her on her way.  (Thai health care at its finest.)   We followed her home, sat with her, visited, and played with the sweet one-year-old that had spent his first six months of life at The Well before going back to live with his grandma.

Mom’s signs of sickness worsened and we helped her get to a more legitimate hospital for better medical attention.  Off she went, and that was it.  Jub and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and started looking for a creative transportation mode to start our trek back to Bangkok.

We walked in the door at home almost exactly 24 hours after we had left.  Over 20 hours in a moving vehicle of various shapes and sizes, less than 4 hours of visiting, and nowhere close to fulfilling our originally intended purpose.  And yet, it seemed God knew more than we did.

Mom got the hospital attention she needed. Sisters felt cared for.  Jub got some sleep on the bus.  And I got my weekly dose of humble pie-in-the-face.

Wild goose chase?  Perhaps.  A weird way to spend a weekend?  Yep.  Thankful that God takes extraordinary measures to remind me that He’s not only in charge, but actually knows what He’s doing?  Absolutely.

Harvest

Harvest is wrapping up on the Idaho home front. My cousin sent a report a while back that one of our fields registered a record-breaking 133 bushels per acre.

I got that report during a particularly rough week in Bangkok during which I was struggling to hang on to hope of a fruitful harvest with a few cases here.  A series of drug relapses were causing downward spirals among a few students.  These added to several health crises and a myriad of other issues in our community, not to mention a few more heartbreaking nights of outreach where we realize just how much it’s going to take to break these cycles of broken rural families sending broken women to work in broken bar districts frequented by broken foreign men… Taken together, it tipped the scale enough to trigger questions and emotions that I didn’t particularly want to face.

I sat reading this bright email from home, 8000 miles away, and feeling much further even than that from a bountiful harvest.

And then I remembered.

I was around eight years old. We had a bumper crop in the fields; just waiting for another week of sun to ripen it and ready it for harvest.  We came home from church, shared our Sunday family dinner, and sat on the porch to watch a storm roll in.  But this one wasn’t an ordinary storm.  It carried enough hailstones to destroy that bumper crop in a matter of minutes.

I wasn’t very old, but I knew enough to know the consequences of those hailstones.  Completely out of our control.  Completely devastating.  But oddly, I don’t remember the devastation as much as I remember the reaction of my dad.

We watched in silence as the storm came and went.  He calmly got up, smiled, and said “There’s always next year.”

Dad illustrated a lesson for me that year that I’ve revisited many times since: We have the responsibility to plant and tend, but ultimately we’re asked to hold loosely to the work of OUR hands and instead trust in the work of GOD’s.

Put differently, harvest doesn’t always look the way we’d like it to look.  It doesn’t always fit into nice spreadsheets or “win” columns.  For me, that year of a destroyed crop provided more fruit than a bumper crop would have. It gave me a picture of faith, and of faithfulness.

It’s a picture that reminds me that success doesn’t always mean seeing the fruit of our labor in the near term.  Success means faithfulness over the long term.  It means faithfulness to the calling you’ve received, and more importantly, to the One who called.

“…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday…”  — Isaiah 58:10


Mountains and Messes

Who doesn’t love being on the mountain top?  I suppose there are a few folks out there afraid of heights, but even if you don’t like them in the literal sense I’m guessing you like them in the figurative sense.

I confess I have a small obsession for these high places both literally and figuratively.

Some of my favorite memories growing up were watching magnificent storms roll in from 50+ miles away from the ranch at home; the photo above can’t do it justice.  Or drinking in the uninhibited views from my favorite Idaho peaks in the Seven Devils range or on top of Mount Borah.  Breathing in the thin air at the top of Cotopaxi in Ecuador or the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu. Dangling my feet and peering over the crag on the top of Half Dome in Yosemite.

These mountain top moments represent the times I feel closest to my Creator, standing (or falling down) in awe of His wonder, power and majesty.  I find joy and perspective in those places. Conviction in purpose and calling. Divine energy.

I’m spoiled with frequent mountain top moments in Thailand.  Not so many literal ones in this tropical climate, but plenty of figurative ones to keep me energized in the morning.

They generally look something like:  Seeing street kids escape their heartbreaking reality for a moment as we play games and laugh together. Holding the dream-like gaze of a new friend as we talk about possibilities for her life outside the bar as customers come and go in the background. Walking and chatting with a couple of teenagers that have just learned the message of Christ for the first time and are overflowing with questions. Photographing the wedding of a student and watching the couple commit to raising their adorable daughter together. Busting up ground with a bunch of ragamuffin kids in the countryside as we plan out a new garden plot.

But then we leave those moments and face the reality of the hard stuff that follows.  The fact that those street kids that were able to escape for a moment will still have to sleep on the street and will probably get deported again soon. Walking with this new friend through the uphill battle of trying to leave this bar scene, peppered with disappointment and a system working against her. Discipling teenagers who have no healthy role models in their lives and who are only in our community a few months out of the year. Seeing the newly-wed couple walk through the difficulty of relationship and child-rearing, even in community, as they struggle with serious addictions and trust issues.

Off the mountain and into the valley we go.

The reality is, life is tough in the valley.  Brokenness and poverty – be it material, spiritual, relational, etc – are ugly and often seem unfixable.  Helping someone in such complex environments is like trying to catch a bar of soap in the shower. Or rather, trying to catch a bathtub full of bars of soap.

I confess I’m often tempted to run away to build a house on the mountain top.  I can better stomach brokenness and poverty from high up and far away, where I have clear and unobstructed perspective that God is bigger and more powerful than they are.  In other words, I would love to live for those first moments of hopefulness and avoid the messy aftermath that happens in reality.

A friend recently dropped one of those timely reality-checks on me as she reminded me that God didn’t create us to DWELL on the mountain top.  God created us for the valley.

The valley is messy, but it’s where He’s working.  The Kingdom is built when we step into others’ messes, when we walk people out of messes, and sometimes when we make messes that need to be created.  The mess of the valley is where He calls us to dwell.

Can you imagine a house on the top of Half Dome? No way.  For one, it’s crazy-dangerous.  And it’s not “real life.”  If I lived up there, not only would I likely get struck by lightening but I would quickly lose touch with the beauty and intricate complexity of what I was seeing below.  Part of the reason I like the mountain top is the joy of going back down and sharing what I saw, experienced and learned.

Why, then, in our spiritual lives do we always want to build a house on the mountain?

Look at Moses – my all-time favorite mountain man.  Moses met with God on the mountain. We all have the flannel board scene of the burning bush burned into our memory.  But how many of us remember that Moses had to go down from the mountain to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  In other words, he had to leave the mountain for a mess.  Fast forward to post-Red-Sea-parting and the Israelites freed from Egypt… God summoned Moses back up to the mountain again, this time to give him the Ten Commandments.  Did he stay up there this time?  Nope. Moses came down from the mountain and stepped into another enormous mess, carrying the power and presence of God to make history in the valley.

Imagine what would have happened if Moses had stayed up on the mountain?

In our case, what would happen if we left the conversation at “there’s hope for you” and then failed to walk with her through the mess of stepping into that hope?  What would happen if we simply handed over the photos of the beautiful wedding and failed to walk with them through the mess of relationship?  What would happen if we left the ragamuffins with this plot of cultivated soil without walking with them through the process of planting, tending and harvesting a crop?

I’m asking myself these questions and would and invite you to join in asking yourself as well.

How often do we live FOR those mountain top moments — those joyful moments of safety and security where we can just point to God at work and clap our hands — rather than live BY them as we step down and join God in His work amidst the mess of the valley?  What mess is God calling you into?

When we’re in the valley, how can we better treasure those mountain top moments?  How can we develop the discipline of “lifting our eyes up to the mountain” and be sustained by what we’ve seen there rather than just seeking out the next mountain top moment?

“I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from?”   – Psalm 121:1