The Journey Begins

After more than a full day of traveling, I’m now in Bangkok, settled into what will likely be my new “home” during my time in the city.  Lucky for you, I’ll post something I wrote a on the first leg of the trip when I was slightly more coherent.  Here goes…

I’m settled into my window seat, flying over the mighty Pacific Ocean en route to Narita before heading on to the long-awaited “final destination” of Bangkok.  What better time to document the myriad of memories, thoughts and emotions that have been swirling through my head over the last few weeks?

I meant to update the blog a little more frequently over the last several weeks, but spent more time in a raspberry patch, on the back of a horse, in a combine harvesting wheat, chasing nieces and nephews and exploring miles and miles of U.S. scenic highways rather than with a notebook in hand.  I did, however, have a camera.  Check out photos from the last month on flickr.

I have few words to describe how valuable this last month has been.  I’m grateful for the chance I had to simply take a breath and enjoy the change of pace, place and perspective.  To leave what has been a whirlwind in DC and look ahead to the next chapter, and enjoy time with family and friends and a myriad of adventures along the way.

I’m now sitting here wondering just what God has in store for this next chapter.  I’m en route with no expectations other than to keep my eyes, ears and heart open; not unlike my journey to Thailand almost two years ago.  Only this time I have a little more luggage and an uncertain return date.

With no expectations, my first order of business is to simply listen. Watch. Absorb. Learn.

To listen to the Thai language and begin to hear the thoughts, challenges and hopes of those I meet… and hopefully learn to speak well enough to ask some questions.

To watch and absorb the cultures and traditions of the Thai people.

To watch and learn the ways that those at The Well have learned to serve God and serve the men and women of Thailand.

To keep watch for unmet needs, and keep an open mind as to creative ways to contribute.

And in the process, watch and listen for the ways that God wishes to reveal Himself in Thailand.  What He’ll reveal about His character, and just how much He cares for His children.

Am I anxious?  Nervous?  Scared?  Excited?  I’m not really sure. My extremely gracious sister that dropped me off at the airport might have a better idea… she got to witness the multiple packing and “pesky details” meltdowns that occurred prior to the launch.  But all things considered I feel uncharacteristically calm as I sit here on the plane.

I know this calm has nothing to do with me, but I attribute it to the following:

The support and prayers of family and friends. God answered those prayers for a smooth journey in a big way.  No visa issues.  No flight issues.  Easy peasey everything.

The reminders of the journey that brought me to this place.  The silent but unmistakable call to go and continued “green lights” and open doors that made it possible.

The faith of those that have gone before me.  Whether that be the missionaries that have served in Thailand previously, those that are there now, or those that have launched elsewhere in the world (not to mention any names…. Adam Taylor…..) Each offer the gift of inspiration.

I’m grateful to be here. Grateful for those that sent me off with such generosity. Grateful in advance for the work that is ahead.

So, here we go.  The journey begins.

Go West, Young Woman

This would typically be my “farewell” message as I head out from DC today with a loaded down car, but tears don’t translate well in a blog post.  Suffice it to say I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the amazing community of people that have stood beside me to this point, that have celebrated with me in joyful anticipation of the mission, and have sent me off with their love and prayers.  I will miss you all; but there are no goodbyes, only a “see ya soon”.

That said, I’ve been processing lately just how amazing the last six months have been in preparation for the move.

I’m usually one to make a decision and leave….yesterday.  That hasn’t been the case with Thailand.  I felt strongly that this was neither a decision to be taken lightly nor a move to be rushed into.

I realized earlier in the year that Thailand was on God’s itinerary for me sometime this year, but I didn’t feel the sense of urgency or immediacy that I normally feel with more typical job changes.  In taking a breath and deciding to hold off from moving until this summer, it became clear that there were a number of commitments that I had made that needed to be fulfilled and there was a season of emotional and spiritual preparation that needed to happen before taking the leap into missions.

In having this last six months to try to “finish well” my time here in DC, I look back and realize the true value of giving God some margin to work with.  Had I picked up and moved immediately this last winter, I would have missed out on an amazing season of preparation in DC.  I would have missed out on relationships that still needed to be cultivated.  I would have missed opportunities to develop professionally in ways that will likely contribute to whatever work I’m able to put my hand to in Thailand.  I would have missed learning the emotional and spiritual lessons that have been thrown at me in recent months, all of which I’m convinced are preparation for trying times overseas.

So, I’m thankful for this time that I was allowed in DC.  I learned just how much joy there is in being sure of your calling, but enjoying the season of preparation with a healthy anticipation and expectation of what’s next.   I learned the value of spiritual margin.

And thus begins the next chapter of margin.  Rather than flying straight over to Thailand after ending my job last week, I decided to take about a month off to recalibrate, see my family, and have some serious adventures on U.S. soil.

And today, my friends, marks the beginning of the epic road trip.

I’m headed up the east coast for a few days before turning and heading west toward Idaho.  I have good friends with me along the way, and very few plans are set for the trip other than a commitment to adventure.

Here’s to laying down the ever-pressing need to “arrive yesterday” and instead enjoying the stories that are being written of the journey there!

Tick Tock

Less than a month out from the DC exodus, the reality of “limited time” is hitting more than ever.  Why is it that we never feel like there’s enough time?
I read that the Chilean earthquake this last spring was so powerful that it shifted the Earth’s axis and shortened the length of a day by 1.26 millionths of a second. (True story.) No wonder I’m feeling so frantic these days. I’ve been robbed of precious milliseconds by the earthquake.
But really. Time is short and my list of Thailand to-dos seems to be growing rather than shriking. You know, small things like getting plane tickets and a visa. Finding health insurance and changing addresses (when you don’t really have a new address yet.) Road trip planning. Purging, packing and storing. And now adding car repairs to the list after sacrificing a car window and an ipod to the DC “you can’t POSSIBLY leave here without being vandalized during your DC tenure” police. The last couple weeks of the job and keeping up with schoolwork still have to fit in there somewhere too.
Oh yes. And so do PEOPLE.
Admittedly, my list of to-dos is piling up in favor of savoring every last drop of the people — the extraordinary community — that I have here in DC. Be that Saturday morning waffles at Buzz, kayaking on the Potomac, hitting three bbqs in a weekend, coffee dates with my youth group girls or a super-short weekend getaway to backcountry camp at Assateague, these are the important things in life.  And they’re important not just because they’re fun adventures. They’re important because they involve PEOPLE and RELATIONSHIP.
Don’t be fooled – this is not my excuse for procrastination.  It’s a reflection of a major life change last fall that taught me that people are more important than things. Or to-dos.  So I’m determined to live out that lesson well in my last weeks in DC.  And I’ll pray hard that God will multiply my time to allow the rest to fall in place.  In time.
If you knew you only had three weeks left in DC, how would you spend your time?  In WHOM do you need to invest time this week?
(PS – this blog post was written instead of doing homework. I’ll be honest and admit I’m not sure where that falls on the procrastination spectrum…. Don’t judge me.)

It Takes a Community

Check out my letter for more details on how to join in with the Thailand adventure!

Thailand Update!

After spending the weekend moving out of my apartment and looking ahead to my last month in DC before the next chapter, I’m finding myself dealing with a whole myriad of emotions.  The first of which is forced humility, and realizing just how hard it is to relinquish my independence.

Nothing brings me more joy than being on the giving end of things.  But for some reason I find it extremely hard to accept help. Well…. I’m being forced to get over that.  I’m entering a new chapter of being dependent on the help and support of family and friends to send me off on this new adventure overseas.  It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but I’m thankful for the lesson in humility.

I’m humbled daily by the generosity of family and friends that are coming alongside to support, encourage and give of themselves to help me make this transition.  What has the potential to be a pretty scary place to be is manageable with a community behind me, quick to remind that I’m not in this alone.

I’m thankful for friends lending their muscles (and patience) to help me move.  For a wonderful friend letting me crash in her basement for the month of June before I peace out of DC.  For those quick to encourage and affirm that this is, indeed, the right decision, no matter how crazy I feel.  And now that the support letter is sent, I’m grateful for those that have been so quick to lend their prayer and/or financial support.

Thankful for the adventures ahead and the community that has come alongside me!

I’ve Got Dates

I’ve got dates, folks.

Not the romantic kind.  No, no.  And not the eating kind either.  Although either of those might make for an entertaining blog post.  Sorry to get your hopes up.

I have Thailand dates.

I gave official notice to work this week that I’ll be wrapping up my work in DC the end of June.  Sending the “I’m leaving” email to my Board of Directors, state executives and farmer-leaders throughout the country with whom I’ve worked so closely for years was a whole lot harder than I anticipated.

Granted, I’ve sent a fair number of those emails in my somewhat-spasmodic 6-year career in DC.  Having held four jobs in that time span, I’m getting accustomed to sending the… “Guess what?  Here I go again…” emails.  But this one was different.  This one seemed more final.  And it took a good chunk more faith than the previous ones.

This time I wasn’t leaving to better pay. No promotions. No better benefits. This time I’m leaving it all behind.  And as scary as sending that email was, God was faithful in giving confirmation that it’s STILL the right decision.

I was quickly overwhelmed with humbling responses from what is now a broad community of believers and supporters — farmers across the country — that threw their full support behind this decision.  I shouldn’t have been surprised considering how huge their hearts are, but I was still humbled and amazed at how quick they were to affirm this crazy decision to leave a comfortable job, salary and life to pursue full-time missions. 

Moral of the story:  God is good.  And I love farmers. 

Thus, another stake in the ground on my crazy journey to Thailand.

A few others to announce:  August 16, 2010: SFO-BKK.  The ticket is purchased. 

And, I’m now listed as a missionary on the Servantworks giving site.  Which means I can officially start fundraising.  Another leap of faith as I relinquish my painful independence…  Stay tuned.

Cultivate… What’s in a Word?

Considering where I’ve come from, where I am, and where God seems to be leading, I can think of very few words saturated with more meaning than the word “cultivate.”

I spent my “growing-up years” as the youngest of five kids on a large farm and ranch in scenic northern Idaho.  Springtime was spent moving cattle, putting up hay, hauling rocks and roguing weeds out of fields.  Summer was spent working 14+ hour days harvesting those amber waves of grain about which we sing so proudly. Fall was spent celebrating the victory of harvest, regardless of the size of the crop, and preparing the ground for the next season.  Somewhere in there we found time to camp, fish and explore the great outdoors, simply by stepping out our back door and into the forested playground that we were so blessed to call home. And my librarian mother always made sure we had a book in hand to expand our imaginations even further than the forests would push them.

It was just as idyllic as it sounds. Despite detesting the long hours of hard labor that were required of all of us kids to “keep the farm running” (or, more likely, to instill character), I think all of us kids would agree that we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

One of the many reasons I wouldn’t trade it: I learned the deep significance of cultivation.  I saw year in and year out the work that it took to grow a crop. The careful preparation of the ground. The sowing of seeds. The attention to the growing process to manage weeds and pests. The necessity of water and importance of the seasons.  The gravity of the task of feeding both your neighbor and the world. The faith that God would provide the increase and the fortitude to return to the fields to plant another crop even if we didn’t see the increase the year (or years) prior.

The years on the farm instilled a deep appreciation for God’s miraculous and powerful hand in the growing process. It gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of seasons. I understood the devastation of losing a crop, only to return to sow again with faith that God’s promised “increase” may look different than you expect.

You might say God was cultivating in me an understanding of both beauty and hardship, and slowly revealing the meaning of faith.

Since leaving the farm and pursuing career, passions, community, calling, and a life away from that largely idyllic scene, I have found that God has continued to cultivate these lessons and values in my heart and in my life.

He’s continuing to deepen and broaden my understanding of who He is – a God of beauty, wonder, compassion, power, mystery, and victory – and who I am in Him – a child of God on an adventurous journey of faith.

So don’t be surprised if you see a theme throughout this blog:  Cultivation.  I would predict that most of my musings will likely center around my life spent cultivating – cultivating dreams, passions, callings, relationships – and being cultivated by the Master Gardener and Author of Life itself.

The Genesis Story

God called.  He said there’s a need in Thailand.  He said I’m the computer.

I’ve always felt called to missions.  Between dabbling in humanitarian assistance and development work through various jobs and taking as many opportunities as possible to travel and/or go on short terms missions, I’ve managed to pursue the calling enough to keep it within hearing distance, but not enough to actually grab hold.

In 2008 I signed up for a mission trip to Thailand with National Community Church — the trip that marked the kickoff of the A1:8 initiative.  I’m still not entirely sure why I signed up other than I happened to be sitting in the front row of church the day the trip was first announced and I claimed I was anointed with Pastor Joel’s holy spit.

I’ve never been particularly drawn to Asian culture.  Most of my interest and experience has centered around South America or Africa.  I knew little to nothing about (nor felt any strong calling to fight) the injustice of the sex trade.  But somehow I knew I was supposed to go.  And when October rolled around, I hopped on the plane with ten other folks to see what God wanted to show us of Himself in Thailand.

A blog post isn’t sufficient to recount what we saw.  We saw brokenness.  We saw darkness.  We saw harsh, harsh injustices.  But we also saw compassion.  And hope.  And joy.  And it was that unique juxtaposition of the two sides of the story that broke and moved my heart.

The staff of The Well — the ministry we were working alongside in reaching out to sex workers in Bangkok — made a point to express to us their need for help.  But it wasn’t a conventional missionary pitch for funding or other typical resource needs.  They needed people.  They needed people who could come to show love, identify needs and develop creative ways to meet them.  People moved by compassion to love these girls, believe in them, and believe that things can change in this broken nation.

The needs were great; the workers were few.

Now, I’m not one to claim hearing the audible voice of God often.  In fact, never.  However, as we prayed one evening for the needs of the Well, I heard it loud and clear.  So loud that I argued with it.   It went something like this:

God: “You’re the computer.”
Cori:  “No I’m not.”
God, still calmly: “You’re the computer.”
Cori, less calmly: “Ummmm… negative.  I’m really not…”
And so it continued…

At this point you’re probably thoroughly confused.  I’m clearly not a computer.  In fact I’m one of the least tech-savvy members of my generation.   (But hey – I’m blogging, aren’t I?  Let’s celebrate small victories here…)   But unfortunately I knew all too well what this meant.

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of NCC, told a story a few years ago that has been stored away in my mind.  Or, as Pastor Mark would say, on my reticular activating system.  Forgive my paraphrase (and don’t hold me to the details), but it went something like this:  He was praying with a group of his pastor friends for the needs of their respective churches and communities.  One of the pastors asked for prayer that God would provide a computer to meet a specific need of the church.  Pastor Mark started praying for his friend; he stopped mid-prayer, was reminded that he had a computer to give, and felt God asking that he give it.  Why pray for a need when God has equipped you to meet it?

This was the call.  Despite my best efforts to convince Him otherwise, God told me I was the computer.  I was supposed to, somehow, meet some need of the Well that I couldn’t yet define or understand.

I could write another whole blog about the events that occurred between October of 2008 and December of 2009, but I’ll cut to the chase.  God has unique timing.   He had a few things He wanted to take care of — and more importantly, a few things He wanted to teach me — before sending me.  After more than a year, and the audibility of the call to Thailand having ebbed and flowed over that time as circumstances ebbed and flowed, I decided to give God an ultimatum.  Yes.  An ultimatum.

I wanted a clear answer about Thailand over the holidays before I returned to the mad rush of DC.  I had a number of options on my plate and a number of competing “callings” on my heart.   I needed a clear yes or no.  So I mustered up the guts to trust God for an answer.  (Or, more realistically, dare Him to give one to me…) and He was gracious enough to humor me.  And, in typical God fashion, He did it in style.

The confirmations and affirmations are too many to recount in this post, but they happened.  And they were abundant.  And they have not stopped.  God saw my ultimatum and He chose to raise it about 15 notches.   So, God-willing, Thailand is happening this year.

Hence, the blog.

I’m stepping out out in faith to pursue the crazy calling put on my heart to “go.”  I look forward to sharing the ways in which God continues to captivate and cultivate my heart and life through this journey to Thailand;  I look forward to sharing the adventure of His story.