Thoughts and stories regarding my upcoming mission to Bangkok, Thailand. (June 19-August 3, 2012)
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
I have talked about this child many times. Beautiful, poorly behaved, brash Nongmoo.
I loved her with all I had when I was there. I still love her, and my heart misses her painfully. I will never see her again, and my only solace now is that I can pray for her.
This morning, I was brought back to one of my sweetest moments in Thailand. We were sitting on the floor of the house, and she grabbed my journal and opened the pages. She asked what they said, and there was noooo way my [extremely] limited Thai and her nonexistent English could have me explain what it was. So I translated it in a way we could understand.
“Nongmoo, this says that God loves you. This says that I love you. This says that God loves Thailand, that He loves children, and he loves families. It says that God loves me, too. God loves you, I love you.”
I will not forget how she was sitting on my lap, first so confused as to how a book could have a page saying that God, whom is unfamiliar to her, can love her. Page after page, she would get more and more excited to find out what this love could apply to. This page says God loves me, this page says God loves Thailand, this page says I love her, this page says her family loves her. She was beaming and giggling by the end. There is no truer thing that could be said of the pages of the journal than it is a testimony of God’s fierce love.
And are we not instruments of love, Beloved? Are we not ones given favor, should we use it, to let others know, however they can receive, that they are fiercely and incredibly and unconditionally loved?
I was horrified to the point of not knowing what to do today when I came to the realization that I am incredibly, incredibly, massively dissatisfied with my life at its current state.
I don’t hate my life. I do not hate what I am doing. I don’t hate my job and I don’t hate myself. But I am extraordinarily dissatisfied with it.
I do the full time work thing. I actually do the more than full time work thing with 10-11 hour days most days. Then I either go out to volunteer, hang out with friends, or come home and get stuff done.
Today at my cubicle I was thinking about when the last time was that I felt an abundance of life. I couldn’t really remember a time longer than a few minutes.
Not to discount that few minutes. I felt full of life when I was downtown with my 11 year old friend Jackie. Jackie’s family has no house, and I really have grown to love her. I felt full of life when I was spending time with her in the parking lot where she lived.
Before that time, the last time I felt full of life was in Thailand. When I was in the slums with the kids, when I was in the school with the students, when I was in the streets with the children selling flowers and playing memory. Do you see the pattern here? Do I see the pattern here?
Just last night I was watching a YouTube video of an acquaintance playing a million different instruments and thought to myself….to be so amazing at something one does not go home and take naps, watch videos, read books all day, but actually does something to improve oneself. You know, practices piano, goes out and learns the community, basically devotes himself to something.
I miss it. I miss giving myself to something.
I hear the church going part of me saying “Nat, you give yourself to the Lord. Cmon now.” Yes, churchNatalie, I do. I think that it all hinges upon that, as in 2 cor 8. I must first give myself to the Lord, in thought, in deed, in mind, in heart, in soul. Then I must give myself to His people, to something that will bring Him glory, not something that will simply make me feel important or whatever it is.
I refuse to be anymore distracted by media, by naps, by wasting my time passively and idly while squandering all I have until I am in the middle of my life and look back with regret.
Because, let’s face it, it happens to most of us. Most of us have lofty goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations, then “life” comes in and kinds of snaps us out of the “delusion.” But all I know is what I read in the Bible and it is full of people who were silly in their big dreams and did not stop challenging the world to meet what God had in store. I think God is really our biggest cheerleader and advocate, encouraging us to do more, think bigger, be more creative, TO JUST GO DO SOMETHING.
At this point, my thoughts are a bit jumbled but I am quite stirred as I have woken up to what I have been doing with my time, and the fact that it has gotten me nothing and has brought mediocrity into my life while I believe that is not an option with the Lord.
Not gonna lie, I don’t know how to do anything. But I am going to try…?
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy[a] when God called you. 27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.
I failed at work today in the name of justice.
My coworkers were talking about something that I firmly believe to be unjust, and I remained silent, not knowing what to do.
When I was back at my cubicle, I was talking with the Lord about it and asking Him to please teach me how to speak because I do not know how.
He reminded me of one thing, that He wants me to give a voice to the voiceless.
There are thousands of homeless people in San Diego, my city, with no voice. I want to speak for them, so I must know them.
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
There are millions of unborn babies being killed by the modern genocide we casually call abortion who are never given a chance to speak. I want to learn how to speak on their behalf, for the sake of Jesus.
Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
I confess my failure, and lean upon the wisdom of Christ.
Today, conviction and hope and invitation to follow Christ with my feet straightened weighs heavily. Lord, be my strength and show me your grace and mercy as you form Your body into Your likeness.
Lately, I have been burdened by the question, “What does it mean to stand in solidarity with the poor?” To live justly, to be their advocate?
It is much harder to fight the rich lifestyle that surrounds me, if I should even be fighting it. I do not know what it means to live justly, I do not know what it means to love the poor and to fight for them.
The good news is, Jesus is my teacher, and He leads me well. My prayer is that I will listen and obey Him.
I was in Gaslamp with Krista and Lonny and Jason last night (Friday of Halloween weekend). I suppose it was a bad time to use my groupon for a restaurant there, but we didn’t know it would be so crowded.
Anyways, we were walking for several blocks throughout the night and it was a total mess of people, young and old, surely from all backgrounds, all ethnicities, basically as diverse as you can be. Some people were wearing pretty scary costumes, and some people were wearing next to nothing. There were homeless people trying to sleep in doorways of closed buildings, drug addicts smoking what appeared to be meth in the streets, high schoolers waiting in lines for whatever they could get into, and mobs of people dancing in the park.
It reminded me of the Red Light district I worked in in Bangkok.
There were women working at the bars on 5th avenue, scantily dressed, though this time they probably were not being sold to the highest paying customer.
There were children walking through the streets with parents for God knows what reason, just like I would see on Soi Cowboy every night, taking in the scene around them.
Then there was me. I didn’t mean to be in the midst of all of this. I didn’t ask to see the aged men smoking methamphetamine in the street. I didn’t want to see the women taking off their shirts while people took pictures. I didn’t choose to see hoards of people without homes asking for change and sleeping wherever there was space away from the crowd.
The funny thing about seeing things, though, is that you can’t unsee it. Jason and I were talking about how it reminds us of the busy areas of where we went abroad—him to Argentina and Peru, and me to Bangkok.
I am brought back once again to a choice—will I merely have these memories of things gone wrong, or will I choose to place myself among the dysfunction with the promise that the darkness will not overcome the light? I believe there is more for the Gaslamp District than bar hopping and guaranteed access to drugs. I believe God has more for the man on the corner trying to get some sleep than just another night outside.
Father, hear our broken cries from a world so fallen!
Help us see that in one Man our hope will never die
And His people call Him Savior Jesus, Love Abounding
Give me strength to do all that I can
I am not just another man.
I see here an opportunity to engage with the pain and needs of my community here in Gaslamp. I commit to visiting the homeless in this area, not only seeing them but getting to know them, loving them, trusting that the same God of Isaiah 58 is quick to execute justice for the oppressed through my efforts, though weak.
I am having Thailand withdrawals. I believe it is because since I have been back I have not given myself to much, so my heart is there, where I last gave it away.
Moral of the story: give myself away here and now.
There is a phrase in Thai, “เจ็บหัวใจ,” which translates to “hurt heart” and is pronounced “jep jai.”
This phrase shaped my experience in Thailand and really caused me to rethink how I see God and His love. I am trying to figure out how to explain this concisely, because it is a phrase and idea that permeated my entire experience from attitude to team dynamics to my sites to my prayer and thoughts towards God.
I’ve been so far unsuccessful in explaining this concept, but it ties in so closely with John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus loved us with His whole self. He didn’t hold any part of Himself back: His physical self, washing the disciples feet in this very passage, exhausting Himself by being with people, carrying a cross when given a wrongful sentence and surrendering Himself on a cross. He gave all of His resources, not having a home, sharing (even multiplying) food, healing others, giving clothes (at least, His disciples did so I assume He did, too), sharing His words and His prayers and His time. He gave Himself in every single way imaginable, first to God and then to others.
Jep jai is the giving of yourself, and it honors the fact that this HURTS. It hurts to give your whole heart to a child whose home life is so bad that he comes over with bruises and scrapes after seeing his parents. It hurts to sit with the crying mother whose husband just left her. It hurts to talk with the homeless man on the street who has lost all hope for a change of circumstance. It is heartbreaking to the point of pain and anguish to give of yourself. To not withhold any resource you have, but to actually BE in every moment, consciously spending yourself without holding back, with each person, noticing chances to give more of yourself.
Let me say to you: it hurts and it costs more than most of us are willing to give. But Jesus calls us to love like that.
I had never seen it so clearly, so plainly, and so practically as I have seen in Thailand, when I not only chose for the first time to consciously give myself, love with all I could possibly love with, and when I saw others never preserving themselves so that others may be cared for even just a bit better.
I saw Jesus in those people, and I saw a love that was tangible, heart-wrenching, and deeply, profoundly beautiful and literally life-changing.
Will I choose to not be okay if my neighbor is not okay? Will I allow myself to be unsettled, displaced, lying up in my bed or my floor mat all night because I cannot seem to stop praying for that person whom I love so much that I am in anguish over his well being?
The paradox is this: In giving more of yourself, in loving when it hurts and when you hurt for the person, you find a love and a life and a joy unthinkable.
I have grown damn lazy coming back to the states, but I choose ‘jep jai’ here as well. I want to love like Christ, with that tangible, ugly, messy, uncouth, offensive, stunningly and heartbreakingly beautiful love He has shown us.
It’s tempting to give it a try, isn’t it? How much of myself can I give? How much can I love? To what end will I come in my love, and Christ, are You my source of love and does Your fountain really never run dry?
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.