Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Walking Wet

There was no rain that day.  There had been no rain for at least a week. Yet there I walked dignified through the mall, trying to pretend like I wasn’t leaving the unmistakable trail of water behind me.  Trying to pretend like my clothes were supposed to look darker than usual, hang a little funny, and appear wet-- new fashion?  Yes, a glorious moment, made slightly more glorious by the fact that, with witnesses, I had just stepped off of a ledge into a pond next to the mall trying to blaze my own shortcut back to my bike through a way I had never gone before... On a dark night when the wind wasn’t providing the pond with any waves as warning, it looked just like a walkway.  Exiting through a shortcut was necessary because I was running late to a karaoke night (it's true...) held in a ministry-run coffee shop in the red light area I have been frequenting each week to help teach some young friends of ours who sell roses at night. I had only stopped in the building to use the bathroom. Those are my excuses.  My plunge into the knee-deep pond that caught me so off guard and soaked me up to my head had further irony:  the only thing I was carrying were a couple paper towels I had collected on my way out so that if I arrived at the coffee shop sweaty from biking over, I would be able to dry myself off a bit, look more respectable.  They did nothing for me. I'm sure I made several people's days by taking that plunge, and I certainly made mine-- laughing to myself the whole way out of the building afterwards (further reinforcing the crazy foreigner stereotype).

When I met up with my friends after getting back to my bike and heading to the coffee shop, I was still soaked.  I couldn’t wait to tell them why I was so wet—to get to laugh with them at my failed unintentional attempt at walking on water.  I found there is nothing quite like pushing through busy streets, sitting in a coffee shop, and singing karaoke (some good ol' Lion King-- Zazuu sounded especially hornbillish that night) in front of a small crowd when your entire outfit is telling the story of absent weather.

God has been putting rain on my heart lately.  This is tied to expectancy, to faith, to hope.  I recently finished the book “Tread Upon the Lion” by Sophie DeHaye about a pioneering missionary to Nigeria, Tommie Titcombe.  Tommie shares about a time when they had no rain in the land for a long time— food was scarce for everyone.  Finally, each religious sect started performing rituals to bring the rain.  The animists performing ceremonies and sacrifices to appease the spirits, the Muslims calling out to Allah, everyone pouring everything they had into cries that they hoped would reach the ears of a god who cared and could answer.  No rain.  Finally, the believers in the village decided that they should hold a prayer service and make an appeal to God on behalf of their community.  When the appointed time came, amidst the ridicule of their neighbors, the believers all showed up to the service wearing their umbrella hats in expectation of the coming rain! As they started praying, drops from the sky started falling. Louder and louder the noise became, drowning out the voices of the worshipping believers. They had come before God with assurance that He would hear them and answer. What faith! I am very challenged by this story, by their simple trust that God would provide. While His faithfulness is not shackled to answering our prayers the way we expect, He does love us and will not forsake us (2 Timothy 2:13 says though we are faithless, He will remain faithful—it is in His immutable nature). 

Which brings me back to my story of falling into mall ponds.  I’ve been thinking about what it looks like for us to share God’s love with people who have never known how to perceive it for themselves.  People who feel as if they have never been loved, especially by God. Sometimes all we can do is sit with someone and hear them.  Not try to offer answers and solutions, but when they ask, relay the message to those living in drought that rain exists. We can share the account of why we are drenched in dry season. Maybe walking wet through crowds of people isn’t so bad after all (but seriously-- go try it!). Wearing an umbrella hat with no clouds in the sky likewise shares a story, and an expectation of the seemingly impossible. I have been praying that I will wear my umbrella hat each day, going in faith that God hears His people’s cries—no matter how hopeless a situation may appear. Social injustice is overwhelming. And yet, God sees and sends His rain in His own time and way; He has been faithful before and He will be faithful again. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Don't Eat Plastic

"Don't eat plastic, Jodi! It's not good to eat plastic!" She reached over and plucked a gum-stick sized piece of plastic out of my bowl. Her words were spoken with such sincerity, it was as if I had placed it there on purpose, determined to sample this tasteless inedible object.  It took me less than a minute to realize this lunch bowl contained far more surprises than I expected when I bought what the street vendor said was "chicken and veggies."  Unless of course chickens grow tentacles now, and have an addition to white and dark meat that is reminiscent of squid.

You don't always know what you are getting yourself into (or what is going to be getting into you) when you buy street food, but it is almost always delicious in its own way.  Not always in the way you are hoping it to be, but the flavors here are fantastic! I am living without a fridge.  I have no appliances, actually, and I am thankful for this daily reminder that my daily food comes from the Lord.  I cannot simply open up a fridge, pull out a container, pop it in the microwave, and BOOM. Dinner. This means I have to be more generous as well, since food goes bad sitting out in the heat of my rented room all day.  I am overwhelmed by God's goodness in the area of food.  I do not want for food, especially since I have been unofficially "adopted" by a small Thai family who sells some of the best food I have tried yet.  They sell right by the corner of the ally I live on and have determined to take care of me. I have loved getting to know them.  They truly are a blessing straight from God.

Sticking with this theme of food, however, I want to share something that God put on my heart during my first month here in Thailand (a message that has continued to hold true).  During immersion week, God directed my thoughts to Psalm 81:10, in which He says, "I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it."  To me, it has meant being open to whatever God wants to bring into my life. To whatever He wants to cut from my life.  It has also meant I am seeing His tangible blessings on the daily, coming from places I would never have expected.

This idea of "opening wide" can be difficult on various levels.  It requires trust. I can't help but picture my response when someone comes up to me and tells me to "open wide and close my eyes." UMM excuse me?! What are you going to put in my mouth? Something nasty? Tasty? Let me see it first. Common sense tells me that people like to play pranks, that knowing before trusting is the wiser choice. And yet, God does not typically offer us the option of knowing what He will bring our way.  He calls us to trust. Will He actually put something good into our lives? If we open up to Him in trust, do as He asks and be vulnerable, will our tongues be burned? There is this underlying assumption that we know what is best for us.  Yet, isn't God the Creator of our souls? We have to trust that the Giver knows what we need more than we do. Opening wide to God requires action.  You cannot be filled by refusing to follow the Giver's invitation, and a life woven with these threads of refusal is marked by spiritual starvation. Faith beyond obedience directs us to not simply open up to God's plans in a tangible, action-driven way, but to also let that trust and that obedience permeate our heart.  It requires patient expectancy. God choses to fill our mouths, our lives, in His own time and way. You cannot chose when and how He will act. You can wait in expectation that He will not leave you sitting there like an idiot with your mouth open, however. Comforting, yeah? :) I think so.

Trusting can be challenging. And yet, what kind of God do we serve? Not One who will sneak plastic into our lunch, but One who sees us, who knows us, who loves us intimately and completely. This love gives us the space and freedom to trust.  May God grant us a deeper knowing of His love that we may trust and love Him in a mouth-wide-open capacity!
View from the wash-area on my room's floor. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

No Toilet Paper-- No Problem!

Bangkok.  It could have been the bloated sewer rat bobbing in the recently dug open drainage ditch running along the inside of the back wall (the kitchen area) of my friends’ apartment (where I stayed for my first 2ish weeks).  It could have been the sewage covering the bathroom floor from a clogged squatty potty.  It could have been the prayers that God would give us our daily food as we were living on about $1.70 a day for an “immersion” time with little contact with anyone who spoke English.  It could have been the feeling that an iced coffee or a street-cooked meal costing $1.10 was beyond what I could afford.  It could have been any of those things or more that made it feel very real here from the start.  No mountains with snow frosting the rugged peaks, no aqua alpine lakes begging the hiker to dive in, no old-growth forests with their ripe huckleberries drawing you into the surreal fairy-tale feeling.  Not anymore.  This is Bangkok.  This is a concrete (literal and figurative) land of daily struggle and joys, where many of my neighbors rise hours before the sun starts thinking about getting up to start preparing their food vending carts and stands for the day.  Many continue to work hours after the sun goes back to bed, trying to make enough to continue living.  I am privileged to catch a glimpse of my neighbors’ realities, to get to experience some of what they experience, to get to hear parts of their stories. 

I live in a market neighborhood.  To be precise, I live in a rented room (8x10ish ft) on the 4th floor of a building right on the market street.  None of my 5 or 6 neighbors on the floor speak any English, an excellent opportunity for me to practice my Thai (I study Thai in a classroom 15 hours a week).  We all share a squatty potty in a small room with a shower hose and water spout for filling up the bucket with which you flush and wash yourself (who needs toilet paper anyways?!).  This bathroom is almost always completely wet, either from showering or from flushing any traces of business away from the squatty.  I have come to appreciate the wetness of the room, however. It feels cleaner to me somehow, though it must be the catch all,  given the lack of a sink in our building.  In addition to a bathroom, we share a little 1.5 x  2.5 meter area for hand-washing our clothes.  This area opens up to the back of the market area, overlooking the rusted tin rooftops of the neighboring houses and giving an excellent look at the south-western cityscape.  I love the view from this part of our floor, especially at sunset.  What a blessing to have a view!

I have begun my work at the Foundation.  The long-term staff started a school that their kids attend alongside children who used to work in areas related to the nightlife.  Part of my role is to free up the long-term staff by assisting in the lunch preparation for the school— an unexpected joy since from the beginning it was my ambition to learn to cook Thai cuisine.  We are working with the children to teach them how to make a menu and cook; who knew I would be kitchen supervisor one day!  I help our business as well, both in the creation of the products we sell (peanut butter, pesto, fresh salads, etc.) and in the market days themselves.  Markets remind me of when I sold sap and roots at a roadside stand in Senegal over a year ago-- my product line is a bit different this time.  Still quite organic though! 

There is too much to explain, so I will write more soon.  God has been humbling me, challenging me, and encouraging me every day.  I know that He is up to some pretty amazing works in this time, something He keeps confirming through Scripture.  Some people have expressed concern for my safety.  I appreciate the care communicated, but I need you to know that I am safe in my Father’s hands.  Please pray that I will be faithful in trusting without borders and in going to the scary places.  As believers, we are not called to live behind padlocks, afraid of interacting with those God has called us to love.  The greater risk is nothing physical that could happen to me—it is in failing to communicate God’s love to my neighbors, both for their sakes' and for mine.  I appreciate prayers for protection, especially from the evil one, but know that God holds me.  I am filled with His peace that I am right where I need to be in this time, and He has been flooding my life with blessing upon blessing: from the bike to ride to work each day to the generosity of my neighbors.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Anchor- Destroyer

I had an incredible summer with YD Adventures, and though I am now moving on to the next part of the journey, it wouldn’t be fair to do so without noting just how faithful God has been to us, both in providing us with challenge and in restoring our strength.  I am leaving this summer filled by the ministry we did and the adventures I had on my days off.  I can say that I KNOW God moved in our community.  I saw Him show up on each trip we took with the youth, and I am convinced that there is nothing quite like seeing Him work in a human life.  What a privilege to be a part of it!  The following by Henri Nouwen sums it up quite well:
"The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God."

I am currently sitting in the SEATAC airport, waiting to board my flight across the ocean.  I honestly do not know much about what is waiting for me on the other side, but I know that God has promised His presence.  There is a song line that seems rather fitting, like God sending me a clue as to what is ahead:
“I have a plan for you, I have a plan for you.  It’s gonna be wild, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be full of me.”
Any plan that is wild, great, and full of God’s presence sounds like one I want in on!

In YD we talk with our youth about the anchors we have in our lives--- and how necessary it is to have a solid anchor in Christ.  What if God, knowing that He is our highest good, knowing our need is for Him alone, chooses to take away the weak and faulty anchors we try to set in anything other than Him?  What if what we might so often perceive as painful and trying circumstances are actually the mechanisms God uses to destroy all but Him as the anchor of our lives?  I’m so thankful for this love that chooses what is best, not what is most comfortable according to our human understanding.  May I be able to say with everything in me, "Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!" 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lightning, Water, Fire

The God of Tempests
The thunder and brilliant lightning breaking up the sky like cracks in a ceramic pot were amazing to watch, and my two friends and I would have been perfectly content to sit where we were and enjoy the light show God was hosting if it weren't for our front-row seats.  The fact that we were sitting on a ridge above the highest ski lift on Mt. Hood, hot chocolate in hand, after completing the summit I had dreamed a year about boded ill-health for us in the approaching lightning storm.  Conversation was broken up between sips of the warm drink and pauses to count the seconds in between the thunder and lightning.  Brave the rocky ridge to get down, stay low here on top of it in lightning position, or glissade down the very conductive snow to get down faster? All excellent options.  We chose to slide down the mountain, stopping for cover at the top ski lift station.  Now we had second-row seats without being exposed on a ridge up high.  And what a show it was! Lightning just screams to me of God's power.  And the God of the lightning calls us "beloved." 

A few days later I was rafting down the river on a multi-day trip.  We raft by day, camp on the shore at night.  While the wilderness feel is broken up by the occasional outhouse on the banks, what you see is miles and miles of seemingly untouched hills.  Guiding the raft down that river, hearing the stories of my young paddlers, and seeing God's creative artwork in every direction I looked-- I thought to myself, "What a great life we live! What a privilege!"  I'm learning more and more about these waters; the waters that can wrap boats helplessly on rocks, the waters that provide a life for birds, critters, fish, and plants alike in the desert, the waters that quenches our thirst in 100+degree weather.  The river both thunders and whispers of God's powerful love.  And the God of the mighty waters sustains us. 

Our last night on the river during this multi-day trip we experienced God in a new way still.  The God of fire.  Apparently the lightning storms from when I was on Hood started up fires in many other places, the smoke of which we had witnessed the past few days.  Just before 5 runs of body-surfing a class-3 rapids with our youth, the ranger told us we would probably be okay if the fire stayed on the other side of the ridge across the river. By nightfall, the fire had climbed to the top of that ridge.  I woke up in the night, a gust of hot air passing over our tarp.  The wildfire probably would have looked even more spectacular had my contacts been in, but what I can tell you is that the whole opposite shore was glowing orange.  A river of dancing flames consuming the dry grass and leaving behind charred earth and ashes.  We monitored the fire that night, having already talked through our options of a night-evac or an early morning departure.  God's flame consumed the entire opposite bank, but the wind coming from our shore prevented any embers from finding new fuel on our side.  One of the times I was awake and watching the fire, I noticed the girl next to me was afraid.  My immediate thought was, "When I am afraid I will trust in You" (Ps. 56:3), a line that my parents told me over and over growing up.  Whenever I was fearful of what was in the dark, whenever I was afraid that I would never see my Dad again, whenever I was frightened over what could happen-- that Scripture was a constant reminder that God is still in control.  I got to pray with that girl, and I felt the peace of God over our camp even with the fire so dangerously close.  When I rolled on one side, I saw the all-consuming flames.  When I rolled to the other, I saw the beautiful moon shining down on the hills.  Both reminders of God's power.  Both reminders that God is with us.  And the God of the fire calls us to trust.  
Shadow of Mt. Hood as the sun rises


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God of the Tempests

"They who navigate little streams and shallow creeks know but little of the God of tempests; but they who do business in great waters, these see His wonders in the deep."  - Spurgeon

I want to do business in the great waters with God.  To see the God of tempests and not simply splash through the shallow creeks.  The streams have their place, but seeing God move and provide when we are at a personal loss is just beautiful to me.

Here are just a few ways I have seen His wonders in the deep this past month:
1. I am fully funded for my Thailand internship and most likely for my current summer internship as well.  He provided for me in unanticipated ways.  While I know that his faithfulness is not dependent upon his provision for my physical/other needs, He is also a God who sees us.  I am swept away by how He has worked in communities to come together and partner with me for the coming year.

Rock Assistant Training
2.  He allowed me to certify in all the adventure guide positions I have been training for, including the position of a river guide.  Due to another opportunity He gave me, I missed a portion of our whitewater rafting training, and I really had to surrender to Him the outcome of my work to certify.  It was tempting to place my worth in whether or not I could catch up in time to pass the test, yet I found a lot of peace knowing that God had great plans either way.  I told him at the start that if He wanted me to be a guide despite missing parts of training, it would have to be He Himself certifying me.  I guess He wants me to be a guide for Him this summer!

3.  God has really challenged the other interns and I to continue to live missionally when we are at the community housing we where we live for the summer.  We are seeing the spiritual battle around us, particularly in the lives of certain new friends who live near us.  The evil one truly does seek to hold people in chains of shame and apathy, but we know God is working even still.  The kitchen we share with several others from our community is a place of convening to share life.  The stories of those around us are powerful, and we are being challenged to love deeper and live more authentically.

The God of the great waters is at work, and I am so honored to be on this incredible journey with Him.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"All Forward!"

Mt. Hood 
It has been almost a year since I wrote my last blog post, a year filled with new adventures, new friends, new places.  New acts of God.  There is so much I could say about this past year, from the times of tears to the times of belly-laughter.  It was a year of adventures on the daily, a year of doing life with people as a primary focus/business.  I spent a couple weeks on crutches, nearly summited Mt. Hood then sledded down it on a camping pad, snow-camped, went natural hot-spring hunting, continued working as a CNA, learned how to skate-board and tango, lived in my favorite dorm with over 100 new and wonderful freshmen, got to work alongside 12 amazing RAs, became addicted to making ceramics, and learned how to water ski.  I discovered ovens can dry puff-paint on graduation caps in 30 minutes, that cheese cakes are easier to make than I thought, and that kitchens truly have a great way of pulling communities together.  In some ways, though, this past year was one of God re-making me and reminding me who I am in Him.  I went through almost the entire year with no concrete idea as to where God was going to lead me after I graduated, and I was blessed by a new and beautiful community reminding me that God is good now and will continue to be good in the future. 

He has led me to intern with Youth Dynamics Adventures this summer.  We have done a week of training now, learning more about what this kind of adventure ministry looks like and what our role will be in it.  On day 2 we shared our testimonies with one another-- a powerful reminder of how God has worked in each of us to lead us to this place.  He is in the business of redemption.  It reminds me of the following, a quotation from Bob Goff's book "Love Does":
"And when each of us looks back at all the turns and folds God has allowed in our lives, I don't think it looks like a series of folded-over mistakes and do-overs that have shaped our lives.  Instead, I think we'll conclude in the end that maybe we're all a little like human origami and the more creases we have, the better." 

This past weekend, the other new interns and I completed our first whitewater river guide training.  We had to learn the strokes, the commands, the river-reading.  How to enter and navigate a rapids, how not to get stuck on a rock, what to do when we do get stuck on a rock, how not to lose our paddlers, how to get our paddlers back in our boat when we do lose them, etc.  One of the commands is, "All forward!" meaning, everyone paddle forward together--pretty "straightforward", if you know what I mean ;).  Usually this command is issued because you are either hitting a bunch of waves or are bored in slow-moving water and are ready to move a little faster.  In the case of my life, God has called an "all forward" for this summer and my plans following it.  I know He is directing me good places and I trust Him as my guide.  The pace will be fast, the current will be strong, the water will hit me in the face, but my Guide is good, and He actually created the waves.  Even if I can't really understand what He is doing, why those jagged rocks seem like they are headed straight for us, I trust that He knows exactly how to navigate them.