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.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Grace for Grace

So I'm back in the States now-- I flew in several Fridays ago with an airlines that apparently doesn't feed you on the long flights unless you are willing to pay. My new friend in the next seat shared her sandwich with me, a real blessing for a hungry stomach. At the time of the flight home it was hard to really comprehend what that meant for us to be flying "home." And what did "home" mean anyways? I had spent my semester making Dakar a sort of home, being at home in the previously unfamiliar. I had made friends and family there, people I didn't want to forget. And then I had traveled in Europe, making new "homes" along the way with people we only stayed with for the max of a week.

I think the whole idea of "home" has been a tricky one for me. The hardest question to answer is, "Where are you from?" This is pretty typical Third Culture Kid, though, and you learn to say that home is where your family lives. Home is wherever it is that God has you. According to "Lion King", "Home is where your rump rests," and I see a lot of wisdom in that. Because life here is transient. Because in the end our homes should not be found on this Earth. So going back to taking that last flight of my semester abroad: I couldn't help but feel a bit bittersweet about it all. Yes, I was going back to the familiar. I was going back to the world in which I have a job, in which I get to cook for myself again, in which I can drive. I was going to people who know my story and don't need the same 2 minute explanation about who I am and what I am studying. And I knew I was starting a whole new adventure by boarding that plane. I knew I was walking into a busy summer and a senior year filled with new challenges and joys-- I was ready for it. But I also knew that this new beginning meant an end to the sort of adventure I had been living since January. Time to go back to the life that had seemed so far away. Like I discovered when I got to go to Thailand last summer, a certain part of me really comes alive when I am overseas. But God loves to adventure with us wherever He leads us, and the very nature of this adventure is shifting and forming as you go.

Like a river. The same stream but different water. The same all-knowing and loving God, but He moves different ways at different times. The water keeps flowing but the stream stays the same. I recently read the book "If" by Amy Carmichael (really good-- go read it!) and was very challenged by my limited understanding of the love of God. She talks about the idea of "grace for grace" and relates it to that river. Grace instead of grace. A supply of grace that constantly replaces the present grace. Life is like that- you need different grace, different direction and wisdom at each corner of the path, and yet God is the same unchangeable God who never ceases to pour out his Love on us as we wait for Him.
I've missed having mountains to hike (this is Mt. Si)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Trail of Teranga

Learning to make attaaya (the tea)
It has been a while since I've posted, and I'm gonna just blame it on the speed of time's passing. I'm no longer in Senegal, though every day I remember where I was the past 4 months. God really blessed my time there. From the friendships I formed with others on the program to the daily interactions and friendly banter I had with the vendors on my street, I made some very special memories and experienced some really incredible things. Alxamduliaa for everything!

18 Mai: My Last Day in Senegal
Some of my family: me, Lydie, Bébé Co, Herbatin, Marie
My final day we participated in the "Dakar Semi-Marathon" to which my group showed up about 10 minutes before the supposed start of the race, only to get yelled at by the registering officials about how we needed to learn to show up on time (we were actually scolded by Senegalese for being late-- it felt a little ironic) and handed the remaining shirts (all sized XL). The race began another 40ish minutes after that. Most of us ran the 5k, with a few doing the half-marathon. As I ran down the street, jumping curbs, dodging car rapides and street vendors, and nearly getting hit by a bus in front of the main university in Dakar, I realized that I was glad I was only running the 5k. That had to have been the hottest 5k race I have ever run in my life, made slightly better by all the people in the cars and streets yelling words of encouragement and pity after me. My red face must have made a pretty great contrast with the white shirt (though the shirt got darkened some by the coating of exhaust and dust I got running down the streets). Since this was only a couple hours before I was getting picked up to go to the airport, I "hurried" home on a car rapide and spent some time with my family (I ended up on the rooftop chatting with one of my brothers and found myself wishing I had more evenings to spend up there with them). My final dinner, though rushed, was delicious all the same-- peas from a can with "yapp" (some kind of meat) and bread. Leaving the house that night was more emotional than I was anticipating. Saying goodbye to Marie and to Lydie (my host mom) were the hardest farewells, and I had to hurry away to make it easier on all of us. The van was waiting when I walked up the street with my host dad and another friend from the program, Camilla. My last purchase on the way was a bag of thiakry (the yogurt millet stuff) which I accidentally sat on and therefore popped in the airport about half an hour later (I was hiding it in the pocket of the coat I had wrapped around my waist). At the van was a crowd of Ouakamites from our program and some of our Senegalese friends there to say goodbye to those of us getting picked up. It was a really special moment, though sad, saying a "ba beneen, inshalla" (until next time, God willing) to all our friends gathered. Driving away and entering the airport felt surreal, and it is taking me a while to realize that that whole chapter of my life is actually over.

I flew through the night to Madrid with two other friends from my program to meet up with my friend Becca from my university back in the States (she had been studying in Seville). Mike was one of them, and we had a great time chatting up in Wolof the grumpy Senegalese man trying to sell wooden carvings on the street side. I soon found that every time someone tried to speak to me in Spanish I answered in Wolof. This was a problem. I never got to the point where Spanish came out, though this could be aided by my inability to speak Spanish. Some culture shock happened wandering those streets, and I am still caught off guard by the easy accessibility of public trashcans. We spent two nights in a cheap hostel-- a good experience for me after all the horror stories I had heard from friends. Living in Madrid is spendy, thus, we walked everywhere we could and I was forced into buying a McDonald's value menu burger one night for dinner. We saw famous art at the Prada and ate tapas in a large square filled with street entertainers.

Greenwich Meridian Line!
Becca and I met up with a family friends' family in London and stayed with them for 3 and 1/2 days. Their generosity was incredible and their jokes were hilarious. I got a lot of great laughs out of all our conversations, especially since the man seemed to think that my British accent is actually an Australian accent (personally I have spent my whole life thinking I was incapable of speaking in an Australian accent). Apparently it needs some work ;) I loved being back in a place where coffee and tea are drunk on a regular basis, and the first half day we were there I drank a total of 4 large cups of tea. We saw so much during our time there, from Big Ben to the evensong service at St. Paul's Cathedral (and at Westminster Abbey). We went for a walk our first evening there with the couple we were staying with and came across the Queen's barge in this little harbor on the river! We took a healthy number of pictures of red telephone booths and we even got to meet up with an old friend of mine from high school who is from London. God gave us good weather, generally speaking, meaning we only really had to deal with the rain our last day there, the day we had already designated a coffee-shop day. Becca and I kept having to remind ourselves that we were actually in London, that we were actually riding that red double decker bus, actually watching the guards at Buckingham Palace change their posts, actually standing on the Greenwich Meridian Line. A beautiful city to be sure with a lot of history attached. And the family we stayed with was so generous. Teranga has really marked our trip-- teranga being the Senegalese cultural value of hospitality.

Ireland: (so far, Limerick)
Cliffs of Moher
We are now staying with one of Becca's extended relatives. To get to the first family in Limerick, we had to spend the night in a London airport on the cold stone floor (all the transit chairs were taken by 11:30pm). We didn't sleep very much, but managed to make it on our 6:40am flight. Her family picked us up and fed us an incredible breakfast of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, toast, and cereal. After stuffing our bellies we slept till about 2pm, at which point we got up and ate lunch. We saw an old castle that day and went to the Cliffs of Moher the next. Really gorgeous countryside here and more green than I have seen in ages. I'm realizing you don't see real grass in Senegal. They don't have it (at least not in dry season). You see sand and the occasional desert-like brush and baobab trees. Here you walk outside and are engulfed in bright greens that seem to dance across the rolling hills. Rafet na (it's beautiful)! Becca's family really spoiled us and even took us out places, paying for everything. There is no way we can really pay them back for their kindness. Teranga. Something I thought of is that this is a bit of how it is in our relationship with God. He has given us everything, unfathomable blessings and love, and yet there is no way we can ever pay him back. We have to live each day in a state of thankfulness, knowing that we are incredible debtors to his grace and yet He gives it to us so freely because of His love. When you can't physically pay someone back a great  debt, you have to thank them in other ways-- in your actions, in your words. A state of perpetual thankfulness.