Monthly Archives: September 2011

Promise of unconditional love

Americans wear rings on their left hands, right? To show you are married?

Last night I went down to the red light district to visit my friend John.* His grandmother wants him to get married and have children so she can have great grandchildren. John is gay and I don’t think his grandmother knows this. We haven’t had a talk about it yet and I am praying for wisdom when we do.

John’s grandmother’s wishes sparked a conversation on wedding rings, husbands/wives and marriage.

“Are you married?” Hannah,* asked,  pointing to my ring finger. I just met Hannah last night.

I explained that my dad gave me this ring as a promise for my future husband and I’d give the ring to him when I married. Natasha,* a man who underwent sex reassignment surgery to become a woman, listened in.

I asked Hannah if she had a significant other.

“I have a son,” Hannah told me. “But no husband.”

Her boyfriend left her and now the responsibility of raising their son rests on her.

“Is your son in Chiang Mai?” I asked.

“No, I am not able to care for him,” she said sadly. She pulled out her phone and showed me a picture of him. He’s living with family in her hometown. She came to work in the red light district to make money to send back to him.

I’m discovering that many Thai women who work in Chiang Mai’s red light district have boyfriends or husbands who’ve left them. This also happened to Angie,* my friend who recently became a believer.

Many times women will meet a guy in their teens or early 20s and see a future with them. The girls are “all in” emotionally. They invest everything, but the guy isn’t as attached and when the responsibility increases, sometimes with the birth of a child, they leave. Their love was conditional. The girls are hard-pressed for money to care for their kid, so they head to the place that guarantees quick money: the red light district.

Red light districts attract hundreds of Western men who’ve come to Thailand specifically for the sex trade. Some “stumble upon” it. The red light district also lures Western and Asian men who travel to Thailand on business trips.

It makes me sick. And sad. And angry.

My heart hurts for these women. I want so badly for them to leave this industry. I want them to know they are fearfully and wonderfully made and God loves them. I want something better for them. I want them to know unconditional love, God’s love.

I want them to know promises aren’t always broken.

*name changed

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Moon cakes, Little Mermaid, It’s a Wonderful Life & Agatha Christie

Tonight I bought a moon cake from a mermaid.

Though I wish I could say I bought this traditional Chinese pastry from Ariel from Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” that isn’t quite true. I bought one with a coffee filling from Starbucks. The Starbucks mermaid was imprinted on top instead of Chinese characters.

Traditional Chinese moon cake

Today is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest celebration that commemorates the end of the fall harvest season. The date changes based on the lunar calender. This moon festival is thousands of years old and is celebrated in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. It’s celebrated some in Thailand too.

I’ve been a part of Mid-Autumn Festivals since my family moved overseas when I was two and half years old. My parents have pictures of my grinning cheesy-ly and holding a cute lantern.

Families will traditionally eat moon cakes and admire the harvest moon. They’ll also carry lanterns and light and release other lanterns. It’s similar to Thailand’s Loy Kratong festival that takes place every November. Dragon dances are also involved as is incense-burning and worship.

I didn’t do any dancing or lantern lighting tonight, though that would have been fun. I took my moon cake and went to my apartment’s roof to admire the moon.

For some reason, tonight I kept thinking of the quote from George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary,” George said.

Mary then replies:

“I’ll take it. Then what?”

“Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair… am I talking too much?” George asked.

Tonight though, the moon was shrouded by clouds. No super-duper lasso would have roped it.

I did see a few lanterns floating upward though. They reminded me of fireflies who seemed to be following an invisible treasure map to the moon. They weren’t headed toward the moon, but they ascended anyway.

Finally, I happened to catch a quick glimpse of the moon. The clouds removed their veil long enough for me to behold the moon. It’s there, even though I couldn’t see it. It’s like a bride who lifts her veil at just the right moment.

It reminded me of our relationship with God. We’re like the lanterns, we fix our gaze above and move forward in faith. Sometimes in life it feels like we can’t see or hear God. During trials and hard times it seems like He is far away. He’s there, He always is. We ascend and trust with the path that’s been shown to us. This teaches us faith and perseverance.

It’s awesome when you have those mountain-top experiences where you see the moon and life is clear. What’s harder is following the treasure map from the valley. But it’s oh-s0 worth it.

It’s like the ending of a murder mystery TV show or book.

I really like murder mysteries. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and watching Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke. My family watches Midsomer Murders, a BBC mystery series, and we watch House and Monk. There’s something about the mystery and suspense that’s always fascinated me about this genre. I like trying to figure out “who done it.” You follow the clues and piece them together to see the whole picture. When it’s over, you have the satisfaction of seeing all the pieces fit and you have the answer to why everything happened the way it did.

This life is like a murder mystery, sans the murder. We follow the commands and instructions given in the Bible and the revelations He gives us until we reach heaven. This is the conclusion and resolution. Then, all the pieces, places and people in our life will make sense. We’ll understand our Father completely and worship Him always.

What an awesome day that will be.

It truly is a wonderful life. God’s been so gracious and good to me recently, as He’s always been. It’s been an awesome treasure hunt so far and I’m excited to move forward and learn more about life’s mysteries and the God who created life.

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twin grievings

Ten years ago I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, just like I am tonight.

I was 14 on September 11, 2001. Now, I’m 24 (I’m great at math, can’t you tell?) and I am back in the Land of Smiles on September 11, 2011.

I was getting ready for bed when the planes hit the Twin Towers. It was Sunday evening our time, we’re 12 hours ahead, and I was preparing for another school day at my international school. My parents called me in the living room to watch the coverage. I plodded out in my PJs and sat cross-legged on our couch and watched in horror as the buildings crumbled like sand castles under the weight of a wave. I also watched the reports on the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

I grieved over the lost lives and the men and women who met their eternity without knowing Christ.

Today a friend and I visited my friend John’s home and met his 83-year old grandmother. John works in the red light district. He recently became a believer.

I grieved today again for those who lost their lives but also for John grandmother.

She’s a wisp of a woman–she looks if you hug her too hard she might break. She’s missing all of her teeth, but that doesn’t stop her from smiling.

I couldn’t help but notice the veins in her arms and hands. They tell of a long life– a life without knowing her Creator.

They’ve lived in this house all of John’s life.

A poster of a senior monk hangs over her bed. His grandmother talks about going to the wat, or temple, whenever she’s able, which isn’t as often as her earlier years because of her age.

We shared, but mostly John shared, about how we believe in God and go to church instead of the temple.

It’s all good, she said, all religions are good.

She showed us pictures from her and John’s youth. She struggled to keep her reading glasses on her nose as she flipped through the worn photos.

“He’s so cute,” she said. “Such a big baby he was.”

We talked about life and memories. We did a lot of smiling and laughing.

Before we left, we said a prayer over her. She held our hands and strained to listen to our English and broken Thai. She came over and hugged me, laying her head on my chest. This surprised me, hugging isn’t too common in Thai society.

Her sweet hug is a moment I’ll always remember.

I pray that she’ll love Jesus. My heart grieves to think of her not. It’s not too late–her eternity hasn’t come. But, like the fateful day 10 years ago, we’re never guaranteed another day.

Today is the day to share with that person your heart grieves for.

 

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Kickboxing with Bonhoeffer

It’s easier to fight visible enemies. Actually, fighting enemies in general is easier. I’m not talking about Muay Thai kickboxing.

Many times it is easier to try to fight the woes that ail us, thinking that our struggle will result in victory and sage-ness. With every Jackie Chan-like kick, we think we’re taking one giant step for man and one giant leap for mankind.

That’s not Jesus’ way.

Many people thought His coming to earth meant a physical battle. They thought Jesus would duke it out with Caesar.

That’s not the way of the cross.

I’m in the midst of reading, as I have been for quite some time, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” by Timothy J. Keller. It’s a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Keller writes about German pastors and their struggle against Ludwig Müller, the Nazi-appointed bishop of the German church. Ludwig agreed with views of an “Aryan race” and wanted to purge the country of Jews.

“While Hildebrandt, Niemöller, and Jacobi were thinking about how to defeat Müller, Bonhoeffer was thinking about God’s highest call, about the call of discipleship and its cost. He was thinking about Jeremiah and about God’s call to partake in suffering, even unto to death,” Keller writes.

Discipleship. It has a cost. Bonhoeffer knew that and chose to occupy his thoughts with God’s calling instead of inventing his own ways to struggle.

Bonhoeffer was first concerned with God and His calling on his life. He knew the key to victory was trust in Jesus. Through focusing on God, he fought his enemies. By choosing to look first to God and concentrate on discipleship, he allowed God to take control.

Bonhoeffer stood up to Hitler. Though I haven’t gotten to this part in the book, I know that Bonhoeffer didn’t sit around and he wasn’t resigned to his fate. Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was later hanged for doing so. He fought. He fought hard.

I’ve struggled the past few months with a fear of failure and crippling worry. Though these enemies are nothing like the Fuhrer, they were very real to me. I’ve been incapacitated at times from writing. I questioned my calling. I’ve heard and seen things not many people get the chance to see or hear and wanted so badly to do their stories justice.

I spent hours fighting, kickboxing at these fears, praying for strength as I did so. Many times it was a “in the midst of a crisis” prayer.

It’s easier to fight on your own sometimes, because you feel like you’re at least trying, that you’re doing something tangible to annihilate the problem. It’s harder to let go and allow the Spirit lead.

It’s downright scary. What is the Spirit going to ask me to do if I let go?

What I’ve learned is that I need to concern myself with discipleship and its cost. Being a disciple means suffering–it means blood, sweat and tears. Bonhoeffer knew this. He died for discipleship. He didn’t spend time trying to do things on his own without first submitting to God. He also knew he must faithfully suffer.

“Simply suffering-that is what will be needed then-not parries, blows or thrusts such as many still be possible or admissible in the preliminary fight; the real struggle that perhaps lies ahead must simply be to suffer faithfully,” Bonhoeffer wrote.

He kept his eyes fixated on the cross and followed his Savior’s lead. In Bonhoeffer’s case, it meant death. He already considered this though and had accepted it the cost of discipleship. The cost varies from person to person, but the calling to follow Him is the same.

Reckless abandon, fixation on the cross and wholehearted obedience.

That is what He wants from me. That is what He wants from you. He wants you to follow Him with reckless abandon. He’ll slay your enemies for you. It may not be the way you expect, but He makes good on His promises.

Hitler met his demise. Bonhoeffer’s struggle was not in vain.

Looking to the cross doesn’t mean rolling over and accepting evil is in the world. It means allowing our King, who knows better, to take kick in the Muay Thai arena in your life.

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