Tag Archives: God

sound of cemeteries

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The Lord knows what we need, when we need it. He knew I needed to visit a cemetery on a hill on a brisk New Zealand spring to find closure, grieve and celebrate a life well lived.

*note, this post was written in October 2014

I’m in Akaroa today. It was a French colony and has a beautiful bay. The weather was excellent—bright, blue skies and brisk spring weather.

I hiked with a friend to an Anglican cemetery on a hill overlooking the city’s lighthouse and bay.
Home at Last
I wandered past tombstones with names of old and dates even older. We then made our way to the Catholic and “Dissenters” cemetery. The Anglican cemetery housed the remains of men and women with English last names. The Catholic cemetery’s stones had French last names, for the many French settlers in the colony, as well as Irish last names. Earlier today, I met a fifth-generation French woman who owns a dolphin tour company.

The Dissenters were English men and men who broke from the Church of England. They advocated for a separation of church and state and called for a Protestant Reformation of sorts in England.

I loved the Dissenters cemetery. On the tombstones are quarter-length ‘tweet testaments’ to God’s grace and their departure to their eternal home.

“Thy will be done” and “in a better place” were etched in tombstones.

With Christ, which is far better

With Christ, which is far better

My grandmother passed away this week. I wasn’t able to return for the funeral. It was really hard for me. Had I been in my city, I could have made it. After exhausting options, I accepted the fact that I’d have to miss remembering the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

A year and a half ago I lost my grandfather on my dad’s side. I was thankful I was in the U.S. to grieve, remember and celebrate his life well lived.

But God allowed me to remember my grandmother –not in the way I’d imagined. As I strolled up and down the rows of stone memorials, I realized the Lord was allowing me a chance to remember and grieve. I wasn’t in the cemetery where my maternal grandfather and uncle are buried and where my grandmother was being laid to rest. But I was in a cemetery, and as I read the last testaments and memories that family members chose to forever etch on tombstones, I was able to mentally write ones for Grandmomma.

“Peace, perfect peace,” and “until the day breaks and the shadows flee away,” are two of my favorites.”

Reading these on the tombstones reminded me that she’s in her eternal home. I could imagine I was there in the Lowcountry graveyard.

I didn’t know the people buried there, but I know the bonds of family, the love and the grief.

Some of the dates I saw on the stones were similar to my grandmother’s birth date.

Tombstone in the Dissenter's cemetery

Peace, perfect peace

On the walk down the graveyard hill, I crunched on a carpet of browned pine needles. I realized this was my chance to be in South Carolina—in a “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” sort of way. The path behind my grandmother’s house is carpeted with fallen pine needles. Pine needles cushioned the back yard of the home she lived in for her entire married life.

Cemeteries aren’t what you initially think of when you think of a peaceful and serene location. Perhaps an even stranger thought is of a cemetery being a vacation attraction.

But for me, I could celebrate the life of a woman who is now at ‘peace, perfect peace,’ and no longer has to wait ‘till the day breaks’ to find eternal healing and eclipsing joy. I was thousands of miles away—on the shores of “Middle Earth,” but the Lord granted me a window into the time of remembrance that I’d of otherwise missed.

The Lord knows what we need. He knew I’d be at the base of a glacier named after an Austrian leader when I returned the missed calls with a lump in my throat—knowing what words would soon leave my father’s lips and travel invisibly over the ocean to the ‘glow worm cottage’ I was staying in. He knew I wouldn’t be able to make it back to South Carolina. He knew I needed to travel to Austria through the songs of the Von Trapp family in Auckland’s Civic Theater.

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Grandmomma loved songs. Her Alzheimer’s and dementia claimed a lot of memories – but hymns and Scripture were rooted deep in her mind in areas that disease could not claim.

I remember clearly the afternoon a preacher came by to visit my grandmother. I think I remember that she had had a hard week and her sentences didn’t always fit together and her memory was fading. The preacher made rounds, visiting the elderly and aging in the country.

We sat at the kitchen table, with a view of the carpet of pine needles, and I remember him saying something to the effect of, “Well, Miss Grace, shall we sing?” He started singing a hymn in a soulful and bluesy voice and my grandmother sang along—remembering all of the lyrics perfectly.

The day of the funeral, I went to see The Sound of Music live. The musical is a favorite of mine – my dad would substitute “Tessa Lyn” for “Eidelweiss” in the Austrian ballad. I couldn’t be with my family but through another Aslan-like plan, God closed a door, but like Maria sang, he opened a window. There’s something healing about music. It’s invigorating and the hills in New Zealand are really alive with the Sound of Music. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a powerful song, the soprano singer who played Sister Abbess did a phenomenal job, her powerful voice gave me chills and I closed my eyes during part of it to absorb it. My grandmother was a woman who climbed every mountain and forded every stream.

I was able to watch part of the funeral, via streaming live feed, and I loved the hymns my family chose and I could imagine my grandmother sitting in her pew, singing for memory the songs of the Baptist hymnal. I watched online along with my cousin who lives in Germany.

Carpet of pine needles

Carpet of pine needles leading out to the bay in Akaroa, New Zealand

He donned a tux. I wore last night’s make up—the funeral was at 4:30 a.m. New Zealand time.

As I was watching, my phone data ran out and the hostel’s Wi-Fi refused to wake up from its intoxicated state. Frantically, I ran first to the front desk and then jogged down the dusky dawn streets of Auckland, looking for Wifi.

Starbucks. Must make it, I thought.

I jogged past an abandoned pair of black pumps and was cat-called in an alley. I passed people who’d been out all night. I realized this wasn’t the safest decision—running on a downtown, dark street in an unfamiliar megacity.

Starbucks was still a sleeping giant. I hesitate and pause on the street and start to turn to return to the hostel.

“Are you OK ma’am?” a Samoan security guard in a bright orange vest asked. He was on late-night patrolling the streets after Diwali festivities. Diwali is a South Asian holiday.

I explained my failed mission while holding back tears. He offered to let me use his phone as a hotspot. By the time we had it active, I’d missed the funeral’s finale.

I found a kind Samoan soul who sympathized and let a stranger use his data to connect to South Carolina. I told him he was an answer to prayer. I told him I’d prayed for help, and God sent help.

“God bless you,” I told him.

If anything, my mad dash was a chance to, in a small way, be a witness. If it was a song title, I’d say it was One Direction’s “Midnight Memories—” well, a gospel one, anyway.

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I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness

Thanks to another wardrobe, more commonly known as the Internet, I was able to be at my grandmother’s funeral, even if it was only for a short part. Thanks also to technology, I was able to watch the remainder of the service later on YouTube – an interconnected web of wardrobes. I’m thankful for the maze of mirrors, windows and wardrobes that connected me, in Middle Earth, to a small town with a street name with a Tolkien-sounding name if there ever was one.

God’s plans are not our own. Like Maria found—things turn out differently than we expected. I’ll see you on the other side, Grandmomma.

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On faith and fairy stories, part 3

This is the third installment in a series on faith, myth and allegory. If you’re just landing here, read post No. 1 here.

The Chronicles of Narnia contains strong biblical allegories, “woven into their very fiber.”[1] The theme, Montgomery states, is the redemption of mankind through Christ. “To Tolkien and to Lewis, tales such as the Narnian Chronicles can, by their very nature, serve as pointers to the great theme of Christian Redemption. Moreover, they will establish in the hearts of the sensitive reader and appreciation of, and a longing for, the Christian Story.”[2] Montgomery writes that Lucy, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, comes across a story in the book of a Magician and she tries to remember the story. She is distraught that she cannot remember. She eventually does, and remembers the lessons she learned from Aslan. “A good story—one which will remind the reader of the One who was nailed to a trees on his behalf, and who now guides the believer, expects great things of him through faith, and waits to receive him into his everlasting kingdom when his work on earth is done.”[3]

Tolkien thought Lewis’ writing in The Chronicles of Narnia was too explicitly an allegory. Historian and literary critic Edmund Fuller agreed that Lewis is more explicit in his biblical allegory. He said that the Christian message is present in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it is deeply buried.[4] “Yet I believe that the relative explicitness of the Narnian books is a positive merit and value in them. It is not so clear that a completely uninstructed child would know it for what it is. But even for the uninstructed, it would lay down a foundation for understanding the Christian mystery in all its basic elements”[5] However, both authors’ writings have connections to Christian theology. Mariann B. Russell said her doctoral dissertation that the stories of Lewis and Tolkien, all “shared a belief that the thrill of adventure could be related to the romantic experience which in its turn could be related to Christian theology.”[6]

The Chronicles of Narnia are brimming with connections to the Bible. Author Lawrence Watt-Evans writes that, “In some ways, the history of Narnia parallels the biblical account of the history of our own world. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while ostensibly a fairy-tale adventure, retells in its way the Passion of Christ.”[7] In The Magician’s Nephew, the reader watches as Aslan creates Narnia. All of the elements are there, the garden, the forbidden fruit and the snake, which in the book, is Jadis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund and in doing this, he mirrors Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. The Last Battle is the story of the Apocalypse. The other books in the series continue with biblical connections.[8]

Tolkien wrote that the mind has the capability to create and add meaning to life. The human mind can observe, for instance, that grass is green, and can add meaning to occasions such as births, anniversaries and deaths. The human mind also has the power to imagine things to move. With the mind’s capabilities to create, Tolkien wrote that man is a sub-creator.[9] God is the ultimate Creator, Tolkien believed, but man becomes a sub-creator as an author and myth writer.[10] Tolkien was a sub-creator when he created Middle Earth. Authors, like Tolkien, create a “Secondary World” that one can enter in to mentally.[11] For a moment, when the reader reads the book, he or she believes what the secondary world shows, then, doubt enters and the reader re-enters the primary world, Tolkien wrote.[12] Tolkien acknowledges that human writers, as creators, transpose the stain of sin onto the characters in their tales. Not all fairy tale characters are good as is seen in the case of Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. The beauty of the Gospel is that God has redeemed the fallen characters, redeemed the sin that is so inherent in characters.[13] God is the ultimate and original Creator and He created the universe. Aslan’s breathing Narnia into existence is similar to God bringing our world into existence. Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth is an example of a creator giving life to a world.[14]

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not just biblical allegories. Tolkien said that since he is a believer, this affected the standpoint from which he wrote. Kilby thinks that Tolkien shied away from saying The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is an allegory of Christ’s redemption because he thought that the “allegorical dragon might gobble up the art and the myth.”[15] The stories from Middle Earth, are “a story to be enjoyed, not a sermon to be preached,” Kilby writes. “Yet I think it is clear enough that for many readers the story deeply suggests the sadness of a paradise lost and the glory of one that can be regained.”[16] Redemption is a tangible theme in The Lord of the Rings. Through reading about the genesis of Middle Earth, the reader sees that evil was not always present and that the evil characters did not begin evil, they made a choice to choose the dark side.[17] “The basis for The Lord of the Rings is the metaphor, God is light.”[18] There are many symbols of Jesus in The Lord of the Rings. Kilby says that Gandalf’s struggle with Balrog, where he falls into a pit is similar to when Christ descended into hell. “After Gandalf’s resurrection—it is plainly called a resurrection—the Fellowship gazed on him with something of the same astonished joy that Mary Magdalene and others found at the tomb of Christ.”[19] The examples and connections to biblical themes in The Lord of the Rings abound.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

[1] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109.
[2] Ibid., 115.
[3] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109
[4] Fuller, 91.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.,131.
[7] Lawrence Watt-Evans, “On the Origins of Evil.” In Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth, and Religion in C.s. Lewis’ Chronicles. ed. Shanna Caughey. (Dallas, Tex.: Smart Pop, 2005), 27.
[8] Kilby, 27.
[9] Tolkien, 8.
[10] Ibid., 12.
[11] Ibid., 13.
[12] Ibid., 12.
[13] Ibid., 23.
[14] Montgomery, 108-111.
[15] Kilby, 141.
[16] Ibid., 143.
[17] Ibid., 137-138.
[18] Ibid., 130.
[19] Ibid., 133.

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On faith and fairy stories, part 2

This is the second installment in a series on faith, myth and allegory. If you’re just landing here, read post No. 1 here.

Neither Lewis nor Tolkien claimed to be writing original myth. They both claimed that there was truth in their accounts and that their characters stood for something more and they imbued universal truths and morals. Both men recognized the difference in kinds of myths and were clear in their defining of the Gospel as a divine myth, a myth that is both historically true and universally true.[1] Both Tolkien and Lewis discussed fairy stories and myth as it relates to the Gospel. Both men were men of faith – Tolkien a devoted Roman Catholic, and C.S. Lewis a committed Anglican. Both give special status and attention to the Gospels as myth.[2]

How did the idea for Middle Earth and Narnia come to Tolkien and Lewis? C.S. Lewis said once that his stories came from images in his mind, “not with an apologetical teaching intention … I’ve never started from a message or a moral, have you? …The story itself should force its moral upon you. You find out what the moral is by writing the story.”[3] For Tolkien, the idea for Middle Earth also came from an image. He got the idea for hobbits from a student. Though the ideas came from an image, the image is a picture of a greater reality and a deeper meaning. Tolkien wrote about the glimpses of underlying reality in fairy stories. These glimpses lead to people asking, “Is it true?”[4] Tolkien says the Gospels include a fairy story; it is “a story of a larger kind that embraces all the essence of fairy stories.”[5] It has the beauty, miracles and marvels that are so beautiful in myths. Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe” to describe the turning of events in a story that lead the protagonist from harm.[6] In Lord of the Rings, an example of a eucatastrophe would be when Frodo and Sam are saved from death the eagles, Clyde S. Kilby, an author and professor, wrote in an essay on Tolkien.[7] Christ’s birth was the eucatastrophe of the history of man, Tolkien wrote. The resurrection was the eucatastrophe of the incarnation.[8] Theologian and author John Warwick Montgomery describes Tolkien and Lewis’ role in myth:

In a century when most secularists and theologians are busily stripping away alleged “myths” (in their sense of “non-factual stories”) from Christianity, our apologists of eucatastrophe find in myth (in the proper sense of archetypal tale) the objectifying literary apologetic for Christian truth—a pointer nonpareil to the fulfillment of mankind’s longings in the factuality of the Gospel story.[9]

For Lewis, all of Christianity could be described as a eucatastrophe. Lewis famously wrote, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also fact. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.”[10] The beauty, for Lewis, is the union of myth and fact, something that does not happen in the common myth. “To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other.”[11] Many philosophers and apologists shrink from calling the Bible myth, for the connotations that could be drawn, and the possibility of others drawing parallels in the world.

We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “Pagan Christs”: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoetic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less that to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.” Myth became fact.[12]

Evans writes that Lewis did not believe that the entire content of the Bible was present in pagan myths, just some semblances. Lewis was aware of the differences.[13] Evans summarizes Lewis’ arguments by identifying the human need for “psychological wholeness and healing.” Humans need to grasp the world they live in and how they fit in. By highlighting the element of myth in the Gospel, these needs are met.[14] “Highlighting the mythical dimension of the incarnational narrative helps one to see one of the reasons that the narrative is important to people now,” Evans writes. “The Lewis claim emphasizes the power of the narrative to articulate such truths without denying either its historical character or its unique status as irreplaceable divine revelation.”[15] Pagans recognize these needs and write myths to describe how the needs can are met, not knowing or believing in the original myth of the Gospel—a myth that man did not devise, but a myth that came from the Creator of life and the universe.[16] “For Lewis, classifying the story as myth is not rooted in a judgment about the literary style of the New Testament … It is rather a way of highlighting the way the story speaks to people at all times and places.”[17]

When arguing for the reality of literary myths, whether or not they actually happened is not really why people read them. One does not read Harry Potter truly believing that it did indeed happen, save for the most ardent Twitter fans who devote their entire online presence to Hogwarts and its inhabitants. No, the reader does not discard the story after learning it did not exist. Reading books like Harry Potter is an invitation to a journey and an adventure and this adventure is desirable. If the story wets the appetite, it succeeds, Tolkien would say.[18] Now, whether or not Tolkien would classify Harry Potter as a fairy story is unknown. Tolkien spends a portion of his piece, “On Fairy Stories” measuring stories on his scale of fairy status. Lord of the Rings is such a story – a story the reader does not base his or her enjoyment on whether Frodo really went on the journey with the ring – the enjoyment was in the story.[19] The beauty of the Gospel is that the stories are read because they are true and because they are desirable. The Bible transfers an adventure and truth in an enchanting way that has present and eternal benefits. The beauty of the Gospel is that it is not simply a made-up story that communicates truth generally. The Gospel is even more beautiful because the characters are not fictional ones who speak in generalizations. The beauty of the Gospel is that the characters are real people who lived, breathed and died, and the message they gave was just as true then as it is in the slums, cities and suburbs of 21st century.

Does this mean the myth of Narnia and Middle Earth should be completely discarded? No, stories like The Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Narnia series hold value and communicate truth. Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” holds value and lessons for the current reader.[20] As mentioned before, there are different categories of myth and none of the literary or philosophical myths can match the ultimate myth of the Gospel. However, there are lessons and beauty to be enjoyed in other forms of myths. “I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed,” Lewis wrote.[21] Lewis advocated for a vibrant faith, one lived in communion with Christ. Myths can enhance a believer’s relationship with Christ. Somewhat controversially, Lewis continued, “A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it.”[22]

Stay tuned for the next installment.

[1] Ibid., 3.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Edmund, Fuller, “After the Moon Landings: A Further Report on the Christian Spaceman C.S. Lewis.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: an Interpretation of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton [and] Charles Williams. ed. John Warwick Montgomery. (Minneapolis,: Bethany House, 1974), 90.
[4] Tolkien, 23.
[5] Ibid.,
[6] Ibid., 24.
[7] Clyde S. Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: an Interpretation of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton [and] Charles Williams. ed. John Warwick Montgomery. (Minneapolis,: Bethany House, 1974), 134.
[8] Tolkien, 23.
[9] John Warwick Montgomery, “Apologist of Eucatastrophe.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: an Interpretation of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton [and] Charles Williams. ed. John Warwick Montgomery. (Minneapolis,: Bethany House, 1974), 29-30.
[10] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” 3 [article on-line]; accessed April 15, 2013; article available from http://sunnybrae.org/sites/sunnybrae.org/files/MythBecameFact.pdf. Internet.
[11] Lewis, 3.
[12] Ibid., 4.
[13] Evans, 62.
[14] Ibid., 59.
[15] Ibid., 63.
[16] Evans, 61
[17] Ibid., 62.
[18] Tolkien, 13.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Charlie W. Starr, “The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen: C.S. Lewis on Myth, Fairy Tale and Film.” In Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth, and Religion in C.s. Lewis’ Chronicles. ed. Shanna Caughey. (Dallas, Tex.: Smart Pop, 2005), 20.
[21] Lewis, 3.
[22] Ibid.

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mountain of contentment

From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the author and perfecter of my faith.

I love sitting outside on a bench that faces the mountain that’s near to my house and having my quiet time. I sip my coffee, munch on a bagel or cereal, watch Finn pounce on all the plants in my yard and spend time with the Father.

Mountains have always held a special place in my heart, for a little background, click here

My view of the mountain from my house isn’t a clear-cut view. There are electrical lines that frame my view. I could focus on these and complain about them and ignore the perfectly wonderful view I have.

The Lord showed me today that it’s the same with life. I can let small things steal my attention from the bigger and more beautiful thing – the Lord.

These small things take away from appreciating and enjoying all of things God has blessed us with.

My neighbor’s garden is visible from my morning breakfast perch. I haven’t ever felt this way, but I could choose focus on what he has and not what I have been blessed with. He has beautiful purple flowers on a vine that is landscaped just right. This could, if I had inherited more of my grandmother and mother’s green thumb, distract me. It also could enhance my view, and it does. I’m grateful for it.

Don’t allow jealousy to give you tunnel vision.

There is a longan tree (longans are a Thai fruit that you peel) just outside my fence. Instead of looking at the whole picture, I could just admire the fruit trees and my neighbor’s yard and forget how they act as a beautiful frame for the mountain.

Spiritually, I could praise God’s creation yet neglect to praise Him.

Sometimes the clouds hide the view of the mountain. Does that mean the mountain is gone? Not at all. Just because we cant see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Sometimes we can’t see God as clearly as we do on the sunny days. He is still there, as firm and solid as before.

Mountains are a symbol of contentment. God gives contentment. As Oswald Chambers so eloquently put it, we must look up into His face and that is where contentment and joy comes from. (I’ve learned a great deal from Oswald – I wrote another post about a devotional he wrote that the Lord used in my life.)

Looking up to the mountain reminds me to look to God for contentment.

I pray you’ll look to God for contentment too.

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closing chapters

How do you close a chapter in life?

I think it’s similar to finishing a really superb book – the kind of book where you eat up every line until the last line, consuming and enjoying every word and minute. It’s the kind of book you get lost in, where the characters seem as real as the man sitting next to you in the songtaew (Thai taxi). Great books make you feel you’re a part of the drama.

When the last chapter ends and the last line is digested, there’s a sense of sadness that it’s over, that the journey you were just on has ended. You close the book, thinking, wow, that was good. You close it half wishing you hadn’t read it so quickly.

This happened for me recently with “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens. I’m not sure why I’d never read it before. Well, actually, I do know why. I think God had me read it this year.

I finished Dickens’ masterpiece on the Thai Airways flight home from my last media coverage as a journeyman. I sat between two coworkers and friends and ooh-ed and ah-ed over the last scenes and sentences (they can attest to how verbal I was).

Now I realize how symbolic my reading and finishing the book was. I’m closing a chapter of life – just as I closed out on my final voyage with Dickens’ book about two cities and the adventures held within them.

During my almost three years here, I’ve spent time in more than just two cities. I’ve been a part of stories that are in some ways just as dramatic if not more so than “A Tale of Two Cities.”  Sans the guillotines, of course, but these stories had dangers just as real as the French machine of death. It’s been an awesome “book” and I feel so blessed to have lived it. Thank you Lord, for the lessons learned, the adventures had and the challenges I’ve learned from.

Finishing “A Tale of Two Cities” felt a little like grieving. It’s that good. I was sad to say goodbye to the characters, action and drama. Finishing my time here as a journeyman feels like grieving.

The feeling of the loss of something great happens with some TV series too. My brother and I were immersed in a British TV-series called “Foyle’s War.” When we finished the last episode, our shared memories seemed to end. We finished something great – something we’d spent hours together watching over Christmas. This happened to me when “Lost” ended too. All those years spent, waiting for resolution and it never came. We won’t get into that.

While some people may feel like instantly reading great books and watching TV series again, I’ve found that I don’t. When I say this, I mean, I don’t feel like closing the book then re-open and start reading it again or watching the TV series again. I do re-read and re-watch and I want to do this, but I’ve found I need space in between the reading and watching – time to absorb and remember. For me, re-reading and re-watching are never quite the same as reading or watching the first time either. The suspense and mystery are known.

It’s the same with my time here as a journeyman. I can’t and won’t go back to “re-live” it right now that it’s over – as good as the past three years have been. The adventure won’t ever be as fresh as the first time living and experiencing it. And it shouldn’t be.  You can’t live in the past. You can remember the past and you can re-visit it.

I’ve found that after reading a great book, I’m inspired to find and read another that’s equally as epic. Great books have a tendency to do that. Excellent books put you on a manhunt to find and discover a book that have the same immersing effect on you.

I think it’s the same with life. I’ve just closed out the last chapter of a “book” of my life – my time here in Chiang Mai as a journeyman. I’m inspired to find the next book that will so move me as the past three years did.

Yes, I will be returning here next year, but the “book” will be different. I lived here in Chiang Mai as a elementary, middle and high school student and that book was VERY different from my “journeyman book.” Little did I know when I graduated from high school that I’d be returning to Chiang Mai for a very different adventure.

In the next saga of “Tessa’s life in Chiang Mai,” there will be new drama, new characters and new challenges.  I don’t know what these are yet, but just like you don’t know the ending to a great book, you wouldn’t want to because it’d spoil the journey of reading it.

Now, I know of some people who read the ending of books first. I have plenty to say about that but I’ll save it for another inspired-blog-writing-moment.

In a few short days, I’ll be closing the final chapter of an epic book. There will be grieving at its end – at the end of this fine adventure. But, I’m inspired to see what God’s written in the next book of my life.

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oh oswald

Oh Oswald.

I love how Oswald Chambers always has just the words I need to hear.

It’s really not him, it’s God and the Holy Spirit using the daily bits of wisdom to speak to my heart.

April 29th’s entry is about gracious uncertainty, and boy, did I need to hear (or in this case, read) it.

“Our natural inclination is to be so precise – trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next – that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing,” Chambers writes.

Though I don’t consider myself a scheduled, detailed person and my Myers’ Briggs personality has me as a “P,” I like to dream and plan for the future. Forget about today and this week, let’s think about what could happen in six months or a year. Or two years. To-do lists? I usually get bored writing them and start actually working.

I do like to sit and think about the future and dream about what if I were in a certain circumstance. I love daydreaming.

“Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been.”

I know I’ve exasperated my parents with “what if’s” and my excessive need to think and plan for the future. Sometimes I focus so much on this I get lost in the present.”What if I don’t get into Baylor, what if I don’t get the writing job I want overseas, what if …”

My questions now are, what do I do after this three-year assignment? What if I come back right away, what if I stay in the US, and if I stay, will I be able to come back? What if I chose the wrong seminary?

The questions are endless and typically end up with me overwhelmed and exasperated.

“We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are uncertain in our certainty.”

I’m the type of person who likes surprises, but when it comes to planning the rest of my life, I like to have clues. For example, if I could just know that going back for seminary is what I need to do, I could be patient with everything else being revealed later.

But, as Chambers says, the nature of our spiritual life is uncertainty.

“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring,” Chambers writes.

Yikes. I think I’ve been taking certainty into my own hands. I want to know what tomorrow will bring, now.

“This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.”

I love this line. Breathless expectation. I don’t want sighs and sadness in my life. I want to take hold of the breathless expectation Chambers writes about. It’s like a kid that’s so ecstatic for Christmas morning they sometimes forget to breathe.

Life is a divine adventure and I fear I’m so worried about the future I am missing the adventure with all my sighing. God, I want to live in breathless expectation. I don’t want to schedule out my future and schedule you out of it.

“We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and to the task He has placed closest to us,  He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

I’m even more in love with those two sentences. I cling so tightly to life and the future that I’m not joyfully doing or completing the tasks closest to me. Right now, the tasks I feel God has placed in my life are my job as a writer and social marketer and the ministry in the red light district.

The tighter I cling, the less God is in these tasks and the fruit of them isn’t juicy. Who likes dried, juice-less fruit? Hopefully you didn’t say, “Me!”

I obsess over my writing. I cling to the words in Microsoft Word. Writing is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. I want so badly to succeed. I want to do justice to the stories of the men and women who follow God in the midst of persecution most of us can only imagine.

I want to see souls freed from bondage in the red light district. I want them to know Jesus like I do. I want to be a better friend to them.

I take these burdens upon myself and it’s a burden I cannot bear alone.

The beauty is, I don’t need to.

I’ve placed them before God before, but I somehow seem to keep picking up my offering off of the altar.

“When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God – it is only believing  our belief about Him.”

Chambers continues, “If our certainty us only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled.”

As Chambers so beautifully put it, once we abandon ourselves to Him, “He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

I love surprises. My parents started a tradition where on Christmas Eve, after we were asleep, they’d leave a small present under the mini trees in our bedrooms. I loved waking up to find what it was. I loved running out to the tree to see the presents they’d placed out under the bigger tree.

I want my life to be filled with godly surprises. I’ve been clinging to certainty too long.

“We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next.”

I don’t know where I’ll be after I head back to the U.S. this October. I don’t know the next step in my life.

“But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy,” Chambers writes.

I do know that I am going to focus on my relationship with God and I’m looking forward to the spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.

“Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in – but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.”

Yes sir, I think I shall.

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white as snow

They are white as snow. I wish I could say I was talking about my friends in the red light district.

My Thai friends recently knit beautiful white scarves for me and my friends as a present. I wish I could say my Thai friends were also white as snow – they are workers in Thailand’s sex industry.

They can be white as snow though. It’s my prayer they will be – that they’ll accept the sacrifice of the One who was slain.

All but one friend hasn’t yet, but it’s a new year and a new chance.

In our weekly English class we talked about our wishes for the New Year. Wishes is easier to translate and say than “New Year’s Resolutions.”

I asked them what they wished for. They answered: more money, more customers, better health and to have their own home.

I told the men and women my New Year’s wish was to grow closer to God this year. He makes us beautiful, I said.

They are beautiful outside, but inside, they are still searching, still lost.

One of my new favorite songs is “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. The song talks about God making a beautiful creation out of us.

“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us.”

He created us from the dust and we are beautiful because of His Gospel’s transformation in our lives.

He also makes us new.

“You make me new, You are making me new,” the song says.

I pray that this year He will make these men and women new. He can create something beautiful inside of them. They are already beautiful outside and He can make them beautiful inside too.

Beauty comes from the dirty ground. Beauty isn’t instantaneous and it often involved pain. Is beauty worth the pain of transformation for these women and men?

As Gungor’s song says:

“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all.”

Yes, yes it can. Because He makes beautiful things out of us.

These men and women in the sex industry are beautiful creations of God. He’s working in their hearts and will make them beautiful if they allow Him to make them white as snow.

That’s my prayer, that this year they’ll allow the Lamb who was slain to make them white as snow.

Here’s a link to listen: Beautiful Things

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