Tag Archives: Thailand

ballet flats and truck beds

Today I borrowed a truck with a “Carryboy,” a hood on the back, to pick up a piece of furniture from a village known for its furniture and handicrafts. I’d discovered yesterday that the Toyota Soluna I have been using is not large enough to accommodate my purchase – a coat/purse/umbrella rack.

After making the long trek to the south side of town, I found that the back hood wouldn’t open. The shop owner and I pulled and pulled to no avail.

I debated whether I could fit through the small window from the cab into the truck bed.

“I think I can fit,” a young Thai girl says, appearing from another shop. She probably weighs 90 pounds soaking wet and is around 5’2.”

“Oh? Really? Do you mind?”

“No, not at all!”

Thai people are SO helpful and friendly.

Sure enough, she was able to maneuver through the window. With more pulling and prodding, she was able to pop the lock with the aid of another shopkeeper who came to help pull from the outside.

We had to leave the back door open because I wouldn’t be able to open it once I arrived at home.

“Drive slowly,” they told me.

After thanking them all profusely, I headed to a friend’s house to pick up to items I’d purchased from them.

When I opened the door to the back seat, I see a pair of size 5, cream-colored ballet flats that perfectly matched my rescuer’s dress (yes, she offered to crawl through in a cream-colored dress)

My new friend is now walking around barefoot.

Thankfully, I had the business card of the shop owner. I called and explained I had the shoes of the girl who helped. She said I could bring them by whenever – now or later. I decided to return, even though it was a bit of a trek back out, because my house is on the complete opposite side of town.

I slowly chug along, in a truck that is as old as I am, with an office chair and wooden coat/purse rack in the back. I stop on the side of the highway to make sure my rack and chair are OK and get mud on my khaki pants.

I arrive back at the shop to find everyone gone. I call again and explain that I’ll leave the shoes at the shop two doors down on a carved tree stump sitting next to a wooden elephant and stone Buddha.

I had a mental picture of the girl driving her motorbike home, barefoot. Poor thing!

I raced the rain back home, praying it wouldn’t since the back hood was open. I managed to pull in to my carport before the rain.

Welcome to a day in the life of Tessa. There is never a dull moment.

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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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When a heart breaks

She walks out of the massage parlor with the sun-glassed man. Japanese, I think. He leaves quickly. She sits down on the bench, avoiding eye contact.

Everyone around knows what’s just happened.

As I’ve sat and listened to my friend teach English the past 30 minutes, she’s been upstairs in a room with this man, most likely doing much more than a massage.

She’s in it for the money. Most of these women are. Many come from poor families in eastern Thailand and many haven’t finished high school. They are left with few opportunities. Some can’t read Thai.

When she comes back she pulls out a deck of playing cards and starts playing a game, most likely to get her mind off of what just happened.

Watching her that day broke my heart. Every time I go down to the red light district it break my heart. Every single time.

We’re hoping and praying that these women and men will use the English we’re teaching them to get out of the business. But, we’ve just heard that some women are going to another massage parlor to learn English sex talk to help “empower” them.

When your heart breaks, what do you do about it?

I chatted with a woman today who’s married and has three daughters. We talked about how the flooding in Bangkok has affected her sister. I asked her about her daughters and about the massage parlor’s business.

I don’t know if her husband knows what she does. He might. She left our English lesson early to wrap her arms around a Western man and lead him upstairs.

When your heart breaks, what will you do about it?

There’s a new girl who works at this massage parlor. She lied about her age. She said she’s 18 but she’s only 17. She has a boyfriend, she told us, he’s 16. She also left the English lesson early with a customer. I don’t know if every time these ladies have a customer if it results in more than a massage. Many times it does.

When your heart breaks, what are you doing about it?

One of our regular students brought her 17-year old son. She doesn’t look nearly old enough to have a son that age. He’s looking for work. We want to make sure he doesn’t end up working in the red light district like his mom. His mom left the English lesson early today with a man. She escorted him right past her son. Does he know what his mom does?

When a heart breaks, what should you be doing about it?

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call me rude

Rihanna’s “Rude” plays in the background of a darkly silhouetted bar. Western men lean in to whisper dirty nothings into the ears of petite and scantily-clad Thai women.

These women work in Thailand’s sex industry. Many come from eastern Thailand to find work in the city. Some come under false pretenses. Some know what they’re getting into. The journey to Chiang Mai and Bangkok work in bars, massage parlors, clubs and strip clubs.

Men from around the world come to Thailand to hook up. Many of these men are 50 + and many come to find a woman in her 20s. Many of these men are old enough to be these girls’ father and some are old enough to be their grandfather.

Every night children wander up and down the aisle of bars selling roses. These children are under 10 years old and selling flowers to the Western men to buy for their woman of the night. The money the children make from selling roses goes to an adult at the end of each evening. They walk past these bars late at night and they see all that goes on.

They live in red light.

Last night several friends from the U.S. went with one of my colleagues and I to prayer walk in this area, in Chiang Mai’s red light district.

We had the chance to talk with several of these flower-selling youth for a few minutes.

It breaks my heart. At their age I was playing with Pet Shop Animals and Polly Pockets – not watching drunken men seduce women to the tune of this week’s favorite hit hip hop artist.

“God bless you,” I said in Thai to one of the girls as we said our goodbyes, leaving the children to make their rounds.

“God bless you too,” she answered.

Does she know who God is? Does she know Jesus loves the little children? Does she know true love isn’t a one-night stand?

I don’t know.

She knows the tune of Rihanna’s song.

Will you pray for these children?

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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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