Live the questions now.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Having to answer “I don’t know” to the myriad of questions that swirl around my life as it is and my life in the future would have deeply unsettled me even 2 years ago; now, I sense that God has used this season to help me say that with an abiding trust that it really doesn’t matter if I know or not. What matters is that I am attentive to Him, rejoicing in His love, and obediently faithful to Him, today.

 

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I’m going through a whole thing.

 

I don’t blog much anymore.  After the cancer series of posts, I felt uncertain how to move forward with writing.  I was (likely) headed to Bangkok.  Then I went to Bangkok.  Now I’m back in the U.S.  I don’t know what’s next.

While in Bangkok, I made multiple attempts to write about what I experienced:

  • Entering a wholly different culture.
  • Learning who I was in another context.
  • Being a Christian when 99% of the people around you are not.
  • Understanding the eastern worldview.
  • Understanding what it means to be an American.
  • Experiencing unyielding spiritual warfare.
  • Being new in a huge city, trying to make friends.
  • Being an immigrant.
  • Being illiterate.
  • Starting stuff from scratch.

It wasn’t so much that the internet needs another white foreigner writing about Thailand.  That’s been done by thousands of ex-pats who all write better than me.  I didn’t want to be an ex-pat sampling Thai culture and commoditizing it into a blog entry.  I tried writing because I needed to process.

For the most part, though, I had no words to describe what that was like, evidenced by the long hiatus from the blog.  Words, once nimble friends I wielded confidently and often sarcastically, were now vague, loose, hard to find, hard to handle.  Learning a new language does funny things to your brain.

I focused on learning the new language, enfolding myself in a new culture, discovering how Thais think and feel, discovering how my expression of thoughts and feelings could be done in a Thai way.  My life became very small – I stopped reading American news (imagine coming back to the US to discover that the Donald Trump campaign wasn’t just a joke!) and struggled through Thai news articles.  What does it mean to be Thai?  What does it mean for me to love and appreciate Thais and Thailand?  How is the gospel good news to Thais?  How do I give my life faithfully to this place and these people I hope to call my own?

Abruptly, I was wrenched from this focused life.  I had oriented myself around Thais and Thailand. Then in a span of 24 hours, I went from sweating out the early days of hot season to waking up cold under a pile of blankets on a mattress in a friend’s office.  Bewildered is a kind word for the discombobulated state I was in.  What happened?  How am I in America right now?  What language am I speaking in?  Thinking in?  Is this a dream, or was Thailand?

Now I’m going through a whole thing.  Thailand was turbulent, rough, destructive.  Thailand was also joyful, full of intimacy and growth with Jesus, hospitable.  In this liminal space I am in stateside, I feel many things keenly and questions are rumbling up from the depths: is my heart in this?  Is returning what I want?  What do I want?  What do I feel?  Ugh, is my heart even in this, or is Jesus calling me somewhere else by letting these embers cool?

I mean, do I even WANT to smash cities anymore, or is that just what’s expected of me..?

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

Admit it, you read the title in David Bowie’s voice.

Last night, not only did I begin to write 8 by spelling it out, but I got so far as to write “A-E-ก” before realizing:
1) Who spells out numbers?
2) Eight does not have an “A”
3) I used a Thai letter for the G sound (ก)

What is happening in my brain?!?

Immersive language learning does strange, strange things to your brain.  It’s remarkable to think that I started Thai a year ago from zero and am now able to (mostly) function in day-to-day stuff.

But language learning isn’t just a matter of memorizing vowel sounds and vocabulary.  Proverbial expressions and informal pronunciations and regional dialectical twists and a wholly different religious structure blend, re-form, and create an art medium for communicating.  It’s no wonder that jokes go right over my head, or one dropped consonant at the end of a word leaves me mystified as to what is being said.

In Elizabeth Sue Brewster’s book, Bonding, she writes that the life of an incarnating minister is that of becoming bi-cultural.  And it’s true.  I’m learning to interpret body language that means something different that what it communicates in the US.  What is unsaid is just as important as what is said.  What topics are taboo changes.  I’m becoming hyper-aware of my tone and volume and facial expression when I address others, and look for clues as to what they are communicating as well.

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What is your new life like?

So, what is life like when you’ve left your native land and begun cultural acclimatizing in a new place?  Instead of writing something deep and pithy, here are shallow reflections on new elements in my life:

Seven 11
This should start with an apology to my mother, who worked really hard to teach me how to eat a healthy, balanced diet.  Mom, I’m sorry.  I remember everything you’ve taught me, but 711 is a mecca of junk food with flavors unknown to the Western world.  And given that reading stylized Thai is still difficult, I’m a total sucker for packaging.  I mean, look at these:

2015-01-26 19.08.082015-01-26 19.08.57

 

This tin looked so cool and smooth that I thought, man, maybe these breath mints might make me hip like a saxophone player.  But then the mints were herbal and gross.
2015-01-28 18.04.00

Lime lemon soda.  I was slightly addicted for a while.

2015-01-31 15.43.09

Bugles are still alive and well in Thailand.

2015-04-19 13.10.08

Did not try these for obvious reasons.

Sweat
Prior to Bangkok, I’d consider myself a below average sweater.  Not profuse, probably less than other people, typically.  Lo and behold, I am not suffering the slums – instead, I have a free spa treatment everyday that clears out my pores.  Welcome to the tropics.

Umbrella-ella-ella
God’s gift in tropical climates for rain AND shine.  Sudden downpour?  Ready.  UV index of 12 mid-day with skin-blistering sunshine?  Bless the Lord for his synthetic fabric protection.

Living alone makes you a weirdo.
Always had a roommate?  Always lived with someone?  Then living alone is untested ground for all the weirdo bad habits you’ve never had the space to explore.  Living alone might be the hardest aspect of life in Thailand for a woman who even had a roommate in the womb.  Thus far, I’ve discovered the freedom of neurotic cleanliness (clean all the things!  All the time!) and the disgustingness of drinking straight from large containers.  Am I ashamed of these habits?  Only when visitors come over and I realize mid-pour I’ve drank straight from this carton and every other carton in my fridge.

Plastic water bottles
Perhaps another apology is in order.  Dear Earth, I am sorry that I replaced my busted aluminum water bottle with a glass one that is heavy and that I am too lazy to carry.  I am sorry that I use plastic water bottles that are slowly destroying you.

Da Mall

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I wish I could explain these neon animal decorations.  I can’t.  But the mall is a hub of commercialism, McDonald’s, and aircon, conveniently located a 5-minute walk away from our office.  I have been to the mall more often in Thailand than all my teenage years combined.  Malls are hip places to hang out – one of the biggest in Thailand, Terminal 21, is themed as a major city on each floor, with decadent bathrooms to match (I recommend Old Tokyo and Turkey, fyi).

Stickers/ emoji

8 year old me would be super jealous of the digital ability to send stickers to any of my facebook friends at any time.  Am I a grown adult?  Yes.  Do I regularly send stickers as responses to questions or conversations over facebook.  Well…

McDonalds
On average, my siblings and I ate fast food twice a week when we were growing up.  In college I discovered that fast food consumption was shameful, etc. etc. so I quickly swore off the evil mega-corporate death meals.   Fast (food) forward to living overseas and not being so rigidly dogmatic, and all of a sudden, McDonalds has become oddly appealing.  French fries and American ketchup…

Chocolate
Chocolate doesn’t really fit in the Thai palate, so my chocolate consumption has dropped from “-aholic” levels to infrequent treat.  

Taylor Swift
My teammates, not Thailand, are responsible for the repeated exposure and eventual love for TSwift’s 1989 album.  Justine, you can thank them later.

A little barf never hurt anyone
Food poisoning / “broken stomach” is par for the course in a land of delicious spicy food.  A 20+ year strong aversion to vomiting has been swiftly disarmed.  I’ve now learned that a little barf never hurt anyone and might even make you feel better.

Cold intolerant
Yeah.  I’m not sure how I’ll survive in the US.  I had to leave a coffee shop because I was cold in 25* C with a sweater.   

Clothing alternations
Hang drying all my clothes has lead to strangely stretched-out necklines, meaning all my shirts are becoming immodestly low cut.  I swear I am not trying to be inappropriate!

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My boy Oswald wrote…

“Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.”

John 20:2
“Give Me to drink.” How many of us are set upon Jesus Christ slaking our thirst when we ought to be satisfying Him? We should be pouring out now, spending to the last limit, not drawing on Him to satisfy us. “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me” – that means a life of unsullied, uncompromising and unbribed devotion to the Lord Jesus, a satisfaction to Him wherever He places us.

Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him. It is easier to serve than to be drunk to the dregs. The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him. We are not sent to battle for God, but to be used by God in His battlings. Are we being more devoted to service than to Jesus Christ?

Taken from ‘My Utmost for His Highest’, by Oswald Chambers, January 18

Transition brings all my character flaws and strengths into sharp focus.  Because nothing is the way it was, I find myself questioning my habits, my opinions, my daily life.  And reading this devotional back in January (writing requires extra mental capacity which I do not have. Sue me.) was like getting a side stitch while running –OW–you have my attention!

“What am I doing here?  What am I about?  What does it mean to be a minister here?  How do I show the love of Jesus without words, because I have them not? What good is a ฝรั่ง here?” And suddenly I found myself evaluating my time and attitude against, “What am I producing” instead of “what would you have me here for, Jesus?”  Jesus, I can sure do a lot of stuff for you!  Watch me!

Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ.  What is competing with you, Jesus, in my heart?  The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.  It is easier to serve than to be drunk on the dregs.  Surely I can find my meaning, purpose, and worth in having a busy, full schedule, doing “ministry” (what does that word even mean, really?) rather than waiting on Jesus, being entirely focused on Him, and finding my delight in His arms.

A harried, hasty life is easier to  justify than one in which I can only say, I am responding to what Jesus would have me do.  The temptation to do and fill my life with activities presses in daily – but what is most important to me?  Who do I love?  In whom do I find my delight and joy?  And in this season of “broken hands,” when I barely understand most things around me, when I cannot use words, Jesus, let nothing keep me from being drunk on the dregs.

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Media Bits from Thailand

So what is your life like in Bangkok?  If pictures are worth a thousand words, videos must be worth, like, a million, and so here are a bazillion words about Bangkok:

First, videos:

Time lapse of walking into the community:

Time lapse of riding the boat:

Second, random pictures:

sending off a floating boat for Loi Grathong

sending off a floating boat for Loi Grathong

Loi Krathong lantern

Loi Krathong lantern

orchids

orchids

indigenous plant. Never seen anything like it.

indigenous plant. Never seen anything like it.

Christmas at the local mall

Christmas at the local mall

nothing quite as refreshing as coke in a bag

nothing quite as refreshing as coke in a bag

light traffic near my house

light traffic near my house

Neighborhood spirit house

Neighborhood spirit house

Water lilies

Water lilies

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Guess it’s about time to write about transition.

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

It’s easy to move when you aren’t attached to anyone.  Pick up your things, pack your bags, go.  But what about when you are?  When you’ve invested in friends who’ve become family?  Then, certainly, your heart is wrung out and broken.

LA was home for 10 years.  Two months out, I still speak of LA and my former church and former roommates as if it is still current in my life. “At our church we…” Not anymore.  I am no longer a part of that church.  I no longer live in LA.  I am no longer part of the internships team.  Those statements feel like garments that shouldn’t fit, but do.

My current locale isn’t home – a long time ago, it was; now, it’s unfamiliar.  I make wrong turns.  I am surprised at what businesses are or are not here.  And two months from now, an entirely new place will be home – and much more startlingly new than any place I’ve been before.

Leaving LA feels like tearing part of myself away – I feel whole and myself, I feel fractured and not myself.  Transition = not fully out of one place, not fully in another.  And I’m in for a long season of being in transition.

But for now, a lot of my life looks like this:

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