2 Nights of Lent: A Softening

Everyone is posting about Lent. It’s hip to show off on social media. To give stuff up. 40 days of this or that. I wanted to get in on the action but I’m no good at posting a picture a day of the changes I’m making or foods I’m forsaking. So instead I opened my Bible app and chose one of the 40-day plans to read a devotional a day. That seemed like something I could do. (And so far I’m right on track!)

So it surprised me (though I should have expected it) when God taught me a big lesson. And He didn’t do it when I was reading the devo or scrolling through Scripture. He did it when my heart was soft. Sometimes our hearts are softened by the Bible, but this time it took an argument with the person I care most about. 2 in fact. Back to back nights of arguments were required to help me to see what He wanted me to see.

Night 1: the dust is settling and the anger subsiding when He quietly reminds me that patience is a virtue… but only when partnered with love. I am patient in an argument; and that is stubbornness and pride. I was being selfish and not giving in. That’s a bad kind of patience; sin, in fact.

Night 2: feeling self-righteous from my fresh, new word from God the night before about being stubborn, I acquiesce and tell Heidi that I’m not going to be defensive and this, that, and the other. God swoops in with a new, related lesson. This time after minutes spent in prayer I realize that I think that I am a good person 100% of the time. Sure I needed to learn a lesson the night before but now I’m on track and I’m good, and kind, and thoughtful – ALWAYS! But thanks to God’s design for marriage, there is someone who knows and can feel it when I slip up and sin. She feels it even when my own mind tells me that since I’m 90% good that the other 10% is just ok and forgivable and overlook-able. I’m broken again.

So here we are – heart soft and pride trounced and it wasn’t from 40 days of fasting or 30 pictures on facebook. Just a God who takes personal care of the teaching of His children. In relationship.

And I’m tip-toeing into tonight, Sunday night, because I’m hoping God only needed a 2-fer, a back-to-back training session for me. I don’t want a trifecta of weekend evenings spent under the knife but I’m still glad He works on His schedule.

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The Lotus and the Cross

I was talking with a friend about how we wanted to find a book contrasting Christianity and Buddhism. She suggested a book by Ravi Zacharias called “The Lotus and the Cross”. The premise of the book is that a prostitute dies, and after her death, before the ‘afterlife,’ she is travelling in a boat with Buddha and Jesus. The three of them have a conversation contrasting the two religions, and how each impacts this woman’s life. The book doesn’t say where this conversation takes place, but from the descriptions in the introduction, it’s obvious to anyone who has spent time in Bangkok, that the conversation happens on the Chao Phraya River that cuts through the middle of the city.

Brad and I decided to read the book together. As I read aloud the following part of the introduction, there was a catch in my throat, and I handed the book over to Brad to finish reading.

“A sense of nostalgia surfaces within me as the slumbering multitude begins to stir among the backdrop of temples and pagodas spiraling toward the sky. It is as if the calendar collides here, the past, present, and future all speaking in unison. The morning air is fragrant with aromas ranging from lemongrass to fish sauce, all being prepared for the day’s consumption. Yes, the food here wins the palate of virtually every traveler. This is a city I have visited often and its people are among the most winsome in the world. The smiles, the graces, and the charms exude as in no other land I know. A carefree attitude toward life is writ large in the cultural ethos, and strangers make you feel very welcome, even when one may have just cheated you into buying a fake name-brand watch or a pirated copy of the latest movie.

I am very much at home on this continent, for it reminds me so much of the land of my birth. But there is a reality here that compels me to ask some hard questions about life. Within this culture, the most reverent of expressions mix with the most unashamed abandon for the sensual. I see a monk walking in the distance, a bowl for begging in his hand, but I also see a man who spends most of his day waylaying tourists and seducing them with pictures to come and visit a nearby brothel. He does that from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. It is quite a juxtaposition: the monk, austere and in pursuit of nirvana; the man, with a roguish smile, promising a different kind of bliss.

…And so as I sit in this sputtering boat, smothered in a misty spray, I feel nearly drowned in a sea of emotions. How does one talk about the eternal when both religion and riotous living argue that nothing is permanent? An odd mix of the glory and the shame of humanity within this microcosm ignites a series of difficult questions.”

The author goes on to describe a story he read in a newspaper about a prostitute who contracted AIDS. Rather than giving up her only source of income, she continued to work as a prostitute, and spread the disease to hundreds, maybe thousands, of customers. When she could no longer hide the effects of the disease, open sores covering her emaciated body, she was forced to stop working. Months later, her body was found in a burned down house in the city. She died alone, with no hope, lost to a horrifying disease.

This story brought stinging tears to my eyes, and I could not hear it without thinking about Sohm. My friend, in the red light. I thought about many of the girls we have met, their faces flooding my mind, and I cried, wondering if this would be their end in this world, too.

Thinking about it breaks me. Something in me cracks, and my heartache at the thought of these women dying alone with no hope causes tears to spill onto my cheeks.

I pray for each woman we have met in the red light every week. The ones God brings to mind more often – especially Sohm – I pray for more often. The only thing I can give them is my prayers, so I offer them willingly, to a God who does not need me to make His will known in their lives. But He graciously includes me, and asks me to intercede for these forgotten.

I had a conversation with Sohm a week after her birthday, in July. I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She shrugged, and said, “Money.” I asked her if she had the day off. No. She worked. She got to talk to her kids, but it was just a normal day. I struggled, in my broken Thai, to tell her I wanted to get her something for her birthday. (I ended up using the word “souvenir” rather than gift, so that might have led to some of the confusion we had.) My meaning was lost in translation, but there was unspoken meaning between us. As I looked her in the eyes, I saw her simple desire to be free, and to be able to provide for her family. Simple requests. Simple desires.

But I’m powerless to give her anything she actually needs.

I can’t force her to leave prostitution. I can’t force her to follow Jesus. I can’t supply her with enough money to never go back to selling her body.

I can give her my time. I can try to express to her that she is worthwhile. That she is loved more than she is aware. That there are people who value her life. That she can have freedom, and an abundant life.

So I ask my Father to give her good gifts. Most importantly, I ask Him to woo her. To continue to chase her heart. I ask Him to soften her heart. That He would open her eyes to His love.

I plead for her life, for her soul. And even though I’m leaving Thailand, and I don’t know if I will ever see her again, it is a comfort to me that God knows where she is, what she’s doing, every second. And that He loves her much more than I can comprehend. And that His will is not for her to perish. It’s not for her to die alone. It’s not for her to be lost to a void religion of paying for an infinite debt because of past lives, not to even touch the sins you’ve committed in this life.

Because if that’s all she has, she will never be free.

So, for her birthday, all I could give her was my time, and my prayers. Each time I meet her, I try to tell her she has value. She is loved.

And I have to trust her life to the One who knows and loves her infinitely. Because even if she ends up with AIDS, even if she dies, she never is alone. Her Lover is with her.

I pray that she sees Him.

Giving of yourself

I was pondering the concept of giving of yourself one night at the red light. The women I talk with each week at Patpong give of themselves. They give their bodies to men for sexual pleasure. It’s a carnal giving of yourself, and it’s a chosen one for them, but there is still sacrifice involved.

The women sacrifice their dignity. They sacrifice their health. They sacrifice being able to raise their own children. They sacrifice their safety. They sacrifice living in the love of family. They sacrifice control.

I am not making them into saints or martyrs; it’s true – most of them chose this profession. They are in control of what they do for money. They are in control of their profession (to an extent). Yes, the circumstances are hard, and there’s a lot more to those decisions. And there’s a lot I don’t understand, but that is the bottom line.

But thinking about these women giving of themselves every night, multiple times a night, was an indirect challenge to me. No, I do not have to give of myself in the same way they do.

But do I give of myself at all?

In what ways do I give of myself?

Am I sacrificing for others?

I ask myself these questions because I work with women selling sex. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable thinking of a lesson such as this coming from prostitutes, because I want to justify myself. I want to tell myself I can’t learn lessons from women such as these, because they aren’t really sacrificing. They are doing purely carnal things for money, and have chosen lives away from their children. They are fulfilling and enabling the carnal desires of men, and perpetuating the objectification of women with their profession. And some of the women I’ve seen seem to enjoy it.

I don’t want to learn lessons from them.

But the truth is, they are no different from me. I sell my love, my time, my affections for cheap pleasures every day. I give what is rightfully God’s to so many other idols. I sell space in my heart to the world.

So, in that way, we are the same.

I recently read Hosea. Working in the red light each week has given me a new perspective to that book. I always thought Hosea was a saint for marrying a prostitute, and continuously taking her back when she was unfaithful. And even going after her to take her away from her adulterous lusts.

But the book is not about Hosea. It’s about God, and Gomer, representing the kingdom of Israel. It’s about a Lover who is so relentless, He finds us in the midst of our adulterous passions, and He pulls us out of them, and takes us back. It’s about His faithfulness to prostituted hearts.

God sees me the same way He sees the prostitutes I talk with each week: as His daughter. Someone made in His image who He desperately wants to love and make new. I am being made new, each time I surrender more of my heart to Him.

That’s why He can use these women who sell their bodies to convict me about how I’m selling my heart to the world.

Am I humble enough to accept His reproach?

Am I humble enough to recognize His faithfulness to me, when I am unfaithful?

Am I humble enough to give more of myself?

Am I humble enough to learn from prostitutes?

 

The Lion and the Lamb

In the Bible, Jesus is often called the Lion and the Lamb. I was thinking on this description of Him one evening, and was struck with its contradictory sense.

Jesus is a lion. Powerful, fierce, wild. The King.

But He is also a lamb. Gentle, peaceful, mild, calm.

It’s hard for me to understand how someone can be both. (But, one of the great mysteries of Christianity is that we don’t have to understand.)

He is much more than we can ever understand. He is all things good, including powerful and gentle; fierce and peaceful; wild and mild.

This morning in church, Tou Lee talked about the passage in Revelation 3 about the church in Laodicea. How Jesus tells them He is “standing at the door and knocking.” (v.20)

I’ve heard this verse, taken out of context, to describe how Jesus is standing at the door of the hearts of those who don’t know Him. People use it in Gospel presentations for non-Christians to let Jesus into their hearts.

But this morning, it was described differently, as I saw it in context.

These are words to a church. Those who already “know” Christ, yet have somehow excluded Him from their church, lives, hearts.

And Tou Lee said that Jesus is gentle and gracious. He has every right to open the door Himself and walk right in, but He doesn’t. He waits for an invitation. He waits for us to come to the place where we open the door to Him. Where we surrender more to Him, and repent of more. Only then will He enter. He will not force His way in, although He could. The Lion and the Lamb.

He is just. He is a lion. He has conquered death and evil with a force we should fear.

Yet He is also peace. In His presence is perfect peace. He will wait patiently, for us to open to Him. He will gently prod us to open our hearts to Him. The Lamb.

In my mind, I picture justice in a harsh light. I picture a judge, banging a gavel. I picture bad people being dragged into prison. I think of it in extreme ways, I guess. So, to think that Jesus brings justice, has brought justice, yet also brings peace, is a stark contrast. But it ties in perfectly with the Lion and the Lamb description.

The Lamb has been slain to bring justice to the world. The Lion will execute that justice in the last days, when He makes all things right, and abolishes evil and death for good.

The Lamb was slain to bring peace to every human heart. The Lion protects us from perishing in eternity without God.

The Lion and the Lamb. He holds justice and peace perfectly.

 

 

Chula: Pillar of the Kingdom

I saw it on a t-shirt: “Chula: Pillar of the Kingdom”. Chulalongkorn University is the university that our team leader identified for us to focus on for our ministry to college students. He and his family live in a condo next to the campus. The majority of our Thai community have gone there, for undergrad or graduate studies. Many are still students.

Named for the fifth king of Thailand in the current dynasty, it is the most prestigious university in the country, and renowned in Southeast Asia as well. Acceptance is competitive, studies are rigorous, degrees from Chula are respected and well-earned. Even in the Thai language, it is set apart. The names of all universities in Thailand, in Thai, are “university” then “name”. For example, Thammasat University, another university in Bangkok, is มหาวิทยาลัย (the Thai word for ‘university’) ธรรมศาสตร์ (Thammasat). All are written like this, except Chula. It’s the only university in Thailand whose name, in Thai, is Chulalongkorn University – จุฬาลงกรณ์ (Chulalongkorn) มหาวิทยาลัย (university).

University students are called “nakseuksaa”, but there’s even a unique word for Chula students. They are called “nisit”. No one else can say they are a “nisit” unless they’re a student at Chula. It’s a very distinguished title in Thailand.

And the university motto is ‘pillar for the Kingdom’. Obviously, referring to the Kingdom of Thailand. But when I read it, my mind went to another Kingdom. The Kingdom of God. It seems grandiose for me to think about the ministry we are doing among Chula students as becoming a pillar in the Kingdom of God.

It’s frustrating to see how much Buddhist culture is so ingrained here, when I want this nation to turn to the Lord and become a Christian nation. I don’t know if that will ever happen.

We were at a museum last week, and the guide was telling us about how the architecture of some of the government and historical buildings were made to resemble Buddhist creatures and gods. If you look at the rooftops of temples and pagodas here, all of them have rooflines that look like snakes or dragons, constructed after Buddhist symbols of strength or power.

For this nation to become a Christian nation, it would have to forsake some of their architecture and beautifully constructed buildings with many hundreds of years of history. Yet, the kingdom of Israel saw destruction to her temples. From the descriptions of Solomon, they may have been just as elaborate as the temples here, plated in gold leaf, with elaborate images carved into walls, rooftops, ceilings. What a loss for them to be destroyed. It’s unthinkable here.

But then this thought, this discouraging thought, that Thailand probably will never become a ‘Kingdom for the Kingdom’, God brings back the image of the t-shirt. Chula students. Pillar of the Kingdom. He makes the scope of my vision smaller, so my heart will not grow overwhelmed. Chula – the university we have focused on. Pillar of the Kingdom – the individual students, who we are building relationships with.

The Kingdom of God is not built on a nation, as we think of it. It is built on individuals.

I’m in the midst of reading through the beginnings of the Kingdom of Judah going into exile. I’m reading the prophecies of Jeremiah alongside the passages in 2 Kings and Chronicles. I’m reading of King Josiah, who was righteous and destroyed high places and shrines to idols. And I’m reading of how his sons, Jehoiakim and Jehoahaz, were both wicked. I find myself scratching my head, frustrated. How can it be that a righteous man raised sons who turned against God, and turned a nation against God?

Brad loves the quote, “Christianity is always one generation away from extinction.” (Something like that.) But I find it discouraging. How frustrating that the Kingdom of Judah was one righteous king away from avoiding exile! It’s frustrating to think of all the work we are doing here possibly dying away in a generation, with no legacy to be seen. The new generation left with a choice to turn away or turn toward God.

But God is teaching me that His Kingdom is not passed down from generation to generation like an inheritance. As much as I’d like it to be, it’s not. The Kingdom of God is learned and taught by individuals.

So, even though we probably won’t see the Kingdom of Thailand becoming a Kingdom for God in our lifetime, we have seen the Kingdom of God come to some in the Kingdom of Thailand. And the mantle is passed to them, now that they are learning too, what the Kingdom of God is really about. The message is placed in their hands too, along with ours, for them to pass along to their fellow countrymen.

It can seem like an uphill battle, to work in a country that is 95+% Buddhist. But when you think about that 1% of people (3-4% are Hindu and Muslim)…..1% of a population of 67 million…..that’s 670,000. 670,000 individuals who are a part of the Kingdom of God, living in the Kingdom of Thailand. That’s encouraging. I will see 670,000 Thai souls in heaven one day. And that’s just from one generation.

That excites me. And each generation, there are more. With each birth, with each death, the mantle is being passed by those in the Kingdom (of God) to reach those within the Kingdom (of Thailand). It would be an honor to know my work here contributed one more soul.

Our pastor in Charlotte, when he is asked how big he wants the church to get, he answers, “One more.” That is the cry of my heart. What an honor to bring one person from darkness to light. May the Lord grant us the honor to bring just ‘one more’ into His Kingdom.

Blind Man at Ari

As we walked down the BTS stairs, I saw him at the bottom. He had a small speaker around his neck, and was singing into a portable microphone.

A month later, going up those same stairs, at the same station. The same blind man at the bottom. This time, sitting next to a stand of boxed cookies that he was selling.

As we walked up the stairs, I was almost overwhelmed with emotion. My mind went to wondering about what his life was like. Was it a simple life, where he was content with what (little, I assumed) he had? Was he sad and disappointed leaving each evening with his meager collections? Was he lonely? Did he have anyone to go home to?

The apostle Peter healing the lame beggar, in Acts 3, came to mind. Different circumstances, for sure, but I saw a parallel in this man.

I imagined that I am Peter, walking along, and my attention turns to someone with a physical handicap. My heart, in Bangkok, goes out to that blind man. Peter’s hands, in Jerusalem, went out to the lame beggar.

He allowed the Spirit’s power to heal this man so that he could walk.

I wonder if Peter was all boldness and faith in that moment. See, here in Bangkok, and in most large cities of the world, there are a lot of beggars. It’s a struggle for me to not give in to guilt of my own expectation to help people, when I see needy people and continue to walk by. It fills me with joy to give something to someone I feel the Lord lead me to.

It’s something most of us have had to deal with. You see a beggar on the street ahead, and your heart beats a little faster. You try to engage yourself in something so you can avoid their gaze and deafen their pleas without looking obvious. You pull out your phone, or make intentional conversation with your companion, just as you’re passing so you don’t have to see their pleading eyes follow you. So you don’t have to make eye contact as you walk away, rejecting them.

There are a lot of guidelines about giving to beggars in this part of the world. I’ve been thankful for them, because it rationalizes my walking past, and it quiets my guilt. Disabled? Yes. Elderly? Yes. Check off the appropriate requirements, and I’m free to give a little money. If they don’t fall into the categories, they probably are just looking for handouts. Maybe they could be at school or finding a job. Maybe they have been forced into begging by someone else, and if they don’t meet their daily ‘quota’ they will be able to go work at a legitimate place.

These and a hundred other thoughts come into my head when faced with these kinds of situations. What was Peter thinking?

He had just received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (in Acts 2). Was the Spirit speaking to him? Obviously He had to be, in some way, to stop Peter from just walking on by. To keep him from just tossing a coin into his plastic cup…to stop the thoughts of rationalization from flooding his mind.

To make him stop walking, reach out his hand, and command the man, in the name of Jesus, to rise and walk.

Did his hand shake when he reached out to help the man up? Was there a knot in his stomach, unsure if it would work? Or was he confident the power of God, working through his willing heart, would not fail?

When I see a beggar, there is a knot in my stomach. Sometimes it’s a knot of guilt from not doing anything. Sometimes it’s a knot of, ‘Lord, will You ask me to reach out my hand?’

The Lord has never used me to heal someone. He has used me to give. He has used me to forgive. He has used me to show love. He has used me to serve.

I know what it feels like when the Holy Spirit comes upon me and moves me to do something I’m not comfortable with. I’m not comfortable with that feeling, but it’s too strong to ignore, and too powerful to say ‘no’ to.

And in those moments, you don’t really think about what others are thinking. You don’t really doubt if the Spirit is real, and if this is going to work. Because He IS real – you’re feeling that. And He IS working – you’re experiencing that.

I struggle with guilt when I pass by a beggar and don’t give. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the right thing to give money to every beggar. I think my guilt is wrong. I’ve learned to ask God what He would have me do. If it’s to pray and keep moving along, I do that. If He tells me to give, I do it without hesitation.

This blind man at Ari reminded me of the power of God – what God can do through a willing heart. He reminded me that beggars are people, who maybe haven’t had a lot of meaningful human interaction in a while. He reminded me that I am so very blessed by God to have sight, to be able to see beautiful things, and to let those sights move me.

He also was a reminder to me to be ready. To be willing. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, when all the blind will see.

Nervous? 3 Men. Community!

I was nervous about this Sunday morning. 1 – because I’m always nervous about leading music for Sunday morning because I have to sing/lead in English and Thai and play guitar and sing and it is tricky. 2 – because we had a rather busy Saturday yesterday so I didn’t have as much time to prepare for Sunday morning as I would have liked.

But this post is not about my nervousness; it’s actually about God working through my weakness. 3x.

Encounter #1 – Boss. Nicknames are standard for most Thais and Boss’ nickname fits him quite well. An architecture graduate from Chulalongkorn University he also got his masters in Paris while living there for 4 years. Also while he was there he learned French and also received Christ as his Saviour! Now back in Thailand he runs his family housing business (an hour south of Bangkok) and is also aiming for his 2nd masters degree. I’ve only hung out with him once before because he lives far away but we’ve messaged some on Facebook.

This morning as Heidi and I headed into church we stopped at Starbucks to get coffee and ran into Boss! I didn’t know he was coming to church today but what a great surprise! Boss was in Bangkok for a Saturday meeting so decided to stay for church. God definitely worked it out that we would bump into him before church so that we could catch up and hear how he is doing. He seems so at home with our community; he has mentioned before that he doesn’t have much of a Christian community in Chonburi so I’m glad he was able to visit today. Praise God that he could be in town and please also pray that Boss is able to continue to grow his faith and have fellowship with other believers too.

Encounter #2 – Apichai. I’ve written about Apichai before but thankfully God has blessed me with an ongoing relationship with this Thai man. Most Thais are rather “เกรงใจ” which basically means “timid” or “nervous of offending” and Apichai is very เกรงใจ. When I first was inviting him to church he would only meet with me and stay behind me as I brought him into the room and only talk with me or Tou Lee. A praise – a testament to God’s working in Apichai – this morning I walked into the church room and Apichai was already there talking with some other people! He had just seen some people he recognized and gone upstairs with them! Sounds like a small thing but I’m so proud of the way God has helped him feel at home at church.

Bonus God-moment: Apichai told me that he invited a friend from his English class to church and the lunch conversations we have. Even though Apichai isn’t a follower of Christ yet it is amazing to hear him say things like “I think I need to renew my mind” (Tou Lee spoke about Romans 12:1-2 this morning) and do things like invite his friends to church! Amazing!

Encounter #3 – A. This morning I had the privilege of seeing the inner-workings of another amazing story that God is writing in the life of this young man named A. 10 days ago another Thai student named Trunk brought his friend A to Tou Lee’s small group. A couple days later he accepted Christ as his Saviour and this morning was his second Sunday as a Christian! As I said – this is God’s story – I had no part in A’s conversion but I was blessed to be able to chat with him today over lunch after church.

Again I say “thank You!” to God for the community of believers who can collectively share the burden of reaching out into the awkwardness and engaging people with God’s love. Inviting them into the family of God. Offering love when it would be easier just to stay comfortable with our existing friends. Community was happening all around me but I was able to engage in conversation with A over leftover Thanksgiving food from the party last night!

As a brand-new Christian his energy and eagerness is exciting and contagious! One thing that he mentioned to me in our conversation was that he wants to tell his family about God. He told me that the talisman necklace that his mother gave him was just a Buddhist trick to get money. He wanted his family to realize that God speaks to our hearts for free rather than because we pay for charms or pay monks for blessings. I mentioned that God gave us everything for free! God loves us unconditionally and wants us to love others but it’s not a scheme to get Christians rich – it’s simply the power of the Gospel!

These 3 encounters from this Sunday morning really filled my heart with a sense that God is working in, through, around me … even when I am so nervously focused on something that doesn’t matter as much as I think it does.

I also need to keep remembering that even when my Sunday mornings don’t look like this (western culture tells me to define success as very immediate and results driven) I still must know that God is working. A Sunday morning with zero deep conversations? Still God is there. No opportunities to engage with a brand-new Christian? Still God does not sleep.

Thank You Lord for these encouragements. Thank You for the community of Your children. Thank You for working when I am weak. Remind me that I am sowing for You, not only reaping.

 

Uuan

Have you ever had that friend, that thin friend, who complains about how fat she is? And you roll your eyes, because you are clearly bigger than she is, and you think, and sometimes say, ‘if YOU’RE fat, what am I?’

For those of you who think this is an American mentality, you’re wrong. Other than the U.S., I’ve only lived in Asia, but let me tell you, Asians make Americans look mild when it comes to self-image. Imagine Silicon Valley as a continent. That’s Asia. (To be fair, I’ve only lived here in Thailand, and South Korea. So I can’t rightly say it’s true of all Asia. But it’s definitely true in these two countries.)

Plastic surgery is advertised on billboards, and is insanely cheap. You can go to a mall and have ‘decent’ plastic surgery done. Waxing is common conversation. I have a friend who went to get her eyebrows waxed, and the woman at the salon asked her if she wanted her mustache done too. She replied with, ‘I don’t have a mustache.’ The woman answered, ‘Yes, you do.’ (She has as much of a mustache as I do = fine blonde hair on her upper lip, that is not in any stretch of the imagination, a mustache.)

Not to mention they’re obsessed with white skin here. There is a sign just around the corner from our house advertising a cream made from “snail secretions” to help make your skin whiter. *shudder* I don’t know about you, but the thought of rubbing snail secretions on my skin makes me want to gag. Collagen drinks are at 7-elevens next to the soda and milk.

Self-image is hard to hide from anywhere in the world.

I’ve given up shopping for clothes here, because it’s a challenge for a “normal-sized westerner” to be able to find clothes here. I live in the L/XL and sometimes XXL land, which they don’t have a lot of here. “Free size” (one size fits all) is a joke.

Anecdotes aside, this is a serious struggle for me, and it has been for as long as I can remember. In my mind, being ‘fat’ is the worst thing people can think of me.

Twisted, right?

Doesn’t help that i’m immersed in a culture where 90% of the people (including the guys) are smaller than me. Doesn’t help that I go every week to do red light ministry, at which most of the women are wearing bikinis or less. Appearance is a very open topic here. Friends call each other fat as a joke. Couples call each other ‘uuan’ almost like it’s a cute pet-name.

The girls at the bars come sit next to me after their turn dancing, and they say, ‘oh, i’m so uuan.’ I’m so fat. And I assure them, ‘no, no you’re not.’ Because truthfully they’re not. But two thoughts enter my mind: 1) ‘if you think YOU’RE fat, what do you think of me?’ and 2) ‘I KNOW that telling her she’s not fat isn’t actually changing anything with her mindset.’

I know that because it doesn’t help ME.

Because the problem is, I’ve let the mentality of the world – the message that there is something gross/unhealthy/ugly/WRONG with my body – into my home. I’ve let that message into my closet. Into my mind.

Into my heart.

And I’ve convinced myself that the world is right.

I rationalize the Bible verses that speak against that mentality: (Ps. 139) ‘Yeah, but Lord, You formed my body as a BABY. The way my body is NOW is my own doing. You didn’t form my body as an ADULT….’ (Prov. 31:30) ‘Yeah, I know beauty is fleeting. But I don’t have a problem with thinking i’m beautiful. I have a problem with thinking I’m FAT. I can be beautiful and fat….’

First hand, this is the way Satan takes the truth of God and twists it. The misuse of Scripture to keep my mind set on my own insecurities. Unfiltered, as it happens in my own mind. *shudder* This is the stuff of hell.

But there are some Scriptures he can’t twist:

Colossians 3:2-3: “Set your minds on things above, not on things on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

When I read this one, I can’t find an angle to rationalize.

I get distracted by what I can see. I get distracted by the way my clothes are fitting that day, or the extra roll sticking out of my shirt this morning, or the way I feel when I’ve eaten one-too-many pieces of bread.

But what if my self-image problems are a symptom of my real disease? And my real problem is not with how I view myself, but where I find my identity?

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on earth.”

Stop worrying about what the world tells you is wrong or right, ugly or beautiful. There are BIGGER things to worry about, like bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Your identity is in CHRIST. Anything else you’re worried about DOESN’T MATTER. You shouldn’t have insecurities, because you are secure.

The fact that you think your earthly body wears jeans a few sizes too big does not change the fact that your worth, your identity is in an unchanging Savior.

Who finds your soul valuable. So much so that He went through torture in His earthly body to make a way for your soul to be loved and accepted by God.

When you sit with that awhile, it makes jean sizes seem a little petty, right?

This is the truth of the Gospel: that Jesus’ sacrifice has relevance in every. single. area. of our lives.

‘Uuan’, the Thai word for ‘fat’ is one letter different from the beginning of the word, ‘to bless’, ‘uuay-phawn’.

Maybe now, when I hear someone talk about being fat, or when those thoughts come into my own mind, I will remember the blessing of God in my life, through a risen Savior. Maybe hearing someone talk about being fat will be my trigger to talk to them about someone who offers them a new identity…

 

The Continued Wait/Weight

Lord,

This wait is long and this weight feels heavy.

I know You say that those who wait on you will have their strength renewed. I know You say that we should take Your weight which is light.

These last few months, and even more so this month, we have given things up to focus on You. Prayer and fasting. Less pulling for our attention. Focused on You.

That wise couple reminded us that all those human voices of direction and guidance are just that – human. They cautioned us that they knelt before You for 2 years; learning, being stretched by being still, growing by staying.

That wise book reminded us that the grape vine cannot support the grape for a few years. The vine-dresser cuts it back year after year until the vine is thick and strong and able to support the growth of the fruit. My grandfather took pruning very seriously and was never afraid to drastically diminish the size of a tree or bush. And yet – it always came back. And much stronger, more beautiful. Full of energy, not scraped thin.

This time of pruning. This season of internal fortifying. It wasn’t happening with our 40+ hour-a-week jobs. Lord, You are using this time for Your purposes. You know why You brought us here.

And yet. We struggle with the flesh. We see others – full of busyness and accomplishments and tasks. We always reach for that checklist, that self-assurance. Lord, it’s pride, jealousy, workaholism.

Lord please help us not be anxious. We have made our requests known to You.

Random ending thought: I wonder what Jesus was doing for 30 years before His 3 year ministry.

Thank You, Lord

As we walked down the soi, we looked around for one particular bar. She stopped, looking around, as if in new surroundings. When she didn’t find what she was looking for, she took one determined step after another toward a different bar. We trailed behind her like lost puppy dogs, watching. She approached a mamasan in front of a neighboring bar, and asked a question. The mamasan shook her head, while answering, all in Thai. We couldn’t hear or understand much of what they were saying, except for “pbit” the Thai word for “closed”. Maneewan turned slowly, and as we walked further down the soi, she took mine and Nouie’s hands, guiding us along. As we walked, we asked her, in Thai, ‘What did she say?’ She explained, with a slight smile on her beautifully weathered face, ‘She said the bar closed. Khawpkhun Pra-jao.’ Thank You, Lord.

With so many bars in Patpong, why would one bar closing matter? It would be replaced by another bar, most likely, within a matter of months. And the girls that worked at the original bar would probably start working at the new bar, or have already moved on to another bar in the area. It’s not like a permanent fix.

But Maneewan has learned to celebrate little victories, especially in such a long-term and slow-going ministry as red light. A lesson I have yet to learn and really take to heart.

One bar. Maybe 20 girls.

Most of them probably went to another bar as soon as they heard it was closing.

But maybe, just maybe, one girl didn’t.

What if one girl decided it wasn’t worth it to try and get into another bar. What if she decided this was her way out.

And she left the industry because of it.

See, in the red light, Maneewan has come to know that any closed door in Satan’s playground is a victory for the kingdom of God. If even one soul was removed from that industry, it’s worth it. It’s worth counting. It MUST be counted.

It’s so hard not to rationalize, ‘yeah, but really. Think about it. The likelihood of those girls going back home, or going to find a job outside the red light is pretty slim.’ These are the voices, and many like it, that flood my mind sometimes. Convincing me this is all a waste. Making me think eight months going into bars and having shallow conversations in very broken Thai is really not making an ounce of difference in anyone’s life.

But those are not the voices of my Savior. The voices of failure and not counting victories, even in the little things, are not voices of love.

It’s easier to silence these voices when you have an experienced, godly example to count the wins for you, with you. Reminding me, ‘turn your eyes to Him. Thank Him for this gift. Because in this bar’s closing, a soul might have been saved.’

One soul might have been saved. If this is all my life amounts to, I’m satisfied with that.

That one soul is worth counting. She must be counted.

Thank You, Lord.