Thankful

To be fully honest, I’m feeling a little awful right now. I just finished a pretty intense week of goodbyes and then transplanted myself from one world to another. Though I am loving being able to spend time with my family and having all sorts of experiences I have missed, I feel torn and exhausted. Last night didn’t help; I had a restless night full of haunting dreams about some the terrible realities of the world I just left. My heart is achey and overwhelmed, this is not how I wanted to start my first Thanksgiving back in America. But as I turn to God for comfort, I feel a nudge to focus on the good things. It is Thanksgiving, after all, a time to reflect on our blessings and be grateful.

Last week, I watched the last installment of the Hunger Games. That whole series does a number on me. When I finished reading the books years ago, I felt depressed for weeks, it’s an intense storyline full of all kinds of painful things. At the end, however, there is a scene with our heroine and her newborn child where Katniss soothes her, after she stirs awake, with these words:

“Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play”

I am forever changed by this season I have spent in Thailand, in good ways and bad. But today, I would like to spend some time focusing on the good things that came from it. So here I am jumping on the “blogging about how grateful I am in celebration of Thanksgiving” train:

  1. NightLight 10 year anniversary– when I moved to Thailand 6+ years ago, I had no idea how attached I would get. To Thailand, but also the organization I came to work with. I have had the privilege of seeing it grow and change over the years in amazing ways. It’s had it’s struggles and heartbreaks, yes, but God its faithful. NightLight has been able to provide assistance and hope to so many people and I have loved being a part of something so much larger than myself. NLCollage
  2. CityLight Coffee- If someone would have told me that I would be helping to open a coffee shop in the middle of a red-light district in Bangkok, I would have told them they were crazy. This experience, however, has been by far one of my favorite in life. It has delighted my heart to help bring this place to a reality, using unique gifts I didn’t even know I had and working alongside of some amazing people doing it. I felt so sad to leave it, citylightbut so proud to be leaving it in the capable hands of my Thai staff who have been sharing this experience with me. Also, free coffee every day is the best.
  3. New soulmates- It is rare to find people you truly connect with. There are people you are close to, but then there are people who make you feel deeply understood and “at home” even when you are not. I had the privilege of meeting and having in my life so many of these people over my time in Thailand. I may have went to Thailand by myself, but God sent me a family of some of the most amazing people I have ever met.
  4. Travel- I once heard someone explain traveling like falling in love. The thrill of discovery and newness, becoming enamored with the beautiful intricacies at every new place before it becomes “normal.” In a way, even Thailand stayed thrilling like this for me. When you live in a culture that is not your own, almost every day is an Travel Collageadventure and you are almost always in awe. What a privilege it is to have been able to experience the world like this. I have visited 13 countries since leaving America and don’t ever want to stop!
  5. Losing joy and finding it again– Bangkok is a tough place, heck, the world is a tough place. Sometimes, it feels like too much. I went through a season there where I was not sure I was going to make it out, faith in tact. It was a dark time. Thankfully, God pulled me through. We probably have all had seasons like this, and though they are rough, I think it’s good to be thankful for them. It is journeys like these that deepen our faith and help us to cling to our God. (you can learn more about that journey here)
  6. Health– This is one I take for granted far too often, but I spent 6 years in a developing country with no major heath concerns or accidents. No tropical illness, no broken limbs, I didn’t even have any serious food poisoning, which is unheard of! For whatever reason, God has protected my health in amazing ways.
  7. So many hats– I have had the privilege of filling almost every role there is at NightLight. And though it has been frustrating at times, I have gotten to explore so much about what I am capable of when I have God at my side. God knows me so well and has used every single one of my gifts, even ones I didn’t know I had. I have done communications, website managing, marketing, graphic design, sales, jewelry design, product management, grant writing, English teaching, team coordinating, case managing, public speaking, Bible teaching, interior design, baristaing, cafe managing, menu/recipe building… just to name a few. It has been a rich and full experience to say the least.
  8. Perspective- Though I love my roots, I often get frustrated with the American worldview. It is not often that one gets to leave her cultural bubble that she grew up in and expand her horizons. To be able to understand that my cultural worldview is not necessarily the right one is a gift and one that I hope to keep with me as I grow.
  9. My supportive family– My family is amazing. It is so true that separation changes things and helps you to see what you appreciate most about the people you love. I know that my family would always help me if I needed it, and this is not a privilege everyone shares. I have made some crazy choices with my life, moving to Thailand being one of them, and though they have not always understood DSC_0637them, they have always allowed me to make these choices without guilt-tripping me into a “safer” life. I am so grateful for them.
  10. Privilege- This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because, as westerners, we have affluence. Whether you believe it or not, we are rich. But because of that, we are blessed to a blessing. Someone like me can afford and find the resources to move to the other side of the word and help people by choice; this is more of a privilege than a sacrifice. So please do not put me on a pedestal, I am only doing what any of us could do given the will. But privelage can be a curse too; it can blind us and make us unaccessible and selfish. It is a blessing I must be careful with.
  11. Good food- This seems broad, but seriously guys, since moving to Thailand I feel like I have been on a food revolution. Thai food, first of all, is some of the best food on the face of the planet. What they do with flavors is unmatched. But since I live in such an international city, my food horizons have expanded beyond my wildest dreams. I stopped missing most American food long ago! Our God is a good God that he would provide me with not just sustenance, but such tasty goodness.
  12. All the “good things”– Just like Katniss, I have a mental list of all the good things I have witnessed. I have seen so much pain, but I have also seen so much good. One of the benefits of living in such a dark place is that the God’s light in his people shines brighter. People often ask me how I deal with seeing all the brokenness everyday and I tell them that I get to see the other side of it too. I get to see the restoration and the transformation of these beautiful women. Everyday I get to work alongside these women and know, that even though sometimes the work can be slow and difficult, we have a good God who can make beautiful things out of dust.

I have written parts of this over the past week, before, during, and after leaving Bangkok; it has been therapeutic. Being grateful can get you through some pretty tough stuff. So as I venture out into this new season in the States, filled with all sorts of questions marks, I am probably going to have to come back to this list again and again, and probably even add some things to it.

One more thing for now, though: I am beyond thankful for all of the people that have supported my time in Bangkok. Whether through finances or prayer, I have been thoroughly taken care of. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would find enough people to support that work I have been doing in Bangkok for SIX plus years! So, THANK YOU, support team, for all of your faithfulness, I am blessed.

Home

I have been thinking of the idea of home a to lately.
Preparing for a transition back to my home in the States is really throwing me for a loop. Though I still am unsure whether this move will be permanent or not, saying goodbye to this place I have grown to love so much is really hard.

I love my home and my family in America, but I love Thialand too, and in many ways, this is my home now. It feels safe and comfortable and familiar to me now. And I want to cling to it, because, in a way, now America seems a too foreign to me. And it’s scary. I want to remain where it’s safe.

We all have this desire in us to have a home. A place to feel safe, and comfortable, secure in a place that feels familiar and accepting. And I realized that it’s not an accident that we have these longings, these longings were placed in us from the beginning.

Before God created mankind, he had a plan. His plan was to create an environment in which he would place mankind. The environment would be self-sustaining and man’s primary function would be to communicate with God the Father. The Garden of Eden was the first home created on earth and Adam and Eve were privileged to live in this beautiful home. This home had everything anyone could ask for. God provided everything for them in an absolutely perfect way. There was no need for Adam and Eve to worry about weather conditions, storms, hurricanes, or tornadoes because conditions were well-controlled. At this particular time, there was no such thing as death. Nothing died, nothing rotted, and nothing spoiled. And most importantly, they had perfect relationship with their father and creator. It was the perfect home.

But God did not want puppets on a string, so he gave mankind the privilege of making choices.

Most of us know the story, and it is the story of each of us. Adam and Eve were asked to live in obedience, to not eat of a particular tree, for their own good. But with the help of the influence of Satan, they chose to eat this fruit, to disobey God, and there were consequences.

It was at this very moment that their home life changed.

This action was the fall of mankind. This was the original sin and this sin caused them to be separated from God and to lose their happy home in the Garden of Eden.

Since Adam and Eve, humanity has been trying to get home again, whether we know it or not. We are all on a journey in the search for home. This yearning, this longing we all have for home, for security, for the perfect home, it has been in us since the beginning. Drawing us in to the story of God, and the plan he has for us to be back at home with him.

Our yearning for acceptance and approval and love, its all part of our search for home. We are a displaced people. In a sense, we are all refugees. Away from our true home, trying to create a new home in a new place, but still homesick.

I know a little about about what its like to be away from home for a very long time. When I first moved to Thailand, I missed America a lot. So I am really familiar with homesickness. I moved from a quite beach town in America, to a busy, smelly, crazy city full of people who did not speak my language or have my kind of food. I had to learn to eat rice every day and get accustomed to spicy food. I missed so many things. I missed my family, missed cool weather, I missed machines that dried my clothes, I missed cheese… It was rough.

So I found some interesting ways to help with homesickness. Some days I would turn the air conditioning on full blast, put on a sweater, and pretend it was cold outside while drinking hot chocolate. Some days I would watch videos on you tube of people going to my favorite places. One day, when people kept posting pictures of Girl Scout cookies on Facebook, I decided I was going to try to recreate the fabulous Samoa cookie myself… it didn’t turn out too well.

But sometimes people would bring or send things from America and I would eat them and say, “It tastes like home.”
Or I would step onto a certain beach in Thailand that reminded me of my beach back home and get that warm feeling of, “Feels like home.”
Or I would be with a friend laughing about something familiar… and that person or that moment, makes me feel safe and known, and joyful in a perfect kind of way that maybe you haven’t felt in a really long time… and it “feels like home.”

So we all know this feeling of “home” because we get glimpses of this in our lives. We all have some kind of home here, that we think about. Or people in our lives that feel like home, or even just mounts, and we are always trying to get back to those moments.
When we are at work, we think about getting home and kicking off our shoes and laying down on the couch.
When we are away from someone we love, we long to get back to them.
There are times we go on vacation, or visiting, staying with family or friends, or staying at a motel or hotel, but we are always anxious to get back home.

At Christmas we feel this need to get back home the most because Christmas is a time, even if you are not a Christian, that our culture celebrates home, and family. People travel from one part of the country to the other to spend time with their families at their home, its the most expensive time to travel. we want that warm, safe, familiar feeling.

There is no place like home.

But these are all just a glimpse of home, pieces of something bigger that is going on. Our home is in Jesus, and one day, we are promised that Jesus will return and restore all things to how they should be. Our home with him will be restored.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young–a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your home.” Psalm 84:1-4

This Psalm captures the longing of the soul for home, and acknowledges the place of the soul’s bottom-line yearning: the home where God dwells. This yearning is what drives the essentially the soul of every human being; even the atheist who denies the existence of any gods, yearns for what drives his very being, even if he doesn’t understand it yet.

All of us are always on our way home. Our experienced of home in this world, though real, are temporary, intermediate experiences of what is to come. One writer puts it like this: “In the believer whose vision of the future is framed by faith, the intermediate joys of coming home are intended to whet their appetite for the courts of the living God, and the Savior’s presence, who died for them. This is why God gives us homes, and the feelings that accompany “coming home” today, that we may with the Psalmist yearn for our home in the dwelling place of God.”

We have a promise, God has an eternal home for us, we have a home in Jesus now, but we also an actual place where everything is right again. Our true home.

The book of Revelation talks about this place:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5

Some find it hard to believe that there is a future state of being called “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new creation. A restoration of the way things ought to be. A reversal of sin and war, earthquakes and hurricanes, disease and temptation. A condition in which there is no death, no pain, no tears. That its just too good to be true, too unrealistic.

Yet this is exactly what our God promises. He wants us to be home with him. Our place, in his plan, is to come home. Finally, truly, forever—home.

Doesn’t that just sound so amazing?!!

This is our great promise, that even when everything is terrible, there is something better waiting for us in the end.

So this is what I going to focus on as I transition from one “home” to another, that no matter how hard it gets, I am not actually home yet.

Words

This month I had the privilege of speaking at my church here in Bangkok, which coincidentally has is the same name as my home church is California, New Song. It’s a small bilingual church (English and Thai) and is quite unique from any other church in Bangkok with an eclectic mix of Thai university students, western international school teachers, young professionals, refugees/asylum seekers, Thai and foreign families, and NGO workers. It was such a treat, because although I get the opportunity to teach at NightLight morning chapels pretty regularly, it was really fun to be able to teach in English again (though working with a translator comes with its own challenges!) We were finishing up a series on the power of words and I got to finish it up. So, in preparation, the whole month leading up I really challenged myself to focus only words to see what God would teach me through it. Today, I want to share with you what I learned, so below is a short written adaptation of what I taught on Sunday:

When I was asked to teach on the topic power of words,I got a little nervous. I thought, I don’t know if I am qualified to teach about words, because that is an area that I really struggle with. I know these things about myself: I gossip, I say things that are not nice, I struggle with remembering to encourage other people. I have been known to use a bad word now and again.

I mean, I’m not constantly yelling mean things at people, but I wouldn’t say nice words are a strong quality of mine. I guess its just one of those things that I had stopped being that intentional about.  Which is sad, because the Bible is pretty clear about how powerful our words are.

The writer of proverbs tells us that our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Proverbs 12:6). And that, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

So when something is said to have the power to give life give death, I would say that is a pretty serious thing to think about. So I figured in preparation for teaching about this, I would do a little activity. First, I began to take inventory. At night I would think about my day, specifically about the words that were coming out of my mouth. And it was really challenging.The first challenge was trying to remember my day, the second challenge was facing the reality that I was not using my words well.

Everyday we have the power to build people up with our words, to speak life into people. And mostly, I let  that opportunity pass by. It wasn’t just that I was saying mean things to people, which I was doing a little of if I’m honest. But I wasn’t really being intentional about saying nice things to people either.

To help us understand better the power of our words, I want us to read James 3:

James 3 – New International Version (NIV) Taming the Tongue

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Words are powerful, just like a bit in the mouth can move a large animal or a small rudder has the power to steer a large ship, our words are that powerful.

Anyone in this room has the power to say something to devastate someone. We have that kind of power.

Think about it. Think about some words someone has said to you that just wrecked you.I can remember discouraging things said to me from when I was a kid. Even things that people say that you know aren’t true, and it still gets inside you. What comes out of our mouth is so powerful, so many times, we forget.

Verse 5 -Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

I grew up in Southern California. And every few years we have these huge wildfires that burn acres and acres of land and burn down hundreds of homes. It’s very dry in California, and there is never enough rain. Like the opposite of Thailand. And we have this thing called the “Santa Ana winds” which are very strong, dry winds that happen a certain time of year. So if a fire starts when the Santa Ana winds are happening, it drives the fires further. The smallest spark can set off a huge fire and destroy thousands of acres of land.

One of the largest wildfires in California history was in 2003. The wildfires were estimated to have burned a total of 800,000 acres and burned down almost 3,000 homes and buildings. When crazy fires like this happen investigators have to find out what started them. And it is hardly ever something like an explosion or anything big like that. It’s usually started by something really small, like a kid playing with matches or someone throwing their cigarette out of their car window. In the case of the 2003 fire, it was a hunter who got lost and decided to start a campfire to see if someone would see it and come find him. But the brush was too dry, and he wasn’t able to contain the fire.

It started with one match… one spark…3,000 homes gone. So really, when we speak, it’s kind of like we are playing with fire, we need to be careful. That is the power we hold with our words.

Verse 6 continues…”The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

This verse says that our tongue itself is set on fire by hell. Thats intense. Our words so powerful that Satan himself, wants to use this weapon for his purposes. That is how careful we have to be. We have a weapon in our mouth. When we are not intentional about taming our tongue, we can unintentionally be working for the enemy.That’s a really serious thing to think about.

So the question is, how do we tame our tongue? If our words have the power to destroy, they hold equal power to give life. So, how might we utilize this powerful weapon for its greatest potential for God’s Kingdom?

At NightLight we have this group come help every year from a ministry school in California. This team is always a bit different then a lot of the other teams that come visit us because as soon as you meet them, they notice things about you and continually say nice and encouraging things to you. You don’t really want to trust it at first. If you think about it, most of us do not live or work in environments were people are always encouraging you, so when it happens, you almost don’t know how to handle it.

I found out later that this school teaches their  students about something called  creating a “Culture of Honor.”  They make it clear to every student that they have the power to cultivate honor by the words that come out of their mouth. And what happens is honor creates safety and freedom and protects a community.

They teach that When people feel honored, they feel loved, and when they feel love, they feel safe. People and communities thrive in safe environments. So the idea is, if we use our words to honor people, to show people how loved they are, we can change things, unhealthy working environments, unhealthy relationships and so on. Instead of creating environments of fear and mistrust, we can help create environments of love and trust with our words.

So we have to ask ourselves, What in others are we willing to uplift and promote? What if we looked at everyone that way? Even the difficult people? What is we help others believe in themselves by helping them know God believes in them? Look at them how God sees them and tell them? Don’t just see the failures or what they do wrong or their flaws. If we see people and help them see themselves as God would, it can change things.

Not many people know this about me but in college I used to be a part time princess. My sister owned a company that rented out actors who would dress up as a cartoon character and show up at birthday parties to entertain the children. The most popular characters were disney princesses for 4 year old girl birthday parties. So to make extra money, I worked for my sister part time dressing up as a princess. The most popular princess was Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Which was a really weird costume to wear with with shells and the skirt that looked like a fin. You are supposed to look like a mermaid, but you clearly have feet and are walking around. But somehow 4 year olds don’t really pick up on that, because they still believed I was a mermaid.

Truthfully, though, I was not very good at the princess thing. I’m not really an actress and I mostly felt really awkward. To make things worse, part of time I am at the party, I would have to do face painting, and I’m no artist either. They would come up to me and ask “Can you paint a princess?” And I would say, “How about at heart?!…. or a star?!”

Part way into the party though. things would change.  Because, honestly, these little girls REALLY believed that I was a disney princess and they treated me like it. They adored me. All the words that game out of their mouth was about how pretty I was and how much they liked my movie and so on, that by the end of the party I almost believed I was actually a princess. I always left feeling so special and confident and beautiful. It was amazing how awkwardness left when it became pretty clear that they actually believed I was a princess.

And so I wonder if that is what it can actually be like with our words. If we said things to people that called people higher, honored them, then maybe things that they didn’t necessarily believe about themselves before they would start to believe and live up to. What if we can change they way they are for the better with our words.

I ended up in ministry because someone told me what they thought I was capable of. He took me aside and said he saw me doing great things for God. It changed the direction of my life.

Our words have so much power.

So then, how do we train our tongue, how do we learn to honor people? Practice!

After I took an inventory of my words I thought through how I could be more intentional with my words. I made a goal that I would everyday, once a day, go out of my way to say something honoring or encouraging to someone. And it was actually really difficult to remember to do that. It’s amazing how self centered most of my day is that being intentional about saying something nice to someone seemed like this difficult. So a few times at the end of my day, I would end up just sending an encouraging message to someone on facebook

But the practice was good, because I find now that I think about it more. I am actually thinking more about the words that are coming out of my mouth, which is progress.

So today if you want to be challenged in the same way, I want to ask you to do something. Think about three people in your life that you have trust with or some kind of influence over. Could be family, people at work, someone sitting in this church, a friend. It doesn’t even have to be someone you particularly like.

The simple challenge is to say something honoring to each of these three people this week.

Be a blessing to them with your words. Really think of a way to speak into their lives, to speak honor into them, find pieces of God’s glory in them and speak it to them out loud. If you can’t say it out loud, write a letter, think through the words, take this opportunity to speak life into someone. You never know who’s day you will be making, or even helping someone make some life changes, or live up to potential.

The women we work with at NightLight, we spend a lot of time speaking God’s truth to them, telling them that they are valuable daughters of God, and not a commodity to be bought. We speak value over them until they feel valuable. I get to see these women’s lives change as they get soaked in truth.

This is the power we have, use your words wisely!

City of joy

I guess that is not what I ever would have expected people to call Kolkata: City of Joy. Yet, there it was on a sign, welcoming me into the city upon arrival at the airport. Everything I had ever heard about Kolkata was awful. People dying on the streets, poverty everywhere, dirty, smelly… I was told over and over again what a difficult place Kolkata is. One of my colleagues who goes there often calls it her “crying city.” Something in me, however, has always wanted to go to this place, almost needed to. Mother Teresa may be the main reason. She is one of my heroes. Her life, her choice to live a life of complete selflessness, to help others in need for the glory of her God, it is a life I have always marveled at. My direction in life is, of course God guided, but, Mother Teresa inspired. I knew I could never be her, but I wanted to live a life of helping others as best I could. I was certain that is how you would get the highest level of intamacy with God, when you were able to see him in even the most hopeless of circumstances.

So I set out on this trip expecting the worst. What I found, however, was pleasantly surprising.

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First of all, though Kolkata is only a two and half hour plane ride from Bangkok, we stepped off the plane into a completely different world. The trip in the Taxi from the airport to where we were staying was quite telling of what we were getting ourselves into. The crazy drivers of Bangkok seemed like orderly commuters in comparison. They don’t even bother with lines in the road in Kolkata. It literally feels like a free for all. And the honking… it was like everyone who was driving was also blind so you had to just to keep honking to let every one else know you were there.

Second, we stood out way more. Being white is rather normal by now in Bangkok, there is an ever growing community of western expats as the city continues to develop. But Kolkata is at least 20 years behind Bangkok, there are very few financial ventures to pursue there, and it is not a very desirable place to live or visit, so a white person is still quite the spectacle. I hadn’t realized how used to I was to blending in. Being short with dark hair, some people have even mistaken me to be Thai from the back. But in Kolkata, I stand out. And the people there have no problem staring, some even asking to take pictures. It was a little disorienting.

Third, the energy of the people there was completely different. Thai people are some of the most laid back people you will ever meet. Most Thais hardly ever make a fuss about anything and there is a strong avoidance of all confrontation. They also keep quiet in public spaces, you will hardly ever hear a Thai person talking loudly, let alone yelling. Indian people seemed to be the opposite of that. Lots of yelling and arguing and horn honking and passion. Confrontation is not considered rude as it would be in Thailand, its just a part of life. Sanitation did not seem on the forefront of anybody’s minds, either. Not that Bangkok is the best at sanitary practices, but this was a new level.

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And then, of course, the poverty. I am no stranger to seeing poverty. Bangkok is wealthy, but has pockets of large slum areas. So coming from Thailand, it was not quite as shocking as it may be to some people. There were, however, lots more people sleeping on the streets, whole families. There are community water pumps that these homeless people and or people without running water in their dwellings, would bathe themselves in the mornings and evenings, a thin towel wrapped around them. Most shockingly, however, were the kids picking though trash heaps. It’s hard to imagine a life that required digging though trash heaps for survival.

But I didn’t “feel sorry” for these lives as much as others might. Because a lot of what some of us “rich folk” tend to see as debilitating poverty is sometimes just a different way of living. That is not true for all things, obviously if there is not enough food to feed your family so you have to dig through trash heaps to make ends meet, that is a problem, but not having your own private bathroom is perhaps just a different way of life. And there is even something about poorer communities that seems more alive to me. Wealth has its extravagances and comforts, but can be awfully sterile and empty. There was so much life as we walked though this community that we were staying in. It’s so refreshing somehow to see communities of people gathering around the small tea shops talking, playing games together, joining around the community pump to shower and collect water. It’s a nice change from seeing people lost in their smart phones or personal laptops, headphones in, shutting the rest of the world out. There were smells (good and bad), music, loud voices, street food. It was all very intoxicating.

And the people! All I wanted to do was take a picture of every single one of them (of course I didn’t because I had just learned what it is like to be made a spectacle). Their clothes were stunning. Even the poorest of the poor seemed stand out with their wears. It’s as if someone down the history of India decided, if we are going to live in a difficult and dirty place, we are going to brighten up life with our clothes. The fabrics, the jewelry, the shoes, I felt a constant level of jealousy the whole time. I wanted to take it, the whole essence of it all, bottle it up somehow, and bring it home with me.

Every evening I would lounge on cushions next to the apartment’s balcony and dreamily think about my day, grateful for the opportunity to visit people doing great things for God in Kolkata, all lights in the darkness. There was something about sitting on old sari laden cushions, curtains billowing from the wind coming through the french doors that overlooked the bustling town. Hardly any of the large city noises that I’m used to, but certainly not the eerie quit of the suburbs I grew up in. We were in a 5th floor apartment, higher than most of the other buildings in the area, so we could literally look out over the town and the roofs where the locals were busy hanging their saris to dry, making dinner, or watching their children play. It created an ache in me for a more communal life. One that feels more connected to community around me, something that is incredibly hard to acquire in a modern urban city.

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I know that Mother Teresa was drawn to this place out of her God given compassion, but I wonder if she was intoxicated by its charms as well, if she saw something other people didn’t. I think one of the great gifts of Mother Theresa had was being able to see God’s beauty even in suffering, her ability to see life even in great need, even in the dying. I did not experience even a small portion of what Mother Teresa experienced in the day to day. But in order to keep going in such a heartbreaking environment, I am certain you have to find your pockets of joy from somewhere. I know that is what I have to do in Bangkok, which I see now is not even half as hard of a place. I know she also suffered greatly internally, she struggled with feeling God’s presence for decades. But she still chose to serve in this difficult place. Despite all of her struggles, she chose to do the things no body else wanted to do with great, great love. It seems fitting that I got to visit the “City of Joy” in my year of joy. And since it is my goal to find joy in even the simplest of things, it seems even more fitting to have experienced the abnormal type of joy one can find in Kolkata.

I think one of my favorite days was when I visited Mother House. This is the humble little convent that Mother Teresa started to serve the poor. There are now multiple locations that the Missionaries of Charity run to meet various needs, including the home for the dying. We were not able to visit these other sites in our short time, but we did join the sisters for a early morning mass. LON46275In the back of the simple chapel was a kneeling statue of Mother Theresa, almost blending in with the other sisters, her presence still lingering. After mass, we volunteered to help clean, scrubbing floors and walls alongside these precious Sisters of Charity. Even these smallest of acts held such meaning, to be a small part Mother Teresa’s legacy, and to live out a bit of her famous words:

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

The power of creating

I am trying to rediscover my creative life. Its probably one of the main reasons I have been trying to discipline myself to write more here, its a creative outlet for me to craft words together. In seminary, there was so much writing. It was a difficult habit to get into, but researching and piecing together thoughts, insights, and conclusions was so tremendously satisfying when it was finally complete. It was the same for when I taught, crafting a message, thinking about the audience, bringing home main points. When a message was delivered and I could see people engaging, and talk with them afterwards about things they connected with or learned, it made me feel alive to be used as an creative outlet for God like that. Many of my roles in life have also included creating, planning, and implementing events and projects. Few things are more satisfying than seeing something you spent significant amount of time creating and problems solving though finally be pulled off. There was a season at

A couple of our new drink creations at CityLight

A couple of our new drink creations at CityLight

NightLight when I became one of the jewelry designers, a completely unexpected role. But I absolutely loved it, trying different combinations of beads and colors and coming up with a completed piece. At the coffee shop, I have taught the women how to make a few bakery items and also help them to come up with new drink ideas. It’s so fun watching them successfully bake something or come up with a new creation and then see the joy in their faces when someone orders and enjoys it.

We were created to create. Our designer, the master creator, created us in his image. That is probably why creating is so satisfying, it is programed into us. We may not all be master Pinterest worthy visual creators, and some claim to not have an artistic bone in their body. But creatively is not just about art, it can be anything. Organizing a closet in a new way, designing a webpage, creating something new for dinner, even fixing a car or designing a new way to budget your money is creativity.

I remember one of the first times I consciously thought about the power of creativity. I was in the middle of a season at work that included a lot of admin tasks that I was not in love with. There were e-mails to answer, teams to organize, and spreadsheets… I really dislike spreadsheets. One day in the office, I took some time out of my other responsibilities to put together a photo collage of sorts to help market our jewelry on Facebook. I was just trying to create an example for a new intern who would be taking this task on regularly. But as I was doing it I kept thinking about how fun it was. It was like scrapbooking, which is something I used to a long time ago when I had more free time. I spent far more time on it than I needed to because I was just enjoying the simple creative process of it. And when I was finished with it and posted it on Facebook, I couldn’t wait to see how many “likes” it would get, or better yet, to see if it would lead to any new purchases. That small creative outlet brightened my whole day a bit. I was reminded of how important creativity is to our lives, we were created to create, whatever that creative outlet is to us, whatever helps to make us feel more alive. Who knows, maybe that’s spreadsheets for some people.

A few days later I stumbled upon an article that talks about this very thing. That adding just a little bit of creativity to your day makes you a better worker and overall less of a consumeristic and critical. He writes:

“Work can be monotonous. Each day I try and put one thing on my to-do list that requires a fresh creative punch. Oftentimes this is as simple as a 10 minute phone call to bounce a new idea off a friend. I find this simple act of forcing myself to create actually invigorates all the other things I’ve been avoiding all day. … Creativity is an exponential force. It produces better work that produces better work. Creativity is also a repelling force. The more we create, the more it repels us away from the dangers of over consumption and over criticism.”

What I have found, however, is that is is easy to numb or “busy” out our creative outlets. Creativity takes effort. Often, if I happen to have a free few minutes or down time at the end of the day, I prefer to numb out on Jimmy Fallon youtube clips or my latest favorite tv show. I think this is an very common, unforrnutate habit of this entertainment age. Entertainment, although it can be a form of creativity itself, has stolen quite a bit of our time hasn’t it? So as I was thinking about this some more and realizing that lent was coming up, I decided to try something different. Growing up Catholic, I already have the practice of giving up something for lent ingrained in me. Usually I choose to give up something I enjoy eating, like sugar or meat. This year, however, I decided to give up T.V. (youtube clips included) and the time I spent zoning out on entertainment, I now use to get back in touch with my creative side and, in a way, spend more time with my creator, creating together.

I have been doing this for over a week now, and it’s surprisingly exhilarating. Some days I sit down and I just start writing, see where it takes me. I started researching more about what it takes to write a good story and have been pondering how that lines up with the great story we all find ourselves in, and try to incorporate that in. I cleaned and reorganized they shelves in my room, adding small plants and framing new photos. I am also planning on starting a couple of art projects, nothing special, I am really no artist, but I do enjoy being crafty, using things I already have and upscaling them or creating something new. I also want to start a little garden and sitting space on my balcony. I want to grow some herbs there for cooking, but also want to pretty up the space for more than just drying my clothes. There are recipes I want to try and hairstyles I want to work on, endless possibilities really. And I’m excited to explore and create. Maybe I will share some updates on these projects, so stay tuned 😉

One of the photos from the catalogue that year.

One of the photos from the catalogue that year.

I remember when I was working in the jewelry business at NightLight, I spent months working with the women on creating the new designs, modeling and photographing them, and then crafting it all into a small catalogue. The photos were primarily going to be released online, but we took the liberty of printing one out into a very professional looking magazine-like catalogue and took it around to all the women to look at the finished product of all our hard work. They were so excited to see their handiwork in such a professional looking catalogue. They said things like “I can’t believe our work is actually in a catalogue like this!” and “I bet one of them is definitely one that I made,” or “I was just working on that necklace!” They were so proud, and so was I. We were, together, living out part of what we were created to do: to contribute gifts to this world and to create.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” Romans 12:6

Valentine’s Day challenge

A couple of years ago, when I was working in the jewelry business part of NightLight and Valentine’s Day was approaching (which always bums me out a little bit), I had a thought. I figured, surely I could redeem Valentine’s Day, somehow, for those who are not in romantic relationships. What resulted was a blog I wrote for our website which then turned into one of our more successful campaigns for the business. The campaign resulted in a huge boost in sales and blessed tons of people in the process. NightLight Design is recreating the campaign this year and is hopeful of similar results. I am reposting this blog here for you today to read and consider joining in!

One day at lunch the staff here in Bangkok were sitting around discussing Facebook activity. It turns out we had over 10,000 visits to our NightLight International page in January alone. This is good news! The word is getting out; people are interested in the cause. In addition to our Facebook page, we receive dozens of e-mails a month asking how people can help – can they bring a team, can they come and visit? Managing teams and visitors is a full time job around here, and we are overjoyed by how many people are interested in the complex issues surrounding the industry in Thailand. Unfortunately, the one thing that needs the most support is the one this we cannot get enough people to do. Interest in NightLight is going up, but jewelry sales have steadily been going down.

I moved to Bangkok over three years ago because, like so many others I know, my heart was breaking for women who were being exploited in the sex industry. I chose NightLight because I love the holistic vision. NightLight wants to care for not only the spiritual and emotional needs of these women, but also their physical needs in a very practical way. The vision is simple. Once the women get out of the industry, yes they will need healing, but they are also going to need a job. So NightLight is a place of healing, but it is also a place of business where they can work and grow as a whole person. It works together; the strength of the one depends on the strength of the other. Without funds coming in though the jewelry business, we are simply unable to hire more women into this healing atmosphere.

Over the years I have had the privilege of seeing more and more the great power of using business as mission. I get to see these women blossom in their roles, feel proud of what they do, and accomplish great things. The beauty and quality of the jewelry they make is a reflection of the beauty and quality in each and every one of them. But the business is hard work. And we keep it a business instead of a charity because we do not want our women to be charity cases for the rest of their lives. They work hard, they create beautiful jewelry, and they should earn a good wage for what they do, not a hand-out.

This is why it pains us to see so many people interested in our cause; however, very few are interested in supporting our business. So while it is encouraging to have so many individuals excited about our cause, it is at the same time discouraging that there are not enough individuals interested in supporting the business – our greatest need. We receive thousands of people who visit our social media sites and “like” our posts and we receive dozens of e-mails from people telling us how passionate they are about combating the sex trade. But we have a great need for many more to take the very tangible step of purchasing a piece of jewelry, committing to throwing a jewelry party, or very simply sharing our jewelry ads.

So I am going to throw out a challenge: Put your money where your “like” is.

We love that you care, but we also would love for you to buy! Often times, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the need in the world that we do not know what to do, so we do nothing at all. But here is one very simple way to make a difference: buy a piece of jewelry.

Today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I am sending someone I love a piece of NightLight Jewelry because she is worth it. Then I will ask her one thing, if she would be willing to do the same; to pay it forward by also buying someone she loves a piece of NightLight jewelry and sending the same challenge. Might you be willing to do the same?

It’s two year later and I still believe this whole heartedly. Here is how you can participate:

1) Go to our online store, pick out a gift and add it to your shopping cart
2) Find the coupon code box underneath your shopping cart, and write in “YOU-ARE-LOVED”. Click “Apply.
3) Click “Proceed to Checkout”
4) Type in your personal billing information, your friend’s shipping information (uncheck the “Ship to My Billing Address” box), and your payment information.
5) Click “Place Order”

We will process your order and send it to your friend, along with a brochure about our work in Bangkok, and this coupon encouraging her to keep your chain of blessings flowing!

I hope you all consider joining in!

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A word about men

Here is something you may not know:

The cross-cultural missions world is flooded with women. Of all the faith based organizations I have come in contact with since moving to Thailand, its safe to say about 80% of those staffing these orgs are women. Of the countless numbers of short term teams that travel through our doors, about 90% are women. We partner with a missions training school here in Bangkok who takes in 10-15 students per term, most of the time, not a single guy is enrolled. I talked to a larger missions training school about this, same results. The most recent term of 200+ students, only 22 of them were men. I answer countless e-mails from those interested in joining NightLight, and maybe 1 in 10 will be from a male. In my five years working for NightLIght we have received 25+ foreign volunteers for various lengths of time, only 6 of those have been men. I went to a Justice conference last year, a meeting of countless organizations and individuals dedicated to justice oriented work in the Christian realm, and again, the majority of the attendees were women.

What is going on here? Where are all the men? And how is this anything less than a complete tragedy?

Let’s bring this back to my particular context. I work in the world of helping women out of the sex trade. At first, I thought this whole lack of men around thing kind of made sense. After all, who better to help women than women? But the longer I have been here, the more I realize how awful it is to not have more good men. I am as much of a feminist as the next girl, and I believe women can do so much more than men, and most societies in general, give us credit for. But here is the thing, we need men. We need men to balance us out. We need men to honor us with their particular giftings. We need men to help us to look at things from different angle. We need men to step in for absent fathers. We need men to help us show that every woman has value and should be respected and treated well. We need good men, at the very least, to show us that they even exist.

These women we help, I would say a good majority had never met a good man before stepping through the doors of NightLight. Most of them, growing up, had absent or lazy fathers, abusive male relatives, or male neighbors who wanted to pay money to sleep with them. This is their whole world. Then, in the sex industry, they understand themselves to be nothing more than what a man will pay for them. They hope beyond hope that one of these men will want to “keep” them, become their foreign boyfriend who will help send money to her family so she won’t have to work in the bars anymore. But then, even if they do find such a man, without being able to actually speak the same language, most of the time she is not much more than a sexual partner, just a step up from prostitute, really. Men who gravitate to those kind of “relationships” are usually in those relationships because they can have power and control over this woman and never really have to invest in her emotionally. And maybe that is better than working the bars, but is that the best she should hope for?

What about the Thai men? Well, the most repeated sentences we hear from Thai women of all walks is “Thai man no good”. There are local studies that claim that Thai men are arguably the most unfaithful in the world. Built into Thai culture is the idea that it’s okay for a man to be unfaithful. Most Thai men will have several girlfriends at the same time before they’re married and, even when married, will often have a wife and a ‘mia noi’ or minor wife (sometimes, more than one).They are champions of abandonment as well; most of the women we work with have a “baby daddy” in their lives who does little to nothing to contribute to the welfare of the child.

How can we make a dent at any of this if the ratio of good men to bad men remains so unbalanced? How can we provide adequate care and healing to these women if they cannot experience an example of what it is to be truly loved and respected by a man?

Jeff Dieselberg, the husband of the founder of NightLight, is one of my favorite men on the face of this planet.Jeff and NLwomen
When his wife started NightLight, he jumped in whole-heartedly. I am sure there were many obstacles to overcome before he became the man that he is today in his role at NightLight, but his commitment is evident. He is our spiritual director, but more than that, he everyone’s father figure. He is the one constant male figure at NightLight that all 160 women who have come though NightLight has had the benefit of being loved by. He cares for each of these women deeply. He designed classes for them to come to know the saving love of God, leads heart groups where the women can share about their struggles and gain tools to overcome, and organizes and teaches daily morning devotionals to encourage the women in their walks. He helped start a church that our women can really sink their lives into and feel safe inviting their male family members to. The small group of men at church is slowly growing, with Jeff as their shepherd. I have had the pleasure of working alongside Jeff at NightLight as well spending time with him and his lovely family in their home. He and his wife have raised 4, now adult, children and have just recently adopted two new young ones who found themselves stranded in Bangkok after their Ugandan mother died suddenly of heart complications. With no family wanting to claim them, and a wife who always dreamed of having African children, it did not take much to convince Jeff that he would be their father. Our women get to experience the dedicated love of this man daily. But to put it frankly, we need more Jeffs.

Where are they?

The MST project is a group here in Thailand dedicated to building relationships with men who frequent red-light areas. 222515_158649850864335_6042977_nI have gotten to know the MST folks pretty well since I took on the role of helping to manage the coffee shop. Being a cafe in the red-light district means we get a high percentage of sex-tourists walking through our doors. It’s a pivotal place to make connections with these men. Twice a week a team member from MST just hangs out in the shop and starts conversations with men who happen to find their way in. They also hold weekly “men pursing purity” small groups in our upper rooms. Their motto is this: “We seek to be an example of redemption and restoration to men wherever they may be found.” If only that were the motto of more men. But this team is small. MST has a bit of a hard time finding men that want to fill this role. Why are there not more men heartbroken by this?

One of my continual struggles in Bangkok is to keep myself from forming an unchecked hatred of men. Terrible men are everywhere. A couple of months ago I stumbled upon an article about why men use prostitutes. It made my heart hurt. UK researchers conducted number of interviews as a basis for this study. What struck me the most was not the “why” but the “who.” It seems a great number of men who use prostitutes do not fit the stereotypes you are thinking of. These are “everyday” men from all ages in all walks of life. More than half of them are married or in relationships… more than half. To make it worse, the interviews also showed that most men knew, to some extent, that there was likely abuse and coercion involved with how this women ended up in prostitution. ugh.

So I ask again, what is going on? What is happening to our men? Why are there so many more women interested in cross cultural missions than men? Why are there not more men care about those who need them most? Why do I have such a large community of amazing single Christian women around me in their 30’s? Are there really not enough good men to go around? I’m saying this again, this is a tragedy. And something needs to be done.

What is going on in the church? Why aren’t we producing better men? Because we can say the problem lies with the men that don’t attend church, but what about the ones who do? What are the women hearing that the men aren’t? Are we unintentionally creating men that only care about certain things? Allowing men to never deal with their deep junk, until it festers and ruins lives? Are we really talking about the hard stuff? Are we really calling men to be the best that they can be?

If it seems I am a little angry, maybe I am. Maybe I am tired of seeing enemy destroyed men destroy other lives in the process. Maybe I am tired of hearing stores from my dear friends about how they have been hurt deeply or abused by the men in their lives. Maybe I am tired of seeing child after child grow up without a good father. Enough is enough.

Do I have all the answers? No. Do I even know where to begin, not really. But I do know that there is always hope. I see hope in people like Jeff and the MST project team. If it is possible for them, it is possible of you, yes you, possible male who is reading this blog, to start asking yourself the hard questions about what kind of person you are and what kind of influence you can use your one and only life for. I am calling you out. Think and pray. Pray that there are more men who are willing to stand up to their calling to be better men and reach out to those who need them most. And even muse that maybe, just maybe, one of those men could be you.