I have been hesitating on posting about some deeper things I have been dealing with for quite sometime because, really, I am not one to put all my junk out there. My junk is usually saved for intimate conversations with close friends, possibly over a drink…or two. But I feel like it may be time to just write about it, in the open, for others to understand. And honestly, I think there will be a whole 5 people who will read this anyway. So lets just say this is more for me than it is for you. Just a way to process my last couple of years as I finally feel myself moving into a new season.
The way I see it we all have tough times, so it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Life is hard, and that’s that. So lets just talk for a sec… or maybe 20 mins or so, this may be a long one.
When I moved to Thailand, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, I kind of wanted it to be hard, I wanted to step out of my safe American world and be challenged. But when I say I wanted to be “challenged,” I had a certain expectation of what “challenging” would look like. I had these ideas that it would be hard, but there would be all of these blatant “fruits of my labor” that would make it all worth it. I was convinced that once I stepped out of the tame world of American Christianity I would see God work in bigger and better ways. And it would be hard and tiresome, but somehow, things would be more clear on the God front, at least not the same foggy God that I kept experiencing in my safe American world.
I guess you could say, without really admitting it out loud, I was “testing” God. Go ahead God, blow me away, show me just how real you are. But of course, as these things usually go, I was the one who ended up getting tested. yay.
There was the honeymoon period of course, when everything was new and exciting and hopeful. I was on this new adventure, and sure there were hard parts, but all very manageable, I needed time to hit my stride after all, right?
But the more you commit yourself to something the more you realize the harsh realities of it. These are no longer new experiences to get used to, but obstacles that are a part of my daily reality. Things that were once charming or hopeful before were becoming rough and hopeless. And all the things I was hoping to see happen more immediately seemed was going to take a lot longer to happen, if at all.
I guess you can compare this all to any relationship or commitment. There is the new, exciting, romantic part and then there is the “I didn’t sign up for this” part of it.
Ok so what else is new… its the story of all our lives, we get ourselves into something not fully knowing what exactly we were getting ourselves into, and then have to deal with it. I mean, I guess if we really knew all about what we were going to get our selves into we may choose not to do it at all. Maybe there needs to be certain amount of ignorance involved with every major decision, or we would maybe never do anything at all. And I suppose that is where the trust part comes in. But, things will inevitably get hard and then we have to choose how we are going to respond to it. And I guess I made some interesting decisions when it came to coping with my new reality.
I said before that I came in to this with a certain amount of expectations of how God was going to work. I was certain I was going to see God work in bigger and more amazing ways than I had ever seen before. And I waited and waited, and then, it was just more of the same. Week after week, more and more women falling victim, helping one out, only to see another one fall back into the darkness. The pain and brokenness around me constantly was steadily taking its toll. Yes I could make myself busy, and trust, for a time at least, that seeds were being sown, but I was waiting for something more. Thats not to say that God was not doing great things, he was, but eventually it never felt like enough. Where was this big God I was expecting? Why wasn’t more happening? Why weren’t more people being helped, restored, saved? Why wasn’t I feeling more fulfilled?
And then there was my personal life, to get even more, slightly embarrassingly real if I may. I had a certain expectation there as well, I realized. I was certain (even if I never admitted it blatantly) that if I stepped into the world that I felt God was leading me to, there my other half would be also. We would serve alongside each other, fall madly in love, and live happily ever after. Little did I know I was stepping into the unbalanced world of amazing single Christian women, with little to no single Christian men to speak of. Did you know that 80% of single people in cross-cultural missions work are female? I didn’t. Seriously, are you a single Christian man over 25 looking for an amazing God-loving woman? Come to Bangkok, they are all here. I stepped out of the man’s world of American church work into the the women’s world of international missions (but that’s another blog for another time). And there is nothing wrong with being single, but it comes with its own challenges. There is no “family unit” you can hold on to, no constant. And “big city” + “limited time commitments” = people constantly coming and going. It’s literally a game of piecing together community. Its very unsettling, and very lonely.
And speaking of lonely, few people know this about cross cultural work: Once you leave your home country to make a home in another country, you effectively lose “home.” “New home” becomes “home” but “old home” is also “home,” but when you go back to “old home” its not “home” anymore, but “new home” will never be like “old home.” Following me? This, along with a few other things, are realities rarely talked about and certainly not regularly understood by others outside of cross-cultural work (this guy does a very good job at explaining some of the disappointing realities about being a missionary ) Again, very unsettling, and very lonely.
So there I was. Disappointed. So. Much. Disappointment.
And disappointment leads to bitterness and bitterness, as we all know, drives wedges and makes us angry people. But it’s a slow process and the anger is the quiet, sneaky kind. You think you have it together in the day to day of your life but underneath it all you’re keeping this secret tally, wondering why you keep coming up short. Then its like, “Hello discontentment, I thought I got rid of you??”
What it all comes down to, I suppose, is entitlement. I had subconsciously made a deal with God (that he never agreed to, mind you) that if I made this choice to uproot my life and do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, he would give me everything I ever wanted. Wrapped up in a nice little bow. God was not keeping up his end of the deal.
So this discontentment was slowly driving a wedge between me and God. So slowly that I never became too alarmed about it. I was sure it was just a phase that would swing back shortly. But I wasn’t really taking care of myself at that point, not well anyway. Enough to stay afloat, but not enough to thrive.
Then there was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” To back up a bit, just as I was exiting honeymoon stage, I was abruptly given a challenging role I was not quite suited for. I won’t get into detail, but lets just say the last person who had this role left in a serious burnout. I was next. For over a year I tried to keep it together. I just put my nose to the grindstone and endured, trying my hardest not to think about things for fear of falling apart. With a replacement for this role coming soon, I knew I just had to make it through. Marathon mode. And I made it without dying, but not without some injuries. This was the point at which I took a three month break, “for rest and healing.” There was plenty of rest, but if I’m honest, not much healing. I think I just ignored it some more, hoped that the wedge would just fall away somehow. But it didn’t. I was mad at God, and I didn’t know how to stop.
But since I couldn’t really define what I was going though, and I was feeling utterly useless in America, I came back here. Really, this was junk I was going to have to deal with in America or Thailand, may as well be in Thailand where I had a function.
I came back to Thailand and had to move pretty immediately due to my house falling apart. I was welcomed into the home of two people who quickly became my family, the closest thing I had ever come to family in Thailand anyway. It was such a blessing. I moved in with the husband and wife team that came to set up the coffee shop project, they had already been here a year fundraising and I was to join them for the setting everything up stage of the project. That project was my favorite, most tangible thing that has ever happened (read previous blog for more about that) in Thailand. I felt things looking up, but then it came: the straw. This couple, my family, my project partners, were going to have to move back to America.
I felt actually heartbroken. I couldn’t believe I was finally getting some semblance of what I wanted, and it was being taken from me. I would have these dark moments just sneak up on me, intense feelings of hopelessness that I didn’t know what to do with. I didn’t know how to “give it to God” Those just sounded like vague words to me. Every hurt felt compounded and the every day of red-light district ministry weighed heavier. I felt so up and down I felt crazy sometimes. And no one would even know. I am such an internal processor the only people that knew were the few I told. I still had good times, but the highs were high, and the lows were very low.
The rock bottom low took place on Christmas day of all days. I went up north with some friends for some cooler weather and good times, my pieced together family plus a couple of others. I had just gotten the news that my roomies were returning to the states in 6 months time and I was a bit of an inward mess. I was trying my best to have a good time, and for the most part I really did. But on Christmas, the sadness hit me in the darkest of moments I’ve ever had as a Christian. I sobbed for hours, unable to stop, feeling completely consumed by the sadness, feeling abandoned. My friends found me and comforted me the best they could, prayed, and offered support, but I felt inconsolable.
I eventually fell asleep and honesty, the next day, although a little raw, I had an amazing day. My little family and I rode motor bikes up a mountain to a coffee farm and saw such beauty. I had some time to reflect. I knew that things could not go on like this, there was no living life like this. This sadness was not what God had for me.
I would like to say I pulled it together and stopped being sad, but the next few months leading up to my friends’ departure was tough. I was up and down still, but more so on the up. I still had crazy lows, but not as low as that lowest low. I made it though their departure, and yet another move, and I survived. I’m ok.
This personal struggle mixed with the daily heartbreak of the world I live in, it’s a rough environment to thrive in. It overwhelmed me, it did, but God is bringing me up and out. I feel a newness, its baby steps, but its movement. God is helping me to open my eyes to more of his goodness. Blessing me with un-expected things, big and small. I was blessed with an all expense paid trip to Hong Kong for a justice conference a couple of months ago to revive me in my work. A little bit ago I was able to pull together enough money to go home for a wedding of a best friend and some much needed family time. And now there is this newest blessing, a chance to go on a pilgrimage to walk the steps of St. Francis in Italy. I can hardly wrap my head around it.
So this post is actually a part of that; a cathartic unloading of my junk as a way of marking that I am moving on and up. I will be walking for 1o days straight, with the purpose of seeking out God, and hopefully gaining some direction. I feel God pulling me to newness and I am not entirely sure what that is going to look like. I know some changes are going to have to be made, but unsure what those changes will be. It’s exciting, but it is also frightening. I am hoping this 10 day walk will give me some time to clear my head, focus in on God, and hear his voice. So if you find yourself reading this, I ask for your prayers.
I have a good God who is blessing me beyond measure. I hope to lean into that truth more and more as I move forward in to this newness.