Bold as a Lion

I grew up as the invisible middle child in a middle class family. My older sister was an extroverted rebel and my younger sister excelled at everything she put her hands to, so in my mind, the attention was always on them. Mostly it didn’t bother me because I’m about 97% introverted and never wanted to stand out. But being invisible never taught me that I have inner strength.

When I moved into a tent on a rock quarry in Mexico at 22 in order to serve the poor, people thought I was going through a phase. I had no idea what I was going through, only that I was searching for something different.

At 26 I got on a plane and moved to Thailand where I was completely alone and didn’t know a single thing about the culture, language, people, etc. Again, people said that I was going through a phase and would be home soon. I just knew that I was searching for home and a place where my soul felt peace.

This month I celebrated my 37th birthday, the 11th spent in Thailand, which puts me living in this country longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life. I think I have found home, or at least home for now.

People often ask me why I’ve stayed in Thailand so long. There are more answers than I could possibly fit in this post, answers about the beautiful people, the diverse culture, the complicated and wonderful language and the delicious food. Oh my gosh, don’t get me started on the fantastic food.

But it really comes down to something deeper. It is here that I discovered my inner strength. It is here that I discovered that beneath my 5 foot almost 1 inch, white skinned, blondish haired, blue eyed exterior is a strength that can move mountains.

Growing up, I always felt pressured to be an extrovert, to be loud and assertive. Or pressured to fit neatly into an introverted box, quiet and somewhat scared of the world. But I’m neither and I never knew what to do with that information. So I kept it to myself.

It was here in Thailand that I learned to love myself. It is here that I learned that it’s not only okay to be the unique me that God created, but it perfect and awesome and a lot of fun!

Occasionally someone will call me brave for traveling the world by myself, for going into nations where I don’t speak the language, for driving a motorbike on the wrong side of the road, for eating unrecognisable foods, for standing up in front of crowds and sharing my story, even the parts that most people would be ashamed of.

Every time it happens, my initial reaction is to tell them they are wrong, that there is nothing brave or special about me. To tell them that I’m just like everyone else. But then there is another part of me that wants to jump up and down and proclaim how badass I am. Don’t worry, I usually land somewhere in the middle..

It’s actually been a process of teaching myself to be simply say thank you to that specific compliment. Growing up, bravery was never a goal of mine, simply because I never saw myself that way and therefore it wasn’t even on my radar. But I can safely say that most things currently in my life, were never on my radar.

I don’t claim to be anywhere near perfect, I’m so far from it that it’s laughable.

But it is here in Thailand that I have learned to work on myself daily, to push myself beyond what I think it possible. It is here that I have proven my inner strength to be greater than anything of this world.

And in my opinion, that is a lesson worth moving solo to another galaxy for!

One of my life verses is Proverbs 28:1 which says “..the righteous are as bold as a lion.” May we all live lives where we get to prove over and over that we are bold as lions!!

 

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I love you, big sister -June 2015

Dear Tiffany,

How can I be mad at you when you aren’t even here to defend yourself? Remember when we used to fight and I would yell at you for doing something stupid and you would yell back that it was your life and you could be as stupid as you wanted? I miss those fights. They were so real, so tangible.

You haven’t yelled at me in 9 years. You haven’t told me that you are proud of me in 9 years.

I wake up every morning and I don’t know how to get out of bed. Somehow I shower, I do my hair, I put my make-up on, I say goodbye to the dogs and then I stand there in front of the door. And I battle. The dogs know the battle and they hope that I will lose and crawl back into bed with them. But I don’t. I open up the door and I step into the world.

That first step every morning is the hardest. 9 years ago I didn’t ask to be the oldest sister. It’s a job I never wanted, a job thrust upon me by you. And I am beyond mad at you for that. How could you be so selfish?

And yet those threads of anger quickly disappear because how can I stay angry when you aren’t here to tell your side of the story? How can I stay mad when we can’t shout it out?

So I forgive you for the millionth time and I tell you that I love you, always hoping that I’ll remember the last time you said those words to me. I never do. I remember eating pizza with you and I remember you backhandedly complimenting my cowboy boots but I don’t remember those three words. I really wish I did.

So I take another step and then another, into a world that doesn’t know you, a world that is so greatly lacking you. I tuck you away in my heart and I live a life that I know you’d be proud of. I try so hard, knowing that it will always be hard without you. Always.

I love you, big sister.

Happy 39th birthday.

Love, Jenni

Vulnerability

I’m going to be super vulnerable by posting some letters that I’ve been writing for therapeutic reasons. You can read them or not, but if you do, I hope they help you in some way…

Negative comments will be deleted but positive and encouraging comments are WELCOMED!

Miracles, Part 1

Last month I was diagnosed with Dengue Fever. If you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it, just trust me that it’s not at all fun.

I woke up one Monday morning with a headache, by 9am my legs started aching and by 11am I hurt. The word “hurt” doesn’t really do it justice, I was in so much pain that I had to keep moving every part of my body or I felt like I’d pass out. I was dizzy to the point that a friend had to walk me home from the office (it’s next door) because I could barely stand up. I had a fever and was throwing up. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Throughout that week, I continued to feel worse and worse. I went in three times to get IV’s with fluids and medicines to calm my muscles and stop the vomiting. My doctor wanted to hospitalize me multiple times but I refused. The problem is that Dengue Fever doesn’t have a cure. It’s a virus carried by mosquitoes and transferred through a mosquito bite and if you get it, you have to just wait it out and hope it passes quickly.

And it is so painful that just remembering it now creates panic. I’ve become obsessed with mosquito repellant!

On Friday afternoon, day 5, I was fed up. I was exhausted and hated Dengue Fever with every fiber of my being. And I was frustrated.

The next day I was supposed to go to an outreach that my church was doing. I’d signed up weeks before and had been looking forward to it. And I was beyond frustrated that I was going to miss it. So I called my Thai girlfriends and asked them to come and pray for me. Three of them came over, laid hands on me and prayed for healing. We took communion together and then I went back to bed, praying that I’d wake up feeling better.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling awful. But I was also feeling stubborn. I decided that I didn’t care how sick I was, I was going to the outreach. And I went. And I was miserable all day. I could barely stand or walk and the dizziness was out of control. But I got home that night and fell back into bed feeling thankful to have been a part of the outreach, even though I didn’t help with anything.

Sunday morning I woke up to my alarm and 90% of me wanted to stay in bed and keep sleeping all day. However, the remaining 10% of me wanted to get up and go to church. So I did.

I have to stop for a moment and explain that this is not normal behavior for me. I am someone who wallows in sickness and pain. I am the wimpiest person alive when it comes to feeling bad and my usual response is to curl up in a fetal position and cry. Seriously.

But something (or Someone) was stirring in my spirit that weekend. I got up and I went to church. And my pastor preached on healing. It was an AMAZING sermon. Seriously, I was positive that he was speaking only to me. And I soaked in every single one of his words, determined to learn about and believe in my own healing.

You see, I’ve been feeling fed up with sickness. I seem to have a non-existent immune system and I catch every cold and flu that goes around. I’ve wasted too much time over the past few years being sick and I’m done with it.

Pastor Nathan talked about how God wants us to be healthy and we must believe that He has already provided our healing. He talked about the different myths that churches and Christians believe about healing and he counteracted each myth with multiple bible verses. It was a really great teaching and I was super blessed!

I went home from church that afternoon and crawled back in bed. And this is where the miracle comes in.. I woke up a couple hours later and the sickness was gone. Completely. I have no other way to explain it except to say that God healed me.

I started praying and thanking God and felt Him speaking to me. He told me that He provided the healing but it was my acting in faith, getting up and going out and believing that He would heal me, that activated the healing. Weeks later and I’m still in awe. God is so amazing!

A couple days later my doctor called to check up on me. She asked if I was ready to be hospitalized yet or if I needed to get another IV of fluids. When I told her that I was feeling 100% better, she didn’t believe me. She asked me several times if I was telling the truth before finally believing me. She said that it didn’t make any sense that I could be better, that I should be sick for at least another week, if not longer.

And that is when I got to tell her that God healed me. My very own miracle. 🙂

Moments

In the midst of my crazy life, I have moments of clarity. Moments when God reminds me that I am His daughter and His beloved. Moments when I realize that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I have no desire to be anywhere else. Moments when I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness toward God.

Yesterday I had a series of those moments.

I tend to be a person who gets caught up in things. Life gets busy and I keep plugging away and before I know it, I’ve missed something important. I’ve forgotten to look out the window at the beautiful view, instead focusing only on the torn up road I’m driving. I see the lost and the broken, and miss the found and the whole. It’s a part of me that I’m continually trying to change because I believe that there needs to be balance in our lives. We need to see both sides of the story, the big picture and the little picture, in order to not feel overwhelmed.

Yesterday we had baptisms after church. I was standing next to a swimming pool and I suddenly realized that I was completely alone. I turned around and saw about 50 Thai people hiding in the shade of the building behind me. I stood by myself in the blaring sun and 100 degree heat and I started to laugh. Thai people don’t like the sun, it’s almost as if they are allergic to it. They fact is that they don’t want to get darker skin and believe that white skin is more beautiful. So while I try to get as tan as I can (an impossible feat), they hide from the sun.

It was in that moment that I was reminded that I am a foreigner in a foreign land. You are probably wondering how I could ever forget that, but the truth is that I occasionally do. I eat Thai food, speak the Thai language, hang out with Thai people and pretty much live a culturally Thai life. And sometimes it all blends together to the point where I forget that I’m not actually a Thai person. I’m not one of them, I’m an outsider.

In that moment of remembering, I felt extremely thankful. How amazing it is that God has placed me in nation, people and culture completely different from my own. And how much more amazing it is that God has allowed me to acclimate and fit in to the point where I feel like one of them. I can’t imagine living this life for the past 9 years and 3 months while constantly feeling like a foreigner. That would be awful.

Thank you Lord for knowing my heart so perfectly and placing me in a country that feels like home. Thank you for blessing me with amazing friends who treat me like their own and not like an outsider. Thank you for giving me an understanding of the language and the ability to eat spicy food. But mostly, thank you for knowing me and loving me so completely.

That moment of thankfulness was followed up by several more as I watched people that I know and love get baptized and make decisions to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives!

God is really amazing, isn’t He?!

I end with a couple photos celebrating new lives in Jesus. I look Thai, right? 😉

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“Too. Much. Imagination.”

Ya tells me on a regular basis that I have “too. much. imagination.” Sometimes she even adds, “Too much, Jen, too, too much.”

I live a part of my life in other worlds, in the imaginations of other people. When I read a book, a world opens up in my mind and I can actually imagine whole other places and adventures in my head. I get drawn in and occasionally, it’s hard for me to come back out to reality. But I always know that at the end of my day, no matter what happened to me that day, I can come home and spend a couple of hours in some other world.

Tonight, after finishing another book, I picked up The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. I have to admit that I’ve avoided this book for pretty much my entire life. As a kid, my sisters loved the movie and after having to watch it repeatedly, I grew to hate it. So I decided that I would never read the book. Until recently, in a land called Thailand where English books are not only hard to come by but very expensive, a copy of The Neverending Story ended up on my bookshelf.

I picked it up tonight and seven pages in, came across this:

“If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger–

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early–

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless–

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.”

A couple of pages later, this:

“I wonder,’ he said to himself, ‘what’s in a book while it’s closed. Oh, I know it’s full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story with people I don’t know yet and all kinds of adventures, deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut in a book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it’s already there, that’s the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be.”

And I’m hooked. 🙂