Thanksgiving.. in May

Can I be honest about something? Okay, here goes.. I’m a complainer. I wish I wasn’t and I’m constantly trying to stop, but I’m a complainer.

I think it comes from being a very emotional being. I tend to feel emotions on a grander scale than some and one of the ways I cope with that is to vocalize what I’m feeling. Often.

So whether I’m hot or tired or have a headache, I vocalize it. If someone just cut me off, I complain about bad drivers. Don’t even get me started on those who lack respect for other people’s time. Seriously, you don’t want to get me started on that..

But here’s the thing, I’m also a grateful person. I thank God continuously throughout the day for my friends, for laughter, for this ministry that I get to be a part of. I thank Him when I find a good parking spot or get the perfect picture.

I also try to say thank you to others as many times a day as I can. Whether I’m thanking Ya for cooking me dinner, the security guard for letting me into my neighborhood or the person who let me merge into their lane, I try to vocalize it as much as possible. It keeps me balanced.

Recently though, I found myself in a rut. I realized that I was seeing the negative side of life a lot more than the positive side. And as someone who has struggled with pretty bad depression in the past, I can see the signs pretty boldly.

So in an effort to spend less time complaining and more time being thankful, I’ve started writing down the things I’m thankful for. It’s made a difference and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve written down.

  • camp fires
  • thunder that rolls
  • cool nights following really hot days
  • my little sister, Tamara
  • hot showers, especially after village trips
  • compliments that feel really genuine
  • the camera on my iPhone
  • feeling home
  • communion
  • flip-flops
  • my dogs: Gracie, Shadowfax, Isaac, Max, Joey
  • Aon, Ya, P’Dtun
  • books
  • God’s Word and the ability to compare different versions
  • my truck, Suzy
  • air conditioning
  • language translation mishaps that make me laugh
  • elephants
  • rain on a tin roof
  • familiar songs
  • my parents
  • care packages
  • the Internet

The list goes on and I am going to keep adding to it until I reach at least 500, at least. You should try it too, because who doesn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving all year long? 🙂

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Clean Feet

Every couple of months we host a Women’s Day at our church in Mae Toh, Thailand. It’s a time of fellowship and learning and our March event had the theme of Servanthood. After days of praying about what to teach, I felt led to John 13:1-17, the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet during their last supper together. Immediately upon reading the story, I tried to think of something different to teach on. The problem I was having is that I knew that if I taught this story, I would want to end it with our own foot washing ceremony.

Why is that a problem?

In Thai culture, feet are considered the dirtiest and lowliest part of the body. Sure, we all think feet are dirty, but it’s taken to a different level here. In the Buddhist culture, the whole lower part of the body is considered dirty, with feet being the dirtiest. So much so that pants, underwear and socks cannot be washed in the same tub/machine as shirts, jackets, bras, etc. After taking a shower, separate towels are used to dry the upper and lower body. In public, feet cannot be pointed at anyone and you would never ever touch someone’s feet.

As an American, this is a much bigger culture adjustment than I thought it would be. I never realized until I came to Thailand that I moved stuff and pointed with my feet. Even just crossing my legs became a problem because when doing so, my feet were often pointing at someone. Needless to say, it was a huge adjustment and still comes into play at times!

For me to ask a bunch of women to not only wash someone else’s feet, but to allow someone to wash theirs, was a big deal.

So I went to Aon and Ya and asked them what they thought. Their initial reactions were not very encouraging and I decided that if they thought it was a bad idea, I wasn’t going to do it. I spent the next three days trying to come up with something else to teach on and came up with zero ideas. God just kept leading me back to the passage in John 13.

I sat down with Aon and Ya again and after talking a bit, found out that they didn’t really understand what the foot washing was all about. So we had a bible lesson and I taught them.

We talked about how people in Jesus’ time walked all day in sandals in the dirt and their feet would be very dirty and smelly by the end of the day. They pointed out how that was the same in Thailand and they understood why the feet needed to be washed upon entering a house.

So I moved on to the symbolism in the foot washing, how it is a picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross. In the same way that Jesus took off his outer clothing and washed the disciples feet, he laid aside his God nature to serve us, all the way to dying on the cross for us.

Verse 8 says “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Literally, unless we allow God to come in and clean all of our sin out of our lives, we cannot be with Jesus. This is done when we accept Jesus into our hearts and become Christians.

Verse 10 says “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” This is telling that we only need to accept Jesus one time. That’s it. He will come into our hearts and live with us forever!

However, we still live in a sinful world and we are still affected by sin every single day. The foot washing is a symbol of Jesus cleaning the dirt from the world off of our hearts on a daily basis. We must allow Jesus to wash us daily!

Then I talked about how this story is not only a picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross, it is also a picture of a lifestyle that Jesus wants us to have, a lifestyle of serving each other in love.

In verse 14 Jesus doesn’t say “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you should wash my feet.” He says “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

The world’s definition of love is that we give in order to get. Now that I’ve given you something, you have to give me something in return. God teaches us that love should be given freely and sacrificially!. We must give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.

In verse 16 Jesus is telling the disciples that if even he, God, can live a lifestyle of serving in love, than they should also. And in turn, we need to.

Verse 17 tells us that if we do these things, we will be blessed. This literally means that if we follow the example of Jesus in this story, our futures will be happy and fulfilled. Who wouldn’t want that?!

If you seek happiness as your goal, it will always elude you. But if you turn away from this and instead depend personally on Christ and serve others, happiness will always find you!

By the time I got to the end of the lesson, I was on fire and astonished to find that Aon and Ya were really excited too! The both told me that I HAD to teach this lesson to the women and then we HAD to wash each other’s feet.

At this point, I just sat back and laughed. Why did I ever doubt God’s leading? He obviously knows much better than me what the women need to hear. And yet I felt the need to step in and think I knew better. Lord, when will I ever learn?!

So I took this lesson to Mae Toh and taught it to the women there. They were engaged and interested, and I was excited to teach it. When I got to the end, I told them that I wanted them to wash each other’s feet. Instead of complaining and looking like they’d rather be anywhere else, like I’d expected, they were excited. They grabbed the soap, towels and tubs I brought and jumped right into it.

There was laughter and a few tears and a time of serving that ended up being more special than I could have imagined. And of course their focus was not on the feet, but on serving each other in love.

They ended the foot washing by praying for each other, prayers that they would be better servants and learn to love those around them with a Christ-like love.

What a wonderful, blessed day it was!

Foot Washing@MT

Raising Our Expectations (or My Personal Struggle With Lack of Faith)

‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ (Jeremiah 33:3)

Too often we settle for much less than what God wants to do through us. We read in Jeremiah 32:27: “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for Me?” and we answer, “No Lord.” Yet, when we face difficult situations we begin to qualify our belief in God and lower our expectations of what God will do. It is one thing to believe God could perform a miracle in the Bible, or a thousand years ago, or even in the life of a friend; it is quite another matter to wholeheartedly believe God can do anything He chooses to do in our lives!

When almighty God speaks to us, what we do next proves what we believe about Him, regardless of what we say. God revealed to Moses His plan to orchestrate the greatest exodus in human history, and He wanted to use Moses to accomplish it. Moses responded by arguing with God! Moses was overwhelmed by what he heard and began to make excuses for why he could not participate in God’s activity. Moses would have readily acknowledged his belief in God’s power, he simply did not believe God could do His miraculous work through his life. Moses’ argument with God limited his ministry for the rest of his life (Exod. 4:13–16).

Do you sense there may be far more that God wants to do through your life than what you have been experiencing? Ask God to show you what it is, then be prepared to respond in faith and obedience to what He tells you.

Above is an excerpt from “Experiencing God, Day-by-Day” by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby. I love this devotional!

People often have this idea that missionaries have it all together, that we never doubt or struggle with our faith. That idea is false. Sometimes I think that people on the mission field probably struggle with faith more than those back home. There are so many difficulties and hurdles to jump when you live in a culture that is devoutly against Christianity. Every day is a battle field and to be honest, at times I try to fight alone and those are the days that I lose the fight. But luckily I serve a God who has already won the war and He loves me enough to keep fighting on my side.

My family has been going through some stuff. Sometimes it feels like it’s been one thing after another since my sister died six years ago. But right now my mom is fighting some health issues and it’s hard for me to remain hopeful. I’ve realized that this lack of hope is really a lack of faith.

“Moses would have readily acknowledged his belief in God’s power, he simply did not believe God could do His miraculous work through his life.” I love this because it’s so true for me. I don’t doubt God’s power in the big things, but sometimes I doubt that He can perform miracles in the little parts of my life and my family.

So right now I’m working on building up my faith, immersing myself in The Word so that I can respond in faith and obedience instead of doubt. And I’m thanking God in advance for the miracle He is going to perform in my mom and my family.

Aon, Ya and I have a phrase that we say to each other on a daily basis: พระเจ้าทำได้ (Prajeow tom dai). It means “God can do” and it’s a reminder that when we are weak, God is strong, there is nothing that He cannot do.

So to those of you who also struggle with a lack of faith at times, my encouragement for you is:

พระเจ้าทำได้, God can do!


 

 

When Home Moves

I was talking to a friend the other day about my trip back to the states over the holidays. I get back to Thailand on February 2nd and the rest of February is really busy for the ministry. My friend (who just moved to Thailand a few months ago) said something to the effect of “Well it’s a good thing you will have just been home for two months. At least you will be well rested.” At that point, I just started laughing to myself. The truth is that the term “home” is a lot more flexible than I once thought.

My first couple years in Thailand my trips to the states were in fact, trips home. They were my chance to get back to normal, to eat my favorite foods and speak only English. They were my chance to see my family and friends and get my fill of them to last through the next year. They were my chance to sleep and rest and process the previous year.

And then, somewhere along the way, home moved.

When I was in the states in 2008, I missed Thailand. I missed my friends, the food, the language, my house, my dogs, the culture, everything. I was so excited to get back and when I walked off the airplane in Chiang Mai, I took a deep breath and smiled because I knew I was home.

I’m not saying that I don’t miss things in the states, I do. I really miss my family and friends, more than I could ever express anywhere. If I could move them all here, I would. I miss Target (and pretty much any other store that has clothing my size since Thai clothes are made for size 0 people) and I miss Taco Bell and their amazing sauce. I miss beautiful San Diego and the amazing weather in Northern California. I miss hot showers and really soft beds. And I miss blending into a crowd.

My trips back to the states are great. They are packed full of traveling and sharing about the ministry and reconnecting with old friends. I love and sincerely treasure every minute of it. But they are not restful. Not at all.

It is not until I get back to Thailand, to my house, with my Thai sisters and my dogs and I fall into my nice, hard Thai bed, that I can really rest. You know the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.”? Well, it truly applies to me.

Sometimes I struggle with this. I feel guilty, like I’m leaving behind my loved ones. But it is not at all the case. In fact, Thailand feeling like home is a HUGE blessing! A gift from God. Can you imagine spending 63 of the past 70 months away from home? Just thinking about it makes me tired. I’ve been in Thailand for 63 of the past 70 months and I can’t help but think that God is pretty darn smart! So thank you Lord for moving my home, I really appreciate it!!

The New Me

I’ve been blessed by a great friend, a somewhat new friend. She is someone that people fall in love with the moment they meet her because her heart is SO big. You know the kind of person I’m talking about, right? Someone you want to be around because they exude joy and love and encouragement and a million other positive feelings. The kind of person that makes you want to be better. I love her dearly. Which is why it hurts me to see her struggling right now. So I pray for her. Now. Later. All the time.

She said something the other day that made me feel like I understand her on a new level. She said something to the effect of “When this is all over, maybe you will know the real me.” And ¡bam! a ton of memories hit me like a brick! Not too many years ago, I was saying basically the same words. Actually “saying” is too mild of a word, it was more like sobbing them from deep within my broken heart.

In January of 2006 I got on a plane and moved across the world to Thailand where I didn’t know a single person. Sure I was terrified but mostly I was excited and filled to the brim with hopes and dreams for a new adventure. I had no clue where life was going to take me but I was ready to give 100% of myself and I had no doubt that I was going to change the world.

Three weeks later my sister Tiffany died. Six to twelve months went by in a blur and somewhere in the haze I lost my hope. I lost myself. I spent the next couple years living just to get by. I was still living in Thailand and working in ministry but I wasn’t myself. And I came to a point where, more than anything, I was grieving for the lost me. No one in my daily life here in Thailand had ever known the real Jen. They only knew the broken Jen, the sad Jen, the lost Jen who only had a little bit to give. And I so badly wanted them to know that other person, the Jen who had no doubt that she was a world changer.

It is confusing to grieve for someone who isn’t really gone, especially when that someone is you. I could look back and remember when I used to laugh and make others laugh, when I could sing and love and share boldly. I tried so hard to grab ahold of the old me but no matter how far I stretched, I was always just out of reach.

And then one day a friend asked me how I was doing and I completely broke down. I laid on the floor sobbing, trying to convince this person that if she had known the old me, she would have loved me so much.The old me would have accomplished so much more, the old me could have changed a thousand worlds. I asked God why He would bring me all the way to Thailand and allow me to have such big dreams, only to let them break into tiny little pieces as soon as I got here. I didn’t understand any of it and I was tired. Totally and completely tired of it all.

That day was a turning point for me. I didn’t realize it then but it was on that day that I let go of the old me. I wasn’t quite ready for the new me yet but just the process of letting go opened up so much room in my heart for new hopes and new dreams. I’ve been on a journey since then that has included counseling, setting boundaries, learning, stretching, growing, breaking and a lot more tears. But it has also included laughing, singing, loving, sharing and maybe even a little bit of dancing.

Occasionally I look back and desire the old Jen again but those longings are getting fewer and farther in between. The new me is more loving and stronger in every way that I can imagine. It’s also more sensitive and emotional (good and bad). I’m about as far from perfect as they come but the important thing is that I’m me.

And the kicker is that I like the new me better than the old me and I wouldn’t change a moment of this journey over the past six years. The lessons that I’ve learned about myself, the world and the amazing God I serve are worth every tear I cried along the way. I thank God on a daily basis for bringing me all the way across the world in order to shape me and show me who I am.

So I pray for my friend and trust that through the pain she is experiencing, God is molding her into a new person.

And friend, if you are reading this, know that I see who you really are. I see past your pain and your circumstances to a heart that God is so proud to call His own. You are loved.