Things Not To Do

Don’t walk home from work through Chinatown when you are ravenously hungry and have intense cravings for Asian cuisine and dreamt about street food in Thailand the night before when you are on a very tight budget.

And 13 weeks pregnant.

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The Impossible – Watch It

Some people know about my love affair with Thailand. I was first introduced to this beautiful country while in London, England in December 2004 when I read an article about sex tourism in Thailand. And just while Thailand was on the forefront of my mind, the tsunami hit South East Asia on December 26. Ever since then I’ve been committed to praying for Thailand.

Now on to movies. To be honest, I don’t really care for movies. I feel that more than anything they are a waste of my time. I come away from 2 hours feeling as though my life was robbed rather than enriched. Rarely does a movie stay with me after the credits have rolled. And more recently I’m noticing how sensitive I am to certain material – how often I find myself thinking, “I know that I can’t shelter my children from this world, but I sure as heck hope they’ll have the discernment to know when something is garbage for their mind and turn it off.” That’s another post.

Now on to The Impossible. Rarely do I endorse movies, because rarely do I enjoy them. But you should watch The Impossible.

The Impossible is a true story of a mom and dad and their 3 boys who were vacationing in Khao Lak, Thailand over Christmas, and who got caught in the destruction of the tsunami. I was crying the moment I saw the first wave, and I’m pretty sure I had a continuous stream of tears falling from my right eye. And I’m on the verge of tears now just thinking about it.

I don’t like movies. Most movies don’t affect me. I think most movies are garbage.

But I think that you should watch The Impossible. Rent it this weekend on iTunes and have your life enriched.

What I Long For

While I lived in Thailand some days I would head to a slum community in the Prawat District outside of Bangkok. I would greet P’Noi at the Ruth Center and she would give me some work to do, like making stencils or cutting pieces of fabric for the Dream Project.

In the afternoon we would walk through the slums, play with the children, and speak with the elderly, many of whom are sick and depressed.

When the day was done I would walk the long, dusty road back to town to catch the bus, to avoid cramming onto a songthaew weighed down with school children.

By the time I got to the bus stop I was drenched in sweat and my calves were caked with dirt, but I never felt so beautiful. By then we had hit rush hour, so it would usually take 1.5 hours to get back into the city. But I didn’t mind. It was time well spent.

There is something about sharing in the sufferings of the poor in spirit that allows you to become one with the Kingdom of God. I can’t say that I have ever experienced the Kingdom to the extent that I did when I was in Thailand. I longed for Jesus more than anything else.

When I came back to Canada I hated the way that we did life here. I hated the materialism. I hated the way our culture told us to want “stuff” and we just listened. And then I hated the way I started wanting stuff too. But then it became normal. And now I have trouble remembering what the Kingdom feels like. And I have trouble longing for Jesus.

The reality is that I don’t have to go back to Thailand to experience it again. I can experience it right here in my own neighbourhood. But first I have to get back to the place where I die to myself, and I die to my own desires, and I die to all those things that I want to own and experience to make my kingdom come, and I learnthat’s when I’ll come alive, and that’s when I’ll get to experience God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Having tasted and seen, I know that there’s nothing better. That’s what I long for.

Revisiting Chapter Two

A year and a half ago I sat in the airport crying as I was waiting to board one of three flights that would take me to Thailand. Despite my excitement to go, I was actually pretty scared, and at the last moment I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave my family for 6 months and move yet again. I listened to the same song on my iPod over and over (for increased dramatic effect) wiping away tears as curious passengers looked at me with pity. When my body didn’t move during the boarding call I considered not getting on the plane. But then I coaxed myself out of my chair and made a promise that I would at least fly to Toronto and take it from there.

A coffee from Tim Horton’s seemed to do the trick, and once in Toronto I boarded the plane to Beijing with more excitement than nervousness. Partway through my flight, however, I began to question why I was actually going to Thailand, and wondering if it was a smart decision. Suddenly I wanted to get off the plane, but I was 6 hours in to a 13 hours flight. Shoot.

And then I got to Beijing where I was greeted by the most chaotic airport security in my life. At that point all I wanted to do was sleep, which is what I did during most of the 6 hour flight to Bangkok.

But then I was in Thailand, and the moment I stepped outside of the ice-cold airport into the warm, spicy 2am air, I was in love. I was at home. It was exactly how I pictured it.

One year ago today I left Thailand and began life in a new reality. In Bangkok I spent 6 months dancing on a mountain top, running wild with hope, and living in complete joy and trust. I felt more like Natalie than I ever have.

And though it’s been hard to get that Natalie back, I know that it’s not possible to live on the mountain top. We walk out our lives in the valley, with the vision that we gained on the mountain. I spent much of this past year wondering where that vision went, and wondering what it’s supposed to look like in this context. I can’t tell you that I actually know, but I’m learning to find grace for myself and to regain all of the joy and trust that I had when I was in Thailand. It’s definitely a long and hard journey, but I’m believing that it will be one with great rewards.

My Most Memorable Trip

In early July, just weeks before leaving Asia and coming back to Canada, I travelled to Laos for a week. It was my first solo adventure and by far the most memorable trip I’ve ever taken.

Lao PDR

It started in Vientiane, the capital of this small country that borders the north of Thailand, where I reunited with La, a girl I met at a bus stop in Vancouver 2.5 years ago. Three days later I hopped on a plane to Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage city in the north of Laos, with no agenda whatsoever.

I spent 35 of the 45 minute flight holding hands with the Laotian woman beside me who was scared to death of flying and didn’t speak a word of English. As we landed in the jungly north and she finally released her grip on me, I told her one of the few phrases I could say in Thai (which is similar to Lao): “Phra Jiaow wei pon” or “God bless you.” She looked at me strangely, either because I said it wrong (most likely) or because Laos is a closed country, where according to law people cannot bring religion outside of the (government-run) church.

Since I didn’t plan a single aspect of this trip, I had no idea where I was going to stay. While standing at the baggage claim I found the friendliest-looking people on my flight and asked if I could share a taxi with them to their guesthouse.

My Guesthouse

Bryan and Paris, a gay couple of from Nashville, and Suphanee (Sue), their American-born Laotion friend invited to me hop inside their 15 passenger van, which had been rented by Paris’ extended family (also an American-born Laotian who was making his first-ever trip to Laos).

His aunts and uncles chatted excitedly in their native tongue and passed around a bag of bacon-flavoured dried shrimp, which I politely declined. When we arrived at the guest-house I was offered a room straight across the hall from my new friends, who graciously invited me to “hang out with [them] the whole time!”

Since I’m an introvert, I knew that having company for the entirety of my solo adventure wouldn’t bode well with me. So I joined them for a traditional meal at a restaurant down the road, became slightly intoxicated by the 640 mL bottle of Beerlao I drank (if you’ve been to Laos you know how it goes: drink the beer, buy the shirt), and sauntered back to my guesthouse in the sweltering heat for a much-desired nap, snapping photos of the Mekong River along the way.

National Beer of Lao PDR

The beauty of Luang Prabang is that with so many adventurous backpackers strewn throughout the city, it’s easy to make friends with a random person at a temple and share a meal with them by the riverside.

Abby and I met at the top of Mount Phousi, a temple that overlooks the city. (I’ve never been so hot and sweaty as I was climbing to the top of the hill). We, along with 50 others, seated ourselves toward the western sky and watched the sun set over the Mekong River. (Unfortunately the battery in my camera died at that point – but I figure those are the types of pictures that are better taken with your mind).

The Mighty Mekong River

As she told me her story it sounded quite similar to my own. At 25 years old, after living in California for her undergrad and an entry-level career, she was about to move home to Illinois and take up residence in her parents’ house for the next several months, a season I had recently (and gratefully) ended.

She told me some of her fears and concerns, which were precisely the kind of struggles I faced living under my parents’ roof as an adult. This was the first time I had thought about living with my parents in a long time. Thailand had captivated me the moment I stepped into the warm, spicy air, leaving the memories of home far behind me.

Despite my struggles (which, let’s be honest – were largely due to pride) I could look back and say that it was a rich season filled with lots of growth. And I was tremendously thankful to my family for the support they gave me during that time.

My conversation with Abby encouraged me to start reflecting on my 6 months in Thailand. I would be back in Canada in just a few weeks and I thought this would be a good way to prepare. The next morning I grabbed my journal, headed to a bakery/café, and found a secluded corner where I could pour over the pages for a solid two hours.

I am an avid journaler, so my thick, green book – a gift from my friend Amy before I left for Thailand– was filled with roughly 4 months of memories. I read every single word and recalled all of the events and experiences that came with them. My heart was spilling with gratitude and the thought that continues to resurface in my life was loud and clear: God writes good stories.

Journal scrawlings

When I came back to Canada I was not a fan of the story that I was in. It was hard and I felt aimless and uncertain of where I wanted to be. And my natural self always equates hard with bad. But what I failed to remember is that what makes a good story is conflict.

As I sit here and soak up all of the positive and negative turns of Chapter Three, I want to realign my perspective and commit this blog to being a place where I tell good stories in every season of my life. I want to see the bigger picture, have a thankful heart, and look to the future with certainty and expectation of what’s to come as I await another great story written by the best Author I know.

นาตาลี

นาตาลี

I think that’s my name in Thai.

You don’t want to know how long it took me to find those characters on the keyboard.

And you’re probably wondering why I lived in Thailand for 6 months and didn’t learn how to write my name until this very moment.

Good question.

I just spent the evening cooking Thai food and Thai dessert but catching up on very little of my Thai homework. We’ll see how that unfolds bright and early tomorrow morning…

Faith vs. Wisdom

Faith vs. wisdom.

These are the thoughts that have been stealing my peace lately, causing me to consider if I have been making decision based purely on faith and accompanied by very little wisdom.

Wisdom (I think).

I made a decision to withdraw from my post-grad program less than 2 weeks ago, based on wisdom (I think. But I don’t know. Now I wonder if it’s based on “lack of commitment.”)

When I decided to apply for the E-Publishing program back in April/May, I thought that it suited my interests and skill set. It didn’t matter to me that because of my step of faith to go to Thailand I was owing some money to the Bank of Mom and Dad. I had faith that when I returned to Canada I would be able to find a job that would not only pay for my rent, tuition, books, and software, but also allow me to pay my outstanding fees back to my parents by June 2012.

Clearly that was a wee bit idealistic. Leading me to believe that sometimes I substitute faith for ignorance. Maybe? I don’t know.

I understand that education is an investment and some debt shouldn’t terrify me the way that it does, however it wasn’t just the money that made me reconsider school. In the end I felt that although a few of the courses would be both beneficial and interesting to me, a number of them were irrelevant. I just couldn’t understand how php and SQL and database design would fit into the grand scheme of my end goal.

I would be working full days, going to school 4 hours a night from Monday to Thursday, in addition to all day Saturday AND 2 online courses. I wondered when the heck I was going to find time to do the things I wanted to, like join the Thai Association of Ottawa or host a Beth Moore study, or get involved in my church, or join a sport, or HAVE A LIFE.

I know that this program will enhance my skills and get me a job, but the clincher was that I just don’t know that it’s going to get me the job that I want. And if I end up working in ministry, that debt is going to take a lot longer to pay off.

I decided that the program wasn’t going to yield the desired results, and so I withdrew.

And then today I started having doubts. And it wasn’t so much that I regret withdrawing. It’s moreso that I’m annoyed with myself for not following through with something I declared that I wanted months ago. And I said it with a Don Miller-inspired gusto, which means a lot if you know how much I love Don.

And so then I began to wonder if I’m a commitment-phobe who needs to “stick with the program” (as my dad so lovingly told me last night) and get a job and stay in one place. Happily ever after, the end.

Yeesh.

When I looked back at my story I saw faith written through it. Faith that took me to British Columbia, and then on tour with Beautiful Unique Girl, and then to Thailand. And in all of this faith I saw a plan and a purpose. But I suppose I’m starting to doubt that now, and wondering if my decisions have been a series of one girl moving from place to place in an effort to satisfy her wanderlust, and ultimately lacking wisdom.

I seriously have no idea.

I definitely see the wisdom of staying in one place and developing roots, becoming more than someone who is merely “passing through”, but a person who can have a direct impact on their community. And I really desire that. But I don’t know if I desire that here. As I told my mom earlier today, I’m not staying in this place if things don’t move forward. I refuse to live my life working in retail.

No Regrets

When I chose to go to Thailand I did it in faith. I know this, and I don’t regret it. Nor do I regret going to Vancouver or touring with BUgirl. After I was offered the job in Bangkok I decided to turn it down because it wasn’t wise to accept a position that wasn’t going to pay a full salary. There were other people in my life that told me the same thing, and I don’t blame them. I think they’re right.

But I guess I just couldn’t shake the fact that this opportunity seemed to line up so well with where I thought my story was headed. Last summer I was hanging out with my friends Karissa and Heather when I declared boldly, “My story is taking me to Thailand!” And then I explained why I thought so. I have no idea what they thought of me at the time, maybe that I was a little over-dramatic, but it was that sense of belief that caused me to walk in faith.

And thus, I suppose that’s why I feel stuck at this intersection of faith and wisdom. I wonder what the heck Thailand was meant for if it was just a mere 6 month blip in my life. I wonder if my faith lacked wisdom, or if my wisdom lacked faith…and then I just get confused.

Because if faith and wisdom are from God, then aren’t they meant to co-exist?

Thoughts? I need answers!

Better yet, I need a counsellor.

Sincerely,

Your erratic 20-something,

Natalie