War of Words

The house was still dark and quiet when I woke up to the sound of rain. Joel was softly breathing, still deep in his sleep. I carefully slid myself out of bed, put on my faithful worn jumper and tiptoed into the kitchen. The  gentleness of the morning lingered in the air, and I breathed in the fragrance of the coffee, rich and dark. I wrapped my hands around the cup, and I sat, still, dwelling in this moment of peace and quietness.

Recently, I have been thinking about noises. We live in a fast-paced, microwave-it society. Everything is just a click away, and news travels faster than light. Everyone has an opinion, and we are quick to defend what we stand for, sometimes with unfiltered thoughts. With the conveniences of technology, we are wired and equipped to do multiple things at the same time: talking to someone while watching the news on TV and replying to a text message on the phone (Funny enough, even my husband who claims that he cannot multitask constantly does this).

I recognized that the world has changed; and what we have definitely make our lives so much easier. What would Joel and I have done during months apart if the only way to communicate was a snail mail? Or how would I keep in touch with my family in Thailand in the real-time, face-to-face conversation without Skype or Facetime? There are benefits from the digital technology, but it also has its own pitfalls. With information easily accessed on the internet, we learn more about issues that go on in the world almost firsthand. We hear about war in Syria, election in America, nuclear program in North Korea and the refugee crisis in Australia. We also hear about gay marriage protest, pro-choice campaign and euthanasia movement. We pick our interests and we choose what we stand for, based on our personal belief and life background.

However, in light of the benefits of discussion and debates, what I see these days is how entitled we are to our opinions. What I miss is the respect shown towards one another on the internet and, sometimes in person. I have heard people say, “You don’t need to respect the other’s opinion if it’s wrong,” or “This is my opinion. You either take it or leave it,” without being intentional about taking into consideration of what the other person is saying. This readiness to disregard the other person’s views is alarming. It forces us to shout louder so someone would hear and listen to what we have to say. Tragically, what I see afterwards is rude comments directed to strip the person off of his dignity or people being oppressed to keep silent because they are not loud enough.

I am troubled by what I see. There has to be a balance between the freedom of speech and respect. To be anti-politically correct, “just say it for what it is”, is not going to cut it. What is the purpose of expressing our opinions? Is it to stand for the truth? If we answer yes, then we had better define what truth is; and whether our opinions align with the truth. Often, we jump into hot debates (a better term should be “argument”) because the media or the majority of people tell us that such and such is right or wrong; and we put forth our two cents so passionately that we have forgotten why we started in the first place.

I think what we miss today is humility. Having been raised in Thai culture, we are taught to listen to the elders. Even though I realized that some elders do not act worthy of respect and their opinions are sometimes useless (and we can be hypocritical with our “respect” towards them), the practice of listening has its merits when we enter into the wider world. When we listen, we do not only gain knowledge about what is being spoken, but we get an insight and understanding about the speakers, what they are like, where they come from, and how they draw the conclusion. Listening allows us to be less judgmental and more understanding.

The scripture from James 1:19-20 from the Amplified Bible makes it clear,

Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]

James wrote this letter to the Jews who were dispersed among the Gentiles. So his message was directed to the followers of God. In the midst of troubles and challenging life circumstances, James instructed these people to live a life that would reflect the glory of God, one of which is through being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. For Christians, the standard of our lives is Christ’s love that compels us to do the impossible, including giving up our own “right” so that others may come to know His love. This may simply mean not having to win an argument, or carefully choosing words to speak, or deciding whether to say something or keep quiet. We do not always have to be right, if the desire to be right comes from pride.

I am not saying we should tolerate untruth or lies. Truth needs to be proclaimed. But often what we speak may not always be the truth. It is an opinion that is perhaps based on truth, but our own views nonetheless. Therefore, it is our responsibility to present our opinions as accurately and fairly as possible while remembering that others may view it differently, simply because we wear different “glasses”, and we just have to respect that what the other person says has values. It may go against what we are wired to do nowadays because of our entitlement to a lot of things, but for Christians, there is a higher purpose. Christ did not die so we can battle in war of words. He died so we can be reconciled to God. He died so we can live as a witness of His love. If what we say is not edifying the body of Christ, perhaps we should take a vow of silence for a break.

A friend of mine once said to me, “Mink, I look forward to the time when we are old, when we both will sit on rocking chairs with a cup of tea in our hands and recall all the things we have done in our lives.” I still remember his words because it paints a picture of simplicity and of peace. One day, we will be old and our voices will be just whispers in the wind. One day we will die and no one will care whether or not we vote for the legalisation of gay marriage or euthanasia. What people will remember is how we treat them; how we show them respect, honor and dignity. The world will not remember our words. They will remember our deeds.


“Do It Anyway”

By the end of this week, I will have completed my three weeks in Australia. People often ask me how my transition goes, and I usually (and genuinely) say fine. I do not really enjoy the weather, but I can cope with lots of blankets, jackets, socks, hot drinks and cuddling with my husband. I mostly have no troubles understanding people when they speak English to me since I have been using it regularly. Our housing situation is adequate and efficient at this stage, thanks to our kind friends. I am on a job hunt and it seems to go well. I have not gotten homesick (yet). And Joel and I are back together, readjusting and relearning about each other, which is awesome. Mostly, I am fine.

But then there are deeper things. Mainly, the matter of the heart. Having been here for almost a month, I realised that the novelty of the newness is starting die away. The weather conversation is getting old, seeing that it is always cold in Canberra. The excitement of being in a new culture is being replaced with nervousness as I am phasing out of the vacation period and entering into the real life – getting into a routine, making new friends and trying to find my place and a sense of belonging here.

I do realise that there is a place for me here, that God has brought Joel and I here for His purposes. But to feel like one truly belongs does not happen over a night or in a month. It takes time, determination and courage to invest in establishing a life here. One aspect of life is relationship. It is challenging, to say the least, to enter into a place where everyone knows everyone else, and you are still trying to match names with faces (and my husband does not make it easier since he knows probably the whole congregation). In the youth meeting tonight, when we talked about visiting different congregations and started to drop names of people and places that are foreign to me, my mind was getting foggy and wandering into other trains of thoughts irrelevant to what was being discussed. When you are a new kid in the block, there is uncertainty as to how people are going to receive you. With that comes insecurity.

From my outer appearance, I may seem capable of holding conversations, but that is the byproducts of having moved around in the past few years and of marrying to an outgoing person like Joel. Though I feel nervous inside every time I enter into a new building or talk to a new person, I have learned to be friendly and approachable. But what I really crave, and which allows me to strive and thrive best, is a deep relationship with someone – that kind of relationship that involves understanding and history that goes way back, like when you look into someone’s eye, you know what he/ she is thinking. But to acquire that, I gotta be bold. Yet to be bold, I have got to overcome all my insecurities and wondering.

So one night I prayed that God would show me how to be bold. The phrase “do it anyway” jumped up at me. It was the theme I picked up from church last Sunday through stories of Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer, of Micah the prophet and of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We know the story from Acts 16, how Paul and Silas converted the jailer, but the point Joel talked about was how they did not run away when they could have (the angel even told them to) in order to ascertain that the jailer would not be punished or kill himself, which consequently led to his salvation. They could have run but they stayed anyway. The sermon was focused on the life of Micah the prophet, and how he went about proclaiming God’s message. I was reminded of how many other prophets of Yahweh did the same thing, and ended up in a trench like Jeremiah or Ezekiel. They were confronted with hunger, suffering and shame, but they did it anyway. Later, during the bible study, we explored how the church was like at the time Paul wrote the letter, and why his exhortation was so intense and emotional. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote about his hardship and how he continued to serve the Lord in “great endurance”, “in distress”, or “in sleepless nights and hunger”. He could have done other things in life considering his quality, but Christ’s love compelled him. In fact, what is a better example than Jesus  who could have saved Himself, yet He gave His life as a ransom to many, including me. All these people “did it anyway” regardless of the costs. Why? Because they loved the Lord.

My situation is not as extreme, but the core message can be applied. God calls me to live for and serve Him, period. Our purpose – Joel’s and mine – is to make Him known in whatever we do and wherever we live. However, I will not be able to do that unless I start being bold.  So besides getting through the culture shock (which will eventually pass), I have decided to overcome my insecurity by doing “it” anyway. Instead of waiting for someone to talk to me, I will try to initiate the conversation even though a voice may be shouting in my head, “who are you to speak? you are just a newcomer! they’ll eventually lose interest of you.” (Believe me, this voice is real.) When a negative though comes into my mind, I will brush it aside and pray. When I doubt in my existence and purpose here, I will look to my husband and know that this is where I belong. This is where we will take root and call home.

Loving God can be expressed in many shapes and forms, whether through being committed to a church, feeding the poor, encouraging the downcast, giving money to those in need, singing songs, playing sports, teaching His word, you name it. We do all this in obedience to Him regardless of the costs because we love Him. At this stage of my life, the expression of my faith may not be as “heroic” as I wanted it to be, but the obedience to do “little things” like initiating conversation or overcoming negativity is my mustard seed. I hope God will make it grow.


In Canberra

Well it has been six days since I arrived in Canberra. Before I left, there was a lot of nerve, excitement, sadness and happiness. I was on an emotional roller coaster. I was even worried that the immigration in Sydney would not let me enter into the country. Illegitimate fear, because everything was smooth from the moment I boarded the plane until the moment I ran into Joel’s arm. The experience was surreal. We both had been waiting for this moment for a year; and it happened. God is good.

We spent a few days in a coastal town called Kiama, which was relaxing and a great way to get reacquainted with each other. Kiama is a quaint little town with lots of great coffee shops and stunning views. Right across from our motel is a park where we took a walk and went on the swing at night. The weather was a bit chilly but mostly sunny and nice. We could walk around in our tank tops and thongs during the day, but I had to have my winter gear on at nighttime. We visited the blowhole, went on a long drive to Kangaroo valley, caught new Pokemon, drank coffee, ate really good Indian and Mexican food and watched Olympic games. It was a low key vacation but a really refreshing one.

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As fun as the time in Kiama was, we both were ready to come back to Canberra. We definitely enjoyed the vacation (and thanks to our friends from church for gifting us with the pocket money and the hotel room), but Canberra is where we belong. Joel and I are excited to begin our normal life together as a couple…to finally settle here.

My first impression of Canberra is its bigness. Everywhere I have lived in, whether it is Bangkok, Chiang-Mai or Tauranga, the distance from a place to the other is relatively short. Having driven around town with Joel these past two days, I realized how spread this city is. It takes at least 30 minutes to go from one suburb to the other. Though it definitely takes longer in Bangkok to go somewhere, there is always something to look at. Here, there are lots of trees and road. Hence the name “the Bush capital”.

Admittedly, this is not the city I immediately fall in love with. The city itself was built to be the capital. So everything seems functional and has its purpose, but there is not much artistic influence on the architecture here, except the parliament house and the war memorial as far as I have seen. It is, thus, understandable that I do not feel drawn to it straight away because all of the cities I had lived in before are major destinations. Yet Canberra is now my home. God has brought Joel and I here to build a family, to serve His people and to expand His kingdom. We hope that this city will gradually grow in my heart, especially when I start developing routines, making friends and creating memories.

So this is where we are at right now. Joel is going back to work next week. I will start applying for jobs. Once we have another solid income coming in, we will begin to look for a house of our own. It feels good to be able to start planning again. With all that we have been through, we have learned that God is faithful. We are taking confidence in His words found in Proverbs 16:1-3

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue. All a man’s ways seem innocent to him,  but motives are weighed by the Lord. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”


It is the Sharpie Kind of Day

Recently, I started using sharpie pens to express my frustration and anger in my journal. Its bold and thick ink seems to represent my emotions in constant turmoil. This is a new habit, and I don’t always do it. But today is the sharpie kind of day.

Without going into nasty details, let’s just say that Joel and I both left our texting conversation stressed and probably heart broken. Sometimes I wonder how ugly and hateful my words and reaction can be when I profess to love my husband so much. After we reached two-month mark of being apart, it seems like I have been possessed by a demon. My mind goes mental that results in me spewing words aimed to bring Joel down with me. And I blame this separation for causing the tension. But is it really the cause? If I were with Joel, would not we still have this crazy cycle? To be honest, I think we would still argue.

Our age old issues always have to do with time, space and priority. I tend to blame my husband for not giving me enough time, or not prioritising me while he tends to respond, “I have not the whole day for you, love.” Usually, as you can imagine, it is ensued with vehement argument, bitter words and remorseful apology later on in the day. Often, 99% of the time, I start the fight. For some reasons, we struggle to really hear what the other person is saying. He doesn’t feel like I respect him. And I don’t feel like he loves me.

To be honest, I think my problem goes much deeper than what comes onto the surface. Pride and distrust are my companion, and I try to micro manage my own life based on these two flawed characteristics. I try to control what happens in both of our lives, which is impossible. I am living in a constant hope to be somewhere else instead of focusing on here and now. With these came a sense of despair because nothing is really going my way.

After trying to swallow my tears at breakfast, my friend “Anna” said, “First off, remember you are two kilometres away. Second, remember you are not mental. Your point is as valid as his. You just gotta be intentional in working through it together as a couple.” 

The first was the reference to the story of a swimmer who has been swimming across oceans (this is my vague memory of a true story I read from somewhere), and gives up just a few kilometres away shy from the finished line. Basically, Anna was reminding me that our dream to be together is going to happen soon. The wait is almost over. Do not despair. Second, I was reminded that what we go through, however monumental the struggles may feel, is normal for married couples. I am not a weirdo and Joel doesn’t hate me. We just gotta step back, take a look at the real problems and be intentional about solving them together. 

This marriage business is messy and yet beautiful. When we decided to become one, it is not just sex and skin on skin. It is day-to-day grind of boring detail in life. It is handling each other’s heart gently and lovingly because the lips that say the marriage vow and caress each other’s cheeks are the same lips that stab our spouse’s heart. It is choosing to act on love with humbleness because you know so well you are nothing without each other. 

So the same sharpie I used to pound words with anger early on is the same one I scribbled with thankfulness in my heart for who Joel is and what he means to me in this life. It doesn’t matter how many times we fight, I still choose Joel. 


Just to Unload

*Disclaimer – this post is purely self-indulgent. It is a rant. You can ignore this altogether; or just be entertained by the jokes in my life. 



This week has been absolutely terrible. If there is any time I feel lonely, it is now.

Same old news. There’s no progress on the visa. This is the last month they told me to expect my case to be processed. I still haven’t heard anything. It has been 2 months since I was last with Joel. Yesterday, I was in a minor car accident that somehow left me shaking. The package I sent to Joel was rejected and returned, all the way from Australia. And i. just. want. my husband. But he isn’t here.

Often I wonder if this is all but a joke. Why did we get married only to end up living separately? What is the purpose of all this? Did we get punished because we rushed into marriage? People told me that I will one day see. And I believe them. I just can’t see anything clearly right now.

I am in a world of pain, bitterness, anger and resentment. Holding on in the midst of the storm has taken a toll on me. And I’m exhausted. I’m tired of waking up every morning thinking this will be the day. Im tired of having to go to sleep without Joel on the other side of the bed. I have been postponing appointments or saying no to permanent commitment here because I thought it could be any day now. Well, jokes on me. I’m still here and not with Joel.

I know you guys are praying for me. For us. Please continue. I am just discouraged, lonely, and at the verge of giving up. I am stuck in this waiting pit. And I’m weary of trying to work out this long distance relationship. I know we aren’t meant to be apart. It’s just hard to be positive right now.


Goughs’ June Update

So today marks the 46th day since Joel and I have said goodbye at the airport; and is almost the completion of the 11th month since we submitted my partner visa application on August 1, 2015. It has been one of the most grueling wait we have had to deal with, but the good news is we are nearing the end.

Just a bit of update on us

Joel

Right now, Joel is living with a family of seven – three adults, three children and a dog in Canberra. They are willing to have Joel (and me, once I get my visa) to stay there for six months if we need to. It is incredible to experience this level of generosity. We are very thankful that God continues to provide for us through His people.

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Joel and his mates

Joel has been working at his home church since he went back as an evangelist. His job involves organizing youth events, looking for opportunities to serve in the community, setting up bible studies, etc. He has been teaching youth bible classes and preparing them for the “Bible Bowl”. From what Joel told me, it is  a competition based on different books in the Bible. This time, they are doing Micah. They are serious about it! Joel has also been able to reconnect with his old friends and build new relationships. The busy schedule is definitely good for him.

As the church work is part-time, Joel had been applying for a second job. Last Friday, one of the schools Joel applied for as a chaplain called him for an interview, which was successful and leads to the second interview this Thursday (tomorrow). It would be a huge blessing for us to get this job as it would establish a firmer foundation for our family when I move there.

One of the things that concerned me the most when he left was his health. Since the beginning of the year, he has been intentional in cutting out unnecessary food items such as soda and energy drink, cream and ice-cream and any fatty junk food. While in Thailand, Joel had lost 7 kilograms due to heat and diet. We wanted to keep the momentum going. Knowing that there is sausage roll, pies and his favourite ice-coffee there, we made an agreement that he would look after his health and eat with moderation. Well, he has done that and more.

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Joel’s stir-fry vegetables and beef

He has been cooking stir-fry veggies with some meat or steak and roasted vegetables. This may sound normal to you, but it is a huge milestone for me because 1) Joel never bought vegetables. Whenever we shopped, I was the one at the veggies section 2) He now enjoys cooking using fresh produce! In our first year of college, before we even dated, his kind of food involved Indian takeaway, frozen meals and pasta sauce powder (you know the kind you add milk to it and it turns into a “Carbonara”). Obviously, this means a lot to me because all I want for Joel is for him to stay healthy so he can strongly serve God and be with me for as long as possible. In addition to cooking, Joel recently started playing squash twice a week. Hopefully, his goal to weigh under 100kg by the end of this year will actually happen.

Mink

As for me, I am living with my family. Including me, there are five of us altogether – mom, three daughters and my brother-in-law. We do not have pets but we have a regular poodle who prances into our house like his own. Life for me is not as exciting as Joel although there are moments of joy and challenges.

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Making a Thai dessert “Bua Loy” with the children. Messy but fun.

I am currently tutoring five Thai-American children, from age 5-12. Their father is Thai and mother is American. I met them at my home church here. This family has also been very kind to me. Tutoring these children has given me much-needed income, yes, but it also has been a joy getting to know each of them better. It is very rewarding to see their eyes sparkle when something clicks in their minds. And, of course, nothing beats the sweet hugs and kind words that they keep pouring down on me. God knows I need it because separation, however temporary, from Joel is hard. This family nourishes my soul and brightens my days. Also, I just started tutoring Thai to a Canadian lady on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well. So my days are not super full but there is something for me to do each day. For that, I am thankful.

My highlight from living at home is definitely reconnecting with my family. I have been gone from home since 2008. Eight full years! Of course, I visited them as often as I could but they were not the same as living in. I missed a lot of important moments during those years like graduations, moving house, birthdays, and so on. So it is so enriching to immerse myself in cultivating relationship with them again – to hear their pain, to rejoice with their success, to deal with ongoing issues day-in, day-out, and to pray over and for them with insights. If anything, God is using this time for me to strengthen and be strengthened by my family.

The lowlight is definitely being apart from Joel. I never thought separation would be this hard. I know I should not complain because many couples had to go through this period of separation. Yet each couple is not the same. We both feel it physically and emotionally. It has been worse for me (always) since the days seem longer and this period of waiting seems to go on forever. I have struggled with depression on and off – feeling demotivated, wanting to lay in bed all day, crying lots and being paranoid about everything. It does not happen all the time, thankfully; but when it hits, it is full-on.

What I do to deal with this is to exercise. I have been working out with T25 program, which provides a focused and intensive exercise for 25 minutes every day. Not only is it helpful to me mentally, it is also physically beneficial. Since I left to study in New Zealand, I had gained 7 kilos in total, bringing me back with 71 kgs. when I landed in Bangkok in January. I knew that if I did not start taking care of myself, and retreated to my “eating therapy”, I would be on my way to obesity. Since I started this three weeks ago, I have gradually lost 3 kilos. I feel better about myself. The workout is something I look forward to and it does give me a sense of achievement when there is not much to achieve, except to wait around here.

Us

This is our second time being apart. The first was for about two weeks when Joel’s dad passed away. So we learned a bit how we interacted to times of separation. Joel’s primary love language is physical touch and mine is quality time. Apparently, distance does not permit us to fulfill any of these easily. So we resorted to words of encouragement, and we do the best we can to communicate to each other how much we care and love the other person. It is a challenge, really, because all we have got to work with is our iPhone screens (and the “snail mail”, but it takes too long).

With the help of technology, we are able to keep in touch daily through messaging and Facetiming. It was more challenging in the beginning as our schedules were so uncertain. With Joel being busier and still trying to get into a routine, I tended to think that he prioritized his work and people there more than me (which I know is not true). After two weeks and lots of conversation and prayer, we have come to a place where we agree upon. We set a time to talk face to face every other day. Otherwise, we text. This seems to be the fairest way, and it has worked pretty well.

Long-distance relationship is a delicate thing. There can be so many things going through one’s head that can raise suspicion and doubt because of one’s insecurity. We have had to learn to wholeheartedly trust the other person; and ultimately to trust God to take care of each other because we simply cannot do it. It has been a long and hard road, but it is worthwhile because we have uncovered the new dimension of our relationship. It is much easier to stay committed and be pleasant when you are around each other. It takes guts, courage and selflessness to lay every feeling at God’s feet and say, “Lord, do unto it as You will.” When we do that, He has honoured us. He has strengthened our relationship and tightened our bond. Yes, we are stronger together because God unites us as one, wherever we are.

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Walking along the famous beach at the Mount in Tauranga, New Zealand

Visa update

There are two stages for this visa application. We are at the end of stage one. I have been assigned a case officer. They already asked for additional documents and are now assessing my application. The next step is an interview. I have been waiting for this phone call for almost a month now. We hope it takes place soon. Then, they may ask for more documents if necessary. Finally, they will inform me of the decision. This should happen by the end of July as we will have reached the 12th month, which is the standard processing time. So hopefully everything will go smoothly for us from now on.

If I get the visa, I will be given a temporary partner visa, which allows me to live and work in Australia for two years. Then they will reassess my case; and if satisfied, they will give me the permanent visa. During this time, I can travel to and from Australia, which is awesome because my sister is getting married next year and I want to be here when it happens.

If I don’t get the visa, we do have different alternatives in mind, but because everything is still up in the air, it is best to not discuss them right now. Our eyes are fixed on Australia at the moment. And we pray hard that it will happen soon.

Thank you for having read it this far. We appreciate you taking interest in our life stories and supporting us in ways we never imagined we would be given. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to pray for us, will you?

Joel and Mink


The Power of Prayer

I am laying on the couch while listening to the Christmas music. I am one of those people who like to play Christmas music when I need something comforting, something warm and fuzzy. The tune and lyrics of Joy to the World or O Holy Night do not only transport me back to my initial years of being a Christian , when I fell heads to toes with God, but they still draw me to my knees after all these years. It does not matter how battered or bruised I am, these songs resurrect a longing within me. I might have been hunched over by weary loads of life before but, after spending time in the presence of God, my weight is lifted; and though I am still hunched over, it is the liberation of my soul to stay in the posture of worship. 

I remember that I wrote my last post with anguish and anxiety. Since then, I decided to enter into disciplined routine, where I would spend some time at night reading the bible and praying for my husband and the things on my heart. I know it should be a given to do this but, when stress gets a better hold of me, I usually drop my routine and mull over anxiety. This time, though, God has given me 2 words – be still and quiet. 

When I can’t do anything anymore about my visa, pray. When I realised there’s a rift in my family, pray. When loved ones bicker and fight, pray. When I miss Joel and I can’t have and hold him, pray. And He said, “Do all this in quietness and trust.” It has been better for sure, but not in the way we often think. I did not go to God and twist His arm to do what I wanted. I pray because there is nothing better I can do.

Yes, we should put hard effort in what we do, but prayer changes us – how we think, perceive and how we do things. In the book “the power of a praying wife”, there is a part that talks about asking God to change us, wives, instead of asking for Him to change our dear husbands. I know many women would be pulling their hair when they read this statement just because it is not fair (I hear you, ladies). But the author made it clear that life is not fair. Instead, we might be better off if we focus on character building.

This applies to life in general too. We pray because we know we can be more like Jesus through prayer. Since we are made in the image of God, each person has a potential to increase in Christlikeness. But we must tap into the power that brings transformation. This is the moment we don’t only bend down on our knees but stay there asking God to help us become a better person when things get rough.

For you who are followers of Christ, I want to commend you for running the race faithfully. Let us be standing before God with our chest heaving from enduring the race and knees hardened from long hours we spend on the floor. Let us be ready to hear the voice say, “well-done, GOOD and FAITHFUL servant,” as we enter into eternity.

***Just a bit of update here – this past week we heard from the immigration finally. The visa is being looked at. An officer asked me for more documents, for which I already provided. So now we wait. I think we might hear from them again soon one way or the other. Please be praying for us. Thanks.


Is the Bible College a Mistake?

There is a question that persistently invades my mind. Since I have been back home for four months, failing to achieve anything significant at age 32, I have wondered if leaving my job at Compassion and going to the Bible College was a mistake.

In my head, I know it is not a mistake. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. My worldview has been widened. My understanding of God has been deepened. I have witnessed firsthand how a church should function, and how I can be a part of such church. To top it all off, I met the man of my dreams and got married at one of the most enchanted and magical places in the world. It was never a mistake. I left New Zealand on such a high note, with the idea of being the best person I could be in order to change the world. The applause, the flashing of camera, the speech, the glamorous dress and the certificate were the signs of success that I was proud of.

Yet in my heart, I doubted, because four months later, I found myself weeping on a faded couch in my stripey tank top and grey shorts with Joel sitting quietly, trying to comprehend what was wrong with his wife. The thing is – the strain of the effort to make a living and the arduous waiting period for my visa have got a better hold of me. Since I came back, I have been hopping between jobs as a freelancer trying to earn bits of money here and there, but it was not enough to cover two people’s expenses. Joel and I had to sacrifice in our own ways – him leaving the secure job in Australia to be with me while I had to put myself out there and find a way to earn this elusive income.

At the end of April, we had to make another momentous decision. As we were running out of money we had saved, Joel needed to get back to Australia to start work in order to support me and prepare for my arrival later on. Being separated this time is much harder because we have no idea how long we are going to have to wait. Joel, being the positive-minded person, always said, “You could hear from them tomorrow!” to which I scoffed, “Or perhaps in three months or more.” Our hope has been like mist, it hovers heavily on our mind but then it lifts and disappears. Day in. Day out.

Now I feel lost. I feel like I have been stranded in this place without a clear direction. My husband and I are apart. I have no full-time job. And I am waiting as I have always been  since August 1,  2015, when I submitted my partner visa application. I have begun to lose my self confidence and self respect as I am sitting around the house, doing a bit of work here and there while the rest of my family is chasing their dreams and climbing towards their goals. This waiting around makes it difficult to put my feet in the ground and say, “I am here to stay. Bring it on,” because deep down in my heart I know that I will leave again.

Someone recently asked me, “What do you see yourself doing in terms of a ministry in the future?” All I could really come up with was, “My grandest plan right now is to be settled in a home, in a community, where I can interact with people and take roots there.” Since the beginning of my Christian journey, I have always wanted to be a missionary. My idea of mission work has developed over years but one thing that remains the same is that it has to be lifelong. I want to get to know the people living next door to me. I want to invite them over for dinner and hear their stories. I want to introduce them to God. And I want to raise my children up to be the followers of Jesus.

So there is a dilemma for me – to pursue my worldly goals or God’s goal? Last Sunday, while reading the story of Jonah, Jonah 1:13 caught my attention. It was when Jonah told the men to cast him off the boat because he was the cause of the storm, but they refused. Instead, they were trying to row back to land with their own strength, yet they  could not because the sea was getting wilder. Finally, they had to submit and throw Jonah into the sea as God wanted them to.

In a way, I have tried to steer my own little boat with my own strength. My eyes are trained on the worldly prize, and I measure my success based on what everyone else thinks. But it is not fair. Sure, going to the bible college meant putting my life on hold. I was advancing in my career but I decided to advance in the knowledge of God. And, boy, did I strive and learn! It is definitely not wrong to doubt about my decision but the experiences are incomparable. What I did at work with Compassion and what I had learned at the Bible College have shaped my belief and passion in ministry – justice and mercy administered in daily life.

So to answer the initial question – no, going to the bible college was and is NEVER a mistake. It was a rich experience that challenged and nurtured my faith through hard work and loving support. It is just this period of waiting in quietness that tests my faith and trust in Him. It is definitely easy to take the self-pity road because that is what I have been doing.But a friend of mine sent me a message, encouraging me to look for ways to hear God even in the storm. She reminded me of Elijah’s story – how he searched for God in the earthquake and in the storm. Yet, to his surprise, it was in the “still small voice” that he found Him.

So I press on in trying to see where God is leading me and what He wants me to do. I do not want to waste away my precious time here in Thailand with pitiful thoughts. I want to rise up and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

I may be on a desert road. I may have been forced to walk in loneliness and silence. Yet I am not alone. There is a place of rest and reward at the end. I must keep walking, and not giving up on hope.

 


The Man in the Shadow

It was around 7 o’clock. The night was balmy. The street was lively with commercial neon lights, fast scooters and tourists. The smell from food stalls wafted into the air, inviting many hungry people to stop for a bite. Joel and I were walking hand-in-hand along this busy street of Chiang-Mai that has become home to so many. Then I spotted him – a man with hair like a bird’s nest wearing dark grey-green shirt, tattered shorts and no shoes. In the midst of the vibrant community, this bearded man stood still in the middle of the road, lost in the world he was trapped in. He was a man in the shadow. People looked at him but passed him by. No one stopped to speak to him. No one had the courage to. And I was one of them.

We were on the other side of the road. When I spotted him, I pointed him out to Joel, who quickly asked if we wanted to see if he was doing okay. Instead of saying yes, I hesitated. You see, the culture that I have been raised in paints a stereotypical image for the homeless – dirty and dangerous. As Joel prodded me for the answer, my fear gradually increased. “What if he attacked us,” a voice in my head sneered. So slowly and hesitantly, we walked away from the man in the shadow.

The silence between us as we strode home was so loud that even my attempt to chitchat was futile. We both knew what we should have done. Had this happened in New Zealand, while we were at the bible college, our response would have been much different. Somehow the strain of trying to survive and fear implanted by cultural misconception had gotten a better of me. Finally, I asked Joel, who had been quiet for a long time, “What are you thinking?”  He replied, “Nothing really. Just that guy.” I looked at him and knew that he was hurting for the shadow man. So with conviction, I made up my mind. We held hands and almost ran back to the way we had come from.

With eyes like a hawk, Joel spotted him easily enough as he was making his way to the other side of the road. We followed him as quickly as we could until we saw him stop. It was in front of a closed restaurant. He was staring at the food pictures on display while his hand instinctively went over his stomach. The man was hungry, and I was afraid he would attack me earlier! Since I can speak Thai better than my husband, I had to be brave and talk to him.

“Excuse me,” I said shyly at first. The man was startled that someone noticed him.

“Are you hungry?”

He shook his head silently. Then he nodded.

“Do you want us to go get you some food? You could even come with us,” I was a bit more keen to talk now.

But that made him scared, “Um, no, um, I’m not hungry anymore.”

After a few attempts to offer with him halfheartedly trying to walk away, we decided to just go and grab him some noodle in hope that he would still be there where we left him.

We ran to the restaurant, ordered swiftly, and ran back….only to be greeted by silence and darkness. He was gone. My heart could not contain the guilt, the shame and the pain of seeing this God-sent man being so alone anymore. It was there in the shadowy street and in my tears my heart opened up to the Lord. The scripture from Matthew 25 came up to my mind, “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

This poor man with matted hair and dirty clothes was not dangerous but much-loved and highly valued by Jesus. The words from my husband and another Australian teacher, Stuart Penhall, rang loudly in my mind (and I’m paraphrasing), “It is so much easier to love and serve people like ourselves, but how many of us REALLY care about people on the margin, those who don’t seem to fit anywhere in the society?” When our comfort and safety are at stake, what is our reaction? Are we willing to dispense ourselves for the sake of the Gospel? How has God’s redemptive power transformed us and prodded us on to act righteously and administer love and mercy? The true test of our faith is not in a church or a classroom, but it is in the dark alleyway with a homeless man.

Thankfully, the story of the shadow man did not stop there. Joel insisted that we kept looking around. We asked a street vendor, looked into a shady corner, and walked the length of the street to make sure that we did not miss him. At last, when it was near our apartment, I suggested we ran past the main road one more time “just in case”. I felt despair because I realized that we probably had lost the opportunity to feed this homeless man. The noodles and water in my hand were going cold. So I prayed for God to guide us to him and to forgive me for my hesitance and fear. Then I heard Joel’s voice excitedly, “I saw him!” There he was, just like before, bare feet and tired. So I called out to him in Thai, “Pi Ka,” meaning “brother” and gave him the bag of food and water. He looked surprised, smiled and walked away. In that moment, like scales fell from my eyes, I saw him for who he truly is – a man with stories who God loves very much.

The Shadow Man’s stories are probably very different from mine. I got to come home with my husband, took a long hot shower and slept in a soft bed with air-condition whereas he was still on the street, sleeping in a dark corner somewhere. I wonder how he came to be where he was yesterday. How many more days will he have to lurk and hide? And I wonder if the gesture we showed to him would make a difference at all? If all people can do good, what makes our deeds different from any other people? Does it have to be?

Ravi Zacharias suggested that there is a sequence – redemption, righteousness and worship. When we are redeemed from the bondage of sin and death, we no longer live our lives in the same way anymore. A psalmist wrote,  “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)  God has given us a new standard of living – the one He deems “righteous.” To do righteously is to do what He tells us to do, including loving our neighbors as ourselves. The act that we do in obedience to God, therefore, is an act of worship. Joel and I believe that at the end God is going to restore all things, to make the world the way He intends it to be. God is in the business of restoration, and we are parts of His plan. Whether the deeds are big and small, we are individually responsible for our own vocation – to live out the Gospel as we are meant to do.


Inconvenient Life

We were sitting with our bowls of steamed rice and stir-fried veggies on our laps, looking at the beautiful orange sky as the sun was setting over Chiangmai city. Moving has become something we are used to by now. Two days ago we were surrounded by the sounds of roosters’ crow and dogs’ relentless bark. Now all we can hear is the loud humming of air-condition in our condo room and the cars’ engine when we step outside.

As I watched my husband shoved down the food I prepare, I was filled with gratitude for God who gave me more than I could ask for. Here we are – husband and wife, braving the world together. When we said our vows – in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth – we were not sure how life was going to be like. But almost 11 months later, we have been tested and tried in many fronts. Visa. Rejection. Prolonged wait. Death of a parent. Numeral moves cross-country and within the country. And sudden financial debt that caught us off guard. Of course, one has to wonder out loud what God is up to.

If I were to be transparent, I have been ridden with anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness, envy and depression. I felt so small in this big city where everyone else seemed to have it altogether. When I watch people’s “reel of happiness” on Facebook (not the best place to seek for comfort), I sometimes feel resentful about what the other people get to have and enjoy. My self-pity only shows me what I pathetically want to see – we are poor and homeless.

But then as I looked into my husband’s eyes at dinner, I realised that this is not too bad. This is what we signed up for when we said our vows, exchanged rings and kissed. In all circumstances of life, through the high and the low, we do not desert each other but draw strength from each other and pick the other one up when she is too weak-willed to get up. I realised that this is the richness I can never get from anyone or anywhere else. Though it is mostly painstaking and hard, God is redefining my understanding of love, life and discipleship.

You see, our marriage is based on love for each other but, deeper than that, it is the love and commitment we have for God that draws us together like a magnet. When we were single, we followed Him separately. Now when we are bound by our vows and physical intimacy, it is no longer my plan, my desire, and my future. Everything is ours. We follow God as a couple now.

As in the days of Jesus, the act of following does not ever guarantee comfort and conveniences. That is what we have been experiencing – discomfort and inconveniences. But are we exchanging this for something far more glorious? Absolutely. If there is one thing I learn while trying to get back up every time I get knocked down is this – the attitude I choose to have needs to be one that reflects the characters of the Master whom I follow. We may ask what is the purpose of going through all these troubles and maybe wonder if He has a grand plan for us here…But perhaps the one purpose He wants us to look for is to learn to trust Him in all circumstances and to display the attitude of Christ even when someone just knocked the wind out of my body.

I am thinking of the Apostle Paul – the scholar, the respected religious leader, the true nobleman of his days. His life was drastically changed as he began to follow Jesus. He was beaten, flogged, deserted, shipwrecked, imprisoned, but his attitude was humble and joyful. He wrote,

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭ESV

Paul’s secret is knowing Christ, who is his ultimate joy and life goal. It did not matter how life sucked for him, Paul seized every opportunity to tell everyone of Jesus.

I don’t think we have had anything near Paul’s experiences, let alone Jesus’. So it would be too lame of an excuse for us to say, “Give us a break. We have had it rough.” Instead, my prayer is for us to faithfully, closely, and obediently tread after the footsteps of our Lord and forefathers who were not afraid to live a life of inconvenience for the sake of the Gospel.