In Light of Recent Events, We Have A Light.

In light of recent societal events, I have much to say but I have much more to pray. I have anger and I have grief. I feel burdened and I feel disgusted. I no longer want to listen to the news. I no longer want to see the newspaper headlines. One online article after another: violence, death, injustice, hate — sorrow, brokenness, wondering. Wondering what direction this world is taking. How could we have reached such a place in time? Why can we not love one another and live in peace? Who is the next target? Where is the next target? The tidal waves keep crashing in.

I do not have the answers, but I do know the answerer. I know there is a time for everything, and I know everything includes all the joys and sorrows sweeping through the currents of this world. I do not understand the reasons, but I have faith in a hopeful purpose. In a torn and beaten world, there lies but only one creator of ultimate peace. There is but one maker of perfection and he is God, our father, who mourns for his lost and broken children. For God SO loved the world… God, whose love is jealous yet zealous, gives us freedom of choice. We have been given the liberty to choose love or to choose hate. Therefore, we must be careful not to blame God for all of the disasters and darkness nor should we solely plead for his grace and mercy.

Let us not forget we also have an enemy. The devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The devil is deceptive and masquerades himself to appear as a angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). In a sinful world, it is easy to fall into his temptations.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,which is the word of God. |Ephesians 6:10-17|

This is our call. This is our hope. Be strong in the Lord and put on his armor. We are more then conquerors. We are made in love, so we must walk in love. We must recognize our God is Emmanuel, God with us. In seasons of grief he is there. He is in the waiting and in the pain. He has equipped us for these current times. If you are here today, you are here for a reason. Rebuke the devil and remember who the true enemy is. The enemy isn’t humankind. It is not ISIS or police officers or terrorists. Our enemy isn’t made of flesh and blood. Our enemy is the one behind the power of darkness. Let us rise as sons and daughters of the victorious one and stand firm on the days of evil.

When the world around us appears to be covered in a blanket of grey clouds, let us stay focused on the one preparing to make his way through the dark sky and bring to us a new life. This may seem like a time of massacres and gun shots, but I refuse to let hate and injustice have the upper hand. Brothers and sisters, let us reach to the hopeless and lift them up. Let us sit with the grieving hearts and share the hope of Jesus Christ. The harvest is plentiful! Don’t let the workers be few. Pray for a renewed mind and ask God what purpose you have in this mess. Troubles will continue to come and come stronger, but no one and nothing will defeat the strength of God.

I hear the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of the nations… (Matthew 28:19). I have the hope. I have the faith. Let us be instruments of God making music for which the tired and weary souls will stand and rejoice in the presence of our savior. In light of recent societal events my eyes can see the pain and suffering, but beyond the clouds there lies a grander greater purpose. In light of recent societal events, my heart believes in the Light, the light that pierces through the darkness.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. |1 Corinthians 13:8-13|

 

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Time to Wake Up, Church.

To the western Church,

Our enemy, the devil, is on the move. Like a thief in the night, like a pitpocketer in the midst of a large crowd, he creeps around us. He is killing, stealing and destroying. He is on the move, and our western church is too blind to see it. If in fact she does see it, she is not standing on her solid ground. She is sinking low in the bellows of culture rather than on the rock where Christ built HIS church. She is conforming to what society has molded Truth to be rather than doing what the Word has commanded us to do. She is falling apart and suffering, and if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers. I encourage you to read the book of Revelation, “To the churches…(chapters 2-3).” The Church is fulfilling the prophecies written about ages past. Satan is entering into what has become of the body as we allow our ears to listen to his deception and our eyes to believe his actions. Dear Church, it’s time to wake up.

I have much to say in regards to recent events both on a public note and a personal note. I have much to say which may offend a few (or more than a few), but what I say I proclaim from living active world of God as I feel Holy Spirit revealing truth to me. As I write, I pray my words are not my own. I pray my words are filled with truth. I pray for God’s wisdom and I pray you receive this with an open heart. In love, I wish to share with you some concerns I have for the collective church body and the institutional churches as they find themselves in the midst of a broken world. I, too, am human, prone to wander and prone to make mistakes. Therefore, I myself am included in these struggles; as the early church began as a fellowship of believers I make a call unto all of us to once again return to the Gospel truth of what is means to be the Church of God.

A major concern I have for the Church is our misunderstanding of love. Love does not equal agreement but it does equal acceptance. Love does not equal judgement, but it does equal accountability. Love does not expect to receive anything in return, but it does require sacrifice. It does not expect sacrifice alone, but it expects compassionate sacrifice — the kind that involves vulnerability and empathy. We are all familiar with the popular “Love is patient. Love is kind.” passage of scripture. It is found in 1 Corinthians 13. I encourage you to go back and re-read it because in all those verses about love you will find that the apostle Paul only says what love IS two times. Love is patient. Love is kind. In the rest of his letter to the church in Corinth he describes what love is NOT.

Love does not envy. If we truly love as Paul describes the definition, why then do we constantly fall into the realm of comparison?  Love does not boast, so why do we post the best moments of our lives on social media but not the painful messy moments? It is not proud, yet many of the institutionalized churches are so wrapped up in their own systems and politics they cease to step out of their comfort zones and get their hands dirty. And I’m talking about more than a missions trip or a one-time out reach. I’m talking about getting our hands dirty in the way Jesus did — sitting with the leapers and being bold enough to say “go and sin no more.”  Love is not self-seeking, right? So why are churches causing division within the body? Why are people struggling to forgive where they’ve been hurt? Love is not easily angered. It keeps no records of wrong.

But there is more. We must stop being a people whose desire is to make others feel good. We must not be in agreement with homosexuality or drunkenness or adultery. Love does not delight in evil. Love rejoices with truth and the Gospel truth clearly states those patterns of living are wrong. Love, however, protects and always trusts and always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes love as the most excellent way to use our spiritual gifts as the body of Christ. Above hope, above faith, love is the greatest. As we rise up and be the Church and exercise the gifts freely given to us, we must exercise in love.

I find it concerning that this world thrives on the struggle for humanity rather than the hope of it. We would almost rather feed our minds with the stories on the news full of tragedy and destruction rather than fill our hearts with the written Word of God. Flipping through channels on TV or scrolling through our Facebook newsfeed is mindless. It takes little effort. Finding quiet time away from the hustle and bustle and reading words rather than statues or Instagram captions takes more reservation. It takes more..discipline. In a world so fast pace and on-the-go we lack spiritual discipline, which leads to a concern that the Church is losing her identity to cultural norms. I fear she is falling into worldly habits and slowly forgetting spiritual truth. Brothers and sisters, we are not of this world. We belong to Christ and Christ alone.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. |Philippians 3:20-21|

The Church needs to wake up from her slumber. This world is broken and in need of a savior. This world wants to feel good and feel hope and feel peace, but such can only be found in God. It is our job as ambassadors to know our identity and know the Gospel and live from Jesus Christ’s victory on the cross rather than to strive for it. “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate (Rick Warren).”

Christ laid a strong foundation. We are surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses, those who have run the race before us. The early Church made disciples of nations and embraced signs and wonders. They spoke with confident boldness and without any fear. They faced imprisonment and persecution but they never stopped walking in love. They never backed down. They pressed onward toward the goal of Jesus Christ. Jesus promised troubles in this world, but he also made it known he overcame the world (John 16:33). Let us not be surprised when hate and persecution is thrown our way, but let us, “rejoice inasmuch as [we] participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that [we] may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If [we] are insulted because of the name of Christ, [we] are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:13-14).”

Now is the time for us to rise, for us to reconcile, to humble ourselves and be the holy priesthood Christ calls us to be. It’s time to take back what the enemy has stollen as one body under God. It’s time to love, love tough and love for the sake of making Christ known because HIS love is unaccountable, indescribable, relentless, fire-burning, all consuming, jealous and freely given. Let us not forget what as been given and assigned to us. Let us not forget who we are and what price was paid to be made new again. May we walk worthy of our calling and stand together as an army of God, prepared for battle, with the words of the Bible tattooed on our hearts. Like a surgeons knife which cuts in order the heal, the only way to bring healing onto our nations is to cut in deep with the word of God.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. |Colossians 2:6-8|

Who’s with me, Church?

Your sister,

Ashley

Men After God’s Own Heart.

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the people. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. |Psalm 108:3-5,|

I love the book of Psalms. It’s one of my favorites. I try to read a new psalm every morning as part of my daily routine. The Psalms are so full of heart. They are raw, and they are real. They are easy to relate to because they talk about heartbreak, depression, loneliness, courage, strength and celebration. The Psalsmists depict more of an interest in how something feels rather than what something means, so reading the book of Psalms requires me to read with my heart not my mind. Though it can be challenging at times, I remind myself that it is God who dwells in my heart; surely he will relay the messages to my mind which is so full of worldly perspectives.

A man named David wrote many of the poems in the book of Pslams. David was the boy who slaid the giant with just a slingshot and a stone. After the death of Saul he was the anointed king of Israel. He was a man after God’s own heart because God knew he would do everything he wanted him to do (Acts 13:22). Oh to be like David, full of favor, full of faith. Then again, David was also a terrible sinner. He was an adulterer and a murderer. His enemies chased him into the darkest valleys where he hid in caves feeling lost and hopeless.

I relate to David in many ways. I relate to David not because I was anointed queen or because I recently returned from a safe zone in a cave, but because David lived a life of success and failure. He lived a life of joy and sorrow, strength and pain. David’s life is a timeless example reminding me that I am far from perfect and life here on earth is entangled with obstacles, challenges and temptations. Above all, I relate to David’s soul cries and praises because he was fully aware God had control over his life and fully believed in his deliverance.

I can only imagine how David felt when he killed Goliath and then again when at a place of complete turmoil he said to himself, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me (Psalm 42:5)?”  There are some days I feel like Maria Von-Trap skipping through the hills alive with the sound of music. On those days no one and nothing is strong enough to drain my tank of happiness. Some days I feel like Chuck Noland in Cast Away, completely lost and stranded. On those days I understand why he befriended a volleyball — feeling lost and confused can lead to some crazy thinking. Other days I have all the feels parallel to the ending of The Notebook. On those days I feel full of love yet heartbroken for the things lost. Some days turn into more days and more days sometimes turn into seasons. Ups and downs, twists and turns.

Success. Failure. Joy. Sorrow. Strength. Pain. Temptations and celebrations. They’re all felt in the heart. They’re all emotions and influencers of how my life is lived. I have to come to learn those feelings in the heart are gifts, even the heaviest of feelings. My Maria Von-Trap days and my empty three tissue boxes end of The Notebook days are all gifts. They’re all gifts because I know the hands from which they’ve been delivered. I know the name my praises glorify. I know the arms that hold me in the pain. I know the light that pierces the dark. I know the redemption of the one who forgives. I know the shepard who guides me. I know the voice of the one who loves me. The feelings in my heart are gifts because they open up the love and faithfulness of my God.

We live in a imperfect world and we all are imperfect people designed with the ability to feel and express emotions. I find it’s always comforting knowing we’re never alone. We’re never alone when we tap into our best Maria and sing about our favorite things. We’re never alone when all we feel we have in life is a lifeless friend named Wilson. We’re never alone ever through anything because God’s love is great. It reaches to the heavens and his faithfulness reaches to the skies. And if his love can reach the heavens it can reach into the hellish messes we find ourselves in. If his faithfulness reaches to the skies it can reach in the mere mud and muck we sluggishly trek through.

We don’t need to be perfect because God isn’t looking for perfect. God is looking for us to embrace our humanness through faith and repentance and praise. May we all be like David — in our success and failures let us praise the Lord among the nations. Let us sing his praises among the people and let his glory be over all the earth. Let’s be men and women after God’s own heart.

From one to another,

Ashley

Why Your Stories are So Important.

History has always fascinated me. I remember being a little girl and sitting on my great-grandfather’s porch listening to him share stories of horror and honor about his time serving in the second World War. I remember hearing stories about working in the Schuylkill County coal mines and learning what life was like for a middle class family during The Great Depression. One of my favorite assignments in college was when I was asked to interview a woman at a retirement village and write a biography about her life. She lived alone because her husband passed away. She was a world traveler in her younger years and was filled with beautiful stories of adventure, love and heartache. When it comes to history, I’m certainly no buff. I’m thankful for Google, especially when I need quick facts. I don’t enjoy researching all that much either, but I do enjoy listening.

I’m not so sure what it is about the past that excites me, but I could listen to stories from times of old for hours on end. The more stories I hear, the more eager I am to hear other’s stories, to hear different perspectives and different outcomes. There are always lessons to take away and wisdom to discover.

Listening to a person’s story is hearing their heart, and when the heart has permission to open up, passion, hope, love, joy, sorrow, regret, and pain pour out in abundance. And if you open your heart to soak in the emotions of theirs, I bet you will discover that even the most painful stories have beauty hidden in them.

One thing that really fascinates me about history is that each of us has our own, and we have the ability to become our own historians. In fact, I think it’s our responsibility to be historians to ourselves. If we don’t write down or record our history who will? Leave it up to professional historians and we end up getting lost in the mass mediums of our time. To some, getting lost in the masses won’t be a big deal, but life is something to cherish and to share with others. Our stories are important. They are uniquely ours yet somehow can serve as empathy in the lives of others. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time will benefit from your stories. Or, like myself, they will simply enjoy listening.

Being our own historian requires practice and the discipline of pausing to reflect on place-markers in our past. It requires reflection of our geographical location, our emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly. I recently read an article about why people are so unwilling to admit when they make mistakes in life. In the middle of the article, the author wrote:

“This is why taking inventory of our lives and our emotions is imperative and revelatory. You feel angry—why? You feel excited—why? You love to travel—why? You hate to sit still—why? Our emotions are revealing priceless things to us about our past, present and future selves…if we dare to pay attention to them. It’s a discipline and it’s also one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others.”

I think it’s important for us to remember who we were and who we have come to be. I hope in the process of doing so we find a desire to grow. I hope in the process of doing so you are honest with yourself and vulnerable in recording the truth. If you are your own historian you can be real and honest without the fear of judgement. Despite what we display on the front-lines of social media, we all have skeletons in our closets. The reality is it’s scary to show our shadows, but the truth is you are no less of a human by admitting you have wounds that need healing. The reality is it’s also ok to display your victories and accomplishments, too. We are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, but I stick along side of “honesty is the best policy.”

During my travels in Chiang Mai, I had the privilege to hear so many different stories — stories of adventure and decision making, stories of confusion and wonder, stories of loneliness and love. I have been blessed and encouraged by each and every one of them. I am thankful they entrusted me with their stories and allowed me to be a part of the current chapter in their life. I hope all of  those people feel championed because no matter their past, they have the ability to look upon what was and the power to look ahead with hope in their eyes.

His story, her story, your story, my story. Each moment of it is valuable. From front-porch conversations with my great-grandfather to retirement village talks with a widow to cafe chats with total strangers, life has been full of stories. Who knows, maybe someday you’re moments of joy and the moments you lived in dark shadows will be just what the world needs to hear. Dare to be honest and vulnerable. Dare to celebrate times of despair and confusion. Dare to recognize the value of your life, and if you’re one of those who finds history dry and boring, dare to listen to stories rather than facts and figures.

My Christian Title.

Everyone needs someone in their life who challenges their opinions. Everyone needs someone to talk to who sees the world differently than they do. Everyone needs someone who will hear their voice and respond in such a way which makes them question their very thoughts. We all need contrast. We all need opposition. We all need confrontation. We all need to be willing to step outside of our self-composed boxes and open ourselves up to see the world a new.  We all need a little bit of shananagins in our lives.

At our favorite coffee shop, we met a man name unlike any person I’ve encountered before. This man is a eccentric hippie from California who has been living in Chiang Mai on and off throughout the last eleven years. There isn’t a word in the English language dictionary that can describe him, but everything from his dreads to his white heart-shaped sunglasses to his daily practice of yoga and vegan life-style exemplifies the man he is. While he is vastly different than I, I appreciate him. I appreciate all of the things we have in common because coincidentally enough, we have a lot of similar views. However, this particular person always takes those common world views one step further which throw off the whole balance. He truly is…interesting.

He does not practice Christianity, nor does he believe Jesus is the son of God. Briefly, he aligns more with Buddhists beliefs. He believes Jesus was a Buddhist, himself and has come to the conclusion all humans are a god in their own way. Needless to say, talking about Christianity with him is quite…interesting. Recently I learned more of his back story. He went to church for some time back in the states and practiced Christianity a bit while dating a Southern Baptist. When I asked what directed his steps elsewhere, he said he found a lot of hypocrisy in the church and he was never able to grasp the concept of salvation (or the soul) the way Christians view it. He did a ton of research and has a lot of evidence to support his opinions. I give him credit for that. I give him credit for the confidence he has in his opinions. I also give him credit for the many hours we spent discussing (not arguing about) Christianity versus other religions and belief systems.

For the first time in my life I found myself defending the Gospel of Christ when talking with him. There were previous times in life when I shared the Gospel for the first time; there were times I debated over the Gospel with other believers, but I cannot recall a time when I felt I was standing on the front lines of battle defending my spiritual beliefs. This man made it a point to say he believes I am a Christian because of the environment I was raised in. Because I  was nurtured and raised by a Christian family, I was rooted in Christian beliefs. My culture determined my religious point of view, and so I am the way I am b cause it was forced upon me. Had I been raised in a Buddhist society, I would probably be Buddhist. Not only did I feel I was in a position to defend Christ as Lord and Savior, but I was in a position to defend what I believe and why I believe it.

I am confident in what I believe. I believe Jesus is the son of God. I believe he is my savior. I believe my sins are forgiven and I believe I will spend eternity with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I believe in the Truth of the Gospel. But his opposition really got me questioning why do I believe all that which Christianity believes? Was it imposed on me because I went to church every Sunday with  my family and listened to my grandfather preach the sermon as a child? How do I defend that?

Truth be told, I think this guy has a valid point. I am a Christian because I was raised to be one. My family did go to church every Sunday and my grandfather was the man upfront preaching the sermons. I wasn’t raised in a Buddhist society, and I had no other religious beliefs surround me throughout my childhood.  I am a Christian because I was nurtured and molded to be so, but here’s the thing about being a “Christian,” I believe “Christian” is just a title. I think in most of today’s western world being a Christian bears the same weight as being a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher. With all the denominations and liberal versus conservative viewpoints of Christianity, what does calling myself a Christian actually mean? Calling myself a Christian is simply giving myself a title.

However, there is an aspect of my Christian title I didn’t get the chance to explain to him. Christianity may be a label I behold, but beyond having that title, I have a relationship. And it is because of that relationship I believe what I believe. It is because of that relationship I defend the Gospel of Christ. No one can get to God unless they go through Jesus, and no one is able to do so unless called upon by the Father (John 14:6, 6:55). Who is called? Is everyone called, even those who are raised in non-believing societies? Yes. I believe everyone is called (Ephesians 1:4-5). I also believe everyone has a choice to answer that call. God chose each and everyone of us before creation began, and he gave us free will to choose him in return.

Our coffee shop friend asked me why I am a Christian. I suppose I’m a Christian because it’s the belief system that was imposed on me as a child. How do I defend my Christian title? I defend it by explaining the relationship — a loving, caring, intimate, fearless relationship with my creator. He is my father and I am his child, forever. Why? Because I stepped out in faith, and I chose to respond to his relentless pursuit. I don’t have a jaw dropping testimony where I encountered God and my whole life was changed. Rather, I have a life composed of moments and stories which provide evidence that God is real and true and loving and constant and faithful. Though I’m only 24, I faced great challenges and have gone through difficult times. I have also witnessed miracles and have seen the miraculous sweep through my own life. When you chose Christ in return, there’s no denying a love like his isn’t real. I don’t have to prove my beliefs to anyone. God proves it for me. My life is my message. My message is my testimony, and my testimony is God’a passionate pursuit to win over my heart.

I think being a Christian has become a social, political and religious label, and if you’re walking around carrying that label without having a relationship with the Father, how do you defend what you believe in?

 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… -1 Peter 3:15

Will you be ready to defend Truth if a someone with opposing views walks into your life? Can you defend with gentleness and respect? If you do consider yourself Christian, I encourage you to examine the relational aspect of your belief. You have been chosen..no matter your past, no matter your present, no matter your heart’s condition. Will you choose God back? He is ready to meet you on any and every dusty road. He’s wiling to answer your questions if you’re willing to ask. It’s a fearless relationship, but the ball is in your court.

I’m thankful for our coffee shop friend and I pray he will find his way back to Christ again. It’s not my job to shove the Gospel down his throat, but I will continue to spend hours listening to his crazy way of life and will continue to share the love of God with him. It amazing how God still works through the lives of the lost and the blind to make his purposes known. I hope you all encounter a person of difference in your lives. We all need to be shaken up every now and again. It helps you reestablish your roots. I like that.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.

From the jungle-like coffee shops in the back streets of Old Town to the 21st century way of celebrating the Thai New Year with super soakers and buckets of dirty moat water, I am experiencing a world I never dreamed of being a part of. Chiang Mai is a city rich in history with a modern hippie backpacker vibe. On the same street you can find a family run Thai restaurant, a hostile and a Seven Eleven. On one corner there is a market place with Thai herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, and at another corner is an American style cafe humorously named Fat Elvis. The city is beautiful. The shades of green are vibrant and the flowers are bursting with color. Many times I feel as though I could stand in the middle of any given street and write a book simply by describing the environment surrounding me. Then again, I take that back. The average temperature has been about 100 degrees. Today has been the hottest, estimating around 107 degrees. Needless to say, the cafes hidden under trees with leaves half the size of our bodies are favorites of mine.

Thanks to awesome friends and the women at the Sunshine House, I have experienced quite a bit in my short time being here. I’ve tasted some of the best food I ever ate and met some pretty unique individuals who differ from me drastically. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Chiang Mai. In my opinion, everyone should travel to South East Asia at least once in their lives, and I’ll give you three reasons why. Here are a few of my favorite things..

1. To no surprise, the food is definitely one of my favorites. In fact, sometimes I think about having to eat food in America again and I actually get angry. The food in Chiang Mai is bursting of various flavors and has an incredible savoring tastes. I have yet to eat something my tastebuds were upset about. Vegetables consume almost every meal and the fruit is ripe and fresh. The sauces are spiced to perfection and the added peanuts in just about every dish make for the perfect flavor combination.

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Traditional Thai cuisine — Noodle omelet, curry, stir fry.

 

2. I am a Messiah College alumni and am proud of it. However, attending a Christian school certainly has it goods and bads. For anyone who attended Messiah for any amount of time, the word “community” probably makes you cringe a little bit. “Community” is a major buzzword. It wasn’t until studying in Uganda I finally found value in community. It was more than just an overused word because in Uganda I lived communally. I experienced a beautiful cultured community first hand. While Chiang Mai is vastly different than Mukono, Uganda, I am yet again experiencing a beautiful cultured community. Chiang Mai is highly populated with backpackers and expats, so it’s not uncommon to walk away from eating lunch having made friends with people from Portugal, Canada or even Norristown (just an hour south of my hometown). It’s not uncommon to have a conversations about culture or religion. It’s definitely not uncommon to have conversations about eating habits and American politics. I found many people who, though different than I, have many things in common. I also had more debated conversations with people who drastically oppose my beliefs within the past week than I had within the lat few years back at home. Maybe that is partially my own doing, confining myself to certain crowds and boxes back home, but it’s been both uncomfortable and exciting to experience such a vast community here in Chiang Mai.

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Our favorite coffee shop — no wifi, only open tables and open communication.

3. Before leaving home, my grandparents gave me great advice. They said, “One step at a time. Trust in the Lord to guide you one step at a time.” I’ve always been a big picture kind of girl. I’m a visionary. I love to dream on a large scale. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming because it’s part of my make-up, but I am learning to pay closer attention to small pictures. I am learning to appreciate the smallness of life and enjoy detail. I am learning the value of a moment as I recognize each moment is a seed being planted in my large scale destiny. My days in Chiang Mai are composed of tiny moments. They’re made up of conversations and walks around town or  taxi rides here and there. They’re made up of people, so many different people. They’re made up of new adventures and new risks. My days in Chiang Mai are made up moment by moment. Some things are set in schedule, like being at the Sunshine House or community movie night, but even within “set” times, there is such openness and little expectation. My host family in Uganda would often say, “You are here. You are welcome. Be free!” I would always chuckle a bit when they would joyously say those things, but I often hear those words repeating in my mind as I find myself walking step by step in Chiang Mai. I am here, wherever here may be at any given time. I am welcome. I feel so so welcome here. I am free. I am spiritually free and I am physically free. I have permission to smile and be vulnerable. I am free to be me and free from the burden of worrying about the next step. At times it feels uncomfortable, but it has become one of my favorite things about Chiang Mai. It’s the little things. It’s the detail. It’s being present and embracing hospitality and soaking in the smallness of life.

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Step by step. Detail upon detail.

Food. Community. Step by step living. Those are a few of my favorite things.

I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world, present and in awe. – Anne Lamott

Three Days. Three Words.

I hate routine. I like living spontaneously. However, much of what constitutes my days are routine. Conversations change, faces change, places change here and there, but I wake up and start my day with prayer and tea morning after morning. Today I am in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Today nothing is the same. I woke up in my own apartment which is quite a bit different than my room back home. For breakfast I ate eggs over rice with spicy fried kale which is quite a bit different than my overnight oats. My friends took me to Mountain Coffee Bar and my iced americano was quite a bit different the Hermany’s kitchen and my K-cup. As I sit here at the coffee bar tucked away under vine covered shade nestled in a back street of the city surrounded by shades of green and brown unlike anything I’ve ever seen back home, I wonder how I could possibly soak it all in.

I have a lot to take in and a lot to process through. I prefer to process by myself through prayer, writing and journaling. It keeps me focused and keeps me present. My thoughts tend to be scattered and I have a hard time keeping them organized. So here is my attempt at being organized. With five million things to say, I narrow it down to three. My first three days in three words..

COMFORTING. I have new grounds to navigate, a new language I want to attempt to understand, new foods, and a new culture to experience. Some things, however, I find familiar. Rice, for instance, seems to be a staple food here. Bland white rice takes me back to Uganda. There is comfort in that. The greenery also reminds me of Uganda. The colors of the flowers and the shades of green are vibrant and lively. Though seemingly odd, the unfamiliarity and the foreignness of this place also brings a sense of comfort. I like it. Possibilities are endless, and my sense of wonder is higher, wider and deeper in the midst of adventure.

CONFLICTING. When I travel, I struggle with finding the steady path between tourist and pilgrim. I want to take pictures and see the grand sites, but I also want to spend time at places like Mountain Coffee Bar and stroll the streets with no agenda. Why? Because pilgrims seek a place to call home. Pilgrims look for a place to stay, seek comfort and embrace community. Tourists come and go. They pop into a community and drop out without allowing their surroundings to go beyond the surface of their hearts and drench their spirits. Tourism is good. I have been a tourist, myself, on numerous occasions, but there is a time and place for being a tourists. With only one month in Chiang Mai, I want to find a balance between both.

CHALLENGING. It feels like I’m going through a weird 20’s life crisis. The questions I pose to myself are cliche, but feel very real nonetheless. Who am I? What are the things that get me excited? What activities do I enjoy? What things and activities do I dislike? If you know me, you’ll know that I am a people pleaser. My favorite two phrases are “I don’t care,” and “Whatever  you prefer.” Genuinely, I don’t have preferences most of the time, and one of my passions in life is to encourage others to feel like champions in their own skin. I love to encourage others and make them feel loved, but many times it becomes a risk to my own happiness. To be honest, I feel uncomfortable making decisions. I have a type B personality, easy come easy go, but God has been telling me for quite some time that I have a lioness inside of me. I don’t necessarily see myself as bold and vocal as some people see me. I admit, I have become a bolder over the last year or so, yet God is still calling more out of me. On this trip of self-discovery, I wake up and call upon the Holy Spirit to guide and direct my steps. May I be led to people and into conversations and situations where I am both able to champion others while God champions me.

Three words. Three days. Chaing Mai, Thailand. Something tells me I shouldn’t have already bought a return ticket home. I forgot how much I thrive on culture and new adventure. Our world is certainly a beautiful place.

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*Over view of a portion of Chiang Mai from the rooftop of a mall