There is a very real chance this is much to cheesy an analogy to make and post publicly, but I’m going to run with it. It’s dauntingly long and lacks usual conclusions, so continue reading at your own risk.
We’ve been at the beach all week and loving it. It’s monsoon season here, and the waves are indescribable. You can only swim in certain parts of the beaches and you can only go so far out into the waves. The undertow is menacing and the waves are in over your head; there are warnings everywhere.
But it is so much fun!
We have spent hours every day catching waves. We play for maybe an hour an at time at most: it’s exhausting. You go under them and try to go over them; you come up for a breath and another one comes. Sometimes two surprise you. There is sand everywhere in your hair and ears and suit. You are jumping and swimming and just breathing.
And sometimes there are these ginormous waves with incredible, surprising force behind them. They look normal when you dive into them, but then find they are not. They pick you up and turn you around like a washing machine. Something usually hits the sand–because you were really only in a few feet of water anyway, before this monster came along–and you come up trying to find which way is up and breathe at least once before another one comes. There is so much water in your ear your equilibrium is off; there is sand everywhere and you certainly hope your swimsuit is still in the same place it was when that wave surprised you. But you’ve got to pull yourself together quickly, because there is still more coming.
And while we’re playing in these waves all week, I’ve found that its how I feel about life–specifically our lives in this little border town in this poor neighborhood.
I feel like we just keep coming up for air and getting pummeled again. There are some that we ride with great fun; there are some that are really surprising monsters. They are all exhausting. My equilibrium isn’t righting itself and the sand is scratching and irritating.
So run with this analogy for a minute–we’re in the ocean and sort of drowning, but we live there. It gets less fun with time, and you really wish for a good clean shower and a rest on the sand. But you keep diving in and staying alive and coming up for just a breath so you can make it through the next one.
And I feel like sometimes I am coming up for air, and that’s when everyone is asking all the questions: When are you going to have kids? What are you plans for the future? Is this sustainable? Why are you here? What is your theology on ____?
And I just needed air. I don’t know. I don’t know how long I’ll survive, let alone if it was a good idea to come in the first place. I don’t know how it would be possible to hold a kid up out here. I don’t know how long we’ll make it or even what I want to make of it. This place has made me something new. My theology is that I need to breathe quick because another one is coming. That is the theology of our lives.
Let me interrupt myself here to present two questions–one for you and one for me. First, does everyone feel this way? Is this just what adulting is– drowning and coming up for air?
We moved here to Mae Sot and into this little community when I was 22. Twenty-two, folks. I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult anywhere else, really. I don’t know marriage or big life decisions or career paths or theology in any context except this little border town.
So as Stephen hits thirty this week and I approach it, I guess you’d call us adults. I suppose we are “officially” there, right? But, really, we are coming from a culture that defines adulthood by what you have become–by marriage and children and careers and houses and plans. And since I only really have the marriage part of that–and we’ve both jumped into this mess together–are we really there? Are we adults? Is this how every adult feels?
So when I come up for air, I find myself trying to look around and see everyone else is overwhelmed by these questions, too. And they don’t always seem to be.
I’m amazed when we are Stateside at the plans people have–the calendars for months from now; the savings plans; the business plans; the ambitions. The number of kids they want to have, the places they want to live, the schools they want to send their kids to.
My only plan is to jump into that washing machine mess again.
Which leads to the second question I ask myself: Why do we keep going back? Why do we go out again, either for a season when we return after visiting America or taking a vacation; or even every day–why do I open my door and give out my telephone number and say, Yes, let’s do this life together?
Honestly, that was a challenging question to answer this week. I’m tempted, more than ever, not to.
But I realized, very profoundly, why we keep going back: it’s because we keep coming up and finding more people in more acute situations than our own. I come up and find them gasping for air and desperate for footing far more than I am.
Sure, I have no idea about my future. But so many of our dearest friends have no idea about today.
So we start a bread & flower business or help with homework or hold a child to give them rest or drive to the hospital again. Some of them are to teach skills and hopefully let them feel their own feet beneath them in a long-term sustainable way; some are just holding them up by the hands and telling them to hold on for today, while we try to pray our way through it together.
How can I go in when they are drowning?
There is one couple in our community that we love oh so much and has caused so much pain as of late. They’ve found themselves in one challenging situation or one bad decision after another in the past year or so, and we have helped and given grace and held them up in so many ways. We have had so many hard conversations–about how this was a bad decision, but this is friendship and this is grace, and we’re going to try again. There have been manipulations and lies; there have been so many tears. Sometimes it just feels like we are holding their hands and pulling them out of wave and they are biting us.
There is a very human part of me that things we should just let go. If you want to drown yourself, do it.
Some of the things we have done to help them are blatantly not sustainable. We are desperately working out the theologies of it and praying through it all. We are hoping with all that we are that God will restore and redeem and somehow make it right again if we just hold on.
And this young mother, who has brought me to tears more recently than any other person in my life: she is who keeps coming to mind this week. Despite all the pain she has caused and how much she–as one tiny little individual–has made me want to crawl to shore–she’s why I’m out there. Her pain is so acute, she’s attacking the friend standing beside her.
And if we keep holding on, maybe she’ll see Jesus.
To leave our house for ten days was no easy task. We’ve had friends helping with trips to the hospital; we had one baby come a month early and one that we thought would for sure be here by now is still in utero. We have friends bringing baby blankets and sending us photos.
The community center opened two days while we were away, to give the kids some fun as well as host bible study. I woke up two early mornings to ensure Flour & Flowers orders were made and put into two languages; I called from the beach to tell them the orders in Burmese. A friend drove our neighbors around town for four hours delivering house-to-house so that these women could make $10 this week and help feed their families.
The day we left I baked and decorated four cakes–two cakes for the church anniversary the following day, since we couldn’t be there but wanted to show our love and support. Two more cakes were in the fridge for birthdays while we were away, so little Win Mo could have a beautiful cake with a big “1” on it for her first year birthday.
All of this involved leaving two keys to our house in the community–a noted risk and vulnerability. We are trusting everything will be in place and not ant-infested from crumbs left behind or walls colored on, but that is a possibility.
There is also the possibility that our bread manager saw that we trusted her. There is the possibility she saw that we believe in her and know she is capable. There is the possibility that they saw that we love them and want to do life together. That our house is theirs.
I’m hoping that in this short window, some of our friends find that they have more footing than they did before.
For the kids, our relationships go in seasons. Different families and siblings need more at different times. In this current season, two of the kids in our community spend nearly every waking hour at our house. So when we left, I made sure they knew when we were leaving, when we were coming back, and that we were in fact, coming back. This is scary for them, when many people come in and out of their lives & homes constantly.
One of them, Musana, has the best Tim-Taylor-style, wide-eyed Hhhhhuuhh!? I’ve ever seen. She does it whenever we say we are going to swim and its “cold” out, or if we are about to shower at night, or if we are eating anything Western she doesn’t understand. And she did it, too, when I said we’d be gone a whopping ten days.
Hhhhhuuuuhh?!?! Ten days!?
Yes, sweet girl. Ten days. And I missed you every single one of them.
This week of vacation was like going to into the shore for a few minutes for perspective. I found myself sitting on the shore–literally and figuratively–and asking, should we go back out again?
Why did we choose to go out there in the first place? I’m so sorry to admit it, but ignorance seems the most likely answer. We felt called; we loved the people; we saw the need and opportunity. But really, we had no idea what we were in for, and that was likely the greatest gift God could have given us. But now we’re there, and I’m not sure how not to go back.
Because even in the midst of the washing machine waves and the appendages hitting the sand, even in the “highs” of one smooth wave before another five pummel you–the waves are the God we serve. He is in the waves and the ocean. He is allowing each one to pummel us, and he is allowing each one to pummel them. There is a holiness and sovereignty about it that I can’t argue with. I don’t understand the science and the tides. The theology, honestly, has left me with more irritating sand patches. I’m afraid this ocean–the holy, sovereign One that got me out here and that is keeping me afloat–might also be the one drowning me. I can’t always tell the difference. I don’t know if I’ll always come up.
Is it still worth it if I don’t?
For these past ten days I’ve been scared–scared I wouldn’t be able to rest up enough in that time; scared I’m still not strong enough or capable enough for what is in front of us. Scared that we are crazy. Scared that we are naive.
And today, in the waves pummeling me, I know that we are to go back and that we are ready. And that he is in the waves, wherever they take us and however much they hurt.