We boarded a plane bound for America on May 23rd of this year. It was to be a brief, one-month visit back to see my oldest sons, as well as to visit with whatever friends and family were within reach. The trip was a gift and wouldn't have been possible except for the kindness of those who made it so.
But the trip was more than that. Because in so many ways it was clarity.
We visited with the boys, spent time with dear friends, and a few members of our extended family. We met new people and had many opportunities to stand before congregations and share how He's been moving in our lives. We were granted a chance to rest a little from the busy pace we keep here and were blessed with a few weeks where we didn't sweat just being alive.
That part was phenomenal. Thailand is HOT and the heat in Sukhothai is often oppressive.
But I think I better understand what the trip truly offered more now that we're back home in Asia. Some things are best learned retrospectively and, at least for me, that seems to be the case in this situation. Because I returned with eyes to see what I had been too laser focused to notice before.
We aren't missionaries with a project ... we're missionaries with a people.
God has surrounded us with people whom He loves with every fiber of His endlessly loving being. He's brought us a ministry team of Thais who, in some cases, didn't even know they wanted to work for Him. He's given us children who needed a safe place to land and a consistent demonstration of His watchcare over them. And while even pre-trip-back-to-America I was thankful that our lives had such purpose here, I was functioning each day battling intense mental exhaustion from the whole experience.
We quickly learned upon arriving in this country that pale-skinned Americans are often seen as self-absorbed rich people with money to blow. And we've had our fair share of experiences where people have wanted to take advantage of that false perception. We've struggled to deal with children who'd been sent to live with us and who, in turn, decided to use the unwelcome life circumstance to their personal and financial gain. The idea that you'd "rescue" children from unsavory situations and they'd be grateful and happy for anything they were given just didn't ring true.
Entitlement is a thing that transcends cultural and economic diversity. Many of our thai kids came to us with dollar signs in their eyes. God tasked us with teaching them He came to save them, not to plait their hair with gold or adorn their rooms with toys.
My trip back to the United States reminded me of the blessing of poverty. Wealth often brings noise and distraction. It tends to bring increased desire for increasing riches, possessions, and status. It heightens our awareness of all that could be instead of settling our minds with gratitude on what is.
In Thailand I'm grateful for what we have. In America I want more.
It happened quickly and almost without my notice. It wasn't until our Certificates of Entry back into Thailand were denied the first time, that I suddenly realized I cared only about getting back to the work God had given us. They were denied twice more before we finally got approval, without which we couldn't return, and by the time confimation came, my heart was fully settled on resuming the mission.
After our two weeks of quarantine, we were allowed to return home to all the children and staff and I had such peace about where I was and why. I saw the kids with new eyes. Being with them didn't feel as exhausting or draining. I wasn't seeing them as a burden being thrust on me but as a blessing being offered to me.
God opened my eyes to the reality of His calling ... it's not to create perfection out of imperfect, hurting, "rejected" children, but to model love, kindness, patience, and hope for them.
He keeps whispering to me that He wants me joyful! He wants me smiling and light and happy. He wants my voice sweet and kind, even when discipline is necessary. He wants me learning how to balance justice with mercy.
Justice comes easier in a role like ours.
These past two weeks have been amazing. I love these kids in ways I didn't realize. I look at their faces, even in hard moments, and I'm overcome by how adorable God designed them, each in their own unique ways. I'm completely and utterly in love with the fact that He drew us across an ocean to give us a place in their lives. What a gift. What a God.
So much happened in America and I plan to share some of it here over the coming weeks. So much is happening in Thailand and on our property and we have some things in the works to share that with you, as well. But today, I want more than anything to encourage you to surrender every part of yourself -- dreams, ambitions, desires, addictions, struggles -- to the One who is waiting to give you what He can't until you do.
Seek Him. Pursue Him. Go after Him until you realize He's been chasing your heart from the moment it began to beat.
Don't buy into the world because you'll die empty. Live with eternity and Jesus in your eyes.
Practice being in the presence of Jesus by disciplining yourself to be mindful that He's right there watching and listening to everything you say and do ...
...because He is and living like it will change you forever!