According to dictionary.com, the definition of ambivalence is this:
1.uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.
When I read the first definition, I thought to myself, “It feels so good that at least the dictionary understands the story of my life.”
There are times when I know exactly what I want. If I would sit down and count them, I could probably count them on one hand.
Whether it’s ordering off a menu, or deciding on a career, I feel like Philippa Gordon in Anne of the Island, who was struck with such indecisiveness that when faced with the decision of which hat to wear, she would put them on the bed, close her eyes and jab them with a hatpin.
Sometimes I do it too. I can’t decide what to wear so I go “eenie meenie minie moe.” And sometimes I have to do it several times before I get to the point where I can be happy with the results. I know, it’s weird.
But what do ambivalence and hatpins have to do with hope?
Because hope is such a strange thing. It’s what keeps us alive, yet it’s also what keeps us in pain. It’s such an enigma, oxymoron, puzzle, whatever you want to call it. We love it, we call it, we lure it, but when we have it, it hurts. So we shelve it, we box it, we draw boundaries around it, we sit on it, we smother it, we numb its beauty with the narcotic of fantasy. And yet, we live on it. We can’t live without it. An old, old book says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” Yet, wouldn’t it be better not to hope at all, rather than to hope and have it deferred? A Thai friend of mine has this saying on his Line (a popular messaging app in Asia)profile picture. “Mai wang, mai pit wang.” Meaning, “If you don’t hope, you won’t be disappointed.”
I know that’s a lie. But the ambivalence inside of me rages. If I hope, I will be disappointed. If I don’t hope, I will die. Hope is what keeps me alive, yet sometimes that life feels like death.
To hope or not to hope?
This ambivalence is what keeps us standing on the edge of the river, dipping only a toe into the water when we could jump in. It keeps us wavering at the counter of McDonalds, keeps us paralyzed and unable to make long term commitments because of all the “what if’s”, and it keeps us jabbing hatpins at hats on the bed.
I wish I had some kind of profound way to end this post. Some deep, wise thought that seals it up and leaves a good, satisfying taste in my mouth and lets me finally go to bed, feeling like I’ve got it figured out and that I’ve left a wise impression on my readers. But that’s not what hope is like. This elusive, ethereal, yet powerful thing. It’s an emotion, yet not an emotion.
Perhaps, perhaps there’s something that lies in the choice. The act of choosing. Not the jabbing of the hatpin, but the deliberate choice to hope. And maybe it has something to do with faith.
I reach for them to stand them in their proper place
But they slide from my hands like elusive lizards,
Leaving me stupidly holding the tail in my hands.
They refuse to stand still, climbing all over the page
Jumping like those quintuplet monkeys on the bed
Mocking me, laughing at my efforts to pin them into thoughts
Climbing out the window, taking any scrap of created thought with them.
I fight with them, wrestle with them,
Cajole, whisper, and shout.
But it all ends in a mess, and I find myself standing confused and distracted, words in chaotic heaps all over the room, furniture overturned in the madcap chase for the right verb, while the proper nouns huddle crying and hurt in the corner, the adverbs swing by their tails from the chandelier, and the adjectives string themselves out across the floor like spaghetti on steroids. And it is right, for how can words say what you want to say when your heart does not even understand what it wants to say?
What is missionary life? After reading an article called This Is Missions by Brooke Vanguard, a description of missions in China, I was challenged by a friend to write our own version of missions in Thailand. This is a glimpse of what it is. The photos are a bit random, some having to do with the words, and some not.
Again, a small disclaimer. Sometimes I hesitate to write anything about missions here, simply because so many people get the picture that missions is some sort of really special work that only really special people can do. It is not!! Sometimes I cringe when I am labeled as a missionary, because of this. It is a really special work that people with a really special God can do. And being a missionary does not mean that you need to go to a foreign country. It can be done on your very doorstep.
This is missions…..
It’s reaching up and finding spiders in your hair and going on wild mouse chases in the middle of the night. It’s brushing off the ants from that precious banana bread — and eating the banana bread. It’s waking up at night hearing rats running around attic. It’s setting sticky traps in the kitchen and having to haul off the results later, while choking back nausea.
It’s trying to make food that your Thai guests will enjoy and instead, it’s putting way too much water into the rice which leaves it sticky and mushy. It’s feeling like a bumbling city girl who can’t cook anything because you simply don’t know how to make Thai food. It’s ordering fresh milk and feeling stupid and naïve because no matter how desperately you calculate, you can’t think of how much 10 kilograms of milk might be in pounds. It’s feeling silly because you don’t know how to change children’s diapers Thai style— pull off the diaper and spray ‘em with the hose!
It’s being told that you are way too trusting when you invite the lonely stranger you met at the bus station to stay at your house. It’s being told by your neighbors and friends how you should arrange your furniture, how you should put up your shelves, how you should always close your door to keep out the mosquitos, and how you should not go out into the sun without long sleeves, or let yourself get wet. It’s feeling frustrated when you’re constantly told by your coworkers at school that you need to speak harshly to your children in order to make them behave, and feeling like you can’t do anything right because you don’t quite do it their way.
It’s trying to impress your hosts with your ability to eat spicy food, and then paying for your pride the next morning in the bathroom. It’s feeling frustrated by not being able to communicate the way you want to and it’s being tired of feeling like a 3 year old who keeps on using the wrong words and saying silly things.
It’s feeling totally comfortable telling a male friend at church how much you weigh. It’s laughing at jokes you would not have thought funny 2 years ago. It’s eating with your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left without a thought. It’s being ok with changing plans at the last minute, or not even having any plans in the first place. It’s going home and asking your mom if the mattress in your room is new—- because it’s so soft! It’s asking people if they’ve eaten yet and what they ate, as a way of being polite. Or asking them where they’re going.
It’s feeling like you’re brain is permanently fried by language study and hot weather. It’s feeling like you use so much brain energy just surviving that all the profound, cool thoughts you used to think have simply vanished from your brain.
It’s wondering how on earth to help the bouncing ADHD student learn to control himself and stop shooting things with his imaginary gun. It’s holding tightly an angry child bent on hurting whatever he can touch in his little world. It’s feeling like all you do is tell little people what to do.
It’s going to church and feeling a heaviness on your heart because you wish so badly that your unbelieving friends could be there too. It’s driving home late at night and feeling the sadness of the city circle around your soul.
It’s being ecstatic about the fact that in a little over a week you get to fly home for an entire month. At the same time, it’s feeling terrified too.
It’s being on cloud nine after being able to carry an hour long conversation all in Thai, and then it’s crashing down to reality when you can’t understand a simple question.
It’s always feeling a little self -conscious, wherever you go. It’s being told you are sooo beautiful all the time and you speak Thai sooooo well. It’s being used to the stares that come from passengers on the backs of trucks as you drive down the road on your bike.
It’s listening to your friend recount with glowing face her new found faith and the way God is working in her life and leading her to witness to her co-workers. It’s listening to her bold statement of faith before she is baptized on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
It’s having a young student crying inconsolably after leaving school because she found out that Teacher Lori is going home to America, not realizing it’s only for a month. (Ok, not quite inconsolably. She was consoled by donuts eventually, I heard.)
It’s listening to a 4 year old student from a Buddhist family announcing to his friends, “When I grow up I am going to go to church!”
It’s watching the even rising and falling chest of a young girl as she sleeps and running your finger over her smooth cheek, praying that God would give her a hope and a future, even when all the odds are against her.
It’s feeling that odd tug at your soul when you crest the mountain peak – on those few occasions that you do get to the mountain – and seeing smoke rising from a valley village, far below. It’s that heartfelt connection that you feel after stopping at a roadside stand to escape the rain for a few minutes and striking up a conversation with the vendors and customers, finding that they too know the true God. It’s seeing the delight on a market vendor’s face because you speak their language and eat their food.
It’s feeling the small strength of a child’s hand in yours. It’s seeing the solemn trust in a little girl’s chocolate eyes and hearing her say your name. It’s hearing the squealing laughter of 30 children loose on the playground. It’s giving piggy back rides and bouncing wildly on big rubber balls and roaring like a tiger and rolling on the ground and doing other quite unladylike maneuvers.
It’s sitting at Wednesday night cell group, singing Thai songs and sharing struggles and realizing over and over again that we are brothers and sisters.
If I were to write a book about last week, I think I would title it, Crazy.
Crazy in a good way. Mostly. Now that I’m looking back at it.
In order to tell you about my week, I should introduce you to the 3 girls I live with. I live with Brittany (or Brit) and Barbara (or Barbs) and Judi, (who just came several weeks ago.) We fit into our little house quite nicely and snugly.
Monday is a normal day, as far as Mondays go. Go to work at 7:30, chase, teach, hug and spank wish you could spank kids. After work, run over to the church to teach English for another hour and 15 minutes, like usual on Mondays and Fridays.
Tuesday. I feel the end of the month requirements piling up on me. Write monthly student progress reports for the parents who can understand English well enough, and hand the others over for my Thai teacher to process. Write my monthly newsletter. Finish my monthly report for our team meeting. Plan ahead. So Judi and I go to a coffee shop to catch up on some work. I don’t know what is wrong with the coffee, or if my metabolism is just going berserk (are metabolisms affected by coffee?) but an hour after I finish my cup, my head is swimming and I am not sure if I can drive home. (And yes, it was only coffee! A hot latte!)
Just as we walk out to go home, I get a panicked call from Brit. Barbara, in an attempt to do some exercises to liven up her time while waiting in the kitchen for her laundry to finish, was jumping up and down, and managed to catch her hand in the metal ceiling fan that was going on high.
“Should we take her to the clinic or to McCormick Hospital?” Brit asks frantically.
We race home, but not before they leave for the hospital with some neighbors. The kitchen looks like a murder scene with a trail of blood dripping over to the sink, a bowl of murky, bloody water stands in the middle of the floor, and music still plays eerily in the darkened house. Forcing my dizziness to the background, I manage to clean up the blood without throwing up. Afterwards we run to the hospital to see what’s going. Barbara needs stitches, and comes home after midnight.
Wednesday. I get a message from my Thai boss, asking us to come in early since both of the Thai staff have sick children and can’t come. Barbara goes to work, but is hampered considerably. Then suddenly in the evening, we find another child with hand, foot and mouth disease, and therefore….. to reduce the risk of more infections….. we suddenly close the school for two days!! An unexpected holiday! Teachers are supposed to be able to handle sudden days off maturely and without inner “hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lords!” I know that, but I have yet to reach that mature stage.
Thursday. We go to school to clean and disinfect everything in sight. Toys, crayons, beads, legos, mats, tables, chairs, books. Everything. In the afternoon, I run to do get some supplies for school, and although I feel tired, get lured into exploring a hitherto unknown part of the city for an hour or so. In the evening we relax at home.
Friday. I ride my motorbike the almost 30 minutes to Doi Kham Horseback Riding for one of the best rides of my life. Four of us—my friend who owns the horses, one of his workers, an expat from Germany, and I, ride into the woods for 3 hours, galloping pell mell down little footpaths, riding higher up the mountain than I have ever ridden before, crossing streams, letting our horses graze, leading our horses down paths too steep and full of loose rocks to ride (and slipping and sliding down ourselves) and riding behind Night Safari, the exotic animal reserve, and hearing the growling of the tigers as they are fed. Kru Kom, the Thai employee that works for my friend, provides the entertainment for the day as he rides like a mad cowboy, letting his reins fall over his saddle horn while racing down the path, all the while waving a stick in the air and whooping and hollering. Or, better yet, turning around in his saddle taking pictures and videos of the riders while his horse picks its way up a mountain path and suddenly veers off into the bushes, taking him by surprise. I laugh.
In the evening, we teach English at the church and then run to look at a secondhand fridge for sale, about 20 minutes away. We decide to buy it, and plan to come the next morning to help the guy load it up and show him the way to our house.
Saturday. In the morning we go get the fridge. We get it situated in our house and then run to help a missionary couple clean the new house they plan to move into. After cleaning for several hours, we pack up our stuff with plans to head up the mountain. An extra two days off of work is not complete without a trip up the mountain. Journals, drawing supplies, books, Bibles, water and snacks. We’re ready. We drive for about half an hour, Brit and Barbara riding double since Barbara can’t drive yet with her injured hand. Just about 15 minutes from our destination, I notice Brit’s tire looking suspiciously sad. We pull over at a tourist spot and after asking half a dozen people, find a place to air up her tire, only to be told that it has an irreparable hole. So the poor bike and its passengers get loaded up on a truck and sent aaaalllll the way back to the city. Joy surprises us at a stoplight with a brilliant double rainbow spanning the sky. We find another place to hang out and do our work in the city and in the evening, we come back home and spend several hours cleaning out the old fridge, getting the new one situated and rearranging furniture in the kitchen.
Sunday. Thai church services in the morning. After singing “These Are the Days of Elijah” in Thai and listening to a sermon about Naaman and Elisha, we try the mountain again. Brit needs to get gas before going up the mountain so we decide to meet at the zoo, which is close to the foot of the mountain. Judi doesn’t hear the plan about the zoo. We reach the zoo and there is no Judi in sight. Her phone doesn’t work, she’s lived in the city for a total of 2 and a half weeks and she is not the kind of person to simply stay in one place if she gets lost. Barbara stays at the zoo to see if she’ll show up, and Brit and I start the hopeless task of trying to find one person in the midst of a million or so others. Twenty minutes later I get a call. Barbara saw Judi driving past the zoo, headed up the mountain, assuming we went without her. She doesn’t know the way, but is going anyway. We hop on our bikes and drive after her, stopping at the tourist spot we stopped at yesterday, hoping to find her. No luck. Finally, close to our destination, we spot her bike at a rest area and spread out in hopes of finding her. Brit finds her, and Judi, unperturbedly says with simple innocence not unlike Winnie the Pooh, “Oh, you found me!”
Finally, all together now, we keep on going. The road becomes smaller and narrower and bumpier. We turn off on another one. This one is hardly wide enough for two and has signs telling us to honk while going around curves. We gladly comply.
We turn off on another road. This one is moss covered and green, a bit slippery. Finally Brit stops and says, “This is it!” She’s been here before and knows the way to the lookout we want to be at. We unload our stuff— all our stuff—- and follow her down the mountain trail. In flipflops. Flimsy ones. That should be recorded under the column “Stupid Things Tourists Do.” We follow her. Down and down and down and down. And all the while I am thinking, “One day in the near future, I will have to climb this trail up and up and up and up. In flipflops.”
Brit is no longer so sure she knows the way. The trail is more overgrown than it was when she was here. And she doesn’t remember going this far. But still we walk. And walk. And walk.
Finally I hear her calling up ahead, “I found it!” We arrive, ooh and aah at the beautiful view, and lay out our blankets, pull out our Bibles and journals and books and snacks and drawing supplies and prepare to have a jolly time.
We have a jolly time for less than 45 minutes. Then the rain comes. We see it sneaking up the backside of the mountain, hoping it can surprise us, but we are ready for it. We pull on our raincoats, and decide to give up and go back.
Have you ever hiked up a steep mountain path carrying a heavy backpack, while wearing flipflops in the rain? It is not for the faint of heart. My flipflops are very slippery when they are wet, and I keep on slipping and sliding all over the path. Finally I take them off and go barefoot which is rather painful, but takes much less energy. My lungs are unused to mountain air and the first 15 minutes are torture. After that I pretend that I am a Free Burma Ranger carrying supplies to IDP’s (internally displaced people) in the jungles of Burma while keeping an eye out for the enemy and land mines. Then suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad at all.
After about 45 minutes of hiking we reach the road again. We are a bedraggled, sorry looking lot, but really quite happy. We drive down the mountain, shivering and blue from the rain.
On the way home, I am surprised by light shafting through storm clouds and by the second rainbow I have seen in two days. From a lookout on the mountain I see it, suspended over the city, so bright and bold and close you can almost reach out and touch it. Even though I am disturbed that my camera battery is dead, there is profound meaning and hope in this rainbow. The Thai song running through my head takes on new meaning and turns into a prayer, “Bless the land of Thailand, that they may find hope. Open their eyes and hearts to see the light…” (English translation of โปรดทรงอวยประเทศไทย ).
My mind is a mess. This week has been crazy with lots of work and late hours, emails from home that bear bad news, and tiredness in every bone. Yet I find myself up late, trying to sort through the mess of emotions that has piled up and not been given the time to be worked through.
How can people be so cruel? How can professing Christians hold such grudges against each other? How can lines be drawn so clearly between churches that are so similar that when the line is crossed and a family goes from one to the other, all past friendships and time invested and selfless service is forgotten and people turn against each other with teeth bared?
How can someone be so bitter and slanderous?
I don’t have the answers. All I know is that it tears my heart to see my people hurting themselves in this way. I feel lost and alone on the other side of the world. A stranger to my people. Fearful. If I go home, will they know me for who I have become? Will they accept me?
The words that keep coming to mind, from Martin Luther King Jr. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
As much as I feel like lashing out, I realize the futility. If I do, if I let this fester in me, I will become just as bitter and slanderous.