Category Archives: life on the foreign field

Roads Go Ever On and On

Sometimes life takes the strangest twists and curves.

Five years ago, I would never have dreamed of doing what I am doing now. Even a year ago it seemed impossible.

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College.

After spending close to three years as a volunteer teacher here in Thailand, I realized how important it was for me to finally get my degree if I wanted to be here long term.

About 8 weeks ago, I walked up those 4 flights of steps to room 417 for freshman orientation at Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Those 4 flights of steps took what felt like ages on legs made of jelly.

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Outside I may have looked confident. Inside, far from it. But it’s been a good, good 8 weeks. I’ve been stretched and challenged in more ways than one. I’ve made new friends, learned new things and gone new places. It has made me dig deeper into the foundations of why I believe what I believe. Studying in these classes feels like sinking my teeth into a juicy sub-sandwich after not eating for two days. I know that the time will come when I’ll be sick and tired of homework, but while that enjoyment lasts, I plan to soak it up as much as I can.

It’s not been easy, this college thing. You are challenged. You are usually the strange one out. You are stretched. You meet people who do not always handle situations in a quiet firm manner. For a sensitive, relatively sheltered Kansas girl, this isn’t always easy.

Yet, I have been blessed with learning to know understanding people, helpful professors, and many new friends.

I’ve become friends with people I never thought I would be friends with: the friendly Thai girl I met the first day, the quiet introvert who loves to draw cartoons, the middle-aged Japanese lady in my department, the silent loyal IT student, who after I struck up a conversation with once, always greets me, the shy Kachin student from Burma, and many, many others. In the international program at Payap, there are over 30 different nationalities represented. I study with people from Japan, India, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Germany, China and more. We become friends despite cultural and religious differences. I am grateful for their acceptance.

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Above: enjoying ice cream together after a school outing one evening.  The friend taking the picture does not study at Payap, but was along for the fun.

Sometimes I feel an awe when I see the hand of God moving in my life, bringing me from place to place. Sometimes I feel scared. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at some of the opportunities and responsibilities He gives me. Sometimes I shy away from facing some of the deep questions that arise in my heart that need to be answered. Sometimes I am unsure about what to do about the desires that pull and stir deep inside.

But this I know. I am glad that God has brought me to this place in my life. Very glad.

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Change

I cried that time when I came home

From the land across the sea

When I walked across the autumn grass

To see my favorite tree

 

We stood there in the evening light

My favorite tree and I

Remembering the countless times

I’d climbed its branches high

 

I tried to climb the strong old limbs

As I had done at eight,

But I could not, for those limbs were gone;

The changes were too great.

 

So when I left my friend alone

Beneath the darkening sky

I cried and cried with unchecked tears

For he had changed and so had I.

People Are Interesting

One of my favorite parts of traveling is watching people. I love the way that God designed each individual to be his/her own colorful character.

Like these colorful characters above.

Recently I took a trip to Laos to the Thai embassy located there. I needed to leave the country and request a student visa at an embassy outside of Thailand. (perhaps more on that change later)

I realized again how much I’ve lived in my own little world in Chiang Mai, going back and forth to work each day, attending church at my Thai church and at the local group of Mennonites. Leaving the three- year-old “familiar” of Chiang Mai and traveling into the “unknown” of northeastern Thailand (also known as Isaan) and southern Laos was exciting. And considering it was my first day off of full time kindergarten teaching, it was a bit of a shock.

There were some people I met that I wished sincerely I hadn’t. Like the tuk tuk driver that poked his head around the bus door in Nong Khai even before I had fully descended.

“Tuk Tuk? Where you go? Tuk tuk?”

I perked up.

“I need to go to the Friendship Bridge,” I said in Thai.

“Oh, I will take you there. But do you have your Laos visa yet?”

“No, I will get it at immigrations in Laos. I just want to go to the bridge.”

“Listen, listen. I will take you to get your papers for the Laos visa first. Then I will take you to the bridge.”

“No,” I said. “All I want to do is go to the bridge.” I had heard about these people. They take you and they do stuff for you that you are perfectly capable of doing yourself and charge exorbitant prices.

“But listen to me. I will explain it all to you.”

I have never been able to say no to these people, usually because I myself don’t know enough about what I am doing. But I used to think that once I knew Thai fluently, I would be able to say no, and to harden my heart. But I can’t even haggle at the market. I just give in to the price they ask, even if it’s ridiculous.

In the end, I gave in. It was my first time crossing this border, I was by myself, and I was unsure. It was stupid of me, and I was mad at myself all through the next hour until I left the Laos entrance. I was mad at him too, for persuading me.

“You see,” the man said as we sputtered off in his tuk tuk, “They will cheat you at the Laos border if you don’t do it beforehand.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought bitterly to myself. “Like you are doing now.” I ended up losing 600 baht. (close to 20 dollars)

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Friendship Bridge that spans the Thai-Laos border, view from the Thai side. Photo credit: LH

The next interesting character I met was a red-haired Norwegian who reeked of perpetual smoke. We were sitting in a van going to the Thai embassy in Vientiane. He leaned forward from behind and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you a nurse?” he asked, pointing to my veiling.

“No,” I said, and explained.

“Oh,” he said, and proceeded to tell me all sorts of things about Amish people. I nodded and smiled to myself. As if you knew.

The girl beside me was from Palestine, and worked in Pattaya in Central Thailand. Then I chatted with the aged cab driver, who spoke Thai well, and told me tidbits of Laos history and language and how the police lock up his wheels when he parks beside the road for even a few seconds. I felt like his granddaughter.

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The Patuxai War Memorial was erected after Laos fought its battle for independence from the French. Photo credit: LH

 

One of my favorite parts of the trip came on the way back the next day, headed back to the Thai-Laos border to cross over into Thailand again. The cab driver was gruff and honest. He talked mostly Laos with a spattering of Thai, and I talked Thai to him with a spattering of Northern Thai. (Thai, Northern Thai, Isaan Thai and Laos are languages that are very closely related. Usually one can understand the other quite well) I wanted to share with him, but felt at loss on how to begin. Finally I told my Father that I would at least ask one question and then if the man wanted to listen I would share with him.

I asked him if there were any C’s in his country. I knew very well there were.

“Yes,” he said, and gave some other facts. Then he leaned over, turned down his radio and said, “Tell me what you believe.”

So, in the best Thai I could muster, I gave the story of the Father in a nutshell. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but at the end, I asked him if he understood.

“Yes,” he said, but didn’t say much else.

The rest of the ride we chit-chatted, and at the end I gave him a J film. He was very excited for it.

The next person I met was a French lady who traveled the world. She was at least 60. I was sitting under an outdoor shelter that had a beautiful view of the Mekong River, the river that divides Laos from Thailand, at my guesthouse in Nong Khai.

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A Laos boat on the Mekong River. Photo credit: LH

 

“Do you have Skype? Can I use your Skype?”

“Sure, you can,” I said. As I was getting signed in, she told me all about herself.

It turned out that she travels the world as lightly as possible. She told me the amount of underwear she carries with her, (5 pieces, I think and sometimes she washes them out twice a day. Sorry.) how many changes of clothes she takes with her, (two, and she rarely uses the second one), a blanket or a scarf, and a good pair of shoes, and several other small items that I forget (not as memorable as underwear, obviously). So, that was why she was using my Skype, since she packs only enough to get by on.

When I had successfully signed into my Skype, she called her home in France, only to have her mother answer.

She switched from French to Dutch, “Alles is goot!” Her mother was very hard of hearing, so the rest of the guests at the hotel got in on the conversation as well.

After a short conversation, she hung up and turned to me. “Will you be here in the morning? Can I use your Skype again?”

“Sure,” I said again. She offered to pay, but I didn’t let her, wondering to myself what was the best method for cleaning spit off a screen.

The next morning I hauled out my books and laptop and was going to enjoy the river view when the chain smoker lounging at the end of the table spoke up, “Are you Mennonite?”

“Similar to Mennonite, yes,” I said, looking longingly at my breakfast omelet that had just been delivered. We chatted as I ate. It turned out that he was from Chiang Mai, from the same neighborhood as a few of my Mennonite friends. So he knew about Mennonites in Chiang Mai.

“What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?” he asked.

As I was explaining, a face appeared beside me.

“You are still here!” It was the French lady.

She used my Skype, while the chain smoker looked on with a bemused expression (in light of our recent conversation on Mennonites and Amish.)

“This is ironic,” he said. I laughed. The French lady finished her phone call. She addressed the chain smoker, “You should stop smoking. It is very bad!” And proceeded to give him a piece of her mind.

We chatted some more. He was your typical “farang” living in Thailand. There for the cheap, easy life, with a Thai daughter and a Thai ex-wife. Bored with Chiang Mai. Smoking away his life. He pumped me for information on Amish and Mennonites. He had a live one on his hands and wasn’t letting the opportunity pass.

“I hope you don’t mind these questions,” he said. “It’s not every day I can ask someone these questions.”

I actually didn’t mind. Much. I only wished he would stop smoking.

We discussed separation from the world.

“I guess you and I are separated from the world,” he said, with a nod at the other hotel guests. “We’re sitting in the smoking section.” I almost choked. Not because of smoke.

“So have you ever thought of like,” he stumbled over his words as if unsure how to ask. “Like you’re over here. You could dress like you wanted to and no one would ever know. Like if it were me, I would hate to get noticed like that. You could just dress like everybody else. Like, sort of like, undercover Amish?”

I laughed. Undercover Amish. Like, what is the world coming to?

Looking back, I feel like there would have been better ways to answer some of his questions. But I always do that—think of those things I should have said.

I left Nong Khai for Udon that evening and in Udon, caught the bus back to Chiang Mai.

“Excuse me,” I said to the girl in the aisle seat as I went to slide into the window seat in the front row of the top story of the bus.

She looked up. Beautiful dark eyes, pale skin, cultured face.

At first, she had her earphones in. Then she took them out and we started talking.

I’ve never experienced such a quick bond of friendship before. We clicked. Almost instantly. She was 19 and her name was Mint. We discussed family and friends and dreams, usually looking straight ahead at the road in front of us because we both got sick easily.

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View from the top story of the bus. Photo credit: LH

She was studying to be a doctor in Phayao. She wanted to go to the poor mountain regions of Thailand and be a doctor there. I told her of my dream to be a teacher there.

Her eyes lit up. “Let’s go together!”

I grinned, “Sure!”

We both liked the color green. We both love eating gummi bears. I tested her English a bit and taught her some words. She asked if I had Facebook.

“No, I don’t. But I do have Line.” (a popular messaging app used a lot in Asia.)

She was getting off in Lamphun where her boyfriend was working, and I was getting off in Chiang Mai. Before we reached there, I told myself, I would get her Line ID or number. This was a friendship for life.

The night drew on and we both fell asleep. Her head would come bouncing over onto my part of the seat as we hit bumps and I would stick my feet over on her part. We were both awakened in the middle of the night by a group of tourists that came on the bus, babbling in some European language. For some reason, both of us thought the sound was hilarious. We giggled hysterically.

“It sounds like when we were children and would just talk nonsense,” she whispered to me. I agreed, and we tried to smother our giggles in vain.

We fell asleep again and suddenly we woke up and the sign said Lamphun. It was only a short roadside stop, so she had to hurry and was gone before I could sleepily scribble out my number on a piece of paper.

I felt a loss that I couldn’t describe. Like I had met a little sister for a brief 12 hours and then suddenly, she was gone.  Only an act of God could let us ever meet again.

But I am glad I got to meet her. And the others, too. No matter how short the time that I got to know them, in some small way, each person impacted me, whether it was my pocketbook or my heart.

Which reminds me, I still haven’t cleaned that spit off my laptop screen.

Dusk: Doi Sutthep

Below is a poem set to the same style as Sara Teasdale’s  Sunset: St. Louis  

 

Hushed in the still gray fog of July rains

When humanity teems below in wild chatter

How many times have I seen my eastern mountain

Dream by her city.

 

High and still, shrouded in fathomless mist

That feints and flickers in a fickle ballet

Beneath muted sky she stands silent and strong

In lengthening shadows.

 

And when the light from the western sun breaks through

In soldered bars of gold and bronzed creation

Striking the clouds, my mountain still stands shining

In green and gold glory.

 

But I love my mountain most in rainy haze

When the gray rains come furtive and silent at dusk

And the lights blink on, gleaming through mist as my mountain strong

Dreams by her city.

-July 2017

 

Life Is Beautiful

A few weeks shy of my 27th birthday, I tapped the brakes slightly on my motorbike, and as a result, went sliding down a rain-washed mountain curve, leaving a 15 foot long scar on the pavement and a barely noticeable bruise on my leg. Shaken, but not hurt, I righted my bike and continued down the mountain in a proper fashion.

A few days before that, I finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi while sitting in the waiting room of a hospital waiting for a health certificate in order to renew my driver’s license. Finishing the book at the hospital seemed fitting, even when I had no reason to be there other than to get a piece of paper.

Kalanithi writes poignantly of his battle with cancer and even more poignantly of his search to find purpose and meaning in life. Somehow when you read a book in which you know the author dies in the end, you read it with an expectancy of being on the brink of learning a great secret of life. It’s like leaning breathlessly over a death bed trying to catch the last words of someone who is ready to cross over to the other side of that blurred glass. You feel that someone that close to death must have a key to the purpose of life.

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Perhaps that is because death and life really are not that much different.

The gist of Kalanithi’s story kept echoing in my soul several days after I put the book down. Kalanithi’s words, the fact that I slid down the mountain, the fact that I am close to adding another full year onto my life, and various other factors turned my mind to take a deeper look into my own life. One afternoon as I was patting one of my K1 students to sleep, a thought exploded in my brain.

If I live till fifty, I am over half finished with my life. If I live to 75, I am a third finished with my life.

I hated that thought and wished it away. It scared me. It made me panic.

You see, I’ve been living life in the same manner that I’ve been using crayons at work. In a classroom of 21 children, crayons are expendable. Once one of them becomes a little stub, it ends up in the trashcan without much thought and is easily replaced.

Life is not like that. But I’ve been living it like that. And suddenly with the realization that I’ve been alive for 27 years and at best have 60 more years left, comes the realization that I can’t afford to live life carelessly. I could die tomorrow. I could die in two weeks. I could die in 20 years. And the brutal fact remains– I’m not getting any younger.

My young students remind me of this daily. One day while playing “doctor” (I was the patient; they were the doctors) one of them discovered the white hairs in my head, exclaimed over them and made it her self-appointed duty to pick them out immediately. Just a few days ago, I leaned over a table, talking to a three year old, while raising my eyebrows. At the end of whatever I was saying, he didn’t respond, only wonderingly lifted his finger up and traced the wrinkles on my forehead. No, I’m not getting younger.

What does it mean to really, truly be alive in this world? This is the question that comes back to me over and over again.

There are lots of good quotes and words out there about what it means to really live, what a life well lived looks like. Cliché. Well meant. Good stuff.  But somehow I’ve reached a point in my life where I myself need to come to a conclusion about what it really means to live.

As I was trying to form a conclusion for this post, I only was able to come up with a hundred more, disjointed random questions and thoughts.

Like these:

Does truly living mean pouring yourself out trying to meet the needs and demands of the people around you until you are totally exhausted in the evening and lack the energy to even make your own supper?

Or is it the opposite, saying no to the needs around you so you can live your private life, follow the desires of your heart and stop and smell the roses and drink all the coffee you want?

I don’t think it means either of them. For the last few years, the former has been the story of my life. On some days I drag myself home at the end of the day, thinking, “Is this really what a fulfilling life looks like?”

But the fight within me continues. I have a hundred things that I would love to do before I die. I want to gallop across the Sahara desert on an Arabian horse with my hair down. I want explore Southeast Asia and visit the deserts of Mongolia and find my way into North Korea. I want to live in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burmese border. I want to write another book, a really really good one.  I want to read books. I want to live at home and appreciate the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of my own culture. I want to live in a Karen or Akha village in the mountains of Thailand. I want to learn another language. I want to live in Tibet. I want to get married and have children of my own.

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Pu’er, China. Photo credit: Sarah Jantzi

But I only have one life. And it’s not my own.

Can I justify doing things to satisfy my own wanderlust and desires?

What do the words mean, “Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart?” Am I not in tune enough with the Father’s heart to have my desires be his yet?

What does it mean to enjoy the gift of life that God has given us to the fullest, and yet being in tune to the needs of millions in this world who lack the privileges of money and freedom I have been given? Can I justify using my time and money in following my own desires while others are struggling to simply live?

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Kampong Speu, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Sarah Jantzi

What does it mean to be a Mary who serves?

Is it wrong to spend time reading literature just for the fact that it is well written, even if its spiritual benefit is low?

When is it right to spend money on your own comforts when it is something you could live without?

How do you decide where to pour out your life when there are so many things you love to do and would love to learn?

Paul was an apostle who poured out his life so others could hear the gospel. But did he ever stop on a mountain peak and drink in the glory of the natural world? Did he rejoice inwardly in the beauty of each culture he visited and delight in the different stripes and colors of each country?

This life is beautiful. The people and the world around me are beautiful and deserve to be noticed and gloried in. There are hundreds of amazing accomplishments of humanity that should be celebrated, not because of the human ability behind it, but because of the gift of talented brains and gifted hands that God has given us. There are hundreds of beautiful cultures and customs that express the image of God.

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Chintaluruh, India. Photo Credit: Diana Weiler

To sum it up, the question that remains is, “How do I live and taste this beautiful life to the fullest, without getting wrapped up in things that take away from the purpose God has given me?”

What do you think? I would love to hear from you.

Glimpses

Sometimes I have those moments of lying awake in bed at night and wishing I could take the next plane home, get out of the city, spend time with my family, visit my favorite haunts again, listen to the laughter of old friends, and tear down the road in a madcap gallop on a sorrel horse.

I do have those moments. In no small measure. But on the other hand, I also have moments of pure joy as I experience life in Southeast Asia.

It helps to count those moments. To look at pictures of them and savor the beauty and the joy. And the laughter. I face a thousand decisions a day and one of the decisions that come up the most is whether to laugh or to cry. Or lose my patience. And when I do make the right decision to laugh, it’s always a relief. Like the time I walked into the bathrooms after naptime and caught three of my three year old male students sleepily peeing into the toilet all at the same time. Sadly, the funniest moments are usually the most difficult to snap a picture of because they come at unpredictable moments.

Below are several snapshots of what life has been like in the last month. Beauty, laughter, and just plain cuteness.

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This is what life looks like for me most of the time. Minus the green and yellow. We only wear these uniforms Wednesdays and smile with relief when the day is past. This photo was taken at Wisdom Tree Home during the exercise part of the day. The rest of the day is spent teaching, playing, eating, napping, and prepping for more teaching. In my room alone, we have 20 students, age 3.

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This is Peem, one of my more solemn students. And sleepiest.

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We get lots of giggles, as shown in the picture above.

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Sometimes its really hard to wake up from naps, even when our blanket gets pulled out from underneath us.

We do art projects, we just simply look cute with our curls, we find worms and we fall asleep at the table. A lot.

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Sometimes this happens!

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Going to the market on Monday night is bound to bring me some sort of joy, whether its talking to the vendors, seeing people I know, or a tasty bite of fried chicken strips.

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One thing that keeps me sane is horseback riding, usually done on Saturdays.

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We got to go to a Karen wedding one Saturday.

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These two, a coworker and her daughter, keep me in laughter.

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And these two make me smile.

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We went to Maun Jam, a local mountain lookout one Saturday.

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At a local village, we spent some time with the children and later watched them play this game similar to volleyball.

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Sometimes just looking at the sky brings me all kinds of joy.

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One Saturday we spent time with a Thai friend at a 3D Art Museum.

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And when you combine rivers and coffee, life just becomes too much to handle. 🙂

Child That Never Really Was Mine 2

It’s now close to two years that I saw him last. Be was my first student at Wisdom Tree Home, and the one that left the most lasting imprint on my heart. I stumbled across a picture of him yesterday and floods of memories came back. Here is a poem I posted two years ago of him. I felt it would be appropriate to post it again.

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I miss you, I miss you, child of my heart

(Child that never really was mine)

Eyes so deep you’d think you’d drown

Drown in those tears of salty brine.

But child, child, I miss those hands

Brown and small that clung to my own

Clung to my hands and held to my heart

But now I hold alone.

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The last time I saw you, child of mine

You looked so fragile and skinny and small

And I don’t know if I’ll ever again

Walk this way and hear you call

But child, child, I’ll never, forget

The way you hugged me that one last time

Child, I love you, no words can say

(Child that never really was mine).

-June 2015

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Respite

When the silence falls around me

At the ending of a day

Come read to me a simple thing

In a simple way

 

Please do not speak to me

Of promises to keep

Or of the many, many miles

To go before I sleep

 

Tell me not, my friend,

Of battles yet to fight

Of hands to lift, hearts to seek

And torches yet to light

 

Tomorrow I will rise again

In morning’s blood-red glow

Take my weapons in my hand

And go to  meet the foe

 

But oh, I am tired tonight

And the silence to me sings

Let me only rest and listen

To the words it brings.

 

For I am just a little speck

Beneath a raging sky

A sky that covers a billion souls

And comes to crush me where I lie

 

I know, I know of swords to bear

Lands to claim and forts to keep

But, I beg, let me stay a while

In these woods so lovely,

So lovely,

So lovely, dark and deep

-written on Doi Pui, February 2017

The Rats in Our Lives

One of my housemates gives them names. The other one can’t bring herself to kill one if she has the chance. I throw water bottles at them.

They’re a constant problem at our house, these rats and mice. One morning a little over a year ago, I woke up at 3 in the morning. In my groggy, half-awakened state, I heard an odd rhythm, the scraping sound of furniture moving, belongings being shuffled around rather frantically, and a methodic thumping. I lay there for a good 3 minutes, trying to gather up enough mental energy to make a conclusion of what was happening. Finally, it dawned on me and I croaked as loudly as my 3 AM voice would allow.

“Brit, are you killing rats?”

A weak answer floated back, “Yes.”

When I got there, her room looked like a war zone. Everything was on the bed that could possibly be there and whatever couldn’t be was arranged in a path to channel the said mouse (not actually a rat this time) into a trap. The sad part was she couldn’t bring herself to kill it, so she handed me the broom.

At that time of the morning, you say odd things. I am told that I said, “I can’t kill them unless I’m really mad at them” and then went ahead and savagely killed it.

We’ve had them long enough that we’ve become calloused to them. They create material for good stories to freak out moms and sisters at home. Like the time one of them ate a snack on the drying rack and had the audacity to leave shreds of mango on my newly washed underwear. Or the time I heard one in my closet and as I was hunting for it, I leaned my hand against some blankets and it came squirming out from underneath them. Or the time they chewed up an entire cloth runner since butter had melted on it and they craved the flavor.

We’ve found ways of coping with them. They come in from the kitchen, so we close the door to the rest of the house so they can’t get in there. That doesn’t actually work since they can climb through the open window that goes from kitchen to the hallway. We’ve learned to cover up or put in the cupboard any food that is edible, even if it’s in a plastic bag because plastic bags are barely barriers to chew through. Lately I’ve started to put out poison. We found the smelly results under the couch a few days later.

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About a year ago, some friends of mine were here. The guys in the group had pity on us and went out and bought some dry cement and filled up the holes in the kitchen so the rats couldn’t come through again. It worked!

For a while. Then they learned that they could come up the washer drain. And the dry cement began crumbling and a little hole appeared large enough for them to come through again. Now at night we hear skitterings and crashings and all sorts of noises coming from our kitchen. And in the gutter, we can hear dreadful squeakings and shriekings. For some time I was sure there was one in the agonies of death, either that giving birth to another generation of unprincipled rodents. (Do rats have labor pains? I wonder.)

Every time another episode in the rat saga occurs, we look at each and shake our heads and say, “Guys, we really need to do something about these rats!”

But no one does anything. We get used to them. We work from Monday to Fridays in slightly stressful jobs and no one has the energy to do anything about them when we get home. They are a nuisance, but not a constant pain. And most of all, we don’t really know what to do about them. How do you fully plug up those holes anyway? We helplessly ignore them and secretly hope that eventually they will go away. Either that we’ll do something about them tomorrow.

But they don’t go away.

In a way, each of us has rats in our lives too. Rats of a different ilk.

It’s that niggling feeling that you get when talking with someone else and you’re not sure exactly what is niggling. It’s that sense of dread that comes over you when you’re listening to a sermon or reading a book and something is said that suddenly takes you in a deep, downward spiral. It’s that feeling of inadequacy. Shame. Anger. Bitterness. Fear. Or a feeling you can’t even name.

Sometimes the feelings are so quick and passing that we don’t even realize they exist. We rush on through our day, intent on doing our job right, so intent on getting to the next thing that when we have time to sit and reflect on what happened, it’s burrowed itself down deep enough we don’t feel it anymore and it takes too much digging to get it up again and deal with it. Or we forget that it even happened or we don’t have the energy to deal with it.

Sometimes it’s more obvious than that. Sometimes it overshadows whatever we do and we struggle to put one foot ahead of the other, because of this feeling of dread that hangs over us, but we feel helpless and overwhelmed when we even think about doing something about it

Usually these rats come stealing in at our lowest points, when we stretched thin, when we’re facing stress in our daily lives, when we’re dealing with raw pain, or when we’re  lonely.

And what do we do with them? Sometimes we put up walls. We put everything edible into cupboards so the rats can’t reach them. Or we only close the kitchen door to certain parts of our lives so they can’t enter into the living room. In reality we are saying, I will only be bitter about this part of my life, but I won’t let it affect the rest of my life. But eventually it does affect that part.

Sometimes we put out poison for the rats. This works to some degree, and there’s a need for this. But after a while we get tired of cleaning up the smelly mess and always dealing with new ones coming in again.

We need to plug up the holes. As long as the holes are there, rats will come in. And we will need to deal with them.

Those rats, those ugly thoughts and feelings that come twisting out of the woodwork when we’re not looking, aren’t really the problem. The problem is the holes in our lives.

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Most of those holes were created when we were very young, between the ages of 0 and 8. These are the formative years of a child’s life. Forgive me if this sounds cliché. Sometimes I myself get tired of people harping that you have to dig into your childhood to find the roots of all the problems that are present in your life currently.

But often the most cliché things are cliché because they actually are true. The painful things that happened when you and I were young and the way we reacted then becomes a pattern for how we twistedly deal with life presently on a daily basis.

That’s why if we don’t deal with that point of paint that happened when we were six, it becomes a building block for future patterns of “fixed” thinking.

Recently I heard it explained in this way. Painful or traumatic things that happen to us in our lives are like hooks that are thrust into our hearts. As long as we don’t forgive or don’t deal with that pain or issue, we provide a hook for future events to hang on to.

We can clean up the mess from the rats every morning (and believe me, they leave a mess). But until we plug up those holes and remove those hooks from our hearts, the rats won’t go away.

The rat analogy can only go so far. In truth, we shouldn’t stop short of just plugging up the holes. In a perfect world, we should go outside and kill all the rats in the field behind us. But anyone who’s lived in Southeast Asia realizes the futility of that. And we don’t live in a perfect world. (Duh.)

Here are a few thoughts that might help with the finding and plugging up of some of those holes.

  1. Find out what you are feeling! This is easier said than done. Our souls are intricate and our emotions a mess. Sometimes we don’t even know we are feeling something when in reality we are feeling it deeply. Ask God to help you become aware of emotions you feel daily. Sometimes He will give you a little push to help you see what you’re feeling, and it can hurt. Be prepared to be hurt. When we open our hearts to actually feeling, it is astounding how painful something can be.
  2. Write down what you’re feeling and find out where it comes from. The writing down part doesn’t have to happen—that depends on what your best way is of processing things. But for me, writing brings clarity and a new viewpoint. And most importantly, it helps you remember. But however you do it, keep track of what you’re feeling and when you feel it. Become aware of the world that goes on inside of you.
  3. Take it to God. Ask Him to show you where these feelings are coming from. Why do I feel inadequate when someone else can do a job better than me, even if I do it well? Why do I get angry so easily when one of my students disobeys me? Why do I feel like hiding in the bathroom when I have to be a part of a large group of people that I don’t know?
  4. Talk with someone about it. There are several reasons for this. Talking with others about it can bring clarity. Recently I emailed someone about an issue I was facing that I couldn’t quite lay my finger on. After the email, I felt like I was able to see the problem from a different angle and much more clearly. But even more importantly, talking about it brings healing, especially when done face to face. Recently I was a part of a group that spent time together talking about issues we were facing and walking through those issues with each other. There is something terrible and humbling in discussing our core pain with each other, but something freeing and healing as well. God can bring deep healing through true interaction with brothers and sisters. Like someone in the group said, “I didn’t know God can kick you in the butt and give you a hug at the same time.”
  5. Remember that it’s not a onetime fix all. I know, technically once you get those holes plugged up, and once you get those hooks out of your heart, it’s supposed to fix it all. But we live in a fallen world. And analogies can only go so far. Even though we do rid ourselves of the hooks, sometimes our old ways of living life, our old patterns of expressing still want to shine through. They are habits. It’s like someone whose been in the hospital and been on morphine for a long time. Once the pain of the health issue is no longer there, the craving for the morphine still exists. In the same way, we sometimes crave for our old patterns even though we have found something much better.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at rats in our lives. In fact, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’d like to hear from you. What kind of experience have you had with rats in your life? How have you dealt with them?

Lonely

 

Lonely in the nighttime when upon my bed

Still and prone I lie, and buried dreams

Come rushing to my mind like waves

Washing my resolve into a thousand streams

That flow a thousand different ways

Lonely for the comfort of another fellow dreamer

 

Lonely when the rainclouds slip beyond the mountain

I crest the hill and glimpse the glory

Of a thousand colors dancing wild

My spirit claims the beauty; the promise of the story

Flung and hung in rainwashed sky

Lonely for the spirit of another rainbow chaser

 

Lonely when the mountain vistas roll away

To touch the edge where land and sky are sewn

A thousand roads lie yet untraveled

A million hearts lie yet alone

In the endless valleys that sprawl below

Lonely for the heart of another mountain roamer