Is Writing Selfish? Or Is It Service?

When trying to live a life of service to God and to others, what room is there for egotism? Where does egotism end and our God-given gifts begin?

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I’ve been state-side for one month now, with little to occupy my time other than my own thoughts and the warm comfort of friends and family. As I sit in my little, cluttered home, replete with dog hair and worn-down magazines, I think and pray a lot, maybe too much, about my own future.

I long to continue my education, which leads most well meaning folks to ask me, “what do you want to do as a career?” My usual response is “I don’t know,” which elicits sighs and confusion, mostly from myself.

The truth is, I think I do know, but I don’t feel like admitting it. I want to write. And read. And study. As a career. That seems like something that’s impossible to exhaust…study. One man can’t ever know everything so how much more can we use this life to learn? I think now of one of my favorite little memoirs, Twenty Years A Growin,’ where the narrator gleans this advice to me:

“What good are you unless you study and travel the world while you are in it?”

I take these words to heart and often feel that there’s so much to see and do and learn that I couldn’t ever possibly choose just one path and stick to it. But maybe this is just naivete.

As I contemplate the possible paths before me, I try to see into the future and imagine what would be required of me in a certain setting. How much of myself would I be required to give? How much of myself would I have to die to? In the Christian context, walking with Christ means dying to yourself, taking up your cross (your burdens–see Pilgrim’s Progress) and following Christ.

But how much of me is what I need to die to, and how much of me is given by God to fulfill?

If God gave me a talent for writing or speaking (not saying He did, but I’m certainly no accountant), then shouldn’t I use it for Him? But writing is a very personal activity, and these days I feel like I’m spending too much time alone, in my own head, instead of being present with others.

How much of me needs to die to be filled up instead with Christ?

It’s easy to discern external sins: avarice, greed, addiction, egotism, things that we all struggle with. Sometimes our failings manifest themselves externally in our relationships with others, our addictions to material things, or something else. But sometimes they sink deep inside our skin, and we don’t realize they are there until we try to break ourselves free and instead feel chained to our own sloth, our own internal egotism that sits quietly beneath our breath.

Is this my cross?

If it is, how can I follow Jesus on a path that would confront me with more of the same…the long, solitary afternoons, alone with my books and my thoughts? Our thoughts can sometimes betray us.

Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. I’m not a hermit…not yet, anyway, and I do love the great outdoors. It’s just that sometimes I love my pajamas more.

Is writing an inherently selfish endeavor? A good writer writes with an audience in mind, with a story to tell, with an argument to posit. Sometimes I just write because I can’t sit still unless I do. Oh, the novelty.

I wonder what it would be like to follow a path of academia, of writing and thinking and listening and learning and trying to convince others I’m right when I secretly know I’m not. Or what if I know I am? Maybe that’s even worse. Or maybe academia, like any other path, is not about being right or wrong but about growing and discovering and being present with others as you walk the road together. Is that naivete again?

What do you think, sage bloggers or writers? How do you reconcile your time in your head with your time serving others? Is writing selfish, or is it a form of service?

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Pakistani Asylum Seekers in Bangkok’s Neighborhoods

Hi friends,

This is a long post, but I encourage you to read to the end. This topic has been weighing on my heart for some time, and I’ve finally put together some information about it. Please read, comment and contact me with any questions or concerns. 

I knew essentially nothing about Pakistan before I came to Thailand. Nor did I think that living in Thailand would teach me anything at all about a country in central Asia for which I had no frame of reference or real concern, or make me care so deeply for a people I had never met.

But God works in mysterious ways.
I began attending a church that ministers to some refugees in the area. I joined a small fellowship group through the church’s network, and one of these families was in my group. I had just moved to Thailand, and I was feeling very lonely. This family saw the loneliness I was carrying inside me, and they invited me over to their home. I went, a bit nervous, but was welcomed with the most genuine Christian love and hospitality I have experienced in many years. It didn’t matter that their home consisted of two small rooms with one big bed on the floor—which they converted into our dining table. They showed great appreciation for my company. In reality, I appreciated their company more than they knew, and I kept going back to sit and visit with them. Sometimes we would sing or play music. Other times we would play chess. Always we laughed and prayed, and there would be delicious food and tea. They told me many stories about their lives back home. They told me of their persecution and how Muslim Extremists had registered the blackened 295-C legal case against them: The Blaspheme Law against the Muslim Prophet Mohammad. In Pakistan, anyone accused of blasphemy receives execution. So the family fled to Bangkok.
In Bangkok today, there are approximately six thousand asylum seekers from Pakistan, most of whom have been accused of violating the Blaspheme Law. They come to Thailand because it is very easy to enter on a tourist visa. However,  as soon as those visas run out, they are regarded as criminals. 
Thailand, to this day, has never signed the UN Commission of Refugees;  this means that every asylum seeker and refugee, regardless of their status under the UNHCR (the UN High Commission on Refugees), is illegal. In the last month, police have arrested hundreds of families and thrown them behind bars. Last week I visited the Immigration Detention Center; the “prisoners” are detained in hot, overcrowded rooms. They are let out to walk around the building only twice a month, and they have extremely limited contact with the outside world. They have no clean drinking water, receive meager meals and very limited medicine. There is a host of diseases inside. It’s a terrible place to be, but for most, it is their only option. The only way out is to be granted refugee status by the United Nations, a process which takes years, or to go back to Pakistan.  There is no choice but to suffer in prison. It is a terrible, terrible place.

Yet despite these struggles, something remarkable is happening. Communities of asylum seekers are uniting to create lives for themselves and their children. They may not be in control of their futures, but they can change their present circumstance, through faith, perseverance, friendship and sharing their stories. And they are doing just that.

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Last year, my friend opened a makeshift school in his one room flat for the neighborhood children to learn. The school has grown to reach of 140 children all over the city. A few months ago, I went and taught drama lessons to some of the children. Their enthusiasm, excitement, and sharp wit brought me to tears (not in that room, of course. I had to be cool. They are teenagers, after all.) I miss them. I hope to see them again. I haven’t been back, because the learning center had to shut down. Thai police began patrolling the neighborhood round the clock, and most families were too afraid to send their children outside.

Still, God works through the darkest circumstances. He brought these children out of Pakistan. He has delivered them from incredibly dangerous situations. He has opened four learning centers, one of which was given generously by the wife of a high-ranking Thai army official. The Lord works in miraculous ways.

When I visited the IDC last week I had the honor of meeting other residents of Bangkok who are doing their best to care for the detainees however they can. They work under the constraints of the visitor’s rules and regulations to deliver home cooked meals, diapers, water, food and supplies to as many people as they can.

So why is this so important? Well, being here has showed me with my own unbelieving eyes how powerful prayer is. Most of all, these people need our support and to know we love them and our thinking about them. Even if you don’t pray, just sending some thoughts, or talking to a friend who may not know what’s going on, can do tremendous things to alleviate the suffering of people who feel so alone. And somehow, I feel like I’m here to help.

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For more information about the situation, I recommend the following articles:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/907aad6cecba463794926748e1fb4369/stuck-limbo-bangkoks-hidden-urban-refugees-scrape

http://farrukhsaif.com/crack-down-against-pakistani-asylum-seekers-in-bangkok-thailand/

http://liferaftinternational.org/about-us/the-situation-in-bangkok

With Love,
Mel

Living Inside the Outside

What happens when you move into the outside of your comfort zone??

Having passed the six month bench mark of living in Thailand (actually, I’m going on month EIGHT already…amazing..), I recently found myself in a self-prescribed “funk.” After the country-hopping adventures of Christmas break, I was back into teaching, finding myself caught up in a routine of “get up, go to class, come home, eat, sleep, repeat.” I was reminded of the late David Foster Wallace’s college graduation speech given at Kenyon back in 2005 on the importance of remembering to look up from the steering wheel every once and a while to appreciate where you are.

Even though I am in a different country, I still fell victim to that nasty habit of taking everything for granted and becoming weary of the everyday, the “mundane;” the repetitiveness of work and the pressures of life got to me. I was “in a funk.”

So what do you do when you suddenly move into the outside of your comfort zone? What do you do when everything that was new and strange becomes normal, routine, and slightly predictable?

I struggled to answer this question. For a few weekends I hibernated, shut the world out, watched Youtube videos and ate bowls of noodles. And sometimes, a girl just needs a curry-noodle-Boy-Meets-World kind of weekend. I’m okay with that.

Me on a Friday afternoon.

But eventually, I had to emerge from my hole in the wall and breathe in the smelly air of Bangkok, because at a certain point I ceased to recharge, and I ended up hurting myself by isolating myself beyond what was necessary. This is something, I’m noticing after many years, I tend to do.

Fortunately, life has a way of meeting you where you are, grabbing your hand and pulling you along when you least expect it and most need it. And, by the Grace of God, I found amazing ways to cope. I reached out to friends who, it turned out, were experiencing similar feelings. Together we vowed to make the most of our time here, and a few weeks later, I can honestly say that things are picking up with amazing speed!

It was not an easy transition–but I wonder if any transition is easy. But, when you pick up your head long enough to realize “this is water,” you will be amazed at what you can discover. So, in my case, I decided to take a walk down a street I had never been down before, and guess what I discovered?

WATER!

Yes. I had been staying with a friend in a local area of the city, and last Friday night I found myself alone and on the cusp of another “funk.” So I left the apartment to go to 7-11 for some milk, but instead, I turned right instead of left and set out on a nice, long, solo walk.

I began to notice things I had never noticed before, like coffee shops and karaoke bars (no surprise there), apartment buildings and even a university–who knew?  Then, I came to a bustling, unpaved intersection with no hope of crossing it. So I watched the cars and semi-trucks whiz past me at break neck speed, and I thought to myself “this is so different from home.” And I was happy. I was happy to be looking at a traffic scene, witnessing a cross-section of local lives before which point I had never come into contact. And I felt different…calmer…more accepting of my current reality.

Finally, when the traffic ceased, I raced across the road and continued my journey. It did not last very long, because I came to a dead end. How strange, I thought, that this seemingly busy road suddenly dead-ends. Why would it do that? I could have just turned back and accepted this peculiarity, but I was not ready to go home. So I kept walking, and that’s when I discovered the pier.

There’s a PIER at the end of my street. A pier, where boats and water taxis come and go, where people get on and off and are swept away down the Chao Praya into other pockets of Bangkok, unbeknownst to little ole ignorant me. Of course none of these occurrences depended on me seeing them; they, like everything else God made, existed before and without me. Yet to me, this pier is  special, because I learned something very valuable that night.

I never have to accept things just as they are, or resign myself to the fact that “this is all there is,” because “this” is never all there is. Somewhere down the street, there is a boat dock waiting to float me down another river I never even knew existed.