I was reading The Agony and the Ecstasy when my dad walked up to me and asked if I was interested in doing a mural for a friend of a friend’s son who is expecting his first child. Less talented and a bit more intimidated than Michelangelo, I welcomed the challenge. It’s been years since i’ve done a mural. Thankfully this request was a fairly simple one. It’s been fun.
This is it so far:
A few unpublished thoughts from Thailand
It is a quite day. The perfect summer kind of day (given that I continue to mentally block out all the grading I need to do). The low, steady drone of the fan blowing on the laundry outside reminds me of long-ago days as a child when thoughts never breached the following day; when I was so very present to each moment.
Outside there are a hundred soft-mint-green butterflies, lilting about in an unending game of tag; around the trees, through the branches, and musically past my laundry basket as if they might pick up and hang my clothes in a Disney movie. On the narrow, brick path full of crunchy leaves, I crackled my way toward the washing machine. A few unseen beings scurried into the bushes. The third, which I managed to see beyond the my basket of clothes, was a thin snake. It jumped out of my way and beneath the fluttering leaves just off the path. On the way back, I noticed one of the others was a small iguana-sort of creature frozen at the tree after its startled dash.
Today has consisted of being home, being alive (and being online)…sigh : ) just being. I suppose there has been some doing as well. The laundry, for instance. In fact, I should probable go retrieve the second load. And I suppose I shall eventually do the grading I’ve been neglecting.
I recall something I heard once from a man I only met twice. After his speech at one of the classes at ORU, I remember really wanting to talk to him and asking God if I could do so. Providentially, afterwards he ended up at the coffee shop that I attended religiously in Tulsa.
I don’t remember what I asked him, only that we were suddenly talking about ministry and what it is exactly. And what the ministry of Jesus was; what the Kingdom was (or is, rather). He said something bothersomely simple. One of those nuggets that you listen to humbly, skeptically and yet hopefully. One that you can neither stuff unnoticed into your world view or disregard, because there is some ring of truth to it and was delivered so sincerely by a credible person. You twirl it around in your mind a bit and then set on the proverbial shelf to try on at another time. Maybe its some wisdom from deep waters of time that you’ll understand later. Every year or so it comes back to you; you pick it up again and holding it up to the light, inspect it like some sort of riddle that, once opened, might cause all other things to make more sense.
Ministry, he said, is simply being fully present. [blink blink] I nodded waiting for more – something that sounded more profound perhaps or a little more complicated. Or maybe just for something to click. Jesus, he went on, was fully alive and present to each person he met. That is the Kingdom.
Even as I write it out, I wonder at how simple it is – how easy to miss. And I wonder why it’s stayed with me so long. Being present and available to each moment is bringing the Kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven”?
And then I consider how unusual it is to have someones full attention. To be in the true presence of another person… all of their presence – someone at total peace with themselves, with existing, not preoccupied in the least with worry or insecurity or thoughts beyond the moment. Someone who isn’t hiding behind an elaborate bouquet of fig leaves they call their personality. The only people I ever meet like this are usually very young children. Fully alive to each day – to joy and laughter and love. They are able to rest, to sleep, to trust.
How is one of us, now grown, able to be present, alive, secure… like a child? The years have taken away innocence and cornered or extinguished unique parts of our hearts. Expectations, duties and fears have bogged down our minds and turned our vision inward. But this is actually how we are told we enter into peace, to joy, to righteousness (the Kingdom of God) – “Like a child.”
Perhaps its not possible to presume upon God’s love for us because it’s so much greater that we could conceive. That to foolishly trust him, that he is goodhearted and has a good plan, in spite of these few brief moments called life that we don’t fully understand, is what make us fully alive and able to love uninhibitedly. That springing forth from that comfortable trust is true person-hood, is righteousness, peace and joy…is this convoluted idea called “ministry.”
This site needs a makeover. What is it? A portfolio? A blog? (do people still blog?) I think I need to reconsider its purpose and define it a little more crisply. For now it will just be in wondering limbo. Like me.
My life needs a makeover. What is it?
I keep wanting to ramble somewhere. When I do, its usually on word documents that never leave my mini travel laptop. But sometimes you just want some feedback, to make sure you aren’t crazy or at least find out the degree to which you are.
I almost posted my stream of consciousness journaling here the other day, but, perhaps to my/your best interest, I was interrupted by a call from my brother. I don’t want to be a lazy writer. The world, the internet, is so saturated with unedited rambling. Quantity, but quality? But then maybe that’s what some blogs are for. For the rambling your way through things until you clarify some bit of something that may bring value to people.
Who knows. Maybe I’ll just let gobrandie.com become a brainstormy blog and make it a “minimum goal” to write something every day. That’d be better that not ever posting and better than wanting to hide in some anonymous secondary blog. That’d feel cowardly. I am who I am.
We make maximum daily goals, (like work out for two hours or write three pages of the novel) and no minimum ones (like at least walk a mile or write a paragraph everyday). Its better, he explained, to do the minimum effort toward our goal everyday than to do our maximum goals for three weeks, get burnt out and quit. That’s why people don’t write books, he said, or loose weight or finish the project …or even develop their relationship with God. Good point Dr. Walker.
So today I begin my Minimum Effort Journal.
It’s not that we shouldn’t have maximum goals, but that we should definitely have daily minimum goals. At least do the least.
I’m not sure If I’m able to form my current emotions and floaty thoughts into anything meaningful for this blog. Hopefully I can at least coat some of them with words and bring them down out of their ghostly state. I feel like some sort of post-Thailand reflection is in order, yet Thailand isn’t the predominant thought on my mind. Aside from nostalgic moments here and there, when I passed a fruit stand on the side of the road yesterday for instance, I haven’t done much “looking back” since being home. It feels too early to look back. Like there isn’t enough context yet to really see what that 10 months was about. So I have a few lightly thought-through pat-answers to give people when they ask. Hopefully those will tide me over for a year or so. I don’t guess people are seeking a complex or philosophical sort of answer really; maybe I am. I don’t know.
I don’t know a lot of things. It was helpful for me when my mentor, in our recent session together, turned our focus to the things I do know. Let’s work from there, he consoled me as I tried to understand my “life dream”, most of the time you only have few pieces and don’t see the whole puzzle until it comes together. He led intuitively with a few broad-stroking questions about this next chapter of my life, and I was glad I could answer some of them confidently. To a few of them though I was only able to discern what my answers were not. But those are puzzle pieces too, he told me.
Perhaps they are edges pieces.
It’s quite odd being in Macon again. Being home. I explained it to a few friends a month after I was back that if felt like I was suddenly dropped into life. Like I just woke up to some circumstance. Suddenly I have a job and family and relationship drama (to be vague). It was a bit overwhelming for a while, but things have calmed down enough to think clearly occasionally – at the very least to have those few hours a week when I can examine my life, ponder the path of my feet, within the safe counsel of one who has lived more than half of his.
I’ve outgrown certain things. That’s one thing I do know. I’ve pursued wholeness and freedom, and while I know there is still an abundant supply of personal growth to be had, I know I have outgrown certain relationships. It’s a bit confusing emotionally, because it’s not like I’ve necessarily out grown the people occupying the relationships or the love I have for those people. Perhaps the type of love has just changed. But the actual relationships; they don’t fit anymore. I’ve felt anger in embarrassing disproportions, resentment, relief, numbness and indifference. Some of these emotions seem very unfair towards those to whom I feel them, and I don’t intend to involve those people. I am aware that most of this is my journey and has much less to do with them than it does me. So I keep them between myself and God and my God-send-of-a-counselor/mentor…. And occasionally between one of the surviving relationships.
These are the things I know for now. About everything else, I have to defer to those who can see my life with experienced and objective eyes. I get to, rather. I get to learn to trust and take counsel while I stand in this dizzying altitude. Sooner or later I will journey down from this limbo-like place into a more solid, earthy path. Until that time, it’s nice to have someone hold my hand and see with me the scape of my life and heart-dream. Someone to help me know down which side I might like to start descending.
Since Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss has been the recent curriculum I’m using with my students, I decided I should try and serve green eggs in class somehow after exams. It’s sort of my end-of-the-school-year theme, and I thought it would be fun to see if we “like green eggs and ham”.
(Side note: I was shocked (and grossed out!) to discover a few weeks ago that Thailand really does have Green Eggs! They are soaked in some sort of pickling substances that denatures the protein to a state far too unnatural for my taste.
I eventually opened the green egg, and missing the point of the book entirely, refused to taste it. Shame shame, Teacha Brandie. But surely, you will understand when you see the photos… Click here. )
Needless to say, I did not opt for those green eggs. I wracked my brain and the candy isles at BigC, searching for some cute and tasty way to make green eggs. Think think think…
Finally, what did I stumble upon, but packs of milky white agar gelatin right beside packs of green agar gelatin! The third and only other color available was red. Also, just as I’d hoped, I found something I could use for egg-shaped molds.
So tonight, as I type this and do 18 other things rather inefficiently (including, but not limit to the student goodbye cards), I am making green eggs! I didn’t end up using the mold for the first batch because I accidently waited too long and the green agar cooled into one big green yolk in the bottom of the pan. So I used a water bottle to cut them into smaller “yolks” then started brewing the white Agar.
Tomorrow is my last full week with my students. I’m giving them exams on what we’ve covered these last few weeks (which I anticipate being fairly easy). I also want to give them a little token to which they can attach memories of this year, and have been trying to think for months of what exactly that will be. With around 400 students (excluding the 3through5-year-olds), it has to be something affordable. But I also want it to be personal, so I’ve tried to make time over these past few weeks to take a photo with each student. “Personalized bookmarks?” I thought, for the 5th and 6th grade. But to be honest, reading is not exactly a popular pass-time here. My older students can stay in touch with me on Facebook, so I haven’t been quite as concerned with what to do for them. But my littles; I wanted to provide some means of eventual contact.
My precious third graders. They are both my biggest fans and my biggest “thorn in the flesh,” driving me ever to necessity of God’s grace. I will really miss them and their parading me to class every week. I’ll miss all of my students. They are so special and have carved out their own space in my heart.
As for the goodbye gifts, I ended up opting for a little card with a picture on it with each of them and my info in case they should ever what to be in touch. I incorporated the recent Dr. Seuss material as well, in hopes of inspiring further learning. The end has crept up on me, but it has been my intention of writing a personal note on each card. We’ll see if I am able to do that. This weekend has been given to creating this template, resizing photos and trying to lay them out in the most economical fashion for printing. Once printed and cropped (and hopefully written on) this what they’ll look like:
I hope each student knows how very special he/she is to me. I know I’m just one passing “hello” in all of their lives, but I hope that, through the mysteries of memory and nostalgia, they feel loved by that “hello.”
[In other news...] This has been a pretty cloudy few weeks, both literally and figuratively. I feel like much of the joy and ease of Thai-life his has been overshadowed by business, worry, negativity, avoidance, urgency and relational strain. I guess some of it is the ebb and flow of life, but I’ve been asking God about it. As I laid in bed last night laden with frustration, anger and un-surety, I closed my eyes and spoke to God. What do I do, God? What happened? My thoughts weaved. Why am I not joyful and present? I felt a nudge to just thank Him… the way I used to thank Him about my life. My soul let out a sigh as my mind whispered to Him, Wow, God, thank you for my motorcycle. I’ve always wanted one. Thank you for my house. My own space. And three bedrooms?! That’s lavish, God. I love it. Thank you for my students. One smiling student named Bam, and a few others, came to mind. The weight began to lift as I thought of more and more that I have. The beauty of Thailand. My amazing family.
I recall something I learned long ago from the book entitled Telling Yourself the Truth (by Backus and Chapian). It’s not what happens that affects you, but rather, what you tell yourself about what happens. It seems simple, but it’s so true. So much of how I’ve felt lately is simply a result of what I believe/fear about life, my future, the unknown… the known, etc. For me, it always seems to come down to an issue of trust vs. control. As time in Thailand closes, I get the privilege (and challenge) of resting and trusting that God really is good and really does have a plan beyond what I can see.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
I love Saturdays. Because usually on Saturdays, I remember that I live in Thailand. I don’t keep track of the time. I don’t think about teaching or what my plans are the next day. And I don‘t worry about much of anything. On Saturdays, I just exist. It’s my own Sabbath, set apart from the rest of the week. These are usually the days that I follow my curiosity down roads I often pass or take long drives through the mountains and fields; just me and my camera and the open, beautiful world.
Today I slept in late; I had been up until 3am texting with my sister Lauren, who had just went into labor. Finally, I decided I would just go to bed and be greeted in the morning by all the pictures of my beautiful, new niece that would no doubt be all over facebook.
After clicking through all the pictures 3 or 4 times (at least!) and wishing there were a thousand more, I got dressed and went out in quest for decent wifi. I spent a few hours on Skype with one of my best friends who is getting married a week after I come home. We caught up on all the details and delights that go into planning the “biggest day of your life.” It’s odd being the Maid-of-Honor and not even getting to help with all those little things that add up to a wedding. But, having already missed two important weddings while living here, at least I will get to be at this one!
As afternoon began melting into evening, my curiosity led me down a road, winding through a neighborhood of old Thai houses and then to this seemingly old temple. I spent a good thirty minutes wandering around the empty place taking photos and asking God what He thought of it all. All I could discern was His returned question, What do you think of it?
Hmm, I thought. Well, it’s beautiful I guess, I said quietly eyeing the mosaic of colorful mirrors that surrounded the doors and traced the bowed pointy roof. But I don’t know, noticing in the shadows yet two more of the 28+ Buddhas I’d already seen on the property, it seems empty. Man-made. I couldn’t help thinking of when God told the Israelites in the Ten Commandments not to make any images of Him. I wondered if perhaps it was because not a single image could ever do Him justice. There’s already enough in life that serves to limit our ideas of God. To try to create anything that could capture the One who created everything… it just wouldn’t quite work. Every drop of beauty we see, all the real love we feel, every transcendent moment of joy or peace… it’s from Him; it’s a reflection of this Great Artist.
I told Him I thought the trees and flowers were prettier than the beautiful temple. And later, that the sunset and it’s reflection on the glassy water of the river below was also more breathtaking. And my niece…wow. I still wonder what He thinks of it all – the temples, the monks, the ritual – but I do know that He love people. That He made the Sabbath so we would rest and remember that we are human beings, not human doings. That He fit into each tiny new baby a piece of his eternal nature that will glimmer and shine in new ways each passing day and year. That He loves marriage and gave us each a longing for intimacy. I do know that He is always revealing Himself in these thing. Drawing us to His love.
Day 2: Coconut
So, you probably personally understand some form of substance addiction. My current one, as I’ve already acknowledged, involves young roasted coconuts. Chilled in the fridge to cool perfection and sipped with a straw. This is what you’re supposed to be drinking in Thailand, right? Then you get to eat the coconut meat out afterwards. A drink and dessert!
So after picking one (or two) up at the market four consecutive days on the way home from school, I told myself I should branch out and try a different kind. After all, I am doing a Tour de Fruit. So I found a different looking coconut. I’d seen them a lot, but my loyalty remained to the young roasted ones. Maybe these kind are healthier, I considered, since they aren’t exposed to heat. So I brought it home curious at how different it might taste. I clawed and cut my way into it for 15 minutes only to reveal it was exactly the same as the ones I always get. Except not roasted and MUCH harder to open (they usually open the other ones for you at the market). The coconut water taste the same… delicious. And after beating it against the cement ground on my back porch, I finally could open it all the way and taste the meat. A little softer, but didn’t come off of the shell as easily as the roasted ones.
I had brilliant pictures of this episode, but my beloved third-graders borrowed my camera. Apparently they don’t know what the English words “Delete All” mean. Sigh…Mai Pen Rai. 3.5 stars
Day 3: Rose Apple
Mild sweet, flavor with a subtle note of spice. Reminds me of Gatorade. Texture is like a bell pepper but softer and more juicy. Middle-of-the-road sort of fruit. I can’t imagine it being anyone’s favorite fruit ever. 2.5 stars
Day 4: Sugar & Spice & Pineapple! Nice.
To be honest, I’ve gotten bored with pineapple. There’s so much of it here that, just 4 or 5 months ago, people were giving it away. I like it, but it can be SO sweet and monotonous. At first, I was perplexed at why my friend Katie said it was her recent addiction… BUT
I now understand why. In Thailand, they serve a lot of the fruit with this little sugar pack. I’ve never been interested in using it. What I didn’t know was that is is a mixture of sugar, salt and spice and that is REALLY GOOD ON PINEAPPLE! It makes the flavor wild and deep; it’s almost too much. 4 stars