just keep swimming – a journal excerpt

Grief sometimes comes in waves,
and today was the high tide.

Day by day, I feel its ebb and flow, oscillating like the tide.

Some days, it is calm and still enough, I can see my own reflection on the surface. Other days, I wake up with the water up to my neck and the sadness gnawing at my insides.

Man was never meant to swim the ocean. Man was never meant to say goodbye.

Yet we swim,
our hearts at the mercy of the seas.

I first felt it come when I was walking down College on my morning meanderings after breakfast. It came up on me by surprise and one of the first thoughts I had – as if bred from instinct – was,

“What did I do wrong?”

As if I made a mistake by being sad.
As if I was responsible for the waves.

Remember it is the ocean you are swimming in,
Remember your helplessness in the seas,

and remember, you have a rescuer.

Some days, the high tide will come and you will have to swim for your life.

And when it does, always remember –

“It is not your fault.”

 

grip strength – an excerpt from “#gettrekt16”

If you hold the ashes, how can you find new flame?
If you cling to your scars, how will you find healing?
If you embrace death, how can you receive new life?
If you stay in the grave, how will you rise again?

 

Wake up, Lazarus.
Let it go, Justin.

 

I can’t. At least not yet.

If not now, then when?

 

 

 

 

Why am I here?

#gettrekt16

fight fire with fire

Last week was deep emotional pain. This week, I nearly cut two of my fingers off with a chef knife.

Losing consciousness is terrifying. As much as I love the ocean, I can’t stand swimming in it, especially when I have to stare down into the seemingly bottomless abyss. As my friends hastily carried my limp body outside, my mind struggled to stay afloat, but my attempts to tread water were futile. As much as I thrashed, I really had no control over the waves. They would wash over me, envelop me, and the frantic soundtrack playing in the background would grow disturbingly silent, save some muffled voices. The world would turn eerily dim. No goggles.

Is this what it feels like to die?

 

The hospital visit was one of the best workouts of my life. One of the first questions the nurse inquired of me was this: “Intentional or unintentional?”

What the hell..?

“Unintentional”, I responded.

I think my grip strength is getting pretty good by now. The best types of exercise involve not only all of your body, but all of your mind and soul. So much of it is a game that is played mentally. How much can you take? Where do your limits lie and do you have the strength and willpower to trespass them?

Fighting pain is exhausting.

One of the most memorable highlights in our workout routine was when my doctor shot anesthetics into my finger. As soon as the word “stitches” was mentioned, I entered an episode of internal frenzy. Mental game level up. Boss level. I could hardly stutter through the pain but in my mind, I frantically demanded, Just give me the damn anesthetics.

Getting the anesthetics into my finger was ironically the most painful part of the process but the payoff was well worth it. Man. The things you do and say when you’re in pain amaze me. When you’re hurting that much, the mere absence of pain can feel like pleasure. Yet my body did not receive even that degree of relief. I was still very much in pain but it felt like euphoria and I was content with it. It strikes me how when one is in agony, he will settle for lesser agony, rather than actual healing.

But what happens when the anesthetic begins to fade away? Apart from passing out, feeling the painkillers wear off was one of the most fear-inducing moments of the day. Wait. Can you give me more? I’m not ready to go back there.

It has been a rough week, being limited in my activity and having the rhythm of my life forcibly hindered behind everyone else’s. But when I come to think about it, it wasn’t all that bad. At least I didn’t have to think about all of the heavy pain weighing on my heart from the previous week. I only had so much energy and mental capacity and I spent all of it on my lacerated fingers. I didn’t have enough space to even think about other scars.

I think I understand why people cut themselves now. It distracts them from deeper pains, the pains of the heart. And I can now attest, it is surprisingly effective. In fact, it works like magic. (Great. Now my heart is breaking for more people.) Sometimes, the emotional suffering is so unimaginable that it only makes sense for someone to resort to physical self-harm. Sometimes, the pain is so unbearable that the greatest anesthetic to pain, it would seem, is pain itself.

But alas, like all anesthetics, pain inevitably subsides and wears off. And the scars of the body usually heal faster than the scars of the soul. My stitches get removed this upcoming week. Panic. Internal frenzy. Doctor, I need more anesthetics. Please. Can you give me more? I’m not ready to go back there. I can already feel the sting of my deeper wounds slowly creeping back. Oh God. I’m scared. What do I do? Need I apply more anesthetics?

 

Fight fire with fire.

#gettrekt16 – dying incarnationally (entry 3)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”  –Mark 8:34

Ever since Michael and I arrived on-site at Daa’s household, we have been gradually compiling a list of “deal-breakers” that would send us home immediately. It was a fool’s errand. Every time we added something to the list, we would unexpectedly find ourselves doing that very thing we promised ourselves we would never do, only a couple days later.

On the fourth day, I told myself that if I fell into the trash-filled black swamp water of the slums, I would quit. Send me home, Lord. Within a few days, I fell in. Two days later, Daa told Michael to climb into the trash dump to fetch firewood. There have been nights when we’ve woken up 5+ times to unload diarrhea because of food poisoning. Other nights, we’ve been rudely awakened by monster cockroaches inside our mosquito net and we had to beat them to death with our water bottles. Just a few nights ago, I woke up with 48 mosquito bites on my right arm alone. The list goes on. I’ll leave you to your imagination.

In essence, we were creating boundaries for where we were willing to go and every time we drew the line, Jesus would take us there to cross it. He tends to do that a lot. It’s pretty annoying.

One thing I can be sure of now is that following Jesus into a ministry of Incarnation is much harder than I anticipated. Scott Bessenecker was right in saying in his book (The New Friars) that the Incarnation is not merely a one-time decision that we make when we fill out the online application to the Global Urban Trek. We must choose into the Incarnation daily. And that is no easy task.

I often laugh to myself whenever my friends and family ask me what I’m doing in Bangkok this summer because, quite frankly, I still don’t know the answer to that question. I know Jesus has called me here but as to why He has called me, I am wrestling with that question even as I write this article. It doesn’t help that all we are doing is taking care of grandmas and grandpas and getting harassed by tropical insects all day. In times of stress, exhaustion, physical and emotional pain, I get especially impatient with God and I want to shortcut the process of finding answers.

The past week has been particularly strenuous on both my body and my soul and in the midst of the pain, the Holy Spirit has illuminated some profound truths to me. Sure, our site (Ruth Center) may not have a program or “agenda”, per se, but our mission is to learn how to love our Daa and Yaay’s (grandpas and grandmas), as aforementioned in the previous post. Other sites may have more intense programs, such as dealing with victims of trafficking, but our site has one of the most difficult living situations by far. But I think that’s the point. Our living situation IS the program.

If love is the mission, then living with Daa is our ministry. It is the vehicle with which we must learn to navigate in order to embrace the Mission. Just as Jesus incarnated and dwelled among His people as an outward expression of His love, we live and dwell with Daa to communicate Jesus’ love to him and to make Jesus’ love our own.

It has dawned on me this past week that in order to choose the Incarnation and live with the people, I must first die to myself. That is why it is so hard to live with Daa. To choose into living the life of Jesus is to also choose into the death of myself.

Since coming on the Trek, there have been many opportunities for me and my team to “check out” and mentally quit the Mission. Needless to say, the temptation only intensifies in moments when Michael and I check off items on our deal-breaker list. But those moments are not just opportunities to quit. They are opportunities to let those parts of ourselves die for the sake of continuing the Mission of Jesus. To let our love of comfort die when we are getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the shower. To let our need for other people die when no one visits our Daa. To let my need for verbal affirmation die when all I hear is rebuke and disapproval. To let go of the reality that I’m probably not going to leave behind a tangible legacy when I leave Bangkok. To let my accomplishment-driven, task-focused ministry paradigm die when I realize that I won’t be able to measure the impact that I made in someone else’s life because that’s not the point. Opportunities like this come on the daily and each time they come, we have to ask ourselves: will I choose my own life or will I choose to die to it? Will I choose the Incarnation? Will I choose Jesus?

 

I think I may have found the Way of the Cross. The road marked with suffering. I don’t quite see Jesus yet but at the very least, I think I found footprints.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be.”  –Jesus [John 12:24,26]

 

#gettrekt16