Pottery 101 Lesson

I went to my pottery class twice this week, and certainly want to write down some things God showed me through these lessons before I skip off to Cambodia tomorrow…

One of the first pieces I noticed in the pottery room was a beautifully glazed and perfectly shaped teapot. It had 4 little clay cups to go with it. I immediately knew, THAT is what I want to make. Today I had my 7th pottery lesson. Nearly every lesson I have tried, with no avail, to make a teapot. It’s not that there’s something incredibly hard about making it. It just wasn’t working for me. First it was too fat, then it was too small, then it was too thin, then one time I made one wrong move and it melted into my hands on the wheel again. It was so frustrating to not be able to make what I wanted to make. Sometimes it was the hand of the potter messing it up, sometimes it was the speed of the wheel. Either was, it wasn’t happening for weeks.

The last pottery lesson I had, which was about 4 weeks ago, I finally succeeded at making a teapot! It was really too small to be a teapot, but it finally worked. It was really ugly and lop-sided. Just a funny shape to it. I knew that when I came back the next time, I could trim it up and perhaps make its appearance not too dreadful. But I couldn’t get back until 4 weeks later. So I went back, excited to finally trim and glaze the teapot of which I’d worked so hard for so long. I got there, my teacher pulled it out of the bag, thumped it a few times, frowned, looked at me, and said in Thai, “Too hard. Can not use.” I looked at her in disbelief. Surely we could throw some water on there to get it slimy so I could trim it and MAKE it work. She repeated the words again. Then she said we have to ‘throw it out’, to which I emphatically said, “We can’t throw it out! I worked so hard for it!” Then she pointed to the big bucket with all kinds of random clay remains, broken pieces, or unfinished mistakes… all sitting in a slimy water mixture, slowly dissolving back into its former existence, mud. So, there the teapot went. Someday, perhaps someone else can use the death of my teapot to make a more beautiful and glorious teapot.

Her words got me thinking about my own heart. How dry and hardened it can be. How I can go days, weeks, sometimes I’ve gone months, without being in the warmth of the Potter’s hands. And I become so dry. And sometimes, God must look at us, frown, and tell us we have to go back into the bucket because we’ve gotten too dry and hardened. It’s such a disappointment, for both the Potter and the clay.

Today I went for a pottery lesson again. Since I’m travelling for the next few weeks, and I had already fashioned 5 pieces on Tuesday, I wasn’t about to let them become too dry and hardened for me to trim and glaze. So I went in today, working hard to finish them and ready them for a glaze next time. I like the trimming. But it can be really frustrating at times, especially when I can’t get my hands to do what I want to do. And it’s frustrating when you finally center the piece on the wheel after staring at it go round and round for 5 minutes, then you ‘glue’ it to the wheel with softer clay, and as you’re working on it, the piece literally flies off the wheel because it wasn’t ‘glued’ properly. I’ve learned so much about being in the center and rooted down in Christ alone. It’s the only way He can make us what He wants us to be.

Also, today I had a perfect picture of what I’m like when I try to be the potter of my own life. A little girl, about 5, came in for a lesson while I was there. She was a cute one. Usually the teacher will put her hands around the child’s hands to do their first piece. But this time, she just stood in front of her, giving her instruction. The little girl kept asking, “How do I do it?” She looked so stressed out, so confusing, so perplexed about this whole process, and so uncomfortable. But she never asked the teacher to help her. She kept asking, “How do I do it?” (keyword: I). It didn’t take long for her to dig her finger right through the clay and cause something like a cave in the clay. Well, you can’t do that because you can’t get air in the clay.

As I watched this process, I laughed as I thought about me trying to be the potter. And I’m sure the Potter had a good chuckle, too. Too many times I’ve asked God, “How do I do it?” when what I should really do is stop, look up at him, tell him I can’t do it, and ask Him to put His hands around mine so I don’t mess it all up. That little girl probably hasn’t been that stressed out in a very long time. 🙂

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Ministry in the red light district, from my perspective…

[At first, I didn’t want to post this… then I got convicted because people need to know what reality is like for the women who work in the red light district. If I don’t share my experience, I’m making the problem worse by keeping their world secret. This is the mild, PG rated version.]

January 12, 2010

Last night I didn’t sleep well. I was dreaming and hallucinating about a very large tree (like the strange ones that grow here and are worshipped) at the foot of my bed. There was a man guarding the tree… or perhaps not the tree itself but what was in the tree. It was a huge snake, monstrous. I woke up multiple times during the night hallucinating that it was really in my room and the snake wasn’t in the tree… it was coming to get me. I kept searching my bed for it, unable to truly rest or even think clear enough to know it wasn’t real. I was feeling fear all night long. When I finally got up in the morning, exhausted, I immediately knew it was warfare to produce fear and anxiety in me. Because today was a special day. It was my first time going into the red light district at night with a ministry team. They warned us about warfare and dreams beforehand. So when I got up and remembered my night, I wasn’t surprised.

I got to NightLight and there was a group of women waiting to go out for the first time as well. Then 6 staff from NightLight showed up. We talked about what to expect and what things mean. Then we prayed for a good bit of time, preparing ourselves. An hour and half later, we’re off to the spot.

I had been there in the daytime before, the first time I came to Thailand. I never forgot it, even though we only quickly walked in and out. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. In the daytime, it was a nasty hellhole. So you can imagine how I felt about going at night time when the nightlife crawls out. It’s called “Cowboy Alley” (translated) and is one of two famous red light districts in Bangkok.

We walked down an alley which opened up into a type of hole… like an enclosed courtyard surrounded by 4 stories of bars and such. Neon lights flashing, people crowding, people carrying menus (not for food or drinks), street walkers and ladyboys standing trying to get someone’s attention. Foreign men everywhere, and thais trying to entice them to come into their bar behind curtains. It really felt like a Disneyland in hell. The first floor is tamer than the top floors. My group of three was led up to the 2nd floor and we were immediately greeted by callers outside those bars behind curtains persuading us to go take a look. Our team leader usually visits a particular bar/strip club, so she led us right to it. She had built a relationship with one of the girls already and wanted to visit her again. We walk through crowds of customers and women for sale, hardly wearing anything, eating dinner as if they’re home. Well, they are home. Yeah, it felt like walking through someone’s home.

Reaching the destination, we are led into the club. The only light is neon and black lights. We are led by flashlight to the table right in front of the stage. They must have been 15 women dancing. Probably 10 women waiting to fetch drinks (you have to buy a drink, and if you talk with a girl, you have to buy her a drink… if she doesn’t meet certain quotas, she’s out of there… And one of the girls said if she doesn’t go home with 10 customers a month, they dock her pay). When we arrived, there were only about 3 customers… and our team of 3 women. That felt awkward. I hated being viewed as a customer. These women had never seen me. They didn’t know why I was there. We were told to be in prayer and keep looking into their eyes, making contact with them. I think that’s a good idea because I doubt many people there look into their eyes and connect with them that way.

The two girls dancing in front of me were obviously new. They had no idea what was going on. Their faces resembled those of teenagers from the northeast. Then I remembered the girls I have grown to love so deeply at Grace Ministries, and how, if they weren’t at Grace Ministries, many of them would end up in this area, Cowboy Alley. I wanted to cry because no one got to these girls before they were forced to go look for jobs in Bangkok. Most of the prostitutes come from the poorest part of Thailand, the northeast. I have a passion to go open prevention homes there. Tonight I saw the future of millions.

I wanted to talk with number 38. You see, they don’t have names in the bars. They only have numbers. And if you want one, you call for their number and they’re yours. I suppose when you strip someone of their personhood, it’s easier to treat them as an object. I was watching number 38’s face. She didn’t look like she was drunk or on drugs (like some others), just distant. As if she kept asking herself, “Why am I doing this?” She kept yawning. Standing. Wondering what to do. She was so lost. I was planning on calling her number and having her come over for a drink so I could talk with her and tell her there is another option at NightLight ministries.

Then a woman strutted over to the ‘beginner’ stage beside these two girls. She actually reminded me of a teenage girl I know at a ministry in Thailand. I wanted to cry because this girl didn’t have the opportunity she needed. She made eye contact with me and started behaving as if I was there for something else… for her. I politely said hello, but nodded that I wasn’t interested… hoping she would walk away so I could call number 38 to chat. She did not go away. And ignoring her didn’t help at all. She soon came over to my table, snuggled up close to me and smiled, putting her hand on my thigh. All I saw in her was a scared, lonely, unloved little girl. I tried to speak English with her at first, asking her basic questions. That wasn’t working, so I tried Thai. It was super loud (like being at a club, obviously), and everything was hard to hear. The conversation wasn’t going to well, and then I caught wind of her breath. Didn’t take long to figure out she was loooong gone. But I understood that, because who wouldn’t be wasted if they had to do what she was doing? She wasn’t going away, so I kept trying. And she kept trying to get me to buy her for the night. I bought her a $4 coke (about 5 ounces) that she never drank.

The first time she leaned into me and whispered something in my ear, I noticed a nasty bruise on her arm. I wanted to ask her about it… then she voluntarily told me it was a customer who lost his temper. I didn’t get a lot out of her. I learned she was 31 and had a 14 year old at ‘home’. She had no family to speak of. She came from the northeast. She hated her job and said the men are mean, nasty, lose their tempers, and are always drunk. She never knows what they will do. What do you say?

After a few minutes, her turn came again to get back up and dance. She was at the far away stage this time, and while dancing for a foreigner, she kept turning to me, smiling and waving. I knew she would come back to me, so I kept praying for God to show me what to do, if anything.

She did come back after her dance time was up. She snuggled up next to me again, and kept trying to kiss my cheek. I told her I come because my friend has friends here that we try to help. That we help women get out if they want. No answer. I told her I wasn’t interested in anything else. She heard that. At a loss for what to say, and my inability to understand her slurred words in Thai, I told her I am Christian. I asked if she knew God. She looked really confused. I think she said she knows lots of gods. I told her there is only one God who loves her very much. She made eye contact with me when I said that, and I think the look on her face was confusion. So I said it again in Thai. It was the first real smile I’d seen in her. Maybe it was unbelief, or maybe it was a new thought for her. I told her I wanted to pray for her to my God. She asked if I would pray for her to be happy. After some motions I didn’t quite understand, she put her hands together (as Thais do when they pray to the idols) and bowed her head reverently, right there in the strip club, sitting right next to me, wearing what they call a bikini. Then I realized she was waiting for me to pray for her.

Up to this point, I’d never said a prayer in Thai before. There are special ways you have to pray and special words you have to use, and I haven’t gotten that far in my studies yet. It’s a high language, not the normal, everyday language. Well, here is a prostitute waiting for me to pray for her, and I know if I pray in English she won’t understand a word I say. I said a quick prayer myself, bowed my head, and managed to get out “God, please bless my friend. With true happiness and real love. Please bless her. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” She thanked me, and not using the high language didn’t seem to phase her.

I noticed a woman who kept walking past us, looking in my direction and asking the staff some questions. We had been there an hour at this point. She came over with a stern look on her face (I’d never want to cross her) and just stood in front of us. I assumed that was my cue to beat it. So we paid the bill and got out quickly. On the way out, my new friend was on stage, bent down toward me, and looked like she was pleading with me to take her… to just get her out, probably so she wouldn’t have to go home with another drunken, angry, sex-addicted man who would give her more bruises and brokenness. I wanted to pay the money, just to give her a night off.

On our way out, this “Disneyland” was crawling with people, like at the fair. Many ages and ethnic groups were there. All looking for what will fill the void inside. I remember a quote from a ministry in Bangkok that I heard a few years ago, “Every man who knocks on a brothel door is looking for God.” We’re all broken. And every man who goes to Cowboy Alley is broken. Just as the women are broken.

All in all, I wasn’t as shocked by the things that I saw, because I was forewarned. But it was one of the most uncomfortable situations I’d ever been in, trying to figure out how to do ministry in a strip club/bar like that. It’s not something I’m called to, but He does call people to do this. I’m called to prevent girls from ever getting to this point of brokenness… past the point of no return for millions. In Thailand, 1 out of 5 people earn their living the sex industry. I can get to some of them before they become “1 out of 5”.

The best part about the night was when my team leader’s friend finally showed up, ran over, gave the biggest smile, and hugged her. God really is getting into these hellholes through His people, and He is building relationship with them through those who go twice a week with NightLight. It was encouraging and reminded me of the necessity of this ministry.

A Tale of 2 Women

I could be stepping out on a limb here in what I’m going to write, but here I go anyway…

If blog entries had a thesis, this would be the thesis for this one:

I propose the unnamed woman of Luke’s Gospel [7.36-50] is not the same woman as in John’s Gospel [12.1-11], named “Mary”, based upon various factors, primarily that of the reasoning behind the anointing and the responses therein.

The account of John is similar in location, motive, and response to that of Mark 14 as well. The woman mentioned by John is a known woman. She is sister to Martha and Lazarus. This took place in Bethany, where Lazarus lived. And since Jesus had not too long ago raised him from the dead, a dinner was given in his honor. It took place at the home of Simon the Leper. We see Martha serving, Lazarus reclining at the table on the same level as Jesus, and then we see Mary come and worship at His feet. A pint of nard worth a years wages, poured over his feet and spilled onto the ground. There was no objection about this woman’s reputation or sinful life. The only objection came from the greedy traitor, Judas. Apparently he thought Jesus unworthy to be anointed with such perfume and insisted the better use would be in his pocket where he had control. Jesus immediately comes to her defense, not only approving of her act of worship and adoration, but sharing how Mary, in obedience and adoration of Him, fulfilled her destiny of preparing him for burial. It was a beautiful thing for Jesus. Her motive was pure, unguarded, unreserved, unhindered love that had to be expressed. And she did it in a way that ministered to Jesus in a way no one else would have done (or could have known to do). Simply beautiful.

I want my life to be just that. I want to minister to him in a beautiful way with my life, pouring over Him what He’s given me. Even if the whole world insists it to be a waste. Obedience, adoration, and humility are what’s beautiful to Him.

Then, there is the sinful woman of Luke 7 who is unworthy even to be named. This took place in a Pharisee’s house, who invited Jesus to come for dinner. His name was Simon. It wasn’t a dinner in His honor. Jesus was just another guest, among other Pharisees. I think it’s safe to assume this Pharisee is not the same man as Simon the Leper, if you take into account the Jewish law for lepers. Lepers don’t mix well with Pharisees. But, back to the woman… this woman had a reputation. She was not referred to by name, but by ‘sinful woman of the town’. Town harlot, you could say. But you could throw any sin in there. And perhaps she’s left unnamed so we can all better see ourselves there. Can you imagine the courage to walk into a Pharisees house full of Pharisees and the holiest man who ever lived, knowing they all knew who she was? No, I cannot. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume, just as Mary had. They both knelt at his feet and poured it over him. But, with Mary’s act of pure adoration, John does not record any tears. But Luke makes note that this unnamed woman wept. Not just ‘wept’, but literally, “sob, wail loudly”. Now, that’s embarrassing. Especially if you’re the only woman in the room of Pharisees. Her motive for coming probably included much more than just a simple act of worship. There was a lot more going on in her heart during this holy moment.

Then comes the objection… not that she’s wasting it, but appalled that Jesus would permit her to come so close… to touch Him in such an intimate way (in that culture) with hands that had done who knows what, all over town. Jesus immediately comes to her defense by telling a parable about two men who owed a debt to a moneylender. If he cancelled the debt, Jesus asked Simon the Pharisee if the man who had a debt worth one days wages or the man who had a debt worth 50 days wages, would love him more. Jesus then turned (literally) away from the proud, pious Pharisee, and turned toward the woman, face to face, eye to eye. He acknowledged her motive as love, her action as the response He desired- faith in the only One who could make her clean and give her new life. In her faith, vulnerability, and expression of love before he even did anything for her… Jesus forgave. Everything. She no longer had a reputation with Him. She was a lover of Christ. A woman who loved much.

That would be a good epitaph. “A woman who loved much”. An unnamed woman.

In the story of both of these women, I see myself. I can’t choose one over the other to identify with. The women perform the same act of worship, but for different motives. I’ve poured out my oil of worship at his feet in surrender, shame, faith, embarrassment, and guilt. I’ve also come to him, pouring out my oil of worship in pure adoration, awe, love, and worship. And for the times I feel like the nameless woman in the Gospel of Luke, I’ve found a portion of prayer from the Valley of Vision puritan prayer book that has provided words when I can’t seem to find them. Maybe you will find them helpful at some point as well:

“Thou Righteous and Holy Sovereign:
In whose hand is my life and whose are all my ways,
Keep me from fluttering about religion;
fix me firm in it,
for I am irresolute;
my decisions are smoke and vapour,
and I do not glorify thee,
or behave according to thy will;
Cut me not off before my thoughts grow to responses,
and the budding of my soul into full flower,
for thou art forbearing and good,
patient and kind.
Save me from myself,
from the artifices and deceits of sin,
from the treachery of my perverse nature,
from denying thy charge against my offences,
from a life of continual rebellion against hee,
from wrong principles, views, and ends;
for I know that all my thoughts, affections, desires, and pursuits are alienated from thee.
I have acted as if I hated thee, although thou art love itself;
have contrived to tempt thee to the uttermost,
to wear out thy patience;
have lived evilly in word and action.
Had I been a prince
I would long ago have crushed such a rebel;
Had I been a father
I would long since have rejected my child.
O, thou Father of my spirit,
thou King of my life,
cast me not into destruction,
drive me not from thy presence,
but wound my heart that it may be healed;
break it that thine own hand
may make it whole.”
[Cry of a Convicted Sinner, p. 69]

Cry in my heart

I have a song for this year.

So the other day, while on vacation at Koh Chang (Elephant Island), I was enjoying a nice stroll on the beach in the morning. We had to check out in a few hours, so I wanted to soak up the sights, sounds, and feel of being on the island. So I’m walking along and IT hits me. It compels me. I have to go swimming. But I’m wearing normal clothes. Keep in mind, I’m not a big fan of swimming in the ocean. I prefer clear, clean pools where you can actually see what’s in it. So I’m compelled to just get in and swim, just as I am. And I do just that. And it was exhilarating, really.

As I walked into the deep unknown in those dark blue waters, I entered into a … well, a sacred place of prayer. As I swam and treaded water in the unknown, I realized I was expressing a prayer to the Father without words. I want to go deeper into His heart and love than I ever have before. I know there’s so much more I’ve yet to experience, realize, understand about Him. And He’s brought me to a place where all I can do is sit on the beach or walk straight into the deep waters of the unknown. The thing that’s been hardest this first year became evident to me as I swam and prayed in my spirit. I’ve gone through excruciatingly hard times, as have we all, but the thing that makes this past year the hardest is that every other time, I had someone to hold my hand, per se, and walk with me through it. The darkness wasn’t as scary with someone there.

But here… I find myself swimming in the deep unknown treading water. And just like that morning in the ocean, I was the only one treading water. There was no one there but God. Yes, many have encouraged me, and many have prayed me through this past year, but the only One holding my hand and walking me through it is Him. So yes, it’s been the hardest year and hardest experience of my life. And yet, at the same time, it’s both fearful and exhilarating. I don’t want to be sitting on the beach watching others swim into the deep, experiencing new things, seeing new creatures out there. So, as the waters engulfed me, I thought about the arms of the Father who has carried me through this past year, and how that unfailing love will continue. And I begged him, as I treaded water and gasped for air, to carry me deeper into His heart and love this year. My heart cried out for more. More of Him. I’m not content with the shallow waters I’ve been swimming in. I want to go where I’ve never gone. I want to fully rely on Him when I can’t see what’s in the waters swimming around me. I want to trust Him completely. And if He simply asks me to tread the deep waters until I take my last breath, I want His name to be on my lips as I go under. I don’t mean it to sound morbid… but while swimming, I realized that He is worth it, even unto my last breath. Ironically, that same day, I heard Starfield’s song, “Cry in my Heart” for the first time. [you can hear it here]

“Cry In My Heart” (be Starfield)

There’s a cry in my heart
For Your glory to fall
For Your presence to fill up my senses
There’s a yearning again
A thirst for discipline
A hunger for things that are deeper

Could You take me beyond?
Could You carry me through?
If I open my heart?
Could I go there with You?
(For I’ve been here before
But I know there’s still more
Oh, Lord, I need to know You)

For what do I have
If I don’t have You, Jesus?
What in this life
Could mean any more?
You are my rock
You are my glory
You are the lifter
Of my head
Lifter of this head