Tuesday, April 5, 2011

staying on the path.

"There is no one like you..." - King David (2 Samuel 7)

I love how David prayed. Just saying. The man spoke out some good words. There is a deeper place of prayer, passion and promise that I have been going to lately. It's like going to my favourite barrista with an old friend - a familiar, easy to find place. And that feeling of honesty and spiritual realness with the one who knows me best is just a really great place to be... a new season for me.

A friend of mine said this morning: "it's your quiet time". She meant that I get to be still, enjoy life as it unfolds, not worry, love in the moment, rest, listen, hope, dream, know, create, believe, write, read, think, pray ... and she is right. This season is all about just being in that quiet place.

And, I am loving it.

I am leaving for Myanmar on Friday morning. A Canadian man (from my hometown) was recently arrested in a northern region of Myanmar. I've just been reading the news coverage (what little there is of it). It looks like it was an adventure that kind of went all wrong. He was in the wrong place, taking pictures, and has been charged as an illegal immigrant.

My ever so slightly worried, always so sincerely loving Dad was asking me if I really have to go there right now. I've definitely wondered whether I have any wisdom at all in going. But a child-like hope rises in my soul at knowing I am invited to a new place. My sense of wonder and adventure at going is too strong. The spirit leads me and I have peace and expectation in this journey.

I will be wise. I will be staying on the well-beaten path (for once). No wandering into the trees with my camera. My path is well travelled from Yangon, to Nagpali Beach, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. I'll be finding artists, drinking tea in tea shops, soaking up the sun on a beach christened by a homesick Italian, finding peace in the history and faith of ancient cities, and riding my bike around a beautiful lake. It is going to be my quiet time.

In all of it, I want to pray... with a passionate poetry instead of prescribed praises. There's a sacred romance to this trip - an indescribable, but deeply felt mysticism. A new path is set before me. And, I know the one who leads me is with me.

"You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." - King David (Psalm 16)

Please pray for me to walk, ride and fly in safety. Because, I've got a whole lot of ridiculous joy - and a whole lotta love - as my heart seeks for the one who leads me on this path of life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

following george.

I am back in Bangkok and have been putting in long days at work. Yes, I am here working... not just adventuring around to interesting countries, hanging out on on beaches and bike riding through ancient cities. Holy, my life is good.

My work here is also good. I am disappointed that it will end in a few weeks. It leaves me to wonder how to set any long-term goals. Something in me wants to keep doing international work, for a long time. But my goals and what actually happens are usually very different. There are a lot of unexpected surprises that have happened on my way to heaven, put it that way.

My next trip will be to Myanmar (Burma). I haven't booked my exact travel dates yet, but I'll be going for at least a week. My plan is to fly to Yangon and head north to Inle Lake and Mandalay. If there is time, I will also go west to Bagan and Nagpali Beach.

I am madly trying to learn some "survival" phrases in Burmese. Myanmar is less accessible to western travelers. Canada and other western nations have imposed economic sanctions against this country, for political reasons. As a result, there is extreme poverty and low levels of education. There is also less chance of having fluent conversations in English. This is actually a good thing. It means I get to learn a little more Burmese than just "hello" "goodbye" "please" "thankyou" and "cheers".

Everything that I have read about Myanmar is conflicted. One lens says it is the most beautiful country, full of people who are warm and generous. Another lens says it has a history of climatic unrest, political oppression and natural disasters. It is a country that transformed and shaped George Orwell's life and writing career. Biographers have said that his last words and thoughts were with Burma. And that simple fact is enough for me to go.

As I was walking through the pouring, torrential rain (with my new umbrella - thanks to the secretary at my work) to ask the doctor about malaria pills, I began composing a letter to the late and loved George O. It is only half written, but it attempts to express the unique sense of creativity, imagination and expectation that grabs me when I think about Burma. It also unveils that what I really want to do with my life is write. I just do not know what to write, yet. Beginning is always easy. It is finding the purpose, the structure and the end that is a bit more tricky.

Five years ago, I sat in my little garden in Royston and read a collection of essays by George Orwell. His essay titled "Shooting an Elephant" is priceless. But the essay that has stayed with me is his essay titled "Why I Write".

You can read it here: http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi/work/essays/write.html

I think it is really something that I went from reading about George Orwell to following his footsteps. And so, I am curious to see what this next adventure holds.

Monday, March 21, 2011

chul moi

The first phrase I learned in Khmer was "chul moi".

It is used in the same way that the English say Cheers, or the Germans say Prost, or the French say Santé.

It's literal meaning is "as one".

I learned that first phrase while sitting under a bamboo awning, on the side of the road just outside of Phnom Penh. We had just been to the Killing Fields and my slightly overwhelmed tuk-tuk driver stopped for a drink of Cambodian water (which is not really water). So, I sat in this roadside bamboo watering hole with a couple of khmer men, who were drinking away their past, present and future. It was definitely Cambodian water but felt a bit like an Irish pub when everyone raised their glasses and said "chul moi".

Cambodia has changed me. I am back in Bangkok (and glad to be home), but I'm still carrying Cambodia around with me... chul moi...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Have you ever sat up close to your bedroom window, watching fresh fire cracks of lightening dance across the sky?

I have been doing that a lot lately. The storms at night in Bangkok are very beautiful. I can sit for hours and watch them. There's a peacefulness that comes.

The past ten days of my life have been very intense. Early last week, the building beside our condo exploded into flames in the middle of the night. As I watched the emergency crews rescuing neighbors from the smoke and flames, I realized: I have a very interesting life.

It humbles me, constantly. I felt ridiculously small and helpless, as I stood alone in a dirty alleyway, beside the fire that had reached deep into the Bangkok night. I felt terrified but still very lucky, blessed and safe, as the near-death-experience of my neighbours unfolded in front of me. Every one was carried safely through the flames by five very brave firemen. But the devastation was very real when we woke up in the morning. Many of the people next door were sleeping on mats in the street. There was nowhere else to go.

A few days later, one of my friends flew out of Tokyo just hours before the earthquake and tsunami hit. He walk away, unscathed. And like everyone, I've been reading the papers every day, terrified and heartbroken by the suffering unfolding in Japan. I am also amazed by the men and women who are exposing themselves to radiation, which will cost them their lives, so that we do not have a full-blown nuclear catastrophe.

And then last weekend, a woman told me about the recent rescue of a fifteen year old Cambodian girl who was sold into slavery in Malaysia. Since hearing her story, I've been reading about women who have had similar life tragedies and rescues. The pattern is the same. In the midst of the most devastating circumstances, hope rises and a life torn apart by pain is given a new beginning.

I honestly do not know what to think about all these rescues. The world is obviously not a safe place, and yet there are those who would risk their own lives to make it safe for someone else. For the sake of others, even strangers, they would go through anything. It is something that I can't quite get my head around.

In the midst of all of this near-death and needing-to-be-rescued, I spent last weekend picking mangos in the mountains, exploring waterfalls and streams, biking through vineyards and tasting new wine. I am ridiculously safe and have been enjoying every blessing under the sun.

I am flying to Cambodia tomorrow. My plan is to spend some time with new friends in Phnom Penh. We'll celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I'll head up to Siem Riep to see Angkor Wat and visit the fishing villages at Tonle Sap for two days. If there's time, I'll do some fishing. And then I'll head back to Phnom Penh and home to Bangkok on Sunday.

Please pray that I continue to walk in that ridiculous safety. My peace is found in the midst of all these storms.

"A thousand may fall at her side, ten thousand at her right hand, but it will not come near her." - Psalm 91.

Friday, March 4, 2011

the legacy + my trip to cambodia

Two years ago, I spoke to a crowd of law students and professors at the Legacy Art Gallery. I was presenting a law paper on customary adoption, which had just been published. My sister, brother-in-law, roommate and many friends were there. It was an exciting moment for me.

Just before I got up to speak, one of the other law students read a portion of her paper. As she spoke, I caught my sister's expression from across the room. We were both pushing back tears. My sister's face was a kaleidoscope of emotions: empathy and pain, horror and sadness, fear and compassion.

The bright, young law student who was nervously reading had been raped at gunpoint; it had happened one night when she was traveling alone in Cambodia. It was extremely terrifying, horrifying, nullifying, etc. And her shaky words were bringing new light to the injustice she'd suffered.

Listening to her reading through a legal analysis of the worst moments of her life, I remember thinking:

"I am never (ever) going to travel alone in Cambodia".

So what have I done? A few days ago, I booked a ticket to Cambodia. I will be traveling there for four days (March 17-20): alone.

Obviously, I have wrestled with whether or not I should be going. It is by far the scariest thing I've done. It might also be the most reckless thing I've done. If there is anything that I want to overcome, it is fear. But... there are limits, right?

And yet, there must be a reason why I am going.

The student who read her law paper that night is a friend of mine. As the reality of her experience hit me, I began shaking on the inside: my spirit was crying out for her justice and healing. I believe that cry is there for a reason.

The truth is: she's just one of several of my friends who have been raped. I know the scars and wounds from many nights of sitting in half-lit kitchens and watching the tears of shame and pain roll over their beautiful faces. I've seen the anger and frustration, the depression and self-annihilation that can happen. It's something very real to me.

So, I have decided to go - to push past the fear of traveling alone - as an act of extreme intercession. It feels a little bit crazy. But I believe that it is the right thing to do. I am stirred by a deep peace. My hope is that my simple obedience to go will somehow cause the spiritual darkness to be shattered in some way. Being willing to walk the hard, lonely, dark road for someone is more than half the spiritual battle.

I have researched how to remain safe. Others have provided me with helpful advice and travel wisdom. I am sure that I'll be alright. Angels watching over me really wouldn't hurt.

Aside from my friend's traumatic experience, the history of Cambodia is one of intense suffering and unfathomable pain. Last week, I read some of the original transcripts of the genocide tribunals. Cambodia has suffered and survived an incredibly dark history, and still lives with very deep scars.

Something within me wants to touch the heart of heaven and say: she is worth the risk. And so, I will go ... despite my fears and shed some tears to create a new legacy for her: full of healing, beauty and life, again.