I’ve traveled Southeast Asia more than any other part of the world. I’ve taken terrible bus rides through Vietnam, sailed at terrifying speeds on motorbike taxis through Bangkok, and leisurely floated down the Mekong River in long boats through Laos. After living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a year, I had the city memorized like the back of my hand. I knew the ins and outs, how to get around, where my favorite parts of town were, and everything in between.
It’s now been four years since I lived in Chiang Mai. On previous trips back, it felt like I had never left. However, this trip I could feel the inevitable disconnect which often accompanies distance and change. Most of my friends have moved to a different part of the country or have returned home. Old volunteers have left, new volunteers have come. Familiar places have expanded to accommodate the continual flow of tourists, forgoing our unspoken agreement of being “my place.” For the first time I wondered, “what role will this country continue to have in my heart and my life?”
Truthfully, I spent a lot of time on a motorbike being lost, frustrated, or avoiding police traffic traps because I didn’t have a license…oops. Perhaps, lost isn’t the word I’m looking for, misplaced seems more accurate. I always knew exactly where I was, I always knew how to get home, but I had no idea how to get to my final destination. I was always so frustratingly close but still missing the mark. On one particular journey I was attempting to reach the office where I worked on the outskirts of town. I didn’t have international data and was counting on google maps to follow along from random wifi connections I’d hopefully scavenge along the way. I hopped on my friend’s motorbike and began the trek, continually stopping on the side of the road to check my location. Then to my great misfortune, GoogleMaps began freezing. My little blue dot which I was counting on for reassurance of my location, was stuck in one place. Again, I knew exactly where I was (kind of) and I knew exactly how to get home. But I had no idea how to get to where I needed to be.
For the fifth time, I stopped along the highway and pulled into a little cafe. “Mee wifi, mai kha?” “Do you have wifi?” I asked a little Thai grandma. With the answer being no and the sweet Thai grandma having no idea how to read a map despite my pleading in broken Thai “Are we on this side of the river or this side of the river?!”, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I took her cellphone and called my old boss. If you knew the context of our relationship, this would be even more comical. The fact that she was receiving a phone call from a random number on the side of the highway specifically from me was literally no surprise. However, I had prepped her should the situation arise where an unknown number is calling, answer it- because it’s going to be, I’m going to be lost, and I’m going to try not to cry.
“Hey sweetie, where are you?” were the first words uttered. “Um. I don’t know.” The familiarity and comfort of a voice I knew and trusted brought tears to my eyes on the spot. After exchanging directions with the undoubtedly bewildered grandma, Claire said, “Don’t worry. Go back to the bridge, I’ll come meet you and you can follow me.” I made an infamous Chiang Mai U-turn and trekked back the kilometer to the bridge where Claire was waiting at the intersection. I followed her five minutes to the office. Once again, I had just barely missed my turn. I was so close, yet still missed the mark.
By the end of the day, I was sunburnt, sweaty, and tired. I was so frustrated of being so close yet inevitably having no sense of direction to where I needed to go- just a knowledge of backtracking where I’d already been. Upon recounting the story to a friend, I began to make the connection of the motorbike incident to our relationship with God. I don’t think God ever leaves us hanging. I don’t think God sits in lofty towers watching our missteps, amused at our best attempts to crawl our way to the feet of the Divine. I think God says, “I’ll meet you at the bridge.”
As people, we long to experience something greater than ourselves- some call it Love, some call it God, some call it The Universe. Whichever vocabulary or theology you choose is personal. Personally, my faith perspective is grounded in restored relationship to each other and God is demonstrated through Jesus. Regardless, I think the first step to any sort of spiritual connectedness is realizing we’re not left to our own devices, our best attempts, or our limited knowledge. I truly believe God says, “I see you trying. Now let me show you the way.” When my best and most frustrated attempts fall short, there God is.
Similarly, I don’t think God desires for us to wander aimlessly to our next destination nor does God desire for us to keep being stuck in our same patterns and behavior- much like me knowing only the way back to my comfort and familiarity. God doesn’t give us ceilings. God doesn’t limit our growth. We’re not meant to be stagnant beings, rather reflections of the infinite creative source that got this whole thing going. Every day we have the chance to be a new creation. I’m not a slave to who I was, my comfort zones, or my habitual tendencies. In the tension of who we’ve been and who we’re becoming, where we’ve gone and where we’re going- there God is.
My faith journey has taken many twists and turns, detours, dead-ends and U-Turns. But I want the fullness of every ounce of life I’m given on this Earth. That’s going to involve some missteps and some falls from grace- and I’m here for every bit of it. When I hit a dead end, when I’m pulled over on the side of the road, looking for direction- there God is- saying, “Meet me at the Bridge- You can follow Me.”