She called me from a show that she was attending of a well-known and well-loved St. Louis band called Theodore, and held the phone for the entire set. Not only are the gentlemen in this band quite talented and accomplished musicians, but they are friends as well, and their music holds for me a strong, personal sense of nostalgia and is so close to my heart in many ways.
There are definitely obvious reasons for this, such as the fact that they hail from my hometown and remind me of all the people and places I have left behind there. Also, coupled with the fact that they have been friends and coworkers themselves, is the fact that my best friend lived with them for a period of time and is in a committed relationship with the drummer. She has been one of the most influential and inspiring people in my life thus far, so their music is a constant reminder of how much that friendship has meant to me and changed me for the better. But another, much more abstract reason for this sentimental connection, is because some of the greatest memories of my happiest times have also been at Theodore shows, and one in particular stands out to me.
Every year, in St. Louis, there is a one-day music festival of the best talent the local scene has to offer called the Riverfront Times Music Showcase. This past summer, the RFT was held the day before I was scheduled to leave to go to Thailand and I almost did not attend. At the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to go to a few of the shows that friends of mine would be playing. The last set of the night for me came from Theodore at the Vintage Vinyl on Delmar. In that crowded room filled with people, I remember a certain moment, as they began to play my favourite song, thinking to myself that everything, absolutely everything, was perfect.
I was surrounded my dearest and closest friends listening to wonderful band that I knew very well. I had just made amends of a fairly hurtful situation involving my old band, and remembered just how much I loved and cherished them as well. Not only was I standing with the people that knew me and loved me the most and best, but also with a certain boy by my side who, at that time, was winning over my heart. And all of this was mixed with the fact that I was getting ready to embark on an adventure that would take me to the other side of the world to see things I never had before. This was my scene, this was my city; these were my loved ones, these were my passions. This was my beautiful and wonderful life.
But as amazing as that feeling of contentment and perfection was, it was actually very short lived.
I think back on it and remember how fleeting it was and how though that moment was marked with the utmost happiness, it was also marked with something else as well. Something much deeper and darker that was bubbling under the surface of my soul. For weeks, I had been consumed with such giant fear and apprehension of not knowing what was going to happen to all of this that I loved so much while I was gone; or what would even happen to me once I got to where I was going.
Little did I know that my entire life was going to change.
In Thailand, nothing happened like I had planned that it would, and I am forever grateful for that. In Thailand, I discovered the depths of my heart and the roots of who I really am. And that change that I had feared and dreaded so much crept up on me ever so quietly after I returned and turned out to be much less terrifying that I had thought. And much more liberating than I could have dreamed. More than the change that had occurred around me, I found a change within myself as I began to burn for things that previously, I had not even the slightest bit understood. My heart broke and broke and broke when I was there, and after I left, something in my spirit tried as hard as it could to distract me and make me forget it- it was too painful to be committed to these things. I wanted that happiness back. I wanted that comfort back. I wanted that ignorance back.
But my fears could not cry louder than the burnings in my soul for long. For reasons that I don't know if I will ever be able to fully explain, I was jolted in the gentlest of ways and found myself in New York City. Here, the things I dreamed and imagined in Thailand, that I never could have seen coming in a thousand years at that Riverfront Times show, have started to come to fruition.
There are moments when I look back longingly at that night and at that life I had in St. Louis: friends, boyfriend, bands, shows, coffee dates, community, parties, little time to myself, constantly surrounded by others, being known- and sometimes it gets me down. Sometimes I regret that I don't have that in the same way anymore. Sometimes it makes me feel a strange sense of alone.
But those moments are few and far between if I am to be completely honest. I wouldn't trade the life I have now and the decisions I have made for anything. Even though it has been rough and trying, it has grown me in such necessary and beautiful ways. And this cause, that I hold so very deeply in my heart and is so much more than a "cause" to me is worth absolutely every ingle ounce of that sacrifice of that happiness I once had- because this, what I know now, is true TRUE joy. To see these captives one step closer to freedom. To see their liberation on the horizon. To see the dreams given to me by my God within reach of being realized. To be a part of this grand movement for the Kingdom and to feel so much love constantly swelling in my soul for the ones I know, and even the ones I don't yet- is worth EVERYTHING.
An even in the midst of the news I recently received- somehow, I have peace.
Chuai and Na, two of the women in my family in Thailand recently left their homes in the village to work in the bars. "Bars" is a polite Thai-sort-of-way to say brothels, because that's what they really are. Na is Prang's youngest sister and has a nine-month old son who is constantly in and out of being ill. Her phone is off and no one can reach her. On top of that, Prang has been in the hospital. She has blood in her ears, and has been very ill and very discouraged. They can't seem to figure out what's wrong.
My heart is so broken and I have hardly been able to think straight ever since I got that phone call. I don't know what to do other than pray, and I am grateful that even in that, I am not alone- THEY are not alone.
But it's just not right.
Nothing about this is right.
Nothing about this is okay.
It should never be this way for anyone... ever.
I know the numbers, I know the statistics, and yes they alone are enough to move me as it is, but this... this is different.
This is personal.
This is family.
I feel their hearts so strongly within mine and the fact that theirs are broken and hopeless devastates me to my core. And all I can do it wait. And hope. And pray. And work here as I wait to go back to them. They are family to me... and there are many, even here, who are family to someone. Somebody loves them, somebody misses them. Somebody needs them, somebody cares for them. And I will do whatever I can and give whatever I have in order to rescue them and help them to know that they are loved.
This is worth everything. They are worth everything. And it requires much change and much sacrifice on my part- change and sacrifice that I am finally ready to make. Everything in my life is going to look very different soon- the result of a year and a half of fighting and wrestling with the fact that what I felt I needed to do, I did not want to. What I felt I was asked to give, I did not want to. What I felt I was asked to leave behind, I did not want to. Jesus' words to the rich ruler (Luke 18:22) have been the words He has been whispering to me for a long time, but I was too afraid to listen. I was too enamored by my comforts, too enslaved by my possessions. But that sacrifice has become intrinsically linked to their freedom... and I will now no longer question. I will now no longer make excuses.
Change is coming.
Rescue is coming.
Kingdom is coming.
So as I write this and the sounds of Theodore fill my apartment again, I find myself in that same state of nostalgia. I think back on so many things and realize that though I had feared what I did not know was coming, I am glad that I did not know. If I had, I may have run away at what it had appeared to be; I may have been too frightened at how scary or trying it may have looked to me at the time. I would have missed the great upside-down beauty found in this life of broken-hearted sacrifice. So I am glad that I did not know. I am so very grateful and that I had no idea.
It has been the most liberating surprise of my entire life.