Sunday, October 18, 2015

I Came Back from Thailand

Riding the shuttle, sleepy-eyed, cranky, and Thailand-sick, I had 2 1/2 hours left of this journey from the Atlanta airport to the middle-of-nowhere Alabama.
I couldn’t hold it back while sitting with two of my friends telling me of baptizing upwards of 50 people that summer in the waters of the Philippines. When expectant eyes turned to me ready to hear my relaying of all God did that summer for us, all I could choke out was, “We prayed and prayed for so many. And we didn’t see anything.” And then tears began to roll down my face. This was one of the first times I allowed myself to cry for that summer. Two months there, and I really didn’t allow myself to feel the things I was holding so deep within. None of us did.
I vaguely remember the 12 hour plane ride home, journaling and scratching out these angry prayers, ones filled with so much confusion and hurt. “God, why?” seemed to be the over-arching theme of the words I actually did let out.
And at debrief in Alabama, even other teams whispering gentle, “Are you okay”s. We were learning how to put into words what we had experienced that summer, when we could barely muster the ability to speak at all.
I’ll never forget one of my friends even a month later asking if I had ever really “come back,” and I told him no, expecting that one day maybe I would. That right now something was horribly wrong, and it could all just go back to exactly how it was before. Until my best friend reminded me it’s okay if I never do fully come back. That experience shaped me for the rest of my life. And it’s okay if I never was the same again.
The day God spoke to me the most in Thailand was around half-way through, a month in. I remember learning a whole awful lot about prayer, and as one of my teammates and I were walking down the street, I was telling her all about it. How God was teaching me to pray specifically, boldly, and He was teaching me about my authority before the throne. How He was using Philippians 4:6 to teach me how to plead and petition and make my requests known. How to truly and intentionally pray for these women we loved with our whole hearts. And she told me how she was learning the same.
That was a marker moment in the summer, as all four of us starting praying with more fervor and fire, begging our Father for the lives of people we had grown to more than adore.
I remember standing on the roof of our little apartment crying out to God for Him to just please save one of my friends I was about to meet with.
All of us in a circle just saying the names before the Throne of all the people we had met and learned to love.
Writing them all down on a piece of paper we kept all summer, that we kept adding to, and kept praying over relentlessly.
We prayed like we never had before.
But for a reason that is beyond my understanding, we never got to see any of our friends come to know the one true God.
And I came back, knowing I was angry and confused, but not even understanding the extent of that.
I stopped praying. No, I still talked to God. But not with passion. Not with impossible requests. Not with absolute trust.
I allowed this to go on for months, and months turned into a year. And I can’t believe it’s been a year.
The Lord really began to get my attention on this back in July. I was in Guatemala with some of my youth, and one of the mornings I was sitting at the breakfast table before anyone else was awake. I was reading Isaiah 6:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord–
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.
The first part makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. “Here am I. Send me.” We plaster it on every missions site and showcase it on every Lifeway coffee cup.
Yes, Lord. Send me. Send me! 
But how often do we (I) miss the next part, as if it isn’t even a part of the chapter? “Keep on hearing, but do not understand. Keep on seeing, but do not perceive…” I don’t see that on any posters.
And while I cannot even begin to understand the richness of His knowledge and sovereignty, here’s what I get most from this chapter: Only HE holds the power to open or shut eyes. And although my thoughts and prayers and feelings are precious to Him, He alone holds the power to make the blind see.
How dare I?
How dare I question His motives or His goodness? When He is the One who gave me the very breath I was yelling at Him with in the first place. When He is the One who formed my heart to yearn for the unreached. When I was made in His image and His heart breaks even more than mine for the depravity of the world.
Speaking of Guatemala, our very first day of ministry there, I saw a man, broken from this world, living in a village, no ability to walk…see grace for the very first time, cry out to the Lord for the very first time, go from completely blind to seeing with new eyes, death to life. 
On the very first day. And tears rolled down my face, as I was hit with the realization that it is by Him and for Him and through Him alone.
Ever since July, I’ve been slowly coming back. No, not to the person I was before Thailand because I could never possibly be the same. But coming back to the eyes of prayer I had seen with before.
We have this authority, brought forth by our Great High Priest, who took on the sins of His children and with it took the shame too, who tore the veil top to bottom so that we might boldly approach the Throne of Grace.
And this is my humble promise: Even if everyone I ever pray for never has opened eyes, I will still declare His goodness.
Read more about Ashley's journey on her blog: www.ashleynicoleyates,