Beauty and the Soul


There is beauty and purpose in each season. Who can deny the delight of witnessing the renewal of nature itself when gusts of warmth bring on the leafgreenburgeoning colours of delicate flowers and tree buds release their fingers towards the sun. We all love it when summer’s lengthy light entices us into taking long nature walks in short sleeves and lazy days abound around waterfronts and barbeques, and oh, the glorious sunsets. Who among us hasn’t ooh-ed and aah-ed as the sight of the bold reds, golds and oranges of autumn begin to herald the end of summer’s green. And then there is the season that gets the least love, especially if you are Canadian where complaining about dark cold days is a national pastime, winter. Yet even winter’s bleak skies and frigid climes has its beauty and purpose.

My soul has seasons too, though not always chronological. Soul-seasons seemingly can’t leafredbe rushed and suddenly change with little forewarning. Spring for the soul is about clean slates, fresh starts, and discovery! Summer is strength, delicate strands of hope taking form. It’s watching with confidence our projects and confidence grow. Fall is maturity, seeing our investments reach their prime. But winter, we are not so sure what benefits to the soul winter brings. It seems life is put on hold. It’s the biblical equivalent to the dry desert.

Looking back to one of my hardest soul-winters I remember the shame I felt during an illness that took months to recuperate from. My veins were alternately pierced and arm tied to an IV pole that dripped antibiotics and salt solutions for ten days into my system. I worried about the expectations of my peers and employers. I could not perform as I had in the past. It was humbling. I was sure that my ‘net worth’ was descending . I tried hard to speed up the process of healing, get myself going again. But my body and mind wasn’t ready for it yet. I think God was trying to teach me, “Slowly I am with you always.”

I understand better now that slow invisible change, both in us and in the way we see life, usually happens in seasons we dislike the most. Of course I still tend towards trying to rush my exit out of desolate dry seasons, cutting cold seasons, brown ground barren seasons and enter the seasons of colour, freshness, warmth and growth. We feel shame and quite useless (almost dead) in our winter seasons. That’s when we need to step back again and let wisdom speak. She whispers to us to embrace the moment, live into the now, leafbrownpossess or be possessed by the renewing power of winter! Let love lure you into the next newness.

The more I think about the rhythms in our lives, the more I realize that God’s steadfast love is the common denominator in each season and his mercies are new just the same. In his time He makes lasting beauty to break forth through the darkness or dryness or the disappointment.

A wise man named Thomas Merton said, “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” That’s something to hang onto! Go back and read that phrase again. The slow growth of maturing beauty lasts longer because it’s roots have gone deeper in the soul. Not long ago someone said to my wife, “You have changed and it is remarkable!” I began to reflect on that a bit and smile inside because I saw it too. Often we are unaware of the changes happening inside of ourselves until someone else notices. Until then we don’t properly appreciate the inner coherence of beauty being matured in us.

There is a process to any growth and it entails the mysterious miraculous. We are not simply mellowing out with age, no, God forbid! We are becoming more like original goodness in our soul and adding beauty to the world.  Like the crushing of grapes, it helps to remember that the juice will one day miraculously become like fine wine! It’s a slow but real process. Stop for a moment today and reflect on what is being planted in your soul these days.

maple

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German Junctures


All my life I’ve been a little hesitant to fall in love with Germany. My mother’s parents, my Opa and Oma, were killed during the Second World War in Holland when a bomb fell through their house killing them instantly. I have held a grudge ever since! Yet this Germany has played quite a role in my life at many junctures! After being born in Roosendaal, Holland, I left with my parents for Germany, I was ten days old! My dad was in the Dutch Army as a musician and Canada was searching for recruits to create a new army band. Seventy young dutch men responded to that call. They went to Germany first to be processed there with their families at a Canadian Military Post. Not much later there was a long boat ride for all of us from German soil all the way cross the ocean to the shores of of Montreal, Canada. I was ten months old.

ImageMy next German juncture was to visit friend from Chiang Mai who became a Thai missionary to reach out to Thai women who had either married German men or worked in the night clubs. I flew in to Frankfurt and took trains to see her. I was a little ill at ease trying to find my way around all the train stations, as English was not widely spoken. I heard words that sounded so much like my native Dutch tongue, but my smattering of dutch was of little avail. Finally late in the night I arrived in Emden. There I met Thai women who struggled with living in Germany. I could see why as the language, food, weather and culture were so different from the Thai ways. As I spent hours visting, encouraging, and then hours on trains traveling through the countryside of Germany it never crossed my mind that my heart was softening towards this proud and talented nation.

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Pratumtip loves Germany and I saw that in her. (center back)

My next experience with Germany would be life-changing. I flew from Bangkok to Hanover to get a tricky brain tumour near my inner ear removed on December 11, 2012. For seventeen days that hospital room was my home until I was well enough to leave. Another train ride, this time southbound to the famed Black Forest, where a house awaited me. I needed to spend a few weeks to recuperate in an ancient village called Badenweiler before being permitted to fly again. This time I was able to share Germany with my wife, two daughters and my second son who doubled as chauffeur. I began to fall in love with the landscape, the people and the bread!

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Cool scar, huh?

Each day I would take walks through the forest lush with green moss and gurgling streams. I was here to regain my balance and hopefully get over the nasty headaches of brain trauma. Two days before my departure date a question popped into my heart, “Could I ever leave my beloved Thailand and make Europe my home?” Could I? It seemed impossible. Yet with courage I asked a man I greatly respected the very same question. Without blinking he said, “Absolutely!” I had resigned myself to the thought that this might be my last visit to Germany. But now I realised that one day I would come back and visit this wunderbar-country again. Something had definitely shifted in me.

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I loved the crisp climate and the brisk walk each day. On my last walk it finally snowed.

When I arrived home to Bangkok I shared with my wife the question and answer I got from the director of the Eurasia Region. Our conversation over breakfast opened our hearts to something so unexpected and quite unsought. It really did scare me in a different way than the tumour did. I wondered after twenty-two years of living in Thailand, if I could ever be at home in yet another continent. My wife and my girls were ready for a change of continent, language and culture. After lots of discussion it was felt strongly that we would move to Paris and maybe be a part of a church planting endeavour. My first goal was an attempt to gain Dutch Citizenship. Refused. Then another obstacle faced us, the incredibly high costs of educating our girls in Paris. And so we sought after a creative solution to getting a European visa and for a cheaper schooling option.

This nest paragraph is going to sound incredible, because the answer came upon us so fast. In fact, my girls were the ones to do a little searching and found a cheaper place on-line. It was Black Forest Academy, a boarding school quite near to where I recovered from the surgery. We applied, but there was a slow response from the school as to whether the girls could find a space in the dorm program. Many emails later we were asked to Skype with Calvin who ran the Resident program. And in less than fifteen minutes we were praying to consider filling in the gap for the need of dorm parents. If we were willing the girls would indeed have a space for this year and so would another group of guys. I should have been in shock, yet surprisingly I had peace.

It is not like me to just jump into the unknown like this. But I had been studying the call of Jesus to Peter to go out deeper and throw his nets. It made little sense to Peter and those watching. And here I was making a move that didn’t seem to make any sense to anyone. Now since August 2013 I find myself in Germany once again, with my wife and two daughters to be a spiritual father (Dorm Parents) to twenty teen-aged boys who are here because of the difficulty to receive a proper education in their own parent’s mission fields of service.

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On my very last Sunday in Bangkok Thailand, I had the honour to baptise a missionary’s son, we call them MK’s for missionary kid. I remember so well how he stood in a blue garbage bucket and as I poured water over him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit I was crying and laughing at the same time. I knew that in a short while I would be serving in the midst of a people group in Germany that lived, breathed and loved the MK’s from around the world. I would be a dorm dad to twenty teen-aged boys and someone like Joel Brunner whom I had baptised would be there too!

As we drove up and down and around the curvaceous roads of Black Forest in our first week, Patricia kept laughing and saying me and our daughters, “Isn’t this the most cool, outrageous, and wonderful gift from God? We are in Europe!” I smiled in my heart, because I knew it was true. I was living in the now. I was like Abraham not knowing where we would be next. This was a gift that only God could have given us. It is in some ways outrageous. To think of all those junctures where Germany came into my story; as a baby, visiting on a mission’s trip, brain surgery and then this. Here again, now. Germany is where I serve the mission cause until we find ourselves in Paris!

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Here we are in front of our dorm with our staff (Resident Advisors).