Miracle Max and the Practice of Self-Care

Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: What’s that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

I thought of this quote from The Princess Bride while weeding around the rose bush in front of my house. A month ago, the bush was mostly dead. I had neglected to water it sufficiently during a particularly hot week when the temperatures neared 100°F, and most of the leaves withered and turned brown. I realized my mistake and (apologetically) began watering it almost every night. A few weeks later, I saw new leaves begin to form. And then a bud. And another. And now the bush is in full bloom with bright pink roses. A month ago, the bush was mostly dead—or rather, slightly alive. And slightly alive means there’s still time for Miracle Max to do his work.

The rose bush and a few other plants needed extra care for revitalization, and I have had to learn more about plants in order to care for them properly. In the process, I have learned about caring for myself. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my adventures in gardening:

1. Change with your circumstances. The rose bush I bought advertised itself as easy maintenance and came with instructions to water it once a week. I followed the instructions but didn’t think to depart from the standard and water it more than once a week when the weather got hotter and the temperatures consistently reached the upper 90s. In the heat, the plant wasn’t receiving as much hydration as it needed for its systems to function properly. The leaves turned brown, starting at the tips and slowly creeping toward the stem until the whole leaf withered and fell. We risk a similar burnout when we do not care for ourselves adequately during times of additional stress. What may typically be “enough” can be far from sufficient under different and more difficult circumstances. For example, this summer has been especially busy at my office, and while I am usually content to eat lunch at my desk, I have had to be more intentional about taking an actual lunch break. I need the time away from my computer and outside the office to get some mental rest and regain the energy I need to return to my work and do it well. A walk outside was a necessary departure from the standard. For others, this adjustment might look like an earlier bedtime to give rest to a tired body or more time with God to revive a weary spirit.

2. Cut away what is dead. When caring for an orchid, it is important to cut down the bud spike (the stem on which the flowers bloom) after the buds fall off. Otherwise, the plant will continue sending nutrients to the empty stem when it could be redirecting that energy to growing new leaves or roots. Or as Jesus says in John 15:2, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Likewise, it is important to cut away from our lives what is taking energy but not producing fruit; it is only stealing from areas where growth is waiting to occur. Perhaps this dead branch is a toxic relationship or yet another activity to which you have committed your last hour of free time. If you are like me, saying “no” is a learned skill but one that is necessary in order to dedicate our time and energy to the areas that are developing fruit.

3. Continue nourishing what is alive. My orchid has been pretty sad looking recently and was thought to be “all dead.” When I sent a picture of the plant to the company that sold the orchid, they told me it had been dead for quite some time. The plant was only “mostly dead,” though. It had been growing new roots before the leaves started to dry up, so something was happening. I trimmed the dry bud spike down even further and cut the leaves back to where it was still a vibrant green. And I kept watering the plant. I recently took a closer look at the plant and discovered new growth developing at the base of the orchid. I’m not sure if this is a new bud spike or a new leaf forming, but it’s a sign of life. In a broader sense, it may be an easy solution to throw everything away and start over when something seems “all dead,” but nourishing what is still alive—investing your energy into what works and what is eager to receive your efforts—eventually reveals growth and new life.

Ever since I started caring for the new plants at my house, others have claimed I am a “green thumb,” but I am just a first-time gardener learning as I go along and trying to keep plants alive. (There are plants that have not been as fortunate as the rose bush and orchid.) In the same sense, I am also still learning to care for myself and understand what it takes to experience growth and new life.

Day 10: Weekend Market with Hunk

My close friends know that I cry easily. Toll House cookie commercials. Episodes of Criminal Minds. YouTube videos of people saying “thank you” to their moms. I cry all the time – but never in front of other people. So I will remember this day of the trip as the day I cried in front of everybody. Our team met in John and Kathy’s room after breakfast to debrief from the previous evening. The women shared our insights about our experience in the clubs, and the guys talked about some of the conversations they had with people at the cafe. There was a brief pause after everyone shared, and then John turned to me to ask if I had anything else to say. I had been reflecting internally on my experience as an Asian woman on this team, and so I began to share aloud. This was something I had blogged about and spoke briefly about with a few individuals, but it was not something I had spoken publicly about with the whole team. I talked about the difficulty of being a part of the group, how (at least for me) my being an Asian woman seemed to complicate the dynamic. I know what goes through my head when I see an Asian woman and a white man walking down the street in Bangkok, so I was concerned how people perceived our group or whoever was walking beside me. An unfortunate consequence of my looking like everyone else in Thailand. I silently carried this burden of protecting the image of everyone else in the group, particularly the guys, and consciously separated myself from everyone else. Maybe if people don’t see us walking together, they won’t assume the worst about them. It was a heavy burden, one I placed upon myself – and probably unnecessarily so. I anticipated some issues being Asian on a trip to Thailand, like Thai people assuming I know the language and local customs, but I was unprepared for this particular struggle and how emotionally difficult it would be. I cried as I shared, and Kathy said they would not have known what I was going through had I not said anything. Sophie prayed for me on behalf of the team, praying that I would experience freedom to be a part of the group without concern for what other people were thinking. I really appreciated her prayer and also the people who shared comforting words and hugs with me afterward. I was also very thankful for those who (even before I shared this with the group) made conscious efforts to catch up to me when I walked by myself in the red light district (sorry, Mom). That simple gesture meant so much.

After such an intense Friday, we tried to make Saturday a little less demanding. We started our day at the Chatuchak weekend market, which was overwhelmingly extensive and busy. I don’t think it’s possible to see every booth in one day. There are rows and rows of vendors selling everything from clothes and handicrafts to food, housewares, and antiques. We also saw a cat with a live mouse in its mouth and an Asian man with dreads. All in a span of one or two minutes.

After a morning of shopping, we joined Silk’s brother Hunk for lunch. (The restaurant where we had lunch asks its guests where they are from and then stick a flag of their home country in the dishes. The image at the top of this post is our American-claimed pad thai.) We were unsure if we would be able to connect with Hunk during our trip, because he had been sick and because he was facing opposition from his wife, who is not a Christian. Over lunch he spoke about the struggle of remaining faithful to both God and his wife when she sometimes forbids him from going to church or meeting with fellow Christians like us. However, he says, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I am not a victim. I am a victor in Christ.” Pray for Hunk, his wife, and his dream for the two of them to take the gospel to China.

Upon returning to the hotel, we began packing our luggage for trip home. It was hard to believe that we would soon be leaving Thailand. After packing, Sophie and I went on our own excursion to one of the malls to experience the fish spa, where you put your feet into a pool of water and have small fish nibble the dead skin off your feet and legs. It was the most bizarre sensation that tickled almost unbearably at first and grew more comfortable after time. We were glad we decided to go for 15 minutes instead of the full 30, because we would not have been able to last that long! Before going back to the hotel, we swung by the food court for some Thai iced tea and informal debriefing about the trip. Once we got back to the hotel from the mall, it was time to head out again for dinner at another mall. While most of the group went for pizza and fancy desserts (I’m really going to miss spending so much time with people so willing to share food with me!), I decided to go for one last order of pad thai. It will definitely be interesting going back to the pad thai in America… We also went to the gourmet market within the mall, where I picked up some snacks to take home as gifts and for myself.

As we walked through the market, a few of us talked about wanting a time for the whole team to debrief about the entire trip. When we got back from the market, we all changed into our pajamas and met in John and Kathy’s room to talk about what we had experienced over the last week. We shared our “High Five” – the top five moments from the trip. We all mentioned worship at the YWCA on Sunday morning – our first encounter with the incredible power of God and a morning that set the tone for the rest of the trip. Other highlights included Loy Krathong, worship with the Nightlight staff and volunteers, and seeing how each of the members of our team have grown throughout the trip. During our debriefing time, we also reviewed the words of knowledge received by and for us prior to the trip, and it was great to see how God had fulfilled those over the last week.

Day 9: NightLight Ministry

Published with permission from NightLight International. For more information about their ministry and how to get involved, visit nightlightinternational.com.

On Friday morning, our team joined the staff and volunteers of NightLight ministry for a morning of worship. They meet for worship every morning, but this day we were privileged to be providing the music. Ian, Lindsey, and Ashley led worship and were able to use instruments that NightLight had available. John asked one of the leaders of NightLight if it would be appropriate to have me dance as part of the worship time. He said that they recently had someone come and teach dance, so the people there would be eager to see it as part of worship. He even cleared off the small stage area and wanted to make sure I had enough room. It was a great experience to be able to dance freely in worship and to have people be moved in the spirit through my movement. It was also incredible to hear everyone singing so passionately, joining us in familiar songs but in Thai. After worship and a message from John, we had the opportunity to pray over the ministry and the people there.

In the afternoon, we went to Citylight Coffee for a tour of NightLight ministry and an introduction to their mission. It was an eye-opening time as we learned about the reality of human trafficking and the sex industry in Bangkok. An estimated 15,000 girls work between Sukhumvit Soi 1 and Soi 31 (Sukhumvit is the main road, and Soi refers to the side streets off of it), which includes the Nana Plaza red light district. Working in bars and clubs, the girls earn a salary equivalent to $300-$400 a month, but their pay is dependent on their ability to meet certain quotas. Every month, they have to receive 90-120 drinks from customers and take as clients 12-14 men, usually leaving the bars to go to the men’s hotel rooms or a short-time hotel. They only get two nights off each month, and if they miss too much work or fail to meet their quotas, their salary is cut. Many turn to alcohol and drugs to cope. Some may hear these statistics and think it’s not as bad as they expected. “12-14 guys a month? Okay.” But Annie, founder of NightLight says, “Never become desensitized to the horrific norm of the majority. Just because it’s not like Taken doesn’t mean it’s okay.”

The volunteers and staff of NightLight work to build relationships not only with the girls in the clubs but also the managers and gatekeepers. Through honor and respect, the ministry has been able to build a trust that has allowed them to help women and rescue them from the sex industry. But rescue is only the beginning. What follows is a long journey of healing and reintegration. As part of this healing process, NightLight provides job training in jewelry making and screen printing through the design company branch of the ministry. One element that is integral to the mission of NightLight is their refusal to use the girls’ stories as the selling point of their products. For NightLight, the dignity in making jewelry comes from making beautiful jewelry rather than items people buy out of sympathy with no real interest in wearing or using. It’s about looking ahead and moving forward instead of continually revisiting the past with each finished necklace or pair of earrings. Women employed by NightLight receive salaries above minimum wage as well as medical insurance and a savings plan.

After our introduction to Nightlight, our team hung out at the cafe, supporting their ministry with our presence and by buying dinner. Sophie and I were able to talk to a husband and wife from the Unites States who are living in Thailand as missionaries teaching at an international school. They talked about their first experiences in Thailand and the way they encountered God in new ways despite some initial skepticism, a similar story to the ones Sophie and I have about this trip. It was encouraging to hear from them and the ways they’ve had to be reliant on God’s timing and guidance for their lives. They are eager to connect with us as we return home and try to communicate our experiences to people who were not with us. I am thankful that they are so willing to be a part of our post-trip processing even though we have just met.

Later that evening, most of the women on the team joined NightLight to minister to the girls who work in the bars. Lindsey was unable to join us, because she is underage. It worked well for her, though, because she was then available to perform with Ian in the coffeehouse. Sophie, Kathy, Ashley, and I went with other volunteers to the clubs to bring a ministry of presence, to help change the atmosphere and be kind to the girls. We bought them drinks to help them reach their evening’s quota (non-alcoholic if we managed to order the drink for them). I talked briefly with a couple girls at one club, and both were younger than me. I think one girl said she started working in the clubs when she moved to Bangkok at 17 years old. Despite saying they enjoyed dancing, all the girls looked dead inside once they got onto the stage. What was surprising was how dead inside the men looked, too. They come to these clubs to find pleasure but leave feeling nothing. At the end of the evening, we returned to the cafe to debrief and share what information we had gathered from our conversations so that volunteers could follow up in future visits to the clubs.

I escorted Josiah back to the hotel, and during our walk, we talked about what each of us had experienced throughout the evening. While I was at the clubs, the guys were at the cafe making connections there and drawing people in to enjoy the live music. As the evening’s crowd grew and spilled out onto the street, they helped to increase the visibility and presence of the cafe within that neighborhood. They were able to cover the street and the people there in prayer. It was helpful to process with Josiah all I had perceived at the clubs. It was a refreshing reminder that not all men are like the ones we saw in the red light district – that men’s hearts are capable of love, not just lust. Men can care for women and not abuse them. For both of us, it had been so easy to look at the men on the streets of Bangkok, especially the white men, with disgust and anger. It seemed like the natural response. But as we walked home, we reminded each other that the clubs are full of broken people – not just the girls on the stage but the guys in the audience, too. We can care for the girls, but the ones we view with disgust are also in need of love and compassion. And as one of the volunteers said during our debriefing time, “There wasn’t a single person I saw tonight that Jesus didn’t die for.” The dancers, the customers, the pimps, the mama-sans – Jesus died for them all.