Catching the Next Ring
Dear Friends, (from Lisa)
I have always loved the rings on the sand by the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. At some point between dips in the ocean and strolls on the pier, my kids and I would gingerly say, “Shall we give the rings a try?” Athletic locals alternated with nervous tourists in line at the rings. I was somewhere in the middle, mentally urging my body to remember its days on the uneven parallel bars in high school and summon the strength to grab the first two rings, then swing and swing and swing to get momentum, let go of the back one, and reach with all my might for the next. If by glorious miracle that worked, it was time to summon all my strength, swing and swing and swing, let go, and reach for the next. On a good day I could get about five rings down the row before landing in a happy puddle on the sand, exhausted but exhilarated.
Much about our last year has felt like that long moment where one is holding the first two rings, trying to get momentum, to get the sense that the timing was right to let go of one and reach for the next. A ring got added when we let go of our home, dog, mom, etc. only to find ourselves still in Pasadena for many months. We were suspended—not home, but not yet where we hoped to be. We couldn’t quite relax, but we couldn’t reach for the next ring, either.
Now, we have more fully let go of the familiar homeland of the US. We have caught the next ring, though again, it is an added one we had not foreseen. We are learning from the many sojourners in Scripture who spent seasons that felt like detours, such as the Israelites in the wilderness, the family of Jesus in Egypt, Paul and Timothy in Troas, and Elijah in the Wadi Cherith. The Lord has much to teach his people and good gifts to give them when they are between home and hoped-for destinations. I have come to love the many promises in Scripture for travelers, such as this one: “You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip… Because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound.” (Proverbs 23:26, The Message)
Many of you are also persevering through a suspended feeling in some aspect of life, restless, frustrated perhaps, and seeking discernment about the right time to let go of something and strain to reach the next ring. What shape does that take for you, and what do you need to thrive there? Part of what I love about the metaphor of the rings on the beach is that they are fun! The cheering folks in line bring a spirit of camaraderie, and the soft sand brings freedom to fail. We are embracing those values of joy, freedom, and grace, a lot these days, and I wish them for each of you who read this as well.
For us, Malaysia remains at least one ring away, but given where the world remains regarding Covid, it feels like a glorious miracle that we made it here, vaccinated and in a place where, despite a spike, case rates remain very low. We are still suspended, still in between, but we are in general enjoying our days and not exhausted. We are tired at times--Bangkok is challenging to navigate. We face a steep learning curve on everything from gauging when to do the wash so it can line-dry before the next downpour to figuring out how and where to buy groceries when we can’t read a single label. (We recently bought some spices on spec--the only word we could read was, “Spices.”) But the Lord has provided a peaceful home for us here. Though it is just a block away from a bustling, noisy thoroughfare filled with motorbikes and street vendors, our little apartment is tranquil. In normal years it is part of a lively retreat center, sadly now empty except for us and the Canadian couple who arrived last March hoping to host those cancelled retreats.
What are we doing? Well, in many ways we are doing just what we’ve been doing all year. I continue to teach one course for Fuller. A course at St. Paul’s Theological College in Malaysia began two weeks ago, and I am in conversation with a dean about a course in Nepal this summer. I am finding a few hours each week to make progress on a book project. Rich continues to teach for church planters, leaders, and campus ministers in India, China, and Moldova, coach leaders in Russia and Ukraine, oversee translation projects for his Sketches of Leadership in six languages, and build a website that will make them much more accessible. His teaching has shifted from the 4 am—6 am time slot to evenings, which is more sustainable long-term. Check out a draft of his website and his video explaining how to use Sketches here: https://www.sketchesofleadership.com/
What’s different? Well, we are needier, which has made us more prayerful and more grateful for help from a few amazing locals. Julie, a lovely woman we knew some from our campus ministry days in Boston, heard that we were here and has walked us through various challenges such as getting phones enabled. A young married couple who are both taking my course at St. Paul’s from here, took us out to dinner last weekend and yesterday on an amazing bike ride adventure all over a little island in the middle of the river here in Bangkok. (Check out the 2 minute video at our blog.) They seem to tolerate our advanced years and claim to be eager to introduce us to other hidden gems of Bangkok. Seasoned missionaries, in Bangkok for a few days last week, were willing to let us teach them Codenames for a fun game night. We receive these as gifts, lifting and propelling us to the next ring.
We are deeply sorrowful for the suffering of many in South Asia—Rich hears heartbreaking updates regularly from pastors who have become dear to him. And sorry for many reasons to see case numbers rising in Malaysia.
I pray God’s blessing of the gifts of patience, peace, stamina, and hope as you navigate these challenging times along with us.
Give Thanks with Us:
Lisa and Rich Lamb (see us below with (former) King Bumibol of Thailand)
A Bike Ride in Bangkok
Rich and Lisa Lamb