The best way for me to shed light on my current journey in this season is to allow it to be seen in fragments. Often, any clarity on my thoughts, struggles, growth, and weaknesses come to me in such a way – fragmented. I become aware of my heart in stages, and as pieces they begin to assemble. But as soon as I begin to form a clear picture, this picture is shattered and I begin all over again, seemingly from scratch. The following are fragments, incomplete and in-comprehensive, but they’re all I have at the moment – journal entries, confessions of weakness, pleas for strength, scattered words, sentences and paragraphs, chapters from a work in process.

Sometimes it’s hard to pour out my heart on a page, much less to others (who might otherwise be disengaged). I guess I’m learning that sometimes it’s okay to admit that I’m lonely, that I don’t have my act together, and that I don’t always know what I’m doing here or why I’m here. It’s a Friday night, and I’m by myself at a cafe/bar, writing about… what? I’m surrounded by noise — conversation and cheesy Thai music — and beer and smoke, but it’s okay, I actually sort of like it. Because the noise doesn’t involve me, it’s separate, something apart from my own little world tonight. I can be lost while I’ll among others I’ve never met, and who don’t even speak my language. For some reason, I knew I needed to pour my heart out as words on a page. I need to see something, or many things, and not think or worry about what it sounds like to look. I wish I could text or call a best friend, grab a beer, and talk about life. I can’t do that here, and God knows I haven’t made an effort to try other means. But it’s just not the same. I guess I’m learning to be okay with being “different” from others, and learning to accept what that looks like. The thing is, I don’t know what that does look like — how to be “in the world and not of it.” I feel like I mess that up sometimes, and end up being “in the world and of it.” But that’s just it — am I okay with being alone, whatever that means? Does it speak more to not be a part of anything, and maintain my appearance of conviction, than to be a part of something, and risk tainting that appearance of conviction? How do I become present without partaking, and how do I maintain healthy separation, my convictions, without disengaging entirely?

Some days there’s a painful awareness of who I am, and what is really in my heart. But to encounter the grace of God in those moments is something profound, simply because we’re so aware that it’s so undeserved. That God meets us in our darkest places, in our most shameful moments, is something that should overwhelm us with awe, wonder, gratitude, and love.

You are blessed when you are without. You are blessed in your lack. You have more in your nothingness than you have in your abundance. When you see what is not — what you are not — you see what truly is. When you see the possibility of suffocating darkness, you stand in awe and wonder of the presence of light. When we know that we are undeserving, we are amazed at what we have been given. This is why humility is so much stronger than pride. In humility we understand who we are not; we may then fully accept the gift, in weakness and with trembling knees, at who we have so undeservedly been made to be. In pride, there is no beauty, in anything, and our ability to live and breathe is our right — it has no meaning; but it means everything if we know we are worthy of nothing — humility. Only the weak will ever know what strength is. For what is strength without the knowledge of weakness? Make me weak, that I may know strength. Blessed are those who are without, for they may be filled.

“Your strength wavers, even fails; mine does not. So there is nothing to fear, son. When you are without, I am always with everything.”

My weakness is his greatest strength. How can this be? In great weakness is great opportunity, for strength and glory to be shown on the clean slate of humility. Finally, it’s not us — we know it cannot be.

In the words of G. K. Chesterton:

The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.” The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God, and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war. It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing.

Recently, I’ve also been aware of my need to be needed, and my want to be wanted.

Part of me wonders if who I have thought myself to really be hasn’t been me at all. It could be that I’ve never been put in the situation or context where my true self can emerge, and where I make decisions that reflect an entirely different person than who I’ve claimed to be. Perhaps I was never in a place where my true heart could be exposed; where I could discover the painful reality of who I truly am.

Sometimes we’re forced to face the ugly, shameful parts of ourselves, found in the deep, dark places we have never dared to venture. What will we do when that day inevitably comes, and we are made to see ourselves for who we truly are? Are we willing to face the truth, or will we run away with the mistress of self-deceit?

I’m constantly becoming more aware of my selfish, or at best mixed motives, and the hypocrisy of my heart. I am faced with the truth about myself. What I seek, I often seek for myself; what I do, I often do for myself; there must be something in it for me. My decisions are often made, at least in part, to satisfy or fulfill something in myself, more so than to serve others without differentiation, compelled by love and compassion in obedience. I want what makes me feel good; I want to be noticed and included; I want to be “someone” to those who can give me something in return. I’m selective. All the while I neglect relationship with those who can’t give me what I want, who don’t make me feel “good.” I’m often very selfish and self centered. I’m often very partial. I’m often very short sighted.

Why do I not weep for sinners or my own sins? How am I not enraptured in awe and wonder at the cross, salvation, the love of God, grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How is it that I take my God so lightly; how is it that I see so narrowly; how is it that my heart is so hard? Because I am so familiar. The moment I am familiar, is the moment I am without sincere appreciation, and the moment I lose any joy and ecstasy at the miracle of my righteousness, peace, acceptance and relationship with the God the universe.

I stand, stripped down to my naked self, without all the facades of self righteousness and religious activity. In a place where no one needs or relies on me, where I am insignificant. Who am I apart from who I have been to myself and others and my God, apart from what I have done for myself and others and my God? I am humbled, I am broken, when I see that I have nothing, that I am nothing. I cannot give anything I have not already been given; I cannot be anyone I have not already been made to be. I chase the wind as if I had created it. I search the earth as if it’s mine. “What are you chasing, son, that isn’t already yours? What are you searching for, son, that hasn’t already been given?” Isn’t it enough that I can feel the wind on my flesh, that it can speak to me in such a way… Isn’t it enough that I can walk the earth, that I can know it’s beauty in such a way… What is out of reach, let it be so; what is within my reach, let it be taken – but let it be known, it only ever was and is and will be a gift, and a miracle at that. So remember you’re nothing, and that this is what makes you something. Forget not the loving breath that makes you more than a mere animal. “You’re blessed when I make you nothing, for then you are made to be something.” 

Only a weak man will live and die for something or someone stronger than himself. A strong man is too strong to live and die for anything or anyone but himself.

The annual Phayao Flower Festival, over Christmas.
The annual Phayao Flower Festival, over Christmas.




During my school's "Christmas" or holiday event on the day after Christmas, students offered food to the Buddhist monks (Buddhist monks depend on the generosity of those who give). The monks then performed a "blessing" over the school, a form of reciprocity. It was fascinating to observe, especially as part of a "Christmas" or holiday event.
During my school’s “Christmas” or holiday event on the day after Christmas, students and teachers offered food to the Buddhist monks (Buddhist monks depend on the generosity of those who give). The monks then performed a “blessing” over the school, a form of reciprocity. It was fascinating to observe, especially as part of a “Christmas” or holiday event.
The string from this Buddha statue is meant to transfer blessing to what it’s attached (in this case, the school).



A monk sprinkles "holy water" over the students.
A monk sprinkles “holy water” over the students.


One of the nicest Thai teachers - Kru (Teacher) Tu - with the students.
A wonderful Thai teacher – Kru (Teacher) Tu – with the students.
A Christmas dance.
A Christmas dance.
The students "freaking out" for candy.
The students “freaking out” for candy.
A dance perfumed by some of the school's "lady boys".
A dance perfumed by some of the school’s “lady boys”.
Thai food feast.


Kru Tu spent almost all day making me this beanie - one of the best gifts.
Kru Tu spent almost all day making me this beanie – one of the best gifts.
Kru Thanapat - head of the English Department and a fantastic man to work with.
Kru Thanapat – head of the English Department and a fantastic man to work for and with.
Chinatown in Bangkok.
Chinatown in Bangkok.
Bangkok from the Chao Phraya River.
Ao Nang beach in Krabi, for New Year's break.
Ao Nang beach in Krabi – our location for New Year’s break.


Railay beach.
Railay beach.



Sunset on Ao Nang beach.
Sunset on Ao Nang beach.



Koh (Island) Phi Phi.
Koh (Island) Phi Phi.


Floating lanterns on New Year's Eve.
Floating lanterns on the beach for New Year’s Eve.



Koh Lading.
Koh Lading.
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Somehow the heart and mind recognize beauty and are captivated by it. It’s hard to believe I’m surrounded by such awe and wonder, and how my soul can recognize it for what it is – beauty… I’m going to miss the beauty here, the waves and ocean, the sunsets, the new places and moments. It prolongs my need to figure life out, at least for the moment. I can get lost in the beauty and forget what weighs the heart.


Longtail boat to the islands.


Koh Hong.
Koh Hong.



Home. How I love getting lost on the western side of the lake towards the mountains; passing through villages and passing by curious onlookers. Here, the only sound is the breeze grazing across my ears, and the soft movement of the water in front of me. The mountains are silent, solemn, and beautiful. Clouds pass above them; the sky is gray but unthreatening. Here I’m alone, in the best sense of the condition. A moment where I need not be someone to another, nor do something for myself, nor accomplish something for duty or obligation. Something in me stirs, maybe only in the silence. The quiet brings an awakening of otherwise unknown longings and desires.
Dok Kham Tai sunflower field.
Dok Kham Tai sunflower field.

IMG_1980 IMG_1987

“Adventuring” in Northern Thailand.

One response to “Awareness”

  1. Such beautiful and honest writing Neilsen. Definitely agree that this journey has been filled with so many profound, alone moments. I really enjoyed reading this!

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