Saturday, May 20, 2017

"I Could Never Be You"


Being an overseas worker has some challenges. But some of them are not what you would expect. Sure, there are language barriers, missed holidays, and the occasional python. But the challenge that sticks out to me lately is combating the idea that people in full-time ministry have a higher calling than others. Whenever we share with a church or Bible study group, we generally have at least one person who tells us that they could never do what we’re doing.

Let’s be honest. I couldn’t do what they’re doing. Teaching in the public school system. Caring for a child with special needs. Living in chronic pain. Working the mundane, dead-end job. Or thriving in the high-stress business situation.

It’s not that I don’t have the ability to do these things. (Although in same cases I may not.) It’s not that I would curl up in the fetal position after a week of trying. (Although in same cases I may.) It’s just that God hasn’t called me to that particular life in this particular instant. Just like he hasn’t called you to live my life.

To tell the truth, I often think my “challenges” look pretty easy compared to many others. I am tempted by complacency. I need to continually ask the Holy Spirit to show me how He wants me to change. But I’m reminded that the value of one’s life and ministry is not dependent on the strength, stamina or status of the worker. It is dependent on the God who works through His workers.

So whether God has called you to wait tables, be a CEO, change diapers, or dine with the queen, live the life that God has called for YOU. Carry-on, warrior. You are the only person who can live the unique life to which God is calling you. May we help each other as we both join in the larger picture of what God is doing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Foreign Land Called America


In just 16 days, our family gets on an airplane and starts our journey to strange and interesting country called America. Politics, riots, and lawsuits set aside, there's much to look forward to. Family, friends, dishwashers, dryers, Christmas carols, and chedder cheese make the list. But to be honest, there's a few things we're nervous about as well.

We are no longer 100% American.

Sorry, we’re not. We’re not really Thai either, but we’ve been pretty out of the loop on pop-culture. We first noticed this when my husband that he completely missed March Madness. It was already May. So if you rattle off your favorite actor or TV show, please don’t be offended if I ask if that’s a town in Montana.

I’m going to drive like a 95-year old.




Thailand Traffic.

Seriously. American driving freaks me out a bit. You all drive on the wrong side of the road and go at crazy speeds. If I start to go over 45 mph in Thailand, I feel like I’m really trucking. Plus there are those little black cars with blinking lights on the top that expect people to stop at stoplights and stop signs. Next month, if you see a driver with bloodshot eyes nervously driving at 20 mph on the wrong side of the country road, politely wave and point me in the right direction.

America is a frozen tundra.

Our last venture into America 3 years ago.
Our house in Thailand, on the other hand, usually ranges in the mid 80’s to 90’s inside. A few weeks ago I began planning what clothes I would take to the States. I had a hard time convincing myself anyplace (like New Hampshire in January) could REALLY be cold enough to need long pants. When I pictured myself wearing a heavy winter coat, I may have begun to hyperventilate a little. We will be rocking the 90’s clothes when we’re in the States this winter. We’ve had no need for winter clothes here or in our previous home in Florida.

We love America, but our kids may be homesick.

Just one of the friends we will be leaving behind.


On a more serious note, we and our kids will be leaving a lot of good friends behind. We do our best to help our kids understand that they have two homes. But it’s hard for a 3 or 6 year old to think of “home” a place where she doesn’t remember anyone her age. Especially when “home” covers a region thousands of square miles wide. No matter how good of a friend WE think you are, to our children you are legendary strangers that mom and dad talk about in fairy tales. Please, help us fill in that gap. Let them get to know you.


Overall, we are very excited to leave THIS home that we love and go visit THAT home we love.


But please just have grace and patience with us in our awkward third-culture moments. Our faces till look very American, but don’t be fooled. Our minds are part Thai. Thank goodness our true and never-changing home is in heaven. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing how God molds us and teaches us in these next few months as we visit our other earthy abode.

  


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Love THAT Neighbor?

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. Too much of my computer time these days is spent googling things like “how to get raisins out of a toddler’s nose” and “getting permanent marker off the face.” If you’ve ever lived with a 2 year old, you know what I speak of. But last night (while holding one vomiting child and changing the wet sheets of her sister) I composed a blog in my head. Let us commence.

My excuse for not blogging over the past year.
There’s a 24-hour internet café adjacent to our house. Normally I would like the idea of an internet café so close. But if you are picturing something similar to Starbucks, think again. This café is simply a smelly room crammed with 50 gaming computers. Dozens of teenage boys enter each day to whittle away the hours of their life staring blank-faced at the screen. Many will spend the entire night at the joint, and some will steal money just to support their habit.

The kids emerge from the café from time to time to take a smoke or drug break. Our home, particularly the girl’s play area, fills with smoke and we are awoken by the jarring sounds of revving motorcycles, loud talking, and occasional fighting. The first time my mother visited, the talking was so loud she actually thought the guys were standing in our hallway.



We’ve considered moving, but we love most other things about our house and its location. Instead of leaving, I’ve often prayed that God would shut its doors. I’m ashamed to admit that more times than once on particularly bad nights, I’ve also been tempted to spray pepper spray in the air to try to move the party and smoke farther from our gate.

Last night I was convicted by the Apostle Paul’s approach to trials. In Acts 16, Paul is in jail praying and singing. If I were him, I might be praying for a safe release from prison. But I don’t think that was Paul’s focus. In verse 26, Paul gets his chance. His chains fall off and the doors open. So what does Paul do? Run for comfort and praise God for His blessings? No. He stays and witnesses to the jailer. I wonder if instead of praying for a release from prison, he was focused on how God wanted to use him in the situation. How God wanted to reach others.

My situation is much different. Having loud partiers next door is no comparison to being in jail. But in any troublesome situation, I have two options:
  1. Beg God to remove it and give me comfort.

    Or
  2. Seek how God may want to use me to show His love to others.
All too often my prayers and thoughts focus on the first. Give me safe travel. Give me health. Provide for my needs. These aren’t necessarily wrong to pray for. But I’ve been convicted that they shouldn’t be the FOCUS of my relationship with God. We’re not on earth to seek our own comfort and glory. We’re here to love God and love our neighbors. May God give us a heart for the kids next door.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Welcome to Our Neighborhood

When we came to Thailand, some of my family had visions of outhouses and kerosene lamps. We do have an outhouse. But we also have not just one, but TWO, wonderfully western looking toilets and fairly reliable electricity. Our neighborhood is a mix of traditional living and modern conveniences. Perhaps some pictures would show it the best.

DORMS
The view from our dining room.
 
If you exclude the local cockroach population, most of our neighborhood’s residents are college students. Hence lots of dorms. This one (along with several others) towers over our home and peers into our back-yard. (Or should I say back concrete. The “yard” part in the back of our house is about 6 inches wide, but it yields several delicious pineapple plants. Not a bad trade-off in my opinion.)

We love living in this proximity to the students that attend the school where Nate works.

BARS
View from our front gate early in the morning after the night owls of our neighborhood have gone to bed.

Unfortunately, a plethora of bars sometimes accompany college students. Within 100 meters of our home, there’s at least 5 bars. Some tame and some not. As of yesterday one of them was a strip bar, but by God’s grace we think this is in the process of being shut down. Praise God!

CHURCH
Learning about God's creation.
 
Despite some of the lesser desired establishments, Christ is becoming known here. There’s a tiny Thai church that meets behind our house consists of 12 college students and 20-some neighborhood kids. The pastor and his wife, good friends of ours, are on fire to share God’s love with this community. We're excited to see what God does through these believers.

FOOD
Thai chicken noodle soup. Delicious and spicy.

Ahhh. One of the many things I love about Thailand. Within another ¼ mile there are literally dozens of little restaurants and food stands. It’s a wonderful thing. Minus the MSG and pesticides. And the occasional congealed blood. For $1 you can get a plate of delicious stir-fry or curry and sit down for a chat with the restaurant owner. BONUS: Thai people love kids. They'll hold the girls while we eat and don’t even seem to mind the mess of rice and egg that we always seem to leave on the floor.

NOISE:
The view from our bedroom window. A pile of shoes in the morning from the students who spent their entire Saturday night gaming.

With so many people and souped-up motorcycles on one street, noise is inevitable. But the greatest source of noise (now that the strip bar is shut down anyways) is from the internet café next door. College students and teenage boys stay there all night (literally) playing online games. When we wake up in the morning there’s usually still a dozen shoes outside the door indicating the number of (shoeless) gamers still playing inside.

There’s also stray dogs and fights. And trucks that drive by with loud speakers announcing various services. And firecrackers exploding at all hours of the day and night. (Last week we even saw the gas station attendants smoking and lighting firecrackers beside our local gas pumps. Perhaps the laws of science work differently here? Or perhaps I don't understand the mechanics of the local pumps? I didn't stay around long enough to find out.)

On the upside, our girls can sleep through anything. I mean ANYTHING. This is the blessing of living in such a crazy environment and never having the windows closed.

THE PEOPLE:  
One of the many vendors who has graciously extended friendship to our family.


We think our home is very nice, but there ARE many “cleaner” parts of town we could choose to live in. Yet the thing that we love the most about our community is not the fact that I can walk down the street and buy fresh coconuts and mangos. Or the fact that I never have to worry about our kids or music being “too loud” for the neighbors. Or even the blessing of Nate having a 5 minute commute (by foot!) to work. The thing we love is the people. Fun-loving, kind, generous, people. People who, just like us, are in need of a Savior. That is why we hope we can stay in this community for years to come.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Loving Both Worlds


The question we’ve heard the most in the last 3 months has been, “What do you enjoy most about the USA and Thailand.” The most obvious answer is, of course, people. I wish we could transport our US relatives and adopted Thai family wherever we go. But beyond that, here are a few things more superficial things we love about each culture:

Customs...
USA: Drivers who stay in their lanes, stop at traffic lights, and use lights at night.
THAILAND: The convenience of going the wrong way down a one-way street after I miss my turn.


USA: Understanding every word/sign at Walmart.
THAILAND: Being oblivious when every other word turns out to be a swear word.

Food...

USA: An entire grocery aisle dedicated to cereal. (Almost as big as Thailand’s rice aisle.)
THAILAND: Fresh papaya and mango smoothies for breakfast.

USA: Flavorful Mexican restaurants and real ice cream.
THAILAND: $1 plates of Thai food.

Climate…

USA: Not waking up in a puddle of sweat every night.
THAILAND: Never needing to make the bed. (It’s way too hot for sheets and blankets.)  


USA: It’s cool enough to play outside for more than 30 min periods.
THAILAND: No need for hats, coats, gloves, or even long sleeves.

Parenting…
THAILAND: Warm air and sun to bleach cloth diapers.
USA: Disposable diapers that don’t leak.


THAILAND: A trip to the doctor only cost $10.
USA: I actually understand what the doctor is trying to tell me.

Ultimately we find that Thais and Americans live life very differently, but at the core, we are all the same--people created by God in need of a Savior. We love the USA, but look forward to returning to our other "home."


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Thai Holidays

There are at least 16 public holidays in Thailand. Unlike many holidays where I come from, these events involve very little marketing and lots of celebration. Schools close, business stops, and firecrackers fill the streets. As a foreigner, I have yet to understand some of these holidays—most of them actually. But a few stand out as noteworthy.

Songkran
Songkran has its root in a solemn religious ceremony involving sprinkling water on the shoulders of the elderly, but the tradition has been…uh…adapted. Imagine taking a city of junior high boys, loading them up with barrels of water on the back of a pick-up truck, and letting them drive down the highway tossing buckets of water on each other. That pretty much sums it up. Except that it’s the grandmas, the college professors and the pig-tailed preschoolers participating in the fun. When you run out of water in the back of your truck you simply stop at a good Samaritan’s house, grab a hose and refill your industrial-sized trashcan.

If you step outside during the days surrounding this 3-day festival you WILL get wet. Trucks fighting on the interstate maintain relatively normal speeds. When you get closer to the town center, however, the crowd is so thick that it takes 1 hour to drive a 1 mile stretch of road. (Nate thinks 2 hours is a more accurate number. We can’t remember the exact amount of time.)

Sadly, Songkran is not all fun and games. Last year 321 people were killed and 3040 others were injured during the event. (Mostly due to motorcycle accidents.) You can see why we were glad that Baby Amara chose to arrive late, avoiding the need to drive to the hospital (located by the busiest part of town) during this festival.

Loi Krathong and Yi Peng
Now imagine taking those buckets of water and turning them into flaming lanterns and firecrackers. That’s sort of what these festivals feel like, at least in our neighborhood. Again, the roots go back to making floating offerings to the water goddesses and making merit by lighting lanterns. But to the Westerner, one of the most apparent pieces of the celebration is beautiful FIRE. And lots of it.

During our first year here we took Karis to a neighborhood celebration that felt like a giant walking potluck happening in the middle of the street. All the restaurant owners brought out their 3-gallon pots and served up free, delicious (well, sometimes not quite so delicious) delicacies of…stuff. Mostly made hot peppers, rice noodles, and undefined animal parts. Since the event began after sunset it was too dark to tell exactly WHAT we were eating, but at every table, a smiling neighbor would add another paper plate of food to my already full hands.

Most of my memories from that night revolve around trying to balance 5 paper plates of food (with no idea where to dispose of any of them) while trying to keep Karis out of the way of the exploding fireworks that seemed to be sporadically taking off from random people’s back pockets. It was crazy. And amazing. And mainly amazing because we all got out of there with all limbs intact.

The rest of the celebration involves lots of lanterns (think paper hot-air balloons fueled by fire.) Our friends taught us how to launch these. With their expertise, we were mostly successful. But from our balcony view I could see quite a few less successful lanterns burning in trees and in the road. Again, no one else seemed concerned. Thai people are amazingly adept at keeping the combustion under control--or at least pretending it doesn't exist. This event taught me that my (perhaps paranoid) view of fire safety is radically different from my neighbors.

While Loi Krathing isn’t actually a holidays, (it’s one of the many festivals that goes above and beyond the 16 “official” public holidays) it’s definitely worth experiencing.

Royal Plowing Day
Not all Thai holidays are high drama. (At least not in the eyes of the foreigner.) I still have yet to figure out the ins and outs of Royal Plowing Day. It has something to do with hooking up oxen to plow the rice fields, offering them a variety of food like beans and rice whiskey, and then predicting the outcome of the farming season based on what they choose to eat. It’s sort of like groundhog day except that it’s taken a lot more seriously and schools and businesses close for it.

Considering the amount of rice that is consumed in Thailand it totally makes sense to have a holiday to kick off the season, and it’s great to see the community (including the Royal family) rally behind it.

Children’s Day
Ahh…There’s the event I missed out on as a kid. It’s just what it sounds like—a day to honor, spoil, and celebrate kids. Hallmark is missing out on this one.

While we do miss gathering with our families during our traditional American holidays, we can’t complain about a lack of celebrations happening in Thailand. I also can’t complain about the Thai style of skipping the commercialism and going straight to the main event. This Thanksgiving when you’re eating your cranberries and turkey, know our celebration is, well, turkeyless. But we’re having the time of our lives making friends, eating chicken feet soup and avoiding those fireworks…this year from the safety of our balcony.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Market for Beauty

The market for “beauty” looks different in every culture. I first noticed this when I went to buy deodorant in Thailand. No deodorant on the shelf made claims to make the buyer smell better, perspire less, or feel fresher. Instead they claimed to turn the buyer’s armpits a few shade whiter. Yes, whiter. While my western friends are lying in the sun and investing in tanning sprays, my Thai friends are purchasing soaps, shaving cream, and lotions to make them paler.

Even food is not exempt from this marketing scheme. Today I found a whitening smoothie on my menu. Really??? Is it the yogurt that does the whitening? Do you feel the magic transforming your face as you drink?


Other attractive features in Thai culture seem to be large, broad noses and small biceps for college boys. I’ve been told that some of the guys even take feminine hormones to try to decrease their muscle size.
Again, from my American upbringing, this makes no sense. But who’s to say that desiring tan skin and large biceps makes sense. And why do we make such a big deal about everything from the color to our hair to the width of our toes?

Man looks at the external appearances, but God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) For those of you who stare in the mirror every morning and can’t stop thinking about how undeniably gorgeous you are, perhaps this might be sad news. But for the rest of us, we can rejoice that God made us in His image. Tan or pale, large or small, brown eyes or blue eyes, we all have a chance to harvest beauty in our heart. Stop stressing, people, (I include myself in that exhortation) and stick it to the marketing companies. God made all people and all cultures beautiful AS THEY ARE.