Friday, April 13, 2018

Thailand's Nationwide Water Fight

I have fond memories of water fights as a kid—chasing my brothers around the yard with dinky squirt guns and repurposed mustard bottles. I recall three rules. No squirts to the face. No squirting adults. And no leaving the yard.

Thailand’s weeklong nationwide water festival ups the game and breaks all the rules. Strangers mercilessly splash and shoot each other, young and old. Gangs of normally-well-behaved adults (temporarily transformed into gleeful 10-year-olds) ride in the back of pick-up trucks dumping buckets of ice water on each other on the highway. Motorcyclists seem to be a particularly attractive target, causing an alarming number of accidents. Some parts of the city are much tamer than others, but there is no “safe” zone.

For the past 6 years we’ve mostly kept our celebration to the limits of our own neighborhood. This year, being the first year that our girls will tolerate water to the face, we ventured a little farther downtown for the festivities.

To our surprise, we stumbled on a parade which we thought had ended a couple hours before. (Apparently it was a very LONG parade.) In my culture, parades mean no water play. But not here. While some had a little more reverence for the significance of the parade, many Thais were throwing buckets of water on to the participants and by-standers both.

Large vats and inflatable pools were ready for speedy-refills and hoses provided a continuous spray.

Our girls were quick to join in the play with some of the other bystanders both young and old.

For many, the week long water fights are simply a way to have fun and survive the 100-degree temperature. But others hold on to the significance of the holiday's origins. Traditionally it's a time to ask for forgiveness and pray for one's elders. While we differ on how this is done, it's a great bridge to open conversation about our own beliefs.

Pray for Thailand during this week of celebration. And pray for us as we carefully find opportunities to strengthen relationships and share life together. Normally we don't do this with blasts of cool water, but this week, I suppose, is the exception.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Wildlife" in the Tropics

I walked into the kitchen this morning and flipped on the light to find this staring me in the face. One of our many household lizards bit the dust in the electric socket last night. I used to think indoor lizards were a bit creepy, but after finding them in my water glass or having them fall off the porch ceiling onto my head, I’ve just accepted them as a normal, even welcome, part of daily life in Thailand. (After all, they cut down on mosquitos!) This got me thinking about the other creatures prowling around our neighborhood. Even though we live in the tropics, most of the “wildlife” here in the city is not as exotic as you might think.
Don't mess with 220-volt outlets.

The Neighborhood Cat

Our neighbors are great at rallying around this cat and collectively caring for it. For some reason, the cat prefers to live in our yard. That is until this month’s “cold spell” when the cat showed up in a fluffy sweater too thick to squeeze through our front gate. Just how “cold” was it when I took the picture? Eighty-six degrees. Don’t hate me America.

I’ve never seen a python in our yard, but our neighbors are good at warning us when they see one creeping behind our house. If you’re the type who likes nightmares, try googling “pythons hiding in toilets.” But if you’d rather keep your sanity, just be assured that python attacks in the city are very infrequent!
A friend in our neighborhood caught this guy in her yard last year.

Street Dogs
I’m actually more scared of the local dogs than pythons. Thankfully, the pack that roams our street is pretty calm. When we took the girls out to eat earlier this week, I noticed this cute puppy waiting patiently by our table. When we got up to pay, he sauntered over to the table to lick off the table top and plates! Some other dogs are vicious and have rabies. No one would dare pet them. Last year in America, my daughters were horrified to discover that some families allow these creatures INSIDE the home. We had a little cultural explaining to do on that one.
Not ALL street dogs are scary. Like this cute puppy that tried to follow us home.

We've never had a rat in our house, but the small-cat-sized ones have an odd affinity for dying in our yard. Sometimes they (along with dead pigeons and frogs) reek of death for a few days until we find them under a pile of leaves. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that a dying rat means the pythons are probably at bay.

Some of the bugs in city are pretty cool looking. Like this one we found on our porch. God’s creativity amazes me.
A Lantern Bug in our yard. 

The "wildlife" in our urban neighborhood may not be glamorous, but it definitely brings variety to our lives. I’ll take these tame creatures over the more exotic tropical animals of South East Asia any day!

EDIT: To those of you who seem to think we're "brave" for living here, let me say that:
1. We really do have it easy compared to most places in the world.
2. We're not dealing with sub-zero temperatures and mice squeezing under our doors. ("Mice" here can't fit in our house!)

We're not the brave ones after all. :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Uncomfortable Is Not Always Bad

We just ended an 8-month furlough in the States. One of the first things we did after landing in Thailand was test drive our new (or used-to-be-new-20-years-ago) car. Carefully, but confidently, Nate got behind the wheel, and pulled out on to a narrow, winding road.

Within the first 30-seconds, a car slowly approached us head-on driving on the wrong side of the street. That’s not all that uncommon in Thailand, but as the vehicle got closer, the driver didn’t get out of our way. We couldn’t figure out if he was planning to park his car in the side ditch, or if he was just drunk. Finally, the offending car went back to the correct side, and we were able to pass safely. After passing, Nate and I looked at each other with jet-lagged, raised eyebrows. Then it dawned on us--WE were at fault. After getting comfortable driving in the States, we forgot Thais drive on the other side of the road!  

This got me thinking. We nearly caused an accident because we were comfortable. When we are comfortable, we assume we are competent. And when we assume we are competent, we believe we are right, despite what the facts are telling us. This can be a dangerous place if we are not careful to keep our focus on Jesus and His Word.

It’s dangerous if I think my Western values are “right” when they are simply cultural, not Biblical.

It’s dangerous to embrace all of Thailand’s wonderful culture if parts of it are, indeed, against God’s Word.

The Bible and the Holy Spirit’s guidance are our tools for navigating the tricky boundaries of right and wrong in another culture. May we never stray far from these.

In the last six years, many of my prayers have revolved around my own comfort in getting to know, love, and understand Thai culture. But this year, I think I will add a new prayer.

“Lord, make me uncomfortable. Make me humble. Make me rely on YOU for my radar of right and wrong. Help me shed the blinders of both cultures that keep me from understanding your truth. Amen.”

P.S. The girls and I have a tradition of praying for God’s protection every time we get into the car. This morning I asked Karis to pray. As I pulled onto the highway, I heard a little voice peep up in the backseat. “God, please help Mommy drive on the right side of the road!”

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.

  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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.