Sunday, August 16, 2015

Missionary Shoes

Strange things transpire when we step into the shoes of a missionary. We are fitted into this institution called missions as vocation, and in that moment we receive a new identity. This identity has many friends and enemies, and it is much bigger than ourselves, but all of a sudden we are representatives of it, and are identified with it.

The implications of this upon our personal lives is far-reaching, and I do not think that we understand all that will ensue when we slip those shoes on. For one, the expectations are enormous, you could say the shoes are mammoth and we will never, ever fill them. We will never feel adequate or “enough”-who can be the Apostle Paul? Or Hudson Taylor? Or Adoniram Judson?

Our relationships will change. We are entering into lives that are so unusual and weird that no one except another missionary will really understand, and even they won’t understand completely, because they are from a different background. It becomes more difficult to share our lives with friends back in our home countries since they have little concept of where we live and how we live and so it is a real effort to understand what we are talking about. We don’t see them very often, either, and after years of being away, it can be quite difficult to hold on to that special closeness we once shared.

Building relationships with national friends is a beautiful thing, but we still need friendships with those who share our culture and heart language. Yet the pool of same-country-of-origin friends to choose from is often limited. Although unlikely friendships do occur, we always long for that friend whom with little effort understands us well and with whom we can easily share our lives. 

Our lives are so unusual that finding those special friends can feel almost impossible.

Trying to make new friends as a missionary back in one’s home country is also a challenge. We are an anomaly now, not just a normal person. Now, when people meet us, they do not simply meet us, but they also call to mind all they know about missionaries and missions and transpose those experiences, images, feelings onto us. This is only natural, not good or bad, simply how we work as human beings. We long to be seen as just ourselves, but we are no longer simply just “ourselves,” we are joined to missions and all of its associations to the person we hope to be friends with. You could say they see our shoes before they see us, they are so huge and glaring that they can’t help but notice them. 

“Just try to ignore my shoes.” 




Saturday, December 28, 2013

Appropriate Dressing

Urban Thais put a lot of time and care into their appearance.  First impressions and appearance are very important in Thailand.  Thais are careful to dress appropriately and people who dress well are treated with more respect.    
Many expats coming to Thailand are often in the role of a teacher in some form or another.  Teachers are held in high regard and Thai teachers dress very conservatively. 
Men wear dress pants, collared shirts, and closed-toe dress shoes with socks.  Some may be required to wear button down shirts with ties.  Faces are clean-shaven, or, if there is any facial hair it must be meticulously groomed.  Even outside the school one is expected to be presentable.  Men should never go shirtless. 
For women in a teaching role, skirts must be at the knee or longer, with a slip.  The blouse must be conservative, with no cleavage, flimsy see-through or tight fitting fabrics.  Hair and jewelry should be presentable and neat.  Outside the schools, teachers are also careful not to dress in a revealing way. 
Teachers are considered role models for their pupils and society, and they take this responsibility seriously. 
For men, slacks with a collared shirt are fine for casual meetings, church, and most non-formal events.  Shorts are not worn to meetings, even nice shorts, and even when it is boiling hot outside.  At a casual meeting, more casual footwear is fine, and socks are optional. 
For women, church dress is the same as dressing as a teacher, except that slacks are alright to wear as well.  Although you will see other women wearing jeans at church, teachers should not dress too casually.  However, at casual meetings, slacks, jeans, and even to the knee neat shorts are acceptable.  Neat sleeveless blouses are alright to wear, but not spaghetti straps or tank tops.  Slips under the skirts and dresses are important.  I had this pounded into me by a Thai teacher who decided to go on a rant about it one day instead of teaching the lesson.  Colors, patterns, and shapes of underwear should be left to the imagination.
In public, neat shorts just above the knee are fine for both men and women.  Neat t-shirts and flipflops are acceptable.  Dresses and skirts still need to be at the knee.  Ultra tight or semi-see-through tops and blouses are not proper anywhere for a polite woman.
Swimsuits must cover quite a bit more than most of us are used to.  Board shorts and tank-top style swimsuits are fine, so are one-piece suits with skirts and high-busted tops with wide straps.  Bikini tops with board shorts are not fine.  Speedos on men and topless women are deeply offensive, as you can imagine, although you will inevitably see them on the beach in Phuket and Pattaya. 

Thais will not confront foreigners about their inappropriate dress so it is important to watch how respected members of their society dress and follow suit.  It is also important to remember Thais will often tell you that what you are doing or wearing is fine, but it may really not be, they are simply being polite and trying to help you not lose face.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Money

Money is probably one of the most challenging aspects of missionary work in Thailand.  This is a sensitive and difficult topic, but one that is of value, especially for people new to this country. 
If you ask any seasoned missionary about difficulties they have had concerning money here in Thailand, they will have stories to tell you.  We all have our stories and I will tell you one of mine.
In 2001 we moved from the city of Chiang Mai to the isolated village of Wang-Ai-Poe.  This small village was 40 minutes from a decent fresh market and a 7-11, so for Thailand, that’s pretty isolated.  The missionaries who had been there before us remembered the days of no electricity or decent roads, but that was before our time.
We embarked on this exciting church-planting venture with Thai partners, something we had been praying for and hoping for from the very beginning.  We also worked with 20-year missionary veterans who had been instrumental in leading the Thai couple to Christ.  In the 3 years we were there we saw a church planted.  It was truly amazing to see such fast growth here in Thailand.  Our church members wanted land to build a church building, so we let our friends and supporters know, and a couple donated enough money to buy some land.  Several of the church members put their names on a group ownership document for the land.  After a while the Thai husband of our team no longer wanted to work with us, so we left.  Before we left he had put the property in his own name, with the assent of the other church members, who were either close friends or family of his.  Within another year the veteran missionaries had built a house on the land with their own funds, and soon after that the Thais decided they wanted the house for themselves.  They told the missionaries to leave, and finally had the power cut so they would be forced to move.  In the end, the Thai couple sold the house and property, abandoned the church and moved out of the province.  The village and their own family was irate with them. 
Our next Thai partners embezzled funds for their personal use from the foundation they were working with.  This is a very common scenario, played out over and over again by people who may, in all other areas of life, really seem to be wonderful people.  This is a very Thai problem.  It is very difficult for many Thais to be completely honest if tempted with the opportunity to siphon money from a project or church fund. 

We westerners have our own problems of course.  The Thai criticize Chiang Mai missionaries for renting big houses but funding small churches.  They also criticize westerners for our ungracious, confrontational behavior and our younger women for lack of modesty in their dress.  They don’t like being told what would be best for their church or country or lives, or anything else for that matter, by a foreigner who can’t even speak their language well.  The list goes on, and both sides will justify their actions, but suffice to say, money is a great stumbling block here in Thailand.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ladies Only

A literary work called "Exhortations to Women" (Suphasit Son Ying) by Sunthon Phu, a famous Thai poet who was designated by the UNESCO a Classic Poet of the World in 1986, describes the duties of a good wife:
A wife should show her respect to her husband every day. When the sun sets, she will not go anywhere but prepare the bed for her husband. When the husband goes to bed, she krap him at his feet (by raising the hands pressed together at her chest and prostrating herself at the husband's feet as a Thai way to show her high respect). In the morning, she wakes up before him to cook food and prepare all things for him. When he has breakfast, she sits beside him to see whether he wants anything that she can bring to him. A good wife will not eat before her husband.  http://www.thaiwaysmagazine.com/thai_article/1911_thai_women_status/thai_women_status.html

For Western women, it is a little shocking to understand the history of Thailand concerning women.  As the above article reads online, “it has been a long journey in Thai history before Thai women's status came to the present condition.”  Western influences, starting with King Rama VI (1910-1925) who went to study in England in 1893, have been the most important factor in the change of status of women in Thailand.
I believe the whole country of Thailand reverberated with shock and awe when Yingluck Shinawatra was elected in 2011 as the first woman prime minister of Thailand.  For a Thai woman today, anything is possible. 
Yet Thai women, even the most powerful ones, understand that even with their new social position, there are cultural practices and decorum that ought to be followed for the sake of Thai men’s feelings and “face.” 
It is important that we Western women at least attempt not to trample the egos of the Thai men around us.  Our cultural norms for women make this a bit difficult, but perhaps awareness will keep us from our biggest gaffes. 
Here are a few things to avoid:
Open contradiction of an older Thai man’s expressed opinion.  Older means older than you.  In a small group, large group, or even in a business meeting. 
Touching a man as a sign of affection or in jest, especially a man who is older than you.  You may be signaling interest, or conversely, contempt.
Aggressive kinds of postures, facial expressions, and movements. 
Talking in a loud, confident manner.  Bossiness in any form is a no-no.  Taking charge in a meeting, even if the men seem slow to get the meeting going.  Let the men lead, even if they seem hesitant or unorganized. 
Allowing your boredom to express itself in body language (slumping, leaning back in your chair, droopy, glazed-over facial expressions,) conveys lack of respect in more formal social situations. 
Think gentle, graceful, gracious, feminine.  As western women this may make our hackles rise, and perhaps this is why it is so difficult for us to adapt in this area.  However, it is appreciated and appropriate here in Thailand.  Today there are many women pushing the social limits and the overall confidence level has soared in the past 10 years, but it is still valuable to understand what is appropriate for polite society.
Finally, you may notice that older Thai women act differently than younger women, more bossy, more “take charge,” not anything like what I have just described.  Like many countries, older women here seem to be in a different category.  These ladies in their 50’s or older understand exactly what they are able to do that is still culturally appropriate, and when to show deference at the right moments. 

I think, like many cultural practices that we try to adapt to here, just trying to be sensitive will go a long way to communicate our appreciation and respect for our host country.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Art of the Thai "Wai"

The Thai “wai” is so much more than a casual greeting here in Thailand. It means more than hello or goodbye; it also expresses honor, respect, and thanks. It is a gesture that reveals Thai values and attitudes. It can convey what might remain unspoken but deeply felt. Sometimes even hidden feelings can be expressed in a “wai,” as well as underlying attitudes. There is no equivalent that I know of in the Western world to the Thai “wai.” Slights are readily read into a sloppy or a half “wai” from one person to another, and it can even cause loss of face. As your language progresses, you will also be expected to understand the implications of your “wai.” In earlier years, in my ignorance, even as I was attempting to be sensitive, I have inadvertently offended Thai people. These are not issues that can be discussed easily with the offended or offending person because of the careful avoidance of confrontation in Thailand.
A “wai” should be slow and graceful if at all possible. Fast, sloppy wais can convey a negative message. One “wai” for an initial greeting per person is all that is needed for the duration of the day. When attending an event, be sure to wai every friend and acquaintance as well as those with high status or age in the group. When you leave an event, you can say goodbye with a personal wai to your friends and then to everyone with a kind of general wai for the whole group, kind of swinging it around to include everyone. Use the honoring “wai” with your fingertips to the nose and slight bow of your head and shoulders.
Persons of high social status should be wai-ed first. Head schoolmasters, a governor, a business owner, people of rank in the government or community should be wai-ed immediately with an honoring wai when we come within eye-meeting proximity of them. Use the honoring wai again, bringing the fingertips up to the nose with a slight bowing of the head and shoulders down toward the fingertips.
Wai-ing people providing a service, such as the cashier at the store, shopkeepers, restaurant workers, housekeepers and so on is generally not done. That said, sometimes I see people returning the wai the service person gives them, or at least nodding in acknowledgement of the wai. Adults should not wai children, but if a child or student wais you first, you can give a low wai at your chest, while keeping your head and shoulders erect, to acknowledge their wai.
When receiving a gift, always wai before you take the gift. It is considered bad manners and I believe you look kind of ungrateful and greedy if you don’t show your thanks with a wai first before you reach for the gift.
The lower “wai,” sloppy, fast wais, or too many one-handed “wais” can convey lack of respect and actually cause the receiver of such a wai to lose face if done in front of others. That said, the giver of such a wai might simply be distracted, in a bad mood, or carrying things. If you think you have hurt someone’s feelings, just look for the next opportunity to give a better wai and they will feel your good intentions. Be sure to return wais even with things in your hands and arms, be it a phone or shopping bags, just do your best.
When introduced at church or at an event, wai with the honoring wai, you can swing this one around as well to include everyone, and give a big cheesy smile if you like.
There is one kind of fast, one-handed wai that students give to royalty when accepting their college diplomas. There are other kinds of wais reserved for royalty or giving honor to sacred objects, making an offering to monks, or even parents on certain occasions, but I have not included them here since as foreigners we will probably not be practicing these kinds of wais.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

king cobra

king cobra by oceanicthai
king cobra, a photo by oceanicthai on Flickr.

Trying to get this picture back where it belongs...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hospitality in Thailand

If you have ever been a guest at a social gathering or at someone’s home in Thailand you were probably impressed with their incredible hospitality and ability to make you feel like a VIP. As soon as you show up they hurry to greet you and take care of you. Perhaps you noticed that they made sure you had a refreshing drink and refilled it for you several times. Perhaps you also noticed they made sure you had a comfortable place to sit and fed you freshly prepared or opened snacks. If they had food, you were sure to notice that they served you and probably served you first, making sure you had a good portion of the best meats or shrimp. They were extremely attentive, asked questions about you, listened to all you had to say, complimented you, and made you feel like, well, royalty. For a westerner, it is truly an amazing experience. The Thais know how to treat you like a superstar!
On the flip side, as we take those steps to become friends with real Thai adults, we must also learn how to treat them well. Although much is forgiven the ignorant foreigner, our social sins of omission are multitude and feelings do get hurt. So it is good to try hard to make our Thai guests feel important as well.
If you have Thai guests coming to your home, meet them at the gate, and to do so you must be on the alert for their arrival. Waiting for your guests in your house until they are knocking on your door signals that you are not terribly thrilled with their visit. Greet them with giant smiles and wais, this is a moment to show some foreign emoting.
As soon as they are in your home, show them a nice comfortable place to sit, but if you have furniture, on a high place, not a low place like a cushion on the floor. Low placement conveys low social standing. Honor them with the seat of honor.
Bring them a refreshing drink. Ask them some questions about their families, their work, their lives. Bring some snacks! Have an attractive bowl or platter for your snacks and present them carefully and slowly right in front of your guest, not fast and sloppily. Snacks must be either freshly prepared, or if in a bag, opened in front of them with scissors. This is to convey you are not giving them leftovers. Give them all the snack, not just a little bowlful, even if it is a big bag of candy. Even chips should be put in a nice container, not left in the bag for them to dig through. Tissues and little forks or toothpicks are a must for fruit and other messy finger foods. Finger foods should be cut into bite-sized pieces. To be exceptionally polite, when you hand them their drink with your right hand, gently support your elbow with your left hand.
If you have them over for a meal, be sure to serve them first, and give them the choicest pieces of what you have to offer. Be attentive! When their drink runs out, refill it, when their plate is empty, give them more. When they look around frantically, find out what they need, or even better yet, anticipate what it is they need and bring it to them, like tissues. Notice what they like and don’t like and try to remember. These are friendship builders.
Ask them many questions and listen attentively to their answers. Look them in the eyes and smile. If you see something to compliment, say it. When they leave your house they will feel that you value them and their friendship is important to you.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Body Language

Body language and facial expressions are so important in Thailand they often trump words as to what is being communicated and believed about a person. 
Courtesy and respect is communicated not merely by words, but how one holds the body while talking, or the expression on the face while listening to the Thai speaker. I think it is helpful to think of proper etiquette as being gentle, slow, and graceful. Abrupt movements or careless, flinging hand movements can communicate aggression and lack of respect.
Being sensitive to subtle body language and indirect replies will also help to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
For example, it is difficult for a Thai to say no, so their "no" may be communicated by a hesitant look on their face even as they say "yes". A tensing of their face and body may communicate displeasure or disagreement, even as they give a tight smile and agree with you verbally. Making an effort to watch Thais interact with elders, strangers and other respected persons is invaluable to learn social skills.
In any group, rank is respected and the eldest is revered.  Showing respect for the eldest means not towering over them, but when in proximity to them, try to be on the same level.  What this means is when they sit, you sit too, or even squat next to them if there is no chair.  When you must pass by them, hunch over if you pass in front of them or try to pass in back of them.  Never, never step over them or any of their body parts.  (Never step over any one's body parts, if you can help it, and if you must, apologize first.)
In general foreigners appear large, awkward and aggressive to Thais. Standing arms akimbo is aggressive, pointing is rude and aggressive. Much of our enculturated love of independence and freedom of expression is expressed in how we hold ourselves, and is often interpreted by Thais as aggressive and arrogant. We were also told to have good posture and never hunch over, which is exactly what we must do in Thailand to communicate respect at certain times. Displays of emotion can be seen as immature, even positive emotion. To unlearn is not easy and can be quite humbling, but the benefits are enormous in terms of relationship building. When they see the effort we are making to be courteous, respectful and sensitive to their culture, the Thais will often express their pleasure. They will be more willing to spend time with us and be a real friend. They will not be embarrassed to bring us to social functions because they know we will not act like a neanderthal. With time some of these social graces can be eased with good friends, but it is always better to err on the courteous side than offend your friend.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life Lessons

I have been asked to share a couple of life-lessons from my 13 years here in Thailand. I am touched that someone has asked this thoughtful question.


A Few Things I've Learned Through The Years


1. Being a language learner is an excellent ministry tool.


Thais love to help you learn their language. If you tell them you want to teach them something they may respond negatively, and you may not be able to teach your subject very well even if they consent to be taught. Asking them to help you learn a subject in Thai will make the experience pleasant for them, and help you get better in the language. I have a book that Thais have helped me with over and over again, the Creation to Christ Firm Foundations book.


2. Language will take you deeper into people’s lives.


Never be satisfied with your current level of language. I remember sitting at a creek listening to a teenager pour her heart out to me and I really couldn’t understand her. How could I possibly speak to her heart if I wasn’t sure what she was trying to communicate to me? The better I am at language the more Thais open their hearts to me and the more I know what to say to help them.


3. Recognize that you have made mistakes and you are not done making mistakes.


There will be big mistakes, little mistakes and seasons of discouragement. It doesn’t mean God is done using me, even when I feel done. Press on until the day that you are sure God is calling you somewhere else. Mistakes are embarrassing; they deflate your ego and make you feel like a loser. Bigger mistakes have a negative impact on the lives of people around you, including your family, and sometimes the lives of the Thai people, for whom you are supposed to be serving. Do not excuse your mistakes, but realize they do not mean you are finished with the work God has for you here. You are not here because you are perfect, you are here because you are responding to a call the Lord has on your life, and He has work for you to do. The mistake I made was not part of His work, and if I make a really big mistake I may just have to leave, but mistakes will be a part of my life experience here. Learn as much as I can from them, and try not to make the same stupid mistake again later.



4. Evaluation is important.


Careful and honest evaluation is painful. There are a myriad of things, if not a multitude, that we make excuses for, justify, if you will. There is tremendous pressure to be a super-person as a missionary, from many different directions. Because we are human we are unable to live up to our supporters, church's, co-workers, Thais, and most of all, our own, expectations of ourselves. It is important to understand who we are and what we are doing before God. I think because of the intense pressure to be exceptional and to do exceptional things, we become a little self-delusional. Live in reality.



5. Don't fool yourself, sometimes you are not doing alright.



Sometimes we are just coping, surviving, but not doing well. It shames us sometimes that we are not stronger people. Sometimes I ask myself what's wrong with me when it is obvious what's wrong to me and everyone else, but I can't stand the fact that I am not doing well. If you know you need help and don't get it, things will not get better. It might be difficult to admit I might need counseling, or that my kid needs extra help, or that I am not coping well with my present situation. These things make us feel like failures, or like we are indeed just normal human beings. Getting help is the right thing to do, because these are often the beginning pangs of a situation that will deteriorate on you and turn into something untenable.



6. Being willing to do things I don’t want to do.


Sometimes I am not particularly happy about the things God seems to be asking me to do. When I do them anyway I see how He uses and blesses them hugely. Some example for me would be homeschooling, baking and cooking a lot, being a follower instead of a leader, learning to keep my mouth shut.




7. Let your children be themselves.



Children are little people who will someday be big people, filled with their own ideas and living their own lives. What is happening now in their formative years is so deep we cannot see it or fathom it. We may think we understand our children, because we understand the words they speak and we see them constantly. What we forget is that much of what goes on in a human being is deeper than words and daily actions. And a child's behavior in front of their parents is not always an accurate representation of how they will behave in different social settings. It is certainly not an accurate representation of how they will behave as an adult, which is not too many years away. We may never know our children if we do not give them the freedom to be themselves and feel safe sharing their troubled and perhaps darker thoughts with us without feeling fear that we will not accept them. When they begin to have troubled thoughts, you must listen, you must take them seriously, or they may not come to you to talk about it again. You can be sure that often the little thought they brought to you is a small taste of something bigger going on in their soul, and they are trying to find out who they can talk to about it, if anyone.



8. Enjoy life as much as you can and don't feel guilty about it.


Good food, laughter, fun and times with the ones we love are gifts from God to be enjoyed and treasured.


9. Sometimes it's okay to leave early.



Sometimes it's okay to go to an event planning to leave as soon as possible. This attitude will help you go to an event that you really, really don't want to go to but feel you should. You may even stay longer than you thought you could stand, praise God.



10. "Do what you gotta do and apologize later."



Quote from Michelle Pierce, fellow missionary. This works especially well dealing with people that have unrealistic expectations of you, or when you find yourself in an impossible and absolutely ridiculous situation.



11. Try to find the humor in a stressful situation.



Laughing helps us cope with very difficult moments; the Thais really have this down. Try to remember what feel so awful and embarrassing right now may make an incredibly funny story later.



12. Every day is a gift, not a guarantee, and everything in our lives can change in a moment.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Feeling Is Not Enough

Compassion is a worthy feeling, so is concern, empathy, and a desire to make a difference. These, however, are only the beginning of what really matters, and that is our actions. It is not enough to feel compassion and empathy for someone who is suffering, or a people group who is suffering, there must be movement of our hands, mouths and feet to make a difference.
I am reminded of a short story written of a young man who visits a brothel for the first time and is horrified at what he sees. The degradation of the women moves him to great compassion and he agonizes over what he has seen and how it may be amended. After many sleepless and tormented days and nights of considering what must be done to stop such a blight, he is overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all and gives up. What strikes me about this story is that it is often repeated in our own lives. We see injustice, we see evil, and we are horrified by it, but we are unsure of what to do, how to stop it, what difference our own little lives can make facing the giants of a fallen world system.
What to do? It is my frequent prayer that I will have ears to hear what it is that God desires me to do with my time, my days and hours, my resources, my money and possessions, my hands, mouth and feet...all gifts, all temporary, and all will come to an end sooner than I can imagine.
I am surprised sometimes at the small things He seems to ask me to do. Disciple this woman, bake these cookies, write this note, smile and listen to my children, pray, learn more Thai. Perhaps it is small tasks for a small person, not dramatic rescues, not saving the world. I am not out there with the prostitutes or in the slums. I am doing small things and dreaming of bigger things. I want to be faithful, though, as I do these things, so I will be ready if He ever calls me to do something bigger. In everything, though, there are lessons to be learned about love, obedience, and faithfulness. Some of my greatest lessons so far in life have been as I have raised my children.
To be faithful to do things, daily, for years, that I don't particularly enjoy. I feel that this is a big one. To be willing to serve as a wife, and a mother, and then as a teacher, for years, even though I am dreaming of different things in the in-between.
I am not a partcularly patient person, nor spiritual, nor anything remotely Christian, really. Yet I know everything good in my life is from Christ's intervention, and I know there is nothing as magnificent, powerful, and holy as God. I have walked with God, without God, I have asked all the questions and wandered in the wilderness. I know who I am. Getting to know God has been slower, and far more profound.
When we are presented with an opportunity, will we take it? Opportunities often present themselves in the most inconvenient, uncomfortable moments. We go along in our lives, finally on schedule, maybe even on time for the next event, and then there is this person, this situation, this moment where we must make a choice to act or not to act. The easiest thing is not to act. Acting will make us late, get someone irritated at us, throw everything off-kilter. God is so much like that, throwing us off-kilter, coming to us at the most inconvenient uncomfortable moments. Dear God, give us ears to hear, hands to act, hearts to obey.
Give me strength to do Your will today, give me strength not only to hear but to act.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Importance of Showers

I chose to wear a skirt for my first day of volunteer work at the center. Put together, capable, clean and professional. If I wear jeans I will look sloppy and unable to function in the role I will be taking there. I will wear jeans later. I love wearing jeans, soft old ones, with a soft old t-shirt.


I will be sure to take a shower in the morning. Most Thais bathe their children before school and take a shower before they come to work or eat dinner. 2 showers a day is standard, 1 shower a day is barely hygienic, and not so hygienic in the hot months. It took me years to understand how sensitive the average Thai nose is to bodily odors. Especially ours, since we smell funny to them, being foreigners. My Thai friends still feel a bit miffed that my kids don't take showers before school, and I only take one shower a day unless it's really hot. It makes sense that a Thai kiss is a sniff.

Relational Complexities

Human relationships are so complex in general, and then the rules change in another culture. Starting a new partnership with a blend of both Thai and Western non-Thai and some-Thai speakers is a great example of a complex set of relational rules to follow. Verbal, non-verbal communication is a challenge-you must act one way around the westerners, another way around the Thais, and if you have a Westerner attune to both Thai language and culture, you must be aware of them as well. Eye contact, body proximity, appropriate facial expressions, appropriate body language, these are important things one must keep in mind. Then there is ultra-hygiene, so important in Thailand, and appropriate dress of course. It makes my head spin.
So it goes with starting a new partnership, I am excited and I am nervous, too. I will be going to a place called The Centre 3 days a week to help take over discipleship of women there and possibly help teach English if I have time. There is quite a mish-mash of people, and I suspect they don't understand each other very well, at least I don't think the Westerners understand the Thais very well, because they don't speak Thai fluently or at all.
I found it interesting that what was explained to me in English had a very different feel than what was explained to me in Thai. It will be a while before I understand the dynamics of things and I plan to watch and listen for a while before I come to any conclusions.
In the meantime, I will be praying and hopefully helping with discipleship. I am excited that the book I love to use, Firm Foundations in Thai by Don Schlatter, is also the book they love to use.
The next question, will I wear a nice dress or jeans? How will I present myself? This will have direct bearing on how I will be perceived and received. It is not about vanity, it is about communication and relationship building.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2012 Goals

* Be faithful to do Thai language study from 9:30a.m. to 11:30a.m. Monday through Friday.
* Take the OMF level 2 test and then begin studying for the level 3 test.
* Continue to disciple the women at WonGen Cafe'.
* Seek for more women who are ready to be discipled.
* Continue to pray for all the ministries happening at WonGen Cafe'.
* Nurture and love Kennedy, Poppy & Jasper.
* Keep running. Run at least one 1/2 marathon this year.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Goodbye To Private Merry Little Christmases

Christmas is a time of frantic frenzied activity within the Christian community here in Thailand. It is a time of outreach, giant neighborhood parties and trying to explain to everyone we are not celebrating the birth of Santa Claus, but in fact are celebrating the birth of Christ.


A typical party are tents and booths pitched outside on the dirt, sweaty crowds of people showing up for the food, treats & free presents. We play crazy games, kids are screaming, dogs are barking, there is trash everywhere and the sound system is so loud our ears are ringing.


Through the years my ideas about what Christmas is supposed to look and feel like have morphed from the American ideal into something much stranger and hardly recognizable for us whities.


I usually come home exhausted and half deaf, covered in dust and food. It's a grand and glorious time, always a funny new story, always the great feeling that you made Christmas for so many people. We still try to have a few hours Christmas morning as a family to get that sweet Merry Little Christmas time together, but the night before and time after is all for everyone else.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Why I Work at WonGen

I work 3 days a week during the busy hours at WonGen Cafe'. I take orders, bring food and drinks, and work the cash register. I also help clear and clean tables when the customers leave. I wash dishes. It's probably not exactly what our supporters envision their missionary doing.

In all relationships, communication is essential, time together is important.

Where I am from, getting together once a week to build a discipleship kind of relationship is seen as good enough.

I brought that idea here and I don't think it works very well. Relationships here need much more time, trust builds slowly, change comes gradually. Seeing is believing, especially in the areas of love and trust.

It is not enough that I am a Bible school graduate. It is not enough that I am fluent in the language and understand the culture. I am still an unknown foreign woman.

Working at WonGen Cafe' enables the women who work there to get to know who I am & I get to know who they are. How we work with customers, how we work together. In the hours we spend around each other, we learn about each other. We share real life together.

I learn about and see more of what they struggle with, I can ask them more about their lives, I can pray for them better. There is less pretending to be more than we really are, on both sides.

When we open the Scriptures to learn and open the book that teaches Creation to Christ we are not strangers, but 2 women becoming friends.

Those we spend time with influence us greatly.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Dreamed About Wendi

I dreamed about Wendi last night. We were at some kind of fair. We took a picture together and Wendi smiled her beautiful smile. We watched a gorgeous sunset together over an ocean city filled with water. The water was reflected in beautiful colors over everything because it was flooded. I kept crying and wanting to sing you songs, I knew I wouldn't see you again. You seemed distracted and kept walking away, getting further and further away.
Oh Wendi. Why did it have to be you? I miss you so much.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Difficult

It has been difficult to write since the death of my best friend, Wendi L. I miss her so much, and the easier days are the days I forget that she is gone. Sometimes I dream about her. In my last dream she was healthy and whole again, not thin like she was when she was on chemotherapy. She told us all she was ready to die the day before she passed, but we were not ready, those of us who loved her. I don't know if I felt more grief or more anger, even in the year and a half of knowing she had terminal cancer, we all believed, herself included, that she would be the exceptional statistic. Instead, she died earlier than the 2 years the doctors gave her.

My world is not as bright and beautiful.

Without you, Wendi, life is different and there is this pain that just sits there somewhere deep in me. I love you, I miss you so much, I still don't want to believe you are gone.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pumpkins

Rotting, tattered leaf shreds and brown shrivelled vines looked ugly underneath the vibrantly green growth of new leaves, vines, huge yellow flowers and curling tendrils of my climbing pumpkin plants. I started to chop them off, thinking the trellis would look so much more attractive with just the good looking parts on display. Curiously, as I chopped off the old, mostly dead vines, the new vines started falling off the trellis. What was going on? I looked carefully underneath and realized the new, tender vines and tendrils had piggybacked on the older ones. When I cut the old ones off, the new ones lost their foothold, their support structure on which they had their hold. I left the rest of the old brown, yellowing growth to simply fall off on its own so I wouldn't have all the new plants collapsing off the trellis. It reminded me of people, of course.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Eternity

Wendi Louise Lehman died April 13th at 11:30 a.m. I will love you forever, Wendi, my beloved friend.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One Last Time

My beloved friend Wendi L. has run out of time. I was planning on flying out to see her in June after the kids finished school, but her condition has deteriorated more quickly than any of us could have anticipated. She is on morphine and oxygen, and she no longer has the energy to talk more than briefly. My best friend for 25 years, I will be content just to hold her hand and be with her, nothing needs to be said, really. I already know she loves me, she already knows I love her. We have had countless hours of conversation through the years. I just want to be with her one more time before she goes into eternity. My passport and visa came just in time before the offices close for several days for national holidays here in Thailand. The seat I reserved was still available even though I went past the reservation day. I am in shock, I am devastated, but I am also so thankful I can make this trip. I will fly out of Thailand tomorrow and be able to see her Friday. Oh God, just help her to hold on a little longer so I can see her again, just one last time.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

My Beloved Friend, Wendi

Wendi became my best friend my senior year in high school. She was a radiant new Christian, a peacemaker, someone who laughed at everyone's jokes, no matter how corny. She had a beautiful smile and a tender heart for everyone, no matter where they were on the social ladder. She was on the student leadership council and was the youngest in our class because she had skipped a grade- she was smart, too. In many ways we were opposites. I was more the angry sullen teenager in black, still in shock that I, too, had become a Christian. For reasons I still puzzle over, we hit it off. We hung out together, spent weekends together, went to Senior Prom together, did airband, went to reggae dances. We became best friends that year, 1986. After high school we were roommates in Long Beach for a few months before I went off to the army. We began to write long letters, the kind you write with a pen and send in an envelope with a stamp. The years flew by. Wendi was my maid-of-honor when I married Kennedy in 1991. Wendi has had a profound impact on my life these past 25 years. Her faith remained radiant, and her laugh loud, her smile beautiful, and her tender heart touching all those around her in a deep and meaningful way. Two years ago Wendi was diagnosed with cancer, in her lungs and liver. The prognosis was not good, a time of about 2 years was given. That was June of 2009. At first the chemotherapy was causing severe side effects. She became emaciated, had to be hospitalized for dehydration and inability to take in sufficient nutrients. After a while, the doctors seemed to understand what medications at what dosages would work for her, and the side effects lessened. She began to gain weight and feel strong again. We, those hundreds of people who love her so much, began to feel incredible hope and a lessening of the constricting grief we were feeling watching her suffer during the early months of her initial diagnosis. I saw her last summer, 2010, and she looked so good again. Her cancer count was down, her hair was growing back in again, she had gained weight and energy, she was doing well. In these past months, gradual changes took place. The cancer count was going up again. She was feeling more tired. Then the cancer was spreading again, and she began to feel constantly exhausted, and easily winded. This past week she has been in Southern California exploring possibilites of new cancer treatments, called medical trials, for people whose current treatment is not enough. In the end, it was decided that this would not be the best option for her. My beloved friend. I always imagined us getting old together, living again in Grass Valley, walking in St. Joseph's garden again, going to our favorite restaurants, laughing together, even being roommates together again as old, old ladies. Some griefs feel too deep and bitter to share easily, this has been mine and I share it with you now because Wendi is running out of time and I think I am going to need prayer and help to get through this. Wendi wanted a husband, children. She lived her life above reproach, never compromising her faith. Her beautiful life has taught me, challenged me, melted my stony heart, helped me to see the love of Christ and the beauty of a life lived for Him. Such an amazing life, such an amazing friend. I want to see her again, and I need to go soon. I am going to be looking at flights in the beginning of June. Kennedy and the kids will stay in Thailand. I am thankful for his gracious love and support in allowing me to go back to see her. My parents agree that I should go and they will help, too. Thank you for caring, dear friends.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Sourdough Artisan Bread

This is a 3 day recipe. You will need a healthy sourdough starter to make this. Temperature and humidty affects times and the dough, I am working in 80-90 degree weather with high humidity.



Ingredients:

100 grams sourdough starter at 100% hydration.

100 grams whole wheat flour.

400 grams bread flour.

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons dill or herb of your choice

4 slices of bacon, chopped up (optional)

olive oil



Day 1: (evening works best) Mix 100 grams starter with 100 grams bread flour and 100 grams water & add 1/2 teaspoon salt & set aside. This is the levain. Mix 100 grams bread flour and 100 grams wheat flour with 200 grams water & add 1 teaspoon salt. This is the autolyse and will give you better/more complex flavors. Leave both mixtures out at room temperature overnight, no longer than 12 hours.

Day 2: (morning) Mix together yesterdays concoctions, add 1 teaspoon salt, dill/herb, bacon & 200 grams bread flour. Knead lightly, put in oiled bowl and cover. After 30-45 minutes do a stretch and fold. Oil kneading surface and hands, take out and gently spread into a rectangle. Fold. Put back in bowl & cover. Repeat 2 more times 30-40 minutes apart. After the 3rd time put plastic wrap back on & put in the fridge. This is to develop the gluten of your dough without popping all the developing bubbles inside, giving you a better "crumb" structure, more open instead of dense.

(evening) Take out of bowl, very gently shape into ball, sprinkle bowl well with cornmeal or rice flour so it won't stick, place back in bowl, seam side up. Put back in fridge.

Day 3: (morning) Take bowl out of fridge & let finish raising for 2 hours or so, until not quite completely raised. Preheat oven to 475 F. When oven is ready, very gently invert bowl over parchment covered cookie sheet. Slice top, cover with larger bowl, gently place in oven. This steams the bread and gives it the marvelous carmelized and chewy crust. At 15 minutes take the bowl off and turn down the heat to 425 F. Rotate loaf for even baking. Bake another 25-30 minutes until internal temperature is 200 F, or you feel the loaf has a hollow sound & is done.



The recipe I've posted above is the result of hours of studying the excellent bread site, The Fresh Loaf and many trials & errors. The simplest recipe, however, can be found by clicking the title of this blog entry, which will take you to the Sourdoughome link. It will probably not have the carmelized, crunchy crust and it will taste different, but it will be delicious, I'm sure!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bread Obession

I got obsessed with bread. Not just any kind of bread, but artisan bread. Natural yeast, sourdough, whole wheat 7-grain boules, to be exact. I am a bread lover, to be sure, but somehow my love for bread turned into a quest for a difficult but supremely delicious bread, in short, my bread obsession to make the perfect loaf. So what you see below is the product I finally managed to make after several weeks of trying to get a good fungal/bacterial culture going, I mean, bakers yeast/lactobacillus, also known as sourdough starter. That was a challenge in itself, considering that Thailand is bacterial heaven and the temperatures are not ideal for the growth of yeast cells. I am too ashamed to tell you how many hours I have spent on the superb website "The Fresh Loaf" which you can get to yourself if you click on my title above. I learned from chemists, who also like to make bread, more than I ever imagined I could or wanted to know about growing microbes. Certain special microbes.
Once my special microbe colony was healthy I had to learn how to make the bread with it. I wasn't satisfied with simply making a loaf. I had seen the gorgeous boule loaves of bread on TFL website, and I could no longer be sated on a simple loaf. I became inflamed with bread-lust. This is my confession, I gave monosyllabic replies to my son when he showed me his Lego creations. I was late to bed, I was dreaming of bread at night. (I am not kidding.) Boules, beautiful boules, how does one acheive them? My attempts were flat pancakes, dense crumb structure, shameful examples of bread. I drooled over the masterpieces I saw on TFL. So I lurked and read for hours, tried new techniques, forgot the salt sometimes, and finally made something that resembled THE BOULE. Then, things got better. I got a peel, the thing you use to put bread in the oven so you don't have to use your hands and deflate the bubbles. I found a Thai improvision for La Cloche, a magnificent bread making devise that gives you ovenspring (additional rise in the oven.) I found special high protein flours, I made other improvisions for a couche...and lo...
(Can you hear the music?) My first gorgeous bread. It takes about 36 hours from start to finish. Glorious!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Big Move

Poppy ended 8 years of homeschooling and entered highschool at Grace International School in Chiang Mai mid-August of 2010. She also went into a dorm so we could continue our ministry in Southern Thailand. In the end, the enormous changes proved to be a little more than she could handle without mom & dad. Kennedy decided there would be no more dorms or living with others, these would be our last few years with our daughter and she needed us to be with her.
Within days of his final decision almost all of our furniture sold and everything fell into place to make a very fast move. Personally, this was a difficult move for me and I am still in a bit of shock about the whole thing. I am very glad to be with Poppy again, though, and she is so much happier to be with us.
So here we are in Northern Thailand and I am feeling rather dazed and confused. I know that everything will make perfect sense later and right now is a time of transition.
Kennedy picked a lovely house for our family and it is good to be together again. At least there shouldn't be any more cobras or king cobras. :)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Last Snake Story



The Grand Finale snake story, anyway, since we did have snakes after this one. This was the most dangerous snake of all, a king cobra. I never in my life thought I'd find one, much less next to my kitchen.
Earlier that morning I had encountered a huge black snake while gardening that scared me to death but turned out to be just a rat snake.
After lunch I heard the dogs bark their "I found a snake" bark, so I went out to investigate. I pulled back a box, heard a hiss, and thought "Oh great, a cobra." I called my Thai friends to come kill it. Then I saw it. It was huge. I thought how strange it was that a python was hissing, didn't think they hissed. So I called another Thai friend, Tanom, who is a hunter and wouldn't be afraid of a big snake.
The 2 men killed it and it was a king cobra. I hope I never have to find another one.

MOVED

No longer in Southern Thailand, now I am in Northern Thailand. A lot has happened, there are still more stories to tell from before and during and then after the move. Life is a journey.

Friday, October 08, 2010

1st Festival Day/1st Camp Day

It has been very distressing to see some of the kids who professed Christ participate in the Vegetarian Festival. They told us their grandfather or some other family member wanted them to "gin jee." This year they will probably not go to the temple to be possessed, but they are dressing in white and abstaining from meat, fish and eggs to "purify" themselves.
We are holding our camp, and it went well yesterday. Some of the parents no longer allow their teenage children to associate with us or do anything with us because their children have professed faith in Christ. Other kids are travelling or just off doing their own thing during this school break. We had 7 kids yesterday. John held it at his house and we helped him make a Filipino pork dish, very yummy.
Today we are holding it at our house and will have homemade pizza & Thai food. We will take them to the beach later to body/boogie-board surf.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Story of Um

This is an ancient story revisited.
Um is a girl who has been coming to our center for the past 2 years. This year she is 16 and in 11th grade.
Um has been having episodes where she freezes up, turns greenish, and starts to panic for no reason. Our partner John has taken her to the hospital 3 times; we went the 2nd time to a hospital 2 hours away that had a good reputation. The diagnosis was stress. Every time John would pray for her and then she would be fine.
After John brought her home from the hospital for the last time, her mom opened up about the cause of her stress.
Several years ago the mother was in terrible debt and did not know what to do. She gave her children over to the Vegetarian Festival priests to get help. Shortly after that she won a lottery and paid all her debts off.
Um began to have her panic attacks sometime after that.
This year the priests want Um to participate in the Vegetarian Festival and sleep overnight at the temple for the week. She did not want to go, she was afraid, but her mother wanted her to go.
She has made a decision to stay at a relative's home near the temple and participate in the activities this year.
I am spending the last 3 evenings before she goes going over my testimony with her. I was delivered from spirit possession when I was 16 years old and became a Christian. I want to share with her that there is a higher power than the spirits that enter and control these hundreds of people that will participate in the Vegetarian Festival.
She knows thus far it has only been prayer in the name of Jesus that has helped her.
We are praying she will choose Him, and freedom from the spirits.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Spiritual Warfare

As the Vegetarian/Possession Festival gears up, spiritual warfare in this country also kicks into high gear. Across the country Thailand's Christians are praying and some are even fasting. Hundreds of people will become possessed by spirits, including teenagers and even children. The gruesome and bloody acts of self-multilation follow possession. It will begin this Thursday. At the same time we will be holding a half-day camp for our teens at the center who have professed Christ to help them avoid the community & parental/family pressure to cave and participate in the festival.

Like a spiritual cloud decending on the provinces here that participate, the darkness is palpable. The presence of spiritual beings is oppressive and discouraging. We are in the middle of a part of the world that has been under the enemy's control for thousands of years and this festival is just the latest manifestation of the show of this control. We are teaching our teens and new believing adults that the Creator God is far more powerful than these spirits. They do not need to be afraid, they do not need to hide themselves away during these weeks. They do not need to fear the retribution of the spirits if they refuse to participate.

For us Westerners, such things are difficult to imagine until we see it with our own eyes.

Thank you for your prayers for us and the people He loves and redeemed.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Vegetarian/Possession Festival

This is our least favorite time of the year, watching hundreds of people get possessed by the spirits and mutilate themselves. We are going to do a teen camp this year for the kids who have professed Christ so they can get away from the pressure of their community & parents to participate in the festival. One girl is already abstaining from meat and thus becoming a participant. It is discouraging. We are praying.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2 Months In...Returned to Southern Thailand

It is a wonderful gift to know you are in the very place you should be, and feel happy to be there, too. Coming back to Thailand has been a blessing.
Poppy is in the dorm and she loves it, and her new school.
We have met the new believers and more have believed since we arrived back and it has been wonderful to get to know them all. To date we have 17 teens who have believed.
Kennedy is teaching art and I am teaching English in the evenings Monday through Thursday. Kennedy spends an hour with Jasper in the morning to get some quality dad time in every day. Fridays and Saturdays are family days.
Kennedy almost got bit by a juvenile cobra the first week we returned. This past week he found an adult and killed it with a lawnmower, in our yard.
We are seranaded every night by drunk men in the karoake bar across the street from us. A few nights ago Kennedy was dreaming he was going to get into a fist fight with them because he couldn't get any sleep. So we are kind of sleepy during the day.
Our main priority is discipling these new believers and visiting their moms & dads.
We are eating a lot of delicious cheap Thai food.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Song that Reminded me of Rosie

One Week and then We Fly

We came to say goodbye to a beloved mother. Now we are saying another, shorter, goodbye to many beloved people, places, and yes, the creature & cultural comforts of our America. Next week Tuesday night we board our long flight across the Pacific Ocean and cross into the incredibly different world of southeast Asia. I am already starting to have dreams of speaking Thai and using my hands to "wai" or make the Thai greeting.

There are now 14 teens that we will have the joy of baptising with John our Filipino partner, in the gorgeous Andaman Sea. The activities at the center are growing, and we will put our hands and hearts into it to minister, for the sake of and because of the love of the Christ that is our strength and joy.

We don't know where we will live or if Poppy will have a dorm to go to, but we live by faith and He has never, never let us down.

Thank you for being part of our journey, for being our friend, we cherish you.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Quieted Heart

Our family came back to the U.S. in January to say goodbye and be with Kennedy's mom Rosie as she went through the last stage of bone cancer. Rosie died April 2oth, 11:23 a.m. When she died Kennedy was holding her hand and she was in her own room in her own house. The memorial service was beautiful, a gathering of those who loved her and colorful flowers arranged around a favorite picture. We are grateful that we had the time to spend here at home with her, to say all the things we wanted to say, and for a sweet goodbye to a beloved woman.

We are going to Chicago for the first 2 weeks of this month, May. Our children will stay with their grandparents and finish up schooling.

This summer we are planning to spend a lot of time camping and hiking before we pack our bags to return to Southern Thailand late July. We are praying that this time will be a time to quiet and heal our hearts as a family so we are ready to give it our all when we return to Thailand. There are 13 new believers waiting for us at the Music/Art Center.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, listening ears, support and encouraging words these past few months. It has all helped us so much and we are grateful for you.

Life is full of painful, strange events, alongside the wonderful, delightful ones...we want to walk them all with the Lover of our Souls.

Let's continue to love and encourage one another.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tidal Inundation - friends & family in mind


Sweep in like a tidal inundation
seep into the earth, erosion, erode and fill
push in then flow out again
take part of me with you
leave part of you with me

I step into your ocean
I step into your world
strange creatures lurk under
your mysterious waves
dangerous, poisonous

I tremble
all your flotsam and jetsam
swirl around me

I hear your weeping
wind blow through gentle
melodies, violent dissonance

I will gather the moments I have had with you
like colored glass on a beach
let them slide through my fingers

Your waves crash over me
Rush in like an inundating wave
and then recede
tidal water, rushes back
ebbing and rising
here and then gone

Friday, April 09, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Monday Kennedy went to his mom's house to visit her and meet with her nurse, Chad. Chad let the family know that it looks like days before Rosie passes away. It was quite a shock for all of us, we had expected another 2 months, or at least several weeks. So everyone is on high alert and we are preparing to say goodbye. Yesterday I was able to communicate what a wonderful mother-in-law she has been for me, as well as such a special friend, and how much I love her. I talked about the special times we've had as a family and especially with Poppy & Jasper. Rosie was with me when I gave birth to Poppy and helped convince me to go ahead and give her the name "Poppy." It was wonderful to have her all these years, she has been a gift and brought a lot of happiness & laughter into my life. It is difficult to let her go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

8 New Believers At Our Music/Art Center

Fantastic news! What we have been waiting and praying for the past year. In the past 3 weeks our Filipino partner, John Arcenas, has led 8 teens to faith. Here is his story:

"At the airport on the 25th of February, God gave me a word. It’s at 8th chapter of John verses 31-36, “the truth will set you free...We (Jews) answered him (Jesus)...have never been slaved by anyone...Jesus answered them, everyone who commits sin is slave to sin...So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The Thais are proud that they never been slaved by any Western power and they are very proud of that. They thought they are FREE! But, Jesus said “everyone who commits sin is slave to sin”. The Thais need Jesus to set them free too.
The Sunday of 28th of February, I shared the message I got from God with our youth during our cell group.
Some of our youth were convicted. They realized that they are enslaved in sin and needing Jesus to set them free. There were seven youth which are in the picture on the right hand side accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior."

Two weeks later another girl believed. Total of 8 teens, 4 boys and 4 girls. Yeah!!!

We are so wanting to be there right now, but are super excited about this news. We know we are where we should be, so we are praying for John and these 8 teens.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Breakthrough at our Southern Thailand Peace Music & Art Center

Weeping, questions, and movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of teenagers...this is such an answer to so many prayers at our Peace Music & Art Center. Valentine's day, last Sunday, our partner John Arcenas showed Christ's passion at the center for our "cell group" (kind of like a seeker-service.) Southern Thai teenagers watched this excerpt from Gibson's Passion as John explained the cost of reconciliation between a holy God and fallen man. Although the gospel message has been related to them before, this day's response was dramatically different than the usual fidgeting, cell-phone calling, running off to buy snacks Sunday meeting antics.

In a world where one worships the governing spirits of the area, ancestors, the Buddha and some Hindu gods thrown in there as well, the idea of one God is a radical one. That this God is interested in our lives personally and desires not only reconciliation but relationship is also a strange concept for Theravada Buddhists of this region. The gods they know can be appeased and cajoled by small offerings of flowers, incense, food and prayers. The God we are presenting to them is not impressed by any of those small offerings or any big ones, either, much less promises to be a monk or do something good in return for a personal favor. That is the normal kind of relationship between our Southern Thai neighbors and their gods.

We are thrilled that there is indeed a breakthrough and pray earnestly for that moment when they will recognize their amazing Creator and lover of their soul.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hospice and Morphine

Hospice and enough morphine have been huge blessings in the life of Rosie, Kennedy's mom, as she battles the cancer that has ravaged her body. Upon our arrival in America a little over a month ago, we found Rosie in intense and unrelenting pain that was tormenting her both day and night. Sometime last year the cancer that was in her lungs spread to her bones and took up residence in her ribs, skull and neck, femur and spine. This kind of bone cancer is known to cause excruciating pain, and the medications that she was on were not enough to keep the pain in check.

It is a terrible experience to see someone you love in so much pain and distress and not know what to do about it or how to help. Our first few visits with Rosie were heartbreaking and difficult to deal with.

When Rosie chose to do chemotherapy it caused mouth sores, gastrointestinal distress and other symptoms that made it impossible for her to continue the chemo treatment, even though it would mean adding months to her life. She has chosen hospice instead and there has been a significant improvement in the quality of her life, for which we are very grateful. Hospice has provided additional morphine that has stopped "breakthough" pain and enabled Rosie to go through her days and nights without the excruciating pain that she was experiencing. Hospice has also provided a special hospital bed that is much more comfortable for her. A nurse comes to bathe her and check on her, and there is someone monitoring her medication daily.

Visits are good now, with opportunities to talk together, to eat together, and sometimes even to laugh together. To hug, kiss and say "I love you" to this beloved woman. Thank you for praying with us, we are so thankful for you.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Feeling Numb

Tonight driving home the driving beat of Switchfoot and Creed soothed the pain I felt and was like some kind of therapy for the numbness I was experiencing. The visits with Rosie have been very difficult and it is hard for me not to simply "shut down."

The sky turned into a brilliant collection of fiery sunset colors as we drove, then dimmed to dull smokey oranges and charcoals, the clouds collected in towering swatches across the sky, dully lit and torn in places. The leafless winter trees were grotesque lacy black cutouts in a bizarre landscape. Oncoming cars swept by like dull and dirty stars, and the tension in me eased as the miles unwound themselves on the asphalt.

I know it's probably better to talk through one's emotions, but I haven't been good at that lately. I feel too numb, I don't want to talk about what I'm feeling or thinking.

But I love these long drives where I don't have to say a word, and these long runs where I can be silent and only listen, and only watch.

Today I watched my best friend, who is also battling cancer for her life, look at me with tears in her beautiful eyes and say, "I want to live longer."

Oh God, please intervene.

Friday, February 05, 2010

10 Miles in the Fog

Fog stills and isolates, sound is hushed, muted, the landscape becomes veiled and mysterious. My 10 mile, 2-hour run yesterday morning was a gift to quiet my overwhelmed heart and mind. Periodically I would cross bridges over deep fresh-water channels filled with calling birds among the reeds. Behind my back the dawning sun was burning a gold and blue fissure in the grey, quiet world. Winter's leafless trees were heavily laden with sparkling dew and red-winged blackbirds. The incredible beauty of Your creation sings to my soul, O Lord.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spending Time With Rosie

We have had several visits with Rosie thus far. It has been pretty shocking to see how fast and dramtic the cancer has affected her. It is heartbreaking to see her so racked with pain and unable to do the things she loves to do. The everyday and mundane tasks of life have become impossible for her, and I believe it is exceedingly frustrating for her to be in this position. Rosie has always been very independent and self-reliant, a rock for other people to lean and depend on. Being a nurse she was the one comforting and ministering to other people hurting and in need. She worked for years on the oncology ward, the cancer ward. Now she is finding herself on the "other side" and I can imagine it is very difficult for her to be in this position.

And for Rosie, as a woman who had so much love and care for other people, I have to wonder if it is difficult to give up that role and let others do the caring. For those beautiful people who are the "givers" rather than the "takers" I suspect it is a difficult role-reversal to find oneself suddenly unable to "give" anymore.

Rosie has been a wonderful mother-in-law to me. She has always been supportive, loving, and never overbearing or demanding. It has been a joy to be her daughter-in-law these past 18 years and I am grateful for such a lovely person in my life. I have enjoyed getting to know her and hear the stories of her life, learning about this person who gave birth to and mothered my husband. I have enjoyed my husband's stories about growing up with his adventurous and lovely mother.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My First Half-Marathon

I never imagined running would be one of my favorite things to do...in the past it was usually at the very bottom, meaning I hated it with a passion. I liked gyms, weight lifting, Nautilus machines. I started running in Thailand because there was no gym available and I wanted to excercise. In 2009 I decided I wanted to run more than a couple of miles, when I got my first MP3 player. Previously, my favorite kinds of music were classical, Van Gelis, Tangerine Dream, Seal, Kate Bush, and a few Christian bands like Jars of Clay.
Once I started running it all changed. I started listening to bands with a harder beat to help me keep going when I started feeling the pain of longer runs. And to block out my labored breathing!
I've added roughly a mile per month and this month I will be going for 11 miles. I have been training for a June half-marathon in Phuket, Thailand, but of course that had to be cancelled. So I found a new half-marathon in Fair Oaks, California, May 1st, along the American River. I can't wait, it looks so beautiful and it will be Spring by then, super gorgeous. There's a field of poppies along the way, and the theme is "green" so I like that, too.
I love the way the running busts the stress and enables me to drink in the natural beauty around me. I haven't felt this good or strong in years, and I got off the extra weight I gained the year before last. I thoroughly enjoy how so many of my friends are running, too.
I am starting to think about the marathon, now, crazy as 26 miles sounds right now. 13 miles sounded just as insane a year ago!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In America Now

It's like a strange dream, being back in the U.S.
Kennedy is with his mother at the doctor's office this morning learning what exactly she has and the prognosis.
It was very hard to leave Thailand, even though we know we need to be here with Kennedy's mom. We trust what God is doing in our lives, though, and we know this is where we are supposed to be. Our last few weeks were a blur of packing and saying goodbye to the ones we love. I was surprised how often I found myself weeping, and how hard it was to leave. I remember how hard it was to leave the U.S. over 10 years ago, and I never imagined it would be so hard to leave Thailand to come back. Of course we plan to go back, but nothing is certain, and we gave up our home before we came back this time.
Every step of the process of leaving was filled with the mercy of God. We are amazed at His love and provision day by day, moment by moment. I am so grateful for how smoothly everything went, and for the great support and help of beloved friends.
We had an intern with us our last 3 weeks, Andrew Meyers, and he was a huge help in the packing and closing down of our lives in Thailand. Poppy & Jasper enjoyed him thoroughly, and he was there at critical moments when we needed help. He also helped us take time to stop and play, and that was really good for us, too. Just before we left we stayed the night at a national park, Khao Sok, on a floating cabin on a lake. It was so gorgeous, like being in a different world. We woke up to the calling of gibbons and it was an oasis of beauty and peace for 24 hours.
Shortly after that we were on the jet and preparing for a new phase in our lives.
We hope to see you while we are home, beloved friends & family.