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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Remembering the Pals

Over three years ago, we sensed that God was inviting our family to move halfway around the world from the USA to Thailand for the big picture vision of sharing the hope we have in Christ with Thai people and for the more particular vision of working with a nonprofit that restores women coming out of prostitution. In our social network in Southern California, we didn't know any young families doing anything like this.

Enter: the Pals

Last summer, our family attended a two-week training in Colorado with our missions organization, WorldVenture. I remember we were running late on the first day of the training, so we slipped into the back of the room and sat down at the first table we saw next to another couple that looked about our age. We introduced ourselves, found out that they were Jamison and Kathryne Pals, they were indeed our age, they had two kids our kids' age, and they were headed to Japan.

We were thrilled to meet another young family who shared our passion. (Though, after getting to know Jamison, I must say, his passion far exceeded ours!) We instantly clicked. We sat with the Pals through all the training sessions, hearing each other's vision for moving to Japan and Thailand, swapping parenting stories and advice, and praying for each other.

By the end of the two weeks, the quality of their character, the gentleness and patience of their parenting, and the passion they had for Japanese people to find joy in Jesus deeply impressed us. We felt close to them and hoped to keep up with them over the years. I remember feeling giddy when we found out that they felt similarly about us. We said goodbye and went back to our homes in Minnesota and California.


Over the past year, Kathryne and I have kept up a sweet friendship thanks to a few Skype/phone calls and numerous emails. I remember when we moved to Thailand last February, I had very little margin and my kids were struggling quite a bit with the adjustment. Kathryne would always remind me to rely on God for strength hour by hour. I remember one time a couple of months ago when things were particularly hard, rather than reminding me to rely on God every hour, she told me to rely on him for strength each minute! I believe this was the key to her gentle, patient parenting -- she constantly relied on God for strength.

Last fall, Kathryne found out that she had a large cyst growing in her lower abdomen. At the same appointment, she also found out that she was pregnant. As I prayed for God to protect Kathryne and her baby, I marveled at how a tumor and a baby could grow right next to each other, vying for the same space. For me, it became a parable of life: evil and death so often share the same space with joy and life. The suffering and brokenness of this world so often intertwine and overlap with the great joys of life.

The surgeons successfully removed the tumor and six months later, baby Calvin was born. The parable continued: Yes, one day all evil and death in the world will be removed and Life will be fully born.



On Monday evening here in Bangkok, Michael and I saw Jamison's mom's Facebook post: "Dear friends, our hearts break as we let you know that our son, Jamison, his wife Kathryne, Ezra age 3, Violet almost 2, and baby Calvin, just 2 months old were all killed in a car crash yesterday (July 31). They were travelling to their final month of training before going to Japan as missionaries. They were stopped at a construction site when a semi rear ended, rode over them, and consumed their van in fire. They are now in the presence of our Lord. Job 1:21"



In my life, I have never been slammed with so much shock and grief at once. The evil, death, suffering, and brokenness of this world was at hand; it had taken five people that we loved; and the pain cut so deep. And I constantly remember that the loss we've experienced this week is just a fraction of the loss that their parents, siblings, grandparents, and closest friends are feeling.

And yet, even now, next to this malignant tumor of grief and death I see joy and life starting to form.

Numerous news stations and newspapers have sent the story of their love for Christ and their hearts for Japan far and wide. Some people have expressed the desire to go to Japan in their place. Jamison and Kathryne's parents are saying "no" to bitterness and are extending forgiveness to the truck driver. Jamison's wise, eloquent words on his blog, Joy of Japan, are being read by thousands upon thousands of people.
** 8/7 update - Their story has easily stretched to hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions. People.comJohn Piper's funeral prayer **

The sorrow of losing this precious family is still so fresh. We were looking forward to years of friendship and co-laboring in Asia. Yet there are inklings of the joy and life that is to come. I am reminded once again that, just as the doctors extracted that deadly tumor allowing Calvin to grow and be born, one day, God will remove all brokenness, suffering, evil, and death in this world and a joyful, life-filled new heaven and new earth will be born. And this time, nothing will ever take it away.

Someday, we will all be reunited, and we will share and hear stories of how God worked this tragedy out for unimaginable good. I cry and grieve because the death of loved ones hurts, and yet I cling to these promises with great hope and expectation -- someday death will be swallowed up in victory!

Jamison's blog: joyofjapan.org
My favorite post on his blog was when Kathryne wrote: click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

48 Hours at the Beach


Five months of Bangkok had me wound up tight. On Friday afternoon, I found out Grace's preschool was closed for a Buddhist holiday on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so we hightailed it to the beach.



I remember beach vacations pre-kids -- spreading a towel over the lumpy sand; pulling a novel out of my backpack; reading, snuggling, and chatting while listening to the waves and feeling the breeze.

Nowadays, our three-year-old and one-year-old come along. We slather the sunscreen on thick, build sand castles, help our preschooler overcome her fear of waves, hope the toddler doesn't poop in her swim diaper, hunt for seashells, and poke a dead jellyfish (One finger! Gentle!) -- thanks, Dory and Marlin, for teaching me that the tops don't sting.




In the midst of all the work and play, play and work that is vacation with little kids, we managed to all return feeling refreshed. This is the good, hard, blessed, tiring, joyful life of raising children.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Things I Learned in June

I moved from the U.S. to Thailand a few months ago, so I learn approximately fifty new things every day. Here are just a few of the things I learned in June...


Playgrounds in Thailand have all the unsafe but super fun equipment that's long been banned in the USA. Things like merry-go-rounds and see-saws. And my daughters love it all, of course.

video

Tropical storms are fun! The thunder rumbles deeply and sometimes cracks so loud my heart drops. A single storm can bring dozens of bolts of lightening. The rain falls on our car park's tin roof so forcefully, I have to close the front door to be able to video chat with my parents. When a thunderstorm rolls in, the wind picks up and the temperature cools. After a storm, the air remains cool but becomes oppressively humid and we all sweat buckets. I am loving it all. Except the sweating buckets part.



The Thai word for "socks" is "foot bag." Perfect!

Trying to buy a car in another country is a time sucking, frustrating experience. Thank you, Lord, for easy to use public transportation.

I'm intimidating. I've noticed that when I walk toward a Thai man, he often gets a frightened look on his face and will sometimes even back away! This doesn't always happen, but it's happened often enough for me to notice. 

Why do some men act this way? Are they afraid of me? Am I misreading them? What are they afraid of... that I'm going to start speaking English and they won't understand? Why don't women act this way toward me? 

Street food is ruining my taste buds. I eat Thai street food once or twice daily. Almost every dish I eat is either sweet, sour, salty, spicy, or some combo of the above. Now, when I cook old favorites from life in California, they taste really bland. My husband and I dump on salt, red pepper, even spicy fish sauce to try to bring our old favorite dishes up to our new taste bud standards.

I'm not the only girl with a huge crush on my husband. My one-year-old is obsessed with him too. If I try to take her out of his arms, she screams at me. Daddy's girl through and through.



When I study Thai, I should always pull the eraser first out of my "keep clam" pencil bag. I make so many mistakes. But, that's how you learn, right?



This exists. A few weeks after I took this picture, I sent my daughter outside to put her shoes on. (Shoes are stored outside here.) When I went to help her, I saw one of these nasty critters about a foot away crawling right toward her little hands and feet! And did I mention they're poisonous? In the tropics, always look before you send very young children outside by themselves. Which leads me to my next lesson...




Always look before you pee. The news recently carried two stories of snakes slithering through plumbing into people's toilets. And they weren't garden snakes. No, no. One was a 3.5 meter long python and the other was a one meter long cobra. The python even bit a man's... you'll just have to read this article. Yikes. Always look before you pee.

My three-year-old is brave. When my now three-year-old was three months old, she became very anxious around strangers. Her fear grew and grew until she would scream and cry with anybody but me. I remember when she was one, we tried to get her to accept the church nursery and she cried so hard she threw up!

By God's grace, a lot of hard parental work, and good old-fashioned passage of time, she has mostly outgrown stranger anxiety.

Last month, she started attending Thai preschool. Everyday, she walks half a mile (in this hot, humid climate!), bulky, much-too-pink backpack bouncing on her back, all the way to school. She stays three hours immersed in a language she cannot yet understand and a culture that is so different from our own. She has cried a few times, she tells us she doesn't like it, and yet she keeps going. She has learned to be brave! I am so proud.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Riding the Roller Coaster of Toddler Emotions

As I raise my kids, ages 3 years and 21 months, I notice that any given day can oscillate rapidly between them being ridiculously cute, to moody, to silly and playful, to screaming in rage, and back to cute again with shocking speed. Sometimes the monster moments and the melt your heart moments come right on top of each other with hardly a breath in between.

I recently stumbled upon this vignette of motherhood and toddlerhood that I wrote about six months ago when Cora, my second kiddo, was 15-months-old. I think it captures the often-overlapping challenges and joys of parenting.

~

Last night, Cora was a hot mess.

She had napped well in the afternoon -- almost three hours ending at 4:30. However, by 6:30, our little firecracker was completely melting down. There were moments where she bowed low, forehead plastered to the ground screaming. Toddler D-R-A-M-A.

I gave her some space to see if she would just get over it. I tried to hold her. I tried to play with her. Nothing worked, she continued to cry hard. Finally, I took two deep breaths, scooped her up, and began her bedtime routine early.

As I carried her upstairs, brushed her teeth, and gave her a pacifier and blankie she calmed down realizing that bedtime was just around the corner.



I dressed her in striped green and blue second-hand baby boy pajamas. Her hair, now that it was finally released from her top-of-the-head firework hairdo, was loose, sticking up straight and wild. Her dark brown eyes were content and heavy and regularly drooping closed. She held her pacifier in her mouth just below her tiny button nose rhythmically suck, suck, sucking. She clasped her gray bunny blankie with both delicate hands holding it up to her nose, breathing in the smell and feeling the soft, gray fur.

I scooped her tiny body into my lap. I barely felt her there, not because she's so tiny (though she is) but because I am so used to her being there I don't even feel it when she is. We whispered our way through Goodnight Moon.

I pressed her little hands together between my hands like a Cora hands sandwich with Mommy hands bread. I prayed for her and she listened enraptured looking at her hands pressed between mine.

Then, we sang a little song and off she went to sleep without a tear.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

These Are the Days Of

I have a habit of always looking ahead and asking, "What's next?" I often think things like, "Once my kids are in school, my life will begin." Or, "Once I am conversational in Thai, I will have arrived."

I forget that there is never a point when "real" life begins or a point where I've "made it." I forget to recognize the small things (good things, great things, and hard things) in my everyday life.

When I notice myself straining ahead to the future, I stop, grab a pen and journal, and make a "These Are the Days Of" list to draw me back into life as it is. Here's today's list:

These Are the Days Of...

My entire life lived in a compact corner of a city. Within about five to ten minutes, I can walk from home to:

  • Work
  • The coffee shop where I meet up with my Thai tutor
  • Dozens of food, drink, and dessert vendors
  • Two pharmacies
  • A veggie market
  • A fruit market
  • Two convenience stores
  • Two 20 baht stores (the equivalent of the American dollar store, except everything is 50 cents)
  • A car mechanic
  • Two hair salons
  • My daughter's preschool


As we go about the same stalls and markets and greet familiar faces day after day, I begin to feel like I live in a village, not a large, crowded city.

Noticing fine lines around my eyes and on my forehead. In ten years, I'll probably look back on photos of myself and think, "Darling, that was NOTHING!"

Learning to split things 50/50. As we pursued moving to Thailand, the thought of being a monolingual, stay-at-home expat mom/wife made me die inside. So, my husband and I decided to spend equal time studying Thai our first twelve months or so. Splitting our language learning, childcare, chores, etc. roughly equally is a crazy juggling act, but it's worth it.

Feeling weary every evening from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Immersion in a new culture, learning a new language, taking care of little kids, walking everywhere in crummy sandals…each of these things alone is enough to make a lady tired. Taken together, I find myself weary by the end of the day every day.

Eating fruit all day, every day. Miniature bananas, sweet pineapple, crispy rose apples, fragrant mangoes. Still haven't tried durian.



Learning patience. I wish I could become instantly conversational in Thai. Learning a new language just a few new sentence structures and a few new vocab words at a time is slow, hard work. Like raising children. Like building a lasting marriage. Like anything worthwhile.



Eating out daily. In the U.S. my family went weeks without eating out because it was too dang expensive. Now, we eat out every day because it's affordable and delicious. For example: a large, grilled, salt-encrusted, lemongrass stuffed fish with brown rice and veggie soup costs about $5. It feeds our whole family. It's one of the more expensive meals we buy. This is one of the huge perks of life in Bangkok.

Living in a dirty home. In the middle of all this, the last thing Michael and I ever want to do is clean. Our house is usually dirty. Especially the kitchen floor. Yuck. Note to self: look into how much it would cost to hire someone to clean the house for us.

~ The idea of making a "these are the days of..." list came from Emily Freeman's book, Simply Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Foreigners

At the end of February, my family moved from Southern California (land of churches, SUVs, parks, and lattes) to Bangkok, Thailand (land of temples, taxis, malls, and iced coffee).

If I had to choose one word to describe our first few weeks here in Thailand, it would be this: overwhelming. OVERWHELMING.



My husband and I have gone from being competent in our home culture to being needy and often confused foreigners in our new culture. We are like children. We even speak the new language like one-year-olds. We have to re-learn how to do the most basic tasks like bathing our kids, washing our clothes, and buying our food.

Here is a sampling of a few of the dozens of challenges we've addressed:
  • How do we bathe our children without a bathtub? (Answer: First, try to put a plastic bag over the drain of our shower to fill up the shallow shower tub. Realize that's ineffective and buy a large plastic bowl. Bathe them one at a time in that.)
  • How do we set up WiFi in our house? (Answer: Ride a motorcycle taxi with a bilingual neighbor to the WiFi company's shop to set up an appointment for the company to come by to set up WiFi. When they come, they add yet another line to the already overloaded power lines and connect it to our home. Voila! WiFi.)
  • How do we pay our electricity and water bill? (Answer: Bring the bill, which is almost entirely in Thai, to the convenient store down the street. Pay them, they give us a receipt.)
  • Where do we buy a broom to sweep our disgustingly crumby kitchen floor? (Answer: Outside the convenience store where we pay our bills, there is often a woman selling brooms. Buy one from her.)
  • Etc.
During this transition period, I find solace in the fact that millions and millions of people around the world and across time have learned to make a new country and a new culture home. Refugees, military families, ambassadors, business people, migrant farm workers, missionaries, and international students. While our individual stories are diverse, we share the struggle of learning to function in a new place.



Before moving to Thailand, if I saw a foreigner in the U.S. with very limited English speaking skills, I would often avoid speaking to them to avoid the awkwardness of them not understanding me, the awkwardness of me not understanding them, and the awkwardness of not knowing how to end the interaction. I now realize that the awkwardness I felt was nothing compared to the overwhelming awkwardness that new foreigners live with 24/7. Learning to live in a new culture is overwhelming.

In the midst of all the overwhelming feelings of being new and incompetent in Thailand, there is a saving grace: old, Thai women. I adore them. Despite my awkwardness and stupidity, they always caress my kids' faces and give them sugary treats. They smile at me, take the time to listen to my Thai, and teach me new things to say. Even though we can hardly understand each other, the old Thai women that I have met make me feel welcome here.

More importantly, they have shown me how to relate to brand new foreigners. They have shown me how far a small gift, a smile, and a willingness to point, bumble, and be awkward can go in making a foreigner like me feel more welcome and less overwhelmed. It makes me want to do the same for other foreigners, whether I'm in Bangkok, the U.S., or elsewhere.

In short, I want to be like old, Thai women.

So, here's to being kind to foreigners -- whether they are documented or undocumented; whether they are international students, refugees, or on a work visa; whether they wear a head scarf, a sari, or western-style clothing. A willingness to be welcoming, even though it can be awkward, goes a long way. 

Trust me.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Things I Learned in April

I recently moved from the U.S. to Thailand, so I learn approximately fifty new things every day. Here are just a few of the things I've learned this past month.

Tofu is tasty. I'm one of those not-picky-at-all foodies who will eat anything. Except tofu and hot dogs. I've always hated both. Until last week when a friend served us homemade veggie stir fry with fried egg tofu. It was fantastic. I bought egg tofu and made it for myself tonight. Here's Michael learning to cook from the Thai food master, Bpop.



Instagram is fun. I'm, like, five years late to the game, but I've started posting over-posting on Instagram. It's easier than blogging and anything that makes life simpler and easier is welcome in this season of my life.

High heat and high humidity make for the stankiest garbage trucks ever. I seriously cannot believe the smell that enters my home when the garbage truck comes by.

How to put contacts in with a fan blowing. If the fan is on, my contacts blow off my finger before they reach my eyeball. If the fan is off, I sweat buckets. I've learned how to turn my back to the fan to minimize the breeze and to wait for the precise moment that the fan has oscillated away from me to practically throw the contact into my eye. This is an important skill for living in the tropics, people.

Don't store car seats in an unventilated storage closet in Bangkok. We brought car seats to Thailand, but we don't own a car yet to put them in, so two months ago they entered our storage closet. A couple of weeks ago, we pulled them out to install them into a car for a long ride out of the city. We were shocked to find them covered in a blanket of thick, velvety mold. All I wanted to do was throw them away. But, since replacing two car seats would cost almost $1K here and because we're die-hard Americans when it comes to vehicular safety, we washed them and used them.

I love, love, love my cheap-o espresso machine. In mid-February, we packed two boxes of stuff (toys, pots, books, etc.) to ship on the ocean to Thailand. I put my espresso machine in. I regretted it every single day of the approximately 70 days I lived without it. Next time I move around the world, my espresso machine goes in my carry on.

In the Thai language, "tam-ngaan" and "nam-taan" are not the same thing. I've counted at least three drink vendors located within a five minute walk of my house that serve Thai iced coffee. It's pretty tasty and dirt cheap, but way way way too sweet. 

To remedy the sweetness, I recently ordered my iced coffee with just a little "tam-ngaan" (which means "work") and then felt confused the vendor still dumped a couple of tablespoons of sugar in my coffee. Now I know to order it with a little bit of "nam-taan." (which means, you guessed it, sugar)

Exercise beats culture shock and transition stress like nothing else. Several times a week, I blast the A/C and fan in my bedroom and do 20-30 minute workout session courtesy of FitnessBlender.com. Afterward, I always feel better. And, I've been exercising so much that with the light at the right angle, while flexing, if I let my vision get a little blurry I can sort of maybe make out the beginnings of a six pack. Yes!

And last, but certainly not least, little girls do not do this: Or at least mine don't.


When I found out that our second kiddo was going to be another girl, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I imagined my two girls hair curled, wearing floral dresses, sitting in a meadow having a civilized tea party.

Fast forward two years: Most of the time, my girls ignore each other or fight over toys. When they play nicely together, they never have a tea party. Their favorite pretend games are flying on an airplane, being a train, going to school, and throwing a birthday party. I love it. These are my goofball girls...


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