Saturday March 2, 2019

“…May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” Genesis 31:49

The context of this reading is an accord between Jacob and Laban, the former feeling a bit scorned by the latter’s less than fair treatment of him.  After Laban is rebuked by God the night before, he agrees to see things a little more in line with Jacob and they agree essentially to become friends.  Laban adds, though, that God will be watching them both so basically they both better not screw up.  The context of this reading isn’t exactly in alignment with our day today, but the whole watching while we are apart sort of is, in a stretchy kind of way.

Our original plan, nay our fourteenth plan on which we finally settled, for our last weekend in Sri Lanka was to head back to Colombo and see the big city.  We would go to a museum, see some temples, and maybe even hit the mall.  That did not happen.  We awoke with great ambition and proceeded to have breakfast.  Our meal gave us opportunity to catch up on the reading of our daily devotionals and then to discuss a plan that Sara and I had hatched while cleaning turtle tanks.  We thought that maybe we could take videos of our service projects to capture not only the service itself but also the ups and downs that go with being away from home, in another country, with three young children….etc.  But, as we have promised our family from day one, we needed to get input from the kids and to make sure that they would be okay with this experiment.

So the conversation went something like this.

Dad:  So guys, I was thinking and mom and I talked a little bit and we even contacted Uncle John (Marshall, whom we knew from his book and then the Farm and who knows people in television..) to get his feedback.

Kids:  (Staring blankly as dad yammers on and interrupts their consumption of sugar covered waffles)

Dad: So we thought that maybe we could video a family doing what we are doing and then maybe do like a podcast/youTube thing, or maybe that even turns into a reality television show.

Kids:  (drool now emanates from their mouths as the sweet aromas of donut, waffles, and juice overwhelm their limbic systems)

Dad: But we would need a test family to kind of be the first ones to try this so we were wondering if you guys….

Anjali: No!

Mom:  Well hold on Anjali, before you say no.  Why would you be opposed?

Anjali: (tears welling) No, I just don’t want to okay?

And so an hour long discussion ensues, occasionally halted for mastication of breakfast confections, about how we should logically think through decisions before rashly answering.  Anjali is not dissuaded from her position that she is utterly and adamantly opposed so we, as a family, agree to hold off on this grand notion from mom and dad.  No hard feelings and Anjali kind of sees the point we wanted to make about how you should think before you answer because fear or lack of understanding of all the facts can lead you to make a poor decision.

Childhood lesson learned or at least discussed, we headed out to sightsee.  We left the confines of the hotel and were immediately greeted by what could best be described as the moist, fiery breath of Satan himself.  It was as though Colombo had been set on fire and simultaneously was spraying us with a hose.  The heat and humidity, robbing us instantly of our breath, worked as a veritable mire intent on preventing our every step.  We slowly meandered in the direction of the mall, our first stop on the tour de Colombo,  all the while fending off offers of rides from eager Tuk Tuk drivers.  What would normally be a five minute walk was slowly dragging out to an interminable trek, each minute making us hotter and wetter.  The impending heat related snippiness was growing closer and closer but the crisis was averted as we finally arrived at the great salvation of air conditioning.

After twenty minutes or so of respite and realizing that we really needed to buy nothing we begrudgingly left the mall and made our way to one of the temples across the street.  We learned that we would need to pay for entry so we took a quick glimpse from afar and moved on.  We had seen a lot of temples in Thailand so wat’s (pun intended) one more?  We strode across a walking bridge to a small island park, did a once around, and then walked back over.  Engaging in a quick family meeting we decided that our sightseeing was now over and that our time was much better spent sitting poolside and relaxing.

Now, this is where the whole watching while we are away from each other comes back in.  On our way up to the hotel Sara got a text message from a stranger.  She had seen our post on Facebook about saying goodbye to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project and was interested in our story.  After seeing our family’s journey, she reached out to learn more about COG.  Sara and she traded messages and agreed to re-engage after we had gotten settled in Romania and after she had returned from travels to visit her daughter.  After donning our relaxation clothes and grabbing the next available elevator we encountered a man on his way down.  We exchanged pleasantries and learned that he was originally from New York, now living in Colombo.  No big deal there.  What was very interesting though was that he had started his own company.  What kind?  Television and film production services.  Sara and I said nothing, just shared a humored glance, but just as we were about to leave the elevator he offered us his business card and bid us farewell.

These two encounters prompted an immediate conversation with the kids about how maybe God did have a plan for this after all.  We expressed to Anjali, and to David and Luci for that matter, how we saw this as a sign or at the very least a nudge.  We had given up on our plans that morning and simply turned the idea over to God, basically saying that if this project was meant to be then it would find another way to manifest itself.  We needed our family to be in a good place first and foremost to fulfill our primary obligation of this service trip, the video idea was secondary and maybe wasn’t even that good of an idea.  I am not sure what caused the change of heart but Anjali was suddenly on board with the idea of our family making a podcast.  We figured it would be a great way if nothing else for us to share with our friends and family more than just words about what we were doing.  And if enough people cared and shared then maybe it could inspire others to do the same and join in the fun of service.

I am not sure how the video will go.  This might just be another instance of thinking we have the answers and trying to pork barrel our way on God’s plan.  But with the nudge we got on Facebook and in the elevator we are going to give it a go.  If it is meant to be then with God’s help it will be.  If it isn’t, well then we just spent a hundred bucks on a selfie-stick (I cringe as I write that) and a memory expansion drive for the phone.  But we will have some fun videos, and probably a few that are less fun, for everyone to get a better idea of what our lives are like.  I cannot promise Emmy award winning television-though if we get one it will be to God’s honor not ours.  But the tears, of laughter or sadness, are real and heartfelt and we have enjoyed every one of them.

 

Sunday November 25, 2018

John 20:26-29 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

This morning we got up and Wat took us into Nan after breakfast. We really didn’t know why we were going into Nan, but off we went; Wat had his own plans : ).

We ended up at Wat Phumin in Nan and Wat pointed out the mural painted on the wall of a man whispering into a woman’s ear, specifically called “The Whisper of Love” and local legend says that if you make a wish for eternal love with your partner in front of this painting, your wish will be granted. The whole inside of the temple depicts the history of Nan by means of a beautiful mural that stretches the entirety of the temple, even the ceilings. The temple dates back to 1596 and this mural, while have been renovated a few times, still remains as beautiful as ever.

A statue depicting “The Whisper of Love”
Inside Wat Phumin
“The Whisper of Love”
Jeff and I in front of “The Whisper of Love”
A family picture in front of ‘The Whisper of Love”

After a beautiful experience at the temple, we ended up at the Nan Museum where we got to learn about the history of Nan. As you walk up to the Museum you will see a beautifully lined path of Frangipani Trees (I swore I took a picture of this, but I can’t for the life of me find it, so here is a picture of just the tree!). These have become my favorite trees because of the amazing flowers that bloom; they are the most beautifully smelling flowers I have ever experienced.

A picture of the Frangipani Tree
All of us in front of the Nan Museum
David in front of ancient weapons

Little did we know that Wat had a celebration planned for us when we returned. I tried to go upstairs to finish packing (since I didn’t get much done yesterday or today!), but that wasn’t going to happen. As soon as I sat down to pack, Lucia came running upstairs to let me know that we needed to be downstairs right away for a party. When we came downstairs there were 7-8 family members waiting for us, including a “Doctor of Celebration”. This ceremony was beautiful, though everything was in Thai and I had no idea what was being said. At one point Wat did whisper that this was a ceremony to give us blessings of health, safety, and well-being. After the Doctor of Ceremony did his part (which was about 20 minutes), the family members there tied pieces of string around our wrists while giving us their own personal blessing. I am blown away at how thoughtful and wonderful this afternoon was and my heart is overflowing with joy and love towards these people. We have been accepted into their home and they have allowed us to be a part of their customs. We have learned so much from them and they will forever have a special place in our hearts. I just can’t believe we will have to say goodbye on Tuesday.

Here are some pictures from this wonderful afternoon.

David receiving blessings from the family
Anjali receiving a blessing from “grandma”
Jeff receiving a blessing from Wat
Lucia and Yumi
David and Yumi
Anjali and Lucia with Yumi
Me receiving a blessing from Wat
Anjali receiving a blessing from Wat

Today was a day filled with love and compassion. I can’t describe how many times I saw Jesus today. He has blessed my family in so many ways and today we got to feel His love through these wonderful people in Thailand. We have laughed and learned with them, and have felt a great amount of love from them. We can only hope that we were able to not only show our gratitude, but also our love for them. God was truly present today and among us. God knows no limits, and even with those that do not believe He is the Son of God, He is able to show us what love looks like through them. These wonderful people in the pictures above are a part of our family and I am so grateful for all of the time with had with them. I will miss them greatly and they will always have a place in my heart, and in our family.

Saturday November 24, 2018

Psalms 62:1 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

We have learned to just roll with things as they come, and today proved to be no different. We had arranged with Wat to have dinner at the night market in Nan one last time tonight and we planned on leaving Wiang Sa around 4:30 or 5:00 pm, so we could stop at Big C for a few items that we needed before meeting with Rinya, Emma, and Jonas at the market for dinner. So after lunch Jeff and I went upstairs to our room to get some packing done. Because it I am a total type A personality and like things done a certain way, Jeff ended up taking a nap. I figured that I would have about 3-4 hours of packing before we were going to leave and would be able to get most of it done. However, at 2:30 Wat came knocking on our door saying that it was time to leave for Nan! This was so typical for Wat and both Jeff and I just had to laugh out loud. Wat had a plan that we didn’t know about and we were just along for the ride! But every time this happened, we had a wonderful day and memorable experiences; again I say, today was no different!

We thought we were headed straight for Big C, but instead Wat took us to Wat Phrathai Khanoi where we hiked up 307 stairs (303 according to the picture, but there were 4 more steps after the sign) to the temple, where we found ourselves looking out over Nan. The view was beautiful. Then to Big C and off to the market. As always, we got way too much food, but it was amazing. We also met up with Rinya, Emma, and Jonas which was a lot of fun. Here are some pictures from the day. I am so grateful to God for the many blessings and amazing people with whom He continues surround us. My heart is just filled with joy and sadness that we have to leave more wonderful people in just a few short days.

I was thinking about all our experiences in Thailand and decided that it would be a good idea to come up with a list of “good to know” things, should you decide to travel to Thailand.

Be prepared for a totally different driving experience. Whether you are driving or are just the passenger, being on the road in Thailand is quite different than the States. For one, motorbikes and mopeds are all over the place and they don’t really adhere to the lane lines, not that cars do either; the lane lines are more of a suggestion than a requirement. Motorbikes are known to weave in and out of traffic via the shoulders of the road of highway, in between lanes, and over the center line. It is also not unusual to see a car doing the same thing. The horn on the car is also used in a very different way. In the States it is used to let someone know they made you angry or did something wrong, but here, the horn is used as a way to let people know that you are there and are about to pass them. So horns are used all the time.

Always carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you. Not all bathrooms have toilet paper and soap to wash your hands, so if you are prepared for this it won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way!

Internet access is very simple and cheap. Purchasing a SIM card at the airport is a piece of cake and very cheap. It was wonderful to have unlimited data on our phones for the entire time we were there, especially for the kids.

Pack light. Clothes are very cheap and very nice. We stocked up on Thai clothes and ended up having to send several boxes home because we had too much to carry with us to our next stop!

Be flexible and patient. A schedule or plan is more of a suggestion than a set structure. More often than not, we would adhere to the time table we arranged, only to find that the people around us just flowed with life. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, but to be honest, it was a much better way to life for us without the stress of being somewhere at an exact time. It taught us how to just roll with the day.

–The medical clinics and medication are great and cheap. We had to take our son into a local clinic for a really bad case of hives. The cost was very minimal, as were the medications, and he received excellent care.

–Definitely bring anti-diarrhea medication with you, but if you don’t you can get it there for really cheap. We used Azithromycin and it worked like a charm. We all had to take it at one point, and I would definitely recommend taking it the first day you develop the symptoms because within 24 hours we all were feeling better. We were also able to use this medication for other infections, so it is very versatile and accessible here (we stocked up before we left in case we needed it in other places).

Don’t drink the water. Stick to bottled water (its cheap).

–If you have children, be prepared for people to just come up and give them hugs and tell them how beautiful they are. This attention did go to our 5 year old daughter’s head a bit, but the people are just so loving and kind, how could you ask them to stop. They just loved our children and treated them with nothing but kindness and gentleness.

–Smile. A smile goes a long way and the people of Thailand are perfect examples of how to be kind and friendly. Everyone smiles. Thailand is known as the “Land of a Thousand Smiles” and we were not disappointed. You actually have to try really hard to be in a bad mood here because everyone around you is so happy.

Easy on, Easy off shoes are a must. You will be asked to take your shoes off anytime you enter a building or a house, so have shoes that can be easily taken off and put back on is a must and will make you life much easier (especially if you have kids)

Brush up on appropriate clothing (especially for the temple). The Thai people are very conservative. Dress modestly and you will be just fine. In regards to the temple, be dressed very conservatively–no shoulders showing, long dresses/skirts/pants for women, long pants and a nice shirt for men. Kids have the same requirements. It can be very hot and humid in Thailand, so I do recommend a shall for women. That way you can easily wrap it around your shoulders if you end up in a temple. I tried to carry one with us when we went out because we never knew if we would end up in a temple! This is a good website for reference (https://www.kohsamuisunset.com/what-to-wear-in-thailand/).

If I think of others I will update the list, but this is a good start. If you are ever afforded the opportunity to travel to Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok, you will not be disappointed. Also if you are looking for something to do in Thailand rather than just travel, you should definitely look at volunteering with Volunthai. This experience was one that we will never forget. We were able to meet and live amongst the wonderful people of the area, and to see places that we would have otherwise looked right past. You really get a full view of the area when you are living there rather than just visiting. There is so much more to see and experience beyond the tourist destinations.

Wednesday October 24, 2018

Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today was a Buddhist holiday (I am still trying to figure out exactly what it was and will update the blog as soon as I know), so we all got up early to get dressed up in traditional Thai clothes (see pictures below). We also had the pleasure of getting to visit with Wow (our coordinator) who was here visiting her father, Wat (our host), for his birthday.

From my understanding, this holiday is about alms giving to the monks at the temple as a way to remembering those who have passed and to earn good merit/luck for your family presently. Wat and his mother had prepared 20 baskets filled with rice, snacks (and other food items), paper, pencils, soap, shampoo, and other various sundries. Basically the baskets contained all that one would need, including a stick that had money tied to it. This tradition is like nothing I have ever seen before in my life. When we pulled up to the temple and found the family spot, which they reserve each and every year) we unloaded the baskets and I was in awe at the vast number of families who also brought 20+ baskets of their own. The entire inside and outside courtyard was filled with people, families, and baskets.

A prayer done over the loud-speaker so everyone could hear and then the monks began walking around the temple grounds. People would invite a monk (whether it was their favorite monk, a revered monk, an old monk, a poor monk, etc) to their table. The basket would be placed in a chair next to the monk who would then say a prayer over the basket and for the family/person, water from a bottle is poured onto the ground, and then the monk takes the basket and the money stick.

This morning was a beautiful display of kindness and generosity and goes right along with our experiences here thus far. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity, for myself and my family, to experience this wonderful tradition. Our host family also provided us the opportunity to not just be a spectator today, but also a participant. They gave one of the baskets to us and I made the money stick (with a lot of help and guidance from grandma and Wat). Wat then wrote down, what I understood as a prayer request for safety and protection. When we invited a monk to sit down with us, he read from the note card, I poured the water on the ground, as he continued with his prayer, we bowed and thanked the monk, he took the basket and disappeared into the crowd.

As we sat as a family and listened to the monk pray over this basket and our family, I was overwhelmed by a sense of peace and grace, something that I could only describe by the Holy Spirit. I am so grateful for God’s plan and the strength He has given to our family to follow His path. Even in this completely different culture, amongst people who believe and follow a very different religion than me, I don’t feel anything other than peace. My family has been welcomed by these wonderful people and God has continually provided for our needs during the last 3 months and I am amazed that we have already completed 1/4 of our time-serving others abroad.

Another neat thing happened yesterday, as we were visiting with the family members at our table, we were approached by two people that we found out were American Peace Corps Volunteers. I felt a little bit of home talking with these folks and it was wonderful to hear about their programs and what they are doing here in Thailand. One was working at the government office helping with youth leadership skills and the other was teaching English.

Today was a beautiful day for our family. We were able to experience an important Thai Buddhist tradition and I pray that our children were able to soak in a bit of this beautiful culture.

 

Saturday October 20, 2018

Proverbs 11:28 Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.

I am not sure where to begin to describe today. We woke up with no real plan for today, and then Wat said that we are going into Nan for lunch to see two temples, and to Big C Supermarket for a few items. This worked out perfect for us because we wanted to go shopping for the kids to get them all a new toy. Jeff and I decided that we wanted the kids to all have a new toy or something that they could enjoy/play with during our time here. They have sacrificed so much on this trip by giving up their friends and belongings for this year, and we wanted to do something to let them know how much we appreciated all their efforts. Additionally, attitudes have been significantly better the last two days, and we wanted to reward them for it.

So we took off and headed to Nan where we had lunch at KFC. We grabbed a few things at the Big C and then ran a few errands that Wat needed to do. Then we headed off to the first temple, Wat Phra That Chea Haeng.

Another quick errand and we found ourselves on another drive north to a mountain temple called Wat Kong. This place is beautiful, but busy.

We made our way back to Nan for a quick bite of pizza for the kids and then off to home. It was a full day, but very nice. The kids were very tired at the end of the day, but something really amazing happen.

After putting the kids to bed, Jeff heard crying coming from their room and he was told that Anjali was asleep but because she had crept over to Lucia’s side of the bed (they are now forced to share a bed until they can learn to get along) Lucia pinched (or kicked/hit we are not sure) Anjali. Anjali started crying and because the kids had been warned when we put them to bed, Lucia was now destined for the couch. This did not make her happy so she was crying that she was going to eaten by mosquitoes. ( I will preface this by saying that we would not do this to her, but she didn’t know this.) So she was on the couch crying, telling us that she would go straight to bed and not bother Anjali again tonight, to which we replied that it was too late for that—she was sleeping on the couch. About 10 minutes or so into this Anjali comes in to my room (Jeff is now watching the Michigan football game downstairs) and says that she may have overreacted and she does not want Lucia to get punished by sleeping on the couch. She said that she is worried about her and wants her back in the room and in bed with her. My response was (very calmly and matter-of-factory) if you want her back in the room, then you have to ask her to come back inside the room. I will tell you that inside I was doing somersaults and jumping up and down because they actually showed some caring feelings for each other. It was beautiful and we never heard another sound from them.