There are some things about heaven I don’t understand
But some things I know to be true
That I will meet God when I get there
And that I will run races with you;
Maybe we’ll run to the green, green meadows
Tasting the fresh, clean air
Or walk by the river and talk of old times
And catch the bright butterflies there.
I know they say that you’ve gone far away
But I think it’s just through that door
That door where the shadows have been chased out of sight
Right beside the long river’s shore.
And it won’t be long till I see you again
Just a sunset and sunrise away
So, wait for me there on the edge of the water
Where the dawn of heaven breaks into day.
My Aunt Miriam passed away a few days ago from a 4 year long battle with cancer. Miriam had lived with my grandpa in the house next door for the past 10 years or so. Miriam contracted polio at a young age, so she always wore a brace for walking, and in later years, a walker as well. When I would go home for visits from Thailand, one thing I really enjoyed doing was going with her to her doctor and chemo visits. I look forward to running races with her in heaven.
( I wrote this two weeks ago around the time that my sister was leaving. After that, life showed up and got busy when I started my online teaching prep program. When I found this today, I decided to finish it up.)
When my sister Sara came to visit me last month, we needed a way for her to travel to Mae Sariang after landing in Chiang Mai. I also wanted her to have a bike for transportation for times I would be in school and unable to drive her around.
Invest has several vehicles for staff use. One of them is Jimmy, (also called Chimmy) a manual truck that is known for his temperamental behavior. Recently, a former IGo staff donated his old bike to the cause as well. This bike has now been christened Johnny, or Chonny. (PA Dutch speakers will understand the need to add the CH). I thought about calling him Eli, but my sister protested vehemently. So, instead we called him Chonny, since he made a very good partner for Chimmy.
Chonny managed to make it to Mae Sariang intact. He is aged and slightly stiff, but we took it slowly and managed to make it without mishap. Sara got along with him superbly, even with his quirks, or perhaps because of them.
Before I begin my story, there are several things that you need to know. Chonny only starts via kickstarting. Not only that, there are times when Chonny is loathe to start on cool mornings, and then you have to choke him to start him. Chonny also has only 100 cc’s of “oomph” to get him up mountains.
Sara drove him around in Mae Sariang for a few weeks, and then before she headed back to the States, she wanted to go back to Chiang Mai to visit our friend Amanda. Our original plans changed several times so instead of both of us driving to Chiang Mai, she took the bus to Chiang Mai and left Chonny sitting forlornly at our house.
My friend Max was getting married in Omkoi on Saturday. Max was a police officer I had met at the station in Chiang Mai years ago when I was working as a translator. Max is also a Christian from a Karen village in Omkoi. Sara really wanted to attend a Karen wedding, so she planned to bring the bus back from Chiang Mai halfway, meet us at the Suan Son pine forest for the night and then we would drive to the wedding in the morning. We would then drive to Chiang Mai doubling up on Chonny. Sara would then board the plane on Sunday night, leaving for home.
At first, I was leery of the plan. Driving to Chiang Mai on my well-maintained 150 cc bike is a long drive. Driving to Chiang Mai double on Chonny, who sounds like he is going to fall to pieces when you hit 80kmh sounded dubious. Not only that, I am attached to my bike and prefer to drive that. It irks me slightly to have to drive another one. (Don’t tell my sister).
But it made sense, and I needed to get Chonny back to Chiang Mai anyway. And it would be an adventure, I told my friend Abby, when trying to decide if we wanted to risk it. If you make something tedious an adventure with sisters, then it’s all good.
Amy and I left for Suan Son after school on Friday night. Before then, we stopped at the gas station to fill up with gas and fill our tires with air. At the air pump, a kind man offered to fill up my tires. He checked the front tire and was like, “Oh this doesn’t need any air. But…” his voice trailed off. “This tire is really worn. How far are you going?”
“Oh, to Suan Son,” I said airily. I didn’t mention Omkoi or Chiang Mai. I tend to downplay my travel with Thai people because many people get worried when they see this farang driving that far.
He got this funny look on his face. I thought maybe he hadn’t understood me correctly, but I was in a hurry and didn’t feel like I needed to clarify myself.
“The tire is very worn,” he said again.
“Ok,” I said, “It’s not my bike. I will tell the owner.” Somehow I felt like I had to make sure he knew it was not my bike.
I mulled over the meaning of the look on his face as Amy and I left for Suan Son, driving through the chilly mountains with the sun setting in resplendence on the right and a full moon rising over the mountains on the right. I was so distracted with the sun and the moon and keeping Chonny on the road that I forgot about the man with the funny look.
We arrived at our little homestay and then I left to pick up Sara at the Suan Son forest since that was where I had told the bus driver to leave her. I planned to pick her up there and drive back to our homestay.
But both Chonny and the bus driver had different plans. Just as I reached Suan Son, Chonny started limping and suddenly the look on the man’s face made sense. Chonny’s front tire was flat. Very flat.
Just like that my phone rang. It was Sara. “I don’t know where I am,” she said. “The driver didn’t let me off at the right place!”
Since Chonny was out of the running, there was no way I could go find her. And, it was rapidly getting dark. I figured out where she was and called Amy and Amy went to pick her up.
Chonny had graciously decided to go flat right in front of the police checkpoint and the policemen just as graciously loaded up my bike on the back of the police truck and drove me to the nearest bike shop which was the only one close along miles of wilderness. I was very, very grateful.
That was episode one with Chonny. Now, with a new front tire I was a bit more confident that we would reach Chiang Mai in one piece the next day.
The next morning came the test. It was cold so Sara offered to start Chonny up while I went to pay for the homestay. And then we started off for the wedding in Omkoi which was 55 kilometers away, with Sara riding behind me on Chonny and Amy driving behind us. The first hill we came to, Chonny groaned.
I did too.
If it took us this long to get up one hill, it was going to be a long drive to Chiang Mai.
We turned off towards Omkoi and I experienced a sinking feeling that sunk lower and lower the further and higher we went. Just before we got to a major pass, Chonny started going slower and slower. It felt like the more gas I gave him, the slower he went. Finally, I stopped. There was no way that we could make it up that hill in this condition. Sara jumped on the back of Amy’s bike and I decided to go up with Chonny by myself, but as I started off, I realized something was majorly wrong. Even with one rider, Chonny was struggling.
The wedding was supposed to start at 10. This was a little before 9. What on earth should we do?
We went back and looked for a bike shop. The first person said, “That way,” so we went “that way” and the next one said, “that way,” too so we went “that way”, and then the next one said, “this way.”
Our heads were spinning. I messaged P Tob, one of Max’s police officer friends who was coming to the wedding.
“How far have you come yet?” I asked. “If we leave the bike here, can you pick us up?”
“Send me a location,” he said. I will, as soon as I have one. The last guy sent us up over the hill, saying there should be an open shop past the hill. I held my breath and gave Chonny as much gas as I could and even put my feet on the ground to help him up. We got over, just like the little engine that could.
“Hmm, “ I thought to myself. Maybe we could get to the wedding. If we would just drive slowly and at least make it to Omkoi, we could leave the bike there at a shop and at least attend the wedding.
So, I told P Tob that he didn’t need to stop and pick us up after all. “But,” I said, “Just keep an eye out if you see us beside the road somewhere.”
About 2 hills later, I changed my mind. Saying “I think I can, I think I can,” may work in certain circumstances, but not in this one. We were not going to make it like this. It seemed every time I stopped Chonny, he did a bit better, but not for long. We decided that Amy and Sara would drive on. I would get Chonny checked out and then get P Tob to pick me up and try to at least come for the last part of the wedding. I drove him back to the shop.
As I drove in, there was the usual fearful apprehension about a foreigner coming into the shop. I spoke in Thai to one of the little Karen boys sitting in front and tried to explain what was wrong. I didn’t know how to say it, other than that it seemed Chonny had no power. He called the head guy. I went off to the side to figure out where I was and send the location to P Tob.
The man came over. He went to start the bike, and then said, “Oh, the choke’s on!”
The little Karen boys in front of the shop went into spasms of laughter.
I looked and couldn’t believe my eyes. I guess when Sara went out to start him in the morning, she forgot to turn off the choke and I never thought to check since the only thing I have ever driven with a choke was a lawn mower. It seemed like magic. Chonny was fixed. And I was escalating the embarrassment scale rapidly. I
I didn’t look at the Karen boys, who I am sure were absolutely splitting their sides with laughter. Instead, I got on the bike and raced away with surprising rapidity, howling and screaming with laughter myself. For the next 10 kilometers, I laughed out loud. And laughed and laughed.
We made it to the wedding a little late, but it was fine. And after the wedding, we drove to Chiang Mai on Chonny without incident, making chokes about Chonny not enjoying chokes.
And I am sure that evening several little boys went home and regaled their families around the supper table about the foreigner who came with the bike that “didn’t work.”
Dawn slips over the river, sending silver light over the glassy surface of the River Salawin*. We walk down to the shore in the half-light, while another row of unrecognizable shapes moves down the bank a few hundred meters ahead. The boats are waiting. A few people wave their hands in a good morning, but for the most part we move silently. We climb carefully onto the boats. The three of us with long noses and white skin and lighter hair deck ourselves with long sleeves and hats and facial coverings.
The gray silence is broken by the roar of a boat starting. A man nimbly climbs from the front of the boat to the back, walking alongside the edge of the boat. The prow of the boat cuts through the water to middle of the river, going against the current of the water that used to be a frozen glacier in Tibet.
A ten-minute ride and we are there on the other side, the side that I have heard so much about, but never visited. Kawthoolei**, which in Karen means “the land without darkness.” The place where villages are looted and plundered day after day even now after decades of fighting and unrest.
There, on the other side, we are told to not take any pictures of immediate checkpoint. We climb the steep bluff. A Karen soldier is sweeping the ground around the checkpoint. He nods to us.
“Ghaw luh a ghay,” he greets us with the traditional Karen greeting.
We walk on, past a small hospital which currently has no patients. The patients are in a house closer to caves for when evacuations are needed when the Burma army flies overhead with planes, bombing the area. Recently, we are told, there were drones scouting in the area, which means that the residents of the area need to be extra careful.
The area is a medical training center where trainees come for 6 months and then leave. It is small, carved from the growth of the jungle, with a few spaces wide enough for a game of Takraw (a game similar to volleyball, using only feet and heads, and a smaller ball). Passersby on the river would scarcely know that it exists. Surrounded by mountains on either side, we walk down to the makeshift church for the Christmas service.
The simplicity, not of the service or the church or even the hospital area, stuns me. What stuns me is how simple the line is that the River Salawin draws between two countries. Karen people inhabit both sides of the river. On the one side, they live in constant tension, not knowing when the airplanes might choose to sweep overhead, dropping their lethal cargo, or when a troupe of Burmese soldiers might come looting and raping and burning. Perhaps the worst of it is the not knowing. On the other side of the river, in the village Thatafang, they live in peace, under the protection of the Thai government. They travel freely without travel passes. When planes pass overhead, they may watch, but they do not run. They have identification and citizenship and rights.
None of the people on either side chose what side they wanted to be born on. None of them even chose to be born.
The River Salawin flows on serenely through the middle, unchanging in the conflict over the past seventy-three years, ten months and three days.***
Then in that slice of clearing, shaped uncannily like a slice of pie, we celebrate the coming of a Savior who left his life in heaven to be born in a stable, to become flesh among a tribe of people who were caught under the tyranny of foreign rule. Our worship rises in the early morning air, up from the campfires and forests of the Burmese jungle, calling out to the God who became man and lived among us. The God who was light who came to give light to us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.
The God who is Immanuel. The God who is with us.
*There are two common spellings for the Salawin River, Salawin and Salween. I prefer Salawin, to match with the Thai pronunciation.
**Kawthoolei is the name that Karen people call their own country, hopefully named “land without darkness.” However, it is more commonly known as Karen State, Myanmar.
The printed version of Dustbeams is now available!!
For those who might have missed the announcement about the Kindle version here, Dustbeams is a compilation of poems and stories or essays about my experiences in Thailand. It also has a section dedicated to life in Kansas, called “Roots.” Most of the poems and essays were written in the past four years, with the last section, “Saohin,” written about the village of that name that I lived in while on my college internship. Examples of some of the poems and stories included in the book are, “Mommi,” “Spilled, ” “Interlude,” and “The Road to Saohin.”
The print version is 99 pages long.
Currently, it is only available to order on Amazon, but I am working on getting copies available in my home area. Sadly, I can order a book at the full list price and have it printed and sent to my home in 2 days’ time, but when I go to order author copies (which are available to the author at print price), Amazon says it will take 2 to 3 weeks to have them printed and delivered. Excuse me, Amazon? Maybe this naïve author is missing something here.
To avoid adding extra work to my family, since I am not at home to help distribute and ship books, I will not be shipping books to customers directly, with a few exceptions. (These exceptions are for Amish family and friends who do not have access to Amazon, or anyone else with a good reason who asks nicely.). If you would like to order a book, you can order it right here for $7.99 directly on Amazon.
For those in the Hutchinson, Kansas area, you have two options. If you would like to have a copy within this week or the next or maybe even the next, or if it’s just easier for you, you can order the book on Amazon as well. But if you want to wait until later, then you can wait until I have a definite date on when the author copies will reach Kansas. Friends from my support group will be in charge of the local distribution in Hutchinson. Dates and people to contact to get a copy will be released later.
If you are from Hutchinson and would like to be sure to reserve a copy, leave a comment below.
And, if you get a book and enjoy it, it would make me very happy if you would leave a review on Amazon, share it with a friend, or share it on social media. 😊
(Below are a few screenshots of what the book will look like. Since I live on the other side of the world, I do not yet have a physical copy in my hands.)
November wasn’t the kindest month of this year, with deaths, busyness, stress, and lots of cancelled plans. At the end, it threw the Covid bug at me, but I am grateful that I got Covid since it enabled me to spend hours finishing up my latest project. (Even though a large portion of the edits were done lying on my back.)
But now I am ecstatic to announce that my latest book, Dustbeams, is available on Kindle! Victory dance around the room while no one is looking!!! (No one should be looking because I am still in isolation).
The print version should be available on Amazon before too long, although I can’t give an exact date. I will send out another update when that is available. That will be available only on Amazon, but for those in the Hutchinson, Kansas area, there will be physical copies available in a few weeks from Blurb as well.
But for now, Kindle is available!! And because I love my Kindle and because this is my first book on Kindle, this makes me really excited (in case you haven’t noticed the surplus of exclamation points I am using. Normally I ration my exclamation points out quite conservatively).
Dustbeams is similar to my last book, Through a Glass Darkly. It contains a mix of poetry and prose written over the past four years or so, with stories drawn from my experience in Thailand, especially in Saohin. One difference between the two books is the section dedicated to Kansas and home, called “Roots,” at the beginning of the book. The Kindle version contains 93 pages.
The edition is available here for $5.99. Below are some pictures of the book in Kindle version. Stay tuned to hear of the print release!
One of the main reasons I put Dustbeams together was as a fundraiser to help pay for my online course for teacher’s training that is coming up in January with Moreland University. After studying the course for nine months, I should, Lord Willing, be able to take the test to get my US teaching license, and then use that to finally get my Thai teaching license. So if you enjoy the book, be sure to leave a review and let friends know!
Yet your heart yearns for me from the brooding sky
As I crest the mountain in rain-washed hue
All through the winding journey home
Still, oh still, I am with you.
I am not sure how often and how long I have tried to write this poem, but each time, my words failed me. (This is the Purple Poem I wrote about in an earlier blog post). How to explain that feeling of God hand cupping over me as I do the monthly trip from Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai and back on my bike? How to weave into a poem the different emotions of the ride, the different scenes and backdrops? Finally, this morning I was able to somewhat put a tongue to it. Besides the obvious inspiration of those drives, Psalms 139 and James 4:5 were also inspirations for the poem.
I am also currently working on a new book of poetry and essays. I think it’s far enough along that I can say it’s going to happen, but it’s impossible to give any release date right now. I do, however, want to get it finished before I start my online course for my teacher’s license in January, which will take up all my spare time.