Dustbeams (Print Version) Released!

I am happy to announce that (drumroll) ……

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.

Click here to order: https://a.co/d/0cinI2Y

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. 😊

Merry Christmas!

(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.)

Dustbeams is Released!

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!

Feel free to share on social media!

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

The Road from Chiang Mai

Bright as the day through darkest night

From valleys low to mountains high

You go before me, you go behind me

Untroubled under a troubled sky

Through clouds that unleash stinging rain

On roads under sunfire in aching blue

Where fog shrouds the road in wraithing white

Yet still, still, I am with you.

Only a sojourner in a transient world

Weary on a road ever so long

Only a speck on a river passing,

Only an echo, a fragment of song

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.

Stay tuned! 🙂

Where the South Wind Blows

Oh, give me the gray autumn winds of Kansas

That steal across the burnt sienna of tallgrass,

Down over rolling plains, close by the Ninnescah,

In November, in November, in gray November’s day.

I wonder if they would know me, those November winds

That ghost from river to prairie to grove,

Where dying Texas sunflowers await the dawning winter,

And Osage orange trees pencil black against the sky.

Oh, give me gray winds haunting shorn fields

And over the umber colors of the riverland grass,

When the sky cups over the brooding prairie world

On a day in November where the south wind dwells.

Gold and Green

A unique thing about life is the various shades that seem to color different periods of life. Some seasons in life are gray and blue, misty and melancholy. Others, for instance the last month I spent in Saohin, are characterized by browns and reds. This past season has been a rich mix of golds and greens, framed with wild blue skies and crimson sunsets.

October 7 was officially my last day of work before school break, although I took on some tutoring over our time off. On the evening of the 12th, on one a day when the air held a crisp hint of autumn, I set off for Chiang Mai where I met up with Amy and the rest of our INVEST team for our annual retreat as a team. Amy’s parents, Paul and Dorcas, served as speakers for our retreat. I felt like our activities and input at retreat were like a well-rounded meal, with a good amount of personal growth mixed with relaxation. It was an easily digestible meal: some meat, a lot of vegetables and light food, with a little bit of sweetness added.

This is our INVEST team, a ministry under IGo. INVEST stands for Igo Network of Volunteer Educators Serving Thailand. Missing in the photo is our team leader Phil’s wife, Jolene, and their sons, Chris and Clark, since they were sick with Covid.

Monday after retreat Amy and I headed off for Doi Chang with three other friends, Abby, Nancy and Glenda. We drove our motorbikes up the soaring heights of Doi Chang and among Akha villages, sipped coffee at coffee shops way up in the mountains, ate pizza while watching the sun set over a pond, woke up early to see the glory of the sunrise and feel the wind blow in our hair, and then made our way down again.

coffee beans

I left the others and headed to Chiang Dao to stay the night at my friend Louie’s house, taking the road through Doi Ang Khang National Park. I had been to this park years ago with Louie, but I had never come in from the east side. The heights were stunning. While Doi Chang had roads that were built high above patchworked fields, Doi Ang Khang was full of hairpin curves on roads that hugged cliffs and required me to drive in first gear. Every now and then, I stopped to savor the view and listen to the absolute silence of the mountain.

I spent the night with Louie and her hilarious sister in Baan Mai Samakkhi (which I wrote about visiting here 4 years ago), laughing over old jokes from bygone school days and making new ones. We talked about the time our instructor forgot to close the zipper on his pants and how I once accidentally hit a stranger over the head with a sweatshirt. Louie and her sister needed to leave early in the morning for a youth camp, so I spent the next morning with her mom and her younger brother. Louie’s younger brother, who reminded me of my high school students, took me to buy coffee, and to get the chain on my bike fixed. Her mom then loaded me up with avocados and a vegetable I don’t know the name for, then off I headed for Pai and Pang Mapha. I had already reserved a room in Pang Mapha since I knew if I took that way back to Mae Sariang, I wouldn’t be able to make it back to in one day without exhausting myself.

A blurry photo of Louie cooking. I chose a blurry one because she would prefer it.
The temple in Arunothai, the Chinese village right next to Louie’s and right next to the border. I wrote about Arunothai here
Nadech, the cat named after a movie star

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai and from then on to Mae Hong Son is renowned for curves, steep slopes, and the foreign, accident-prone tourists that drive them. I drove behind a motorbike with the typical long-legged, white foreigner look for a while, and thought to myself that it looked like one I might later see in the ditch. I stopped for lunch and about 45 minutes later I rounded a curve and encountered this very bike in a ditch with two bewildered foreigners standing beside it. I stopped, and we examined the situation, and I poured water over the young, excited man’s cuts. Whereupon, he sat down on a mile marker and then promptly pitched backwards into the ditch in a dead faint while I frantically tried to call 191. He then awoke and lifted one of the aforementioned long white legs and gravely stared at it as if trying to figure out how it was attached to him.

“Pound sign,” he blustered. “Exclamation mark, percent sign, pound sign, asterisk, pound sign!” I ignored the language and upon examining him further, we decided we didn’t need an ambulance after all.

He then asked for something sugary to eat and I was grateful to be able to pull from my backpack mentos that had been gifted to us on retreat. He gulped them down like a starving man.

I ended up going with them and a helpful Thai guy to the next police checkpoint to look at the wounds a bit more, and then went with them to the hospital and stayed until they were looked at by a doctor and feeling less emotionally traumatized. Then I headed on to Pang Maphaa, racing the sun in order to get to my guesthouse before dark.

The last time I had made this trip, I drove through chilling rain and mist. The wet road had made me very nervous then, but I remembered the thrill of cresting a hill and the gorgeous views below. This time the road was half as treacherous, and I made good time, even stopping now and then to snap a picture. The sun was dying, shafting gleams of golden light over the mountains, nectar for the soul.

I feel like this picture and the two above it characterize the entire trip the most.

My guesthouse was adorable, and its price just as adorable at less than 8 dollars USD. There was one window and I kept it closed since it didn’t have a screen, so when I woke up to a dark room the next morning, I figured it was about 6:30. It wasn’t until I looked at my phone that I realized it was close to 9 instead.

As I sipped my coffee, I Googled Pang Maphaa and started looking at my maps in anticipation of the route home. As I studied the maps, I realized there was a road leading to the border, and that the border was only about 30 kilometers from my location. It didn’t take long to make my decision, and about half an hour later, I was at Baan JaBo on my way to the border. JaBo is a small tribal village, known for its restaurant where people can eat noodles while dangling their feet over the side of the mountain. (I thought it was a Lisu village, but I am seeing other sources saying Lahu)

Several times past Ja Bow, as I drove on towards the border, I was tempted to turn back. With the roads I have traveled on in the past, you would think I would have no fear of driving, but somehow the unknown road ahead struck a deep fear in me. They might be incredibly steep and stony, for all I knew. I kept on telling myself that I had driven worse than this, and that this was my only chance in a long time to do this. I knew if I turned back, I would always live with a feeling of regret.

About 3 kilometers away from the border, I came onto a lookout. I stopped to take a picture and ended up talking a while with the old man there. His gray hair was wild and unkempt, and he chewed on red betelnut as we talked, but he told me a lot about the village and surrounding areas. He pointed out a mountain in the distance. That’s Myanmar, he said.

I started off for the border checkpoint. The road ahead looked steep again, and I stopped again and almost turned back. No, I told myself. I won’t. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as steep as I thought at first.

I still feel disappointment when I think about what happened next. When I came to the checkpoint, the soldiers came out. I stopped my bike to talk to them and see if I could cross. I was a bit flustered, not having rehearsed what I should say, so I asked, “This road goes to Myanmar, right?” The soldier, looking equally flustered at having to talk with this strange foreigner who came chugging along, said, “Umm you can’t go.”

It was one of those moments where I looked back later and wished I had asked for more clarification. Did he mean the road didn’t lead to Myanmar? Did he mean, I as a foreigner couldn’t get across? Did he realize that I wasn’t going over to stay, but only to hop across to say I was in Myanmar? I still don’t know, and I should have asked, but I am someone who hates to cause a fuss or make a scene, so instead, I swallowed my bitter disappointment and meekly turned around with an odd, heavy feeling in my stomach, even shedding a tear as I left.

View of the checkpoint

The heavy feeling had lifted by the time I got to JaBo. I ate some noodles like a good tourist, and then faced the long drive to Mae Sariang.

About 6 hours later, by the time I crested the bridge over the Yuam River in Mae Sariang, the last of the pink sky behind the mountains was rapidly disappearing into pitch darkness.

I was home. And I had this odd feeling that God had given me a tour package designed especially for me.

*A note of clarification in case you are thinking I am crazy in even attempting to cross the border: in many parts of western and northern Thailand, it is possible to cross over into Myanmar by simply leaving your identification card at the border checkpoint as proof that you will come back. I did this in Saohin with Thai friends the first time I visited. However, I think it is easier for Thai people to do than foreigners.

**Secondly, as I looked at the map later, I noticed that the road doesn’t really seem to connect to other roads within Myanmar, but instead runs along the border, twisting in and out of the border line. It does lead to another village in Thailand, though, eventually. I am still unsure of the exact meaning of the soldier’s words and if I could have crossed if I would have argued my case.

An Oddly Restful Week

Life is strange nowadays, but strange in a nice twisty kind of way.

It is nice to meet Amy’s mom and dad again when they come to see her and we go together on Monday night to eat dinner at the church so that they can meet our Thai pastor and his delightful family.  We eat crabs and talk about jobs and places to visit in Mae Hong Son. Later that evening, I find out that some IGo friends are traveling through on their way to the border and stop in to say hi to them and chat for a while.

The next day we go out to eat again with Amy’s parents. Amy and I need some photos for the IGo newsletter so we take shots in a rice field as the sun goes down. Coming home, I find a nice, jolly toad posing perfectly in front of the house.

Wednesday is quite normal. Amy’s dad goes to Chiang Mai. In the evening, I check out the walking street that is open because of the Aukwa festival that is just starting in Mae Sariang and then go home to enjoy my supper with Amy and her mom.

The next morning, I wake up to a message from Amy, who has gone over to where her mom is staying, “My parents both have Covid.”

I try to shake the sleep from my eyes. Surely, she must be kidding. “I wish,” she replies.

And so begins another Covid whirlwind. Thankfully, the restrictions are not nearly what they were a year ago. Amy and I isolate, but we still leave the house for supplies. Amy brings food to her mom in her rooms and buys a huge box of Covid tests. We make plans and then change them, and make them again and then change them. Finally, Amy and her mom leave on Saturday for Chiang Mai to see a doctor there.

In the meantime, I bake and read and study Karen and play my ocarina and watch the moon rise over the valley and call my mom and watch the ants climb up the papaya tree behind the house and eat pumpkin pie for breakfast since I made two and I am the only one who eats them. Is there something like eating too much pumpkin pie, I wonder?

Isolating can be difficult, but it can also be just what the doctor ordered. Especially when it includes pumpkin pie.  

On Sunday, after taking my 4th Covid test, I go to church. This too, is just what the Doctor ordered. We sing worship songs in Thai that were some of the first songs I learned in Thailand and the words cut to my heart and pull tears from an aching part inside of me. Our pastor preaches on Matthew 11:28 and 29, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He talks about different kinds of burdens and the need to rest. I feel God speaking to that aching part of my soul again and the words I hear are beautiful.

In the evening, I don my mask and go to see what Aukwa is like by now. Aukwa is a festival celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent, but it is uniquely Mae Sariang. During Aukwa, the streets are lit up with lanterns, hundreds of small shops selling food and other items pop up beside the road, and there are musical competitions, shows and dances, a mini marathon and hundreds of other activities. It is sort of like Yoder Heritage Day at home. But different. Aukwa lasts for about 9 days, with the main activities happening the last three days.

It is colorful and bright and sparkling.

One of my students, Happy, sings in the competition, so I sit on the front steps of the police station beside another student, Achira, and wait for Happy’s song. Achira’s dad has a big bag of peanuts. Here, he says, holding out the bag. Have some.

So, I painstakingly crack open boiled peanuts and munch on them as I wait. Soon they move on, kindly leaving the bag of peanuts with me. An hour later, I see a friend I haven’t seen for over a year. He is with another friend and has moved back to the area after living in Chiang Mai for a year. They sit down and we try to chat for a while over the blare of the singing.

I don’t get home until close to 11. This is a Mae Sariang that I have never seen before. The quiet, sleepy town nestled in the valley has suddenly become a buzz of activity and late-night revelry. Even from my home 3 kilometers away from the city center, I can hear the music throbbing into the wee hours.

The next day I munch on more pumpkin pie before leaving to tutor some students.

I feel rested and at peace. Rest for me isn’t always just flopping down on a bed and doing nothing. Sometimes it means doing something different for a while. Sometimes it means fleeing into the mountains for a time to savor the silence and the cool air. Sometimes it might mean walking aimlessly by yourself through crowds or finding a seat and watching the throngs of people around you. Sometimes it means squatting down and watching ants for a while, or baking something just for fun.

Especially when its pumpkin pie.

Fried mush with sorghum molasses. This is NOT cultural Thai food, in case you are wondering. More like redneck Kansas food
geckoes on the screen door

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Sparrows in their nests lie down

Their heads beneath their wings

The night around them deepens, crouches

Oh Lord, the evil darkness brings!

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep….

Lord, we have seen your sparrows falling

They have fallen from their nest

Limp and torn, with tattered wings

No heartbeat flutters in their breast

If I should die before I wake…

This shadow of death groans dark with fear

These tiny ones are walking through

God of the Valley, Father of Sparrows,

Bring these little ones home to You

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take…

Gather these fledglings close to your heart

Gather them to You, drive fear away

Give them a wide, green, sweet meadow

And new wings to fly in a brighter day

 Lord, we have seen your sparrows falling,

And we cannot bear the pain.

Our hearts are numbed by the news of the shootings yesterday in Nong Bua Lomphuu province. A man walked into a nursery and using guns and a knife, killed over 20 children as they lay sleeping during their afternoon nap time. Having once worked at a daycare in Chiang Mai, I can easily visualize everything, and tears have pushed my eyelids all day. Our hearts are heavy with grief at this senseless murder of children, not to mention all the adults that were killed as well.

Lord, have mercy.

A Purple Poem

I don’t know what happened to it

That poem I was going to write

Instead of trickling through my pen

It slipped into my soul, out of sight

I tried to coax it out with words

Like bribing a puppy with a treat

Yet it was not a puppy, but an elusive elf

It danced away shyly on soundless feet.

And now I live each sacred day

With a purple poem tucked in my soul;

Glimmering, changing, throbbing, alive

Aching, calling, bleeding and full.

Spilled

The moon tipped over in the clouds tonight

Tipped over in the sky, in the cloud-tossed sky

It spilled down to earth, through the deep-scented dark

In the black-broken hours of the rain-drenched day.

It spilled light on the road-ribbon and light in the field

It spilled light on the tassles of the brown-headed corn

It spilled light on the river as it wound through the valley,

And I caught some, I caught some, moonlight as it spilled.

But even as I caught it, it slipped through my fingers

And glimmered to the ground, light-liquid, pulsing

For only a heartbeat; then it slipped through the ground-cracks,

Slipped down from the sky to the heart of the world.

My hands glimmered strangely all evening long

But my heart ached an ache that could not be told

The ache of a lost love, the ache of a lost dream

The ache of a lost soul gliding through the sky

Perspective

I looked at the world upside down for a bit

Just for a little, to see

How it was like and if it would right

Some of the world’s problems for me

The ground was a sea of cotton below

And the sky a green carpet on high

But the funniest sight that I saw upside down

The trees hung like chandeliers down from the sky

And ever since I righted my aching head

The strangest things have crossed my eye

Cows walking like spiders in the oddest of places

And birds swimming down in a soupy sky