Category Archives: Christian living

Only

I do not ask for tearless nights

Only the hope of the glimmer of dawn;

I do not plead for cloudless ways

Only a light as the way winds on;

I do not hunger for the glory of fame

Only a shoulder when the day is long;

I do not cry for the fervor of thousands

Only one love beating true and strong.

Only a light, a shade, a song

Only a shoulder when the day is long.

G is for Gecko

This morning I fixed my normal coffee before church and lay in my hammock to read my Bible and journal. It was quite chilly, down at 55 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, which is cold for us. I was almost finished, when I heard a rustle at the head of the hammock. I looked up and a tiny Dtukae was sitting on the hammock canvas. For those who don’t know what a Dtukae is, it is a small lizard like creature that when full grown lives on the walls of houses. It is known for its sticky feet and for its croaking call at night, as well as its bite. They say that when a Dtukae bites you it won’t let go unless you dunk it under water.

The little creature at the top of my hammock didn’t look big enough to bite me, but when it came running down the hammock toward me, I didn’t stop to consider, but jumped off with a yelp, hitting my coffee in the process and spilling it over my Bible. It seemed a little confused and lost, so I went into the house and hunted up a bag and chased it into the bag. I then stuck it into a snack container and poked holes into the top for air. I will take it to school and show it to my 1st graders and teach them “G is for gecko.” There is some controversy as to what a Dtukae is called in English. Most Americans do not call it a gecko, reserving that name for the smaller, more harmless “jing-jok” that are so much fun to flick off window screens, but a few of my Thai friends insist that those are not called gecko in English, but that Dtukaes are called geckos. Google translate says Dtukaes are geckoes. In the little bit of research I have done, it looks like Dtukaes are generally known as Tokay geckoes and the jing-joks are other kinds of geckoes. I prefer to call Dtukaes geckoes purely because Dtukaes are more memorable than jing-joks and when you are teaching “g is for gecko” to first graders you need memorable ideas.

Whatever it should officially be called, I am happy with my find and hope it will live long enough to show to my first and second graders. I keep on being amazed at the way these children learn. Because their level of English is still so low, they don’t have much previous knowledge to build on. This is a little frustrating at times because you have to start from the bottom up. However, it can also be hugely rewarding because their minds are also very receptive to new words and they are excited about learning. One of my favorite things is to hear them tossing English words around as they leave the room. I also find it fascinating to be involved in every step of their learning and have a front seat in observing their journey of language. Not only are they starting to be able to use the words I have taught them, but they are no longer afraid to call out a good morning to me as they meet me outside the classroom. One thing I find quite hilarious is how they love to boss each other around in the classroom. The older classes can be a bit rowdy at times, but usually all I have to do is say “Shh” or “be quiet” in English to one student, and he or she will turn around and yell at the others, “Be quiet!!” in English. Or “Calm down!!” Somehow when you are bossing others, it is easier to say it in English. And yelling it is always better. In the first grade class, usually the general roar subsides if I say “be quiet” except for one of two students who are so busy telling others to be quiet that they forget that the order extends to them as well.

Anugun, or Koko, is one of my 5th grade students who I thought at first would be one of my more difficult ones. He is rowdy, but he has surprised me with his interest to learn and the way he remembers sentences. The other day he blessed my heart when after class he came back to his desk to pick something up and saw me sitting there studying some Karen words. He then came over and helped me with some questions I had about the Karen dialect spoken here. When I taught occupations to them last week, I asked each one what they wanted to be when they grow up. He then asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I take that as a compliment.

Sometimes when I open up Google maps and see my location where that bold dark line marks the border of Myanmar three kilometers away, and then trace the map 4 hours down to Mae Sariang to the closest phone signal, I give a little inward gasp. A gasp not unlike the gasps I involuntarily emit when the shock of the cold water hits me as I shower in the evening. Or the little gasp that Cha, one of my students gives when I call on her to speak English in class. For the most part, I have adjusted to living here. One day runs into another. Life seems normal. In the morning I wake up before 6 and light the fire. I make my coffee, sometimes sitting beside the fire to warm my feet in the chilly morning as I journal and read my Bible. The children are supposed to be at school at 7:30, and assembly starts at 8. My first class is usually at 8:40, with three class periods before noon and two in the afternoon. The day is usually over before I realize it. And yet, the gasp sometimes still escapes me… the tingling shock that still lingers from the realization that I am not in my home culture, or my adopted Chiang Mai culture. Like this morning as I walked to church and met 2 enormous buffalo blocking the road. Or when you find out that one of your first grader’s family has a buffalo. Or in the morning as I squat by the fire to light the kindling.

This week was a mix of ups and downs. At the beginning of the week, I found myself beset entirely with cravings for dairy products and chocolatey cookies, cakes and breads. I was rationing my stash of granola bars and also realizing they just answer the cravings I was having. Finally, I remembered that at a store in the village, I had seen some off-brand oreos. I set off to find some, and they were perfect. The wafer satisfied my cookie hunger, the frosting helped with the desire for something milky and sweet (is the frosting actually milky? I doubt it, but my brain is happy with it), and the wafer also satisfied my chocolate urges. I was getting tired of black coffee and wishing for some milk, or for something sweet to offset the bitterness. Oreos worked perfectly. For 5 baht, I can eat a packet of 6. The amount of Oreos I have eaten in the week that has passed is beyond ridiculous. I have decided that I need to take turns going to the different stores in the neighborhood when I buy them so that no one can discover how many Oreos the farang teacher consumes, because I am sure if anyone would realize the truth, it would spread like wildfire.

Because, it seems, everything that I do here is of interest to everyone else. One of the village teachers speculated to another village teacher that the large amount of water I consume (I carry a water bottle with me wherever I go) probably makes me hungry. I have a feeling she was wondering why I eat so much. I feel like I am a distraction in an otherwise very quiet village and I give them something to discuss over their suppers. I keep on being surprised at the stories about me that eventually come floating to me. “Kru Dtaum says that you read your Bible every morning.” “So-and-so said that you can speak Karen as well.” (the few words I can speak do not constitute speaking Karen.) It seemed from comments from my students and others that the entire village knew I had accompanied some of the villagers into a more remote area to hunt for tadpoles and gather greens.

This week the water stopped running. It does so in the dry season. Water then has to be brought in from the storage tanks. It randomly starts up again every now and then, and then we fill up everything possible. Because of this, I had to wash my clothes in the tubs in front of the men’s showerhouse since they had more water there than we had in our house. I washed my clothes on lunch break and dumped the water out in front of the showerhouse. When I went to hang up my clothes, I found that I had washed only one sock from my pair of gray socks. This is not unusual since I am a little scatterbrained when it comes from doing laundry. It wasn’t until later that evening when Kru Dtaum went to the showerhouse and shouted out, “Hey whose socks are these?” There were three socks that I had thrown out with the washwater lying between the showerhouse and the office. I was just grateful that it was only socks and not more embarrassing items.

My fire lighting skills are getting better. I struck some difficult times several evenings when I was trying to light it and it simply would not light. I keep on getting tips that help me, but there are times, very frustrating times when I am lighting the fire and someone else comes to help me light the fire. This help is usually to say, “Oh, it’s going,” and pile on some wood. And then 1 minute later my precious fire is smoking itself to an untimely death. I want to say, “If it were your fire, then yes, it would be ok and you would know when the lit kindling is ready for bigger sticks. But this is MY fire and I happen to realize, even though I am a newby at this, that it is NOT ready for bigger sticks. So please keep your sticks off my baby fire!” But I do not say this. Instead, I grab a sliver of pine and light it again.

I have gone to the Catholic services twice now since I have come. Perhaps I should not be fraternizing with Catholics, but there is no Protestant church here. Even those who are Catholic seem to be very nominally Catholic. However, I enjoy sitting and listening to the hymns and getting some language practice. It also gives me a chance to get to know the villagers as well as see some of my students outside of school. In spite of this, I am very hungry for a good service in Thai or English that I can understand, as well as fellowship with people who are serious about their relationship with Christ.

My Acer laptop gave me some gasps this week as well, refusing to turn on when I needed it. After an anxious night and nightmares of great magnitude about losing all my data and teaching computerless for weeks while my laptop is sent to Chiang Mai to be fixed, I did find the magic key to turn it back on, which was to drain the battery until it totally died and then start it up again. Praise the Lord!

Captain Joe, (or Pugong Joe as you would say in Thai), one of the policemen at the station that is right beside the school, comes over for supper at the teacher’s house most evenings. I keep on being surprised at how people here constantly drop in on each other. When Pugong Joe is not sitting on the porch with another of the teachers and serenading us with Thai folk songs on his guitar, he is asking me questions that usually start with, “I saw in a movie once….” He dreams of traveling and going to far away places and watches movies to do so vicariously. He loves asking questions about all sorts of things, and is not hesitant to ask bold questions about Christianity, unlike many Thai people.

We teach from Monday to Saturdays, and then crash on Sundays. This is the schedule for schools in what the government calls พื้นที่พิเศษ “Special Areas,” meaning it is an area far away or hard to reach. After three or four weeks of a schedule like this, the school closes for a week or even more to give the teachers a chance to go home to their families. This means on this Friday we head down to Mae Sariang for over 7 days. I am looking forward to a break and some time by myself.

I keep on thinking that when I blog, I should choose one subject and stick to it, and then somehow wring out some kind of wise lesson or conclusion about the happening. Perhaps someday I will write something sage and wise to connect with my life here. But for now, I write because these stories need to be written in my own heart, for my own memory.

*once I reach Mae Sariang and have some good wifi connection, I will upload some pictures.

** this post was mostly written on Sunday but I was unable to post it until today because of the internet. Or the lack thereof.

Live

Tonight, as I walked under the starlit sky, praying and thinking, I had one of those moments that rarely come these days. One of those moments where you feel like you are holding one of the most tremendous gifts in your hand, and all the joy and inspiration of the ages and the Bible and all the good poetry you ever read comes welling up in you and all you want to do is hold that gift and breathe over it and use it.

Live. Just live.

Reach

Could I but reach the pain–

Could I but touch the spot–

Could I but speak the aching word–

Could I but see through a clear glass, smudgeless of stain curling over the edges of reality, that burns the senses into dumbness, numbness, darkness and bleeds its bitterness into the currents of humanity—

Then, oh God, I would.

(It’s been a long day. I feel like I’ve seen a little bit of everything– innocence, laughter, pain, fear, kindness laced with subterfuge, depression, sincerity, deception, honesty. Hence the poem. From teaching 2 and 4 year-olds in the morning, to attending a college class at noon, translating for a sticky, depressing case at the station, and debating the principles of Christianity with a lawyer from another belief system, I guess I can see why I am little bit discouraged. I also don’t know if that last sentence is grammatically correct or not. Blame my PR teacher for making me doubt.)

Light

I love light.

When I was 12 I fell in love with the verse in Job 38:24 that says, “By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?”

Other favorites are, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). Or, “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (Micah 7:8). I still remember the words of in the Christmas play we did in my 6th grade year, “To give light to them that sit in darkness” (Luke 1:79).

Below are a few of my favorite light pictures each showing different angles of light. As I was sorting through them, I realized over and over that without the darkness, the light was much less visible or desirable.

Sometimes the darkness reminds us how much we need the light.

“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

Shorn

When waves of wheat lap in the deepening glory of harvest,

I wonder if the fields that gather their ripening wheat in their embrace

Fear the coming shearing when the whisper of heavy heads

Becomes lost in the roar of teeth tearing kernels from each stalk.

 

Do these fields fear the nakedness, lying shorn under the sickle moon

Robbed of their glory, the loss of their fruit, their fruit

Or do they release with quiet hands the life they nurtured and bore

Rejoicing with the reapers come to bring home their own?

June 2020

The Road to Saohin

The road to Saohin is rough and steep.

Saturday, February 1, six years after my initial decision to move to Thailand, was the first time I traveled the road to Saohin. And probably not the last.

On Friday January 31, I drove to Mae Sariang, a town in Mae Hong Son 5 hours away that I am quickly learning to love. The drive there, though long, was relaxing, and there was a sense of adventure and hope and “this is a day off of school” that I felt in the air as I drove. I stopped in a pine forest and took off my shoes and enjoyed the spicy smell of pines, making me think of both Sara Teasdale’s “pines, spicy and still”(Stars), as well as the words: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep” (Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost).DSC00696DSC00685DSC00711

I arrived in Mae Sariang around 5 and checked into my hotel. I left several times, once to buy food, once to go to a coffee shop, and once to chase down a song I heard wafting over loudspeakers.

The next morning I went to Saohin. They had told me the road was bad and life was rough there. Would I come look at it first before I would decide whether or not to do my 3 month college internship there? Could I come Saturday?

So I went with the teachers who had come down to the city for the day to run errands and pick up some other things besides this odd farang who wanted to live in the mountains. Aside from the fact that I spent the first two hours sniffing mentholatum in a desperate effort to keep my lunch of noodles from reappearing, I loved the trip up. After the first 61 kilometers, a rest, one little drammamine pill, and 20 children piling on the back of the truck, we tackled the final 37 kilometers. It took two hours (during rainy season it can take many more), crammed into a double cab pickup with 4 other people. I got to know them. And I like them.

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Saohin was small, with a school, a police station, a temple and a few houses, more like a wilderness outpost than a true village. They said a church was up the road a bit in another village. Most of the 80 plus children come from other villages to study at Saohin.

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(photo credit: กรุงเทพธุระกิจ) Sometimes this even happens, according to the news.

We went to Burma on Sunday, crossing over the border passport-less about 3 kilometers from Saohin. We toured some places, ate some sweet desserts and came back.

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No phone service exists for most of the 98 kilometers from Mae Sariang to Saohin. Electricity is brought to the village via a few solar panels, but most daily work is done without the aid of electricity. Most of the cooking is done over an open fire, and washing is done by hand. No refrigerators exist.

I came back to Mae Sariang on Sunday night, mulling my experiences in my mind. Three months. Could I handle it for three months? Maybe.  More than that? I don’t know.

There are always those times when the dreams we dream start to become true, and reality hits us like the freezing splash of water of the dip shower I took on Saturday night in the teachers’ house. And odd little things start niggling at our minds. Can I give up my midnight habit of eating cornflakes each night? (no fridge= no milk.) Take cold showers? Live with no phone service?

But when I came back down, pictures of the village kept flashing through my mind. And I KNOW it sounds cliché, but a piece of my heart was left there in that dry mountain forest on the western edge of Mae Hong Son. And I knew I wanted to go back.

But the road to Saohin didn’t start on Saturday, Feb 1 when I left Mae Sariang. It didn’t even begin on Friday, when I left Chiang Mai. Or even when I started looking for an internship, searching through Google maps and finding places that became further and further away.

Perhaps it began one day under a little thatched roof when two of my friends and I were dreaming about what we would do when we would get “big.” I never thought the things we wrote down that day would actually become true.

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Perhaps it started the day I traveled with the CMCC youth group to a Karen village in Doi Dtao, Chiang Mai, up roads similar to those of Saohin.

Perhaps it started February 1, 2014, when I made my decision to move to Thailand. Or perhaps the day I signed up to go to IGo.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the road to Saohin began when I was in the 5th grade and listening to the speaker with the funny Carmel name talk about her experiences in South America. Perhaps it started when my teacher gave me the book Peace Child to read. Perhaps it started when I picked up my history book and started learning about far away countries with odd sounding names.

Perhaps it started one day on the sandpile underneath a bunch of green ferns when I prayed to give my life to Christ.

I don’t know. But I do know that “road leads on to road” (Frost). I know that it looks like Saohin will be my home for three months starting hopefully sometime in June, with week long trips to Mae Sariang once a month. But that doesn’t mean the road to Saohin leads to my final destination. Perhaps the road to Saohin is only a road that eventually leads to other roads.

I don’t know. But a sense of deep joy and expectation fills me as in my mind’s eye I look up that road, winding, muddy and steep, to what lies ahead.

Thank you, Jesus.

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Midnight Reverie

2 a.m. on the Nawarat Bridge

The city sleeps as I cross

I wonder how many people I am

 

My heart shifts like the changing lights

Glinting on the river below

One winding river with a thousand gleams

 

The night wind breathes sorrow as I pass

The grief of the world presses in

A million sorrows from a million lives.

 

How many griefs can one heart carry?

How many days does one tear live?

How many people can one person be?

 

2 a.m. on the Nawarat Bridge

The city sleeps as I cross

I wonder how many people I am.

Psalms 129- My Love Letter to God

I needed Psalms 129 this morning… here is a personalized paraphrase of this beautiful chapter.

God, you know everything about me, inside and out.

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You know when I sit down to spend time with you and my thoughts go floating far away from you. You know when I wake up in the morning, wondering what the day will bring, with questions swirling around in my head.

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You know where I will be going today. You know the steps that I will take and the path I will walk. You know what road I will follow in the future, whether it is today or tomorrow or next month or next year. And You are going to be there.

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You know when I lie down curled up in pain and tears, crying out to you, wishing you would give me answers and tell me the things I want to know. You know when I laugh with pure joy and smile at the way you paint the sunset and draw the moon on the sky and fill my life with good things. You know how much I like it when I get to do the things that bring me joy, whether it’s helping someone out or reading a good book or getting to escape into the mountains for a day. You know all my quirks and the worries I hold and the way I respond to any situation, whether it’s a good response or not.

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You know.

Even before I am going to say something, You know what I will say. You know what I will say even before I do. Which is good because so often I wonder, “How should I say this?”

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When I am driving on the road, your hand is behind me, protecting me. When I am sleeping, your hand is over me. When I am walking, you are beside me. You are all around me.

I can’t grasp this. I can’t understand this. It’s too much for me to realize.

Even if I wanted to get away from you, I couldn’t. You are with me wherever I go, not just now but in the future as well.

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When I am filled with joy and happiness and hope and elation, you are there. When I am huddled on my bed, crying of loneliness or thinking about decisions and uncertainty,  you are there. If I wake up early in the morning and hike up Doi Pui to watch the sunset, you are there. If I fly to the other side of the world to visit my family in Kansas, you are there. It doesn’t matter where I go, your hand is there. You hold me up with your right hand.

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In the darkness of my thoughts and worries, you are there. In the light of my joy and peace, you are there. It doesn’t matter to you what I am like—you still love me and are always the same.

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When I was yet unborn, you put me together. You gave me this kind of eyes, and this shape of nose and this color of hair and this kind of mouth. You did a good job. Everything you do is perfect, even when I don’t believe it.

You are wonderful. I know it.

You saw me when I was still nothing, just an idea in my mother and father’s love. But you designed me. You took your book and you wrote down each and every detail about my life. You wrote down all of my days and every detail that would happen in each of them, even this morning as the teardrops rolled down my cheeks. You wrote out all of my days, even before time started for me.

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God, your thoughts, they are wonderful to me. There are so many of them; they never stop. I couldn’t even count them. They are more than the sand in the sea.

At night, I want to wake and think about You, not about my worries.

Oh God, I wish you would take all the evil from this world. Destroy the evil that makes people speak badly of each other and of You and kill each other and cheat and lie. Heal all this pain that fills this world.

God, let me despise those things that are not of you. Let me never take it for granted and say, “That is just the way it is.”

But Lord, as you know, this heart is wavering. It is not strong, but weak. It is full of selfishness and wrong motives and anxiety right now. Look through my thoughts, Lord. Sift through them and take away that which is wrong.

If I am doing something wrong tell me.

And always, always, let me walk in your path.

Let me hold Your hand.

And trust You.

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These Days

These days are bright with heat, the humid, sultry weight of unreleased rain weighing down on us each morning. In the afternoon, clouds pile up high above the mountain, with the occasional growl of thunder punctuating the brooding heat. These days the skies are mostly clear of the insidious smog that covered our lives and souls in March, and in the evening, after the dusk rolls in, the skies release their rain. Each night we go to bed with the drumbeat of hope beating on our roofs—and in our hearts.

And why should we hope? Why should we dare to give life to this wild thing beating in our hearts, that gives way to the ridiculous, the kind of dreaming that leads to walking on water? Do not we know that walking on the water is unacceptable for bipeds of our kind?

But while hope seems to contradict every circumstance we face, it is conditioned in us. The very threads of our being are made up of hope. When we breathe, each breath that we inhale and each breath that we exhale are breaths of hope. Why else would we do something that borders insanity, this continuing to live and breathe in a broken world, except our bodies hoped? Why else do we continue to flip the light switch even after we realize the light is no longer working? Why else would we scan the skies with furrowed brows, unless our lives were not conditioned to hope?

When that hope is gone, life fades.

Hope is not optimism. Hope is not positive thinking. It is something stronger and frailer, more powerful and more delicate than we could ever imagine. It is rooted, planted into our hearts at birth, but without nurture it is like the succulent that my friend gave me–withered and dead, because I forgot to water it.

I faced days, dark days years ago, when I lived one day at a time, one hour at a time, on feet that dragged heavy. In the evening I would lay my head down and cry until I was exhausted–without knowing why. Now, I can look back and see some reasons for the darkness, but at the time I was only confused and tired, looking at the next day and dreading the thought of facing it. Hope was something I could only dimly make out, and I clung to the remaining threads I had. Friends walked with me. I scoured my Bible. I journaled. I talked with my dad. I held on tight to words that brought light.

And the light returned slowly. There were some physical changes, some emotional changes, some spiritual changes. We are people that are knit together tightly and our physical can affect our spiritual and our spiritual can affect our emotional and all the other ways around. Somehow that hope that flickered began burning brighter and brighter.

Hope hurts. It’s such a ridiculous thing. There have been so many times that I’ve seen my hope knocked to the ground, bruised and bleeding. I usually look at it and say, see I told you!

But I’ve met some people who keep on hoping against reality, who live with unfulfilled dreams, who hope for more despite the pain; those people are some of the most beautiful people I know. They live life with a deep, quiet rest, a trust that speaks of something more inside even while pain is mirrored in their eyes. They have hearts that have been ripped wide open, and perhaps never sewn fully shut. But they are strong and quiet and wise.

And I want to be like that.

These days the sun is bright and the heat is oppressive, but hope comes to us at night when the rain chatters on the roof and the wind gathers up fistfuls of the scent of green. We sleep the sleep of those who remember the days of darkness and rest in the new life that each droplet brings, knowing that the Maker of the seasons is also the Maker of hope.