Archive for July, 2010


Old Towels and Being Human


Ann here. It has been awhile since I’ve posted. Here are a few things that have been running around in my mind.

I just had to have them. These two old towels that I got from my wedding registry ten years ago. Those were in the “definite” pile as we packed for Thailand. I remembered missing good ol’ thick, wonderful, towels when I had lived here before so I wasn’t going to put up with that this time. So into the box they went. I knew then that they would probably not dry as well in the sun and end up smelling moldy—but I thought just maybe they wouldn’t. Well, we’ve been here for almost 11 months now, and those two towels are in the trashcan in front of my house reeking of the “not-quite-dried” smell that just about sends me over the edge. I hate drying off after a shower and then detecting the faint hint of “not-quite-dried” smell on my skin. So there you have it. Those two precious towels are now trash. It’s funny how life goes on and you start to let things go…big or small. A year ago I didn’t want to leave the country without my towels, they were a comfort to me. And now I can’t stand the smell of them. And I love my two new, paper-thin, easy-drying towels that I bought down at the local Lotus (our Wal-Mart).

I’ve also had to let go of some pride lately. For a long time now, I have loved for things to be smooth. I want life to be smooth. I want my children to be smooth. I want to look like everything I do is effortless….and smooth. I want people to look at me and say, “How does she do it? How is she so smooth?” 🙂 But the reality is that life is anything but smooth. I am anything but smooth. Now when I say “smooth”, I don’t mean perfect; but, I do mean pretty close, at least giving it your best shot. I didn’t realize what this was doing to me. To my friends and teammates. To my children. To my husband. About a month ago I found out that I was human….all over again. I was sitting at the Come Before Winter renewal with my aunt, bawling my eyes out because I couldn’t stop yelling at my kids, I turn to comfort food way too often, I am easily frustrated, and I feel like my emotions carry the day. I ended with a snort and the question, “What’s wrong with me? I’m not supposed to feel like this.” And with love and a hug, my aunt said to me “Ann, I think you are surprised by your own humanity.”  Surprised by my own humanity. That was it. In my pursuit of “the smooth”, I put myself in a place that was unforgiving of the “not so smooth” or the “rough”. There was no place for those things. The places that it showed up the most was at home with my girls or in team meetings with my teammates. When emotions ran too high, a decision was slow to be made, or my children didn’t act like I wanted them to, I became so hardened, angry, and frustrated.  To the point where I realized that I didn’t want to feel too deeply, at least not too much, not too publicly—that’s not smooth. I wanted God, but not too close, not too deeply, not too publicly. I thought I could move to Thailand, faithfully following God’s call, plant a church effectively/mechanically/smoothly, then move back to Texas, raise my children—who now have a healthy dose of culture–and live happily, wisely, spiritually maturely, smoothly ever after. But, alas, that is without the raw emotion of it all.  The humanity of it all! In Psalm 103, verses 13-14 read, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” If He is compassionately mindful, and not surprised at all that I am human, why does it surprise me so much that I am—especially in my most human moments of happiness, loss, anger, joy, fear, frustration, or sadness?

I am by no means perfect now that I’ve had my little revelation. But I am a more patient mother these days. I’m choosing to let my kids off the hook of doing things just like I want them done or acting like I think they should. I’m a better teammate these days. I’m choosing to let my teammates that I love off my hook of doing things my way, and trying to listen better and share honestly. I’m choosing to remember that just as I am my Creator’s “dust”, so are the people, the humans around me. When life isn’t smooth all the time….He is present. He is faithful. So I’m trying to pay more attention to the people and nature around me. To soak in this human experience that He created for us. I want to feel more deeply. I don’t want to just make it to the end so I get my gold star of “The Smoothest Contestant”. I want to feel, to experience, to live more fully!

So for all of you out there that have also perhaps forgotten from where you have come….take some time today to sit outside and remember. Let yourself be human. Love who God has created you to be—with all the rough edges.  And I think it will help you love those around you more fully as you focus on the fact that He created them too.

I’ll leave you with these words from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World:

“My body is what connects me to all of these other people. Wearing skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls. It is what we have most in common with one another… The daily practice of incarnation—of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of flesh—is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels.  Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do—specific ways of being together in their bodies—that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.”

These are my confessions/thoughts/prayers for today. Pray for me on my journey of learning what it means to be human and continually shaped to look more like Jesus. God bless.


Worship By Any Other Name


We are presently focusing on more explicit religious themes in our research. One area that we wanted to emphasize was “worship.” Our interest stems from the fact that there are numerous terms that seem to be related to worship, but we wanted to better understand the nuanced meaning of each term. Thus, we decided to do something called pile sorting. We gathered 21 words that have some connection to the idea of worship (giving honor, serving, praising, etc.) and interviewed multiple people about the words. We gave each person a stack of cards with the terms on them and asked them to put them into groups. We did not give them any criteria for doing this. We wanted to see how they associated the various terms. We then asked follow-up questions based upon their groupings. After reflecting upon how Thai people understand these various terms, I wanted to share with you one conclusion that seems to be extremely insightful for understanding how the gospel connects in Thai culture.

One reason we picked this topic is because we have been frustrated by the fact that we have not found a term that carries the same meaning and importance as “worship.” We thought that doing this exercise might point us to a word or phrase that closely correlates to what we mean by “worship.” The result is that there is not such a word. And, as we should have known, that makes perfect sense. Our understanding of worship, and all it entails, is directly dependent upon a monotheistic worldview. The meaning and significance of worship is funded by the idea of one God above all else.

Thus, when we try to find a word or phrase in Thai that has the same meaning and significance, we come up empty. This is due to the fact that the Thai worldview (I use this term loosely since there is no such thing as THE Thai worldview) does not have one supreme God. Why would there be a term that means “worship” when there is no such practice being done?

All this does not mean we cannot or will not use these terms. We have to because we are not in the business of inventing new words. However, this will hopefully make us more aware of what connotations come with using these terms.

But, more importantly than just knowing some vocabulary, this research has helped us see where people’s deepest feelings of honor, affection, and loyalty lie. What we discovered is that the terms that are more explicitly “religious” (except for one) do not carry the meaning of giving your whole life to something or of exalting something above all else. This should be obvious because the Thai religious world does not have a god or gods (at least not in the way most Westerners think). However, there are a few words that are explicitly about “lifting up,” “giving honor,” “praising,” and “offering your life.” The interesting thing is that these terms are used for powerful leaders, particularly royalty, and the nation.

Thus, the tendency to compare and contrast Buddhism and Christianity can often be misleading. The fact that Buddhism does not have a god or gods changes the entire conversation. I am not sure where all this will lead, but we are eager to find out.


Summer Fun


My mom, or Grammie, got here late Friday night. The girls were so excited when they woke up Saturday morning to find Grammie in Thailand. She brought a suitcase of goodies for the girls, not to mention a few DPs for me. We spent some time in Chiang Mai before heading back to Phayao. It has been fun showing her our lives here. She has already been to church, helped teach the kids’ class, gone to Brynn’s ballet class, gone to Haley’s yoga class and eaten lots of spicy food. Brynn and Meg love having here around (and so do Ann and I).

After church this morning we realized it was the 4th of July and that we didn’t have any plans. We decided to throw together a cookout at the Fikes. We bought all the hot dogs and buns in Phayao (literally). Chris rounded up some fireworks. And Ning brought the meatballs on a stick (luukchin)–everything you need for a 4th of July party. We had a great time cooking out, playing washers, and lighting fireworks.

Corban manned the grill.

It’s not easy throwing washers with a two-year old in one arm. But, don’t worry, we still won.

I had to include this picture. Meg recently took her first ride in the Fikes’ Vespa. She and Teagan had a blast cruising around town. Tonya said they talked the entire time.

On a completely different note, you can read our report on status in society below. Chris did the interviews on this topic. We collectively analyzed the data, and then he wrote up the report. The main focus of this topic was to see how significant status is in Phayao culture and how people perceive those with and without status. We have read a lot about face and honor in Thai culture, but we wanted to come at from the perspective of status and hierarchy. We learned a lot about how people view status and how power is manifested in this social phenomenon.