Archive for September, 2010

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A Year in Phayao (part 4): A Year in Pictures

09/24/2010

Now that you have read our reflections on this past year, we wanted to show a slideshow of the some of the highlights and fun times from this past year. We hope it will give you a flavor of our lives here in Phayao. Thank you for your support and prayers over this year. Enjoy!

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A Year in Phayao (part 3): A Reinterpretation

09/21/2010

A better world is possible, and it’s on its way here.

As you might have picked up on in my last post (part 1), this past year has not been the ray of sunlight that I might have imagined it to be. There have been struggles I didn’t foresee. Doubts that snuck up on me. Anger I’m ashamed of. Lostness I’ve never known. These things, in a lot of ways, have come to characterize my life in Phayao. But, I want to say clearly, defiantly, faithfully, hopefully, that those things do not have the last word on who I am because of this past year. Because a better world is possible, and it’s on its way here.

Many things I once was certain about have been stripped away from me this year. There is not a whole lot I am confident of anymore. But, let me tell you the one thing I am more certain about than I ever have been: In Jesus Christ, a better world is possible, and it’s on its way here.

I only have the slightest hint of what all that means, but I am blown away by the glimpse I have seen. Cause this is what I have seen. There is a world coming where little girls won’t have to fear that their parents will be forced to sell them into slavery. A world is coming where hill tribe people won’t watch their village being burned by men with guns. Where people won’t be shunned and disregarded because of their gender, skin color, or lack of money. Where men won’t have to lose themselves in a bottle every night because they don’t know their potential as image bearers of God. Where there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor. Where the sound of weeping shall no longer be heard. Where the wolf and sheep will feed together. Where people will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

And this is not coming on the coattails of any government or military. And it’s not coming through prayers to idols and spirits. And it’s not coming with just the right policy or ideology. And it’s not coming with a little more money, or power, or status. And it’s not coming because of me. It’s coming because, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s already started. And he will bring it to completion.

So, with that one claim left in my arsenal, I am beginning to reinterpret this past year in Phayao. I came here with a lot of confidence in who I was and what I was going to do in this place. I was a patient person who rarely got flustered. And then I met Phayao culture. I was a content person who could adapt to any situation. And then I had stretches of days when I couldn’t stand where I was. I was a loving and gentle father at all times (remember, this was all in mind). And then I found myself yelling at my children when it wasn’t warranted. I was a considerate, caring, loving husband at all times (again, in mind). And then there were days when I was too emotionally drained to encourage my wife during her tough days. I was a great missionary who knew how best to minister to Thai people. And then I discovered how very little I knew about this culture. I was a great missiologist and strategist who knew the best plan for planting churches. And then, at times, our team decided to go in other directions. I was a theologian who could explain God’s activity. And then I found out God didn’t always conform to my explanations.

And I have spent a lot of time lamenting that I am not the person I used to be. I just want to go back to the way it was before. And then I read this:

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10)

Jesus had to suffer in order to be made perfect, in order to be the firstborn of all creation, to be the resurrection. Jesus suffered in order to be the lord of God’s new creation, this better world that is on its way here.

So, I am trying to interpret this past year, not as God’s abandonment or my loss of identity, but as God’s work to strip me of anything that hinders my becoming like Christ, who is the fullness of new creation. Because I used to think that God’s kingdom coming to Phayao was dependent on me being a great cross-cultural communicator, father, husband, minister, missiologist, theologian. But, those things are just “a poor reflection in the mirror.” God does not want me to be great at those things. God wants me to become like Christ, to be new creation. (And, behold, I will then actually be a better father, husband, missionary, etc., in the end) Because the greatest gift I can give the people of Phayao is to be a present manifestation of God’s coming world. The people around me don’t need me to be the greatest father or missiologist or whatever else; but, they would be blessed if I became new creation.

Thus, I want to focus my energy on becoming a person who is ready for this better world that’s on its way. And if I live like that today, then maybe that better world will be even that much closer at hand.

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A Year in Phayao (part 2): Change is a Comin’

09/13/2010

One Year.  Well, Derran wrote the “Candid Reflection”, and here is my reflection.

I don’t remember the bathroom scenario obviously because I was sawing logs the entire time…man, I have a great husband! But I did have my share of those same feelings, doubts, joys, and questions. I remember thinking before we left that I didn’t really think we were giving up much by moving to Thailand. In fact, I said that out loud to Derran. I said , and I cringe as I write this, “Other than friends and family, I feel like going to Thailand isn’t really a sacrifice because we have felt so called, so at peace about going for so many years.” And now you see why I felt like the carpet was pulled out from under me in less than 24 hours of being here?  Sweet, little naïve Ann. Wasn’t she cute? Culture Shock? What’s that? I think I will be just fine…say what? That’s why they call it culture “shock”—that’s exactly what it does.

I didn’t realize the detox and withdrawals I was going to go through not having my network of friends minutes away, grandparents and cousins minutes to hours away, not having church family time every week. Now church was up to me and 6 others. We were to create meaningful Sunday mornings to praise God corporately. (If you want to appreciate your church and ministers more fully, take a month with six friends and all your small children and plan worship times and kids class and communion thoughts and times of sharing and listening and Scripture teaching as a group. I bet you will come out on the other side with a greater appreciation for all that the childrens’ ministers/teachers, the preacher, and those that make Sunday gatherings flow smoothly—it is tough!) I was also now trying to navigate a new culture as a mother, not a recent college grad, walking my little girls through learning a new language and training them in cultural behaviors and feeling like everything I did was on display. Feeling like everywhere/thing I went/did/said was wide open for the world to watch. I don’t know if you’ve experienced being a spectacle in a while, but it is fun and exhausting at the same time. I kind of feel like a traveling comedy show.

However, through the ups and downs of this year, and they have been extreme, I have grown and become stronger. I have been sharpened. I am learning to dig deeper than I knew I could. God has been so faithful in molding, teaching, comforting, guiding, and holding me.

I would say the biggest lesson I learned this year is this: “Things don’t stay the same for long”. Sounds so simplistic, yet it hit me like a lightning bolt.  I think I wrote about learning this lesson some over the last year, but I’ll add here.

After a week or two of looking for a house I was convinced we would never find anywhere we truly felt good about living in—and now we love our little house. It has become a place of comfort and joy.

I thought the heat would kill me—now, though it is still intense, our body temps have adjusted.

The girls wouldn’t eat any Thai food—now they know how to order what they want in Thai.

We knew of one school for our children when we got here—and Brynn has had a great year of learning Thai, making friends, and being well taken care of in the two schools she has attended this year (neither one was the one we knew of when we got here).

We didn’t understand any of the local dialect–now I can say at least I understand what is going on, though my speaking is another story!

We knew ONE couple when we pulled into town—and last week at our “Thank you Neighbors” party, we invited about 120 people and enjoyed spending the afternoon with about 65 of them.

Planning our church services the first few months was tough, and yet through this year our times together have grown into very meaningful, creative, all-in-Thai times of worship that have forced all of us into a new level of accountability as members of the Body.

Instead of Goldfish and animal crackers, the girls ask for Ka Gai and Pocky, their favorite Thai snacks.

There were times I felt like our family was going to come apart at the seams. There were times I found myself bawling because I just wanted to be home. There were times I was so angry and frustrated that I surprised even myself.

Then there were times I was laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face.  There were times I have never been so proud of my girls for how they love others from around the world.

There were times I knew exactly why I was here and a lot of times where I had no idea what I was doing here.

I used to dread going into the grocery store (Lotus) because it was so overwhelming to shop, take care of the girls, be watched in every aisle, the children being pinched and loved on by every passer-by, not to mention how loud and crowded it was. But, now we go in, we know where things are, we have our favorite “usuals” who we stop and talk to, and the girls love going to Lotus. Meg plays at home by loading up her purse and her baby and saying, “Bye Mommy, I’m going to Yotus” (She doesn’t say her “L’s” yet J)

I could go on and on, but I will stop. The point is that for months I thought we would never get over culture shock. That I would never be used to people staring at me. That I would never feel at home here like I always thought I would. I wondered what was taking so long for me to adjust. I didn’t know what to do with Brynn being so sad at night when she missed her cousins, friends, and grandparents.  I didn’t know what I would do about the neighbor lady that would always come look in my window to see what I was doing (and the one day that she fell off a table trying to look over to see what we were doing—amazing).  Would I ever get used to the dogs barking?  The motorcycles zooming down our street? The questions from people about why I did things from laundry to child-rearing the ways I did them.

And here I am twelve months later. I take my girls to the library just like I did there. I walk into the store with a smile and favorite friendly faces. I have grown in confidence where now I’m not shaken when asked why I do things a certain way. I have let go of trying to always be perfect and making my children do every cultural thing perfectly. The lady next door moved away, and now I find myself missing her smiling face in my window every morning.

Things don’t stay the same—even if sometimes it feels like things will never change. So with this “new” knowledge, I walk forward into this next year with confidence. I walk with a greater sense of needing to live for today, of enjoying today, or sometimes just making it for today the best I can—for tomorrow we don’t know what change might come. And I know that just when I’m used to a certain pace, a certain routine, life happens and the process of adjusting and finding joy begins again. And it helps me know that those days, weeks, or months that I am struggling, that those too will one day be different. A time of refreshing and renewal will dawn again. God’s promises of faithfulness are true and dependable.  And I do pray that I will continually be reminded of these things so when the tough days hit, I will place my trust in Him once again and know that this will not last forever. That, with time, the sun will come out again, hope is always present, and He is faithful through it all.

And though I can’t talk about this year without the terms “hard” ,“struggle” ,“brutal” , and “long” coming from my mouth, those are starting to be replaced with “shaped”, “growth”, “peace”, and “home”.  This has been one of the hardest years of my life, no doubt. But one thing I can say with full confidence is, “the Lord our God is faithful.”  I have seen God in a new way this year. I have learned of His love for me in a deeper way. I have been molded and re-taught by Him.

Thank you Lord for your faithfulness this first year. Your presence is overwhelming and comforting. You are good. Thank you for loving me through the ups and downs of this year. Thank you for shaping me and molding me.  To You be the praise and the glory. Amen.

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A Year in Phayao (part 1): A Candid Reflection

09/12/2010

I am sitting in the waiting area at Brynn’s ballet class, and it struck me that a year ago this afternoon we arrived in Phayao. In some ways it feels like it’s only been about 3 months, but, mostly, it feels like it’s been 3 years. Today seems kind of surreal. So, since I have an hour before Brynn finishes prancing around with her 6 new friends, I thought I would write down my thoughts about year one in Phayao.

Though I was as tired as I had ever been, I remember the joy I felt as we arrived in Chiang Mai at 1:00 a.m., September 12, 2009. We were overwhelmed by the presence of so many friends as we came through customs. Our kids were happy cause people were handing them treats; we were thrilled to see friends from long ago. It all felt so right.

And then, after a decent night’s sleep for everyone, I woke up around 7:30 and headed out for breakfast. I went to the street to get a taxi and looked around at the familiar scenery. Coming home can be so sweet. I came back to the hotel with pink donuts for the girls and coffee for Ann and me. Our long-awaited adventure had begun, and I was so at peace.

But, something happened as we crossed over the mountains later that day and arrived in Phayao, our home-to-be for the next number of years. It was raining and the fatigue of the trip was settling in. The joy and familiarity of Chiang Mai faded as we entered this small, unknown town. Our entire team checked into the hotel that would be home for the next 4 weeks, and our family spread out the eight bags of stuff that we brought along with us. We found the nearby 7-11 where we bought some snacks, juice, and milk and then ate a quick dinner at the hotel before settling in for the night. Everyone was extremely tired, and the four of us were already tripping over ourselves as we got ready for bed. But, finally, both girls fell asleep, and I knew a long night’s sleep would make everything just right.

If only.

It was right at 3:00 when those blue eyes and blonde curls showed up in my face. “Daddy, I’m awake. Can we play?” I had never been so sad to see something so cute. It hurt so bad to get out of bed, but I knew immediately that this little girl wasn’t going back to sleep any time soon. So, very reluctantly, I got up and took Brynn into the bathroom, constantly shushing her so as not to wake up Ann and Meg. And in that bathroom I stayed for 3 hours. Three very long hours. Feeling trapped. Almost claustrophobic. With the walls of that tiny, stale room closing in around. And besides sharing spoonfuls of peanut butter and making up games with toothbrushes and a shower cap, I spent those 3 hours fighting through tears and discovering thoughts and feelings in me I never expected. So many thoughts. Too many feelings.

There was this one. I was always supposed to come do mission work in Thailand. Of that I have been certain for years. But, during those 3 hours, I was knocked over with a rush of questions and doubts about why I was there. What if I was mistaken? What if it wasn’t God’s call after all? What if I had been deceiving myself all those years?

And this one. Thailand always felt so comfortable to me. It was home away from home. But, during those 3 hours, I felt so out of place. I knew nothing about this town. I was not supposed to be here.

And also this one. I want nothing more than for my two girls to feel safe and be at peace. But, during those 3 hours, Brynn was stuck in a bathroom in a city across the world from everything she knew, not even knowing she was supposed to be asleep at this hour. And the hard questions came. How dare I move my family cause I feel called to this vocation? What would I ever do if something happened to my two girls in this place? Why do they have to sacrifice for something they have no choice about?

And finally. I have always felt extravagant love and support in everything I do. And the presence of others nearby has been a source of strength for our family. But, during those 3 hours, I (we) felt abandoned. Deserted. Alone. I knew no one in this place. Where was everyone? Family members who we count on so much? a 24-hour flight away. And friends who we shared meals with just days before in the States? across an ocean. And loved ones who met us in Chiang Mai? on the other side of a mountain range. And God?

And God?

Those 3 hours in the bathroom still haunt me a bit. I wasn’t ready for all that, at least not that soon. I felt trapped for those 3 hours, stuck there with my doubts and questions, and I wanted nothing more than to find a way out.

Okay, I realize jet lag, along with the mental and physical fatigue of the previous days, may have contributed to the heightened emotional state of those 3 hours. But, those feelings were very real that morning. Too real.

And I write all that in order to say this: I think this entire first year in Phayao has been an attempt to get out of that bathroom.

There were days it seemed like somebody had locked the door and broke off the key. Other days I could turn the handle, but something was barricading the door on the other side. Occasionally days would come where the door swung open, and I could see outside in the mirror’s reflection. And, as this long year moved towards completion, there came some days when I stepped out of the bathroom and stretched my legs for a bit. And for those days, I thank God.

And on this one-year anniversary, I pray, someday soon, I will finally close that door behind me.