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


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.



  1. As the tears flow down my face I want to slam the door behind you……if only I could. This year anniversary is for God and His faithfulness amd the learning that has put you were you are. Thank you for your honesty with the struggles that make you
    so real. I love you and I’ll be waiting to hear about the closed door.

  2. I too, Derran. Thanks so much for your transparence. It is SOOOOO refreshing! It is one vivid thing about you that endears you to me. I long to be that transparent and am getting there. I just took a giant step forward. I love you … see you in only three weeks.


  3. oh… wow! I love you!
    I can only imagine what this year has been like… I want you to know that you have so many people praying for you and I truly hope this next year that door will be closed behind you and another will be open where there will be open hearts waiting to hear Jesus’s story. You are such an inspiration to me and to so many!
    Can’t wait for all of you to be here, where we can love & hug you and hopefully get you regenerated for the next year to come!
    see you soon!!!

  4. Hey, buddy. Beautiful post. I’m sorry it’s been such a difficult year. We’ve thought of and prayed for you all continually. Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. Oh, and if you sneak a load of red curry chicken into your bag for me, that would be great.

  5. Derran, I always love reading your thoughts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I am so proud of how you have made it through this first year. I couldn’t ask for a better brother-in-law, I would rather say brother because that is really more what you seem to me. 🙂 You have taken such good care of your sweet family this past year in the midst of a lot of hard times. What a blessing you are to them and to our family! I love you so much and can’t wait to see you in just a matter of weeks!

  6. Derran, what a wonderful peak at your experiences there. I’m sure it must be exponentially more challenging to get familiarized and settled with 2 sweet little ones in tow and to consider in every circumstance. I got stressed just moving to another state, which in a lot of ways felt just as uncomfortable and strange. Thanks for sharing and being so real. I am sure it has been hard. And we know at the same time you guys have loved the adventures. We can only say how proud we are of you and that time will heal many of those feelings. And one day, you will probably cry your eyes out if you ever leave Phayao!

  7. Dee:

    What a blessing to read your reflections. I am sorry that I do not check the blog more often but you know how crazy the beginning of school can be. We love you all and are so proud of the progress you have made int his difficult year. We also, look forward to seeing you in just a few weeks.

    You are deeply loved.


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