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A Typical Day: 8-17-17

Hi. I know it’s been a hot minute. I don’t even know how or why this post wrote itself or got itself posted. I’m still scratching my head. But I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ve come to terms with my 3 little ones coming first in this fleeting season of life, and so if that means the blog doesn’t stay too active,  I’m OK with that. I have to be. (And I’m still not giving up on this little online space either.) And…every now and then when one of these posts sneaks by, well, cool beans!

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At day’s end yesterday, I had a clearer than usual awareness of the magical moments that co-existed amongst the challenges (on a day when the challenges felt heavier than usual too). Though the day couldn’t be summed up as “easy”, yet there are so many small moments throughout that make me so aware of how full to overflowing life is. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to capture this particular day in the life, because it’s a fairly typical representation of life and not something necessarily special. But it is neat to jot down “typical days” over time, because they’ll change so much and so quickly as the kids continue growing up.

A typical-ish day, 8-17-17:

But first, to debunk the Instagram reality:

Those shining beautiful Mother’s Day photos from the kids school celebration last week are NOT our daily reality (or my photography, PC: Good Kids Preschool).

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T is for Team

Dear Team, those who support our work here in SE Asia, in thought, word, and/or deed:

Some would say my family are heroes.

Heroes for “following the call” and “sacrificing” to move our family overseas.

Can I try to paint a bigger picture?

Firstly, I’m not saying we’re NOT following the call or that there wasn’t sacrifice involved. Absolutely, there was. There’s no usefulness in trying to downplay the extremeness of moving a family across the world, and false humility or pretending it was no big deal would not be authentic.

Yet.

We’re doing what we love. Our hearts stirred with desire for a full decade before we came to the place we dreamed about (and it doesn’t look like my dreams, by the way, go figure…). We’re doing what we asked God for, countless countless times. Often I feel like I’m “living the dream” rather than sacrificing so much.

And yet again.

There were also years where we didn’t know what the CALL was. Confusing years, long-slow-waiting years, where we eventually redefined CALL, not as a particular job or location or ministry, not as something only “some” people “get to have”, but as loving the Lord well and loving the world around us well, something EVERYONE has access to! “Call” is not exclusive.

Are we (Brenden and I) following our call? In many respects yes. We feel like we’re where we were meant to be, doing what we feel our hearts come alive to do. That privilege is NOT lost on us.

But.

If we had to go home (as in America home), 1. I’d be SO SAD. We don’t want to go anywhere anytime soon. We’re just getting started. Somewhere along the way, Chiang Mai has become  home. But 2. I’d know (or I’d choose to believe) that there is still a purpose, a “call” on our life, if we’d have to leave. Because it wouldn’t change the fact that we long to leverage our lives, our best efforts, the short time we have here on this beautiful, struggling earth, in service of the High King. The All-Loving, All-Knowing One who invites us to be known and loved by Him, who invites us to demonstrate to others the same. So that our call would remain. To Love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. And to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (which also means learning to love ourselves well too: easier said than done, eh?)

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I suppose that’s a long pre-amble to what I really wanted to share, which is this:

In the past month, here’s what’s been going on in my email inbox :

  • dear family friends in the thick of transition with a newly adopted daughter
  • TWO premature babies born, one with significant and potentially long-term complications
  • a friend is facing the imminent death of his incredible mother
  • a friend is going on her first date after losing her precious husband two years ago
  • a friend may have found the long-awaited love-of-her-life
  • a friend is finding much healing and freedom from childhood abuse through conferences she has boldly decided to attend
  • and so many others sending updates about “unremarkable” life: no big huge life transitions. The day-in, day-out grinds, the joys, the irritations, the faithful tending to the regular rhythms.

I mean, do you even hear and see the gravity of even ONE of these bullet points?

Certainly, “I”M” not more of a hero!

My family? We got to CHOOSE to enter into the stressors of cross-cultural life, of massive transition 18 months ago. Others? They didn’t GET to choose. (Thankfully, we all DO get to choose our heart postures in response to these chosen or non-chosen life events.)

This month in particular, I’m humbled by the lives and ministries and characters and CALLS, if you will, of our friends and families and TEAM back home in America. Of the grace, and strength, and courage, and wisdom, and grit with which they (you) greet life and in particular–hardship, and I tell you, I’m not just making these words up to sound eloquent.

When we raised support, we said we wanted TEAM to be mutual. For our work, our “call” to not be more valuable than your work, your call. For what we’re doing to not be more important than what you’re doing. For our struggles to not appear harder than yours, and our joys to not be more worthy. Because I’m finding it’s HOW we do (fill in the blank), not WHAT we do, or WHAT title we hold, that shines to the world: living life with integrity, ethics, purity of heart, humility, faithfulness, a quieted heart and spirit.

And you, TEAM of friends, family, and even those we don’t know so well, you inspire us. You remind us. YOU paint that picture for US. YOUR lives impact US. WE learn from YOU. It IS mutual, and thank God for it.

I think the word “hero” comes with some pressure, wouldn’t you say?
Like somehow we’re different, stronger, set apart.
(I think the word missionary can too.)

So unless you’re ok with me saying you’re heroes too, please just think of me, of my family, as the Millers in Thailand, fellow sojourners also trying to seize hold of life, work through struggles, and love whole-heartedly.

I’m ok with saying we’re all awesome though. Somehow that doesn’t feel like so much pressure. 😉

Does that paint a bigger picture?


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T is for Timing

“I will move along slowly at the pace of the droves (or livestock) before me and that of the children.” Genesis 33:14

I read this in the Streams in the Desert devotional and had to actually look it up in the Bible to make sure it wasn’t just a “wishful thinking/loosey-goosey” paraphrase. It’s not!

Note: How’d I never see this before (and why aren’t moms the country over writing blog posts around this verse?!) Maybe because it’s hard for any of us to be reading the Old Testament books while wrangling said children!

I may not have livestock, but I certainly have children, and ones that move at a different pace than my (currently coffee-jazzed) self.

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And then, just days later, this jewel came out of the Jesus Calling devotional (written from the perspective of Jesus):

“Much, much stress results from  your wanting to make things happen before their times have come. One of the main ways I assert My sovereignty is in the timing of events. …Instead of dashing headlong toward your goal, let Me set the pace. Slow down, and enjoy the journey in My Presence.”

That very day, a collision of events happened in which we sold Brenden’s current motorbike to the mechanic who told us that it was a lemon (same engine repair work needed as had been done just months prior) AND a lead led us to the very replacement bike Brenden had long been hoping for, which was then reserved for us to purchase, all within an hour or two.

The timing of events.

That very night, we tried YET AGAIN (probably the 4th time) to order some simple curtains for our helper Nong Nat’s new bedroom behind our house. Only to be told they were just more expensive than we thought they were worth. Brenden (who I’d sent the devotional page to), said “Remember the timing of things? Let’s hold off. It seems we’ve been walking uphill regarding these curtains.” (Not verbatim, but you get the gist.)

Well, last night, after our final failed attempt, we ended up taking a chance on some off-the-rack, probably-wrong-color Venetian blinds. Of course they work just beautifully. For just pennies on the dollar of the others we were looking at (not our bottom line, but an added confirmation.)

The timing of things.

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Not that this post is all about motos or curtains (or I can’t leave out the extra cabinet my friend had lying around, unable to sell, that couldn’t work better to hold our kitchen stock overflow as I’ve been doing a major overhaul, delivered and set up with an hour or two of her mentioning it).

No, this is just a simple post to point back to the love of God, the rule of God, the help of God.

I’ve been tired of feeling guilty. Of wishing I could move at a faster pace. We live on support—don’t people want and expect us to “produce”? (Getting candid real fast here.)

Thankfully, a year and a half (the simple passing of time) can help that process of guilt, and I’m more ok (don’t hear me say “entirely ok”) with my reality. My “job”, my time, my “production” is at home for right now.

A friend who’s raised 4 kids told us, “You’ll give your kids the same amount of time. It’s just that it’ll happen either on the front end, in investing, or on the back end, in picking up the pieces.” (Not verbatim, but you get the gist.)

This year, I’m choosing (sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes failing) the front-end side of things.

But we’re MOVING. As Jacob and his droves of livestock and children “moved along slowly”, they did indeed move along. And for me, that’s the key. I’ve heard it said that as you look back on the people that God used in the Bible, often they were already in motion, doing whatever was in front of their path to do. Moses was faithfully tending sheep. Simon Peter and Andrew were fishing. Ruth was gleaning grain. Seems plausible that it was easier for them to step into the next steps because they had some motion already (Newton, First Law of Motion).

So, too, may I move along.
So, too, may you move along.

Gently raising children. Faithfully encouraging those in your life and path who are burdened. Quietly cultivating relationship. With Jesus. With spouses. With friends.

And let the Creator fill in the gaps.

“One of the main ways I assert My sovereignty is in the timing of events.”

May our eyes and ears be open and alert to how the timing of events (or seeming timing of UN-events that we wish were events) point to the high reality of a Living and Loving God who is involved in our minutae, and longs for us to be involved in His work too.

Amen.


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V is for Vignette

In an effort to start writing again (it’s the New Year and all…), I wondered if it would be helpful to just write little blips (or, more technically, vignettes) of events, ponderings, processes going on in the very present moment.

I have pages and pages of saved notes from this past 1.5 years of life overseas. I’ve written dozens of blog posts in my head, (usually while driving with the Chili Peppers jamming in the background). Insights. Cute little stories. Joys. Hardships. And I just haven’t been able to actualize them into much of anything.

Might have something to do with the Full Head Phenomenon. You know, where there’s not space in the brain for thoughts to move around much, let alone organize or synthesize, because of the fullness of life, of experience, of newness. (And can’t it be framed that this a wonderful thing, actually?)

Grace. It’s OK.

There are reasons.

And it’s OK.

Becca, let’s move forward instead.

So I’m going to try to post some more unpolished, raw scripts of thoughts. Let the chips fall where they may. No over-thinking, over-analyzing. Just sharing, at times in unresolved states of mind, perhaps the content not appealing to all people in the spectrum of those I call friends, but trying to just be me, to let the Spirit work when and how best He sees fit. Maybe you hear my fears. Maybe “I” hear my fears even as I type them. But I also see how fears have kept me in hiding instead of living and moving in freedom and confidence.

So, to Vignettes!

(insert a Cheers emoji, if that exists.)


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BYO-Perineum Oil: Jude Oliver’s Birth Story

Hi. I’m back! Now that I’m on the other side of pregnancy and past the fourth trimester (the first 3 months post-delivery), I’m finding some space to write again. I thought I’d kick it off big with our birth story.

Disclaimer: This is an honest and detailed account of our labor and delivery. While some of you will eat this up, this may not be others’ cup of tea, and it’s OK if you want to opt out on this one.

Tuesday, May 31st

I went to see Dr. Supreeya for my Tuesday night appointment (prenatal appointments are only offered T/Th evenings). I was 3 days post-due. Mon, my midwife friend and colleague, came with me, so we could catch up on the drive across town. She had arrived back to town the day before from Australia, where she had been the past 3 weeks: we thought for sure she’d miss the birth. Where previously in the pregnancy, I felt an almost striving hope that she’d be able to attend our birth, I felt God progressively asking me not to put my trust in HER but in HIM. That spoke to me, and I felt a true release and surrender while she was in Australia to do this birth without her. Further, I had become excited that our other friend and certified doula Jasmine could be there as our support.

I had prayed several times during my pregnancy that the Lord would ORDAIN (that word, specifically) whomever would be at our birth. Which doctor and nurses, which support (Mon or Jasmine) and even which friend (Katie or Jamie) would be available to photograph, something we’d never done before!

On the drive, Mon said, “So you’ve got 24 hours to have this baby.” She’d have to return back to Mae Sot, where she lived, (5 hours away) on Thursday. Fat chance, I thought. OK, RE-orient that it WILL be Jasmine after all. Back to plan B. again.

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A Morning in the Life…

How to pick up after not writing for three months (to the day, actually).

I’ll start with today. The very present hour, in fact. And by indulging in the details and all the inner-thought processes of even just an hour or two, you’ll get a glimpse of what life at 7-months-in looks like here.

It’s unusually cold in Chiang Mai today. Yes, we’ve been in “cool season” the past month–as close to a winter as this equatorial country will get. Cool season means sleeping without the air cons, leaving the windows open (if you don’t mind being awoken in the early morning hours by persistent (and many other adjectives) yippee neighborhood dogs. It gets down to low-60s in the early mornings but is still in the low-90s most afternoons. Today the high is 66. I feel like that sentence should be in ALL-CAPS, but I should probably use those sparingly. It’s 55 now (11:30am), and I keep saying, “I’m freezing.”

This morning, I noticed I was SPEED-WALKING (like that awkward gait-looking kind of speed-walking) all over our upstairs as I put stuff away. I’m not trying to fall, after all. I laughed in my head when I realized it. I had ENERGY, I had slept WELL (not a guarantee these days), the day was new, it was flipping cold, and I was loving it all.

I came downstairs, where Brenden had been with the kids for the past hour, feeding them and getting them ready for school. I said hello (“Sah wah dee ka”) to our house helper (the word in Thai is mae bahn, which translates literally to “mother house” or mother of the house) who was talking with Brenden. I’ve noticed Thai women love talking to him and I don’t get quite the same response from them. Could be that his Thai is better (well, his Thai is definitely better) or that he’s just cuter than me (wink). In any case, I actually love it, the way he connects with people.

B and I traded off the kids, and I paused to say hello to our Mose-look-alike, a neighborhood cat who has taken to our patio chair, before taking the kids to school.

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This guy’ll never be as beautiful as our Mose (it’s actually factual), but we love that he chose us and looks so similar to our NC kitty.

I dropped the kids off around 9:30/9:40, about half an hour later than usual. We appreciate the flexible drop-off and pick-up times at Sunshine Kindergarten, as it fits well with our lifestyle right now. I watched the kids both stick their hands out for the mandatory hand-sanitizer, still not taking for granted that this was an uphill battle for a good solid 3 months for my dear girl.

I stopped in at the office and, all in Thai, asked for one of Maja’s classmate’s phone number. It would have been easy to do this in English, as the office staff speak English proficiently, but these are the small choices  we have to make on a daily basis to try to integrate rather than take the easier road. I don’t always choose it, but actually, I do most times, because of the satisfaction of speaking (however slowly or choppily) to Thai people in their own language. The long-term goal. I tend to take the risks more, but Brenden tends to speak better. Both work to move us each forward in language learning.

Back story: According to Maja’s teacher, Maja had run over to her last week and shrieked “Those two boys just said my name! Now I’m going to play with them!” And the next day, she told Teacher Lizzy “If I sing ‘Let it Go’ to the boys, they will feel better.” Apparently the boys had been fighting with each other. She came home talking about Na Mone, and the teacher confirmed that yes, he was one of the boys. Maja told me she wanted to go to Na Mone’s house and play with all of his toys and eat his food. Not sure that’s what I’ll suggest when I call his mom, but I figured I should strike while the iron is hot and see what sort of outside-of-school play date we can arrange.

Back to the office: I didn’t know the word for phone number, so the staff told me. When I said it sounded similar to the word for “open/on”, they clarified how the vowels were different. I walked back to the car, trying to say the two words distinctly from each other and made a note on my phone to ask our language teacher to help me hear the differences, even if I can’t yet say them to sound different. Truly, most days I don’t have the energy to use these moments as teaching moments, to be intentional enough to write the question down and follow-up. But like I said, today’s been a good morning!

On the way home, I stopped at Talaat Mae Hia, or Mae Hia Market. This is about my favorite, most familiar Thai place to go to in Thailand. It’s a 3 minutes drive away or a 10/15 minute walk. A couple vendors know me by name (Khun Becca, which means Miss Becca) and vice versa, and they patiently allow me to practice my Thai. Here is where Maja and Emerson get experience interacting with Thai people (“She really likes touching me” Maja said–on a good day–about the banana lady, who gently pinched her cheeks, or “Is that a boy or a girl?” about the woman with the short haircut from whom we bought mangoes). Here is where we eat dinner a night or two a week, for about $4-5 for our whole family, and here is where I often leave with a fuller heart, feeling more connected to Thailand, Thai food, and Thai people (and a feeling of accomplishment because I just bought the week’s produce).

I stood in the line 5-deep of people ordering Cow Dome (phonetical spelling). This stand is only open for breakfast, and most (hot) days I’m not craving piping hot Thai soup or porridge for breakfast, no offense. But today… I knew there were two variations and had already decided with Brenden beforehand which one we’d get. But, always a sucker for the visual (those restaurant menu pictures are aimed at people like me), I saw a woman eating the option we weren’t planning to get. I said, (in Thai), “Excuse me, what are you eating?” She told me the name and I quickly typed it into my phone (ugh, which I don’t like pulling out necessarily–you pull out an iPhone and it sends a message, right? I want to at least be aware that it can, where income disparities are large here.) I’ve expanded my food repertoire almost solely by keeping my eyes peeled in the open-air food court at this market and then asking people what they were eating.

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Lady with red purse whose bowl lured me away from the Cow Dome. Note body postures–how cold it is for Thai people when it’s in the 50s!

I decided that what she had was what I’d order. As I waited to order, I smiled at a Thai woman a few people ahead of me, who returned my smile with a huge-o smile. I thought the unusually big smile might have been because there was a Farang (white/Western) girl wearing SHORTS in this weather. (Is there ever a day in Thailand where shorts aren’t necessary? Apparently so.) Or maybe it was the communal solidarity that happens in extreme weather: the energy in the air at work or the smiles shared in the stores when a winter storm’s coming and everyone’s gearing up to hunker down at home (how apropos for my East Coast friends right now). Jealous, by the way. But that’s a tangent.

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Some thing I never thought I’d see in Thailand: my own goosebumps! (Thank GOD, against all common sense, I didn’t donate that handmade wool sweater I found at a thrift shop years ago, but rather that it’s here with me now.)

The woman came over to me, JUST as I ordered. I half-wondered if she wanted to hear how I was going to order. In English, she asked if I remembered her. And in that instant I did (thankfully). She was the shop owner of the small children’s shop just behind the market food court. We had talked when I went in looking for (badly-needed) pajamas to buy the kids. She saw that I was pregnant and, with her hand cupping my belly, we talked about my pregnancy. Because in Thailand you DO, I asked her if she had any children (you also get to ask any and everyone how old they are-it’s actually kind of fun). She said she had been married 15 years (or so) but they were not able to have children. They’d tried everything. It was one of those moments where I left feeling humbled. Humbled that I was having my third precious child, humbled that she shared that with me, and humbled that this woman, who couldn’t have children herself, was so kind and interested in my growing belly. Just another conversation with a shop vendor.

So today, as soon as I communicated recognition, the hand went to the belly again (I love it. I’m one of THOSE), and she asked how far along I was. Here, pregnancy is measured in months, not weeks. Five months, I said. I then asked her her name again (Tiit) and asked her to help me understand the names of the two porridges (since the first woman I had asked wasn’t overly interested in my clarifying questions). She did, and then as she left, she told me to stop by her shop sometime if I had time. Brenden told me later that she probably meant right then, after I got my food. I still have to learn these nuances. Thai culture is more of an immediate culture. Many (like us) don’t even have voice mail set up on their phones, but the flip side is that most people answer their phones on the spot and are available to talk or meet up same-day or next-day.

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Thi (I heard it as “Tiit”). Not just a cute smile, but the picture caught her saying the name for the porridge over and over again for me. And yes I did bust out the phone camera and ask if I could take a picture. Because I sensed a blog post brewing. And then promptly and sheepishly put it away again. But how else do you capture these moments?!

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The big, steaming vat itself.

I left with 3 beautifully hot bags of second breakfast, all for 85 baht (less than $3).

I couldn’t find my keys and in the few minutes until I did, I wondered: if someone picked up my keys and traced them back to my car, would they drive off with the car? Social norms and understandings I took for granted in the States are all part of the daily learning here, part of what fills the brain up to full by most evenings: not knowing and so wondering about crime, or how the Thai people think, or what a Thai person would do  in this situation, or how the Thai police might respond. I have ideas, after having been here for half a year, but these ideas or assumptions just aren’t as solidified as one’s home culture. One thing I did know, there wouldn’t be a lost and found or a market customer service desk to hold the keys!

Once home, I told our house helper, named Pa (or auntie) Pik (her name) that we had some Cow Dome for her. She thanked me. I was actually surprised. Pa Pik just started with us after scheduling needs forced us to say goodbye to our first helper. We’re still getting to know her. But often in Thai culture, especially in these relationships that aren’t based on mutual friendship but rather services rendered, the person in the service role will decline, so as not to impose. In the past, we’ve had to offer a couple different times, knowing that even if someone wanted whatever was offered, it might take a few offers before they’ll feel it’s polite enough to accept. I liked that she received it so easily: I could see she was cold (no heat source in the house, or the cars for that matter) and this felt like comfort food to ME, let alone to a Thai person. It was also a little life reminder that it’s a blessing to the person who is giving, when I/we receive graciously.

In passing, Brenden said that it’s time to take the tree down. Well yes, we had already talked about taking down Christmas this week. Seeing as it’s nearly February and we’d slowly mosied over to that conclusion, I didn’t know why he felt the urgency to say it again this morning. I glanced over and understood.

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Bonus: some of Maja’s artwork. She wanted to hang it on the tree and so she made a hole in the paper and stuck the branch through. Genius, these 3 year olds. 🙂

Glad the lights lasted at least a month! Internal sigh as I remembered the investment we made in LED Christmas lights in the States just a year or two before we moved here, and how we likely either gave them away or sold them for pennies on the dollar (who wants to buy Christmas lights in March?). I figured we couldn’t use them here with the different voltage. Like many things we left behind, they’ve crossed our minds as having been so valuable to have here (we could’ve used a converter box for the lights!) or simply as things we aren’t eager to jump to replace for the pretty price they cost. In the grand scheme, what got left behind is not a big deal. Next year, we’ll get better quality lights. We’ve seen enough examples now that we believe those who’ve told us not to buy too cheap here. These are the thoughts that come and go in my mind in split second internal processes this first year here. (I promise, I’m not sharing all of this for minutae’s sake, but to give you a micro-picture of how life overseas impacts everything! If you’re even still reading.)

I fixed the food in the massive bowls I got secondhand. A couple months ago, a young mom was selling some baby things, and when I went to pick up what I purchased from here, she all but threw other household items at me. They were moving out of the country within the next couple days and needed things GONE. I wondered who would ever eat cereal from gigantuous bowls like these, but have thanked her in my head time and time again since she gave them to me: Oh yes, all the soups and all the curries poured over rice and all the dirty dishes that leave no other plates or smaller bowls. Relevant, after all! (She also threw a fleece blanket my way and somehow made me feel bad for not wanting to take it, so I did, thinking how “not quite my style” it was and wondering who I could pass it on to. You know the rest of the story: we use it ALL.THE.TIME.)

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Cow Dome!

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Jaugh!

Brenden’s Cow Dome and my Jaugh were equally delicious. In my unsophisticated way of eating food, I added a small sampling of everything that came packaged on the side, without first testing any of it to see if I’d like it. (Same strategy that ruined the chili I made the day after Christmas: turns out chili spice here is a tad bit spicier than ground chili you’d buy at Krogers in the States, esp when adding 1/4 cup of it.) So what I thought was “who knows what” ended up being shredded ginger and too strong for my (pregnant) liking. But otherwise, we cleaned the bowls.

And now my account of an hour or so of my morning has ended and I must attempt to do all that I can while the kids are in school and before language class starts.

Go Becca! She’s officially crossed the big bad writing hump.

I’m bursting to share more, so hopefully this will kick off a string of other musings from the Miller family’s Thaim in Thailand (insert eye roll).

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And the beloved blanket! In real time. Along with the house slippers I packed all the while knowing I’d NEVER wear them.


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Brenden in Burma

“It is, as I suppose, the fairest place that doe bee in all the Worlde.”

Ralph Fitch was the first Englishman ever to come to Burma, in 1584 as the captain of ‘the talle ship Tyger’ (the ship mentioned, some say, by Shakespeare in MacBeth), and he said this of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma.

–from “Where China Meets India” by Thant Myint-U

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Guest post from Brenden, about his Sept. 2015 trip to Burma:

First trip to Burma! You all know how long I have been feeling the pull to Burma and its peoples.  You all may or may not remember seeing, in our fundraising presentation last year, my smiling face in a picture on the Thai/Burma border from my 2012 exploratory trip! And, I bet many of you are eagerly waiting to hear about my thoughts and experiences from my first trip “inside”.

Well, Thanks Be to God! My first trip to Burma was a bit unexpected, but perfectly timed with a break in language school, and it was smooth and wonderful.  As Becca mentioned in the send-off post, I was a part of a Community Development Training course (CD) for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in Northern Myanmar.

My role was a pretty basic one, read the material, come and assist in any way that I could in order to one day be able to reproduce and lead the training somewhere else. The trip and training were a really great experience. The training was loosely based on the Biblical account of Nehemiah. (It’s pretty neat actually, to see how present-day community development principals were implemented successfully 2,500 years ago. Or is it the other way around?!)

Some background:
Nehemiah, a Jew, was a high official in the Persian court of King Artaxerxes I in the 5th century B.C. in what is now modern-day Iran. High position though he had, when he heard that a remnant of his people were living in the city of Jerusalem but without the protection of a fortified wall around the city (imperative in those times), his heart was burdened. After much praying and fasting about the matter, of reminding himself that God intends good for His people, the day came when the king himself asked Nehemiah why his heart was sad and what he wanted to do about it. Ambition of all ambition, this was Nehemiah’s reply.

Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild the wall.’ (Nehemiah 2:5)

And then we trainers implemented the following principles that enabled Nehemiah to succeed in such a massive task.

Nehemiah obtained permission from proper authority, set a timeline, worked alongside other community leaders, thoroughly inspected the proposed project, helped create a detailed plan to rebuild the wall by maximizing the community and the resources they already possessed, and advocated for resources from others outside the community who could help. He oversaw the wall rebuilding and he interfaced with the many forces who opposed the project. The people enjoyed a dedication ceremony celebrating the completion of the efforts, for many many people had devoted blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish the task. It was a true communal effort.

Just as rebuilding the ancient wall was critical to this society’s success (http://www.gotquestions.org/rebuild-walls-Jerusalem.html), so it is valuable to choose needs and issues that are critical to communities’ success now. To identify other people from within their own community who believe that change is possible, even when the task seems insurmountable.

The concepts of this CD process listed above are not very new or complicated to our western way of thinking and educations, but they are very different and are new ways of thinking and looking at problems for most of the people who attended. We helped them think through:

  • What do you as a community need? (Is it a physical need, social need, etc.?)
  • What resources does your community already have? (It is not helpful to assume that communities do not have much to offer just because they do not have much materially. This assumption does not empower them to believe in and hone their abilities. It is helpful to assume that each culture has strengths and skills to help them meet their needs.)
  • What resources will you need to bring into your community?

and really the big one…

  • What is your plan to make this happen so that the project is truly successful? And in a way that the community is actually benefited?

It’s not about an NGO coming in and deciding the project and resourcing it, either with the funds, the ideas, or the skills and follow-through. Community development that succeeds happens when a community takes ownership, finds their own sources of motivation, and works together as a community, in the community, to bring about the lasting change they need. Partners Relief and Development serves to support these communities, encourage them, and help them get the balls rolling and the ideas flying.

This particular training was super exciting because we were training local leaders from five IDP camps in Myitkyina on the process so that they can take it back and lead their own community through real actual projects themselves. The situation in Myitkyina looks to hold a lot of promise for success due to the ease of access by our staff, and because God has given us some very capable and invested partner organizations and individuals to help with follow-up and consult as communities take their situations into their own hands. I look forward to hearing how the leaders from our training are faring in the months to come: it is inspiring to see leaders emerging from people living in such vulnerable and difficult situations as the IDP camps in Burma.

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On the personal side, it was so surreal to finally be in Myanmar/Burma! It was familiar, as in I was in a SE Asian country, and I was with familiar faces from Partners, and yet it was definitely not Thailand. I was finally where I have been waiting/God has been preparing me to go to for soooo long. It was great to take in the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells.  I enjoyed having a new perspective, since moving to Thailand, to process it all through. Basically, I liked it a lot and kept on thinking I could live here, followed closely behind by the thought, we (family) are NOT ready to move here. (It would be a much harder adjustment than Thailand.) However, as my supervisor said, “No one is asking you to move there. . . yet.” 🙂  But still, I just continued to think about it every day. I took this fascination as God’s way of confirming why we came half way around the world in the first place, that Myanmar and its peoples are worth investing in and fighting for!

Thanks Be To God for His perfect timing, His perfect teaching and growing, and for this opportunity to refresh the reason that we are here, adjusting to all that life has to offer and requires!

(Also, in the weeks following the training, both Maja and Emerson mentioned Burma over and over, in some context or other. Even now, a month later, Maja will bring up “Myanmar” or “Burma” and talk about it as if it’s familiar to her. When we pass the airport, Emerson still says “Daddy. Plane. Burma.” And while visiting a new church today, Maja’s first observation was “There’s the Myanmar flag!” We like this direction…)

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A room with a view.

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Learning the process…

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Partners staff out for dinner.

Homecoming Festivities…

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Traveling spoils. Courtesy of Bangkok airport.

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Krispy Kreme…who wants bananas?

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As good as it gets.