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Distance

Within the past two weeks, two dear dear friends experienced profound loss, back home in America. One lost her husband to cancer, after a grueling year and a half battle. The other lost her father, suddenly and unexpectedly. Both are unimaginable to me. And both still have young mouths to feed and little hearts to nurture, amidst the grief that must be engulfing them.

And I’m here, across the world.

Unable to attend either funeral. Unable to drop off dinner with a long hug and a look deep into their eyes. Unable to grab their kids and keep them for an afternoon or a night or two to love on them and to give their mamas some time to breathe. Unable to sit with them, cry with them, laugh with them, buy them a coffee, or pray together. Unable to walk next to them, either quietly or actively, over the months to come, or to see with my eyes how these losses shape and change them, because they will.

My friends understand these limitations. My grief about the distance is dwarfed by the grief they are living out right now. And yet this is my first bitter taste of what it means to have your heart rooted squarely in two (opposite) timezones, in two different countries, in two different parts of the world.

Even in the months before we left America, as the preparations heightened, I found myself unable to be as fully engaged as I so badly wanted to be in my friends and family’s lives: in the sticky divorce of one, the depression of another, the joyful first pregnancy of another. Someone responded that this was the sacrifice, and it was starting even before we left.

This is the sacrifice we have chosen, to be far from you, dear friend, dear family. We just didn’t know it quite so well until we got here.

To be far away, knowing that the amount of time to invest in creating a new life in Thailand is immense, necessitating that there is less time to keep up with the details of our loved ones in the States. Less time. There JUST IS. Oh, I thought, I’ll keep up. I’ll systematize it, even, (as I do), to make sure that I check in on our friends, family, and team, let them know we still think of and pray for them and don’t forget anyone. OK, secretively, I’ve not given up on that idea yet, BUT.  To be present and integrated and alive in the place one is in requires that one be present and integrated and alive in the place one is in. And we just can’t do that well trying to do it in two places at once. It’s hard enough to do it in just one.

We’ve made the shift before. When we moved to North Carolina one month after getting married, we watched painfully as our Ohio relationships shifted due to time and distance and watched as life moved on with our OH community over those first couple years. They were hard changes to watch. But then we settled more and more in our NC town and over time, we came to accept and love our continuing friendships with our OH peeps. Even though they looked different day-to-day, month-to-month, the ones who lasted over time were (and are) our soul friends, who just aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, even nearly a decade since we’ve lived in the same place.

And now we’re watching it happen to the US community to whom we said farewell. But this time we have a template and so it’s not as scary (though it’s still sad, and really sad at certain moments). We trust that though we all will be changing in the coming years, though our life circumstances, jobs, and locations will change, our family compositions and the heights of our children will change, our physical bodies will change, we’ll still embrace each other (literally–I miss your all’s hugs!) and pick up where we left off and stay connected as well as we can in the meantime.

We will still celebrate when you celebrate and weep when you weep. We will still drop everything at times, to let you know we are here for you, even from here. Because we are, as we know you are for us. It just won’t be in person, and that’s the rub. We’ll miss your weddings, your baby showers, your graduations and potlucks, your funerals and being nearby when Grandma gets a concerning test result back. And just as much, we’ll miss our neighborhood walks with you, meals together in our hot kitchen (hey, we have one of those here!), trips to the library story-time and mornings at the museum, especially in the cool, crisp Autumn air you all are rumored to be having!

More than any other pang, the sacrifice of not doing life with you all, at whatever level we were at or whatever level we were heading toward, however frequently or infrequently we saw each other, is the sad factor I’m feeling these days. Does it mean we want to come home (America-home)? No (well, maybe for a week of some cooler weather and garlic fries at Tyler’s)! I’m just sharing the bittersweetness of being here in Thailand, our dream and our call, and having you send us here and support us in being here, but without your physical presence. Get it?

I once had a friend say, “Wait, I’m going to send in money each month so that you can leave me?!”
I feel ya, babe!

How thankful I am for prayer, this unseen reality, as real as the water we drink and the food that nourishes us, that binds many of us together and keeps our hearts connected. To know that when I can’t comfort you, Nikki and Alissa, sitting next to you on a couch or at our Starbucks, I can pray for you with my whole heart. Any time of the timezones. And that we have a God who is powerful enough and loving enough to hear and listen and have compassion on all of us, as we care for each other through prayer.

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne, We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts, and our cares.

We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part, It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, And hope to meet again.

–from the hymn Blest Be the Tie that Binds by John Fawcett, pub. 1782

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Retro post: June Photo Album

Let’s go back in time to the first month we were here and capture some of the highlights, in pictures. I’ll hope to do this for each month since we’ve been here, as time allows (keep your fingers crossed!).

So, without further ado:

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The day after we got off the plane. We stayed at our teammates Ken and Alison’s house. We have such fond fond memories of our first few days in Thailand here, where we kept pinching ourselves and saying we were here! We also slept some glorious sleep here, knowing our long journey had been completed.

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Our very first Thai meal! At a restaurant called “Northern Thai” right down the road, our teammates took us here for lunch the day after we arrived, where they recommended we order Khao Soi, a dish served popularly in Northern Thailand. It’s not pictured–that is chicken wings, a fried reality the first month or two we were here, as the kids slowly acclimated to Thai flavors. Getting more Western options like this for them allowed us to eat at Thai places at all. I don’t remember being overly impressed with the Khao Soi (plus it is a hot soupy dish, and that felt somehow wrong to be eating on such a hot day), but we’ve since eaten it here again and  all over Chiang Mai (it’s a staple), and it really is the best at this restaurant! It is about 30 baht, or $1 per bowl.

Beach Respite
(disclaimer: it feels vulnerable to post our family vacation online-it feels more personal than I tend to share with an open audience. But then I’m writing this for our own memory’s sake, and I’m trusting that those who make their way here will love seeing plenty of pictures of the kids.)

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We stayed in Khao Lak, an hour north of Phuket. This beach town was hit hard by the tsunami of 2005 and had to be rebuilt significantly. When Brenden made his two missions trips nearly a decade ago to help with tsunami relief efforts, he is pretty sure he was just miles from where we stayed. Small world!

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We were grateful for our little hotel room. We just needed something basic, and it was special to have so much uninterrupted family time.

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We got creative with nap times, pulling the curtains around Maja’s crib (which the hotel provided) and putting Emerson in the bathroom. Maybe both options are kind of gross, but we were still jet-lagging and needed our sleep.

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Watching Cars with Daddy–a rare treat to watch such a full-length feature. We did a lot of lounging and recuperating from several very intense months of preparations. In fact, these first couple weeks, I have more pictures than one would think possible of sleeping babies in big beds.

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Maja’s favorite “elephant pool”.

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We did a lot of playing on the beach.

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The kid’s got some serious swagger.

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The beach we were at reminded me more of the serene, quiet NC beaches than the tropical, exotic paradises you see in pictures of Thai beaches. The sky was huge and never-ending (my favorite).

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A lot of observing new things. I still find Maja crouched down looking at this or that bug.

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The truth is we ate a lot of french fries. And we can’t blame the Western cravings on the kids alone (I wasn’t expecting that either). We ate our meals with symphony recordings of Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak my Heart” and operatic singers trying out Mariah Carey’s “Hero”. The 1990s covers, done in all genres, literally made me laugh out loud and feel happy. Thailand loves some 90’s music!

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Halfway through the stay, the hotel staff approached us and said they wanted to upgrade us to a pool villa on the other side of the property to give us “the most perfect beach holiday” or something like that. For free! We were over-the-moon and so happy to spread out some more. (The little private pool was just steps outside the sliding doors of this room–I’m not sure we’ll ever get this opportunity again!)

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Slippery floors and a spilt glass of milk made for some glass in the forehead.

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But it didn’t keep Emi down for long.

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We were so grateful for this chance to catch our breaths before heading back to Chiang Mai.

We met some wonderful staff and other travelers from around the world and also got our first taste of just how much attention little Western kids can attract. Staff people would try to take pictures with our kids, and they would touch and get inside the kids’ personal spaces. Pretty quickly, Maja learned to assert herself with a loud “No” and an arm swing or two. That was a major grappling for me as a mom this first month–how can I support my daughter and protect her feelings of safety and personal space while still trying to connect with the Thai people who are giving this attention. I regret to say I erred on the side of asking Maja too often to accomodate others’ requests because when she would, it was so neat to see how happy they’d get (we came to Thailand to connect, right?!). This is a slow learning curve, and even months later, it continues to be an area that requires my vigilance and continued growth, for my sweet daughter’s sake.

I had my first rub with class and life here too. We got to know a Filipino staff worker early on, who shared that she worked here at the resort in order to support her 5-year-old daughter back in the Philippines. She wasn’t on great terms with the father, and it made the most sense for their situation for her to be the one working. She hadn’t seen her daughter in several months. Oh my heart. To be away from your baby. By the end of our stay, she updated us that she couldn’t do it any longer and was heading back home. She was going to try to work things out with the dad, who was going to take his turn heading to a neighboring country to work. I was relieved for her, but heavy-hearted to rub shoulders and share hearts with someone whose life situation looked so different than my own. There have been handfuls more of these realities that I’ve had to look in the eye since being here (which stir up rather thunderous thoughts on privilege, lifestyle, and how I can respond with my own choices).

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Upon returning to C.M., an immediate search for houses began. Craig and Kara, our teammates, drove us through neighborhoods for an afternoon, where we wrote down numbers of all the “for rent” signs we saw. Holding the kids in our laps in the backseat felt very, well, third-world and exciting (scary) to me. They, as you can imagine, were happy as larks. This is a picture of them in front of a rental home we checked out.

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Craig, Kara, and Jake. As head of HR, Craig faithfully guided us through every step of the process in the year leading up to our arrival. They took amazing care of us our first few days here, and then promptly flew to America for 5 weeks, giving us the keys to their home and truck. I know God knew this is how it would work out timing-wise, and we thank Him for this bit of independence as we made big decisions and acclimated.

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Our first map. With some phone problems over the first couple weeks, we had no GPS to lean on. We still laugh at our first time driving as a family in the truck–it was, shall we say, tense!

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We were blown away that this kid was hanging out the back of the song taew (taxi). So blown away we even took a picture. And that’s why I so badly want to capture all this initial newness–because now, we’d probably do it ourselves!

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Bamboo makes the world go round in these parts.

We didn’t take a lot of pictures of the local culture because well 1) we didn’t have our phones yet and didn’t want to pull out a big camera and 2) we didn’t want to be insulting or touristy–this was our new community. More clandestine shots happened in July.

Final thoughts on June:

We rode it high and excited, celebrating and thanking Jesus for His faithfulness in bringing us here, even as we geared up to start settling down. I wondered that the sky was still blue and the grass was still green, that the sun still came up and went down, even halfway across the world. We did normal stuff like bedtime routine and washing dishes, and it felt good to do the familiar. The kids recognized the geckos’ chirps and Maja asked me “How do you say kiwi in Thai?” I/we mourned the loss of Brenden’s beard (which, we now realize, he can keep to some extent except for when he enters Myanmar) and the months of hearing Maja’s little voice say we were going to Thailand, even when in reality we were just going across town. We wrestled with how early it got dark, wanting to go to sleep with it, and slept so hard this first month that when our alarms went off, I thought we had mistakenly set them for the middle of the night. By month’s end, we were still struggling to figure out how to undo the rubber bands that secure much of the food here, especially when overhungry.

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So there you have it. Month one in a nutshell. Guess that’s a wrap!


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100 Days In-Country Today: Some Candid Reflections on Culture Shock

Somewhere along the way, either before we left the US or as soon as we arrived in Thailand, someone told us that the sneaky thing about it all was that when culture shock hit, we wouldn’t even know it. How, I wondered, can one not know, in the midst of such life-upheaving, gut-turning transition that she is experiencing culture shock?!

I have some evidences:

  • a month-long inability to sum up anything into a 500-to-1000-or-so word blog post. I’m clearly overwhelmed.
  • My tendency to order only a small handful of Thai dishes over and over at the local market instead of branching out, though even Pad Thai can grow mundane (you don’t believe me, I know). I just need to review the other national dishes we learned about in language class and go for it.   
  • My request that Brenden be the one to go shopping searching at large stores and markets for any and everything that we might need, across the broad spectrum. (I do enjoy buying produce at our favorite near-by market). I’ll probably have more energy tomorrow to have a go at it and maybe it won’t be so hot. 
  • My paralysis in trying to furnish this home of ours. Well, when was the last time I had to furnish a place from the ground up? Of course it’s (there’s that word again) overwhelming. 
  • How slowly I move in our non-airconditioned downstairs in 90 degree weather. And how many ants can find the speck of food left on the counter (let alone leftover dinner sitting out for an hour). Maybe I just need more sleep.

But it’s never been about culture shock.

I simply did not look at this culture and say, “I’m shocked!” (except when driving initially, house-hunting, and buying our kitchen table).

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Adventure on a Thai Mountainside

Prior to yesterday, our “adventures” here in Thailand have been of the mundane variety. Five trips to the local mall to get our cell phones squared away (thankfully the third floor has a free choo-choo-train to ride). The same number of trips to the bank to set up an account (and waiting two weeks for the username and password to be snail mailed to us in order to set up online banking!). Please don’t think that what we’re doing by living in Thailand is exotic or glamorous!

Yesterday took things to a whole new level though. Brenden was on Day 5 of an 8-day-straight Wilderness First Responder training, (a course that teaches various first response medical interventions, particularly in settings where medical facilities aren’t immediately available), and I had my eyes open for ways to pass time with him gone long days this week. When a local friend invited the kids and I to attend her Thai church retreat in the mountains with her family, it was an easy decision to make. We made the big transition into our new home a couple days ago, which made for a busy last few days, packing up the temporary place and starting to unpack here. I thought an entire day devoted to just “being”, not “doing”, would be a nice change of pace.

We were out the door by 8:15 (a small miracle) and Lauren hopped in our brand-new (to us) car–we got it about 15 hours before this trip (a Toyota Avanza, which we call a “mini” mini-van).

See it all shiny and perdy, sitting in front of our house

See it all shiny and perdy, sitting under the nice trees

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See the pretty trees AND the telephone pole with lots of signs and even more wires attached at top? It’s all about the angle!

We started off, and Lauren’s husband and two kids trailed behind in their car. We were separated from the start, due to a quick errand we had to make beforehand. I was thrilled to head up the mountain, not realizing just how close it was to the main roads we’d been driving the past month. All was well, and we took in the views (quick, side-long glances, really–eyes kept on the road) as we talked. Lauren eventually told me where to turn, and we hooked a right to the street where the retreat center was supposed to be. According to Google. Within a minute, the road became more narrow and significantly more windy. We saw a big building ahead, but when we saw no cars there, we passed it. Road became more narrow, road became more muddy, I became more aware that the grass just inches from my side of the car was really a 1-2 food drop. We saw a shanty up a hilly drive and decided if we needed to make a 100-point turn, we’d use that driveway to get turned around. It was our only option.

We then noticed the drive was actually a horseshoe, so after taking a deep breath, spirit breathing prayers the whole time, we gunned it up the drive. Got to the top, said hello to the villagers who were looking on with curiosity, and Lauren got out to guide the car. We realized the only way down was the other side of the horseshoe, which was NOT paved, was muddy, and required a sharp turn to stay on the road and not go forward into said 1-2 foot drop. (Who do you call for a tow in these situations? Who?!) Not familiar with how the new car handles, missing having a manual trasmission, realizing how dependent I’ve become on Brenden in circumstances like this, knowing it would not help to call him anyhow, and seeing the gas light come on (not even making that one up), I realized the only way down was down. Maja sensed all this and said she wanted to go home, but the kids were otherwise quiet as mouses, thank God. Anticlimactically, we made it down with no problem–that little Avanza has a racecar turning radius, even if it has no leg room in the backseat!

Here’s the view once we were turned facing the right direction on the path. IMG_0783

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and the driveway (this is the part we drove UP)

Later, Brenden commented that these are the types of roads he’d be on all the time when he travels into Myanmar (sorry Mom and Dad–if it’s any comfort, it will be in a 4-wheel drive and he doesn’t stoke his imagination for “what could have been” like I do). But for me, this was a big deal, and I was all shook up (and dang, couldn’t I have enjoyed the shininess of the car for more than one evening?!)

The rest of the day went as follows: arrive at retreat, where the power (air con and lights) were out in the children’s room, within 20 minutes Emerson splits his top lip on slippery tile floors (same cursed tile floors that left him with a Harry-Potter-esque scar on his forehead from our beach vacation in June), Lauren’s son had diarrhea through his pants and an allergy scare, and her husband Seth bruised his knee badly.

But we also got to see how Thais worship… IMG_0788 beautiful scenery…

They look like little birds...

They look like little birds…

IMG_0824 and friendships solidify. IMG_0814 IMG_0816 We DID make it down the mountain to the gas station, and Google DID make a correction upon Seth’s request.

I came home, cried, put the kids to bed, took ibuprofen for a big headache, cried some more, had a beer, thanked Jesus, and went to bed early. All’s well that ends well.

(Come on, secretively, weren’t you hoping for SOME stories like this on our blog?)


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Toys and Thais

Maja started preschool last week! Really? This is going to be my first entry on our past month in Thailand? Yes, simply because I think I can do it in 45 minutes or less and I need something (SOMEthing) finite to start and finish before taking on how to sum up the past 30+ days in new country. Plus I owe grandparents some pictures.

So here goes: we knew we wanted Maja to have some type of ongoing immersion opportunity with peers her age to help her adapt and begin to embrace Thailand. (Emerson too, but he’ll have to wait until he turns 2.) Our colleagues’ 4-year old daughter (and Maja’s first little friend here) goes to Sunshine Kindergarten, and along with other reasons, we decided to go for it. Also, it’s nicknamed “Sunshine” in our family, the same nickname for our favorite preschool in Durham, Sunshine Smiles Academy, where the kids attended one day/week to help us in the flurry of closing up shop in NC.

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Farewell USA/Hello Thailand

It took Milton and his family 32 days, by ship, to get to Mozambique, decades ago. 32 days.

Just three days before flying out of the country, I had my last Apple one-to-one session (I will miss these greatly—they have helped me learn so much about my computer without getting sucked into and overwhelmed by Google searches). Milton, my personal trainer for the day, had lived overseas as a child and said that he and his parents made the 32 day journey when he was 1 or 2. That helped put things into perspective in the final hours before we embarked on our more-or-less 32 hour journey.

I know there’s much (MUCH) to write about regarding our first couple weeks in Thailand, but before too much time gets away, I wanted to capture how exciting and special it was to actually make.the.move!

Starting with the fact that we were actually PACKED the night before the move. When does THAT ever happen? (In our world, not often.) So we woke up knowing that whatever didn’t get done on the miscellaneous list of stuff left to do, we could board the plane and leave the country. That took the pressure off.

Our Pastor Byron came and loaded all of our luggage into his van while our favorite Seniors came to help the kids and I get off to the airport. The Gervais were there to help shuffle luggage to the check-in counter so that by the time the kids and I arrived, it was all there in one neat pile waiting to be checked. Amazing.

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From there it was all excitement and adrenaline. We checked our bags without problem, I cried a little (like, this is actually happening), and then people started trickling into the airport to see us off.

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At the check-in counter

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Here’s to hoping…

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I’m a sucker for airport greetings. (I always dreamed to be that couple who ran to each other from a distance and embraced and cried and kissed. Ha, but now we almost always travel together, so that’s not working out.) So Mandy organized a big ole’ airport send-off. As I look at all the pictures (thanks Grace), it’s friends from so many different seasons of our 7.5 years in NC. But by and large it’s also Christ Community folks—a final reminder of what an amazing and embracing church God led us to these past 3 years.

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My strongest memory is turning around as we walked toward security and seeing everyone wave—just seeing all of those precious faces. It’s burned into my mind. We got through security and as we were re-organizing our bags (a 5 minute ordeal), we had our final (several) waves and kisses blown to the last of the group who saw us off til we could not see each other anymore. Sigh. Beautiful.

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Then it was GO time. And it was FUN. Our spirits were high, the kids were excited, and we were READY. We flew out of RDU at 7:02pm on 6/4 and arrived in Chiang Mai around 12am EST 29 hours later. Some of the most evident examples of traveling mercies:

  • While waiting to board at the gate, Delta employees offered to check our carry-ons. (We had 4 maxed out carry-ons along with our 4 (maxed out) “purses”, plus 2 strollers and 2 car seats. So, for free, they sent our biggest 2 carry-on suitcases back down to checked baggage, and we didn’t have to see them again until we arrived in Chiang Mai.
  • Same said Delta workers moved people around on the flight so that we had the whole of row 15: 6 seats for 4 passengers. It helped a ton!
  • Sweet stewardess on this flight told me that no, LAX did not have a post office inside the airport, but that she’d be happy to put my stack of envelopes in the mail for me when she got off-shift. After flying across all of America with her (and her giving us a free sandwich meal), I trusted that she would. (And she did.)
  • Compassionate security officer in zany LAX airport helped keep me calm as we feared (and were told) we might not make our connection. She just looked in my eyes and it was all better. (And she didn’t make me go back through security, as another officer insisted I should, because I had brought water through.)
  • A young family we met in the Guangzhou, China airport, also taking the flight to Chiang Mai, took us under their wing and talked (in Chinese) to the airport attendants so that we were first to load. (In Asia, you never know when you arrive at your boarding gate whether the plane is there or whether you have to get onto a bus to shuttle you to the plane—a rallying effort with the mad amount of stuff we had). Thanks to Chris, we were first on the bus, and he helped lift loaded-down stroller and everything.

We travelled smoothly (mostly). I was in a sleeping fog for several hours on the long (15 hr) flight, and Brenden, dear soul, took care of STILL-excited kids until I’d “come back” with short-lived bursts of energy.

My sister-in-law sent us a prayer via email the day we left.
In it, she said, “…may you experience, savor, and rejoice over this leg of your journey.”

Indeed we did.

And we arrived in Chiang Mai to be greeted by the whole of Partners’ expat staff, who lei’d us with Jasmine flowers, packed up our luggage into trucks in a jiffy, and took us to our cozy waiting home.

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First dinner in Thailand...at our teammates' house

First dinner in Thailand…at our teammates’ house

So there it is. This account, an Ebenezer stone. (1 Samuel 7:12: Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—which means “the stone of help”—for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”)

Thanks for making the trip a communal affair.

Love you all (and next post: Thailand!),
Becca


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Hello Blog.

I move out to the porch of our room at the beach, our first week on arrival here in Thailand, and watch the wind give the trees a good solid thrashing, leaves and branches ridiculously loud. And I think, “THIS is why I want to blog.” Not to (even try to) capture every last beautiful moment, deep thought, or gorgeous interaction. But to have some account. Some account starting Week 0. Some highlights that I can look back on, with smiles and tears and everything in between, and say “We’re here. After many many years, we’re on the far side of the ocean. And God is with us.” See here, Maja? Emerson? Read this. Read about our time, our adventure, our God’s faithfulness.

And in the meantime (because it will be years before Maja and Emerson are reading), I also write for my friends and family, far in space, close in spirit. Be here with us.

Family, fun, faith, work, life, street food.

There is no deeper agenda.

Brenden has always called me his “resident archivist.” But in caution, he told me, “This (blog) doesn’t have to be perfect, doesn’t have to be witty, doesn’t have to be cool. Just capture your thoughts.”

He continued. “Make this fun. Write this for you. And for our family. It’s an outlet.”

He’s a keeper.

So, on that note, Hello Blog. Happy to meet you.

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